Rite of Spring: Highway Walkers

West Memphis, Arkansas

Fresh from my Platinum shower I am waiting for McGyver to wake up because we’re having a treat today.

Big spenders are saluted at the truck stop and we are BIG spenders, using a thousand gallons of diesel a week, making us eligible for the Platinum shower room and earning us about $50 a month in free food, which we rarely use. The big difference between a regular shower and a Platinum shower is no waiting, even during the 7 A.M. shower rush, a huge benefit, there’s a blow dryer, a basket for your pocket crap and a full-length mirror.

Today’s treat is a favorite. We’re going to Denny’s, but Denny’s is not the treat — and definitely not today, since we walked over to the competing truck stop, Flying J, and found it closed for today only. The treat would be better if it was a local diner, but we’re at a truck stop with only so many options. The treat, which we finally had at the Petro’s Iron Skillet restaurant, for free, because I used our meal credits, is a hot breakfast of eggs and toast, two things I cannot prepare in the truck and that we miss, especially McGyver.

We have that dying-to-get-out-of-the-truck feeling. We are short our 20,000 mile goal for the month. Our last load will bring us to 17,300 miles, sounds like a lot, it is, but I was hoping for a huge month. We’ve spent every day in the truck since March 3 except for two nights at our Florida base, where in a fit of optimism I removed the majority of the winter gear, down coats, sheepskin-lined boots, and scarves. It is the end of March, but Mother Nature just dumped a whack of white stuff on Kansas and it’s darn cold here, windy, below 40 last night and we’re heading north to Louisville, Kentucky for our time off.

Since Florida, we’ve been driving laps across the bottom of America, Miami-Atlanta-Dallas-Atlanta-Dallas, where we were assigned a load to Columbus because we are having some truck work done while we head to Truck-A-Palooza, better known as MATS, the greatest trucking show on earth, the Mid-America Truck Show, the site of the national truck beauty champsionship, Pride and Polish, where 76,000 people are expected and the main event, we’re told, will be in the parking lot, Papa John’s Parking Lot, where thousands of trucks congregate, drivers visiting and barbecuing and jawing.

I am excited to see the extravaganza. We are interested in a few truck upgrades and I am taking a bookeeping course specifically for owner-operators. Our friends Salena and Eddie will be there looking at the piece de resistance of the show, an item that every trucker is eyeing, including us, the one thing that can change a driver’s life. It comes from Bose and it’s the best damn truck seat ever.

In the last two weeks, we have developed an incredible squeak in the air ride driver’s seat. Really, it’s been a few weeks, first McGyver blamed my plastic water bottle for squeaking, but slowly we realized it is the seat, spraying the springs with silicone and WD-40 until it drips like a humid, tropical jungle, has not quieted the racket. The air ride suspension and the $2,200 in Road King shocks comes now where near close enough to deaden the truck’s gyrations and it maneouvres around, through, over potholes, pocked pavement, and construction. The seat is well-used almost 450,000 miles. They don’t last forever.

The questions is: Is the Bose seat worth $6,000? We’ll be in line for the simulator.

The last time we saw Salena and Eddie was an unexpected passing at Magee, Mississippi — where a tornado destroyed 60 homes in March 2009 — in early February, where we discovered that we would pass at dinner time, so Salena rustled up the Sizzler online and Eddie decided that we inded could squeeze two 70 foot long vehicles behind the one story restaurant, on a busy Saturday night, with its small parking lot and a back alley, narrowly missing the hanging power lines. When we left the restaurant we were blocked in by an SUV and I went around to each table looking for the driver to ask him to move. He was a nice man and did.

One of my favorite dispatchers, Jason, who calls me Miss Marlaina and is simply a very nice young man, found us a Columbus load out of Dallas, but it was canceled at the last minute and we returned, 807 miles to Atlanta. Sunday night we hooked a load to Memphis, Tennessee across the Mississippi from where I sit. We are promised a load to Columbus tonight, Jason says we’re first on the list of six trucks, so cross your fingers.

My signs of Springs are turning up. In past years, by the end of February, there were blossoms and blooms, and green shoots. I saw my first blossoms two weeks ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This week, each day driving across I-20, there was more green. The first time the trees had that fuzzy haze, a promise of blossoms and leaves to come. The next day, leaves, then more leaves, more grass, greener grass. I spied a foul in the fields in Louisiana and mama cows with that look!

Last night in Tupelo, Mississippi, under a ferocious rain, McGyver pulled over at a truck stop when he could no longer see the road, the Southern Spring downpour had turned worrisome.

“I was thinking there was something happening that I couldn’t see,” he told me this morning, the roads wet, the lakes, rivers, ponds and sloughs bulging. “Like a tornado or something.” Turns out there was. The Weather Channel reported numerous severe thunderstorms and reports of toronadoes exactly where we were driving.

I had a great early spring driving day, two years ago, about this time, across Montana, towards Alazada, it was warm, the sky was a bright blue, and the gophers frolicked in the sunshine, some were lounging, I could almost see their legs crossed, arms behind their heads, noses pointed to the sky, sniffing the fresh, clean air, watching the big trucks stream by.

But my first big sign of spring is the Highway Walker. There are a surprising number of people who walk along the Interstates. They aren’t hitchhiking, they are walking. Somewhere. Once a woman was pulling a suitcase on wheels, but mostly they have backpacks, sometimes a black, plastic garbage bag slung over their shoulder, or a bike-messenger bag. The Highway Walkers are young and old, and mostly men, they are always alone. They walk away from the road way, close to outer edge because they do not want to be hit by the big trucks — something regular people could learn when they must stop on the Interstate.

This is a good time to say this…If you must stop your car on the Interstate, get off the dang road. Way off the road. As far off the road as you can get before you fall off the shoulder and into the ditch. Drivers cannot see vehicles at night, often until they are right beside them – so if you stop and night, put your flashers on, and if you stop in the daytime, put your flashers on. Let the traffic know there is someone in, around the vehicle.

In the day there is often too much traffic to switch lanes to give you space. We try because we know a big truck zooming by creates a vortex, shaking the devil out of you. If a big truck passes me, my truck shakes as he goes by. Trailers drift. The back of the trailer is 65 feet away from where I hold the steering wheel. If the tires hit a bad patch of highway the trailer can get pulled toward the shoulder or the centerline. Next time you stop on the Interstate, rememer the Highway Walkers — get OFF the road.

Spring is coming, ever so slowly, but it is on its way. The walkers are heading north and west from the southern states, the blossoms are moving northward, by the day, as far as Louisville now.

The driving season is upon us, that contentment of freedom, when we think we could go forever.

3 thoughts on “Rite of Spring: Highway Walkers

  1. Great post! I am in Kentucky right now, Eddie driving, enjoying the signs of Spring. It's 47 degrees here, and is supposed to be chilly all through the weekend. Perfect for me, not so great for you. I can't wait to see you guys at the show! Ed has a long list of things he wants to look at and I think I might have to drag you to one of the seminars I want to take. :)We'll see you soon! We're only a few hours away.

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  2. cannot deny that I am an Autumn. but I'm definitely not a Winter. Really, what do I call him, a Dude, the Kid.There's something nice about being my age. I don't know why, but in areas with large Hispanic populations, the kids on the dock and in the warehouses never make me use the skanky drivers' restrooms. They take me around to the "office ladies" restroom. I think they think that they wouldn't let their mother or grandmother use the drivers' restroom and they won't make me use it either.And… I'm married to a nice young man.

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