The Raging Storm, A Driver's Tale
Dedicated to the American Trucker
Kate had left the city behind following Interstate 78 west. She had taken a quick look at her map, she knew she would be following the turnpikes across New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Once her run was completed in Ohio, the real journey would begin. She did not like this run, it was a short one, but it would allow her to get fuel at a fair price and get her over to I 75, where she would turn south.She had not enjoyed waiting to make her drop in Brooklyn, she rarely did.
Kate released the brakes, drew down a farewell on the air horn and set the big Pete in motion. The roar of the engine, the whine of the transmission always comforted her. Sometimes, she thought she could even hear the turning of the driveshaft. " Roll on Big Mama" always played in her mind at departure, always. She was relieved to be back on the road again. The airways were quite and the traffic was flowing smoothly, she let her mind drift.
Kate recalled, (her ability to remember this amazed her Dad, who never doubted her, for she could describe the blue GMC, she knew that it had a cracked windshield and the door handle was broken, he had only owned the truck a short time, and had no photo) the first time he took her along on a ride in his truck. Now, she knew, it was not that far from the home of one Grandmother to the other, but at three, when you have to stand up to see out the window it was a fearful and exciting ride. She heard her little girl's voice saying, "Daddy, slow down". Her Dad explained, quiet patiently, that he was not going fast, it only seemed that way because the truck was big. And to her young eyes it was. Her Daddy must be the strongest man in America just because he could drive it. Through the years, Kate wondered where these places were, that her Dad and uncles talked about when he came home, which was not nearly often enough. New York, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Albuquerque, Denver.......she longed to go, to see, she longed for something that was beyond this farm with its never ending chores. It was bittersweet for Kate to be recalling her childhood, knowing that she have never told her Dad, what an impression he had made on his daughter, and reached up and changed stations, it was as much to move her mind along as for the change of music, but this was unknown to her.
After making her pick up, Kate checked her weight, and did a routine maintenance inspection on her rig and put on fuel. Normally, she liked this route, but today, her heart was not in it. She knew she was road weary. She should have gone home two weeks ago, but the next round of college tuition was coming up. She had blown off her Dad's offer of nursing school, simply because it was not a career of her choosing. Kate had vowed, her daughters would have the education suitable to their own dreams. She wanted no input other than to tell them , " make choices you can live with and then live with the choices you make". She would do her part.
Kate drove on, and on, and on. The Chattanooga skyline came into view. It was a pretty city, and one that she would like to explore, but maneuvering a big rig through the hills and corners did take skill.
She thought about that skill. It had always seemed easy for some to assume that it had been Kate's Dad who had taught her to drive a rig, but it was not. It had been a matter of necessity. After Grandpa breaking his back, her brothers were expected to take on more responsibility on the farm, especially the heavy chores. That particular summer, two of the brothers were out of commission themselves. There was no extra money for farm laborers, and no laborers to be found. Still, the hay had to get to the barn. "Kate is too little to throw the bales onto the truck, but if you put her on a pillow, she can drive the truck for us", a brother reasoned. So the teaching began, in the field, one gear at a time, 1st, 2nd, 3rd.......and then a brother's voice walked through her mind, "Sissy, just back it up as close to the door as you can, it don't have to be perfect"........but Kate, did not want to be less than " perfect", she came in last place, often enough with six big brothers.
These brothers and Kate, were a competitive bunch, taking every possible point! She worked, very hard learning to back the trailer to the barn doors. Of course, her brothers all reasoned that they could do it faster.....but she had won Granddad's approval. Each summer, she was assigned the chore of planting the corn field, and hauling the hay to the barn. As Kate pondered upon these things, she began to feel saddened.
Her brothers were scattered now. One had given his life trying to free the American hostages in Iran. The changing of the guard during the Carter and Regan years had done a lot to shape Kate's political views. Carter had been a pansy and Regan a hero, it seemed to her. This was the biggest influence on her since, Granddad, getting up from the supper table to watch Walter Cronkite report on the Viet Nam war. No one, left the table to watch TV in those days, it was unheard of. Sometimes, Kate ( he never allowed her brothers to do this ) would go join him , standing beside him as he sat in his straight back chair. Sometimes, without saying a word, he would simply hold her hand until they returned to the table together. Kate did not know much about war then, and she certainly did not yet know that
her beloved Granddad had been a POW, trying to liberate France. She would not learn this, until she learned of her own heroic big brother's death. Kate, still had much to learn......a lot more.
As Kate heads south out of Chattanooga, it begins to rain. She becomes cautious, but is not afraid. She is not given to fear.
She knows that she has a balanced load, plenty of fuel, her log book is up to date and most of all she has good rubber. Still, she slows her pace, to accommodate the weather conditions.
As she leaves Tennessee, enters Georgia and Tennessee again...she wonders, just who made these boundaries that we live in. Who drew these state lines and why is it that they could not draw a straight one? Who drew Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas on the map? Why didn't they get the same people who drew the boundaries of Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa to draw some straight lines? She knows, that it is not a matter of drawing, but still she questions the boundaries in her mind. She wonders, if somewhere in the world, there is at least one duck who does not take to water.
She questions much.
She searches for another radio station and another. The rain intensifies and keeping pace, so does her rambling mind. Why did her brother die? Why were there hostages? What did they do to Grandpa in the war? How did he make it out? How come he never had post traumatic syndrome? How come Dad did not want her to ride a motorcycle, drive a truck, be around when the bulls and boars were being castrated? How come he always treated her differently? How come she was never good enough? How come? Why? What for? The questions race through her mind, until they become as violent as the storm in the sky ahead. The raging thoughts inside her mind begin to match pace with the storm outside.
Kate wants to make it into Valdosta, but does not know that she can fight either storm long enough to do so....besides, she needs a bathroom break. She remembers a stop along the way. She thought it had the look of a dive and has never been there, still it is the closest thing she can find, so she pulls in and backs her rig into a parking place. She finishes the last of the coffee in her thermos, waiting for the rain to slack up long enough to make a run across the parking lot.
As she enters, she is somewhat relieved that the place is deserted. She is not in the mood for company. She prefers to watch the storm through the glass, and at least this place has plenty of view and good coffee. It has gone from dive to hole in the wall. A secret place, to be shared with only the closest of associates. The Eagles tune, Sad Cafe seems to be written for this place.
The storm outside is intensifying, and Kate, watching the swinging power-lines and traffic signals is reminded of a summer storm of long ago. Her Grandmother, saw the storm coming, but it had given little warning, and she had run to the clothesline to bring in the clothing, Grandmother was over powered by the wind, and stood there , hanging onto the line itself for several minutes.......Grandmother had been afraid that day, in fact, she was afraid of all storms. Like her Granddad, Kate was not.
Nor was she afraid of this one........she felt its equal. What frightened her was the unknown source of her anguish. As the lighting flashed and the winds wailed, loneliness overcame Kate. Having no one to give her voice to, Kate took pen in hand and began to write upon the napkin,
I am in the land of plenty, yet, I am empty
With chains, reality has us bounded, until we break free with our voice sounded.
Kate began to question her own sense of reality, and eventually, her sanity. Would she go crazy here? Would anyone know, or who they assume, that she arrived this way? If she were in trouble, who, who , would come to her rescue? Would her brother, with a newborn, come down from Atlanta? Would her brother in Little Rock, send her a plane ticket home? Would one of her daughters take time from college? Who could she call upon? If she were not here, in this place at this time, where would she be? The world was far bigger than she.......Where, where.........should she be?
As Kate walks through the pouring rain back to her truck, fresh thermos of coffee in hand, her first meetingof Paul comes to her mind. She will grab a towel, dry herself and put on her PJs, before allowing herself to think of him.
The first meeting comes to mind........he was impressed to see her riding a motorcylce. He had no way of knowing that, the ride was in answer to her brother's challenge, she had just taken the most frightening ride of her young life. She thought of him, on that first meeting, to be just another plow boy who would mean nothing to her. She had no idea that she had just met the man who would be her faithful companion, her very best friend, her biggest fan and her husband. He would be the one who would stand quietly by, while she went about the business of being herself, whoever she really was. And she certainly did not know, upon that brief meeting, that he was from the west coast, a son of wanderlust, and that he would be the first to take her to across the country.
If she called Paul, he would come, dropping everything, driving all night, and rescue her. She should call him. She drifted off to sleep, thinking that Paul was doing everything he could, to pay the same college tuition for the same girls...........Paul......Paul.......p a ull......
Kate awakened the next morning to a sunny sky and little evidence of the nights storm. Somehow, the world had righted itself while Kate slept. And so, somehow, had Kate.
Kate fired up the rig, repositioned her pillow, released the brakes, shifted into gear and pulled away, thinking to herself.........." yes, LA does wind into Birmingham", and yes, Bob Seeger, the page has turned. And as she rolled across the parking lot and pulled onto the highway.......
Roll on Big Mama was playing in her head........