Even the golden splendor of a majestic sunrise can fade, and its luster become drudgery itself, if accompanied by the numbing fatigue that dulls the mind and slows the reflexes. At first, the uncommon experience of driving all night, because it was so rare, led to near giddiness at the prospect of soaking in the dawning of a new day. But after multiple weeks of this sort of schedule, the feeling of giddiness gives way to less savory sentiments that are not easily transcribed for polite conversation.
"Do you prefer working a night shift or day shift," I had been asked very early on when I began driving big rigs. "Day shift," I said emphatically and without hesitation. The problem with night driving is that it requires day-sleeping which, while easily done at home, becomes a futile endeavor in a noisy truck stop parking lot. Exhausted and spent, I would close my eyes and drift into a delicious stupor, floating somewhere between consciousness and a coma, when the ground under my truck would tremble and shake as an overweight truck would pull into the next parking space, followed by the "pppsssshhhhhhhh," of air brakes being released. I was awake again.
Forcing my eyes to close and my mouth to stop cursing, I would lapse into a deep sleep and begin to dream. I dreamt of a large clock that would tick and tock, but mostly tock. In fact, the tock was louder than the tick, and it would stop tocking at uncertain intervals, only to resume with increased vigor. That obnoxious clock tocked so loudly that I dreamt something was wrong with it. And where was the tick? Why was the tock so near? Then I awakened and realized that it wasn't a clock at all, but rather a driver on the other side of my rig who was taking a large hammer to some portion or other of his vehicle either as a means of repair or for general catharsis. I'd drift off to sleep again just in time to be awakened by a knock on the truck door, as someone offered to polish the wheels, sell some gold chains, or perform various other services I neither asked for nor wanted.
A couple of times in the last week I had to forcibly put myself back on a day shift by explaining to my dispatcher that a given load would not be delivered on time due to driver fatigue. It is company policy that the driver is, in their words, "captain of the ship," so that when a driver says that a load schedule is either illegal or unsafe (due to weather, traffic, or extreme fatigue), even the most sadistic load planners must abide by the driver's call. I'd get one or two day shifts out of such an announcement before the load planners, with all the insidious regularity of a recurring infection, would schedule a load to be picked up at 1AM and delivered by 9AM the same morning. But that's where an upcoming event will make all the difference.
You see, when I take a passenger on the road, the company typically does all it can to cede to the passenger's wishes. For example, when my Dad went on the road with me and mentioned that he'd like to travel out west, in no time at all we were arguing which peak was Pike's while driving through Colorado enroute to California. They're not always able to accommodate the passenger's wishes, as we go where the freight calls, but at least they try. Any day now, I'll have the privilege of taking a very special passenger on the road with me. A passenger who will remain nameless for now, but whose insights should be a joy to share. This will be a fresh pair of eyes, …someone who has never traveled in a big rig or lived the life of a trucker, ...someone who likes day shifts, …someone whose bedroom doesn't rumble, ...someone who normally spends all day in the same time zone, ...someone who is accustomed to indoor plumbing.
I'm anxious to see how a lifestyle that for me has become as normal as inhaling and exhaling appears to the uninitiated. In the meantime, I already knew that I preferred soup over salad, and chicken soup over beef and vegetable. Tonight at the buffet, I learned that I also prefer beef and vegetable soup over something called Sausage Corn Chowder soup, …which looks like it has been consumed once already. I wonder how my new guest will react to these sorts of options? We'll all find out soon enough. In the meantime, I need to get some sleep.