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Faith on 18 Wheels

It must be very difficult for small minds to survive Iowa. From horizon to horizon, there’s virtually nothing to obstruct one’s view except corn stalks, and even those recede into the endless patchwork of soft, rolling countryside when observed from a hilltop. The mind roams while the truck rolls along, the rhythm of the pavement thumping under the wheels.

Sunday morning, at the truck stop where I stayed last night, means time for church, where the truckers’ television room is converted into a makeshift chapel. As luck would have it, this morning I was assigned a shower room right next to the proceedings. As I entered the code on the little electronic keypad to unlock the shower room, the elderly preacher was prevailing on Pharaoh to release the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Having seen the movie, I knew the assembled drivers were in for a treat.

Well, the children of Israel evidently hit a snag someplace because in a little while I could hear the preacher’s voice rising over the rather hard water pressure in the shower. He sounded none too pleased either. By the time I emerged from under the water squeaky clean and happy, our messenger had worked himself into such a lather that he was raining hell, fire, damnation, perdition, general doom, ruination, and elimination of the home mortgage deduction, and was spitting red, white and blue BBs on the Israelites, the hapless truckers, and every functioning earlobe in the county. This, I reasoned, was the point at which Charlton Heston threw the stone tablets at them and made their golden calf explode.

“AND THE LORD SAID….” boomed the preacher and I almost reached over and flushed the commode for comic effect. But I thought better of it. Actually, I remembered getting in a bit of a jam years ago when I placed a whoopee cushion in the preacher’s chair, and decided that some lessons don’t need to be learned twice. But where was I? Oh yes, I was going through hygienic rituals while the preacher and Charlton Heston were giving what-for to everyone around.

For some reason, I expected that many in the assemblage would depart thou in great haste from that humble little truck stop chapel, desperate to find someplace free of the terrible tongue-lashing. But I was wrong. Emerging from the shower room, I saw truckers handing their cell phones to the preacher so he could see photos of their grandchildren. As for the preacher, he now seemed more like a pastor, smiling broadly with these hard working men and women, listening to their stories and commiserating with their experiences.

It seemed, to this observer, that there are still a few people who prefer a plain message to being coddled, though to be sure that isn’t always the case. There is a pastor of a certain church down in Florida that has to be escorted to and from worship services due to very real threats on his life, which threats issue from those whose “tolerance” of opposing points of view cause them to threaten murder. For the truck drivers gathered in the little TV room today, however, the blunt talk of an old-time preacher was tonic for the soul. 

It’s a transient congregation by virtue of the venue, yet these people seemed genuinely happy to be with each other, bound as they are by faith, vocation, and an almost antiquated code of civility. Most of them say, “sir,” and “ma’am.” They hold the door open for others, respect their elders, and speak their mind with flair and wit. 

I told the story several years ago of the old trucker at the breakfast counter in Cordele, Georgia, but I’ll do it again. Breakfast being as good a time as any to solve the worlds’ problems, this gentleman, who sounded for all the world like Ross Perot, went to work explaining the root of terrorism:

There’s three kinds of people in the world today. You see, you got yer Jews, and you got yer Moslems, and you got yer Genitals. The problem is that the Moslems hate the Genitals, and as long as you got people that hate the Genitals, they just gonna keep blowing they-selves up!

How to argue with that? I did offer the observation that Bill Clinton was mighty fond of the Genitals, but he countered that President Clinton wasn’t a “Moslem,” so that didn’t count, prompting me to go back to eating breakfast. 

All of these reminiscences, all of these happy memories on that stretch of Iowa highway this morning were erased in an instant when another 18 wheeler cut me off in traffic, causing a harder brake event than usual. Then, for reasons known only to him, the truck driver began slowing down. Thinking that perhaps he was having some engine trouble, I waited for a safe break in traffic to my left, and then proceeded to pass him. Once again, however, he passed me and began slowing down again, making it obvious that he had no goal other than making life difficult for his colleagues.

“Just wonderful,” I thought to myself, “a country full of trucks and I have to get stuck behind John McCain.” Soon enough though, as we entered Cedar Rapids, the good senator exited the road, no doubt in search of someone else to frustrate, leaving me to a fairly happy drive for the remainder of the day.

Scanning the news during dinner tonight, I see that Ted Cruz took to the airwaves to take down Obamacare, while Jeb Bush took to the airwaves to take down Ted Cruz. These days I must confess that I have more faith in the plainspoken trucker in Cordele, or that gentle soul who preached fire and brimstone in a truck stop this morning, than all the silver-tongued prevaricators and spineless wonders the RNC can cough up.