After welcoming one and all to the weekly installment of Ricochet’s primary podcast, James Lileks typically brings in Peter Robinson and Rob Long and asks how they’ve been getting along. Whereupon Rob can be counted on to preface his remarks with a happy reference to, “Sunny Southern California.” Uh huh. Having spent today in southern California, I can vouch that this is the kind of sunshine that resulted in Noah’s ark. Perhaps Rob really said, “I’m growing gills,” and I just misunderstood. I’ve been very busy misunderstanding a lot of people lately.
The load that brought me to Ontario, California today originated in the Nashville area on Tuesday. My understanding of the load was that it had to be delivered by 6PM today. I planned my trip accordingly. Then, Wednesday night, I checked the computer and saw that the delivery had been changed to 8AM today, effectively moving events almost a full work day earlier. Did it really change, I wondered, or did I misunderstand the assignment in the first instance? What followed was a grueling schedule that culminated with an all-night drive last night, providing time to wonder if I’ve been paying sufficient attention lately.
At 2 o’clock this morning, while I was nearing the Arizona / California border, a contemporary yet deliciously sweet piano rendition of Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring filled the cab. The patch of desert landscape, illuminated by the headlights, seemed all the more bright against a cold starless night. The delicious warmth of the coffee seemed especially comforting. I caught just a hint of what looked to be a brush of silver light to my left, almost like a reflection from one of the dashboard gauges against the driver’s side window. I looked again and saw that it was moonlight, formless, without focus, just a wisp of silver fading in from behind the clouds.
I had misunderstood my fortune, because rather than an arduous task, this night time drive was turning into a wondrous experience. Or so I thought. The California authorities were thoughtful enough to construct an inspection station in the middle of Interstate 40, where they could more properly welcome commercial drivers. “Papers,” said the nice officer. More misunderstanding ensued because I didn’t believe myself to be passing through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. I handed over the bills of lading, which stated that I was delivering medical supplies to a Costco distribution center. “Wachagot?” he asked. “Pardon?” I asked. “What are you carrying?” he asked. He was staring at the load list that told him precisely what I was carrying. So I answered, “drugs.” “What?” he said. “Medical supplies,” I clarified. I was allowed to proceed.
A few hours later, I was traveling south on Interstate 15 toward Los Angeles, when the highway took a turn up through a mountainous region. We drove up into large black cloud of “Sunny Southern California,” which opened a deluge on us, causing me to remember that I had come all the way out here and forgotten my suntan oil.
Later still, the load having been delivered, I wandered inside the truck stop restaurant in Ontario for a hot breakfast prior to turning in for some rest. In most truck stops, if one wants to engage in conversation with other truckers, one sits at the counter. Drivers who opt for a table or booth are generally understood to be feeling a little less sociable. Soaked to the bone, I went straightaway to a booth. A few minutes later, another driver sat in the adjacent booth. “Hope you drive wrong,” he said. “Pardon?” I asked. “Have you been driving long?” he repeated. It was going to be one of those meals.
Now, my daughter and I don’t always have the greatest of phone connections, due to my cell signal and her wireless gizmos, so that what she says and what I actually hear are not always the same thing. Occasionally, instead of asking her to repeat something, I’ll simply tell her what I thought I heard, which is always good for a laugh. This morning’s conversation was worse because the guy would neither speak up nor shut up. I had hoped, after asking him to repeat himself some five or six hundred thousand times, he might give up and go back to his eggs and bacon. Alas, his narrative was as boundless as his appetite. I threw in the towel:
Him: “My aunt flapped on a flatbed all the way to Norfolk.”
Him: “Yeah, I told the idiot that lumber wouldn’t make the trip in a ribbon like that, but you know how dispatchers are.”
Him: “Spend much? On food?”
Me: “About 10 bucks on average.”
Him: “Yeah, you know what I told the manager at Petro?”
Him: “I told that sonovabiscuit eater that there ain’t no way a cackeroni with flim flies can run no 8 bucks.”
Him: “If l’m lyin’ I’m fryin’, besides, the menu said the steak lice was sledge over cork.”
Me: “No kiddin’.”
And on it went. And went. He ate more food than I could manage, quicker than I could manage, and never broke stride with his story-telling. I’m not sure, but I think he was telling the waitress how much he’d like to take her to Topeka on a wheel barrow, but I might have got that part wrong. It was time to pay the bill and get some sleep. I was reminded of the story of the genteel old man who, on the occasion of his 60th wedding anniversary, told his wife, “Honey, I’m proud of you.” “Well,” she said, “I’m tired of you too.”
Meanwhile, the southern California sun continues to rinse off my truck. I think I’ll have to turn the volume up for the next podcast.