Warmth Beneath The Ice

Well, it all started in Columbus, Ohio last week, where I got stranded for a day due to an impossible freight schedule that was made hilariously impossible by a sudden snow. (I don’t play in the snow, in a semi, on untreated roads.) So I used the unexpected down time to call my boss and explain that I really need to get to Carlisle, Pennsylvania in order to repair the fender that I used to kill that deer with last month. I’m scheduled to bring the Ride of Pride to a rather large special event in early March, and the body shop manager in Carlisle assures me he can restore her to original splendor in time for the event. So my dispatcher agreed … I must beat a path toward Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Which of course, is how I came to be here in New Hampshire. If the logic passes you by, it’s only because you haven’t been sufficiently tutored in the mysterious ways of truck dispatching. I once told my supervisor–who is in Memphis and is as nice and charming a lady as you could ever hope to meet–that our company’s load planners (the people who actually assign the loads and tell us where to go) are a gift from God. Why? Because if He hadn’t sent them to dispatch truckers, they might have become 911 dispatchers, in which case they would respond to a fire in downtown Memphis by sending the fire fighters to Little Rock. Better to put them in charge of getting toilet paper to Akron. If these people had navigated Columbus on his voyage, he’d still be bobbing around in the ocean chasing bad weather. 

Speaking of which, I almost didn’t make it up here in time for today’s snow event. The trip through New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts Friday was infested with enough close calls to test even Pat Boone’s innocent vocabulary. I especially enjoyed the young 20-something who was barreling down I-495 at warp speed, steering wheel in one hand and cell phone in the other, drifting from her lane to visit other drivers in theirs. She came calling on me eventually and I had to blast the air horn to tell her that I wasn’t accepting visitors. Evidently, I breached protocol, for she actually put down her phone long enough to flip me off. By the time I finished with the traffic jams, bottlenecks, construction delays, and people leaving their place in line to take the shoulder of the highway and cut in front of six other cars, it was well after dark and truck parking was scarce. So I wound up in a large lot called a “Park and Ride,” I think, with no facilities of any kind anywhere nearby. But at least it was quiet.

Yesterday’s adventure began with a fresh layer of snow and mechanical problems that featured two check engine lights, an inoperable windshield washer, and no partridge for the pear tree. Though you might not realize it at first, a functioning windshield washer is indispensable in winter because without it, the salt and dirt that is kicked up from the road and onto the windshield will soon make it impossible to see anything. That meant I couldn’t go to Maine to pick up the next load, nor could I deliver that load back in Pennsylvania by first thing this morning. Instead, I went chasing after replacement parts.

“If we can get you the part, can you install it?” asked the gentleman on the phone. I told him that I’m lucky if I can manage to stick the fuel nozzle in the right place, let alone crawl under the hood and perform anything other than general demolition. So they directed me to a repair shop near Manchester, I think it was. The mechanic seemed a little coarse at the outset, answering my question of whether he needed access inside the truck with “Well, I gotta read the codes somehow!” But even with that comment, he was more talkative and genial than his manager, so I decided to stay with the truck while he worked. A couple of jokes later, he began to chuckle and loosen up a bit so that he asked about the artwork on the truck.

“You a vet?” he asked. I answered yes, and he asked, “What branch?” I told him Air Force, adding that my grandfathers and my Dad had been in the Army. “Well,” he said, “you have a Marine working on your truck right now.” I thanked him for his service, and he looked at me and said, “You’re the first person that’s ever said that to me.” “You gotta get out of this area more often,” I said, and he laughed, saying, “You’re probably right.” 

I explained that I’ve met some nice people in New England, but that something seems to come over them when they get behind the wheel. “I don’t know how you drive this thing with these maniacs around,” he said before adding that the only place he enjoys driving is to a mountaintop about an hour or so north of here, where he said, “I got a thousand acres and there’s only one way in and one way out.” He occasionally takes friends there to hunt deer and such, “…but I don’t talk about that much.” “Why not?” I asked. “Because, you know, so many people here don’t like hunting.” So I showed him where I had gone hunting with the truck’s fender. “You gotta get that fixed,” he said, to which I answered, “That’s why I’m in New Hampshire!”

Rather than read magazines in the waiting room, or huddle in the truck away from the cold, I had a wonderful time standing outside and talking with this gentleman. We compared military experiences (we’ve both been to Korea), traded jokes, and talked about everything but politics because it seemed like an unseemly topic to soil a good conversation with. I was tempted to mention the bumper sticker I had seen that day which read, “Got Pot Holes? Thank a Republican,” and see if he knew which party had passed about a trillion dollars in “shovel ready” projects but left the pot holes untouched. But I had an idea on which side he would have landed. He’s a Marine, for heaven’s sake.

When the work was done and we went inside to sign the paperwork, I scrawled out my horrible signature and said, “Now, there’s something that any doctor or epileptic chicken would be proud of.” The manager looked on, confused and agitated at the festivities, while my new friend laughed loudly and with the happy relief of someone who has just discovered that he can smile and his face won’t break. We shook hands and thanked each other again for serving, and I went on my way wondering …

Perhaps I’ve been too hard in my indictments of some of the people I encounter in this region. From the Marine that repaired my truck to the cheerful and witty waitress that served dinner last night, there are some very charming and warm-hearted people here. They drive like they are running late for their next wreck and I’ll be hanged if I can understand why someone would speak graciously to you one minute and then try to make a hood ornament of you the next, but perhaps they are just trying to survive the onslaught of humanity that crushes in from all directions in a relatively tiny region. But underneath the ice and frosty demeanor, in some instances at least, there appears to be a warm and gracious heart, which takes the edge off a snowy and blustery day like today. Now, if I can only hold onto that thought the next time they cut me off in traffic …