Where Everybody Asks Your Name

 

It is a high honor indeed to make a living traveling America’s roads, moving freight from one corner of the country to the next. Many is the time I’ve sat quietly in the driver’s seat practically dumbstruck by the awesome splendor of a sunrise, as it seemed The Almighty himself had taken a few minutes off from the world’s problems to splash a panorama of fiery brilliance on the canvas of the heavens. At such times, in the privacy of my mind, I’ve fancied truck drivers as modern day cowboys, working in the elements, sleeping with the freight, and living the life of a drifter.

Viewed through the windshield, America is almost a blur sometimes, an endless procession of mile markers and traffic signs, with only the dotted white lines of the highway to keep one company. The loneliest times are in the evening, when the darkness envelops everything save the little clusters of homes in the distance, their tiny shimmers of warm light glowing through the windows as diminutive rebukes to the inky night.

Behind those lights, life goes on.Parents tuck their children into bed. Families laugh together at the antics on television and the home becomes a refuge against the vicissitudes of an ever-coarsening culture. Meanwhile, the truck driver presses on, hoping to find a safe place to park for the evening, someplace with hot food, a shower, a well-lit parking lot and no prostitutes knocking on the door at all hours.

Every now and then, however, there is a reprieve from the normal routine. Typically, it takes a mechanical event that puts the truck in the shop and necessitates a stay at a local hotel. I had just such a respite recently in Indianapolis, landing me in a local hotel for the evening. Of the various dining options available (including the Nightly Running Of The Hungry People at Golden Corral), I chose a little dive of a bar and grill located next to a motel that looked like it had been airlifted from Beirut.

I may as well get the obvious analogy out of the way and tell Rob Long that this place was a bit like Cheers, only grittier. I sat next to a gentleman who, judging from his appearance, was a painter and, judging from his stories, was wired a little differently from most folks. Evidently, Jesus directs him to different bars to play the state lottery. One night, he told me, he won $2,400 after spending less than $200 on the little peel-off tickets. Then he mentioned something about a young lady and her family in the Philippines that he was supporting with his winnings, and in due course, the voices told him it was time to go to a different bar, and off he went.

The staff was as friendly as any I’ve ever seen, and the zany fun reached ever higher crests as the time passed. There were three bartenders, two of whom were off duty. They were both ladies and it soon occurred to one of them, I think, to nickname all three as A, B, and C, according to their respective brassiere sizes (A belonging to the solitary male bartender who was, in fact, on duty). He raised his shirt and established that he is, indeed, an introvert in that particular regard.

The laughter rolled on, the only thing saltier than the french fries being some of the language, though I confess to marveling at what a tight-knit little group had formed amongst the customers and staff at this neighborhood pub. Soon a rather large and jocular gentleman walked in and everyone in the joint hailed his arrival. He went straightaway to the music machine and purchased about an hour’s worth of songs and then bought a stack of peel-off lottery tickets and went to work. 

Since all the fun and frivolity was happening at the other end of the bar once the painter/gambler abandoned the place, I moved closer to the action and explained that I wanted to sit with the cool kids. They immediately asked my name, and invited me to participate it the general fun.

I mentioned to the kind and attractive lady seated next to me that I hadn’t seen so many people having this much fun in a very long time. That’s when I learned that those bright and engaging smiles have a high price tag. The young 20-something lady bartender at the end of the counter, the one who was tossing back beer while serving as mistress of ceremonies and general ringleader for the care-free frivolity? She was widowed about a year ago. Perhaps the beer eases the heartache at least temporarily,…but now and then her eyes welled with tears and the look of awful and deep pain on her young face seemed as raw, and the torment as agonizingly fresh, as it must have been the day her husband died. Almost as a catharsis, she now seemingly derives the greatest pleasure from bringing smiles to the faces of those around her. 

When the emotions overtook her, however, she turned and held onto the larger jocular man with all the lottery tickets spread before him. This gentleman, a Vietnam War veteran, had recently had to bury his 30-year-old son, and when he allowed his grief to surface for a moment, there was a hardly a dry eye to be found anywhere.

Then, when Garth Brooks’ song, “The Dance,” played, a couple of other locals walked over to these two grieving people and held them close, enveloping them in a group hug. These people, seemingly holding onto each other for dear life here in this wonderfully ramshackle little bar, as if to cement a bond strong enough to withstand the cruelest fate and yet with a hospitality warm enough to welcome a traveling trucker into their midst … they filled in the beautiful, yet hard-edged reality behind the two-dimensional figures that television simply can’t convey. To spend an evening in their company was to be reminded that the best and brightest smiles don’t come cheap. I hope I come back this way again soon.

There are 31 comments.

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  1. Thatcher
    Troy Senik, Ed.: Does anyone else read Dave’s posts and long to have him narrating their life story? His capacity for mining beauty in everyday life is second to none. · 5 hours ago

    True, so true. 

    • #1
    • August 29, 2013 at 3:45 am
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  2. Inactive

    Great country ain’t it ?

    Prayers for you and yours from Missouri- both north and south.

    Perfect story about the great bars that populate the world. I am so thankful for the time I wasted in them. Friends for life, the hour, the day, the drinks,and the pool game .

    Strangely enough, I never met a woman in a bar.

    • #2
    • August 29, 2013 at 5:27 am
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  3. Inactive

    Dave, your columns are one of the main reasons I read Ricochet. Thank you!

    • #3
    • August 29, 2013 at 5:39 am
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  4. Member

    the Nightly Running Of The Hungry People at Golden Corral

    That cracked Me up and got Me to thinking,”Why would anyone eat where they use ‘sneeze shields?'”

    Which led Me to think,”Wait, do chefs, cooks, and waitstaff not sneeze in the kitchen?”

    I don’t know when I’ll eat out again.

    • #4
    • August 29, 2013 at 5:44 am
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  5. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author
    Jimmy Carter

    the Nightly Running Of The Hungry People at Golden Corral

    That cracked Me up and got Me to thinking,”Why would anyone eat where they use ‘sneeze shields?'”

    Which led Me to think,”Wait, do chefs, cooks, and waitstaff not sneeze in the kitchen?”

    I don’t know when I’ll eat out again. · 3 minutes ago

    You’ve just given me even more jitters about truck stop restaurants, which have become like gastrointestinal roulette to me anyway. From now on, I sneeze on my own food.

    • #5
    • August 29, 2013 at 5:50 am
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  6. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author
    Rubysue: Dave, your columns are one of the main reasons I read Ricochet. Thank you! · 10 minutes ago

    Well aren’t you sweet! Thank you ever so much.

    • #6
    • August 29, 2013 at 5:50 am
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  7. Inactive

    What I like about you is that you always look for the stories in the people you encounter. And with wonderful talent you possess, convey those stories to us making us wish we were there with you. Awesome as always.

    • #7
    • August 29, 2013 at 5:53 am
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  8. Thatcher

    Touching Story. Thank you for sharing.

    • #8
    • August 29, 2013 at 5:59 am
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  9. Inactive

    We would probably get more truth out of an article that Dave wrote about Obama than we do every day reading the NY Times, LA Times, Washington Post, etc. 

    “…they filled in the beautiful, yet hard-edged reality behind the two-dimensional figures that television simply can’t convey.”

    I don’t know if Obama has a beautiful side but he certainly comes off as two-dimensional figure.

    • #9
    • August 29, 2013 at 6:16 am
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  10. Member

    I love your stories, and this is a wonderful country in spite of that piece of slime sitting in OUR W.H. We will out last him. Just did an 800+ run last Sunday, in a pick-up pulling a goose-neck, 4 horse trailer. I’m still waiting for my head to recover.

    I had a neighbor hood pub in CA, but haven’t found one in MT. Probably because I’m too old to drink and still drive home in the dark. LOL

    • #10
    • August 29, 2013 at 6:27 am
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  11. Inactive

    Beautiful, Dave!

    • #11
    • August 29, 2013 at 6:41 am
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  12. Inactive

    You know, Dave, the first couple paragraphs of your story reminded me of a podcast idea I had. I would love to hear little 10-15 minute interviews with random truck drivers at a truck stop. I bet there would be some wonderful, remarkable, bizarre, unbelievable, heartwarming, heartbreaking, funny, sad, and poignant stories.

    • #12
    • August 29, 2013 at 6:45 am
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  13. Member

    Grief, joy, acceptance, life found in a shabby bar in the middle of America. Too bad you have to peel away so many miles to find it, but a man must make a living. Hey Dave, ever thought of publishing your own “On the Road” book of essays? Or better, get Rob Long to produce a show around your road experiences. If “Ice Road Truckers” can find a following, “Dave Carter Delivers America” would be a massive hit. Think of the promotional opportunities – trucks, tires, NASCAR, fuel, fast food. Time to powder that noggin’ and get rich and famous.

    • #13
    • August 29, 2013 at 6:57 am
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  14. Member

    Thanks for reminding me that we’re still a great people.

    • #14
    • August 29, 2013 at 6:57 am
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  15. Coolidge

    This reminds me of a scene in the Helen MacInnis novel “Neither Five Nor Three.” An American soldier, back from Europe after the war, spends his first week just walking around New York City talking to people and getting a sense of the place. He starts going to a bar and learns what they have all been through and how they have created a family group there. This is one paragraph completely incidental to the whole story.

    • #15
    • August 29, 2013 at 6:57 am
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  16. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author
    Doug Kimball: Grief, joy, acceptance, life found in a shabby bar in the middle of America. Too bad you have to peel away so many miles to find it, but a man must make a living. Hey Dave, ever thought of publishing your own “On the Road” book of essays? Or better, get Rob Long to produce a show around your road experiences. If “Ice Road Truckers” can find a following, “Dave Carter Delivers America” would be a massive hit. Think of the promotional opportunities – trucks, tires, NASCAR, fuel, fast food. Time to powder that noggin’ and get rich and famous. · 11 minutes ago

    Working on a book now. And if you don’t mind,…I’m going to get a lot of mileage out of the phrase, “I need to go and powder my noggin’.”

    • #16
    • August 29, 2013 at 7:10 am
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  17. Inactive

    Rob Long has tried to give Americans a taste of what you are giving us. Pubs are the most perfect places to discover real people who are lacking in pretense.

    You just gave us the rare opportunity to see folks who have a life that is a gift and a challenge.

    Thanks 

    • #17
    • August 29, 2013 at 7:21 am
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  18. Member
    Dave Carter
    Doug Kimball: Grief, joy, acceptance, life found in a shabby bar in the middle of America. Too bad you have to peel away so many miles to find it, but a man must make a living. Hey Dave, ever thought of publishing your own “On the Road” book of essays? Or better, get Rob Long to produce a show around your road experiences. If “Ice Road Truckers” can find a following, “Dave Carter Delivers America” would be a massive hit. Think of the promotional opportunities – trucks, tires, NASCAR, fuel, fast food. Time to powder that noggin’ and get rich and famous. · 11 minutes ago

    Working on a book now. And if you don’t mind,…I’m going to get a lot of mileage out of the phrase, “I need to go and powder my noggin’.” · 28 minutes ago

    Along with driving the “Ride of Pride” Dave Carter Delivers America would be a top hit reality show that I would actually watch.

    • #18
    • August 29, 2013 at 7:46 am
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  19. Member

    Awesome stuff.

    • #19
    • August 29, 2013 at 8:22 am
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  20. Reagan
    iWe

    What I love the most about Dave’s writing is that he sees the beauty in everyone. Without condescension or superiority, but still with a stomach-rumbling wit, Dave admires that which is good and beautiful and praiseworthy in everyone he sees.

    One of the biggest changes in my life has been that, as I grow older, I have been working on myself to consider others more, to appreciate them as others who are made in G-d’s image.

    I think this is something that only a religious person can really do. Objectively speaking, a baby is just an undeveloped person. And bad or stupid people are everywhere. But if we keep saying to ourselves, “this person ALSO has a spirit from G-d Himself,” then it opens our eyes to the possibilities. And thinking more of other people (not less of oneself) is true humility.

    Dave, thank you! You are an inspiration.

    • #20
    • August 29, 2013 at 8:35 am
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  21. Member

    Welcome back, Dave. We missed you.

    • #21
    • August 29, 2013 at 8:37 am
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  22. Coolidge

    Dave – have you ever dropped off a card with your name – and Ricochet.com – at places like that in the hope that the people with whom you’ve shared an evening could see that the joy they brought to you during your passing visit also brings much joy and appreciation to everyone of us who reads your posts?

    (Not ‘selling’ Ricochet, rather hoping for a toe to be dipped in the water…)

    • #22
    • August 29, 2013 at 8:51 am
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  23. Inactive

    Thank You Dave. We tend to forget all these little sideshows that are going on around us in this great America. I need to spend more time looking for the positive. Thanks for the reminder.

    • #23
    • August 29, 2013 at 9:07 am
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  24. Editor

    Does anyone else read Dave’s posts and long to have him narrating their life story? His capacity for mining beauty in everyday life is second to none.

    • #24
    • August 29, 2013 at 9:10 am
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  25. Member

    If this story had a color, it would be the color of real.

    Thanks, Dave.

    • #25
    • August 29, 2013 at 9:41 am
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  26. Inactive
    Liz Wirth: What I like about you is that you always look for the stories in the people you encounter. 

    I agree, but admit I am looking forward to football season and more outstanding commentary on LSU!

    • #26
    • August 29, 2013 at 9:42 am
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  27. Coolidge

    A great heart watching.

    Powerful and tender all at once.

    ” The loneliest times are in the evening, when the darkness envelops everything save the little clusters of homes in the distance, their tiny shimmers of warm light glowing through the windows as diminutive rebukes to the inky night.”

    • #27
    • August 29, 2013 at 9:54 am
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  28. Inactive

    Dave, I’m kind of worried about your fran Alphonse. Is he okay?

    • #28
    • August 29, 2013 at 10:13 am
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  29. Inactive

    Dave –

    Delighted to hear from you again! Your writing is a gift to the human race. God go with you.

    • #29
    • August 30, 2013 at 5:13 am
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  30. Member

    Dave, you are Ricochet’s own, private version of Charles Kuralt doing his “On The Road” series or Roger Welsch and his delightful “Postcards from Nebraska.” Please keep ’em coming.

    And we look forward to your book-length compendium.

    Thank you for your efforts – you have a deeply appreciative audience.

    • #30
    • August 31, 2013 at 6:26 am
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