Copyright is held by the author.
“I’M A rover and a rambler and a high desert gambler!” I sing snatches of things I make up and real songs quite loud, quite loud in my Kenworth tractor Desert Dog with its GPS and satellite wireless; Bluetooth; computer screen; DVD-player, and iPod station and a high octane CD sound system that equals any luxury boat on the road. I am Hooked Up. I can listen or I can sing, or both. I love it.
You have the most awful singing voice, Priscilla says, with real astonishment but with smiling affection. A cross between an even more tuneless Johnny Cash and bad George Jones karaoke. It sounds fine in my head. She puts up with it in good humor. She is a school teacher and has such patience. A wonderful trait along with hotness, which she also possesses. Lucky kids in her class spend more time with her than I do.
I am sitting at the top of an icy-looking hill, idling, in the foothills of the Rockies heading East, the kind of hill that’s a brake-killer on good days and this is not your good day. I want to get to the flatlands and make some time.
It’s dusk, cloudy drizzle, 30 degrees, weather lowering. I look down this long winding snake-ass thing and I see my death, and the fear rises in my thorax. I don’t know exactly what a thorax is but it seems like a cross between my throat and my esophagus or something that would carry bile up the tube and spread it around like evil under my tongue and I’d swallow it back down, leaving an aftertaste of burnt truck stop coffee and bacon. Maybe ozone.
I think why did I take this up, this over-the-road madness, I am a huge flaming fireball of a news story waiting to happen, then the pretty girl with rosy cheeks and pumped-up lips looks at the male anchor she’s messing with and says, and now for a lighter look at . . . what, maybe a secret santa story.
I can’t back up. And if it’s icy, there’s no way I can steer through this serpentine slither without at the very least jack-knifing and shearing trees, guardrails punching through the saddle tanks, and — shoot I say, pulling out onto the roadway, here we go you sonsabitches, addressing my humourless dad and my grandpa, I’ll see you in hell in about one minute and a half, gears up, speed gaining, nothing coming, I take the whole middle of the road.
I ease off as I head down, hoping DesertDog don’t break traction, no turning back now, I’m all in. I tap the brakes, just tap them, air from the system shushing me in an angry little psshht. No yawing or slewing, no thorax-sickening, sphincter-tightening spinal frisson. Like that frisson, Priscilla. What a word! Like your Freixenet champagne. Chills. Up your spine, down your gullet, my girl Priscilla uses words like a poet, she teaches English, gaining speed, can’t gear down, hit a skate of black ice oohhhhh shitfire, no she’s straight, she’s moving, the road ain’t iced, just that one black-ice bad-ass patch, hanging onto the curve, not so snaky as it looked from up on top, whoa shit dawg, now we’re talkin’ DesertDog is gonna make ‘er. I got her name feather-ghost striped on the doors. Shines in the sun in a leaded glass blue and blue-green against the dark blue. Oh man, we did it, faced the abyss and beat the bitch.
I snap open a CD, one-handed, Joe Bonamassa, slide into the player slit which sucks it in like, well, I can’t say, as Priscilla does not like the metaphor, but it makes me smile and affects me well below the thorax, I’ll say that. I turn it up and Joe wails WAILS plays that thing like a banshee in heat in Dante’s hell circle number three. Oh my, I say out loud. Oh my.
Black smoke a-blowin’ over 18 wheels, I am feeling it in my blood, which flows like good synthetic 40 weight oil at 190 degrees, viscosity just right, I am steady as she goes rollin’ workin’ for the man ever night and DAY.
I hear myself laughing. Sometimes I talk. I say my dailies when driving, prayers for Priscilla, for the dogs, our home, our safety. I always sing. Joe makes me want to dance, but I can’t bounce around too much in DD, she likes a precision driver, and then there’s the load all chain-boomered down on the bed, hauling power plant sections tarped and ominous, looming and official like a government load of something Dick Cheney would like.
Load of doom. Doomload download at Alton or East St. Louis. Let me outa these Colorado Rockies. Across the plains. Flame licks from the blues virtuouso Bonamassa the master bender of Fender. But I don’t know what he plays, Gretsch, Gibson, what. Matters not. He could make a chinese banjo quote Shakespeare.
Kansas. Flat and windswept with Priscilla’s Capote lurking licking his lips still looking at Klutter luck or lack and . . . Hank Jr. sings, as do I, Hey little water boy bring the buck buck bucket down quack quack, always makes me laugh, lifts my spirits, good thing on this flatland wheatland weedland express.
Truck stop looms, Desert Dog and I dust it, shine it, don’t intertwine it, flashing by. I back off and the pipes rap at the waitress there who, maybe tired, maybe worried about a mammogram, maybe her kid sassed her, told me to eat shit and die when I questioned the freshness of the pie. Everyone has bad days, I said to her, and she said sorry, and I tipped her fat, but it leaves me sad, so I pass. Another one in 50 miles 40 minutes. I check my radar detector, it’s flashing red red red, means only that it’s on.
I dial from Jim Rome to Dave Ramsey to Rush Limbaugh, they seem flat as the Kansas-scape, I think Elvis! Yes, Blue Christmas without you, my phone rings, I snatch it up, pull the charger connection out of it. It’s Priscilla.
“Hey,” I say.
“Where are you?”
“Truckin’ through Kansas but don’t tell my momma, she thinks I’m a piano player in a whorehouse.”
“Uproarious. Kneeslapping. Side-spl —”
She interrupts. “Be serious for just a second.”
“Like a doggone heart attack.”
I hear her blow nose air sort of like a laugh but not quite. “When are you home?”
Home being California, the high desert, actual location Hemet. Home in Hemet.
“I will be in Hemet, California 9:16pm December 22nd.”
“Better than perfect. Unless, of course, you forget my present and are dressed up to go out instead of butt nekkid.”
“We are going out during the holidays truckboy. And you will look nice.”
“We are and I will. Tell me something sexy.”
“Old truckers never die, they just get a new Peterbilt.”
“So are you.” She laughs. Can she be disparaging of my age, the difference in years between us?
“I’ve been reading the books you gave me,” I say.
“Good. Which one are you reading now?”
“That one by Kant about reason.”
“Really? I don’t remember giving you any philosophy books . . .”
“I made that up. Me and Wikipedia.”
“You goofball. I’ve got to go. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Blue Christmas swells in the cab, all the better because mine won’t be blue, mine will be sun streaming in the venetian blinds lolling in bed and then cooking brunch and the dogs bumping around me. Opening packages. I have gotten her presents at Neiman Marcus in Dallas, DD idling at the loading dock in back.
Blooooo bloooo Christmas without yoooo, Elvis smirks and dimples as he croons and moons and DD is humming at an 80 sweet spot and Kansas will soon be a memory into Missouri, East to Alton, Illinois.
I light up a 420 Marley, I’m a smoker, I’m a toker, I’m a midnight broker, I’m a joker and a Fokker and an Absaroker. This rig cost me, but if you live in one half the time, be happy. Desert Dog makes me happy. Lights everywhere, bluedots in back, illegal maybe but nobody says anything. Sleep compartment, I keep it clean, like to sleep in comfort, shower at stops, when the money’s good, in good motels, prime rib and a Manhattan on the rocks, read myself to sleep. Lap of luxury Priscilla says about some things, her lap is luxury and I’m a luxury-hound, she doesn’t like too much referencing of the hot spot, the blue dot, the fox trot. But she inspires me, leads me, educates me.
It’s not like she is trying to improve me — she just likes teaching. And I’m raw stock she can make something out of. She says I’m smart. Nobody ever told me that. It’s great to have a teacher that cares. They say you remember the good ones all your life. This is especially true of me, a teacher’s pet for sure.
Whoa shit some little sporty number passing me and my radar detector is squawking smokey X-band, there goes that guy’s Christmas bonus. Yes, here he comes hot on his ass. Nailed in Kansas in the unsympathetic wheat stubble!
Me and the Desert Dog hauling ass and power plant parts. I hit the all-windows-down button, fresh clean razor-cold Kansas air jets the cab, scrubs the ceegar smoke from the plastics, leathers and chromes, freezes my earring. A little kid in the back of a Volvo wagon pumps his arm, I give him two blasts of DD’s double airs, he claps his hands. We both laugh. It’s Christmas.