I’m a night driver. I drive amongst the trucks on I-5 between LA and San Francisco through the hot August night. The trucks, they comfort me. They line the edges of parking lots and fill the rest stops, engines idling as drivers sleep…or rest…their logs must show that they rest. Truck drivers spin out the nights doing the work of Atlas, keeping the stuff of life moving north and south along the valley corridor that is California. Like cowboys of lore mostly they travel alone, trading stories at truck stops and communicating in spare bursts via cb radios – technological cups to the wall.
When I was a teenager and began to travel the central valley path from my early LA home to what would become my adult homeland in the bay area, we used to find these books in truck stop lobbies along the route. They contained essays about truckers and the world of truckers. One in particular called ‘The Trucker’s Wife’ stands out. It begins “She’s the woman behind the man behind the wheel keeping America strong.”
But in truth, I’ve loved truckers since I was a little girl. I used to make the universal gesture out the window of my daddy’s Cadillac asking for the pull of their air horns as we sped past them on the highways of my childhood. Later, returning from Lake Tahoe, my girlfriend Gabriele flirted with a cute young driver as we passed him and he passed us in a game of tonage. We got a blast of reality when he approached our table in a coffee shop later. He asked us to go back to his truck with him and smoke a joint. I think his name was Rusty…we debated, but didn’t go. Years later I was driving from LA to my home in Nayarit, Mexico and found haven from a long windy, wet night at a trucker gathering place in Arizona off I-10. I must have been quite a sight. I was driving a ’69 Ranchero laden with bikes, hang glider and assorted other junk, sharing the front bench seat with my black lab Dinah. The exit led to a long road filled with trucks and cafes. I hesitated getting out of my overloaded car wondering if I would I be safe. But I’ll never forget the friendliness and lack of edge I was encountered with. It was like the social after-service part of church: we could have been standing around with styrofoam cups of red punch rather than steaming bad coffee. They gave me road tips and made me feel that my 3-day car-journey across Mexico was a rational thing to do – an idea not shared by many.
But I love truck drivers now because they have a code. In this mucked up world of grey ethics with leaders whose speech evokes cartoon bubbles over their heads, with half-truths weighing us down and often no clear “right thing to do” in the face of injustice, you gotta love guys with a code. They may not live by a code, but they do drive by one.
Trucks stay in the right lane on a two-lane road unless they’re passing. Of course that’s the law, but they do it. They let a faster truck pass them – they don’t speed up in a show of pride and feathers like motorists will. When there’s enough room for the passing truck to come back over to the right, they signal with their lights. Hmmm…downright neighborly, respectful even. Trucks move to the left lane if a truck or car is pulled over on the right. Ditto when passing on-ramps. You never know when somebody might need to use the right lane to get up to highway speed. Trucks blow their air horns when little kids, or grown women, gesture madly out the window.
In all these years of trucker worshipfulness I finally got to help a couple of them enforce their code last night. A highway sign warned that the right lane was closing in a couple of miles. When I saw brake lights up ahead, I pulled to the left lane and finally came to a stop behind a truck, warning lights flashing. The truck behind me put his flashers on to warn more trucks behind him. He turned off his headlights so they wouldn’t blind me. Kindly. All was right in truckerland. But soon there was trouble in the ranks. To our right, two trucks trying to cut in. They hadn’t veered into the left lane, but were using the right lane to outflank their brothers. How did the truckers ahead and behind me respond? By closing ranks. We held the line. The truck in front of me, my little truck’s nose to his tail and the truck behind me moved as one, inch by inch as traffic moved in staccatos of speed or noodled slowly, keeping those outcasts out. This was the code in action and I was helping to enforce it, at the risk of becoming a Mazda sandwich or burning up my clutch.
Afterwards, when we had successfully kept the errant trucks out of our lane, I wanted to invite them to pull over with me, to drink a hot coffee and a discuss of the code…but I thought they’d probably just want to smoke a joint with me, so I passed them, and left them flashing their lights, diminishing in my rear view mirror.
posted by Lisa Thompson on 6:01 PM link | comments 
Copyright 2003 Lisa Thompson. All Rights Reserved.