November 9, 1960
When Brian woke up he was warm and dry. Larry was still asleep, so Brian went to the bathroom. While he was in there he decided to change his socks. He noticed that even his shoes had dried up during the night. He removed them and his socks. He went into the pack looking for a fresh pair and came across a strange piece of paper in the bottom. It was folded twice. He unfolded it and read “Della Lipinski” with address and phone number. That brought back the memory of a special night, with a special girl, which seemed to have happened a year ago though it was only a few days. Even if he was still in Ohio, Brian felt as if he had traveled a thousand miles and Della was a distant memory. Ah well, he thought, maybe I’ll send her a post card one of these days or maybe I won’t. He folded up the paper and put it back.
Soon Larry was up and dressed. He and Brian shared a quick breakfast in the kitchen. Brian noticed the definite signs of a female living there, but they were very modest. This was a no frills life and yet there was something attractive about it, homey and comfortable. There are people, Brian thought, that live lives far from the excitement of city life with all of its cultural and economic opportunities and yet seem quite satisfied and happy. That was somewhat of a puzzle to Brian with his urbane leanings. Well, to each his own, he thought.
After breakfast they went down the stairs to Larry’s small pick up and got in. Brian noticed a few large trucks parked in the parking lot a few doors down. Truckers having breakfast he guessed. As they pulled out of the parking lot Brian saw the sign over the bar which he hadn’t noticed when he came to it. It read “Amos’s Place.” “Who’s Amos?” he asked.
“He’s the owner and bar tender.”
“The guy I met last night?”
“That’s right. He’s a great guy.”
“You rent that apartment from him?”
“Yeah. It’s a good deal for us.”
“What to you do for a living?”
“I fix cars. My wife Maureen works at the back. We’re both active in our church. That’s where we met.”
“You’re a beer drinking Christian?”
Larry laughed. “Well we’re Episcopalians, we’re not Jesus freaks.”
“Not yet, but we’re planning on it.”
“Something tells me you’ll be a good Mom and Dad.”
“Thanks Brian.” Larry smiled.
He pulled into a parking lot in front of an auto repair shop,” Englewood Auto.” There were other cars sitting around, some without their wheels, some with their doors removed.
“Well, this is where I work” said Larry. “The state line is just passed that curve there. Good luck.”
Brian thanked Larry, got out, crossed the road and started walking. Just passed the curve he came to a sign that read “Welcome to Indiana” with some statistics. He turned, put out his thumb and immediately a big truck pulled over and stopped. The passenger door opened. Brian walked over to it and got in.
To Brian there was something akin to hoisting himself up on a rocky ledge, or mounting a pulpit or settling in to the cockpit of an Air Force jet fighter as he climbed up into the seat of that truck.
“How far are you going?” asked the driver.
“I’m heading for California.”
“Well, I can take you to Wichita.”
The driver pushed into gear and started off. Brian wasn’t sure where Wichita was other than it was in Kansas, but he knew it would be a good long trip. He thought it was ironic that yesterday these trucks were insulting him by throwing cold water in his face and now here he was traveling west in one of them. I guess there’s some justice in it, he thought.
The driver, Zack, wanted to know where Brian came from, how the trip was so far and what he planned to do in California. So Brian recounted the voyage he had been on, the motorcycle trip to Buffalo and then to Cleveland. He explained about his friend Bob back in Boston and how they wanted to open a film studio. When he got to that part in the narrative Zack said “I did that.”
“Oh. I went out to Hollywood. I thought I was going to break into movies, be a movie star.”
“What happened?” Brian was curious to know.
“Nothing. I hung around for six years and then came back east and bought this truck.”
“Did you go on auditions? Did you have an agent?”
“Sure. But I didn’t have any luck. You need luck.”
“So this is your own truck?”
“Yep. I got a regular route. I load up in Pittsburg and unload in Wichita.”
“What do you carry?”
“All kinds of stuff.”
Brian decided not to pursue it.
Zack’s questions made Brian think about the last few days, the people and the places: Boston, Worcester, Buffalo, Erie, the college town, Cleveland, the basement of a diner, Englewood. It had only been one week and so much had happened. And the people: Bob, Chuck, Chili Pepper, Della, Margie and Mary Lou, the man with two cars, a bar tender, Larry and now Zack. Brian saw it as a mosaic of his life but also of the country. Watching scenery go by, either slowly on foot or from one vehicle or another, was giving Brian a sense of wonder. He wondered what life was like for all the people who lived in those places, how many stories there were to tell, to write about, to make films about. Brian wished he could go back to the start, to interview everyone he had met and get the full story of their lives. But that was not to be his future. He was on the road.
Out the window of the truck he saw a large collection of buildings in the distance, some of them very large. “What’s over there?” he asked.
“That’s Indianapolis” said Zack. “We’re going to pass that by.”
Now Brian was thinking about cities. There were these cities he had only heard about but had never seen: Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Wichita.
Once well past Indianapolis Zack pulled over at a truck stop for lunch. Brian was glad because he was hungry. While they were eating, another truck pulled up and through the door came one of the biggest men Brian had ever seen. He wasn’t fat, he was big. He looked like he could have picked up his truck by himself. He came over and sat next to Zack. Brian was fascinated as the two men talked the truck drivers’ lingo. He heard about, routes, speed limits, cops, scales, alternate routes, detours and so on. Zack asked the driver what he was hauling.
“A load of sprinkles”
“Sprinkles?” asked Brian, thinking it was a trucker’s term for some important cargo.
“Yeah, sprinkles” said the big driver and looked at Brian as if he was stupid. “You know? Those things they put on ice cream?”
“Oh, yes” said Brian, and he marveled at the irony of this huge man carrying a truckload of little colored sugary things.
For desert Brian ordered another banana cream pie and thought perhaps he could describe his trip across the county by a critique of banana cream pies, state by state.
Back on the road heading southwest still on Route 70 the sky began to darken.
“We’re going to have rain” said Zack. He was right. Within a half an hour it began to pour. Brian was glad to be inside the truck this time instead of out on the highway. But when they passed another hitchhiker Brian felt sorry for the guy, knowing the whiplash of water the truck was going to throw into the guy’s face.
After a while Zack reached into his breast pocket and took out a small harmonica. He tooted a few notes on it and then handed it to Brian. “Here. Play something.”
Brian had never mastered the harmonica but he tried it out and was able to play a few tunes, hitting wrong notes as he went. Zack didn’t seem to mind Brian’s lack of musicianship. Brian guessed it was just the sound and the company that Zack wanted. A truck driver’s life must be a lonely one, Brian thought. So hes began to ask Zack questions about his life: how he got to Hollywood, was he married and what about a family. He found out a lot of information. Zack didn’t seem to mind talking about himself. It turned out that Zack had been a hitchhiker himself. Amazingly he had hitched all through Maine with a big black Labrador and a canoe. They went across the lake area of the state one summer.
“Did you get rides?”
“More than I thought I would. Mo is a friendly dog and he took to the people who stopped.”
“Short for Eskimo. Of course, we had to strap the canoe down on top of the car, but I had the stuff to do that. And we weren’t usually going that far. Just to the next lake.”
“And Mo rode in the canoe when you were on a lake?”
“Yeah, mostly, but he likes to swim also.”
“You still have him?”
“Yeah, but he’s old now. He goes out, but mostly he sleeps.”
“You think you’ll ever go back to California?”
“Nah. I didn’t like it there.”
“I hope I’m going to like it” Brian said.
“It’s different. You don’t get this in LA” said Zack pointing out the front window at the heavy rain. Soon they passed another hitcher who turned his back on the truck as it passed him. Another baptism, thought Brian.
But in an hour the rain let up and they were on dry pavement. Brian figured they must have driven through the rain storm and left it behind. Now the truck was flying down the highway. Zack was trying to make up time he lost having to be careful through the rain. Brian saw the signs flesh by: Mooresville, Cloverdale, Center Point, Brazil, Riley, Terre Haute. That was the first one Brian had ever heard of.
“How did a town in the Midwest get to be named Brazil I wonder” said Brian.
“I don’t know” said Zack. “But I heard there was originally a farm by that name.”
As they approached Terre Haute Zack pulled over and stopped. “You’re going to have to help me with the truck.”
“What do I do?”
“Get out and go around the other side.” So Brian did that. Then Zack opened his door and looked out. “You see that lever sticking out the side?”
“Pull it down and hold it while I drive forward about four feet, then let it go.”
Brian pulled the lever down. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, Brian thought. The truck inched forward. He tried to guess four feet and then let the lever go. It thunked back into place under the truck. “That’s got it” shouted Zack and waited for Brian to get back inside.
“We’re going to pick up speed and she was waving a bit during that last run.”
“Oh. Okay” said Brian. He had no idea what Zack was talking about.
Soon they crossed the border into Illinois and just as Zack had said they went spinning along the highway. It was farm and highway country. And also railroad country. They passed through Effingham, “The Crossroads of Opportunity” the sign read and continued on, a part of those crossroads.
Brian admired some of the old ornate buildings they saw as they passed near the towns. It was unlike the northeastern architecture he was used to. The management of lives that were settled but also full of promise. There was a feeling of the character of certainty among these people, early westward expansion, but not the wilderness challenge that Brian would see later.
Brian noticed that many of the towns were named after the men and women who settled them. Brian wondered, whimsically, if there would ever be a Simsburg, a Simstown or maybe a Sims City. Most likely not. At least not in Illinois, Most of the spaces seem to have been taken up already.
They stopped once for a meal. When they entered the diner Zack saw someone he knew, another trucker.
“I have to go talk to this guy, Brian. You stay here and enjoy your dinner.”
By himself Brian ordered a meat loaf with mashed potatoes and, of course, a piece of banana cream pie. Not bad, he thought, but it was better in Ohio.
Back on the road Zack explained that the guy in the diner just got out of jail and Zack wanted to know how he was doing.
“What did he do?” asked Brian.
Zack was uncomfortable with the question but he answered it anyway, “Transporting stolen property. He didn’t know it was, but he should have checked. They gave him six months. He just got out.”
“You got any stolen property in the back?”
“I hope not.”
“What are we carrying, if I may be so nosy?”
Again Zack seemed uncomfortable. “Ladies garments” he said.
Brian wasn’t sure Zack was telling the truth, but he wasn’t going to question it.
As night came Zack pulled in to a place where there were other trucks parked. Near it was a bar called “Big Wheel’s.”
“Here’s where we sleep” said Zack. “Bur first we have something to eat and a lot to drink. Come on.” He climbed down off the truck and headed for the bar. Brian followed him. As he approached Big Wheel’s he could hear the music playing and when he went inside there was what seemed to be a party going on: loud music, girls dancing with guys, or sitting at the bar with them. There were colored lights and smoke everywhere. Zack kept moving past the bar into a back room where there were tables. He sat at one and in a minute a scantily clad girl came over to the table and said “Hi Zack, Who’s your friend?”
“Brian, meet Norma.”
“Hi” said Brian.
“The usual?” she asked.
“Brian, what’ll you have?” Norma asked.
“Bring a pitcher” said Zack.
“Comin’ up” she said and headed out to the bar.
“We’re at the border” said Zack. “The girls are here to entertain the boys and make a little money in the process, in case you’re interested.”
Brian laughed, “I don’t think I can afford it.”
“We’ll see” said Zack.
When Norma came back with a pitcher and two mugs she leaned over to put them on the table and Brian got a good look at an attractive, full, white pair of breasts, which pleased both Brian and Norma.
Then Norma stood, put a hand on Brian’s shoulder and said “Will you be having some of our fine cuisine?”
“Wouldn’t miss it” said Zack. And off she went in the opposite direction. “I hope you like pizza” said Zack. “That’s all they’ve got.”
Beer and pizza was becoming a way of life on this trip, thought Brian, almost as important as banana cream pie. After Chili Pepper there was beer and pizza and also before Della. Brian laughed to himself. Who’s next? he wondered.
Zack poured the beer into Brian’s mug and then into his own. He lifted the mug and said “Well, here’s to California” and drank. Brian took a mouthful of beer and swallowed it. It felt good.
The rainy, windy purgatory of Ohio was behind him now and though he was sitting in a sleazy beer and pizza joint Zack was not what Brian thought of as your average trucker. As he sat listening to the loud music and the whoops and laughter coming from the bar he felt land locked. He had never been in the center of the country before, so far from water, lakes or ocean. Brian didn’t realizeit at the time but he was in for a big surprise.
Norma came over with a pizza on a metal tray, two plates and some napkins. She set it down on the table, making sure to give Brian another flash down her front. “You want anything else y’all holler, you hear me” she said and went back into the bar.
Zack pulled off a piece of the pizza and put it on his plate. “It’s not great but it fills up the tank” he said.
Brian was curious about the Big Wheel’s. “Who owns this place?”
“Mr. Big. I don’t know his name but he calls himself the Big Wheel.”
“Are those girls like Norma?”
“Pretty much. Yes.”
“Are they all whores?”
“I guess so.”
“Do you ever hire one?”
“No. Not since I got married.”
“So do they have a back room somewhere they go to?”
“I think there’s a room upstairs. But Mr. Big won’t allow any monkey business in the place. He don’t mind the groping and kissing that goes on but if it gets serious it has to go on out in the trucks.”
“Fascinating” said Brian.
Zack was right about the pizza. It was third rate. Tomato sauce, cheese, too much oregano on an overcooked crust, but it filled the tank. Brian washed it down with plenty of beer.
Zack said he had to go to the men’s room and went into the bar. While he was gone, one of the truckers came in with one of the girls and sat at a table. In a moment Norma came in and went into the kitchen shortly coming back with a mug of beer and some pizza slices. The man chomped on the pizza while the girl sat very close to him stroking his head with one hand with her other hand in his lap. Seems like she’s getting down to business, he thought.
When Zack came back there was a girl with him. She was younger and prettier than most of the others he saw. She didn’t seem like a hooker to him. Maybe she isn’t, he thought, she seems too delicate for it. “Sabrina meet Brian” said Zack.
“Hi Sweet Potato” she said. “Come dance with me.” She took his hand, pulled him right out of the chair and into the bar..
Brian looked back and Zack was smiling at him. Once inside the bar one of the truckers called out “Hey, Sabrina, whatcha got?”
Another one said “She’s robbin’ the cradle.”
“He’s just jealous” Sabrina said loud enough for the trucker to hear. There was laughter. They started dancing, which was more like a moving hug. Brian tried not to step on her feet.
“I’m not much of a dancer” he said. “If I do any dancing, it’s on the stage.”
“You’re an actor?” she asked.
“Wow. I never knew and actor before.” The music stopped but started again in a few seconds, so they continued their dance.
“Do you think I’m pretty?” asked Sabrina.
“Yes” he said. “Very.”
She gave a short giggle and held him a little closer.
“You want to go out to your truck and have some fun?” she asked.
“Can’t do it.”
“I don’t have a truck.”
“I’m hitchhiking. Zack picked me up.”
“Oh.” She sounded disappointed but kept dancing. “Where you goin’?”
“Why go way out there?”
“A friend and I want to start a film company.”
“Can I come and be in your movie?”
Brian laughed in a kindly way. “Sure” he said.
“Come on. I’ll take you back to Zack. Next time come with your own truck.”
When they got back to the table there was one piece of pizza left and a new pitcher of beer.
“Bye, Dearie” said Sabrina and went back into the bar. Brian ate the pizza and poured another beer.
“How was your dance?” asked Zack.
“Close. But no cigar.”
Zack laughed, “That’s probably a good thing.”
Occasionally another trucker would come into the dining area with a girl hanging onto him. Brian wondered if these women really wanted the life they had. They were friendly and not bad looking. Some were older but there was not one old hag in the group as far as he could tell. They probably never had to buy a drink or a slice for themselves. He didn’t know how much it cost for a visit in a truck but he guessed it was enough to make it worthwhile. Maybe it was just the money that kept them coming here. He tucked the experience away in his memory for another possible film scenario. Who knows? Maybe Sabrina will end up in the film someday, he thought with a grin.
After another pitcher Brian and Zack were beginning to nod off. When he saw her go by Zack signaled to Norma. He asked for the bill and paid it. Then he and Brian went out into the night air. Sabrina was busy with another customer and didn’t notice Brian as he left.
When they got to the truck, Zack climbed into the sleeping area at the back of the cab and Brian stretched out on the front seats. Soon they were both asleep.
To be continued.