Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Last Load

(Bonus Article)

This is not a humor piece, nor is it a rant. I just want to make that clear before we go any further. Also, there is no post image as I can't seem to locate any photos of the accident. I'll put one up as soon as I find one.

This was my first submission in my Honors English Composition class at Arkansas State University. I include it here as proof that I'm not just ignoring my readers, and that I haven't forgotten you guys. In addition to recieving an A+, this piece also recieved applause when I read it aloud in class. To my delight, my professor later asked permission to shop it around to a few people on campus for purposes of getting it published. I'll let you know how that turns out. I hope you enjoy it.

My baby had a candy black paint job, dual stacks, and a big engine that could pull hills without working hard, even when I was loaded down at seventy-nine five. I tell ya', she was one hell of a girl. Stretched out long, her all aluminum wheelbase was 214" from hub to hub, and her rubber was virgin. The Freightliner was my home, my office, and my playpen all rolled into one. And now here we were about to get the last load for the week, and the week had been hard. We'd pulled just shy of 2800 miles in the last five days, this truck and me, with five deliveries and five reloads. I wanted a rest, and the old girl wanted some new oil.

I reached out a hand to the chrome door handle and pulled. There was a sound of a latch falling open and a blast of cool air rolled out and over me. I grabbed the handrail and pulled myself into the cab, where my air-ride seat greeted me with a familiar squeak. Closing the door with a whump, I adjusted myself behind the wheel and took note of the air pressure gauge, 120 lbs. in both tanks. Okay. Good enough for me. I pushed off the yellow and red air brake buttons on the dashboard with a light thump and listened to the hiss of pressurized air flood through the brake lines.

Putting the truck in second gear, I eased out on the clutch until I felt the clutch plate grab and feathered the accelerator before letting off the left pedal completely.

I followed the directions to the loading area and began setting up my trailer for the lumber I was about to take on. Shortly, a black man resembling Issac Hayes in a pair of mouse colored coveralls, safety glasses and blue hard hat tears up to me on a well-abused kerosene powered forklift. And it stinks.

We don't like each other, this man and I. He takes my paperwork and loads my truck, but I know full well that he’ll try to get away with a doing a half-assed job just so he can go home an hour early if I don’t watch him. These yard guys knock off whenever they get done, not when the whistle blows.

He’s finally done fifteen minutes later, and he tries to rush me to get out of the way so he can load his last truck. I lash things down to my satisfaction before moving. This has the predicted effect of pissing off the forklift operator, but I don’t care. I already told you we didn’t like each other. The important thing was that we were finally going home, me and my girl. We were going home to mama’s house with a real bed, good food, showers you don’t have to pay for and, uh, *ahem* … certain activities. I eased forward and began my circuit around the big metal warehouse that would lead me back to the outbound scales.

The resulting dust cloud was an enormous, foglike thing that briefly obscured a good portion of the world. I took a few minutes to enjoy the air conditioning before I set about a job that I didn't want to do. The last hurdle always seems to be the highest.

About an hour later I'm covered in grime, sweat, and whatever profanities that stuck. But the load's on my trailer, and it looks good. Now all I had to do is just go home for the weekend, and everything would be all right. I climbed back into the driver's seat which squeaked at me again, and I looked at myself in the mirror. I was totally covered in grime, and I looked as though I'd been dragged behind a pickup truck on a farm through a watermelon patch. I washed my hands with Windex and a roll of paper towels that I carried with me, and I set out for home. Oppressive, the clouds were all of a cross between iron and old lead. I watched them chase the sun out of the sky as the miles fell away.

I don't know what time it was. It was just dark. The only illumination in my cab came from my instrument panel like electric corpselight. I'd been fighting switchback two lane for a couple of hours and now I was finally on the Big Road: I-55. The way home. I was all alone on the highway, feeling really good about myself and about the week I had just finished. It was that special kind of satisfaction that only comes after completing a tiring chore you've been dreading. All that was on my mind was collecting my check for the week and going home. The 425 Detroit under my hood was purring like a well-fed lion with its steady drone. Prrr … Prrr … Prrr... I barely noticed the light rain that had begun to fall, and my tires hissed *SSSthsss* as they threw up spray. Dimly I thought it would be a good idea to hit the wipers.

This part of Mississippi had been without appreciable rainfall for over six months, and the ground was hard and dry. It was so dry in fact that it no longer immediately soaked up water, but instead it pooled on top for a bit, while the earth below made up it's mind about what it had been missing. It was layered like an onion, with water on the very top, a thin layer of oversaturated mud just below that, and hard, stonelike earth underlying everything. My tires were *SSSthsss* through the water, my engine was *prrr*, and the wipers, *fwip-kwok ... fwip-kwok ... fwip-kwok ...*

The temperature had dropped a great deal since that afternoon, and I had slouched in my seat as I was wont to do. I was tired, sure, but I was far from needing to pull over just yet. Eventually though, the cold started to get to me. I had gone from being slightly uncomfortable to something on the high side of irritated, and I wanted heat. I reached for the climate controls, only half paying attention to what I was doing, and flipped the heat to full blast.

*fwip-kwok ...*

It was one of those decisions that you kick yourself for after you've already made it. I hadn’t noticed the blower was set to defrost. Instantly, the window in front of me went completely and totally white. I couldn’t see!

Time divorced itself from me as my heart thumped once and hung in my throat like a soggy sock. Here I was making 75 miles per hour and I couldn't see! Still slouched in my seat, I tried to reach the windshield.

I couldn't.

*fwip-kwok ...*

What to do? What to do, damn it! THINK!! I was too tired. Th-this wasn't happening. I … Why can't I think? Brakes? BRAKES!! I showered down on the brakes.

*fwip-kwok ...*

I felt my left steer tire go slimy on me through the wheel. What did it mean? It seemed like a rather important bit of information to have. Suddenly, I knew it meant that I'd crossed the highway, gone into the left hand lane and dropped off the shoulder onto the median, that’s what it meant. I locked my hands and arms into a deathgrip on that steering wheel that a gorilla in the fullness of fury couldn't break. Ride it out and ride it straight, that was the key. I just hoped to God there wasn't a bridge coming up.

*fwip-kwok ...*

I felt the trailer tires drop off into the snotty mud next, and then things got really bad. My caboose weighed far more than my cab, so it was the determining factor in the show. It had twice my mass and all of my inertia, meaning that it required twice the resistance that I did to slow down, much less stop. To put it another way, Newton was now in the driver’s seat, and I was just along for the ride. My trailer decided to pass me.

I attempted to turn into it, attempted to save things, which I naively still believed I could do. I gave up on the idea pretty quick. I was sideways in the highway at this point, so now I was crossing it again and heading for the dropoff on the other side of the road. I cut my wheels sharply to the left, and I felt the whole truck start to list and roll to starboard. I could see the ground coming up at me through my driver's side window. "Oh no! I've wrecked my truck," thought I. That's when I heard the damndest thing.

*fwip-kwok ...*

I turned loose of the wheel, which had become useless to me at that point, and I placed my hands on the roof above, determined to keep it from crushing me. It was a surreal thing, watching the accident from the inside like this. I saw the ground coming up at me, and I knew this was really going to hurt. The nature of my emotional state surprised me. I wasn't afraid for myself. There wasn't any panic. What was done was done. But I do remember having the most amazing thought.

"Joy isn't going to take this well,” and I was sad.

I was in the paradoxical state of being aware of everything and nothing all at the same time. I kept wondering what was going to be torn away from me or crushed first. Would it be my legs that would be severed by the dashboard as it met the floor? Or would my skull be crushed by the roof when my arms failed to hold up the weight of a 26,000 lb cab? Maybe I’d get lucky and my neck would just break before my melon popped. Or might an artery be severed by a jagged piece of something or other and bleed me out? What was it going to feel like, dying violently like this? Would it hurt long? I just didn't know.

Fast forward and too late. The world was back in high gear again.

Glorious noise, to confusion, to frenzy, to silence; all but the patter of rain. I wondered which way was up. Things had gotten a little muddled there, and I thought it a good idea to take stock of my appendages and favorite organs. Four limbs. Hey, that's a good sign. I flexed my toes and felt them respond inside my boots. Ditto the fingers. I closed one eye, switched to the other one. Both working. Okay, now how the hell do I get out of this tin can? The truck sure was funny-shaped, and everything had relocated itself considerably. The dashboard had fallen black as ink, taking the rest of the cab with it. I forced myself to a rational place and tried to locate gravity's familiar tug. I found it. It wasn’t coming from its customary direction, but that was something anyway.

*fwip ... skwerrrrnk*

I laughed then, right about the time that a head stuck itself inside my window alongside a miniature electric sun. It was a man, and he appeared concerned.

The pane of glass on that side had shattered on impact, (I forget which one), so he took off his coat and draped it over the jagged pieces as the rain fell. I heard sirens and saw flashing lights as I was climbing out of the window into the damp, breezy blackness, and I smelled earth. I was led to a car by a nameless individual where an attractive young woman in plain clothes checked my vitals and asked me the standard battery of questions.

There was something I had to do. I excused myself and walked back through what had become a downpour to all that was left of my beautiful, black Freightliner. She was a twisted hulk of fiberglass, steel and plastic, and seeing her this way stirred up something inside me that I didn’t like. She lay there on her side in the middle of the interstate we’d traveled together for so long, bleeding oil. Her stacks were broken, and her mighty engine had fallen silent. The only sign of life was a single windshield wiper that still flapped pathetically. She’d died saving me.

I rested a hand on the shattered and torn fender like a mourner at a casket, feeling the smooth rain-slicked paint. I couldn’t say anything for a while.

“I’m … I’m sorry, girl”, I finally managed. “Thank you.”

*fwip ... skwerrrrnk*

Then I turned and walked toward the people and the flashing lights. I was glad it was raining.

The Author would like to assure the reader that all the events in this tale happened in the manner and order specified. While the Mississippi State Trooper who responded to the accident didn’t see fit to write a ticket and judged the accident to be due to the weather, the Author’s boss at the time saw fit to fire him. Apparently the only explanation he was taking was that the Author had fallen asleep at the wheel, which did not occur.

Presently Mr. Wortman lives in Paragould, Arkansas with his wife Joy and their four dogs. He is currently pursuing a degree in Physics. Where it’s safe.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi people!
Christmas Day falls on December 25. It is preceded by Christmas Eve on December 24, and in some countries is followed by Boxing Day on December 26. Some Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on January 7, which corresponds to December 25 on the Julian calendar. December 25 as a birthdate for Jesus is merely traditional, and is not thought to be his actual date of birth.G'night

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Samantha said...

hey alan, i just want to know was this when u was working for utley. i know it is so true about what u said rick has called me at 2 in the morning just to talk so he can make a few more miles. well gotta go for now

1:16 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

Thank you Sam. But no, this was when I was driving for Jerry McClure. He's a nice enough guy, but when he gets an idea in his head there's no prying it out. Even though he canned me for telling the truth, I still like the old fart.

1:18 AM  

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