The event last night at the Port Townsend Library was billed as a ‘Hodown,’ and featured a local (but world-traveled) bluegrass band, which was really good, and please forgive me for forgetting the band’s name (something something String Band). I was pretty nervous about reading my stuff, hoping people showed up despite the crowd that did show up (including me) pretty handily fit into the demographic most at risk of dying from any episode of the virus.
Or a person could die on stage. Not that there was a stage. I did get some photos sent to my phone from Stephen Davis (thanks for attending), and a video and photos from my daughter, Dru (who sent them live to Trish- great). I could share them with you, but I won’t; and not just because I’d have to set up some deal on my phone that would probably send me endless bits of junk email; it’s just that…
…It’s all pretty embarrassing, really; publicly reading something I wrote and, probably, hold too dear; and yet I keep trying. I keep thinking I’ll learn something. Other than that I really need something to stand behind that’s wider than I am, and that I should wear glasses selected for reading the pages rather than hiding behind them, and that I should read slower, and only read things shorter than twelve hundred plus pages… oh, and that I shouldn’t wear any pants that might, in contrast to my upper body, look like skinny jeans; giving the effect of a bear keg with a glowing red bulb on top, balanced precariously on sticks… other than that… I still, after risking stroking-out from the first reading, really did want to read my excerpt from “Swamis.”
So, maybe I learned something, just not quite enough.
Now Keith Darrock, PT ripper and my contact at the library, did say he’s ‘always willing’ to subject me to this type of public, um, scrutiny. I did notice that he said ‘always’ with the same gleam in his eye that he has (could have chosen ‘might have’ if that was true) when paddling around me to catch a wave (in, of course, a friendly, competitive way). Keith and I have been talking about having a THIRD OCCASIONAL SURF CULTURE ON THE STRAIT OF JUAN DE FUCA AND THE SALISH SEA event.
“Then you can read something from ‘Swamis.'” “Oh. Yeah.” “You know, after it’s actually published.” “Oh. Yeah. Sure. Then. Uh huh.”
I am working on the re-re-re-re-edit, a hundred or so pages left to work on; and then there’s the process of having other people look it over, possibly edit it, and then there’s the task of, yeah, selling the thing.
SO STAY TUNED. Meanwhile, here’s what I read last night: It is fiction. I never was a cowboy, never was a log truck driver. I have driven I-5, straight through, many times.
Never Was A Cowboy
I never was a cowboy, never rode a fence line, alone. Still, I believe I can relate.
It’s the aloneness.
Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King, Pierce, Lewis, Cowlitz, Clark; Multnomah, Clackamas, Marion, Linn, Lane, Douglas, Jackson; Siskiyou, Trinity, Shasta, Tehama, Glen, Colusa, Yolo, Solano, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego.
I count the counties, North to South, border to border, rather than the miles. Rather, I count the counties I drive through, rarely all the way North, rarely all the way South. Seattle or Portland, L.A. or some indistinguishable suburb, if there is such a place- it’s all city down there. Urban: Warehouses and apartment houses, single family homes; squeezed and stacked and spread; criss-crossed with congested surface streets and ever-under-construction highways, never quite wide enough; overpasses and underpasses, on and off ramps, collector/distributer lanes with one-at-a-time lights; ever-competitive drivers in sub-compacts sliding in between house husbands in oversized pickups, women executives in luxury Sports Utility Vehicles, motorcyclists splitting the lanes; any patch of open road demanding kamikaze/video game speed; and there are road signs and arrows and overhead indicators flashing updates on how long it will take to get the next so-many miles; billboards, some lit up and flashing a succession of ever-brighter messages about Casinos and Recreational Vehicles and spa retreats and exclusive resorts; neighborhoods designed, obviously, from thousands of feet up; strip mall here, Starbucks there, McDonalds caddy-cornered from Burger King, various Crayola colors on houses, duller colors on warehouses, each building trimmed in white.
Like white lines, between lanes, fog lines and rumble strips to keep us out of the ditch, away from the guardrails.
Drop the load, get another trailer, reverse the order, South to North. Orange, Los Angeles, Kern. I count the rest stops. I count the gas stops, keep track of which ones had the cheaper diesel last time. I keep track of how many miles I have left between, say Redding and Grant’s Pass, then there and Medford. Portland. Tacoma. Closer, closer.
Miles are converted to minutes. Oregon, on I-5, is almost exactly three hundred miles, with markers, south to north. If I stop only once for gas, whiz, maybe get a quickie mart burrito, I can average fifty miles an hour. So, 300 divided by 50; six; yeah, six hours. If I want to make it in five hours: 300 divided by 5 equals, yeah; sixty. The speed limit for semi-trucks is… anyway, I’ve done it; even with half the state mountains and the other half one big valley, even with the seemingly permanent slowdown south of Portland.
That would have been in Summer, of course; none of the chaining and unchaining, avalanches and black ice and whiteout snowstorms; and without some fool sliding and jack-knifing and closing all the lanes. This rarely uneventful trip would be what high lead loggers, back in the northwest, in the country, in the woods, would call ‘spooling;’ the choker-setters hooking the freshly-felled, limbed logs onto the overhead lines; a variety of whistles, controlled by the Whistle Punk, signaling the movements, the Yarder Engineer at the tower, on signals from the Hook Tender (these are all semi-official titles), stopping and starting the lines; logs eased onto the landing, loaded onto a waiting log truck. Spooling.
Things almost never go that way.
If I hadn’t gotten hurt by an improperly choked log (my fault) I wouldn’t have become a log truck driver. If I hadn’t parked too close to the edge (my fault), if my dad’s truck hadn’t rolled, sideways, down two hundred foot of mountain when the constant rain weakened the old tires and rock and gravel landing until just enough of it gave way (not my fault); if I had, actually, been a cowboy, I wouldn’t be one of an army of long haul truckers; I wouldn’t be sitting in my ergonomic, multi-position, massage-available, heat on demand chair/throne/saddle; in my temperature controlled cab/office/cubicle/cell; with a corral full of horsepower in the front and a full bunk in the back; a great sound/video system, and a hands-free telephone with, nowadays, only a few blank spots, the deepest valleys between the highest peaks.
I could make more comparisons between me and a cowboy. I wanted to. It was the telephone thing that stopped me. No one, really, left to talk to. A hundred-seventy-five-thousand-dollar semi-truck with all the customized amenities wasn’t enough to keep my woman (woman does sound more cowboy than wife or girlfriend or fiancé) riding with me. Time on the road, even together, time away doesn’t help a relationship. Blank spots, increasing over time.
Over time, without real movement, real exercise, with real gravity and the inevitable weight gain, road food becomes something like skittles or pretzels, doled-out a few at a time. Time. Time, that’s what I keep track of. A cigarette takes about seven minutes to smoke, a cigar can last longer; road songs rarely go over ten minutes; even the Grateful Dead, live, in concert. Road songs might not keep you awake, but you can sing along. Maybe. You can listen to local radio. It used to be that the choice, out in the boondocks, came down to country-western or some preacher.
I frequently chose the preaching. “Amen.”
It’s about twelve hundred miles of road, Seattle to L.A., with regulations on how many hours you are permitted to spend behind the wheel. Averaging fifty miles an hour, that’s twenty-four hours. Eight, eight, eight.
There are places, landmarks by now, where a trucker can get a shower and a meal, with lockers and a lot big enough for however many trucks from the almost-unbroken caravan stop in. There are dealers who can amp you up or chill you out; women who don’t mind climbing into your bunk, who might comment on the luxuriousness without asking who you customized it for.
That might make you feel less alone.
For a certain amount of time. Are you then more alone? I can’t answer that. I try to avoid questions. I have a job, some sort of load to deliver. It doesn’t matter what it is. It matters that I get it there. And then, another load. Another schedule. Same road, same mountains you can’t quite see, low toward the coast, jagged to the East- same mountains, different side.
Then again, maybe loneliness is like… I’m trying to think of a proper metaphor. Loneliness is one blanket when you really need two.1
Best I can come up with.
My favorite spot on the route, I-5, north to south, is heading down Mount Shasta, slaloming, foot off the pedals, half an hour before sunrise, the sky some crazy shades you might never see; purple to green, orange to red to blue-white-purple on the rock pile peaks so close to me; reaching up as I’m threading, weaving, winding my way down.
It’s my name on the doors of my rig, hand lettered, with drop shading and highlights. I’ve been known, window down, to tap on it to some road song beat, so many minutes to somewhere, my left arm perpetually tanned, drafting off of the rig in front of me, a variety of people passing me in the fast lane. Sometimes, sometimes when everything’s just spooling, I feel like I am so incredibly, impossibly free.
I never was a cowboy, but, from my office, my cubicle, my cell; I can’t help wondering where your fog line is, your rumble strip, your guardrails, your landmarks.
Cowboy (or Cowgirl) on.