3/24 2013: Laredo, Texas. Today as I was pulling out the gate in the company Chevy Impala, blasting Dale Watson’s new album “El Rancho Azul,” these two big truckers came out the side door of the Operating Center and walked briskly toward me. They were at least 6’3, and wore very reflective sunglasses upon shaved heads. They looked like re-po men; but I’m getting good at not being intimidated by other truckers, regardless of how they look. I lowered the music and rolled down my window.
“You beat us to the car,” one of them said. The company car can be checked out for an hour at a time.
“Feel like Whataburger?” I said.
“Do you mind?”
“Come on.” I said.
They spoke with a southern accent, so I spoke back in my newly acquired southern accent as well. I love the chance to practice my accent. It’s very complex: the grammar, the word choice, and the speed at which one speaks all vary greatly from my boring regular Californian English. Usually, I would say, “I don’t mind at all,” but with the southern accent, it was more fitting to say, “come on.” I pronounced the “on” with my lips closed rather than open.
I thought it was strange that they both got in the back seat, “we should get you a chauffeur cap,” one of them said. I laughed, “I’d be honored.”
“Do you mind this music?” I asked. Dale was singing, “Oh, I lie when I drink, and I drink a lot.”
“Oh no, not at all,” they said, “love it.”
So I turned it up.
Came to find out that they are brothers, both from South Carolina, and they drive team. One of them is named Robert, A.K.A. “Shit Fire Robert,” and the other one’s name is simply Don.
Dale Watson sang us all the way to Whataburger. When I got my order and sat down at the booth, one with enough space for all three of us, for some reason they sat down at the table across from the booth. I was confused.
“Guess I’ll move, then.” I walked over with my purse and order number.
“Oh, we didn’t want to crowd ya,” Robert said.
“Thought you needed some space,” Don said.
That made me like them. I guess that was also why they sat in the back seat in the car? It was their way of being polite, and I didn’t understand it. I guess people from different parts of America have their own customs. I wondered if there was anything I did that they found strange.
I liked the way Robert said, “I didn’t want to crowd you,” using “crowd” as a verb. The southern way of speaking is so expressive and exciting because it takes such freedom in words.
We chatted while we ate. They saw some bad weather this winter, driving through Wyoming and Idaho. There was once that their truck drifted sideways on ice uncontrollably on an off ramp, and came two feet away from crashing into a car hauler. Another time the wind was so bad, that the frozen truck antennas were beating upon the sleeper berth, and they thought the tires were exploding. I told them about Wisconsin in January, and how it was below 30, and how I drove on white roads through the country. The next day my fuel froze and I had to call emergency maintenance. I’m really glad that I went through all that, so as to be able to include myself in on these trucker conversations. This is how truckers bond, no matter where we’re from.
At one point, they finished eating, and both turned sideways to talk to me. I felt weird having them both look at me eat, so I scarfed down my food and saved the apple pie for later. I guess I felt a little bit “crowded.”
When we got back in the car, Robert talked about Mexico.
“Let’s go to Mexico!” he said, “we got our passports, let’s go!”
“Alright.” I said.
“I heard you can park your truck at the border for 20 bucks a night for 24 hours, and walk across the border.” Don said, “Then you just stay on the main street and there’s plenty of bars around there.”
“Just don’t ever get off that main street,” Robert said.
“We’re gonna do that sometime, when we get another reset in Laredo.”
“Count me in,” I said.
After Whataburger, we went to Walmart to get groceries. When I got done at the check out line, they were already waiting at the door. I pushed my shopping cart toward them, and without a word they took all my bags of groceries out of the cart. I walked between them through the parking lot, empty handed, feeling like I had two security guard escorts.
I drove us back to the operating center. This time, Don sat in the passenger seat. After I parked, I took out “El Rancho Azul,” put it in its case, and gave it to Robert. “Those sure were some jammin’ beats,” he had said earlier.
“I’ll burn this on my computer and give it back to you.” Robert said.
“You can have it.” I said.
“I don’t want to take your copy.”
“I have it on my ipod,” I said, “Keep it as a souvenir for our little Whataburger Walmart run.”
They walked me all the way back to my truck, with my groceries.
“Get up in the truck and we’ll hand the bags to you.”
I remember back in trucking school, when I was worried about people on the road, Don my favorite instructor would say, “Truck drivers take care of their own. Don’t worry about a thing.”
~ Kitty Liang
Kitty Liang is a solo over the road truck driver. She works for Schneider National. Kitty got her Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from University of California at Davis, and is working on her first novel while driving. She is also a huge Ameripolitan music fan. You can read her trucking blog at truckerkitty.blogspot.com.
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