Up above me are the skies
like the twinkle in your eyes
these things are the color
of the blue
This morning I woke up, had coffee, did my pre-trip as usual. As I made the bed, I listened to George Jones on my phone. Then I got on the road, headed toward Dallas from Fort Worth. Around 9am, I checked my facebook and saw a friend’s status update: George Jones, RIP. Why would she joke about something like that, I thought. Then I saw all the other status updates of almost all my friends. They were all saying the same thing.
I got terribly lost in the morning traffic, trying to find my way east. Every exit I took seemed to be the wrong one. I must have driven around Fort Worth four or five times. I was supposed to pick up a load of Morton Salt from Dallas at 10am, and by 10am I was still circling Fort Worth. There was nothing I could think about.
I called my friend Dallas.
“Did you hear about George Jones?” I asked.
“Yeah, early this morning,” he said, “I’m going on air at 12, gonna have Ray Price and Charley Pride on the phone today to talk about George.”
“Did he go in peace?”
“He’d been in the hospital for a few weeks now,” he said, “they were keeping it quiet. I don’t know much details aside from that.”
“The possum,” he said.
Texas was overcast today, though warm. There were yellow flowers all along the highway, blooming in spreads of vibrant color. I got to the warehouse, and there was a long line of trucks on the side of the street. I pulled into a spot, opened my doors, and walked into the shipping office. In the cramped little office people were standing in line, some of them talking on the phone. The lady behind the counter had long manicured nails, studded with fake diamonds. Her haircut was strange – almost shaved on one side of her head, but neatly combed on the other.
“Are you a good driver?” she asked as she took down my appointment number and clipped the seal to my bill of lading.
“Yes ma’am,” I said.
“Good, because I’m gonna have to put you in the hole.” she said.
“Okay.” I said.
“The hole is behind the warehouse. You go past all the warehouse docks, flip around, and drive backwards into the small black gate, and back into door 25. It’s real tight in there.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said, “door 25.”
I walked back to my truck, smoking a cigarette along the way. Nothing seemed out of place. I started my truck, drove into the warehouse, made a U-Turn, and started backing my way into the black gate. As I got in the gate, I saw that there were about four other trucks backed up to tight docks. Door 25 was the last dock, in the very back corner. There were bags of salt all around. I stopped the truck and put on my flashers. I sat there for a while staring at all the salt.
A driver walked up to me.
“Want me to spot you?” he said. He was wearing a denim vest, jeans and black motorcycle boots. He looked like Hank Jr., with a lot more wrinkles.
“If you don’t mind,” I said.
It took me two tries. Every time I turned the wheel the wrong way, he would say, “the other way, babe.” Finally I got it in there.
“You got it, babe. Good backing.” he said, and walked away.
I sat there looking around, while waiting for dock workers to load my trailer with salt. Tons of salt. It could just be another day. Drivers joking around with each other, smoking cigarettes, cleaning their windshields. Dock workers driving around in forklifts, moving salt. No one seemed to notice.
When it got to around noon, I tuned into Willie’s Roadhouse on satellite radio, and heard Dallas’ voice.
“George Jones left us today,” he said. Ray Price called in.
“There aren’t too many of us left,” Ray said.
When I felt my trailer rocking with forklift, Dallas played “One Woman Man” –
I’d even swim the ocean
from shore to shore
to prove that I love you
just a little bit more
It occurred to me then, that the songs won’t be the same anymore. All the songs I love the most, now are sung by someone who is no longer here. Someone who belongs in the world of “country music legends” from another era, just like Waylon Jennings and Ray Charles and Hank Williams. When I hear a George Jones song from now on, I can no longer take comfort in knowing that he’s still in Nashville Tennessee, in the present. The songs are exactly the same, but I can’t think of them the same way anymore. Even the happy songs, the silly songs. Even “Po Chinee” and “Slave Lover” – are now sung by someone far away. And there won’t be another who comes close.
I turned off my truck, rolled down the windows, smoked another cigarette. I went into my sleeper and lied down on the comforter, listening to Dallas and Ray Price, and the sound of my trailer being loaded down with salt. I sent a facebook message to a friend: “I don’t know why there isn’t mass panic in the streets right now.” Didn’t expect him to answer, but right away he responded with, “Right?”
I kept looking at facebook, and everyone was posting George Jones songs and pictures. I wondered if they felt the same way as I did, but I couldn’t explain exactly what I felt.
It wasn’t like I knew him personally. I have never even seen him at a show. By the time I started listening to his music, he had already lost his voice and no longer toured. But I know all of his songs, or at least I think all of them. There are 245 George Jones songs on my cellphone, which took up most of the memory card. Every single day I listen to them while I drive.
For the past 10 years, there has been a George Jones song for every important memory. In college there were all the drinking love songs – Out Of Control, Just One More, Tennessee Whiskey, Bartender Blues.
My first short story I wrote in English was called “There Are Cows In Texas,” completely inspired by “If I Don’t Love You.”
I remember riding in my first boyfriend’s car, singing “We’re Gonna Hold On” and “Something To Brag About,” and thinking that things won’t ever change.
One hot summer in Chicago, as I pulled a snake out of a pile of bricks at sunset, fireflies all around me like shining drops of water, “Golden Ring” was playing on my ipod.
When I was extremely anxious about my CDL test, Joe Wenderoth sent me an email that started with “I gave you that ol’ pep talk.” (Joe is one of the most important people in my life. He was the first one to give me a George Jones CD.)
Whenever I hear “Same Ole Me,” the first thing that comes to mind is Joe and Romana’s cozy house decorated with flamingo lights around the mantle.
When I got married, “Like Ice Cream And Apple Pie” was the tag line on our wedding invitation.
When I got divorced, as I packed my bags and drove back to California, I listened to “Did You Ever” on repeat.
The first time I fell in love, one of the first things the boy said to me was, “Is it okay that the only CD I have in my truck is George Jones?”
Then later on that year in Key West Florida, the warmest bittersweet winter – all that was playing in my headphones was “She Knows What She’s Crying About” and “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win.”
The second time I fell in love, we laughed to the beats of “Slave Lover” and “Dadgum It.” He was impressed that I knew Thumper Jones. He said he liked all the Thumper Jones stuff. I played “Good Ones And Bad Ones” to tell him that I’m not like all the other girls, but I don’t think he believed me.
And now there are the endless hours on the road, and the sad songs that go with it. Color of The Blue is one of my favorites, so is On The Back Row, Tarnished Angel, and a really, really strange song called Second Handed Flowers.
I can’t even begin to to talk about the gospel songs. How Wonderful Heaven Must Be, You’ve Been Mighty Good To Me, Cup Of Loneliness…Those songs belong in a peculiar corner of my mind that will not see the light of day. I can’t even listen to those songs in broad daylight.
I started to cry then, thinking about all that. I tried not to cry too much, since I knew that soon they would be done with loading my trailer, and I’d have to go into the office for my paperwork. It is so unbecoming, for a trucker to cry in the middle of the day on the job.
It was just that I felt like something should be happening now – something drastic and tragic…but nothing was happening. One of the greatest poets of our American century just died, and nothing was happening. I couldn’t understand it.
The drive from Dallas to Sealy was a blur. I was crying the entire four hours – and listening to his songs, hanging on to every word. No one will ever pronounce “eternally” the same way as he did in Seasons Of My Heart.
Several trucks slowed down as they passed me – I knew the drivers were looking at me, wondering what’s wrong. Some of them reached for the CB, but my CB was turned off. I tried not to look over.
I got to Sealy, dropped off the load of salt at Wal Mart. Picked up an empty trailer, and came to La Porte Texas, the ports of Houston, but the warehouse was closed. So I found this little truck stop in La Porte to park for the night. La Porte seems a perfect place to be on the day of George Jones’ passing. It is only about 50 miles from Beaumont. I have a feeling that at some point, George must have seen the same rusty bridges, factory chimneys, intricate pipes, yellow smoke and dim lights. That is all there is in La Porte.
This truck stop I’m parked at is just a worn out building on a dirt lot next to some factory. There is a trucker hotel above the store, which feels a little creepy. All the other trucks here are empty – curtains open. I guess the truckers are all spending their night up in the hotel.
I went into the restaurant in the back of the store, and had very bad spaghetti. I read Medea while eating. There were red and white plastic checkered table cloth on all the tables. I was the only person in the restaurant. I stayed there until the waitress told me they were closed. That was at 9pm, exactly 12 hours from when I found out that George died.
Dallas called me as he got out of the studio.
“Just want to see how you’re doing,” he said, “I know you’re taking it hard.”
“Not so good,” I said, “I guess I just don’t understand it.”
I bought another pack of Marlboro Reds, walked back to the truck. Tomorrow will be another hard run of about 500 miles, heading back to Oklahoma. Maybe I can take a reset there, preferably on Sunday. Maybe I’ll go to church, if I can find one.
George Jones has always been the one who sung my heart.
No other singer ever came close. And now he’s gone.
~ 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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