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The Fabric Of Life - Shaking Off the Miles Rode Hard

Moving Day -- The big dozer goes on the lowboy

“I just ain’t cut out for this.” That is what the young man said to my Bro 2 summers ago when we were in Newton County. I looked away and shook my head thinking that he had spent his first week with us in the air conditioned and ergonomically improved newest dozer we owned. What was he going to do after a day on the dull end of a Stihl chainsaw in this heat and humidity? Or an afternoon spent in the bottom of a trench putting in a suction pipe when even the slightest breeze was just barely touching the tops of the tallest trees? I turned back as he said ” I don’t know how you two old guys do it.” He slid into the blanket covered front seat of the old Chevy truck and fired it up. With simple wave, he drove away. I was not unhappy. I always felt like I needed to keep my hand on my wallet and the Old Girl locked up tight when he was around. My Bro looked at me with that shit eatin’ grin he gets when he is amused. “He drank too much of my beer during Social Hour anyway” referring to our end of the day confab under the awning of his Fiver. I just nodded and looked out over the heat waves shimmering off the bottom of the lake. Sweat was running down the middle of my back and I knew the sweat stain on the straw Stetson was working up past half way of the crown. “Well, I better get back to it” I was looking forward to the chill of the air conditioned cab on that John Deere 850C. “You know what to do.” he said as he turned to walk off, small puffs of talc fine dust marked his progress. Damn, it was hot and dry. Texas in July. It is what it is.

Workin' the New Job in Far North Dallas

Operating a piece of heavy equipment is repetition and boredom. After you do it long enough, it gets to the point that you think it and the dozer or backhoe or excavator does it. Just like Luke Skywalker — Use The Force Luke! Today was a Skywalker day for sure.   My Bro had gone down south for some sort of client meeting and I was all alone on the North Dallas job.  It was like eating cake.   So I was using The Force and zoning out to the Zune 120 and just thinking things.

Two old guys huh?  4 years ago, I could have walked off just like the young Newton County boy did.   I was 50 years old and my closet floor had 6 pairs of wingtip shoes residing there — not even a pair of steel toed Red Wings.   My hands were soft and the nails were manicured.  My belts were expensively skinny and exotic and the lapels of all my suits were the latest fashion.  I thought about that today…. and how I turned my back on all of it and walked off.   My Bro came to me with the offer of a job when I needed A JOB.  I didn’t have any choice but to man up.  Life deals you that set of cards when you least need it.  You just have to play the cards in your hand.

My soft life had lasted about 15 years starting in 1988.   Starting out as just another lowly Indian in the transportation business, I had parlayed it into a corner office with a secretary and an assistant and a staff of over 100 operations personnel by 2003 or there abouts.   It was a miserable, pressure cooker of a life and I do not think back fondly on those years.  The only regrets are I didn’t slam that door sooner.   I was a hard, heartless sonofabitch back then  — riding herd on 1400 truck drivers will do that to you I guess.  Christmas Eve 2002, I got a phone call from a truckstop manager in Iowa.  One of my young drivers had been caught shoplifting a Playboy magazine and been arrested.   He was on his way home to his wife and 5 year old boy in Weatherford,TX… and I knew that.  The manager asked if I wanted to pay his bail/fine of $250 at which point he would be released.    I told the manager that driver was fired on the spot and I would be sending another driver to pick up the truck.   Cut and dried. End of story.  The phone conversation lasted maybe 2 minutes.   I was so powerful and almighty righteous.  I often wonder these days how that young driver made excuses to his wife about why he was in jail, or how he explained to his young son why he missed Christmas.  I could have smoothed it over and made it all good in the same 2 minute conversation;   if I had wanted to.  The problem was I had forgot my raising.

We were poor growing up in small town West Tennessee.   That was OK because everybody else I knew was poor too.   I was driving an old Ford 801 tractor when my legs, too short to reach the clutch or brake, just dangled off the seat.  I had to stand up to apply either one.  Maybe 8 or 9 years old?  By 13, I was doing the work of a grown man.  I could haul hay all day, long before the invention of the round bales that you handle with a tractor.   I could operate any piece of equipment on the farm as well as a full growed man.   When we moved from field to field, I didn’t get to drive the truck because I didn’t have a license.  Instead,  I drove a tractor with a disc or cultivator that was as wide as two lanes of traffic.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?

That skillset  set me up for the Outlaw Period.  By age 25, I had purchased my second tractor trailer rig.  I was an independent trucker, a wildcatter, my name was on the door.  You very rarely see that these days.  I loved the lifestyle,   freewheeling gypsies of the road.  We were fueled by cheap diesel, Mexican speed and the failings of the Department of Transportation.  Before the computer age, you could have multiple licenses and multiple logbooks.   I routinely drove coast to coast on just a few hours sleep.   I often exceeded the maximum weight limit by 20 tons and ran the backroads to avoid the weigh stations.   Fresh produce paid by the box or crate, the more you loaded, the bigger the paycheck.  I took the new wife on one trip to the West Coast with me; I musta been crazy.   I was driving a full custom  ’84 Freighliner Conventional walk-in at the time.  It was the only truck I ever bought that I had spec’d out and ordered.  It cost $68,ooo which was a butt load of money back then.  It was maroon with an outlandish gold stripe and loaded with chrome.  It also had a huge Caterpillar engine in it and would haul ass.  It had a turned around 9 speed transmission in it;  I shifted into 9th gear at 70mph. Any way, I was idling through the Triple T truckstop in Tucson late at night and the wife had just woken up.

The Cobra 29LTD crackled  “Hey AJ”  It was one of those soft female voices that just exude smoky sex.  I quickly reached up and turned the squelch knob, hoping I was not too obvious.  I thought I was safe because the wife was coffee deprived and she was never even slightly functional until after that first cup.

Again, more insistent  “AJ, It’s Soft Touch.  Come back.”   The fraternity of long distance independent produce haulers ( garbage haulers in the vernacular) was way small back then.   I routinely saw the same trucks week in and week out running across the I40 or I10.  It was an elite group.   I knew exactly who Soft Touch was and she had obviously recognized me in that one off Freightliner.  She was a lithe little redhead out of North Carolina who wheeled a long nosed Pete with aplomb.   We definitely had a prior acquaintance.   I reached up quickly and turned the radio off.  Turning to the wife I said ” The have great Mexican food here, You hungry?”

Facing the breakup of a new marriage, I had to get off the road just before Cait was born.  I let my Chauffeur’s License ( pre-CDL days) expire and did not get a new driver’s license for two years.  Driving on an expired license for that long was a better option.  The lure of the road was still strong and I just couldn’t chance it.  So I became a truck dispatcher and so began the Soft Years…

All of those ‘miles’  (read life experience) have prepared me for the task at hand.  Terlingua. It is going to take calloused hands, a strong back and a sharp mind to pull this one off.   I have a game partner in Miss Kathy.  Stay tuned.  The last great chapter of my varied life  is about to begin.

End Note Double Header: She’s Got the Magic by Big House from the Never Ending Train CD.  Big House was around and then they went away for awhile.  I read somewhere that the lead singer was doing a gig at the Buck Owens Theater in Bakersfield or some thing which I guess equates with Branson or Dollywood… definitely not the A-list.  Anyway, they  got back together recently and this CD is the result.   Think of them as a pop-light Marshall Tucker.

This one is for you Miss Kathy. ‘She got the magic that drive me crazy.’


Loving County by Charlie Robinson from the Live:Charlie Robinson CD.  Loving County is a new era classic.  Listening to a live version with an enthusiastic Gruene Hall crowd that knows every word is the pinnacle of Americana  Country.

This one is for you Cait. I still remember the first time you heard this song.

“You see, I lost my mind on that broken white line, before I even reached Balmorrhea.”

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