Trucker Tall Tales

By John Aalborg

 

Truck drivers tell a lot of stories but should you believe them? Do you believe your own? Let's start with the short stuff, the one-liners.

 

What's Your Load?

In passing, rookie drivers like to CB the driver in the opposite lane and ask what he or she is hauling. Experienced drivers, if they reply at all, will attempt to ensure the beginner that truck driving is important and vital, and that every load has meaning. Answers range from the mind-numbingly common to the fanatically fun.

"Circus elephants."

"Alpo."

"Toilet paper."

And if it is a frozen dinner reefer heading the other way, don't be surprised to learn that the load is "Spotted-owl meat pies."

 

Reality Check: It's best not to ask.

 

Local Lore

Washington, D.C.: "They have detectors mounted under bridges that can tell if you have a handgun in the cab. But if you have it hidden under tools or chains in your toolbox, they can't tell what caliber."

Florida: "Fifteen mph turtle crossings outnumber school zones."

Florida Keys: "School buses have to yield to chickens crossing the road."

Massachusetts: "Not part of the United States."

Wisconsin: "Diesel is mandated to be 15 percent ethanol distilled from commodity cheese. The cheese itself is sold to the government by the dairy state, and then bought back at a discount."

Illinois: "They finally finished construction on I-94 in Chicago." 

 

Reality Check: One of the above is true (I hear).

 

The Flatbed Myth

"Every time you have a particular load long-haul, there's a load just like it going the other way. If you're hauling roofing shingles, look across the median and there's a load just like yours. Coils, farm tractors, PVC pipe, you name it."

 

Reality Check: Can this be true? As soon as you are back on the road, check it out. Eyeball the flatbeds. Wait, never mind. Maybe we are better off not thinking about this one too long.

 

The Justified Damage Story

"I'm downtown Cleveland. Lunch hour. No GPS and I am totally lost. I jump a curb and pull into a huge, empty lot, big sign on it in the middle says, "Future Home of..." You know, nothing going on there yet, and I spot these two city patrol cars stuck in traffic. I run up to the first one with my manifest, has the address printed out. The dude rolls up his window and refuses to look at me. I trot back to the second one and he's pointing straight ahead and griping about another semi blocking traffic at the intersection. The lane starts to move and I am ignored. Meantime, the cops drive around the rig blocking traffic and the driver drops down and runs toward me, papers in hand, asking me directions! I can't help him. Four-wheelers are honking and now we are both being yelled at. I get back to my own rig and discover that four-wheelers have parked all around me, warm hoods and no drivers in sight. The quadrangle has a few restaurants but my load appointment is 1 p.m. I look around but there is no way I can turn or make it to the street without running over something. I decide to get in and back up to the big sign in the middle. I nudge the sign a little but I can't cut hard enough to miss the cars ahead of me. Well, there are no cars behind the sign and since nobody here seems to care, I back over the sign. It's on two steel posts and one of them kicks up and punches through one of my flatbed nail-boards. I keep on backing. Scrunch! Screeeeeee! Now I can turn and I make it to the street but this time I stop the tractor over the sidewalk, making sure nobody can block my exit. Most of the sign is twisted and lying back there except for that one post, and I get out my sledge hammer and begin pounding it down, punching it back out of my trailer. Two more cops cruise by, look right at what I am doing and keep on going. Are they on their way to lunch and just don't care? In that case, should I?"

Other versions of this story include stuff like running through freshly planted flowerbeds or new hedges surrounding a fast food joint with a truck parking sign out front. The driver blissfully takes them at their word, cruises in, and can't get the rig back out.

 

Reality Check: Most of these collateral damage stories are true.

 

Truck Stop 13 or Rest Area 51

"I am not making this up! I was there!"

Tales of accidental layovers or chance rest area stops—impossibly sweet or wonderful—which can't be found again and aren't on the map. These places sound like truck driver stories, especially since the teller can't show you where it is.

My own happened in 1988 on I-40. I think I was heading west through a mountainous area of Tennessee near the river, and I was tired and out of hours. Keeping one eye out for truck stop billboards, I pulled off on an exit with an interesting sign, "Cuba Landing," even though there was nothing on the interstate to advertise it as a good place for large cars. I almost made the exit too fast because it curved sharply downward through the woods, and the crumbling stonework holding the shoulder together was dangerously picturesque. At the bottom was a large, almost empty gravel and dirt lot with a several dump trucks parked haphazardly and a restaurant in a big wooden building on the other side. Great! I could eat here and sleep in the coffin. Nobody inside. Empty tables and chairs. Sun going down near the hilltops and beaming through dusty windows. A gray-headed wisp of a woman finally appears and I ask her if it's cool to park my rig overnight in the lot. OK. Food? Restaurant's closed but she said, "Sonny, you just go out there and get some rest. You can wash up in the back of the building, and I'll see to it you get some dinner." Out in back was a commode and a sink and a showerhead mounted on the wall, completely out in the open but with hot and cold water. I make it back to my rig and grab a towel, my flip-flops, and a change of clothes. Best shower I had in a year! Back inside the building again, not a person or sound. I didn't have a five for the shower so I left a ten on the counter before crawling into the sleeper. A little later, a knock on the emergency door woke me and down there stood a young lady. She was a page torn from a storybook: peasant dress, beautiful face, long, red hair like Rapunzel, and a GI mess-hall plate full of hot food that looked like pot roast. I never saw her or Cuba Landing again. Traveling I-40 off and on since, I could never spot that exit, nor was it on my map. After a few years I stopped telling other truckers that story because I was doubting it myself. Once, however, just once, I met an older driver who said, "I was there one time. I know that place." More recently, now that we have the Internet, I Googled "Cuba Landing" and found it: Exit 137. I don't know if that building is still there, but after many Rand McNally Motor Carrier's Atlas upgrades, the exit is still not on my map.

 

Hitchhiker Female Stories

The lady of your dreams, good looking, charming personality, carrying only a light backpack, hops into your cab during a rainstorm. She had heard you are headed for California (if you are already in California she wants to go to Florida) and is grateful you're willing to take her along. You have just been dispatched to Boston, however, and it may be sometime before you can drop her at her destination. That's okay, she says, I'm not in a hurry.

 

Reality Check: There are a thousand versions of this story and they are all five-star stories except for the one that happened to me, which I love to share, and which I think is true.

 

The Dark Angel Story

Sometimes she is visible, briefly, even during the daytime, but you have to have been driving too long to see her. The dark angel targets lonely but married men and is specifically dwelling on Earth to sabotage food gifts presented to husbands before a long run: food items which their loving wives prepared with care. A tin of cashew nuts, for instance, your favorite. The wife has placed a little love-note on the lid. You smile as you read it, and once you are out of traffic and on the interstate, you pry off the lid and set the can on the passenger seat. Just as you are about to reach for the first handful your right steering tire hits a pothole and the nuts go flying, dumping out all over the cab floor.

 

Reality Check: This story and all versions of it are always true.

 

Swapping trucker stories seems to be a male thing. Female drivers, if you email me at aalborg@jbaal.com, I would love to include your unusual experiences.

 

 

 

 

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