By 7 pm, Anne and I finally hit the road. Leaving Lincoln liberated our spirits. No more tight corners, congested intersections or narrow streets. Open interstates and an occasional freeway lay ahead. St. Petersburg was the only absolute city driving we’d have to do. And that was 26 road hours away. We’d do them straight through. One of us would sleep while the other drove. The only stops would be for gas, food and restrooms.
Shortly after crossing the Iowa border into Missouri, the sun dipped below the horizon. I smiled. Darkness would veil the only stretch of our trip that I’d already seen dozens of times. While there were portions of Missouri I hadn’t yet seen, I was glad I would watch the sun rise on a place I’d never been. In this case Illinois.
Night driving usually offers travelers little to note. Hours blend indistinguishably when traveling from dusk to dawn. The memory of those miles passed become a single thread of images — the perpetual flickering of the reflective road paint, neon gas-station oases springing from junction to junction and the pale green glow of the dashboard gauges. API ekspedisi
But, barreling across the country in a twenty-foot Ryder track that, in its own strange way had it in for me, never left a dull moment. The Missouri segment of the trip had two occurrences that, in hindsight, could have really blown up on us. The first happened between Kansas City and Columbia while Anne was driving. A car in the passing lane evened itself with our cab. Anne glance down at it and noticed that the passenger was flagging for her attention. He simply pointed to the rear of our truck and then the car sped on.
“What do you suppose that meant?” asked Anne.
Probably it meant we should have pulled over and checked the rear of the truck.
“Beats me.” I said. And we drove on.
The second foreboding occurrence happened on my driving shift at 3 a.m. somewhere between Columbia and St. Louis. Anne had managed to fall asleep, which I found remarkable because what with the girth of what I was driving, combined with all the road construction all long the way, I constantly feared we were about to die.
And we almost did.
We approached a white van from behind. It was the only vehicle I’d seen for miles on either side of the interstate. I steered into the passing lane. As we crept past the van we came upon a stretch of soft pavement. The steering wheel lurched out of my hands. I grabbed hold of it as the vehicle began to weave out of control. I took my foot off the gas peddle. The truck veered onto the median shoulder. The violent tremors jarred Anne awake and she sat up to get a look at what was happening. The truck slowed to 40 miles per hour and slipped back into a straight and steady momentum. My heart fell back into its usual spot in my chest after a furious game of squash in my throat. Anne looked at me as if to say, “Take it easy.” She closed her eyes and slumped down into her seat. Soon after, she was sleeping again.
The sun broke over a southern Illinois prairie. Its beams pierced thin fog strips hovering over the land. Clusters of thoroughbreds pastured in the eerie light. One of those awe-inspiring moments, I suppose, were it not for the fact that I was completely miffed.
Before Anne sold her computer, she took it to task one last time, using an atlas program to, allegedly, draw up the quickest route to St. Petersburg. Now, this was in the 1990s, mind you. Well before the era of Mapquest and Google Maps. Today’s reliable stalwarts of trip planning. I don’t remember the name of the program she used, but I found the idea of letting a computer plan our 1,800 mile path just a little dubious. I agreed with the computer’s choices for the most part. But my skepticism arose when the program asked us to leave the interstate at Mt. Vernon, Illinois in favor of a two-lane highway that went 150 miles into Kentucky. If we’d been driving a car, I might have considered this road less travelled a terrific idea. Interstates can make scenery seem a little repetitious after all. But we were not in a car and trading four-lane, divided safety for oncoming traffic in the next lane was not my idea of a smart move. I wasn’t driving at the time we made the turnoff, though, and she who is driving makes the rules regardless of how logical the passenger thinks he is.
The two-lane portion of our trip was indeed a pretty one. It was also narrow, shoulderless and slow-moving.
The first town we came to in Kentucky offered a quaint gas station where we stopped for fuel and rest. It was about 7 a.m. and apparently the town hadn’t woken up yet. After using the restrooms, it appeared Anne and I would have to leave without filling the gas tank since there was no indication of when an attendant might show up.
It was my turn to drive. I opened the driver’s side door to get in when Anne called for my attention. She stood at the rear of the truck.
“Come look at this.” she said.
I closed the door and walked to where she was standing.
“Look at that. The car fell off the tow dolly?”
That’s a bit of a misleading statement. The car didn’t fall off the dolly. It just wasn’t where it was supposed to be on the dolly and was actually clinging to the edge of the ramp by its front tires. The tires had rolled out of the stirrups which I realized at that moment were put on backwards. I didn’t put them on backwards. Those friendly young men from the computer store did. The car remained connected to the truck only by the grace of the safety chain. Which, incidentally, I did put on. Suddenly, the foreboding occurrences of the night before made sense. I can only imagine how much the car swung back and forth as I careened out of control outside St. Louis.
An attendant arrived at the station and helped us put the car back on the dolly. He had been passing by and thought that we might need some “tending to”. Afterwards I showed him the map that the computer had drawn for us.
“You ain’t going that way.” he said, not so much suggesting as informing. “Not in that thing, you ain’t. That’s coal miner country. You’d probably git yourself fallen down a shaft.”
I grinned. “Did you hear that, Anne? Your computer was about to get us fallen down a shaft.”
“Yeah, I heard that.”
“So what you do…” continued the attendant. “Is git yourself over to Madisonville ’bout ten miles up. Git on the interstate and stay there tilyou git to St. Petersburg.”
“Sounds good to me.” I said.
I looked at Anne and, to my relief, it sounded good to her, too.
It also sounded simple. But that Ryder truck had its own agenda. In Lincoln, it had tried Murphy’s Law on for size. In Kentucky, it made misfortune its permanent wardrobe.
We arrived in Madisonville utterly exhausted. Neither of us could drive any longer. So Anne suggested we pull over and snooze for a few hours. I drove us into a K-Mart parking lot and stopped along side the building — out of the way where a giant vehicle wasn’t likely to bother anyone.
After ten minutes or so, the morning sun already burning hot, we knew we had to find shade or we would roast. I started the engine. We intended to find a nice, wooded park. One where we could actually get out of the truck and sleep in the grass under a tree.
Across the street from the K-Mart, I pulled into a gas station to turn the vehicle around. The prospect of a park looked more promising in the direction we came.
The gas station had a small parking lot so I could not simply turn the truck around to go out the entrance. There was another exit on the other side of the gas pumps. No need to dally. I stepped on the gas and steered in that direction.
Upon reaching the pumps we were deafened by a loud shrill, accented by cracking and popping. Anne and I jostled in our seats. I hit the breaks. The shrill stopped. I grimaced at Anne whose cheeks pushed her eyelids to slits. Her mouth was agape. Beyond her I could see a half dozen people at the station register, frozen in mid-activity as they stared at the two of us.
“You got to be fucking kidding!” I said. My body felt as if it could melt onto the floor mats.
The gas station owner came out of the garage where he was working on a car. His face was contorted and weathered and he looked like one of those people who might be perpetually perplexed by things. Of course his perplexity in this case probably stemmed from my having wedged the moving truck into the space between the pump awing and the pavement. A space just slightly smaller than the Ryder’s height.
Anne had taken enough excitement for two days. She sat in the passenger seat with the firm belief that what had just happened had not really. It was just her sleep-deprived imagination casting cruel and unusual hallucinations. A psychological payback for refusing to let her mind rest. But the grease monkey lumbering toward us with a socket wrench in hand assured us that this was nobody’s imaginary figments. Certainly not his at any rate. I climbed out of the rig and attempted my best congeniality. From what I’ve heard, that’s important in the South.
“Hi.” I said, staring at his chin. “Sorry.”
“Well, can you backer out?” His chin bobbed up and down in my view.
Anne and I detached the tow dolly from the truck. I regretted that part the most since the gas station attendant in the other town had done such a magnificent job of securing the car to the tow for us. I had a nagging feeling that Anne and I would not only have to put the car back on the dolly ourselves, but we’d also have to reattach the whole set-up to the truck. Seemed like a catastrophe in short order to me.
I climbed into the cab and put the truck in reverse. It did no good. After about an inch of movement, the awning only seemed to shred more. The gas station owner told me to stop.
“Looks like you gotta deflate the back tires. Then it’ll come out.” he said.
He went to the tires. I followed. He squatted low and, using some sort of metal device, began to let the air out. I went to the other side of the truck to do the same. As I stooped down, I saw remnants of a wooden sign scattered about the pavement. I looked up at the awning and saw the top half of the sign still perched directly above the truck. I could clearly see that when it was still in one piece, the sign had read, “Low Clearance 12 Feet.”
It wasn’t a small sign, either.
We finished deflating the tires and I backed the truck out. The damage wasn’t all that bad. Just one light fixture shattered (to match the one at the other pump), the front panel of the awning cracked and that sign split in half. There was no damage to the truck.
At noon, after I had filled the back tires with air, after we had reattached the car and dolly to the rear, after I reported a second accident in 24 hours to the Ryder Truck people, Anne and I decided we would not do St. Petersburg all the way through stopping only for gas, food and restrooms. It was time to give Murphy’s Law a break and, for that matter, ourselves.
On the bright side, I was probably in the process of being barred from ever operating a Ryder vehicle again. That was fine with me. After our break was over, we still had 800 miles to go.