Truck Driving Man (An American Roadsong)
"Well pour me another cup of coffee
For it is the best in the land
Put another nickel in the jukebox
Cause I'm a truck driving man."
Since I arrived at the Habatchi Japanese Steakhouse for lunch at 11:30, at least once a month, no one else was in the place yet except Big Donnie and his wife, Hazel. She ate here every day, even when he was out on the road. Like most Japanese steakhouses, they cook the food at your seat--a couple of feet away from the grill.
After a half-dozen lunches, or so, I'd ask Big Donnie about where he'd been driving as of late. He was the friendliest guy in the world, and although he was never at a loss for words, he possessed a rare degree of insight on the American roads. His panoramic storytelling served as an interesting soundtrack over a fine Japanese lunch.
"Just got back from Cleveland. Y'know Jack, I spend a lot of time in the truck. Even if I'm not driving. I eat, read and rest in the truck. My average driving for one week is 3,000 miles. I've covered a lot of ground these last 19 years. I know every road from Miami to Abilene, Alamogordo, Chicago, Nashville, Tulsa, Sioux Falls, New Orleans, Silver City, Atlanta to Los Angeles. I sleep in the cab to save money on motels, and I take free showers at the truck stops.
"As far as traffic, the worst city in the country is Chicago, hands down: especially with all that construction going on downtown. Over the years I've found ways to keep the truck comfortable as possible. XM Radio keeps me from too much boredom. The humming of those wheels will get to you. I stash books and magazines around the cab for when I'm not driving. I've even bought a handheld recorder along so I can tell stories and record whatever comes into my mind.
"Last week my brakes went out in Kansas City. Last month, in South Bend, the truck was broken into at the truck stop. Luckily, my wife and granddaughter started screaming when the guy got into the truck, and scared him off. I don't think my granddaughter will be back on the road with me after that incident.
"I always wanted a writer to go out with me for some trips. I've got plenty of stories to tell. and I always need conversation. I could break down everything from my family tree to the development of this country in the last 50 years, maybe more. I've seen a lot of strange things on the highways. I always wanted to document all the truck stops and roadside cafes into a travelogue. It's just hard to drive and write. I bought a cheap camera to bring along and take pictures of interesting scenes.
"I'd love to get a coffee machine installed in the truck. I drink those Red Bull drinks. Years ago, I ate pills, but you can only keep that up for several years until you burn out, or worse. I've always found ways to keep it interesting, but it all comes down to the rubber on the road."
We waited for our tab when Big Donnie finished off his green tea, wiped his beard, and said,
"What's disturbing is most Americans don't know their government is selling parts of our highways to other countries. The common, hardworking American doesn't own this land anymore. Highway 80, for example, in Indiana, was bought by a foreign country that wants to charge a toll. There's other major highways the government allows to be sold out. Truckers keep an ear to the ground on such matters. Hell, they may not even call it America in 50 years..."
"I've driven every kind of rig
That's ever been made
I know all the back roads
So I don't get weighed..."