Sick of Being Knocked Around
August 2, 2004
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We made our return from Massachusetts to Minnesota in good order, stopping no longer than fifteen minutes at any one place and going a full day without a decent meal. Hot dogs were the closest thing, which seems a mistreatment of oneís own self when on an expense account; but it was comfort sacrificed for speed and we were back in nineteen hours, door to door. Not a record but respectable, and possibly quicker than some who flew.
Your first shift back there in the sleeper is brutal, though. You may be tired enough to sleep sitting up but you are not tired enough to sleep being tossed around in a cement mixer. When your second turn back there comes around your sleep demand center is in full control and you fall into a zone where only your mysterious onboard chemicals can take you. Which is knocked out cold. The only thing that can wake you then is the truck slowing down to a stop. As long as you are bouncing on the trampoline you will sleep like a hound under a porch.
Itís a surprise that itís rough like that. The truck wheels are separated from the chassis by air bags the size of watermelons and the cab itself is separated from the frame by more melons. You can see them riding down the road, the big heavy cab gently moving up and down, independent of the running board and the fuel tanks. Looks like a cradle in a nursery. Inside, on a foam mattress, an off-duty driver could be having his molars shaken loose. I tried to analyze the motion this trip. The first level is mostly sound, the upper-register screaming of eighteen stiff heavy tires at 105 pounds of pressure beating on an unyielding coarse surface at 70 miles an hour. Add to that the quivering engine and running gear directly beneath your head, a steady high-speed upper midrange thrumming that drives the whole symphony of vibration, a motion your brain would have no trouble filtering out if it were unaccompanied. But the next level is an unevenness in the highway texture itself, especially on concrete and even more especially concrete with expansion joints, an irregular and harsh oscillation, almost as much horizontal as vertical, the amplitude varying from one jolt to the next. The highest level comes from the frequent and irregular whammo of sloppy construction or old highways, varying from county to county and state to state. Sometimes they come about a second apart and sometimes itís as much as a minute, but they hit like sledgehammers and toss you into the air. You almost expect the truck would move forward under you while youíre airborne, but of course you were already moving forward yourself at the instant of launch.
Itís a cacophony of motion. A clamor of competing vibrations and blows, a mad irregular drummer beating on metal plates riveted to your skull. Itís impossible not to get mad, at least at first, and you cuss the sonofab****es who built the truck and the other ones who built the highway, and the ones who arenít keeping the highway up and the ones who never spent enough money to build it right in the first place. It doesnít take long to figure out the cussing wonít help. You can holler out all the bad words you know, and no matter how fervent and creative they are that next bang will be just as jolting as the last. And then sometimes the road is so smooth you think youíre on a train somewhere. When itís like that you know you are not in Chicago.
We arrived home to a very sweet summer, beginning Sunday night the Fourth of July, with a great family fireworks show on a lake we wonít name because having government-free fun on a scale like that is still illegal in Minnesota. The legislature only recently allowed unsupervised adults to light sparklers and snakes, and the pyrotechinics launched above that lake were a lot closer to howitzer than to sparkler. Some of the boomers were so mighty the echoes rolled and rattled off the far shore for fifteen seconds, like thunderstorms. There was an offshore breeze, and cleanup next morning was like picking up after the circus.
Speaking of the law, I went browsing through some old notes and found that in 1995 the Supreme Court of Costa Rica declared the law against leaving the scene of an accident to be unconstitutional, at least as it applies to the driver at fault, because it violates his protection against self-incrimination. It was unfair, the court said, since it was no crime for murderers and thieves to leave the scenes of their crimes, and, in fact, it was a natural human response in that situation.
My take on that is this: If we in our various states were to adopt the opposite stance we could give the appearance of making great headway in our fight against crime. A large majority of us seem to think that if we make stuff illegal folks will quit doing it, sort of like in Scandinavia, so why not just make it illegal to leave the scene of any crime? If the perpetrators would just hang around until the police get there it would save tons of taxpayer money, money stolen from hardworking honest citizens by the government in the first place. Money that could go into building even more prison cells. And if the perps just went ahead and left the scene anyway we could hang another charge against íem, which could be a useful negotiating chip in pretrial plea bargaining. Another boon for our largest lobbying group, the barristers. Voting in favor of a law like this would most likely keep our incumbent local politicians in office for yet another term; Iím surprised they havenít thought of it themselves.
On another subject, in the spring of that same year I drove my pickup south from the town of Staples with just enough sun peeking through to be able to navigate without a map, and I began to take whatever roads looked good, heading south and east. And down a gravel road that curved past a spreading field on one side and a marsh on the other, I came onto a beautiful lake, pristine and still. A small rundown farmstead looked over it from the northwest corner, but other than that it seemed undiscovered. I followed the gravel as it wound in and out around the bays and then rose into hills on what I thought was the south side, where there were a few cottages in the woods. Heavy clouds moved over the sun and I lost track of my direction in all the curves, and when the road finally turned away from the lake it headed into a countryside Iíd never seen before.
I drove miles and miles through farms without meeting another car or seeing anyone in the fields, not knowing where I was headed. Sometimes I thought it was south or east, and then it would feel like maybe west or even back to the north. The fields were big and broad here, and would suddenly give way to woods rising on higher hills than you usually see in Minnesota. It was like being airlifted into a beautiful, thinly populated foreign land, like Finland or Siberia.
I knew sooner or later I would hit a familiar highway, but I hoped that by making arbitrary decisions at intersections it wouldnít happen, that I would stay all day in this strange place. I saw a mailbox with a name from another language, a name like none Iíd ever heard: Lamusga Farms. It could have been African or Italian or Finnish or Bohemian, or from some other planet. It seemed exactly right for this place. It wasnít until I came to a remote tee intersection and saw a sign with a little arrow that the spell was broken, and I was suddenly back in Minnesota. It said <- Upsala.
I mention this because I finally bought a car. For the last thirty years Iíve driven nothing but trucks: A Bronco, two vans, three 4x4 pickups, and then all those over-the-road diesel semis and straight trucks. And I got sick of being knocked around, so Iím getting even now. I have a car. It rides like a dream. It has a Hemi. And it also has a digital compass. Not that on-board map system, Iíd never do that, but a compass. And I keep that compass turned off. Because when Iím not at work I like to not know where I am, or which direction Iím headed. And I like the ride to be smooth.