“I love this country,” he said. “Seen every inch of it. Been driving a truck forty-three years.”
He’s old. Lines all over his face. Tall. He’s wearing a turquoise belt buckle, faded Wranglers, and steel-toed boots. He’s making a delivery in North Carolina tomorrow. He’s hoping to see the mountains before the sun goes down.
“I’s raised a ways outside Shreveport,” he went on. “Town so small, we went to kindergarten barefoot, sometimes. Seems like forever ago. I signed up for the Marines soon as I could, wanted to see the world.”
His was a short-lived military career. A patrol vehicle ran over his back during a mission. It broke his spine. He retired.
“You know,” he said. “In the Marines, we got to see how poor other countries were. Some of’em folks is so homeless, they ain’t even got a toilet where they can go take a—”
Use your imagination.
He started driving an eighteen-wheeler. The thing cost as much as two houses. He and his wife borrowed the money from a bank to buy the rig.
They saw the entire country.
“Best decision we ever made,” he said. “As a driver, I’ve racked up seven million log-miles. Maybe seven and a quarter.”
If it’s out there, he’s seen it.
Portland in the fall, Wyoming in the winter, and L.A. at rush hour. He’s seen the shadows in the Grand Canyon, driven through the Rockies during storms, and slept on the shoulder in Oklahoma City. He’s ridden the highlands of Virginia, and seen every last bit of the Carolinas.
“Took my wife on the road with me,” he said. “We was just two Southern hillbillies, but we saw it all. We’d pull over for the night, she’d cook supper, we’d play cards, or just watch the sun go down in the mountains. God, she loved mountains.”
She’s been gone ten years now. It breaks him up to talk about it.
“Best years of our life,” he went on. “When she died, she wanted me to scatter her in the Appalachians. Did you know you have to get a damn permit to do that?”
No, I didn’t.
“You know why we liked driving? ‘Cause we love this pretty country, driving let us see it. Every night my wife use to pray the Almighty would help folks remember our founding fathers, and how humble they were. She believed in this nation. And no matter how bad it gets, I’ll keep believing in it, too.”
He stabbed out his cigarette we shook hands, he bid me goodbye.
Chances are, while you’re reading this, he’s sitting on a sheepskin-covered seat with four-hundred horsepower humming beneath him.
By sunset, he will be in the Appalachians.
And he’s bringing fresh cut flowers with him.