The windows are down. The weather couldn’t get any prettier. My dogs are leaning out the passenger window, tongues flapping in the wind. They are happy.
The dirt roads are like a large, interconnecting maze. Choose one road, it leads to another, then another, and another. Soon, you’re in No Man’s Land, and you’re the only truck around for miles.
I pass barns in open fields, and cattle pastures, and a John Deere, combing the peanut fields, dust rising behind it.
I stop when we reach my friend’s farm, located on the edge of the world. I kick open the door and watch Thelma Lou and Otis run for parts unknown. They shoot into the distance. Lots of running. Lots or barking. Lots of eating piles of cat poop.
I sit on the porch with my friend.
My friend is old, he has dementia, but he was self-reliant once. Long ago, we worked together. He was strong, and he swung hammers with the best of us. Today, he wakes up and needs a nurse. Still, sometimes he feels good enough to go feed his cats, or is fortunate enough to go for a walk. But mostly, he naps, or watches TV with his nurse.
Before I leave, I give him a hug. He tells me to, “Stay outta trouble.”
He has always said that. Most old men do.
I load my dogs into my vehicle, and we’re doing forty, going down more dirt roads. We pull over at a filling station.
I’m pumping gas, and I meet a man who is driving a transfer truck from Nashville. We have a short conversation.
He’s been driving for thirty-two years. He started an online business last year with and the project took off. He started earning more with the online venture than he did with his truck.
“Got three more shipments to make,” said the man. “Then I’ll be a RETIRED truck driver.”
Inside, I pay for gas. The girl behind the counter has piercings, and on her wrist is the tattoo of a shepherd holding a lamb. I ask about this tattoo because every tattoo has a story.
“Got this when I was nineteen,” she says. “I was just coming out of recovery, needed something to remind me that I’m gonna be okay.”
I don’t ask what she was recovering from because it’s none of my business. She does, however, tell me she’s been sober for eleven years.
I’m at my truck again, my dogs are waiting. I give them each a bag of unflavored pork rinds. They demonstrate explosive behavior. My truck upholstery will never be the same.
Drive, drive, drive.
Now we’re on paved roads. We are approaching Pensacola. I have errands to run today. Nothing major, just little things. And Pensacola is our version of a big city.
Long ago, you took your dates to Pensacola if you were worth a cuss. To impress a girl, you took her to a nice restaurant with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, then maybe a movie. To really impress her, you bought her flowers from the Winn Dixie.
I pull into a parking lot. I leave my truck running and jog into the store to get what my wife asked me to buy. I happen to know the woman at the counter.
What a throwback. Long ago, the woman was married to a friend of mine. And the last time I saw her was after my friend died unexpectedly. She was in the funeral line, receiving a hundred people. I felt silly, hugging her that day. It felt like such an insincere gesture.
She is glad to see me. She comes from behind the counter. We hug. She shows me pictures of her kids.
“How are you?” I ask.
“Good,” she says. “Really good.”
She’s been engaged for nine years to a man who is has been ready to marry her, but she was too afraid. Old wounds take time. But last month, she decided it was now or never.
They have a date set, and a venue. They will be having a small affair at a family farm. There will be food, family, and everyone can bring their dogs.
“My son’s gonna give me away,” she says. “He’s gonna walk me down the aisle.”
I embrace her one last time and wish her luck.
I’m back in my truck, on my way home. My dogs are curled up. Snoring. Thelma Lou is producing smells that could crack the windshield.
And I am thinking about how magnificent this short life is. I am thinking about people who make it that way. The recovering cashiers, the truck drivers. The friends who’ve left us. The happiness of a wedding. And the pure joy of driving dirt roads which we don’t think lead anywhere. But they do. They lead here.
Stay out of trouble.