Eighteen Wheels & A Denim Miniskirtbyronde©
The sun was just peeking over the horizon as I pulled out of the rest area and headed down I-55 toward St. Louis. There was little traffic on the road this early in the morning. In about an hour, things would start picking up as people hit the highway on their way to the same job at the same desk in the same building as yesterday and the day before that. I felt sorry for them, in a way. Nothing ever really changed for those unlucky souls. Oh, maybe some rumor about the boss banging one of the office girls would stir things up for a while. That jerk-ass manager might finally get his ass fired. People would huddle in their little cubicles to talk about how they thought he should have been canned years ago, but wasn’t because he was a buddy of one of the VP’s. After these little flurries of excitement, things would get back to the normal routine of clicking keyboards, phone mail, and an endless schedule of meetings. I know. I lived that life for ten years.
I suppose it was the divorce that finally tipped me over the edge. The way Gloria left just about killed me. I came home one evening and found a note on the refrigerator. It said, “I can’t do this anymore. My lawyer will be in touch.” No phone number, no address, no way to contact her, no nothing. We’d had some trouble, but nothing I thought we couldn’t work out. I still loved her. Apparently she didn’t share the same feelings.
To make a painful story bearable, I’ll just say Gloria and I reached an agreement that gave her about everything except the house and my old pickup. We split the house down the middle. That was the price for me not paying alimony. My lawyer said it was a good deal, so I took it. I was pretty pleased with the price the house brought. I made it out with about twenty-five grand and a very bruised ego. After that, life as a sales engineer for an auto parts company lost a lot of its luster.
I’m still not sure just what made me decide to do it. All I know for sure is I saw the ad in the Sunday paper, and it sounded like a good deal, so I called them on Monday. After filling out an application and paying a tuition deposit, I was officially enrolled in the Reynolds School of Truck Driving. It seemed like a good sign that I could take the classes and get in my hours at the wheel while still keeping my sales job. I couldn’t sleep much, but I could do it.
I figured it ‘d be an easy way to make a living while I got my life back together. I mean, how much different could one of those rigs be from my pickup? Sure, it was longer and wider, but it had a steering wheel, and I could already drive a stick shift. Well, don’t let anybody fool you. It’s somewhat the same going forward, except you have to match gears, speed, and revs to keep the engine working efficiently, and at first, it feels like you’re steering a three-bedroom ranch down the highway. I got used to the size pretty fast, and except for having to double-clutch, shifting was pretty much the same. There were just more gears to work through - a lot more gears. Backing up was another story. My instructor could back a forty-foot van body between two other trailers at a shipping dock at about five miles an hour and look bored in the process. Let’s just say I went a lot slower for quite a while, and I was sweating bullets all the time.
The more I drove, the harder it was to put on a suit and tie and sit in that cubicle all day. A week after I got my CDL, I quit the sales job, and hired on as a team driver for Tri-State Transport. I did pretty well on my first runs. After I proved I could handle the rig, Tri-State started me driving a solo run between Chicago and Memphis. I kind of liked driving by myself. At that time, I still had some thinking to do about the rest of my life. I did a lot of that while making the Memphis run over the next two years.
I was filling up at a truck stop one afternoon, when a really tough-looking Mack pulled into the pump beside me. The rig was wearing about a hundred clearance lights and a chrome silhouette of a naked woman decorated the grill. It was big and black and beautiful with a long sleeper cab, and it made my old Tri-State Jimmy look like the ugly stepsister of the family. “Jack Brewster Trucking, Rockridge, Alabama”, it said on the door, and there were eighteen state stickers on the side of the cab.
You know how when you were a kid, there was always one thing that you dreamed of doing or being when you grew up? Well, I wasn’t a kid anymore, but that Mack became it for me. I didn’t know Jack Brewster, but I didn’t have to know the man to know what he was. He was an owner-operator, and right then, I decided that’s what I was going to be…, well, someday, anyhow,
Someday came a year later. Diesel prices went up a few cents and Tri-State went down the tubes. I hadn’t had many expenses except my apartment, so the twenty-five grand had grown a little. Thirty-two was young enough to recover if I lost it all, or so I figured, so I went shopping for a rig.
The used Pete and trailer had been traded in by a husband/wife team, and although it wasn’t exactly the rig of my dreams, I could afford it. It had a little over a hundred thousand on the odometer, and the service records were perfect. The sleeper wasn’t as big as the one on that Mack, but the double bed and the few appliances would be enough for me. After paying a few thousand more for license, insurance, and interstate permits, a call to a company that finds loads for truckers got me on the road again. From then on, I’d be collecting the whole hauling fee instead of just a small part of it.
After a couple of these runs, I decided since I was never home, having the apartment was a waste. I didn’t have much there anyway. It was a simple matter to move into the sleeper for keeps. A cell phone kept me in touch with my load service and the rest of the world. I got a PO box in my hometown for mail, and hit the road again. Driving was a ball and I was making some money at the same time. What could be better than that?
One autumn morning, I was rolling down US-41 through Indiana. The scenery was beautiful and the air had that crisp clarity that comes with the first cold snap of the fall. A few farmers had been up for a while, and their combines were slowly devouring the brown expanses of ripe soybeans that carpeted the fields beside the highway. My cargo, plumbing fixtures destined for the distribution center of a well-known discount chain, had been loaded in Gary. The drive was about nine hours, give or take. US-41 is filled with stoplights, but it was the shortest route between Gary, Indiana and Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and the Indiana Troopers don’t patrol it all that much. I could push the rig a little if I had to.
Just before US-41 crosses I-74, there are a couple really big hills. The tractor went to work when I started up the first. Black smoke billowed out of the stacks and made long, swirling plumes I could see in my mirrors. The diesel fuel surged from the saddle tanks to feed the hungry engine, and in my mind, I could see the numbers spinning on the truckstop pump just outside Hopkinsville. I topped the hill and eased off the pedal a little.
I’d let the rig run down the other side to gain some momentum for the climb up the next. That would save some fuel, and fuel saved was cash in my pocket. The rig had just eased over the speed limit when I saw a flash of red in my left-hand mirror. It was coming up behind me fast.
That little Japanese pickup blew past me like I was sitting still. It was beside me just long enough for a glimpse of denim against long legs through the side window, and then long brown hair through the back. The woman sped down this hill, then up the next, and I’ll swear she was accelerating all the while. That little engine had to be redlined at the speed she was driving. I was surprised she could even keep the light vehicle on the road. She topped the next hill just as I was starting up, and I lost sight of her for a while.
When I reached the top, I saw her again, about a mile ahead of me. The road straightened out for a ways there and she was flying low. I wondered why she’d be driving so fast. I mean, I’d been known to cheat the limit by five to ten on an interstate, but she had to be doing close to a hundred on a road full of tar strips. No patrol car would ignore her, not at that speed. I wasn’t sure of the fine for forty-over in Indiana, but it was a safe bet she’d contribute at least a couple hundred to the state coffers if they stopped her.
As it was, she didn’t have to worry about that. She had more immediate problems. I saw blue smoke pour from the back of the pickup and a trail of black appeared on the pavement. Her brake lights came on as she coasted to the shoulder.
Stopping for hitchhikers is not really safe anymore, and that’s why most companies have strict prohibitions about it. Too many truckers have wound up lying in a ditch after some son of a bitch knocked them in the head and drove off with the load. A stranded motorist was a different story, especially if my memory of those legs was right. I rolled the rig to a stop in front of the pickup and got out of the cab. The woman had popped the hood and was watching smoke pour up from the engine. She turned around and smiled grimly as I walked up beside her. My memory was right. Those legs went all the way from the red pom-poms that peeked from the back of her white running shoes to the hem of her denim miniskirt, and then some. The rest of her was pretty nice too. I guessed her at about twenty-five. It’s hard to tell with women, but with her looks, age wouldn’t matter much to any guy. Her snug tank top was filled to overflowing, and that shining, dark-brown hair hung in waves well below her shoulders.
“Looks like you’re havin’ some trouble here, Ma’am.”
“Yeah, darn it. I think something’s wrong with the motor.”
The smoke had cleared a little, so I looked down at the engine. There was a hole in the block just above the oil pan on the left side. She’d thrown a rod. That’s the only way that hole could have gotten there.
“Well, it’s for sure you’re not gonna drive it away from here. Can I call you a wrecker? I have a cell phone in the cab.”
“Nope. Let it sit there and smoke. He can come get it if he wants it back. It’s in his name anyway. I could use a lift, though, if that’s not too much to ask.”
“Nah. Where’d you like me to drop you off?”
She put her finger to her bottom lip and thought for a second.
“Let’s see. San Diego would be nice, or Dallas, or Miami, or Tucson, or Seattle. Anywhere, just so it’s a long way from here.”
“Sorry. I’m only going as far as Hopkinsville, Kentucky. That’s where I drop my load.”
“Never heard of it. How many miles is that?”
“About three hundred or so.”
“I guess that’ll do, for now anyway. I’ll figure out something when I get there. Let me get my stuff.”
She sat against the door and stared out the window as I went through the gears. My eyes kept wandering from the road back to those legs. The miniskirt had hiked up because she was slumped in the seat, and the view was…, well, I hadn’t been this close to a woman since Gloria. Oh, there were a few waitresses who’d flirt a little, just for fun, and in some rest areas the hookers would mess with me until they saw I wasn’t interested. This was different.
“Ma’am, what’s your name?”
“Well, Amanda, I’m Mark. You like music? I could turn on the radio.”
She hadn’t moved a muscle.
“You know, three hundred miles is gonna to seem awfully long if you just sit there and stare out that window.”
Amanda turned, and I saw tears in her eyes.
“You’re crying. What’s the matter.”
“I just left my husband.”
“Oh. That’s OK, I understand.”
“No you don’t. You don’t know what he’s like.”
“Well, no, I don’t know him, but I do know how you feel. I got divorced myself, a few years ago.”
“It’s not the same. He’ll try to find me. He’ll drag me back to that trailer so he can make me cook and clean and bring him his beer and….”
Amanda stopped for a few seconds and stared at me. Her bottom lip quivered.
“Well, I’m not going back. Never.”
“You don’t have to go back, but shouldn’t you at least let him know you’re alright? He’ll probably worry about you.”
I started to explain that Gloria had left me the same way and that I’d worried about her, but Amanda stopped me short. She pulled up the tank top.
“Does this look like he’d be worried about me?”
The purple-black bruise started at band of her pastel blue bra and ran all the way down her side and a little way around the front of her chest.
“He did that to you?”
“No. I slipped in the shower. That’s what I always tell the girls at work. Sometimes I walk into doors in the dark, or fall going down the steps, too. They think I’m a regular klutz.”
“He’s hit you before?”
“Only on the days he drinks. That would be about everyday but Sunday. On Sunday, he goes to see his mother so he can’t drink then. He got smart, though, after Jackie – that’s our neighbor – after she called the cops. They didn’t arrest the bastard, but he doesn’t hit me in the face anymore.”
We rode silently for a few miles. Amanda turned back to stare out her window, and I did some thinking. Gloria and I had had a few real knock-down-drag-out arguments before. Well, OK, call them fights, but I never hit her, and I never wanted to. What kind of animal would do that to a woman? Amanda looked like she weighed about a hundred, maybe a hundred-five soaking wet. There wouldn’t be any way she could fight back.
“He won’t know where to look, so he won’t be able to find you. You have any money?”
“Yeah, I cleaned out his billfold while he was passed out. He still had a hundred left from his paycheck. Once I get someplace, I’ll call Mom. She’ll send me enough to get back to her house. It’ll make her happy. She’s been trying to get me to leave him for years.”
I pulled the rig into a truckstop just outside Vincennes for lunch. Amanda excused herself to use the ladies room while I found us a table. Her eyes weren’t quite as red when she came back and I noticed she’d put on some lipstick.
“You know what, Amanda? You clean up pretty good.”
“I, uh…, I left in kind of a hurry this morning. Just thought I’d put on some makeup so I’d look human again.”
‘You didn’t need makeup for that. You’re a pretty woman without it.”
“Thanks. It’s been a long time since anybody told me that. It feels good.”
She also apparently left before she’d had breakfast, because she attacked the cheeseburger and fries like she was starving to death. I like to enjoy my food, so she finished before I did.
“So…, Mark, was it? How long you been driving a truck, Mark?
“About three years.”
“I love it. Why wouldn’t I?”
“I don’t know. It just seems like it would get pretty lonely.”
“Sometimes it does, but nobody tells me what to do except me and I can go anywhere I can find a load. It’s better than sitting in a stuffy office where somebody’s always looking over your shoulder.”
“Where you headed next?”
“Well, after I unload in Hopkinsville, I’ll call my load service and see what they have. Could be anywhere. I like to stay in the Midwest if I can, but I’ve been as far as California, Utah, and Maine. Just depends on who needs what hauled where, and what they’re willing to pay.”
A half-hour later, we hit the road again. I took the Pennyrile out of Henderson a little before four. It was going to be close, but I’d still make my five-thirty dock time. Amanda had become a little more talkative. I learned she’d been married to the creep for six years. It was one of those cheerleader/football-star things that seemed like a great idea at the time. Jake – that was her husband – got a football scholarship to Western, but flunked out his freshman year. They were married that summer. He went to work in a factory and made pretty good money, but Amanda never saw much of it. She got just enough for the household expenses and a few clothes. Jake spent the rest on beer and his bass boat.
At first, that had been enough for her. Then he started criticizing the way she did everything. They had a fight that he ended by slapping her across the face and blacking her eye. After that, she was afraid of him. The asshole figured that out, and had her waiting on him hand and foot. If she didn’t move fast enough, he just hit her again. She considered herself lucky that Jake didn’t want sex with her. He had another woman for that, a fortyish blonde that he’d met in a bar. He told Amanda the blonde was better in bed. Somehow, I kinda doubted that.
About midways through Kentucky, she asked if I’d stop for her.
“Uh, Mark, could you pull over at the next exit. I need to uh, well, I think I shouldn’t have had quite so much iced tea.”
“The next exit’s about ten miles. I’ll just pull over on the shoulder here.”
“I’m not…, I - I can’t just squat beside the road.”
I couldn’t suppress the chuckle.
“No, no, you can use the one in back, in the sleeper.”
She was gone about ten minutes. When she plopped herself down in the seat, she was grinning like a kid with a new toy.
“I didn’t know these things had potties in ‘em. And you have a little baby refrigerator and stove too. It’s like Jackie’s camper, only really small.
“Yeah, well, I don’t have a home except the sleeper, so all that stuff comes in handy when I stop to sleep. I don’t have to look for a motel with a lot big enough to park this rig, and I can get up, shave, eat breakfast and go to work without going outside.”
I was unloaded by six and asked Amanda where she’d like to go.
“I guess to a really cheap motel. I don’t know anybody here.”
“No, I mean for dinner. I figured you’d be hungry again. Don’t worry about your money. It’s on me.”
“Where do you go when you’re here?”
“There’s this little place that serves real southern pork barbecue. It’s not fancy, by any means, but you’ll never have better.”
“That sounds fine to me.”
I called my service while we had coffee, and found a load for pickup at seven in the morning.
“Well, I’m headed for Peoria, Illinois in the morning. Decided what you’re going to do yet?”
“Will you go through Springfield?”
“Not this trip. Why?”
“That’s where my Mom lives. If you were going that way, I thought maybe I could keep riding with you and you could drop me off there.”
It would cost me over an hour and some fuel. This load wasn’t paying all that much in the first place, and the timing was tight.
“I don’t know, Amanda. It’s a little out of my way and – “.
I wish women wouldn’t do that. Her face pinched up and tears filled her eyes. I can’t stand it when women cry. I feel like an idiot because you can’t stop them, and I never know what to say. At least she didn’t start sobbing. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose on a tissue she fished out of her pocket.
“That’s alright, I understand. I’ve taken advantage of you enough as it is. Can you find that motel for me?”
It wasn’t much, but then, she didn’t have much money either. I waited until she closed the door before heading down to fill up, crawl into the sleeper and get some rest. Rest? That was a laugh. Thoughts of her kept running through my head. What if her mother couldn’t send enough money? What she had wasn’t going to last long. What if Jake somehow managed to find her? I couldn’t bear that thought. I finally fell asleep sometime after midnight, and wasn’t ready for the alarm at five. Getting dressed helped me wake up a little, and brought those thoughts back again. I called my service while the coffee was brewing, and, at six thirty, I knocked on the door of her motel room.
She was yawning and scratching her head when she opened the door. Amanda was pretty even with her hair all mussed and with a pillow crease on her cheek. The long T-shirt with “NICE KITTY” on the front might have had something to do with my impression. It did little to hide her lush curves. They looked pretty nice to me.