Sunday, December 26, 2010

Alter Of Baltimore

What have I written until now? What have I done? I don't know. I can't recall. If I don't go back and look I'm starting over every time. A slate washed clean with dark waves and empty winds.

A few simple things is all I have. The account continues to grow, slowly much of the time but grows. My ideas about what I'd do take shape or rather firm up, clear up. How to make a living as I get started on the Great Project.

Of, not toward, Democracy.

I arrived in Baltimore Friday night or was it Thursday? I think Friday. Whenever it was, I ended up first at that TA truck stop south of town, where I didn't want to go -- I've been treated shabbily there -- but I had my TAs mixed up so there I was. Plenty of parking, and free! and the two old gals, I'll call them, in the restaurant were nice, however. Both made little movements in my vicinity which actually hastened my departure. When I went back in later to have dinner, a black girl was working. She let me look at the menu, decide, and order before informing me,

"We don't make dinners, we stop that at 12, only breakfast and..."

And something, sandwiches I think she said. I was burning and paid for the coffee she had already set down and left without drinking it, ending up, for lack of anywhere else to go, here downtown, near the docks, the other, the old Baltimore TA.

I don't particularly like this TA. The feel. The style. A lot of dark brown, grainy wood siding on the insides. I don't mind that. It's the shade of brown. There's one like it in Pennyslvania on I-80 and one in Gary, Indiana. Here in Baltimore, in this part of town, there are always people walking through the parking lot. Locals, the unemployed, addicts, hustlers. But I never get hustled here. Maybe Baltimore just isn't a hustling town. I don't know. 

But the food is good, that is, it was when the waitress finally emerged from the back with the rest of the staff, the skeleton Christmas Day staff, then there was food, after, that is, the big American African man went over and banged on the kitchen door. So they went back to work and I enjoyed a nice tuna fish with lettuce and tomato on toasted wheat bread. Toasted. I remembered to order it toasted.

I should mention the Repower in Indianapolis. Repower. Technical jargon for taking somebody else's load and delivering it. Their truck is broken down, or maybe they need to be going where you're headed and so they take your load, and you take theirs. Suddenly your plans are all changed. New load, new arrival time, realculating, readjusting your sights.

I'd been messaged, not by my dispatcher but one of the others, a woman, asking me if I'd switch loads with a driver of hers, a woman who was trying to get home for Christmas.


A flurry of messages then. She'd let me know. You'll switch loads in Hammond. It'll be in Indianapolis. She'll be waiting there. She'll be there in the morning. Here's your next load assignment (computer wouldn't send it). Here's your next load assignment (computer still wouldn't do it).

But it finally got finalized and I was waiting for her, parked in the front row, at the Indianapolis Flying J on the I-465 bypass. It's raining at 5 a.m. when she rolls in, parks in front of me, blocking the aisle, sits there, starts to pull away, stops, gets out, runs over to me and screams  "You don't have your CB on?"

I don't have a CB.

"Whadda you got there?" She nods toward my load. I tell her. "You wanna come and look at this load?" nodding toward hers.


It being morning, trucks have begun to clear out, I see several empty parking spaces abreast, in the back  row, where we can easily back in and conduct our exchange of trailers. Our Repower. She looks at the empty spaces but then rests her eyes on the big open area in front of the fuel islands where the diesel tankers unload -- where the below ground tanks are, manhole covers, the whole area marked off with yellow lines, a red curb all the way around it, "No Parking" signs all the way around it, and orange plastic fencing around three sides of it. And there was a fuel tanker in there unloading at the time. "Let's do it there," she screams. "We can get it done in 20 or 30 minutes."

No, I say, they'll kick us out.

She's insistent. I notch it up one. I don't want to do it there. She relents, and takes five minutes to back into a parking space, a space where there's no truck on either side of it. I back in next to her, begin counting my bungee cords. She runs over, clipboard in hand, wants to explain the paperwork exchange, wants to explain all the specifics of her paperwork, wants me to sign for it right now, there in the rain.

OK, I stop what I'm doing and sign. I listen to her instructions, than continue with what I was doing, counting bungee cords. Since she is taking my load, which is tarped, and since her load isn't tarped, , it is much easier for her simply to give me her rolled up tarps and leave mine on the load. Also we will exchange bungee cords in the same way. The tarp is held down with 40 or 50 of my bungee cords, stiff rubber cords with a steel hook on each end. So she gives me her tarps, and the number of bungee cords I leave on the load. So she doesn't have to tarp the load in the rain, and I don't have to fold up my tarps in the rain. We just exchange equipment and go. It's the normal routine.

So I am counting bungee cords -- they cost a doller or two depending on where you get them, how long they are --  and she interrupts me again to give me another speech, this time about the special precautions I need to take in securing her load to the trailer. I don't know why she's telling me this. She already has secured to the trailer. Before I leave with it, I'll look it over, make sure everything is fastened down tight, but I haven't even looked at her load yet. I'll wait until it's daylight out and hopefully has stopped raining. I don't need her advice, anyway, but I say OK, and go back to work, cranking down my dolly wheels, getting out the exchange equipment, etc. Every time our paths cross she finds a way to bring up the subject of her load again and starts giving me the same speech about it. I try ignoring her, I try being polite, nothing gives her the clue that I know what to do, that I've pulled the exact same load she has, many times, etc. I don't need her advice and don't want it. But she needs something from me, some kind of acknowledgment. That which I have given her hasn't satisfied her. She keeps telling me this, telling me that, and finally I lose patience and tell her "Look, how about if you worry about your load and I'll worry about mine."

She blows up, starts launching accusations at me, anything she can think of. I remember one was, "What, you don't like women?" It was a screaming explosion of accusations, and I retaliated. I don't remember with what. I can retaliate when I want to, and I did, and when I did she just notched it up. She was able to retaliate, too. Finally she comes at me with,

"You're just a bitter old man."

That one got to me. It stung. Old? I'm 58, but I run five miles every other day, lift weights, do yoga, eat right. I can outwork these kids, 20 and 18 years old, and often do. But bitter? Bitter? Wow. Maybe I am. Maybe I have cause to be. The accusation induced an instantaneous flurry of self examination. I don't think it showed. I tried not to let it show.

She, by the way, is 40 something, probably, brunette died auburn, overweight from feet to jowl but in that stocky way, not the rounded way. Big, but not fat looking until you look at one of the parts, because they have all grown proportionately. A pretty smile. One that can arrest you. I assume that's what has got her by, makes her act the way she does. A woman in a male dominated field, the fact of her very scarcity. She has that attitude, and she also has this other one, where she thinks she can preach to me. And of course she has the other thing, she's out on the road alone. There are reasons for that. So she has all of them. Not that I don't, so when she blew up at me I let her have it. Pretty good, too.

Later, as I'm driving, I feel remorse, over losing control. Remorse, but I'm still self righteously angry, with my "What the fuck is with people?" analysis of the situation. I'd gone out of my way to do her a favor, taking her load to the east coast (east coast is bad in trucking), and, by the way, the load I gave her, so she could go home for Christmas, would have gone by my mother's house, my family. Christmas at home, with the family. But when they asked me if I'd do the Repower, I had thought, well, a woman, probably has kids, let her go home.

I didn't say of that to her. I listened. But she wants something and keeps interrupting me. I let her give me speeches and she won't won't assume I know a thing, and she was the one who couldn't back up a semi truck in the rain in the dark, and I can. That should have given her a clue. "What the fuck is with people?" My attitude toward the whole exchange should have given her a clue -- that I'd done this before. But either she can't pick up on things like that or she was hell bent on letting me know she was somebody. And of course it could have been owing to her being overwrought. She did say she had tried to make it there the night before but had had to stop and sleep. I know that feeling. But I don't know. I would have made it there the night before, especially if I knew someone was waiting for me. She was over the top, as they say nowadays.

And I fully expected to hear something from the company. I mean, after she got mad she was throwing things around. And then she backed too far under her new trailer, my old one, and got the fifth wheel caught in front of the king pin -- a very bad situation, a rookie kind of mistake. She didn't want my help fixing it either so I sat in the truck and dried off while she cranked the dolly wheels high enough so she could pull out from under the trailer again, a very exhausting task, that.

So I was expecting to hear from the company. There have been times when an encounter with another driver went bad and the other driver tattled to his dispatcher, then I'd get a message from mine and have to defend myself against hyperbolic claims made by a grown man acting like a little girl, so I expected, half expected, expected almost, to get a message of some kind.

I had my story ready, too. As a rule, I don't do anything that might impact another person's livelihood, but I was toying with letting them know what happened without making any direct accusations. But as the day progressed I began to question that ploy, and as the day progressed, and I never got a message, I saw how pathetic my little ploy was.

But that is what got me here to Baltimore. This was her load. She's got mine, has already delivered it, in fact, and is sitting at home with her family, I presume. This load that I have is stuff that comes out of Mexico -- hydraulic lift tail gates for delivery trucks. We pick them up down by San Diego.

I've already dropped off one, in Pittsburgh on Friday morning -- had a hell of a time finding the place on old US 1, but did and was waiting for them when they showed up. The boss told me they install these tailgate lifts on other peoples' trucks as a sideline. It went very well. One hell of a nice bunch of guys there at the Pittsburgh Thermo-King. Very nice. The two I was dealing with actually shook my hand at the end.

I suppose they were nice because I was. Maybe my demeanor at that point in time was one that elicited that kind of reaction. I've probably got over that Repower thing. It's back to that same old thing, that I've been wrestling with. Who and how should I be? Myself? Which self? The self I am at the moment. I think that's the only possibility, theoretical or practical.

7:30 a.m

I've been up since 3:30...I've been waking up at around 3:30 the last three mornings and I think I do prefer's like the old days in Kenosha when I regularly got up around this time..Kenosha, the last time I think I felt anything like good, that is, neutral.

This is actually an entry I started in Florence, KY, when I intended to open the old Journal doors. I forget now why....maybe to mention getting up early. I had parked at a supermarket where I found quite a few organic items du fudera, but slept a good ten hours getting me up-rested and on this schedule which I had been veering toward for a few weeks, consciously trying to maintain, because it is good, for me...The daylight work day is more productive, for some reason. I've noticed that when I start out by 5, I'll be driving and look down and see that I've driven hundreds of miles and it's not even noon yet, and I normally don't even get started until 11, noon, 1 p.m. even. Night owl hours.

Anyway, had a nice heart-wrencing run up some hills down there in what I always call Eddyville, land between the lakes the promoters call it. Where there's on old independent truck stop I like, where I bought a jackknife once which I had for a long time, in fact do yet.

So I'm in Baltimore, and have happened upon some strange music I bought once. I was driving through Little Rock one time, catching up on my Earl Caldwell podcasts, and at the end of his Just Before Christmas show he starts mumbling the way he does and says someone gave him an album of Christmas music by Mariah Carey..."Each generation puts their own twist on it" he said as he was introducing the song, and excusing himself, it seemed, for playing something that wasn't jazz.

As the Mariah Carey version of Oh Holy Night came up, it immediately brought me to tears... I am still wondering why. The way that song starts, perhaps, up and down the notes of a major chord. It's just one of those songs that affects me on some emotional level. And it's one of those songs that is so good you can't mess it up. It simply sounds good no matter who does it. But Mariah Carey, that girl can bring it. She has not only a powerful voice but a beautiful voice, well controlled, creative...I don't particularly care for that little wavering thing she does on the longer notes. That type singing that has become popular among the young women, where they waver the note instead of holding it -- she can do it, but the rest of them should give it up. She may have popularized it, I don't know. I know nothing about her music. I just know that I see her picture in the media a lot and she's very pretty, and when Earl Caldwell played her rendition of Oh Holy Night I later went on iTunes and bought it for 99 cents, and bought two more songs off the album it was on, from 1996, I think it was.

I'm listening to them now. She's quite remarkable. A strong, pure voice, well controlled. She very creative with it, in ways you'd expect, but sometimes in a way I've only noticed once before. Sometimes she takes off, leaves the melody, rides it, like a surfer riding a big wave perhaps, or a bucking bronco rider. It sounds wild and unrehearsed. She creates another song, parallel to the one being recorded. She just leaves the melody for awhile and then returns to it in different creative ways, sliding back into it with little phrases and vocal gestures.

The only person I can recall doing that, playing another song parallel to the one the rest of the band is playing, is the late Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead. He did it with a guitar, of course, but it's the same technique, the same skill. Something that engages the melody but at different points in time and in different harmonic proportions than the rest of the song is doing with itself.

It makes me think of things I've read about how in some other languages you can express things you can't express in English or the the Indo-European languages. Other languages use words in ways that express concepts we don't even have. The Bible, for example, the parts written in Hebrew and Aramaic, have a different meaning that we don't even know about. Creation, for example. In the original languages it's ongoing. We come along and participate in it.

I wonder if Jerry Garcia and Mariah Carey can say things to each other that we can't understand.

And when they leave the world of our comprehension like that, are they ever afraid that they won't make it back?

Sometimes I feel like that. That I left this world and am in another and can't quite make it back. Except that I didn't leave voluntarily. I was riding in the back of a pickup truck that hit a big bump, and I just fell out.