Thursday, August 6, 2009

On the Road With Mama

Question. How many people could spend 24/7 for 10 days in almost total isolation from the outside world in a space no larger than a walk-in closet? How about with their grown child? How about with their Mama? Could you?

A Little History. Back in September, 2005, not long after I had started driving a truck, it worked out for my Mama to out in the truck with me for about 10 days. It was one of the most wonderful experiences either of us had ever had, and we talked about it often as we relived it over the years. It was special to be able to share what I did and the life I lived on the road with my Mama.

Not once during that time did my Mama scream in terror while trying to grab the steering wheel from my hand to save her life. And not once did I pull over to the side of a deserted interstate, put her out, throw out her bags and a quarter, and yell at her to “call someone who cares!”

We have planned several times since then to tempt fate and do a similar trip, but the timing always caused things to not work out for one reason or another.

But, finally, our patience and persistence were rewarded. From July 14 to July 24, we hit the road a second time. When it was all said and done, I think we both enjoyed this trip as much as the first one. And still, nary a grab for the wheel while screaming in terror or a stop alongside some dark and deserted highway.

Even after a second trip, we are still on speaking terms. Miracles still happen, do they not?

Maybe we should call Dr. Phil and announce our triumph.

I invite you to ride along with us as I relive some highlights of that latest trip in this entry of the blog . . . oh, and if someone can get the lights, I've got these great slides you'll just love . . . hey, where'd everybody go? Hope they come back for the next entry.

Atlanta, Georgia to Sharon Springs, New York. We drove from Rome (Georgia, where I'm from and where most of my family lives) to Atlanta early on Tuesday morning, July 14. I had just spent the weekend in Rome visiting family. It took a while to get everything situated in the truck the way we wanted, but then we were ready to go.

Our first load comes across the satellite – oh, how exciting – we went about 5 miles from the Schneider facility in Atlanta to get an empty trailer, and then drove around the Atlanta loop (I-285, “The Perimeter”) to a place about 11 miles away to get loaded. It didn't take too long, and we took that load right back to the place we picked up the empty trailer.

Mama and I joked that it would be funny (but it really wouldn't have been, I don't suppose) if we just drove around the loop in Atlanta for 10 days.

But, after the false start, we took an empty trailer to Carrollton, Georgia, where we picked up a load going to Sharon Springs, New York. Not west as I'd hoped, but it was at least a place Mama had never been to. And it wasn't New York City (Mama hasn't been there either, but I didn't want to show it to her from my truck).

On the way up to New York, we traveled through South and North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and then New York. We got to go through some of the most beautiful parts of Pennsylvania and New York.

After four years since the last trip, Mama adjusted to life in a big truck very quickly. You should have seen her climbing up and down in and out of that truck! She was a pro after a few hours.

And everything north of Virginia was new territory for her on this first leg. One of the highlights on the way up to New York for me was getting to stop at one of my favorite truck stops, White's Truck Stop in Raphine, Virginia, about 60 miles north of Roanoke on I-81. They have this fascinating collection of knives and guns in display cases – hundreds of them – and the food is generally some of the best on the road.

Once we exited off I-88 in New York east of Binghamton, we were on two lane roads all the way to Sharon Springs, which is on US 20. Some of the roads Schneider told us to take were not roads that big trucks were meant to be on, but once we were on them, there really weren't any chances to turn around or go back. But we made it.

One thing Mama kept remarking on as we drove through the rural countryside of New York state was that “they have as many barns as we do back in Georgia!” She couldn't get over the fact that it wasn't at all like she'd pictured it – all urban, asphalt, crowds of people milling like colonies of ants everywhere.

When we delivered the load to Sharon Springs, on Thursday, we drove over to Fultonville, New York, to the closest truck stop and spent the night. The next morning, we drove over to Fulton, New York, just north of Syracuse, for the next leg of the trip.

Fulton, New York, to Pineville, Louisiana. Friday, July 17, we picked up at a place in Fulton that had to be down in Pineville, Louisiana, near Alexandria.

When we got to the place in Fulton, there were several other Schneider trucks already there. It took a while to get loaded, and while we were waiting, I got to talk to the other drivers. The driver of the truck next to us in the loading docks asked me where we were from.

“ Rome, Georgia,” I told him. I told him about Mama being out in the truck with me for this trip.

“ Well, I'm from Lindale,” he said.

Lindale, Georgia, is a small town just outside of Rome, and my family has strong connections to that community that goes back close to a hundred years that I know of. My granddaddy worked in the cotton mill in Lindale for many years.

The other Schneider driver was originally from Michigan (he sure didn't talk like he was from Lindale), but through some family connections and other circumstances had ended up in Lindale a couple of years before. He was a nice guy.

I thought it was so cool to bring my Mama on a trip in my truck all the way to New York, and we meet a guy who lives literally less than 10 miles from where she does. It sure made the world seem a lot smaller.

We finally got loaded, and pushed our way west and south. That night, we stopped in Corfu, New York, east of Buffalo. Now, now, try to hold rein on your jealousy at our good fortune to have gotten to stop in Corfu, where the excitement never stops.

Sort of like Lindale, Georgia.

The next day we drove all the way across and down Ohio, going through Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Will the thrills of this trip never cease?

I will say this about Cincinnati: coming into Cincinnati from Kentucky on I-71/75, you come over this huge hill, and for about 2 miles there is a steep downgrade with curves. You can't tell you are close to any large city until you round one of the curves, and suddenly, sitting down across the river, this beautiful city seems to rise out of the earth pushing toward the sky. It is one of the most beautiful approaches to a city in the country.

Coming into Las Vegas in the middle of the night from the north on I-15 across the desert is by far my favorite for sheer awe-inspiring beauty.

Dallas is my favorite city to come into from any direction – it always has, and always will be, the most beautiful city in the country to me because of my own connections there, past and present.

Chicago, New York, and San Francisco are beautiful to drive into as well, for their own unique place along the sky.

On the way down to Pineville, Louisiana, west of Nashville, in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, we got to stop for lunch at Loretta Lynn's Kitchen, a restaurant near the area where she grew up. The restaurant is really owned by her and the food is just what you would expect from her wonderful country heritage. That was a highlight of this trip for both of us.

We got to Pineville Monday afternoon. And we stayed in Pineville until Wednesday morning.

Off the road in Pineville. After all the places we been through, and all the places we could have chosen to stay for almost two days, I don't think it would have crossed either of our minds to pick Pineville as the place to settle on. But that's what we did.

Here's what happened: when we got to Pineville, we were both tired and we still didn't have our next load. I called my dispatcher in Atlanta to find out what was going on. He told me that there wasn't anything heading east from Pineville, and since we were supposed to be back in Atlanta on Friday so my Mama could get back to her life and go rescue her cat from the kennel where he'd been staying for 10 days, he didn't want to put us under a load heading the opposite direction.

That made sense to me.

It was about 1,000 degrees in Pineville that day. There was a truck stop over in Alexandria where we could have parked, but since we were both so tired, I suggested to Mama that we just find a motel with truck parking, and stay there. That way I wouldn't have to idle the truck for as long as we were stuck there, and we'd just be able to relax and catch up on some sleep.

That's how we ended up staying at the Super 8 Motel in Alexandria, Louisiana.

I know you may not believe me, but this was not the most exciting part of the trip. But we did manage to catch up on our sleep, so it wasn't a total loss.

To Birmingham and home. Wednesday morning, we picked up a load that took us to a place near Birmingham, Alabama. We delivered the load Thursday morning, and that afternoon, we picked up the load taking us to Atlanta. The unloading at the first place and the loading at the second place took literally all day, so there was no way to get to Atlanta Thursday night, as I'd first planned.

We finally rolled into Atlanta on Friday morning, July 24 th . Mama got all her stuff out of the truck and I took her back to Rome. We said our good-byes, and I turned around and went back to Atlanta, to my empty truck.

We have talked about our trip since then, and I think we both enjoyed this time out as much as the trip four years ago. It still seems funny to be in the truck by myself.

I'm already looking forward to next time, Mama.

Until next time . . . keep the wheels rollin' . . . making choices and taking responsibility . . .

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