Ken Leighton 9 a.m., March 4
- Community Blog
- Tales of Adventure
In January, 1999, I received a citation for speeding in the "Land of Enchantment", otherwise known as the State of New Mexico. I was eastbound on I-40, near the Acoma Sky City Casino at the 102 yardstick, when I was pulled over and given this particular "driving award." En route from San Diego, CA, to Altoona, PA, I was draggin' a wagonload of Class 9 lead solder waste across the desert when a State Trooper clocked me at 85 miles per hour. To this day, I keep a framed copy of this citation on the wall of my room, to be read by all who enter, and I cherish this framed copy for the following reasons...
On that fateful morning, I woke with a fierce hangover in the lot of the Flying Hook in Winslow, AZ. Crawling slowly from my sleeper to a greasy buffet table---the kind where Pepto is served as a legitimate beverage---I attempted to placate the hundred-foot tapeworm which dwells in my small intestine. The cholesterol feast proved to be excessively rancid, and my system was no match for it: even the ravenous worm had to back down from this worthy foeman. With stinking breath and queasy stomach, I pushed my fourth plate aside and made my way to a private stall, where I gratefully conducted the "purge phase" before taking a long, hot shower.
Shakily returning to my truck, which was idling away with the A/C cranked to "Max Cool", I flipped a few switches, staggered through my PTI (Pre-Trip Inspection) with hammer in hand, grudgingly updated my "Comic Book" (Driver's Daily Log required by law and falsified on a regular basis), yanked a soda out of my cooler, put the truck in gear and hit the f-----g road... Stepping onto I-40, I wound up the rig until I was in the big hole, eastbound and down, as in HAMMER DOWN, stickin' to the left lane and eatin' company trucks for breakfast while tearing at high speed through the desolation. For personal entertainment, I prepped a tape, keyed my CB mike, and gave the other drivers a dose of Patsy Cline as I blew past: "YOU WALK BY AND I FALL TO PIECES..." Good ol' Patsy, a perennial favorite.
It was a glorious morning, nothing but blue skies and sunshine... apart from my lingering hangover, all was right with the world. This was the second day of a ten-day jaunt, and I had every intention of "trashin' around" at the Hook in OKC before midnight; since this particular assigned truck of mine topped out at 86 miles per hour, the weather was beautiful, road conditions were excellent, and traffic was relatively light, this was a perfectly realistic expectation. On all PA runs, I spent my second night out at the Hook in "Oak City", even though I couldn't "legally" log my arrival until early the following morning. In those days, the Hook in OKC was the Wild West, a classic venue for the "nightly radio comedy programme"---a CB Babylon of @$$hole truckers, dope peddlers, whores slingin' @$$, crackerheads, and assorted fringe elements to whom I collectively refer under the appellation "CIRCUS MAXIMUS."
Ah, yes, it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and I felt my adrenalin surge as I barrelled through some curves... Truck driving always reminds me of skateboarding, with these subtle exceptions: the "skateboard" weighs nearly 40 tons, it is articulated, and it does well over 100 miles per hour downgrade (if you let it rip). The highest number shown on my speedometer is "85", but when the needle is pegged, an experienced driver knows when he's past the hypothetical century mark. This speed is NOT recommended for rookie drivers: ALL TRAINEES SHOULD OBSERVE THE POSTED LIMIT.
When traveling 86 miles per hour on the flat, a professional truck driver can't be too careful. When I was at the wheel of that bad-@$$ Eagle, soaring on mechanical wings with my spirit light as a feather, I would constantly scan the road and terrain ahead, alert to developing situations which involved potential danger. Frequently, I would SLOW DOWN TO PASS OTHER VEHICLES, especially vehicles in convoy, wherein some inexperienced or inattentive driver (i.e. one who cannot correctly estimate the speed of an overtaking rig by looking in his or her mirror) might pull out to pass directly in front of me, thereby causing a heller wreck and possibly ending my OTR (Over-The-Road) career. I have no desire to be listed in my obituary as "the filling in a semi sandwich."
Oversized vehicles are another concern. Only a complete f-----g fool runs up at high speed on an oversized rig... better to slow down, hail the driver on the CB and state one's intention to pass, select the safest and most appropriate opportunity (a straightaway with wide shoulders is preferable to a bridge or blind curve), then smoothly accelerate past while giving the other driver plenty of room. If there's no CB in your vehicle, the same rules still apply. I can't believe how many stupid f-----g four-wheelers DIE every year because they don't understand how to pass an 18-wheeler, let alone an oversized rig.
Back to my story... I roared across the New Mexico line and geared down to enter the P.O.E. chickenhouse (Port Of Entry/D.O.T. scale). After a cursory examination of my documents, a D.O.T. bear waved me through and I slowly wound 'er up to roll through Gallup. Blowing out the eastern side of town, I mashed my motor and quickly had my truck up to cruising speed. I had over 300 miles to drive before I hit the next permanent weigh station in San Jon; the D.O.T. in New Mexico has been known to set up portable scales in rest areas and flag down all trucks, but on that beautiful morning my instincts told me this would not happen, thus four-and-a-half hours of uninterrupted driving lay between me and the San Jon chickenhouse. My hangover steadfastly refused to die, and a bold new idea crept into my consciousness, a brazen concept, a brash notion, something which I had never even considered in light of the serious consequences, the enormous responsibility, the tremendous potential for outright f-----g disaster...
Hidden in a storage compartment behind my seat, on the upper left-hand side of my sleeper, was an airtight cylindrical plastic container, the kind made to hold a roll of 35mm film. Inside that container were jammed two fat spleefs of heller chronic, all that remained from an eightball of nuclear weed purchased prior to my last off-duty camping trip (my friends and I took my tractor to the high desert and had a blast). I was saving those fatties for the Hook in OKC---outbound and return trip---but a wild hair prompted me to burn one of those delbers in a last-ditch effort to annihilate my hangover. Groping for the canister, I extracted one reefer and lit the sonofabitch with the truck lighter as I thundered down the highway.
Cracking the wing window, I slowly inhaled and savored the exquisite flavor of that killer ganja. It was "medical marijuana"---one hit was enough to put the user in a friggin' wheelchair. I proceeded to burn the whole damned thing while flying down the interstate; the nearest eastbound vehicle was over a mile away, so I was free to relax and enjoy this forbidden pleasure. My CB radio remained strangely silent... not one word of speed cops or D.O.T. bears was uttered that morning. As I felt the dope kick in, I laughed out loud at the irony of the situation. There I was, a driver who normally observed all safety precautions and rigidly adhered to a drug-free lifestyle (with the exception of alcohol and the rare occasional hit of chronic while camping off duty), FLYIN' HIGH WHILE THUNDERING ACROSS THE DESERT WITH A TRUCKLOAD OF HAZARDOUS WASTE... Yeah, I was sure those boys in the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division would be suitably impressed---they probably would have asked for my autograph back at the bear den, right after they emptied my pockets and removed those shiny new bracelets, don'tcha know?
When I had consumed three-quarters of the spleef, I took a swig of soda and ate the live damned roach. I didn't want it stinking up the cab; unlit weed is one thing, but a roach can be smelled from a mile away. I then lit a cigarette and settled comfortably into my air-ride seat, to devote my full concentration to the task of driving under the influence. For the next forty or fifty miles, I was totally locked into driving, focused with intensity and radically attuned to my environment. My perceptions were seemingly heightened by the chronic, and I soared over the terrain like a great raptor, wheeling gracefully through turns and swooping into valleys... each curve or passing maneuver was an exhibition of fluid grace, and the adrenalin coursed through my veins as I drew raw power from that Caterpillar engine. I existed blissfully in a separate reality, far from the hideous blight of "civilization." It was an intense experience, and I shall never forget it.
As I approached the century yardstick, my CB crackled, and a westbound driver told me I "looked good back to Albuquerque." I hadn't seen a single bear since I left the chickenhouse on the other side of Gallup; after reciprocating the westbound driver's "professional courtesy," I turned off my CB and slipped a cassette into my tape player. Albuquerque was still fifty miles away, and I felt like jammin' to music while flyin' high across the desert... since I had never driven high before in an 18-wheeler, I viewed the introduction of music as an experiment conducted solely in the interest of science. The sweet strains of the intro to "Mr. Crowley" raised my consciousness to a new level, and I really began to rock in high gear, cutting off four-wheelers in majestic slow motion while making ninety miles per hour down some pindick grade. Ah, the INTENSITY of it all, with my music cranked to the absolute limit!!! Sound and fury, sweetness and light, pure adrenalin and maniacal laughter...
I was out in the hammer lane, flyin' past the Acoma Sky City Casino at the 102 yardstick, when I noticed "disco lights" in my West Coast mirror. F------G DISCO LIGHTS, when that @$$hole trucker just told me I looked good back to Albuquerque!!! Cursing that d!ckhead for the rookie that he obviously was, I geared down and pulled over at the first safe location, a wide shoulder somewhere near the 103 yardstick. With my flashers on, I waited for the State Trooper to make his way up the shotgun side of my truck, industrial-sized citation booklet in hand. The party was over, and my festive mood was superseded by a mild case of paranoia brought on by the weed. Lifting my sunglasses and looking in the vanity mirror clipped to my visor, I saw that my eyes were bloodshot and my pupils dilated---I was still clearly F-----G STONED TO THE UTMOST COSMIC ELEVATION, and there was nothing to do but brazen it out. I set my sunglasses on the dash: better to tell the cop I was tired, rather than act as if I had something to hide...
Killing my CB and cutting my motor as the State Trooper arrived at my shotgun door, I reached over to unlock the door, swung it open, and invited him to ascend into the cab. By law, an officer must have verbal permission from the driver, probable cause (the sight of empty beer bottles rolling around, for example), or a f-----g warrant prior to entering a commercial vehicle. Since my logbook was in good shape, my documentation in order, and the interior of my cab spotless, I intended to conceal my impaired condition by acting in a friendly manner and cooperating from the start. My commitment to a bold plan served me well, and I didn't dwell upon the fact that I HAD BEEN PULLED OVER BY A FULL-GROWN BEAR WHILE OPERATING A PLACARDED COMMERCIAL VEHICLE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF HELLER CHRONIC. The State Trooper glanced around my cab, nonchalantly declined my invitation to enter and have a seat, and rested one gleaming jackboot upon the lower running board of my truck. A brief exchange ensued:
"Do you know why I stopped you?," he asked, in a mild tone.
"Know how fast you were going?," he inquired.
"EIGHTY-SIX???????" Due to its gearing and rear end configuration, that particular truck topped out at 86 miles per hour on the flat, and I wasn't going to bullsh!t the guy after he caught me fair and square by hiding in the bushes.
"I clocked you at 85," he said, while pulling a pen from his pocket and flipping open his citation booklet. I removed my license from my wallet and foraged for registration and proof of insurance in my permit book as the bear proceeded to make out my "driving award." Several minutes elapsed as he filled in the blanks, and an occasional truck roared past on the interstate. I swigged soda from a bottle and politely waited for him to finish the job. Bracing myself for bad news, I eventually asked the inevitable question:
"Well, what's the damage?"
"FIFTY-FOUR DOLLARS!!!!!!!," I exclaimed, with a broad smile breaking across my face. I was elated, I was ecstatic, I was absolutely overjoyed that this ticket was only going to cost $54, as opposed to $154 or $254. I was also the first @$$hole in the History of New Mexican Law Enforcement to grin like a damned f-----g fool while receiving a driving award, even though I had just been clocked at 85 miles per hour with a wagonload of Class 9 Hazardous Waste. Try that in California (double nickel for trucks) and you'll soon discover a new meaning for the phrase "cell phone."
"FIFTY-FOUR DOLLARS!!!!!!! Damn, that's a BARGAIN!!!!!!! It cost me SEVENTY to go 68 in the Buckeye!!!!!!!" (Ohio is also a double nickel state, or was at the time.)
At this point in our conversation, the State Trooper pulled down his aviator shades, in the style and manner of David Lee Roth, and LOOKED AT ME AS IF I WERE HIGH, WHICH OF COURSE I STILL WAS... I smiled at him, and I could hear the cogs whirring in his brain as he mentally catalogued me as an imbecile. He handed back my documentation, along with the speeding ticket, and I complimented him upon his professionalism. After bidding him farewell, I shut the door, crammed all of the paperwork into an overhead compartment, noted the time for logging purposes, fired up the truck, turned on my CB, looked in my mirrors, waited for the State Trooper to clear the @$$ end of my trailer, checked both mirrors again, eased the truck off the shoulder into the roadway, and GOT THE F--- OUT OF THERE before the bear had a chance to think twice about our encounter...
That was the first and last time I ever smoked dope behind the wheel of a big truck. Five or six days after I received that driving award, I stopped at the Armadillo Walmart (Amarillo, TX) to purchase a cheesy three-dollar document frame. Taking a copy of my citation, I highlighted the boxes showing that I only paid $54 for running 85 miles per hour in a 75 mile per hour zone. In the "Remarks" section, I added: "PULLED OVER WHILE BAKED!!!!!!!" When I hit my "Home 20" of Coronado, CA, I drove directly to my friend's surf shop and proudly displayed my new driving award, cheesy frame and all... not every driver in a sorry-@$$ company truck can PROVE THAT HE DID 85 WHILE STONED ON LEVEL TERRAIN WITH A TRUCKLOAD OF CLASS 9 HAZARDOUS WASTE.