K. Mennem 7:17 p.m., June 17
The Blue Angels Of Truck Driving
This short tale concerns an incident which occurred on I-10 a few miles west of Deming, NM. If you know anything at all about truck driving, you know that every hand with a CDL-A has learned, through training and experience, to keep maximum distance between these 40-ton rigs on the road. Distance means safety in the event of a blown steer tire, mechanical failure, sudden gust of wind, etc. When these rigs tangle, things go south in a big ol' hurry and people often die. In this blog, I won't dwell on all that... instead, I'll relate a short story about close formation flying in two big trucks thundering down the interstate.
I pulled out of the Petro Travel Plaza in Horizon City (on the east side of El Paso, TX) one fine morning, intent upon rolling west to San Diego after yet another successful trip to "The Big A" (Atlanta, GA). It was early enough for traffic in El Paso not to be an issue, and as I stepped onto I-10 and started rolling west, I took station behind another big truck in the center lane. Keeping my distance, I followed this other driver through town and out the other side, where the speed limit gradually increased. Noticing that this truck could do the limit and then some, as mine easily could, I naturally grabbed my CB mike and hollered at the other driver.
Turned out his handle was "Sidewinder" and he was also heading for "Shaky" (in trucker parlance, this means California, due to the earthquake situation). Although he would ultimately deliver in Los Angeles, the two of us would be running in the same direction for quite some time, and our two ungoverned trucks were clearly matched in power, speed, and gross weight. That's how it works when you're on the road: if you notice a truck for the second or third time, especially when pulling grade after grade, no matter how shallow or steep the grade, then you know that circumstances have combined to allow the two trucks to run together. By this, I mean that given the power, speed, and load weight of each truck, the two trucks can easily run together for miles if the two drivers are so inclined.
Well, "Sidewinder" and I rolled across the New Mexico line and through the P.O.E. chickenhouse (Port Of Entry/D.O.T. scale) east of Las Cruces. Neither one of us had any issues, so we were both waved on through by the D.O.T. bear on duty in the kiosk. Before long, we were traversing the south side of Las Cruces and pulling the relatively short but steep grade west of town. Topping out on the flat, we hammered down and were soon doing 80 miles per hour across the desert. The bad-@$$ Florida Mountains (Florida---go figure) lay on the horizon, and we steadily drew closer as our mini-convoy thundered westward. I keyed my mike and told "Sidewinder" of my intention to momentarily jump off in Deming and hit the Walmart SuperCenter, which is fairly easy to access from either end of town.
"Sidewinder" agreed to stop for a bit and accompany me while I grabbed a few needed items. Usually, on those long cross-country trips via the "Southern Route," I would stop in Deming on the outbound leg every time and stock up with everything I needed for the entire trip. However, for one reason or another I was short of some things I needed, and I wanted to quickly bag 'em in Deming before heading home. We jumped off, rolled into town, parked our trucks in the Walmart lot and went inside... quickly bagging the necessary items, I stopped at the deli counter to order a snack to go. Spicy chicken nuggets and primo wedged taters or home fries, all tender and seasoned to perfection, cooked by a hand who knew what he or she was doing. I also bought a quart of chocolate milk to wash it all down; I'm a fool for chocolate milk on the road, but I rationalize this weakness by telling myself that, as habits go, it's cheaper than crack or heroin.
Within minutes, we had wound our rigs back up on I-10, and we were hauling @$$ on that wide open stretch of highway between Deming and Lordsburg. I macked as much as I could of the yardbird and spuds, polishing off the chocolate milk in the process, but there were still plenty of leftovers when I was done, so I keyed my mike and asked "Sidewinder" if he wanted the rest. I could have easily stowed the leftover grub in my cooler, which was nigh at hand, but I liked this other driver's style and it was no great imposition or expense to share the meal with him. Often as not, some other driver will politely decline, as he or she already has all necessary grub in the truck. On this fine day, however, my offer was readily accepted...
"HELL YEAH, TOSS IT OVER HERE!!!"
At this point in time, we were running at 80 miles per hour in linear or columnar formation down the granny lane, with "Sidewinder" on the front door and "The Railsplitter" (moi) on the back door. I looked in my West Coast mirror, and I saw two four-wheelers rolling up on us... by "four-wheeler" I mean anything with four wheels, not necessarily a four-wheel-drive vehicle. A motorcycle would be called a "two-wheeler" by truck drivers, if that helps clarify matters. Anyway, I hollered at "Sidewinder" to ask whether he wanted to wait until the four-wheelers passed or if he wanted to just hammer out the task at hand. Didn't make any difference to me, as I could easily have waited for these two pogues, the only two drivers in sight for miles astern. I guess "Sidewinder" couldn't wait for his grub...
"F--- 'EM, LET'S DO IT NOW...", he replied, as he slung his rig into the hammer lane and backed out of it slightly to let me ease up into position on his shotgun side.
"ROLL DOWN YOUR SHOTGUN WINDOW, DUDE!!!", I said into my mike, after tying off the Walmart sack which held the chicken nuggets and kick@$$ spuds. My truck eased forward alongside his, and we slowly closed the gap as I timed my approach to ultimately match speeds with our cab windows in opposition. Looking in my mirror as we edged ever closer, I could see the two four-wheelers behind us, with their drivers and passengers staring at our bizarre activity. I rolled down my driver's side window as I eased the last few remaining feet into position... it was a CLASSIC F------G MOMENT, with two large objects in close proximity hauling @$$ down the highway.
All of a professional truck driver's training and experience lead him (or her) to maintain maximum distance between trucks, especially at high speed out on the interstate. Here we were, two @$$hole truckers and Wild West cowboys, thundering down the highway in close formation on parallel courses with six inches between our mirrors, looking to transfer a lousy tied-off Walmart sack of yardbird and spuds at the timely expense of fellow travelers... "AIN'T THAT A BITCH???" With one look at "Sidewinder"---who was grinning like a damned fool---I wound up like Catfish Hunter in the ninth and hurled that sack of grub clear across the gap and through the window. The sack sailed true and landed somewhere in his cab, and I immediately backed out of close formation and peeled away...
Perhaps my reader has been to an air show or seen footage of military planes in formation, peeling off one by one and diving away to port or starboard? Well, that's exactly how it felt, throttling back and veering away from "Sidewinder" and his truck... with the window open, it even SOUNDED like a bad-@$$ jet maneuver, the FULL-ON F-----G BLUE ANGELS OF TRUCK DRIVING, total precision maneuvering at high speed with inches to spare on either side. It was a CLASSIC EXHIBITION, and even the trailing four-wheelers acknowledged our skill once we had resumed columnar formation.
These four-wheelers had run up on our back door, only to be slightly inconvenienced as they saw two @$$hole truckers block their way and narrow the gap until both trucks were literally side by side. Then they witnessed the bizarre transfer as a blue U.F.O. (weighted Walmart sack) sailed from my truck to the other... it's no wonder they didn't have a clue about what was happening, but they sure looked up into my cab as they passed, and they gave "thumbs up" signs as well. Had my pitch not been successful, that same Walmart sack probably would have splattered all over one of those four-wheelers' windshields. Lord knows we were traveling fast enough...
Once the four-wheelers had passed and we were again alone on the interstate, "Sidewinder" keyed his mike and said: "DAMN!!! THAT'S ONE GOOD SPUD!!!" And he was right... it all depends upon who's doing the cooking when it comes to food purchased out on the road. For quite some time, a good cook worked that deli counter in the Walmart SuperCenter in Deming, NM, and I enjoyed every meal purchased at that location. There are also some mighty fine hot peppers available there, since they are grown locally, and I always stock up on those no matter which way I'm traveling. Should you ever pass through Deming, NM, be sure to visit the deli counter of the Walmart Supercenter and give those folks my regards, "10-FO'???"