They fuel up on Miramar Road or at the So-Cal stop in National City. If they pull in at night, truckers coffee-up at Aunt Emma’s in El Cajon or at Denny’s on Miramar Road or on Rosecrans Street.
Hey, Foxy Jaws, where’s a flop stop? We be makin’ three tracks in the sand an' we gotta get offa the licorice stick.” When a dozen CBers tell Daddy Longlegs where to park, No Show’s voice comes over the strongest. “Pull your hammer back,” he tells the trucker. “Pull your horns. Watch your donkey, flyboy,” No Show advises Daddy Longlegs to slow down and watch behind. “Keep the bugs off the glass and the bears off your trail.”
“Keep the lipstick offa your dipstick and the bears outta your britches,” Latrine Lips comes through.
“Catch ya on the flipper. Down and gone,” Daddy Longlegs mutters, as he hangs a U-turn into a Pacific Highway lot. sliding his eighteen-wheeler in between Four Winds and North American moving vans. Wearily, he stomps out his next-to-last Camel and crawls into the sleeper. He presses the sheets, and in two minutes the big guy is snoring louder than Fourth of July firecrackers.
Big rigs carry lumber, cattle, reefers (refrigerated units), airplane parts, office supplies — loaded up, they can be forty tons of steel, aluminum, and fiberglass. But now, most of the eighteen-wheelers lumbering in and out of San Diego parking lots are bedbug haulers (furniture movers), and that means hard times. Almost as bad as hauling lettuce.
The first time they hit Swabby City — which is how San Diego is known on the CB — high riders scout around for a “candy store” till they find out there is none. A candy store is trucker talk for a full-service truck stop that provides fuel, bulletin boards, laundry, truck-washing, and check-cashing facilities, and showers. “If you fuel up, the shower is free. If you don’t, it costs five,” explains one of the big riggers. “They got a lounge where we can shoot pool and hit the tube or the video games," adds another. "After we feed our faces, if we got twenty-four hours left, we get a room. Otherwise, we do our logs and sleep in the rig." The full-service truck stop has DOT (Department of Transportation) scales for weighing loads. And on phones at tables near the counters, truckers can call the dispatchers while the battery acid (coffee) stays hot.
After dark, the farthest edges of those candy store parking lots draw long-haul truckers who want contraband truck parts, dope, and California turnarounds (amphetamines). Other diversions, too. "There’s plenty of easy pieces around. Anyone can get a little bit for thirty bucks, sometimes less. Jus' order it up on the CB, they come right over to the big rig," grins a driver whose CB handle is Never Was. (A floater is a free-lance truck driver - he drives whenever he can get a load - and a sometimes lumper. A lumper hangs around a parking lot, making himself available for eight to ten dollars an hour to help load a trailer.) “Maybe that’s why there’s no candy store in San Diego,” he figures.
According to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, there’s no zoning ordinance against having a full-service truck stop in the county. Several years ago, in fact, the Southeast Economic Development Corporation proposed a full-service truck stop on vacant land ii the Southcrest area, but when the community objected to the proposed site because the noise would disrupt an otherwise tranquil residential area, the project was scrapped. Because San Diego is bound on the west by an ocean and on the south by Mexico, we are a destination where trucks unload, rather than a crossroads. There are more goods coming in than going out, especially household goods. Although nearly 400 trucking companies are located here, and although electronic and computer industries are burgeoning, there is still no demand for bulky raw materials. Thus the demand for full-service truck stops is not as pressing an issue here as in such crossroads as Los Angeles, Atlanta. Denver, and Dallas, for instance.
So when they reach San Diego, long-haul truckers are forced to make several inconvenient stops. They fuel up on Miramar Road or at the So-Cal stop in National City, and they wash their clothes wherever they find a Laundromat. If they pull in at night, truckers coffee-up at the all-night Aunt Emma’s in El Cajon or at Denny’s restaurants on Miramar Road or on Rosecrans Street.
The junction of Rosecrans, Taylor, and Pacific Highway has always been truckers’ ground. Fuller’s El Rio Motel, strategically located next to Fuller’s Liquor Store on Rosecrans, a block west of Interstate 5 and two blocks south of Interstate 8, is where Never Was converses with an owner-operator of a truck with Kentucky plates and a Four Winds load. On the bulletin board in the motel office — which Never Was uses as his official mailing address and message center — is a notice that reads, “Attention line drivers. Experienced household, military, and commercial mover, clean cut, have transportation. Have worked for all major van lines — Allied, Mayflower, etc. $9 hour.” .
The two men aren’t interested in the plea for work. The subject of their current discontent is the “new breed” of truckers. “They give us a bad name. All they care about is rock ’n’ roll, a gal down the road, an’ a joint,” says the Kentucky trucker as he shows the desk clerk snapshots of his five grandchildren. “To get insurance, I gotta have a drug test every year." He pulled in the night before after having hauled a load of game show prizes from Vancouver to Hollywood. As owner-operator — a gypsy, in truckers’ parlance — he owns the tractor and the company owns the trailer. The Kentuckian is picking up a few loads going to Florida, which will get him closer to home. He needs a few lumpers to help load the trailer and pick up another Florida-bound load in L.A. Never Was agrees to help. He hasn’t been on the road since last October, when things slowed down. He says he'll get back from L.A. on his own.
The conversation shifts to another trucker, who has experienced chronic break-ins. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he stole stuff from his own load. He got a wife and a girlfriend. He’s real desperate,” says the Kentucky gypsy. The driver from the Bluegrass State spends thirty dollars a day on food when he’s on the road, which he says is three weeks out of four. He manages to make about seven grand a month, but he isn’t sure how much of that is clear. The flashy gold-and-diamond ring and an expensive-looking gold watch he wears are out of place with his Four Winds company shirt. “There used to be good money in trucking, but costs have tripled.” he says. “When it comes to birthdays and holidays, it gets lonely on the road, but I’ve been at it for twenty-five years, and I’m not thinking of doing anything else — ever.”
Earlier that morning. Never Was was commiserating eyeball to eyeball with Daddy Longlegs, No Show, Latrine Lips, and Dead Horse about the lack of a full-service truck stop in San Diego — the nearest ones are to the north, in Whittier and Ontario. The truckers are dining in Perry’s Cate, which is on the Pacific Highway lot Floyd Fuller owns, a block north of his motel and liquor store. The men talk routes and schedules and rising accident rates, and they speculate on who’s going to make it this year and who isn’t. Full-hipped, gum-soled waitresses with pony tails call them by name and mother them with biscuits and gravy and chicken-fried steak and eggs and smoked pork chops. “We feel comfortable here,” says Never Was. who has a youthful countenance despite his gray hair and a prominently missing tooth.
“Too comfortable,” quips Peg, who’s been waiting on truckers for twenty-five years. “They sit around and yap for hours. When they take up my tables too long. I kick ’em out. I tell them I need the table. ‘I gotta make a living, too, fellas,’ I tell them. And they always come back,” she laughs. “Tips used to be better. But most of the truckers aren’t making any money. The lumpers tip better than the drivers now,” she says, “because they’re making out better”
Last May the California Trucking Association reported that while the average wage for comparable industries rose fifteen percent, following deregulation of the intrastate trucking industry by the California Public Utilities Commission, wages for hired drivers fell twenty-six percent. Furthermore, the number of firms operating at a loss increased by fifty-nine percent, despite the fact that the industry has been spending much less on employee wages and benefits and on vehicle maintenance and repair. In addition to the decrease in income, the rate of truck accidents has increased. Deregulation has made it easier for new carriers and inexperienced truckers to get into the business; to compensate for hauling at below-cost rates, they run too many hours, take too many risks, and create highway hazards.
“It doesn't take that much skill to be a truck driver,” explains Karen Rasmussen, director of industry affairs for the California Trucking Association. “Besides getting a class-one operator’s license, all truckers need is proof of insurance and a permit from the Public Utilities Commission. They don't even have to put up a performance bond,” she adds.
Carriers are charging 1980 rates and paying 1987 operating expenses, and for many drivers, the ride is over. At Perry’s Cate, truckers say the big money is going to the shippers and brokers. “There’s a long waiting line for the good driving jobs, and you gotta know someone. You gotta have connections. You gotta pay the brokers under the table,” says Ralph, who joins Never Was and his cronies. Ralph is at the tail end of an involuntary three-week layover. He and his truck have been in the parking lot outside Perry’s Cate waiting for a return load that will pay for the fuel to get him back home to Washington. D.C. “It’s easier to starve at home,” he shrugs. “Every day I sit in this lot, it costs me money.”
Ralph is the father of five adult children. He says he’s been a truck driver for twenty-five years. “Ten years ago, I was makin' three times more than I’m makin’ now,” he says. “Since deregulation, there’s too much competition. Everyone’s undercuttin' each other. I been on the road three months now, and I haven't made a nickel. I can’t afford to pay a co-driver, so I’m here alone. Me and the CB. And fifty percent of what’s on the CB is bullshit. All I need it for is to find out where the bears (police) are. Today I drew two loads to Oregon. There’s a five-day layover,” he sighs, “and I gotta pay the lumpers right away, even though I won’t see a nickel for another sixty to ninety days. But I guess I'm lucky to get that.” Ralph worries too about the truck breaking down because he has nothing in the repair kitty. “The big man’s breakin’ the little man’s back,” he says.
Others are waiting around, too. Hubie is from West Virginia. He’s thirty-two years old and has a wife and ten-year-old daughter he hasn’t seen for months. “Sailors see their families more than we do. We’re like nomads, wandering around waiting to pick up a load that will get us a little closer to home.” Hubie feels ashamed that his wife is employed. “I can’t feed my family and make truck payments, too,” he says. After ten years of truck driving, Hubie predicts he’ll be doing something else next year — but he doesn’t know what it will be. Occasionally there’s a bright side. “On my last load, a customer gave me a tip, so I was able to rent a room at Fuller’s Motel for a night.” The rest of the time, he sleeps in the truck. “I registered as a single, but my co-driver came in and took a shower,” Hubie smiles.
The two are the same age and from the same home town. Roy has been on the road with Hubie for nearly a year. “I’m makin’ less than minimum wage, but I don’t care. I’m having a good time seein’ the country. I don’t have to support a family or a truck, so this suits me fine,” says Roy.
Daddy Longlegs and No Show wear cowboy boots and cowboy hats and plaid flannel shirts and blue jeans.
Their wallets are chained to their leather belts. “Last week, when I left my rig in Chula Vista, someone broke into it and was sleepin’ inside,” says No Show. “He didn’t take nuthin.’ Just wanted a place to sleep."
Daddy Longlegs nods. “I don’t even lock mine no more. They took my TV and broke my phone. If they want my CB, they can have it.” he says.
While the two concrete cowboys stick around for another round of coffee and cigarettes, the others head back to the parking lot to check their vehicles. Never Was goes with them. The parking lot is his domain. Since last October — and for the past two years when he’s not on the road — Never Was has been living in a six* by ten-foot orange and white trailer sitting in the northwest end of the parking lot, hitched up to nothing and dwarfed by the 80,000-pound tractor-trailers. Inside is a propane lantern, camp stove, and portable pony. He keeps himself clean by taking “horse baths" in public rest rooms. Every so often, he splurges and rents a room at Fuller’s El Rio Motel so he can take a real shower. Underneath his bed in the trailer is a dusty old plaid canvas suitcase that contains receipts and bills of lading.
The desperation of drivers without a return load to make their truck payments and of people looking for a place to sleep has increased break-ins. Never Was won’t say who pays him or what kind of weapon he carries, but his continual presence on the parking lot offers the others some security.
Although long stretches away from home and the temptations of the road have produced a high divorce rate among truckers. Never Was feels that the drivers have been unjustly maligned. “A truck driver’s girlfriend told my wife what drivers do on the road, and that's one of the reasons I got a divorce. But it wasn't true. During the past ten years, I must’ve picked up 200 hitchhikers, both male and female, and I never asked a ride for a ride. True, some guys have their brains where their zippers are, but I know at least 200 of them that don’t fool around,” he says earnestly.
"It’s dangerous out there, too,” he continues. "Guys get shot and stabbed and robbed. The oldest trucker I ever met was seventy-four years old. Some of them just don’t ever quit. You see everything out there on the road. You see ministries on wheels like Truckers For Christ. They got mobile units with pews that travel through forty-eight states,” he says. “I’m an ex-Mormon, and I never went.”
Never Was likes to talk about his school days in the Ozarks where his teachers and principal pegged him as an antisocial type. “The navy said I was antisocial, too,” he remembers. "I was based in San Diego when I got out early with an honorable discharge.
That was in 1970. After I got married, I had a few warehouse jobs. Then I moved furniture for a local company — Two Men Will Move You — and then I finally got in with Allied and I started goin’ on the road. Never with a co-driver. I like bein’ alone so I can listen to country-western and relax. I even play chess alone,” he brags.
Although he professes to be a loner. Never Was is sensitive to the plight of others. Dead Horse, for example is a burly fifty-seven-year-old with tattoos on both arms. For thirty years, he’s had steady work loading trucks. According to Never Was, he was laid off, and with family and assets gone and with no real skills. Dead Horse had nowhere to go except to hang around Perry’s Cafe and the parking lot. “That’s my beat,” smiles Never Was. “He had nowhere to sleep, so he’s sleepin’ on the lot in my old Buick. He needed a home. Hell, I don’t need it. What for? My work
comes to me. You can write a soap opera offa this lot,” he adds. “A country-western soap opera.”
When the parking lot is quiet, Never Was ponders the meaning of his daily work. “I’m just a road rat," he admits. “When I’m in one place too long, I gotta get on the road again. I guess I’m like a dog that just come outta the lake. I shake myself off and keep on goin,” he smiles. Never Was is growing restless. “I got the itch to get out there again.” Now that the kids are out of school and families start moving, maybe he’ll be able to pick up a load or two, he figures. “Moving furniture is a real ego trip. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, making everything fit. You’re haulin’ people’s lives and they’re scared of damage, and they’re grateful when nothing gets broken, and that’s when you see the good side of people. It’s just contact for a moment, but that's enough."
He leans against the side of his trailer. “I got three boys. Let’s see, they’re thirteen, twelve, and the youngest must be around ten years old now. They live with their mother in San Diego. And someday,” he smiles dreamily, “they’re all gonna be truckers.”