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Affirmative Action On The San Rafael Swell
Whenever I run Interstate 70 across Utah, I try to time my transit so I can "camp out" on the San Rafael Swell, a rugged and breathtaking geological feature which offers stellar hiking opportunities and magnificent views of distant peaks and canyonlands. On approach, I stock my cooler with gourmet food and beer, then drive up onto the Swell and shut down in one of a half dozen view areas. There I crack a cold beer while I watch a fiery high desert sunset, chill out under a million stars or a luminous desert moon, sleep the sleep of kings at a comfortable elevation, and wake to a brilliant sunrise as I don my pack and hike into the wilderness.
I've been following this regimen ever since I started trucking in '96, and I've had some of my most rewarding moments up on the Swell. The place resonates in my heart and soul, harmonizing conscience with perception of the modern world, and I love it more than any other place in this great nation. When I'm up there, the solitude and splendor thoroughly cleanse my spirit, and I leave feeling completely refreshed, vowing to return at the first opportunity. I'm not into organized religion, but I do seek spirituality, and this windswept stretch of high desert country appeals to me on every possible level.
While running a load of plastic patio furniture from Sheboygan Falls, WI, to Los Angeles, CA, I was westbound on I-70, intent upon crossing the Rockies and coasting down the Western Slope into Utah. I planned to spend the night in one of my favorite view areas on the Swell, hence I stopped to buy food and beer at the City Market in New Castle, CO, before I hit the UT line and put the hammer down. The San Rafael Reef was soon in sight, and I sailed through the cut and clawed my way to the top of the Swell. It was a gorgeous afternoon, mild and sunny with wisps of cloud widely scattered beneath a cerulean sky... I was in a cheerful mood as I thundered across the Swell toward my destination.
Rounding a curve, I noticed a truck ahead in the granny lane, going about thirty-five miles per hour with its flashers on, clearly in some sort of mechanical distress. There are no truck services available between Green River and Salina, UT; it is a desolate stretch of country, no place to break down, and this driver looked as if he or she might be in serious trouble. Backing off the 90-m.p.h. cruise control, turning down my stereo and turning up my CB, I grabbed my mike and hailed this truck as I rapidly overtook it and blew past.
"Hey, driver, what's up? Why are you running so slowly?," I asked in a calm voice.
"We're really low on fuel," replied the obviously male driver. "We looked good back at Green River, but now the needle is right down on E."
The fuel gauge in most big trucks is a notorious liar---it may read three-eighths fuel capacity one minute, E the next. There is no reserve. In fact, some fuel tanks have structural ribs which lack drains or scuppers, and fuel pools between these internal ribs, leaving you with that much less fuel to consume. For this reason, I like to begin each daily run with full tanks, but this is not always possible due to fuel network considerations and fuel card acceptance. I understood this driver's predicament and empathized with him in his apprehension. I rapidly considered his situation... if his tanks were nearly dry, he'd never make it to Salina. If he tried to turn around and limp back to Green River, he'd probably run out of fuel. In a nutshell, he was f____d unless he received assistance.
Coincidentally, I was in a position to offer exactly the sort of assistance this poor sod required. Even though I had a dry load (plastic patio furniture), I was dragging a 53' reefer with a full 50-gallon fuel tank mounted beneath the trailer frame. Some administrative scumbags in my company had been jacking me around for a while, and I didn't plan to work for them much longer... I reckoned they wouldn't miss a few gallons of reefer fuel if I gave it to this driver who was in dire need. I reached for my mike and told the guy to follow me into the next view area, which of course was the same view area in which I had planned to spend the night.
Five minutes later, I was parked in my usual spot for the evening, watching this other driver pull in behind me. Stepping down from my rig, I walked back to see if his fuel gauge actually read E. Imagine my surprise when I beheld the driver, Eric, a HUGE black dude from Florida who resembled an NFL lineman, and his full-blooded Jamaican partner Cecil riding shotgun, sporting no dreadlocks but otherwise authentic right down to his rich musical baritone. Eric opened his door and I glanced at the fuel gauge---the needle was resting squarely on E. Silence rushed in as he cut the motor, and I proceeded to explain the situation with regard to my company, the unnecessary fuel in my reefer tank, the presence of a "Magic Siphon" in my sidebox, etc., etc.
"If you're willing to do the dirty work, I'll let you have enough fuel to see you to the next truck stop," I concluded.
In their predicament (and in the borrowed words of "The Godfather"), this was an offer they could not refuse. Rummaging through his sidebox, Eric found a five-gallon bucket and wiped it clean with a rag. I returned to my truck and extracted the "Magic Siphon." The three of us met by my reefer tank, where I stood by as they commenced the transfer of fuel into the bucket. When the bucket was nearly full, Cecil pinched off the flow and hauled the precious liquid to Eric's truck, where the siphon was again employed to dump the fuel into his tanks. The transfer operation was soon flowing like gangbusters, and I dove into my sleeper to retrieve two ice-cold Heinekens and a soda (for Eric, who still had to drive) from my cooler.
A glorious, fiery sunset was developing in the western sky, and we had the view area entirely to ourselves---not another soul was in sight as the operation progressed. I openly stood and pounded several cold beers over the next hour while watching the magnificent sunset, breaking out a fresh Heineken for Cecil with every trip to the cooler. Five or six bucket transfers later, these guys had more than enough fuel to save the day, and it was time for them to clean up prior to departure. When the bucket was wiped clean and stowed securely in its sidebox, and the siphon lay to one side, drying on the pavement, the three of us stood together in the fading light and exchanged pleasantries. The incredible sunset was dying, only to be replaced by an equally magnificent full moon rising over the eastern horizon.
"You're camping out here for the night, mon?," Cecil enquired, third or fourth Heineken in hand.
"Can you think of a safer place?," I retorted, glancing around at the moonlit desolation. "What self-respecting crackerhead is going to drive fifty or sixty miles each way just to rob my f____g a$$???"
Cecil tilted his head back and laughed deeply in a rich, mellow tone, white teeth gleaming in the moonlight.
"YOU'RE RIGHT, MON!!! YOU'RE RIGHT!!!"
And then it was time to say goodbye, for Eric was due to make his drop in L.A. on the following day, and he wanted to get a little further down the road before calling it a night. I extended my hand, and next thing I know, I'm shaking hands with a full-blooded Jamaican dude under a glorious desert moon up on the San Rafael Swell... it was a classic moment, and I'll never forget his last words:
"A MILLION THANKS, MON!!! A MILLION THANKS!!!"
Then they were gone, and I was left in solitary splendor, soaking in the radiance and ambience of the desert night. I could feel the desert come alive, and I basked in this sensation as I contemplated my recent encounter... Why? I wondered, why can't all interaction between races be so pleasant and harmonious? Why do we get along so well as children, only to hate and distrust when we become adults? Or is it a question of environment? Perhaps, in a beautiful environment such as that found up on the Swell, racial differences and perceived barriers cease to be important, particularly between truck drivers who have certainly seen more than their fair share of rotten human nature. On that note, I grabbed another beer and turned my gaze toward the heavens, where the moon and stars shone peacefully in a brilliant natural display.
More like this:
- Trucker has heart attack while entering freeway in Encinitas — Oct. 31, 2013
- A Classic Footrace — Oct. 13, 2011
- Flyin' High — April 1, 2011
- A trip to Reefer City, California — Dec. 16, 2004
- Borderline Truckers — Jan. 6, 2000