This Truck is Bound for Glory
by Ben Nadler
Tara and I split up for good at a truck stop outside of Madison, Wisconsin. I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. We’d started fighting a lot before we even left Minneapolis, where we’d been living, and it really came to a head out on the road, hitchhiking, where there was nothing to distract us from each other.
Tara had gone into the service station to piss, and came out twenty minutes later with two cups of tea. This sounds like it was a sweet gesture, but I didn’t want the tea. I didn’t want anything from her by then, and I sure didn’t want to drink English breakfast tea in the hot American sun. I told her as much. She took it as an attack.
“What are you talking about, dude? It’s not English breakfast tea. We’re at a truck stop. It’s just, you know, black tea.”
“What do I know? I’ve never bought tea at a truck stop. I’ve only ever bought coffee.”
“I don’t know what you buy at truck stops.” She thought she was better than me because she didn’t get high. Which wasn’t even true, because she did get high sometimes. She just didn’t get high as often as I did.
“Have you ever seen me even drink a tea?”
“I thought you might like it.” She said it very sweetly, and I started feeling very badly about myself.
“No, it’s okay. Thank you.” It was too late to change the course of things, though.
“You don’t want the tea, fine. Go buy a coffee. I’ll drink both of them.”
“No, it’s cool. You bought it for me. I’ll drink it.” I took a sip under the scrutiny of her unbroken gaze. I genuinely don’t like the taste of tea. It’s like drinking boiled perfume. I really wished it was a cup of coffee.
“Don’t do me any fucking favors, Levi.” She tried to grab the tea back from me, but I wouldn’t let go. The cup popped out of our hands and hit the ground. The tea spilled out, soaked into the chalky earth almost immediately.
“You know what I really need?” I said. “A cold beer.” I crossed the street and entered the roadhouse whose neon lights were already lit, mercifully, at eleven-thirty in the morning. I took my pack with me.
They hadn’t gotten the day’s kegs delivered yet, so I drank three cans of Natural Ice. I came back out just in time to see Tara climbing up into the cab of a semi. Long after the truck had lumbered off, her red curls still blew across the parking lot like acid trails.
I knew she’d keep on heading East on I-94 towards Milwaukee, so I walked on down the road to the entrance ramp for I-39 South. I waited on that ramp for hours. I was very lonely, but I had been lonely traveling with Tara too, and it made more sense to be lonely and alone than lonely and with a woman. I replayed our arguments in my head, making myself sound like less of an asshole. Wisconsin is a cold land, but it gets very hot in the summertime. I had been spoiled with how easy it was to catch rides when I was with Tara. Drivers are more inclined to stop for a nice young couple than they are for a man standing by himself on the side of the road, muttering.
A woman finally pulled over. I grabbed my bag, but she said no, she wasn’t going down the highway, she had just been grocery shopping and now she was going home. But would I like a gallon of orange juice? She bought two because they were on sale, but she only really needed one. She was only going to buy one but she bought two. Things don’t happen for no reason. One jug must have been for me all along. Sure, I said, I’ll take a gallon of orange juice. I was in fact very thirsty. Thank you, lady. Yes, God bless. Yes, I’ll get a ride soon.
I did get a ride, eventually, from two Mexican guys in a pickup truck. Only one of them spoke English. He explained that they stopped because I was a stranger in distress, but they didn’t know what to do because there really wasn’t any room for me in the cab. It was illegal for me to ride in the bed, and they didn’t want to be pulled over by a state trooper. We decided that I would lie flat in the bed, not so much as sitting up until they stopped, and even then I should wait until one came back and told me the coast was clear.
In this manner, I crossed the Illinois border. I lay as if in a coffin, staring up at the giant Midwestern sky. From my vantage point, the sky was endless, and never met the land. The wind swooped down over my face and chilled me. I couldn’t see anything of the traffic or scenery, and had no idea how much time or distance was passing. When we stopped, I was sad. I didn’t want to reenter the world of the living. I thanked the men for the ride. The one who spoke English said, “No, thank Jesus.”
We had only driven for an hour or so, and I was somewhere down just north of Rockford. After not too long, a woman picked me up in a battered red Toyota. She was drinking something out of a Gatorade bottle, and I could tell she was drunk. She shouted, “Hop on in if you want a ride! It’s no skin off my butt either way!” I got in. I know drunk driving kills, but it also makes people pick up hitchhikers, so I have no moral problem with the practice.
Her name was Jane. She had long red hair and thick glasses. “If you try to rape me,” she said, after we’d started driving, “I’m going to crash the car into a phone pole on your side. I don’t mind about the car, so long as I kill you.” I thought that was fair.
We passed through Rockford. Jane had lived there with her kids for a while. Her ex had custody, right now, but Jane was working on getting them back. Jane believed that there are more child molesters in the Rockford area, per capita, than anywhere else in America.
“I’d never let anyone do that to my children. I’d never let them. Those bastards. Those bastards. That’s our babies! I tried to tell the police about it, the media, the school board too, but they wouldn’t do anything about it. If one of those bastards came after my kids, I’d have to take matters into my own hands.” There was nothing on either side of the road but soybean fields. Monsanto owned them. All the tofu Tara ate had to come from somewhere. “What I’d do, I’d hunt them down. Stalk them like deer. Then, when I got my hands on them, I’d lube up a piece of PVC pipe and shove it up their asses. I’d slide a piece of razor wire up the pipe, then pull the pipe out quick and the wire out slow.”
After we became friends Jane offered me a swig from the Gatorade bottle. I took a good long one, and damn if there wasn’t quite a bit of vodka in that Gatorade. Jane was talking very fast, and I started to thinking maybe she wasn’t just on the booze, but tweeking a bit too. It was right. She did bumps periodically as she drove. She was happy to share the vodka, but not the ice. “That’s all for mama!” We became better friends, talking about our personal problems and respective exes, and she let me have a line. Boy oh boy. We were going south real fast. We’d be clear of the hill country soon, and I hoped the prairie would open right up and let me in. I would be part of the endless land, and freed of human entanglements and responsibilities.
A couple hours later I was standing on the highway, still a bit buzzed. I stood just before a turnoff, so a driver would have somewhere to pull over and pick me up without going in a ditch or getting hit by another car. It wouldn’t be much trouble at all for them. Traffic was picking up, people were making their long commutes home from the jobs they traveled fifty miles to find, but none of them wanted to help me out. Rednecks glared at me, angry because I didn’t own a truck. Half of them were probably just one more missed payment away from losing theirs. All the new coats of paint, vanity license plates, and Confederate flag decals in the world wouldn’t change that. Some of the drivers give me the finger, or a little whoop. This was Union country, historically speaking. There’s still pictures of Abe Lincoln all around. Nothing sounds lamer than the rebel yells of Northern rednecks. A man glared at me with such bug-eyed rage that I imagined him plucking out one of his eyes and chucking it at me. After a while, I start picturing all of the drivers with bloody sockets and no eyes. I thought, they must not have eyes, or else they would see me and stop.
The traffic began to slow down again, and I still hadn’t gotten a ride. I wasn’t even buzzed anymore. In fact, I was crashing pretty hard. The sun started threatening to go down. Clouds blew up from the south, and they rained on me for bout twenty minutes. Tara had both of our ponchos in her pack. I didn’t give a shit where she was now, but I wished I had my poncho. The corn was higher than I was tall; if I wandered too far off the highway into the fields to sleep, I could be lost for days. I did not really know where I was headed as it was, but I knew which side of the road I was standing on, so at least I had a direction. I hoped someone would pick me up. Maybe even take me home to their house. Maybe I could share in their family dinner.
Finally, just as it was getting too dark to stand on the road, a blue Ford pickup took mercy on me.
“All aboard that’s coming aboard!” the driver boomed as he threw the passenger side door open. I tossed my pack in the bed of the truck, and climbed into the cab. The Louvin brothers were singing in close harmony on the stereo. “Are you washed,” they asked, “in the blood of the Lamb?”
“How far you headed?” I asked the driver once we’d started moving.
“All the way, friend, all the way!” He was a well-fed fellow, with a full and evenly-trimmed moustache. On his head was a Dale Earnhardt baseball cap, black with red and silver trim, like the #3 Goodrich car Earnhardt died racing.
“Boy,” I said. “I really appreciate you picking me up. I was giving up hope. Thought I was going to be stuck there until morning.”
“Glad I could help, friend. I’ve had quite a long day, myself.” I considered asking about his long day, but the way he said it didn’t really seem to invite inquiry. “And now I plan on driving all night. I’m happy to have the company.”
We chatted politely for a few more minutes, then settled into an easy quiet. The gospel CD came to an end, and he didn’t put on another one. We were in the left lane of the highway, going at a good clip, and I saw the lights of the other cars and trucks as we passed them by. There were fewer and fewer as time went on.
I was starting to doze off when I began hearing a siren in the distance. It’s hard to figure out what direction sound is coming from when you’re moving, but it seemed to be far behind us. At first I assumed the troopers were chasing down a speeder, but the sound kept going for several minutes, without any hint of stopping, and I gradually realized there were several different sirens going all at once, slightly out of sync with each other. They grew louder and louder.
“What do you think’s going on?” I asked. “An accident?”
“No, it’s no accident. This is no accident.” He answered with a certainty that made me nervous. As the sirens got closer, he started driving faster. We were going close to ninety miles an hour. I was wide awake now.
“What’s going on?” I asked again. I could see the lights behind us, coming forward like a wave of fire.
“To be honest, I believe they’re coming for me.”
“Why would they be coming for you?”
“I killed my wife today.” He spoke calmly, though not without feeling. “Her boyfriend too. Him first, then her. Hit them each with two loads of buckshot. They looked beautiful, lying naked in the grass together. Like they belonged together. Like angels, if I’m going to be honest with you. But they had to pay.”
“Shit,” I said.
“Yeah. She was younger than me. I guess she wanted a young guy to be with. He was a beautiful boy, I’ll give her that. But a vow of marriage is a vow that must be honored. It had been going on at least a month, I think. Maybe longer. I seen her car parked where it shouldn’t have been parked, more than one time, and it got me realizing.
“This morning, I followed them up the hill. They set out a blanket, and they made love. I had to see it with my own eyes. To be sure of how things were. When they were done, I stepped out from the trees and killed them.
“I imagine someone found the bodies, and now the state police are looking for this car. Guess someone spotted it.”
“Holy shit,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “Holy shit.”
“Why’d you pick me up?”
“Cause you stuck your thumb out. You were looking for a ride. Sorry if it’s not the ride you wanted. But we don’t get to choose.”
“You got to let me off, man.”
“I can’t stop now. If I pulled over, they’d be on us in no time. Matter of fact, they probably got a road block up ahead too. Shit, I don’t imagine this ride ends until we’re dead.” I considered just opening the door and bailing, but the truck was going upwards of one-hundred miles an hour. My hide would be torn to shreds if I dropped from the cab onto the pavement at that speed. Even if I somehow survived the hit, I’d most likely be run down by oncoming traffic before I got across the right lane.
“I haven’t done anything,” I said. “I haven’t done a fucking thing. I’m sorry about your wife. I appreciate you stopping to pick me up. But you gotta let out of this. I don’t deserve to be caught up in this.”
He turned and looked at me with bemusement.
“Come on, now,” he said. “You don’t really think you’re innocent, do you?”
Ben Nadler is the author, most recently, of Punk in NYC’s Lower East Side, 1981-1991, the first installment in Microcosm’s Scene History zine series. More about Ben’s work can be found at bennadler.com.