Like a monarch, Red Haring reigned in the deep leather seat of his KenWorth cab–with its king-size sleeper. The 400 horsepower Caterpillar diesel engine droned apathetically as Red downshifted for the parking lot to his favorite Boise, Idaho roadside diner. He’d picked up a large 26,000 pound household move in Olympia, Washington, which he’d delivered to Baker City, Oregon.
Red’s company had a contract with BIG Van Lines to move households. Red Haring Trucking, Inc., he used his tractor to pull their trailers. He wore their crisp blue uniform jacket, blue pinstriped shirt, a BIG tie–scenic pictures and moving vans–when moving people’s family cargo.
Red’s traveling companion was a dog named Mercy. She had befriended him at a roadside rest area, four years previously. Apparently abandoned, Mercy seemed to be waiting for him. When Red hopped out of his cab to use the restroom, the dog had come over, sat down in front of him, looked him straight in the eyes, and barked twice. At 3:00 AM, there were no other vehicles in the rest area. That, too, was strange on an Interstate, no other trucks with drivers sleeping or cars that she could have jumped out of. Red had patted her on the head, more interested in why he had stopped than in a dog.
As he continued, the dog walked two steps behind him until they were about thirty feet from the concrete building with its doors to Men’s and Ladies’ rooms blocked open. Mercy raced ahead, went into the Men’s room, came back out, sat down by the door and waited for Red.
Again, as he approached, she looked him in the eyes and barked twice as if to say it was safe. She continued sitting there until he came out, barked once, rose to her feet and followed Red back to his van.
Taking advantage of the stop to check the padlock, the mud flaps and the tires, Red was ready to mount the cab when the dog began barking franticly.
“I’m not taking you with me, dog!” Red told her.
The yellow, longhaired who-knows-what-dog seemed to understand what he said. She stopped barking, ran over between the tractor and trailer, sat down and resumed barking.
“What is it, a squirrel or something I need to see?”
“Okay, I’ll take a look.”
Red walked back to discover a large nut had fallen off his coupler to the trailer when he’d come to a stop. The dog had noticed it. Red knew that a potential disaster had been averted. Had his trailer come lose, on the Interstate, he couldn’t have done anything. This dog had saved him, and who knows how many other motorists. Red selected a wrench from behind a seat, replaced the nut and prepared to leave the rest stop.
“Thanks, dog!” I’ve really got to go, now.”
The dog whined. Red bent down. She was using those big brown eyes of hers to her best advantage.
“You got a collar on? Dog tag? Maybe, we can find out who you belong to!”
There was no tag, only an inch-wide turquoise nylon collar on which someone had taken time to hand embroidery a word in red, MERCY.
“Mercy! Is that your name?”
“You look like you might be hungry, Mercy! You hungry?”
Two more barks.
“Let me see if I’ve some hamburgers in the cab. Are World Burgers all right with you?”
Mercy sat up before he even opened the door. Red located a bag with three World-Burgers.
“They’re kind of cold, Mercy. You don’t mind, do you?”
Mercy dropped down and whined, again.
“What? You want me to put them into the microwave for thirty seconds before you get one?”
“Okay Mercy. One hot World-Burger coming right up. But, I get two of them. Understand?”
Immediately, Mercy’s right paw shot forward. “Woof! Woof!” She agreed.
Red never planned getting a dog. A few long-haulers keep animals for company because it’s illegal to transport human passengers. Section 392.60 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations clearly reads: Unauthorized persons not to be transported. Dogs, cats, even parrots or boa constrictors are not forbidden. For Red Haring, the childhood memory of a car running over his dog had never been healed. He’d sworn never to become attached to another animal.
“You must belong to a trucker, Mercy. Okay! Hop in! You can ride with me a little ways. We’ll get on the CB and find out where your owner is.”
Red tried to find Mercy’s owner. Three different truckers remembered a driver that used to travel with a yellow dog. Had a turquoise collar. He’d died on the highway, they’d heard. The year before! No mention of what became of his dog. The word would get passed along by CB radio for several days. Meanwhile, Red agreed he’d take good care of the animal. Within a week, Mercy would be inspecting Red’s truck and supervising his road-hire employees. Red was glad that Mercy had persuaded him to break his never-get-attached-to-another-animal vow. On his long hauls, Mercy was a must.
The small 5,500-pound load he’d taken on in Baker City, Red had unloaded alone in Boise. It had been mostly boxes, some small end tables, lamps, two bed frames, no mattresses or couches requiring two movers.
The man he’d hired in Baker City to help unload the truck was a good worker. Mercy had approved him. Wearing the clean BIG shirt Red provided, he’d looked presentable. Red used him to load the small move to Boise, before returning the worker to the truck stop where they’d met.
Red had offered him $15.00 an hour cash for five hours work. It had only taken 4 hours but Red had paid him $75.00 anyway. The worker signed a receipt for Red’s contract labor (independent contractor) that would be used for calculating expenses and taxes, collecting a phone number from the laborer so he could call ahead next haul to Baker City. Good, careful, workers are a moving van driver’s dream.
Red now had two Boise households loaded in the fifty-three foot long by eight and a half foot wide trailer ready for his transport to the Seattle area. The Larry and Moe team he’d hired at Boise BIG, the national affiliate, had insisted on taking rest breaks every forty-five minutes. He’d had to tell the Moe to wait until his break to smoke. At the second house, the lethargic loaders had taken a walk. Red had a good idea what they had been smoking.
Now, before they headed back to Washington State, Red and Mercy needed something to eat.
Idaho night was approaching as Red Haring located a safe place to park his consignment. He swung easily from the cab to the nearly full parking lot of the Chicken Out Restaurant and Lounge. Mercy yawned in the passenger seat sensing that chicken and dumplings were on their way. Dogs are not supposed to eat chicken bones, but neither she nor Red seemed to know that. Except when here in Idaho, Mercy preferred World Burgers. Sometimes, she sat cocking her head, holding her nose just so, barking twice to alert her master that a Burger World was nearby.
After a quick check of the trailer padlock, Red straightened his Big company tie before going in to claim the best chicken and dumplings in the Northwest United States.
All the tables and booths were occupied. He could see several hungry natives waiting. Red spotted an empty stool at the counter. It would do fine. Faster anyway.
The flawlessly toothy waitress greeted him with a jam-packed smile.
“It’s been a while, Red. Are you staying over?”
“If I’d known you’d invite me, I’d have planned better!”
“I’ll forgive you this time. My new boyfriend wouldn’t understand anyway.”
“Ah, he’s territorial! I can’t really blame him, Ruby.”
“When did you get in?”
“This morning, why?”
“Curious. You write my song yet?”
“Not yet. But, I will.”
“You owe me one, Red.”
“Do you know what I would like to do with you, Ruby?”
“Yeah, take delivery of chicken and dumplings and drive off into the night.”
Red Haring flashed her some teeth of his own. Ruby slammed down a cup of black coffee before she disappeared into the kitchen to pick up an order. The guy on Red’s right in a suit shook his head and said “Ouch.”
Maybe, it was his strong jaw line, or his cleft chin, or both. Women found Red tempting. He was a physical specimen, six three with rock-solid muscle of a kind not developed in a gymnasium. No combination of bench presses, tread mills, or twenty-five rep weight series could have sculptured Red’s lean body as had his twelve years in the moving business. Totally functional.
The man on the next stool was observant. He spoke to Red, again.
“An old friend.”
“Doesn’t seem very happy,” the salesman observed.
“I hope she is. She’s a nice lady. Deserves a heaping mound of happy.”
“A happy alamode!”
“I wish I could order her one,” Red admitted .”
“Me, too. I’ll bet she could make me happy! She looks like she likes your flavor better. Where you from?”
“Seattle area. You?”
“Chicago. Sell medical equipment.”
“Not if a woman asks,” the salesman said slyly. My wife thinks I work late. Spend lots of nights in places like this. I can usually find a warm lonely to share a bed with me when I’m away on business.”
“If I was married, I’d try to work closer to home. You might want to consider it,” said Red confrontationally. “I think that women have enough problems without getting messed around with by married men. Ruby sure as hell don’t need messed with.”
“Well, I think I’ll examine the bar then. Have some new lines I have to try out.”
Ruby had overheard the exchange. She was more composed when she returned with a huge plate of chicken & dumplings.
“Thank you, Red. I get so tired of guys like that. You look good tonight, Red.”
“You always look good, Ruby.”
“Are you heading back tonight?
“I’ve got to deliver two households tomorrow. One in Seattle.
One in Tacoma.”
“I don’t get off until two in the morning, anyway. How about next time you’re in town? You’ve got my number.”
“I’d like that, Ruby.” Savoring the poultry, Red enjoyed watching Ruby. As he finished his last bite, she returned.
“You want some coffee to take along with you?”
“That would be great, Ruby. Large, Styrofoam.”
“You won’t throw it out the window and kill my birds, will you?”
“I don’t believe in throwing things out the window.”
“You’d better not, Red,” Ruby warned. She sat down a large steaming stay awake, picked up the twenty, and showed him her teeth. “Oh, here you are, a ‘To-Go’ for Mercy. Drive careful, darlin.”
Chicken and dumplings to-go order in hand, Red returned to his truck, opened the driver’s door and tossed the container over to the passenger floor mat where it was well received by his patient pooch who opened the lid herself.
Styrofoam cup in one hand, chrome bar in the other, Red swung effortlessly up into his commanding cab. Securing the shoulder restraint, he skillfully maneuvered the truck-trailer rig between the utility pole and cars that only appeared to have boxed him in.
Soon, he was headed west on Interstate 84. As if it knew its way home, the 400-horse Cat diesel roared approvingly as it glided past other, less committed vehicles. The tractor had 90 gallons of diesel left in its 170-gallon tank, Red and Mercy had full stomachs. All three were content.
Red thought about Ruby and their conversation in the diner. He’d met her on another move. His truck had blown its transmission. It had taken seven days to locate the right parts necessary to complete repairs. The mechanic had said he’d have him back on the road in three. It was on the third night, after the guy told him it would be a few more days, Red had walked to the diner the mechanic said had great chicken and dumplings.
Discouraged, low on cash, he’d drank coffee at that same counter. Ruby had come on at 6:00 PM to find him not sure of what he’d do.
“Cheer up, Red,” she encouraged. “You don’t mind that I call you Red?”
“That’s my name. You can call me anytime.”
“Can’t be that bad, Red! What’s hurting you tonight, Darlin?”
“It isn’t your smile,” he’d answered.
“You got a good smile yourself, Red. You want the special?”
“If you’re it!” He volunteered half-hopingly.
“Chicken and dumplings, for now, Darlin. I don’t even get off until 2:00 AM.”
“The special is what I want, for now.”
For the next eight hours, Red had sipped countless coffees while Ruby had served the variety of patrons. While she waited on them, he waited on her. She brought him refills with just enough encouragement. Finally, the payoff.
“Here’s some fresh strawberry pie. It’s on me.”
“With whip cream, too?”
“You’ll see. You might like it.”
I really did, Red remembered. Then, as now, it had been a cold, November night. When her shift was over, Ruby had invited him to share her warm waterbed. Red wished he had more time tonight.
Tires against the highway, wind, and the pulse of a healthy engine combine to create a unique music that a trucker could feel. Each song exclusive, tailored to the man who holds the big wheel. Red switched off the CB radio to hear it more clearly. His now hungry hand moved as expected, to locate the yellow pad. Inspired by the highway harmony, Red shifted into high gear and right brain. He would make good his pledge to a willing waitress. She’d not be disappointed next time he delivered to Boise. As the words came to him, he composed her promised song.
She’s a lady of the light,
She serves coffee in the night
To the many men who spend their nights alone…
So, she warms them with her smile
For, she knows that in a while,
They must face the cold that haunts an empty home…
She’s the lady of the late,
When a man can’t find a date,
He wanders in, and now and then, gets rude…
But, she takes it in her stride
As she helps him find his pride,
She restores him with her super attitude…
She’s a lady all the time,
When a mans had too much wine,
When he plans to put his hands where he should not;
She can quickly move away
Then, if he still wants to play
She can, even quicker, put him in his spot…
She’s a lady every way,
Even knows just what to say
To every guy who has to try his line…
Yet, on the nights she’s off,
She can be so very soft;
When, best of all, this “Diner Doll” is mine…
The exit to a Pendleton, Oregon truck stop ahead, Red downshifted to left brain and fourth gear. In 222 miles, 3 hours 54 minutes of hard labor, he had given birth to a new song. He had to spank the baby. 12-string in his hand, he leaped down from his leather throne.
No one but Mercy was there to hear the review of ‘Diner Doll’ when Red put the cords to the beat he’d heard on the highway. His yellow pad bore evidence of the many word combinations, phrases that didn’t fit. By the seventh page, he had the final draft. He hardly glanced at the pad as his nimble fingers set up the correct strings to complement his moving voice.
“Not too many cowboys lean against a truck to play guitars here at midnight,” the cash attendant commented.
“Most cowboys are truckers, but not all truckers are cowboys,” Red replied.
Mercy barked twice.
By fifteen after midnight, fresh coffee in hand, Red was back on the road. He switched on the CB in hopes that a caravan would be coming up behind him. He was in luck.
“Breaker, breaker. This is the Red Haring swimming west on 84–out of Pendleton–a little fish can get lonely out here. Over!”
“Swim easy there, big Red. Lot of nets out, tonight. We’ve got a school of eleven, swimming your way. Over!”
“Roger… I’ll just tread water until you show up. The Red Herring – over and out!”
Caravanning has been the driver’s defense since before there was radar. With higher cab elevation, good eyesight, and constant use of the CB radios, no smoky bear patrolman could set up a speed trap undetected.
Red cruised along at the speed limit until eleven assorted trucks caught up to him. He settled in and switched off the CB. It might take only moments for Red to begin to discern the loyal harmony.
It didn’t happen right away. He’d have nearly three hundred miles to make another musical baby.
He thought about the medical salesman he’d talked to at the Chicken Out diner. On the road, at these hours, there aren’t usually many people, other than truckers, who share the camaraderie.
Red’s mind slipped into his trucker’s world. Thoughts, conversations with other drivers, problems and pet peeves common to those who move American goods via the nation’s highways:
We pay thousands of dollars in road use taxes, spend millions of dollars for gas and diesel, and endure the scorn of most motorists who wish we’d stay off the road.
When we quit rolling, he mused, this country stops. Supermarket shelves soon empty, as do all of the other stores. Those motorists, who curse us on the highways, can’t even buy gas for their cars.
News crews are quick to cover the trucks that leave the roadways, spill loads, or catch on fire. Why don’t they ever report that the trucker involved had averted a disaster by choosing self-destruction rather than to crush the car that was responsible? Newspapers always put out a headline like:
3 Dead in Car when hit by truck head on.
What they don’t say until way down in the story, if at all, is that the so called truck was really a Ford F150 pickup driven by a teenager who was high on drugs. The people read the truck headline, but not the story. Press people aren’t on hand to film the rescues when, hundreds of times each year, a real trucker sees an accident in progress on the opposite side of the turnpike, pulls over, dodges cars, drags the mother and children from a flaming car, and then leaves the scene to continue his time sensitive delivery. At least, the firefighters and police are finally getting some of the respect, appreciation they deserve. Someone should present our stories in a different forum.
Red was snapped out of his hypnotic trucker’s world by a flash of bright headlights in his mirrors. Lights blinked bright, then dimmed. An automobile driver had signaled that he was about to pass the truck on this beautiful stretch of wide open road. Flashing his trailer lights, as the signal to come ahead, Red watched in his door mirror as a burgundy Cadillac pulled alongside before moving on by.
The driver was wearing a gray suit, white shirt, and a broad striped tie with its knot loosened half way down his chest. Truckers see a lot more than most people think. Another salesman, change of clothes on the hangers in his rear seat, probably had to make an early appointment in some town up ahead. He was using the wee hours for his commute.
If the caravan had overtaken him, the Caddy might have ‘hitchhiked’, settled in between a couple of us feeling safe. Salesmen aren’t limited by the no more than ten hours following eight consecutive hours off duty Rule– or only logging fifteen hours in any twenty-four hour period– like we truckers are. Red felt his brain shift. The Cat Diesel started throbbing music again. So did Red. The seven-line chorus came first:
Truck Drivers and Salesmen
Truck drivers and salesmen are men of the road;
One ‘Loads his holler’,
While one ‘Hauls his load’…
Before you fall for one
It’s best that you knew:
Truck drivers and salesmen
Are just ‘Passing through’…
It’s true that they do seem different, sometimes,
The way they may dress,
And, oh yes, different ‘Lines’…
But, they share the ‘Feel’ of the ‘Flight of the free’,
And, theirs is the ‘World’
That awaits them to ‘See’…
Sometimes, they get lonely;
Sometimes, they get down…
They know that they’ve only
A short time in town…
Then, when they meet ‘Someone’,
As, sometimes, they do:
Truck drivers and salesmen
Are just ‘Passing through’…
Yes, they must atone for the life that they’ve led,
They could have stayed home
With a ‘Sweet wife’, instead…
But, they’ve chosen ‘The road’,
Chose to ‘Follow a star’:
I suppose, that’s what makes them
The men that they are…
In his own altered state, Red Haring had become part of a caravan, traveled past The Dalles, through Portland, turned onto Interstate 5, missed two of his favorite truck stops, and was approaching Centralia, Washington before he realized that his lyrics were complete. I’ll try it out at Trolley’s.
The watch on his wrist said it was just after four in the morning. Making the left brain shift, Red recognized he’d had a great time. Even better than sex, he told himself. Lasted longer, too. I wonder if the ‘Lady McBest’ Realtor is back; if she liked the roses I sent her? The poem I knocked out for her wasn’t much. I know I’ll have to do better.
[Much of Chapter IV was cut to meet posting guidelines. Read complete Chapter in published “FSBO.” ]