Friday, December 22, 2006
In July of 1990 I went to Utah to visit my Big Brother.
Paul was a truck driver. That's what he had wanted to do since his early teens. In fact, he didn't stay around for his high school graduation in 1977 after his senior classes ended, he already had a job and it entailed driving a truck to Connecticut for the company he was hired by, and to live there and work.
Mom and I went to the Neville High School office the week after the graduation ceremony and picked up his diploma; Paul was in Connecticut.
Anyway, in 1990 Paul was living and driving a truck for a company in Salt Lake City. He had called to see if I wanted to come up and visit and to go on a run with him in his truck.
Now I've spoken on this blog about my aversion to things related to auto mechanics; but you can also add to this list driving and backing a tractor/trailer rig. Hats off to them men and women who do it, I don't think I have the guts.
I accepted anyway, because I was basically going to be a passenger and a road trip with Big Brother sounded fun.
My flight into Salt Lake City was in the evening and we got to his home around 9pm or so, if I remember correctly. At about 11pm we headed to the yard where his truck was to have been loaded with produce for the trip. Oh, and this was two trailers, a 53 foot trailer and a 27 foot trailer. A massive rig, heavily loaded.
I just kinda followed him around the place while he checked everything out and was amazed at the size of the operation there. It was a huge distribution point and the numbers of trucks and people at work at that time of night was surprising.
When he was finally satisfied that he had everything loaded and the matching paperwork, we headed out northward through Utah toward Idaho.
The plan was to drive up the eastern side of Idaho and drop produce off at various grocery stores in little places like Rigby, Rexburg, and St. Anthony, with our final stop to be in West Yellowstone, Montana.
I will never forget how isolated we were in the interstate highway (I-15) as we were driving northward in southeastern Idaho. It was the first time that I had ever been on an interstate highway where we might go ten minutes without seeing anyone coming from the other direction. Even that late at night, southeastern interstates have at least a few vehicles in sight the whole time.
We went on and started making the stops and deliveries at around 6am. Some stuff to this grocery store, some to that one, go to the next town on the list, etc.
This part of Idaho is potato country. Having grown up in Louisiana cotton country, farm fields to the horizon was no big surprise, but the lack of trees and the Tetons in the distance made for a nice change though.
I can't remember what the name of the town was that we bought lunch at, probably one of the three Idaho towns I mentioned earlier, but Paul had raved about this little restaurant's hamburgers.
We pulled into town and headed for the grocery store. This was the smallest store and delivery yet. Up 'til then I had been helping Paul unload at each stop, but this time he sent me next door from the little grocery store to get us each a couple of hamburgers at this cafe. He opened a side door on the refrigerated trailer, which he had pulled right up near the side door of the store, the owner came out and they started taking the stuff from the truck into the grocery store.
I went into this little, hole in the wall, free-standing restaruant, and looked around.
I had a total mental shift happen while standing there. It was lunch time and the place was pretty busy, people standing in line at the counter, the people cooking right behind the counter sorta like at a Waffle House, and there were about ten tables in the whole place, and they were all full. People sitting, people in line, people who had already ordered and were standing and waiting on their order.
It looked just like any small café/restaurant I had ever seen growing up in Louisiana. But my big surprise was that many of the men had on bib overalls and were wearing John Deere and Caterpillar hats and so forth. Only they farmed potatos, where in Louisiana it was cotton, soy beans, and rice.
Having grown up in the south, every movie with southerners in it makes it seem as if rednecks were a curious breed of folks who are all basically cousin marrying people from the South.
This day, I looked around myself in this restaurant and learned that there are rednecks everywhere. Except for the northern accents the people had, I could have been in any small eatery in the South.
So I waited in line and was thinking on the whole rednecks are everywhere paradigm shift I was having and it was then my turn to order.
I opened my mouth and ordered four hamburgers and two cokes, and the whole place came to a screeching halt. The cooks turned around and looked at me, the people in the booths and standing around stopped talking and turned to me, and to make the humiliation complete, the lady at the counter asked me to repeat my order.
And, since I was hungry, I obliged her (and everyone else in the place) by repeating my order in my north Louisiana/Texas/Georgia drawl.
I turn red easily, and I could feel the blood rushing through the veins in my face as everyone halted to hear me speak. You would have thought I had two heads the way they were staring, but then soon everyone lost interest and started turning back to their food and conversations.
I waited a few minutes and received our sacks of food and drink and headed outside, with a little bit more knowledge than when I had entered the place.
They were rednecks, but they didn't speak like any rednecks I had ever heard.
Paul was through and had the truck shut up and was waiting on me. I climbed into the cab and we ate our hamburgers there before heading out again.
While we enjoyed the delicious hamburgers (he was right, they were great) I told him what had happened and he got a good laugh out of it. He said his first time in there he had a similar reaction, and that was after having lived in Salt Lake City for five years, taking the rough edges off his accent.
My accent at the time was unadulterated, full-bore, southern drawl. It woke those folks up though. Maybe I made their lunches a little more interesting.
We continued our trip and finished up our last produce drop at a little grocery store in West Yellowstone, Montana. After that, we left the truck there and walked around town a little bit, just looking. I like cheesy looking tourist places like West Yellowstone, Gatlinburg, Tennessee and so forth. I'm weird like that.
We could only leave the store where the truck was parked in one direction due to the size of the truck, and went up the road to turn around and start heading back toward Idaho and Salt Lake City.
The place Paul used to turn the truck around was literally right in front of the Welcome To Yellowstone National Park Sign (or whatever it actually said) and I could have thrown a rock into Yellowstone Park from where we turned around and headed in the other direction.
We spent that night in the truck, at a truck stop in Idaho Falls, Idaho. We ate at the truck stop and slept in the sleeper of the truck. Then, when we woke up and went in search of a bathroom, the temperature was in the low 40s(F).
I couldn't believe it. Having come from a hot July in Atlanta, a crisp cool morning was awesome; a thing to be savored.
Paul was given another run to make, from some cheese factory in eastern Idaho, to be taken back to Salt Lake City. We were given permission to use the employees showers and cleaned up while they loaded the truck. Then we headed back into SLC.
I was only there for a total of three days, but that was a fun time. A road trip of a different kind with my Big Brother. We both brought favorite mix tapes to listen to in the truck and to this day when I hear certain songs, I think of that trip.
Now that Paul has died, I think about that trip from time to time. I wouldn't trade that bit of time spent alone with him for anything.
Plus, I learned something on that trip.
There are rednecks everywhere, not just in the South.