After leaving Elwood standing there in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a dark, moonless night, I was wondering as I shifted through the gears to get up to highway speed what lessons he might learn from the experience. If he was counting on my father’s pity to save his ass he now knew that Dear Old Drunk was of no use to him and wouldn’t be aware of the world until he woke up in Los Angeles. If ever there was a time to learn a lesson he should have learned long before, this was the time for it: Many will give you pity just because you’re pitiful, but few will give you impunity for it. And, by golly, I’m not one of those few.
Though my father always complained about it if I turned the CB radio on while he was in the sleeper, I cranked the thing up so I could hear any other driver who might make noise about encountering a pathetic dork on the highway as long as the noise was made before I got out of range. The radio was stone quiet, as it always was on that lonesome highway at that time of night. About the time I got far enough away that I was at the limit of CB radio range, I found a place to turn around to go back for the idiot.
I’ll gladly participate in delivering a hard lesson if that’s what someone needs, but cruelty isn’t in my nature.
As I neared the spot where I’d left Elwood I slowed, and picked out his form in the headlights no more than a hundred yards from where I’d left him. He put his thumb out, so I guess he was willing to go just about anywhere that wasn’t nowhere — there was nothing about headlights and marker lights that made that truck distinctive so he couldn’t know it was me coming back for him, and I was of course going toward Winnemucca rather than toward California. He climbed in, said “Thanks, man”, and nothing more until after another U-turn.
Once turned around, I asked him, “Are we clear now?”, and he said that we were. A moment later he asked if I still wanted that sandwich… “No, but thanks. I know where those hands have been.” I let it be quiet again for a while, then spelled it all out for him again: I do not love this life I’m living and I do not want to be out here on this highway any more than you do. I don’t like subsisting on sandwiches, coffee, and cigarettes. I don’t like lumping freight. I don’t like laying over out in the middle of nowhere watching my old man drink himself stupid. I don’t like being at the house. I am only here because I’ve nowhere else to be and no way at present to get there if I did. I’m the only one in this truck who’s not indebted to anyone else in this truck and you, Elwood, are indebted to everyone else in this truck. If you want to get off of the truck and get a job, great, but don’t be faking it to catch a free ride because there won’t be one. Get to acting again like you’re entitled and I will leave your ass even further out in the middle of nowhere and I will not be coming back.
I still had a bit of trouble from time to time after that keeping him motivated to lump freight, mainly because he’d never done physical work before in his life, but with his newfound appreciation for the realities of life as one who is stuck and fucked he was easier to get along with. Though he still annoyed hell out of me, we had an amiable acquaintance.
A few months after that tough lesson was taught, my father gave up the truck as untenable. I can’t count how many times I pointed out to him that the math was simple and the trucker’s adage is true: If the wheel’s ain’t turnin’ you’re losin’ money. When you get paid by the mile your goal is to stay in motion, and there’s a lot more money in going coast to coast than border to border. Turning LA to the Pacific Northwest twice leaves you backed up to docks and earning no money while there eight times a week while turning the coasts reduces it to three times. His fear was just too great, and with no warning at all he called the whole thing off.
The guy to whom he “leased” the truck made no lease payments at all, just hopped into the cab and left with it. He stopped by once a couple of weeks later just to keep the old man from reporting the rig stolen, but was never seen again. He knew the truck was officially hot and would be snatched by the repo men as soon as they found it so he kept it rolling for the next four and a half months, all the way to the scene of the wreck. As it turned out, he was uninsurable due to a long history of citations and wrecks, so the insurance company paid for the repairs but not the loan payments. The cab of the special edition truck was no longer in production so Kenworth had to retool to make another, and the repairs weren’t completed for nearly five months. When they were the repo man was standing there in Dallas to take the keys.
One of my first stops after receiving the news was the Air Force recruiting office, where it would prove to be a challenge to convince them to take me because of my wrong place/wrong time misadventure with Melvin The Mormon. In the interim I worked for a temp agency doing short term gigs, and then as assistant manager at another self-serve gas station. My father had no luck finding work, and Elwood no desire to find any, but I didn’t care because I wasn’t working to support anyone but myself any more. My mother demanded money, but the choices she was given were to accept the rent I was paying at the same rate as before, or get nothing when I moved out.
I finally cleared the hurdles to be accepted into Uncle Sugar’s Air Force while working at the gas station, but by then they’d had the brilliant idea to use a bunch of us from Orange County as their new recruiting tools — poster boys, video stars, and televised spokesmodels — so I had to wait several months. In the meantime, Melvin The Mormon convinced Elwood to enlist in the Navy as he had, but when the van dropped by to take him away he chickened out. A few weeks later Melvin was in town on leave and drug Elwood off to the recruiting station where a recruiter was waiting to drive him to the AFEES station in Los Angeles.
It would have been nice if this were the end of the story.