A couple of Saturdays ago, I had nothing to do and all day to do it, so I decided to go out to the nearby truck stop where we look for people to interview.
Usually, when I go to the truck stop the trip is very purposeful. I show up with my camera around my neck, notepad and digital recorder in hand, and try to find a truck driver who’s in the right frame of mind to chew the fat for a few minutes – and that’s not a dig at truck stop food. We talk, I snap a couple of photos, and I’m off.
This time, I thought, I’m going to do something I’ve always thought about doing. I want to take my time, just hang out, spend a couple of hours and just observe. I mean, who spends that much time at a truck stop, other than truckers or the people who work there?
So, I plopped myself down at a centrally located small table near the restrooms and doodled in my notepad while watching the people go by.
As I sat for a while watching the free-form parade pass left and right, the prevailing impression that came over me was what an anonymous experience the truck stop can be. People come through, do whatever they are there to do and pay little attention to anything or anyone else. I’d sat there for a couple hours, hadn’t spoken to anyone and no one had spoken to me. I noticed that a couple of the employees had noticed me, but I got the impression that my just sitting there might be a little confusing, a little unusual, but since I wasn’t causing any trouble, they had figured, “OK, let him sit.”
I started to play a game – guess who’s a trucker and who’s a four-wheeler. Some were obvious. The white-haired little old lady in the shiny purple Disney jacket making a beeline for the restroom, I’m pretty sure she’s travelling by car.
Truck drivers come on all shapes, sizes, and styles, but I have picked up some pretty certain tip-offs. Anybody at the truck stop wearing a headset, even if it’s around their neck – almost for sure a trucker. If they’re lugging a duffel bag full of laundry, that’s another safe bet.
I’ve also noticed more often, anyone wearing flip-flops or Crocs in the dead of winter – for some reason that seems to be a fashion trend among drivers, stretched-out socks optional. Why do I see more and more drivers at the truck stop not wearing grownup shoes? I must look into that sometime.
Let’s look at the bright side, at least they haven’t adopted the pajamas-in-public look. Clomping around in sweats is bad enough. Seinfeld said it best, that’s a look that says, “I give up; I might as well be comfortable.”
Eventually, an employee parked a utility cart outside the men’s room, temporarily closing it for maintenance. A minute later, a would-be patron decided to wait it out and to put the time to good use helping his fellow man.
Every few moments, another guy would approach, and when stopped by the utility cart barricade, his body language would express mild panic and confusion, as though the realization the men’s room was closed had snapped them out of a trance.
Every time, the man who was waiting would say, “it’s closed,” as though his soothing words were there to help ease the others on their jolting transition back into reality. Some would simply sink back into their comfortable private stupor and trudge off in a different direction. A few acted as though they were personally offended by the inconvenience.
Finally, one guy saw the cart, and when the first guy offered the complimentary, “it’s closed” confirmation, just smiled and decided to wait it out, too. The two immediately started comparing their trips. One of them had started in Joplin and was headed to Charleston. The other was on his way to Houston from Indiana. They talked about the weather they’d encountered. The driver from Indiana won; his weather had been worse.
The two men chatted and chuckled for two or three minutes. Then the restroom reopened, and the conversation ended as quickly as it had started. The second man headed into the facilities. Oddly, the man who’d been waiting longer did not. He went off in a different direction.
I didn’t even notice that until I replayed it in my head. Come to think of it, the two guys never introduced themselves to one another, and there was nothing in their clothes or their conversation that indicated whether either of them was a truck driver or just a guy on a road trip. Plainly, they’d never met, and I’d be willing to bet by the time this is published, they might not be able to pick each other out of a lineup if they were asked to. But for a couple minutes, they made their trips and each other’s trips a little more enjoyable.
Maybe it was just the setting that lent to the symbolism I was reading into it, there at the truck stop, a place designed for people’s paths to intersect but not necessarily connect. it was such a perfect example of how easily it is to pass through life anonymously, and how easy it is not to.
I decided I wasn’t going to snag any interviews just sitting there, so I got up and started pulling out my equipment. Just then a woman walked by. I noticed the blinking headset draped around her neck.
“Excuse me, are you a truck driver?”
Klint Lowry has been a journalist for over 20 years. Prior to that, he did all kinds work, including several that involved driving, though he never graduated to big rigs. He worked at newspapers in the Detroit, Tampa and Little Rock, Ark., areas before coming to The Trucker in 2017. Having experienced such constant change at home and at work, he felt a certain kinship to professional truck drivers. Because trucking is more than a career, it’s a way of life, Klint has always liked to focus on every aspect of the quality of truckers’ lives.