Most of the time, I couldn’t keep up with him—we both knew it. I’d watched him pick up or toss out a new girlfriend every few weeks since I was fourteen. I never resented it, really. But I was sure lonely for a girl of my own. We hit the road an hour or so later and picked up a ride on Main Street in Hyannis in the biggest rig I’d ever seen; with a paint job so shiny you could see your face in it. When the truck stopped the whole street shook.
“I’m headed to Albany. How far you kids going?”
“We’d go all the way if you’d take us—as far as you can, if you can’t.”
“Sure.” He cast his head down and looked at the two of us. “Why the hell not? Get in.” And so here we were again, another great ride.
“Not bad,” Ethan whispered, after we climbed into the cab.
“Shit yeah!” I yelled over the rumble of the engine and the blast of his horn. I was feeling a hundred times better, and I was sort of proud of myself for dealing with the acid so well. I sat back and listened as Ethan grilled the driver, (Larry was his name) about the truck.
“What kind of truck is it? How many gears? How much does it weigh? What are your usual routes? What kind of music do you listen to? Howdoesitfeeltobeontheroad?” Larry looked at Ethan as if he were crazy. I was sure he was going to change his mind and throw us out on our asses. Instead, he laughed as loud as you might imagine a young driver with his own rig would laugh, and smacked his hand on his knee.
“Whoa, settle down fella!” Then he took a good look at me too. “College boys, huh?”
“Not me,” said Ethan. “I’m just traveling.”
Larry laughed. “Oh, you’re a college boy alright,” he said, “whether you’re in school or not. Do you even know how to drive?”
“Yes, and I want to learn how to drive a truck.”
“That’s rich. Now what the hell would you want to do something like that for?”
“It must be cool,” said Ethan, completely unfazed by this guy’s reaction to his questions. “I mean, not having a boss. Going to different places all the time.”
Larry leaned over in my direction. “Did you know that your pal here was such a fuckin’ retard?”
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” I answered smiling.
Larry’s big laugh included the both of us.
“I wouldn’t be too sure if I were you. You seem pretty stupid.” Larry ran his dirty fingers through his greasy hair, then sort of wiped his hands on his already stained undershirt. His muscled arms were hairy and he had a large, dark Tattoo that I couldn’t make out. He couldn’t have been much more than thirty years old—I was pretty sure of that—but his face looked lined and haggard, and there was a hint of belly hanging over his belt. The whole cab smelled of gas, machine oil and Old Spice aftershave. We drove in silence for miles.
“I’ve got a good deal, all in all,” Larry begun, out of the blue, “with the wife and the kid. It’s a pretty good life. But I don’t see ‘em a hell of a lot.” He told us how he hated having to work and slave for a living and how we were so lucky to be kids today and headed off to college—he said he could tell we were college kids. “No matter what your crazy friend here wants to think.”
I had to laugh a little. Ethan had been so serious. He’d wanted so badly to connect with this guy.
“Now I know you boys are just having a time of it, so to speak and why not, it’s the summer and soon enough you’ll be going back home and likely heading off to school or sumptin.”
“Not me,” Ethan said defensively, “I’m on the road for good now –just want to see where it takes me.”
Larry looked at him sideways then glanced at me. He laughed a long, hard laugh. “Fine by me, son. So you wanna be a Trucker someday?”
“Sure, why not? I could do worse, right? You make good money I bet.”
“Shit. You really are a fucking idiot, aren’t you? You’d have to be to want to do this for a living.” He grunted, cursed and spat out his window. “My old man worked all his life in a Rubbermaid factory in Bedford, Mass. I worked at the same factory for fourteen years. I remember the day—I was sixteen—when I took up my place next to my daddy. I was proud as a peacock and so was he. Shit. We were happy just to get in some overtime once in a while!”
He shook his head. “But damn, we never managed to get ahead. Not my old man. And not me. And you know what? No matter how long I scrubbed my skin I still couldn’t get the smell of raw rubber off. Stank up the whole house. Even at my own wedding I couldn’t get rid of that fucking rubber stench, it seeped out beneath my rented tux during the ceremony. It was the most embarrassing day of my life. My old lady had tears in her eyes. And they weren’t tears of happiness. She hated that fuckin’ smell. Finally, I couldn’t take it no more, and quit the factory to drive a rig.” He turned his gaze from the road to make his point. Scared the hell out of us. Then he looked back at the road and began to talk again. He hadn’t missed a beat and the truck hadn’t strayed one millimeter from the truck lane. “So now I drive this rig and work my head off so maybe, just maybe, I can own this fuckin’ truck outright someday, and not the fuckin’ bank—and actually get ahead of the game. That’s just the way it is for me.” He lit a cigarette with his one free hand. It reminded me of the way Ethan’s dad had lit his cigarette with his army Zippo after he got us out of the police station.
“But if you think there’s anything cool about this kind of work, you really are crazy. I hardly see my wife and kids. I’m too tired to play with them when I do get home. Too tired to fuck even. I don’t own my house; my car’s got 100,000 miles on it and breaks down every other week.” His voice was soft now, the tone and rhythm almost hypnotic. Suddenly I realized that he’d said this all before. Maybe to his friends over a drink at the local bar, or maybe just the conversation he must keep up with himself to get through the hours of boredom and solitude of on the road.
“It’s damn hard. Damn hard,” he smacked the wheel. “Ah hell, but it’s all right, I’m healthy and I’m working. What the fuck, it’s all gonna end in the graveyard anyway.” Then he let out a short laugh that was half gasp and slapped the dashboard and looked at us with such a strange look in his eyes that I thought once again he might have been sorry he’d picked us up—because now he had to remember just who the hell he was and what the hell he’d been doing in this sorrowful world all his life.