Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Boat

Copyright 2001 By Alan Burkhart

It was in 1992, if I remember correctly. I was chugging along I-70 in western Indiana, gabbing with another driver who was about a half mile in front of me. It was pretty late, probably ten or eleven o'clock. The guy was telling a joke when he suddenly exclaimed that there was a boat in the middle of the interstate. I saw his brake lights up ahead, and quickly slowed to a stop behind him and put on my emergency flashers. Sure enough, a twenty-foot pontoon boat was sitting crossways in the eastbound lane. His wife was on the CB warning other truckers of the dangerous situation, and he and I grabbed our flashlights and began flagging traffic. Someone went to a phone and called the cops, and before long two Indiana county mounties were on site with us.

The cops were as flabbergasted as we were. They sent word by radio ahead to look for someone pulling an empty or partially loaded boat trailer, and then we set ourselves to the task of shoving the thing out of the road. How the Hell anything that heavy can float is beyond me. It required both cops, the driver I was chatting with, two other drivers, and myself to finally get the boat off onto the shoulder of the road. By then, traffic was backed up for miles and there was little else we could do but sit and wait for the jam to untangle itself.

Word came by police radio that the driver hauling the boat had been found, and was under police escort back to the site of the incident. The cops onsite told me and the other driver (I can't recall his name) to wait. About a half hour later, the dude finally pulls up, acting bewildered as to how his boat could have slid from the trailer. The cops were not very understanding about it, nor should they have been. As I recall, one of them said something about writing him a ticket for "Stupid in a No-Stupid Zone".

I had thought it difficult enough just pushing the boat off of the highway. But when it came to lifting one end of the thing up onto the trailer so the driver could winch it back into place, I found out just how out of shape I was. That thing was HEAVY! We got it done, and everyone began to laugh at the silliness of the situation. The driver apologized repeatedly and promised to be more careful about tying his loads down in the future. The cops of course gave him a well-deserved citation, but he accepted it with good grace.

It wasn't until later that I began to think about how bad it could have been. What if a family had been following close behind him when the boat slipped its moorings? What if a loaded gasoline tanker had collided with it? It could have been a disaster. Fortunately it ended as well as it possibly could have, and I had yet another weird story to tell.

See y'all on the Road

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Beggars and Salesmen

Copyright 2001 By Alan Burkhart

Okay, It's July 5th, 2001, and I have HAD it!!! I'm in a Chicago-area truck stop; marooned until tomorrow morning. When my dispatcher told me that I couldn't reload until the next day, I accepted the news with good grace and found myself a place to (I thought) rest and relax. I believe in making the best out of any bad situation.

So, I walk into the truck stop (it's one of the big fancy "Travel Centers"), make my way through the tangle of mindless tourists and grab myself a couple of cold, fresh Lipton bottled teas and head back out to the truck. As I'm nearing the exit, here's this dude with a tiny fold-up card table stacked with some unidentifiable green substance in little plastic bottles. A humidifier is also on the table emitting a steady cloud of steam.

"Excuse me sir," he says, "let me have your glasses for a moment."
Let me say here and now that my glasses were not dirty. I don't like dirty glasses, windshields or windows. I glanced at the pile of stuff on his table and took a guess: "No, thanks," I said, "my glasses are clean."

"But sir!" he began, and then launched into a sales pitch about his ANTI-FOG product for glasses and all but demanded that I give him my $120.00 specs so he could clean and "treat" them for me. I'd be so amazed, he promised, that I'd surely wish to purchase a lifetime supply of this green gobbley-goop so I could smear it on my glasses. I was utterly amazed at the temerity of this guy. What, I'm gonna let some total stranger put his hands on something that I put on my face? I finally just walked away and left him talking. He raised his voice and shouted at me across the store, still making his pitch. I jammed my tired body into high gear and got out of the store before I lost my temper.

I walked out to the truck and dropped off my drinks, then headed across the street to another truck stop that happened to have a Hardees onsite. I have a real weakness for the "Monster Burger". As I approached, I noticed a middle-aged fellow in a wheelchair sitting directly in front of the entrance. Another man was standing there beside him, politely declining whatever it was the guy was selling, giving away, or begging for. I stepped around them (QUICKLY) and went inside.

At Hardees, I walked up to the counter and a young lady bustled out to take my order.
My exact words were: "I'd like a Monster Burger to go please; not the combo, just the sandwich."

She asked me if there would be anything else, and I replied (politely and with a smile, I might add) that I only wanted the sandwich.

"But sir!" she began, and started a sales pitch about the two for a dollar apple pies or whatever it was they were pushing that day. I interrupted and reminded her that I wanted only the sandwich. Looking like a spanked puppy, she retreated to fill my order.

As I approached the exit, I noticed that the guy in the wheelchair was still partially blocking the doorway. I pulled my cap down tight, got a good grip on my Hardees bag, and charged out the door, straight across the gasoline islands towards the street. The guy was yammering at me the moment I exited the building.

"Hey buddy!"

I kept going.

"Excuse me! Hey there!"

I kept going.

"Hey! You in the black hat!"

It's a CAP, not a hat. I kept going.

"Well I guess yo' ass is deaf and blind ain't it!"

I almost turned around, but decided not to satisfy him by rising to the bait. I crossed the street, returned to my truck, and locked the door behind me. I've now eaten my burger and I'm slowly sipping the remnants of a bottle of tea and enjoying a cigarette. And, I'm thinking that by now you're probably wondering what the point of my rambling may be?

To the point: Is it just me, or is importunity becoming an accepted practice in this country? I encounter people like this almost every day! What's wrong with walking into a business, doing business, and walking out without having no less than three people hassling me for various reasons? Can't I just go get what I want and do it in peace?

At most every truck stop I visit, I encounter people who have one thing in mind: MY WALLET. They're selling pre-paid phone cards, t-shirts, used computers, metal polish, sex, drugs, cheap gold plated watches and jewelry, and just about anything else you can think of.

There are representatives of every religious faith passing out pamphlets to save my soul, grass roots wannabe's trying to sign me onto their cause (and get a donation of course) and recruiters from half a dozen trucking companies who all claim to have the best deal going (I like my present job just fine, thank you).
And then there are the BEGGARS. Each one has his or her own story:

  • The car's outta gas and Aunt Mable is in the hospital and I just GOTTA get there to see her!

  • I'm a trucker myself, and I need to get some money to get to a job interview (by the way, most trucking companies pay travel expenses for new hires).

  • I'm outta work and I got seven kids! Can you spare some change?

  • I got robbed and I need money to get home!

I'm not insensitive to needy people, but I'm not stupid either. You don't see nearly as many of these people in Wal-Mart parking lots or shopping malls. They gravitate to truck stops because people seem to have this notion that truckers are: (A) Made out of money, and (B) Dumb as a sack of rocks. By the way, I'm NOT made out of money. I drive a 1993 model Rice Burner, I live in a trailer house, and I'm up to my freckled ass in debt. Hmm… Chances are you didn't really want to know about the freckles on my ass. Oh well, too late now.

The vast majority of these people are frauds. How low does one have to sink to go out and impersonate a homeless person? Gimme a break! A lot of Americans are running low on pride. My advice: Don't give in to these people. Don't feel guilty. If they truly need help, they'll go to a shelter and get it. It's easy to fall prey to the notion that this person might really be in need of help. I know that feeling. It bothers me to see good people fall on hard times. But you must remember that thieves and hustlers will use this honorable trait to milk you for hard cash.

Back a few years ago, I was sitting in the little truck stop in my hometown when this guy came in carrying a stack of what appeared to be business cards. Without saying a word, he walked to each table and passed out cards to each and every person. The card stated that he was a deaf mute, had no means of being self-supporting, and was humbly requesting donations. After distributing the cards, he returned to the first table and stood there, staring expectantly at the good-natured old trucker who had been eating his supper. The guy smiled, albeit uncomfortably, and fished out a bill for the guy. At that, EVERYONE started pulling out their wallets and handing money to him. As he walked out, he was smiling. We all felt so good about ourselves. It really does make you feel nice inside to help someone, right? Then he hopped into a Corvette (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP) with a beautiful young woman and burned rubber leaving the parking lot.

Upon seeing this, the waitress called the police, who caught the guy a few miles down the road. The truth came out a few days later: He and his little woman did this on a regular basis! They were hustling people for money to finance a summer road trip! They were both gainfully employed, but didn't want to dip into their savings to pay for their vacation. The county put them up in the "Cross Bar Hotel" for about three months. Hey, free room and board!

My ex and I (before she was my ex) were sound asleep in the truck one night when these two guys started knocking on the door. They were trying to get to work, you see, and one of their vehicles broke down. The other guy came along, saw his car, and stopped to pick him up. Hey, this could happen, right? Read on...

They explained to me that they didn't have much time (hence I didn't have much time to think about their story) because they could not afford to be late for work. Would I please LOAN this perfect stranger twenty dollars so he could get the part for his car and go fix it on the side of the road so he wouldn't be late for work? I politely said that I did not have twenty dollars (a lie), but I wished them all the best luck (a bigger lie) and see ya later. They promptly went to the next truck in the line and woke the man up. To his credit, he declined as well. I was too tired to sit up and watch, and returned to bed.

How did I know he was lying to me? Well, if he really was in a hurry to get to work, then he didn't really have time to go fix his car, did he? And, couldn't his buddy loan him twenty dollars? It was also very late at night in a small southern town. There were no auto parts stores open right then. You won't get someone to come down and open up for free. These dudes probably did this little trick once or twice a week, preying on the tired, the sleepy, and the gullible to get their beer money.

Please do be careful of those who pander to your sympathy. There are, I know, people who really do need our help. But, remember that there are legitimate organizations out there to help these people. I donate clothing and canned goods to the Salvation Army once or twice a year. I stop and assist motorists on the roadside when I can safely do so. I share with my neighbors and family. But I ain't gonna loan you twenty dollars at two in the morning. I was born at night, but it wasn't LAST NIGHT.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Copyright 2000 By Alan Burkhart

Trucking tends to be hard on relationships, and I have three ex-wives to prove it. I don't harbor any ill will for any of them. They are good girls, each in her own way, and I wish them all the best. Perhaps the most chaotic marriage of the three was to Deedee. This is her nickname; I'll not use her real name here so as to protect her privacy. If you should happen to read this Deedee, I hope it gives you reason to smile.

Deedee went everywhere with me. We were both pretty young. I was in my mid-twenties and she was eighteen or nineteen. I had pulled into a truck stop in Tucson, Arizona late one night to make a trip to the men's room and to grab a cup of coffee. Deedee was sound asleep in the bunk. I had and still have a standing rule for all passengers. It is thus: If you're in the sleeper, and you wake up and find the truck is parked and I am not in it, leave me some way of knowing that you are not in the truck if you get out. In Deedee's case, she always left her shoes sitting in the floorboard in front of the passenger seat when she went to bed. If I stopped, got out, and then returned, I'd look to be sure those shoes were still there. If so, I'd know she's still in the bunk. If not, she's inside the truck stop, probably looking for me. It was a good system, or so I thought.

On this particular night, she awoke with a need to answer nature's call, but rather than bother with lacing up her sneakers, she slipped her tiny feet into her "flip flops" and groggily made her way into the truck stop. I couldn't have missed her by more than a minute when I returned. I glanced at the floor, saw her sneakers, and prepared to roll out of the parking lot. It was at that moment that a frantic-looking trucker came dashing up to me, wide-eyed and breathless. "Hey!" he said, "are you headed east?" I replied that I was, and he informed me that he'd been asleep in the bunk, and got out when he discovered that his wife had stopped. He'd visited the men's room as I had, but when he attempted to return to his truck, his wife had pulled out without him.

I told him to jump in and we'd try to catch her. I fairly well flew out of the parking lot, and got on the CB radio, telling other drivers to pass the word ahead in an attempt to catch up with the poor guy's wife. It went like clockwork; each driver giving his location and stating the message, then another driver up ahead would pass it on up the line. In a few minutes, we got word that she was headed back west, having discovered that her old hubby wasn't in the truck. We all laughed about it, and prepared to stop on the side of the road so he could rejoin his wife.

It was right about then that I heard another message on the radio. "Big Al? How about that Big Al in the red Peterbilt?"
"Go ahead," I replied.
"Hey pal, I've got your ol' lady here with me, and boy, are you in trouble."

Monday, November 14, 2005

Pervert Alert!

Copyright 2000 By Alan Burkhart

This one may raise a few eyebrows. I don't recommend this story for children. The main reason I'm finally telling this story is that along with being one of the strangest events in my life, it's also one of the funniest. It wasn't funny when it happened, mind you. But, nowadays I can look back on this event and… well… chuckle nervously while shaking my head in disbelief.

It was late on a summer night in 1989. I was traveling south on Interstate 79, and had just passed out of Pennsylvania into West Virginia. As I recall, I was on my way to Charlotte, N.C. It was a cloudy night, although there was no rain. I passed a sign that stated that there was a parking area one mile ahead. I elected to pull in and answer nature's call, since the truck stops are generally pretty crowded at night.

The parking area had no lights. It wasn't even paved. It was just a rough gravel driveway that widened out to allow for parking, and then narrowed again as it returned to the interstate. As I rumbled down the ramp into the parking area, I noticed that there were three vehicles already parked inside. There were two 18-wheelers and a car. One of the trucks had its parking lights on. The other was dark. As I neared the car, I noticed that the dome light came on briefly, although it didn't stay on long enough for me to discern anything within the car.

It was right about then that the driver in the truck with its lights on spoke up on the CB radio: Hey, driver… will you help me with something?"

"Of course I will. What do ya need?" I replied.

"Well… there's something REALLY strange going on with that car, man. But I don't wanna check it out alone. I've been sittin' here half an hour waitin' for someone else to stop in."

My curiosity was instantly piqued, and I stopped the truck just ahead of the car, relieved my aching bladder (first things first!), then joined the other driver, who introduced himself as "Rick". Rick was a helluva specimen, about six feet three and built like Tarzan. He was carrying his "Tire Thumper", so I stopped in my tracks, turned back to my truck, and grabbed mine as well. If by chance you don't know what a tire thumper is, think of a miniature baseball bat. We use them to "thump" the tires to be sure they're not low on air. A tire thumper is also a very good "head thumper". Whatever Rick had seen or heard had evidently upset him pretty badly. If something was scaring this big guy, then I figured there was reason for concern.

As we approached the car, the left front door opened just a crack, and the dome light came on again. My heart almost popped out of my mouth. Kneeling in the backseat was a tall blonde woman; my guess age-wise would be mid-twenties. She was wearing only a pair of white cotton panties. Her hands were tied to the hangers that support the seatbelt shoulder straps, and there was a gag on her mouth. She had evidently nudged the door, which was ajar, just a bit with her fingertips to make the dome light come on. My first impulse was to yank the door open and "rescue" this damsel in distress. I can't stand to see anyone suffer. Rick laid a hand on my shoulder, and whispered, "Go slow."

We conferred for a quick moment, and determined that he would stay a few steps behind and cover my back while I freed this poor woman… if indeed she was actually a prisoner. We were concerned that the whole thing might be a trap of some kind. Don't call me paranoid… this has happened to truckers in the past. There could easily have been a couple of guys in the shadows waiting for someone to attempt to free her alone. We weren't taking any chances. As I approached the car again, I saw the look on her face. Her eyes were reminiscent of a frightened animal. I opened the door and was about to say something like "Don't worry, it's gonna be all right," when I noticed the first thing that didn't make sense.

There were hard-core porn magazines scattered all over the interior of the car. Most of them, I noticed, were of the "guys doing guys" variety. I carefully removed the gag from her face and asked her if she was okay. She said, "Yes, I think so," in a voice that just didn't sound at all feminine. Let me say here that she had pretty breasts. I'm not being rude or nasty here, okay? The simple fact was that they were very pretty breasts. And, they were obviously real, although I was beginning to suspect that they weren't original equipment.

"How did this happen?" I asked.

"I just stopped here for a minute and these guys rushed me from the woods."

"They tied you up?"


"Where'd the porn come from?"

At this point the story started to fall apart, so she started begging for me to release her. I motioned for Rick to come closer. He was a bit uncomfortable with the idea of looking in at the girl given her current state of undress, but I insisted.

"Listen." I said.

As he listened to her babbling about rapists and robbers, Rick's eyes widened noticeably. "Look!" he said, pointing downward.

"Her" cotton panties were beginning to have a difficult time containing whatever was in them, and by that time I was pretty sure as to what it was. That's when I noticed the feet. No woman EVER had feet this ugly.

"That sonofabitch!" Rick muttered, and actually pulled his pocketknife.

"WHOA!!!" I exclaimed, and pulled him away from the car.

"C'mon man," I said, "Let's just get the hell outta here."

We left in a heckuva hurry, and stopped at the next exit and found a department store parking lot we could fit our trucks into. I grabbed a pay phone and called the cops. The dispatcher laughed and said that yes, this little pervert was up there one or two times a week, and always left when he suspected trouble was afoot. He'd be gone before an officer could get there.

I was flabbergasted, to say the least. I turned to Rick and related to him what the police dispatcher had told me. He shook his head and stared off into space for a moment, then turned around and looked me in the eye.

"I'm glad you came along," he began, "because I'd have probably cut the little ##bleep## if I'd been alone."

We shook hands, and headed down the road. When we reached the junction with U.S. 19, he continued down I-79, while I jumped onto 19 and headed for Charlotte. I've never seen him again. As to the little pervert in the parking area, I've never seen him/she/it again either, and I hope I never do.

There's a lesson to be learned from this. In 21st century America, we are told to be tolerant of those who are different from us. I believe in this, and practice tolerance as a part of my own lifestyle. I have no real objections to homosexuality, pornography, etc, etc. But, if those who wish to practice what is considered by many to be deviant sexual behavior wish to be tolerated by the rest of us, they should have the common sense to act in a tolerable manner. I have several friends who are either gay or bisexual. Their bedroom preferences are not an issue for me. They are decent, everyday people who lead decent, everyday lives. You won't see them cross-dressing in an interstate parking area, and they have no desire to change their gender.

The little wacko in the parking area must have been in the final stages of a sex-change procedure. By now, he probably doesn't have that lump in his panties anymore. Hmm… that still bothers me when I think about it. I don't like the idea of a man getting a lump in his panties for me. If two guys can get it with each other, that's fine with me, as long as they don't expect me join in. I don't have a moral problem with it. It simply does not appeal to me, nor do I believe that it ever will.

The point is if he wants to be a woman, that's okay, he can be a woman. But the stunt he evidently pulled on a regular basis in that parking area goes well beyond tolerable. That's the kind of aberrant behavior that creates animosity between gays and straights. It doesn't faze me at all to see a gay or lesbian couple holding hands in the mall. But tying yourself up in your car, hoping to get raped is something else altogether! That guy (girl?) needs help in the worst way.

I asked a gay friend if he or his partner ever considered a sex change. He was shocked at the idea. He informed me in no uncertain terms that they liked men, and that a sex change by either of them would have destroyed their relationship. They have, by the way, been together for almost 20 years. A bi-lady I chat with on the net from time to time considered this tale for a day or so before replying to me. She said that the guy was probably in a state of confusion because of hormonal changes brought on by the on-going sex change. She was thinking that he'd be okay after he was finished. When asked if she thought this justified what he was doing, she replied with a hearty "HELL NO! That's too weird!" and we had a good laugh about it.

The bottom line: If you don't want to be treated like a freak, then DON'T BE A FREAK. Tolerance is a two-way street.