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Truck stops: I love ’em…

Posted by on December 19, 2013
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Travel Centers of America…”TA”…Truck Stops are my favorite. Can you believe it?

DECEMBER 15, 2013.

Truck stops fascinate me! Honest! In route to your next destination, it’s a waste of time and money to locate a campground and stay just long enough to get some sleep before you resume traveling the next day.  So, the alternative is to “camp” for the night in either a Wal-mart or casino parking lot or, better yet, at a truck stop. For some strange reason, I’m absolutely “wowed” by truck-stops. There are usually dozens of huge tractor-trailer trucks crawling around a vast dark parking lot, each piloted by a driver who is as skilled at maneuvering his “monster” as a master chess player is at moving his chessmen around the board. Drivers in rows of other trucks, idling all the time, watch as the new arrivals back their multi-ton rigs into parking stalls only about a foot wider than their trucks.  Threading a needle. A  multi-lane fueling area glows in the darkness nearby, beckoning the trucks to suck up fuel in exchange for a $500 or $600  deposit to the kitty.  A repair and tire shop with lights a blazin’ and a yawning entrance awaits customers for upgrades, repairs or new tires. 24/7. It’s never closed.

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Trucks guzzling up diesel fuel at night. They’re like moths attracted to the light.

Inside, there’s usually a Subway or a Taco Bell and sometimes you’ll find a  Popeye’s Chicken counter. Often there is a “Country Pride Restaurant,” (my favorite) with lots of mediocre home cooked food and a never-ending somewhat pathetic salad bar. The waitresses specialize in chatting with lonely cross-country drivers whose only companionship for the day happens right there at the table. Sometimes they greet each other by name. By all appearances, it’s a strange job for the trucker and the waitress, and it fascinates me. Other amenities await the truckers: There are pay showers, TV rooms, computer rooms, chapels, barbershops and lots more. These truck-stops, travel centers they’re often called, are like little cities and they are alive 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, rain or shine. More after dark than during the light of day. The places are located right off the Interstate, so you don’t waste any time getting back on the road the next morning. As darkness falls on a new day, a different crop of trucks rumble in to the lot, like moths attracted to light. Come dawn’s light, they disappear down the interstate, only to repeat the drill the next night in another distant location on the horizon.

Another thing that makes these giant travel centers fun for me (This is only partly ‘tongue in cheek’…honest to God I really do like them.) is that often they are located by railroad tracks.  Never-ending freight trains rumble by all night long, blowing their whistles and adding to the strange mystique these areas hold for me. It’s white noise…it puts me right to sleep.   I remember when my kids were in their teens and we used to do a lot of jet-skiing at the River. We’d  drive from San Diego to Laughlin, Nevada which is right on the Colorado River. The total driving time is about six hours or so…not a big deal. However, the town of Barstow is half-way to Laughlin and I used to lobby hard to convince everyone that we should stop and spend the night there. Why? I’ll tell you why: Barstow is like the hub of all hubs for freight trains. Everywhere in town, all day and all night, you hear train whistles and the screeching sound of wheels on steel tracks.  Again, I love it! I thinks is just the raw power of these locomotives and trains…and huge diesel cross-country trucks as well. I mean I was so determined to stay in Barstow that I still have in my cell phone the specifics of the hotel and room number where I liked to stay: Barstow Ramada Inn, Room 356. It has the best view of the switching yard.

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They’re all lined up like runners preparing to take their marks.

So right now, at 11:30 pm at a TA truck-stop located in the middle of nowhere between Sedona and Lake Havasu, I sit alone typing my blog post, listening to an approaching freight train engineer blasting his whistle, while the motors of the huge trucks parked on either side of our little RV make the pavement vibrate. My generator purrs as it tries timidly to compete. Florence has been asleep for hours. I’m just loving it…the darkness penetrated by streams of bright truck and train lights, the noise and the solitude. So there…bet you never knew this stuff about me!

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A freight train whistles through the darkness and rumbles past the sleeping trucks.

It’s a chance to study a microcosm.  Where are these trucks and drivers coming from? Where are they headed? What are they transporting? Do they have homes, other than in the tiny sleeping quarters above the cabs of their trucks? Does anyone even know where they are tonight? Do they have kids? Wives? What about their parents? Do they have friends, other than the “business acquaintances” they see from time to time in the truck-stop restaurants? It’s strange: Sort of like a Club or a Fraternity. There are club rules which are followed. Yet none of the members really knows the others. It’s eerily quiet in the dining area. The truckers appear somber, lost in their thoughts or quietly talking on their cell phones trying to interest the person on the other end of the conversation. And what about the Engineers who drive the freight trains? Same questions. Where will these guys spend Christmas? The truck-stop diner, Country Pride, is advertising a traditional Christmas dinner for $9.99. Will the place be packed?  Will the truckers be happy and chat with one another? Or will it be so quiet in there you could hear a pin drop?  And, why does this intrigue me? Don’t know. Don’t care. It just does. It’s all a part of my Great American Adventure. “Merry Christmas, you guys! Drive safely. I’ll see you again down the road.”

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