I don’t think I ever remember a summer that was as hot and dry as one a few years back. I was en route to Dallas on my normal weekly run. The air conditioner in my Freightliner was working overtime.
You could see the waves of heat coming from the roadway. The grass was brown from the lack of water. The once wet swamps on the sides of the road were dry. An area normally full of life was now lifeless. I couldn’t even find a bird flying in the sky. The sun had reached the point in the sky where it was coming directly into the windshield.
I was coming up on one of my favorite truckstops, so I decided to stop for a while and take a break. The food there was great. They had a Cajun cook who could bring tears to your eyes. The Tiger Truck Stop was located in Grosse Tete, Louisiana. It was a short distance from the bridge that led into the swamps and rivers before Lafayette.
The parking lot was small and appeared to be full, but I managed to find a spot to park my rig. The truckstop had a café and a fuel center. Both buildings had a number of slot machines that were kept busy by locals as well as the truckers. There was a large cage that was home to several tigers, but today they were inside trying to escape the heat.
The café was crowded. I joined four other drivers at a large round table in the center of the room. They were sitting around telling jokes and laughing. They welcomed me, and then I ordered a large iced tea and the buffet. I had just returned from the salad bar when the stories began again.
One of the other men was an older Cajun man, and I listened as he began to tell a story: “Last week I stopped in here and was standing just outside talking to my friend when a young driver walked up and began to listen to our conversation. Suddenly, a large gator began crawling across the parking lot. The young driver turned and looked at me and then he looked back at the gator. Without any warning, he ran across the lot and jumped on the gator. There was quite a battle for a few minutes before he turned the creature loose. Then he stood up and walked back over to us. I looked at him as he dusted himself off. “Why did you do that?” I asked in a low voice. He looked up at me and replied, “I’ve heard about those ‘lot lizards’ and I just wanted to try one out for myself.”
The laughter rolled from around the table. I almost swallowed my fork. The other man sitting next to me looked across the table and said, “Speaking of gators, I’ve lived around here most of my life, and this has been one of the longest dry spells I can remember. The gators and everything else around here are having a hard time finding food.”
The old Cajun who told the earlier story got a serious look on his face and began to talk. “That’s the truth,” he said. “The bridge has been shut down to one lane for the past several weeks. They have been cutting back trees from the edge of the roadway. They say it has become so bad that the gators are climbing trees and jumping on cars as they drive by.”
The laughter began again, but this time the old Cajun wasn’t laughing. I finished my meal and thanked them for their hospitality and walked outside. The sun had set, and it was a little cooler outside. I climbed in the old rig and headed west to Dallas.
When I reached the bridge, there was a construction sign that said, “Stay left, right lane closed ahead.” I nodded my head and pulled to the left. They were indeed trimming back the tree limbs from the side of the bridge. I began to laugh out loud. For a minute, I actually began to believe the old Cajun’s story.
I finished my deliveries in Dallas and reloaded for the Carolinas. I had given the old man’s story a lot of thought. I had even received several laughs from the dockworkers in Dallas as I repeated the story to them.
It was still very hot, but a late evening thunderstorm had cooled things down. A light fog now covered most of the countryside. I was getting tired, and decided I would make it across the swamp to the Tiger Truck Stop and call it a night.
As I pulled onto the bridge, a chill ran up my spine. The fog was heavy and the flashing amber lights were a reminder of the old man’s story. I pulled to the left and continued driving. I was keeping a sharp eye on the road and the overhanging limbs that had not been cut back.
The chill returned as I began to ponder the story again. After a few minutes, the chills turned to fear, and I began to increase my speed. You see I couldn’t come up with one reason why a gator would be the only reptile in the world that couldn’t climb a tree.
About the Author
My wife Betty and I live in a small western North Carolina. With 20-plus years as an over-the-road truck driver I’ve seen a great deal of our great country from coast to coast. One of the drawbacks to driving is that you spend a lot of time alone. I use this time to think and write my stories. My goals are to write and share my stories with everyone who has the imagination and desire to journey into the realm of reality.
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