About the Author
Jerry Prince lives in Franklin, Tenn., with his wife of 40 years, Maxine. He hauls hazardous materials for Armor Environmental out of Mt. Pleasant, Tenn. He has two children, Nancy Kas and Jeff Prince. Nancy’s husband is in the Army and leaves soon for his second tour in Iraq. Jeff lives in Columbia, Tenn. Jerry also has six grandchildren. He has been writing stories for 10 years and likes to write about what he knows: truck driving. His favorite pastimes are playing golf, fishing and spending time with his grandchildren.
It was my last run. Retirement was staring me in the face. I was going into the Orange Groves of Florida, which would bring my truck-driving career full circle.
This was where I started, hauling watermelons with an old “White Mustang,” pulling a homemade reefer with ice blocks and an old gas engine that smoked and choked all the way up the East Coast. Now the reefer units are computerized, and tractors are more like motor homes.
I have listened to a lot of old drivers sitting around talking about the “good old days.” I think the best part of those so-called “good old days” was the fellowship among the drivers and the many friends that I made along the way. Nowadays you have to move so far and so fast that you hardly have time to say hello to anyone.
I thought back to when I started in the melon fields. When night came, we would get our trucks in line to be loaded the next day. Then we would build a big fire to cook with. That’s when everyone would contribute something to the pot and we would have “rainbow stew.” I think it was called that because everything under the rainbow was in it.
More often than not, someone would break out a guitar or a fiddle, and the night would be filled with music, laughter and tall tales until late, when everyone would begin looking for a place to bed down.
Finding a place to sleep in Florida at night with no such thing as air-conditioning in a truck was a problem in itself. If you tried to sleep in your truck with the windows rolled up, the heat would get you, and if you left the windows down, the mosquitoes would pick your bones.
My solution to this dilemma was to sleep on top of my trailer, where the wind would keep most of the mosquitoes at bay.
Though it was fun at the time, I would not swap my air conditioner and my stereo for it today.
During this trip, I was dipping in and out of deep thought, occasionally looking around and wondering what happened to the last hundred miles. I found myself thinking, “This is my last time to do this.”
Some thoughts I felt good about and others gave me a sad, melancholy feeling.
The day I left home, my wife was putting together my retirement party, and the man that wanted to buy my truck would be there to pick it up when I returned. The finality of it all began sinking in deeper and harder now than I ever expected.
As I exited Interstate 75 onto the Wildwood ramp, I could see the huge truckstops, motels, truck washes and chrome shops where once was a dirt field with a diner and a house trailer that the freight brokers occupied.
What I was amazed to see among all this was an old rickety fruit stand with hand-painted cardboard signs sitting in a small dirt lot. The rusty tin roof over the fruit stand was bent like someone holding up his hands to surrender.