Long-haul literary: Former owner-operator’s memoir of the life
It seems I’ve always been in search of solitude, my own unquestioned best way.
Grade-school summers were spent alone, riding to the ends of city bus lines just to see what was there; watching ships unload at old wooden piers; reading in musty public libraries, going everywhere in the world by book, awed by issues of Life magazine from the 1930s and 1940s.
Latchkey kid. Practically an only child. Bound to isolation, bound to himself, alone even among friends and family. Alone, but never lonely.
Later, there were solo backpacking trips in the Sierras; solo weekends on Oregon beaches; a summer-long solo trek through Utah and Arizona; a road trip east across the country and back through Canada — solo, most of the time; week-long solo escapes to the rain-shadowed Owens Valley and its towns nestled beneath the high wall of the Sierra Nevada. I often thought, Move to Bishop — you’ll find something to do there. It’s small. It’s perfect. Instead, ever unsure about where to go and what to do for a living, I registered for one aimless college semester after another.
Professors’ notes, written on term papers. Canaries in my coal mine.
“You’ve done a great job. Don’t have the heart to knock you for being late.”
“Good job, but it’s late. Try to focus on your work — you’ll get more done. I wish you had more confidence in yourself.”
“Your work is very good. I hurt because you can’t turn things in on time. You need help.”
Who me? Listening to advice and counsel was for other people. Learning from mistakes was for other people. Getting on in life was for other people.
I often left term papers, homework assignments, songs, and short stories unfinished. Sustained by the tension of works-in-progress, I was always busy being busy. I never went from “I’m doing something” to “I’ve done something. What’s next?” The projects were trustworthy companions and I took good care of my friends and I took good care of my friends, kept them, neat and tidy, in manila folders arranged and rearranged on my desk every day. If something was troubling or difficult, it went to the bottom of the stack. I didn’t understand that you stay with a job until it’s done, even if it makes you uncomfortable; that you set goals for yourself and don’t make promises you won’t keep; that you turn your work in on time; that you pay attention.
I put aside thoughts of the Owens Valley and began to think I’d look for a town on the Oregon Coast, get away from college and keep away from it. Learn carpentry. Build houses. Work on fishing boats. I was always going to do those things.
I grew a bear, hid behind it for 20 years, shaved the thing off a few months before I got into trucking, and saw a pale clown in the mirror, a con artist who talked about honesty while he held the truth at arm’s length. I didn’t know him at all. When had he started running in ever-tightening circles, making the same mistakes again and again, repeating his life’s cycles? I didn’t want to deal with that.
Hauling a load across Wyoming one night, I started thinking about bullies I’d known. The teenage foursome that beat me up when I was nine. The kids who punched other kids at recess. The big kid who always wanted my grade-school lunch money. The bigger kid who borrowed my prized Rawlings baseball glove, refused to give it back, and threatened to brain me with a bat if I told anyone. The junior high school gym teacher who brought a camera into the boys’ shower room, snapped the shutter nine or ten times, and warned everyone not to tell. The guy who liked to hit his employees in the stomach — hard but not too hard, he was just fooling around, right?