Editor’s note: “No More Goodbyes” is the third-place winner in the 2008 Truckers News Mark Twain Essay Contest.
By Barbara White
The trouble with goodbye is it doesn’t end. After all the waving and after the kids have yelled “Bye, Dad” about a hundred times as you accelerated down the block, after your wife crosses her arms so she looks like she’s cold in your rearview mirror. But you know she’s really just hugging herself to keep the lonely away. After that final phone call when you’re less than a mile down the road, and she says, “I just wanted to make sure you remembered your phone,” like she’s taking care of details and not really touching base so she doesn’t crumble under the weight of being a single parent again.
After all that, you’d like to sit back and get into the groove of driving.
I’m one of those guys who always hated leaving home. You know how it is. You’re sitting around, doing what you like – not doing what you don’t like. You’re grilling steaks when you feel like it, and when you don’t, you’re headed to the bar for a burger and beer, and you meet up with everybody you’ve missed for the last three months, like a quarterly meeting except nobody cares about profit sharing. And since everybody had to buy a round, we all get drunker the more people show up. Old home week.
And then the day comes when you get out of the shower and put everything you use into a duffel bag. Shampoo, check. Deodorant, check. Shaving kit, check. You drag your heels and double-check everything – twice. The road doesn’t call, but your dispatcher does, and you get into your truck and against your better nature, you leave all your worldly comforts behind. Well, except for AM/FM radio and your CB. The old-time lifeline to civilization.
In the old days, each truckstop was a little oasis. A place to stand up and stretch, for one thing. My first truck was on old cab-over with a doghouse between the seats and a cubby hole in the back that served as the sleeper. Most of today’s truck drivers are young, so they have no idea what it was like to sit cramped under the wheel with the engine roaring directly under your seat. In those days, a truckstop meant a human connection. You could call your dispatcher, call your delivery place, call your girlfriend if you had one. And if you had no one to call, there was always the waitress whose primary jobs were to supply you with coffee and conversation. Food was optional.
Today I have satellite radio, satellite telephone and a satellite computer system that keeps track of every move and every mile. I’m so connected my dispatcher knows when I need to make a pit stop. I once drove by my cousin’s house, and there he was, mowing around his mailbox, so I stopped on the shoulder, and he asked me to pull on up to the house for some coffee. Well, I took him up on the coffee, but I had to leave the truck along the road. My eye-in-the-sky travel cop would have been all over me if I had moved one-tenth mile off my appointed route. Can you believe that? But that’s what I’m saying – nowadays we’re so connected we can’t leave anything behind.
In the old days, the cab of your truck was your world, and you had little connection points where you touched base before getting back into your own little world and driving again. Goodbyes meant something then. They were harsher, and they lasted. Which I hated. You know what it’s like to leave your pregnant wife home alone? It’s even worse to leave her with toddlers.
Well, these days, my kids are grown up. They’re teenagers, so there is very little waving at the back of the truck when I leave home. And the thing is, we say goodbye, but I can’t really leave them behind. Right now, I’d like nothing more than to get into my groove and eat the time away, one sunflower seed at a time. But tonight is prom, and my wife just sent me a picture of some beautiful young woman who used to be my laughing, chubby baby, and she’s standing next to some kid in a tux, and the only thing worse than not being with her would be standing there, watching her grow up and walk out the door on her big date.
I guess the down side to technology is seeing everything you’re missing.
The hardest part about having kids is watching them leave. She’s probably dancing by now, and knowing her, she’s laughing. I think my favorite thing about my girl is how she can laugh. Did I tell you I hate that kid she’s going out with? I can’t believe my wife even let her go with him. He looks like a punk.
Oh, great, phone’s ringing again. It’ll be another photo showing me how much fun she’s having. Wait a minute – it’s a text. Well, I’m glad I finally learned how to use this phone. It’s Amy! I hope everything’s all right. If that kid