Ride-Along

| August 31, 2001

I was sitting in the Consolidated Moon Base Terminal, near the Sea of Tranquility, the original Apollo moon-landing site, waiting for a driver to take me on a ride-along. I was here because my employer has always insisted that its writers have experience in trucking. The fact that my great-grandfather was a trucker in the latter half of the 20th century, and I had read his journals, did not carry any weight with my editor. There is no substitute for experience, I was told. Trucking is very different today. I was looking forward to the ride because my story idea was to compare the eras and show the contrast of 100 years.

A big man wearing a light blue jumpsuit and a cowboy hat strolled over and stuck his hand out.

“You the writer needin’ a ride?” he asked. When I answered, he handed me the duffel bag he was carrying. “I’m Harley,” he said. “You might want to change into these, you’ll be more comfortable. There’s a locker room over there. Then we’ll go do the walk around.”

We donned space suits and walked out into a huge open building with a metal floor. Too big to justify life support, it did have a pseudo-gravity of some kind. The staging bay was impressive, but not as eye-catching as Harley’s rig. From the proud Peterbilt logo on the scoop, to the polished titanium photon exhaust tubes, she was a beauty. The cockpit and living quarters of the power unit took up the first 15 feet, then tapered up to the massive 20-by-20-by-40 foot engine room, housing the Cat/Westinghouse Light Drive. Great-grandpa Bill would’ve asked the horsepower rating, but power is rated as thrust these days. Bill would have missed the tires, too, because this truck sat on an anti-grav cushion with no fifth wheel. The power unit latched directly onto the cargo unit – there are few tight turns in space. Harley explained that the standard cargo units were 40-by-40-by-150 feet long and were self-contained, with gravity and life-support, so they could accommodate different kinds of freight. We walked around the rig while Harley checked for loose fittings and peered into the access hatches. Satisfied with his inspection, we climbed through the airlock and into the cab.

The sleeper looked like a living room, with a sofa, complete audio/video entertainment center, kitchenette, plenty of storage and two bunks. “The bathroom’s in there,” he pointed, “but the shower’s on the blink. I wrote it up. We only run out to Pluto and back, so it’s no big deal. Stow your gear in the cabinet and we’ll head out.” He led me through a small door to the cockpit and we buckled up.

Harley placed his hand on a palm reader and waited a few seconds for two green lights to come on. “This here’s my log book,” he said. “The green light means I’m identified and have hours to run. The other light is a mini-physical. The engine won’t start without both green lights.” He slipped on a headset and flipped a few switches. A low hum and faint vibration ran through the cabin. He clicked on his mic. “Dispatch, this is Phantom 309, and we’re ready to roll.”

“Copy that, Phantom 309, RTR, be careful out there,” came the reply.

That call sign jiggled a dim memory from Billy’s journals, and I asked Harley about it.

“An old song from Red Sovine,” he answered. “I have a great collection of antique trucking songs, from Dave Dudley to Willie Nelson. Ever hear of them?”

“I think so,” I said. “I have some old journals from my great-grandpa who was a trucker a hundred years ago. I’m sure he mentioned them.”

Harley eased the throttle forward a notch and we coasted out of the building. He shut off the anti-grav, and as we lifted into the blackness of space, I heard him softly singing something like, “On the Road Again.”

“Lemme give you a little background so you’ll know what we’re doin’,” Harley said. “This is basically just a shuttle run ’cause it’s only 3.5 billion miles out to Pluto. At light speed, it’ll only take a little over five hours to get to the Star Mart Distribution Center, we’ll drop and hook and come right back. The big boys, the Star Trucks, don’t like to come in this close and try to maneuver around the planets to make the pick-ups. The locals make the pick-ups, and we shuttle the full cargo units out to the DC.

“As you know, our solar system is basically flat, like a dinner plate, and this plate is filled with nine planets, maybe 50 satellites, an asteroid belt and an untold number of comets running about. To avoid all this, we’ll shoot up a 30-degree arc and come out on the other side of Pluto’s orbit to Star Mart. The DC has a stationary fix, so it’s easy to find.”

Harley eased the throttle fully forward, and the rig became quiet. The visible stars no longer twinkled, just bright pinholes in the fabric of space.

“This is the boring part, nothing much to see,” Harley said. “Why don’t you catch a nap, and I’ll wake you when we get close.”

Ride-Along

| August 31, 2001

I was sitting in the Consolidated Moon Base Terminal, near the Sea of Tranquility, the original Apollo moon-landing site, waiting for a driver to take me on a ride-along. I was here because my employer has always insisted that its writers have experience in trucking. The fact that my great-grandfather was a trucker in the latter half of the 20th century, and I had read his journals, did not carry any weight with my editor. There is no substitute for experience, I was told. Trucking is very different today. I was looking forward to the ride because my story idea was to compare the eras and show the contrast of 100 years.

A big man wearing a light blue jumpsuit and a cowboy hat strolled over and stuck his hand out.

“You the writer needin’ a ride?” he asked. When I answered, he handed me the duffel bag he was carrying. “I’m Harley,” he said. “You might want to change into these, you’ll be more comfortable. There’s a locker room over there. Then we’ll go do the walk around.”

We donned space suits and walked out into a huge open building with a metal floor. Too big to justify life support, it did have a pseudo-gravity of some kind. The staging bay was impressive, but not as eye-catching as Harley’s rig. From the proud Peterbilt logo on the scoop, to the polished titanium photon exhaust tubes, she was a beauty. The cockpit and living quarters of the power unit took up the first 15 feet, then tapered up to the massive 20-by-20-by-40 foot engine room, housing the Cat/Westinghouse Light Drive. Great-grandpa Bill would’ve asked the horsepower rating, but power is rated as thrust these days. Bill would have missed the tires, too, because this truck sat on an anti-grav cushion with no fifth wheel. The power unit latched directly onto the cargo unit – there are few tight turns in space. Harley explained that the standard cargo units were 40-by-40-by-150 feet long and were self-contained, with gravity and life-support, so they could accommodate different kinds of freight. We walked around the rig while Harley checked for loose fittings and peered into the access hatches. Satisfied with his inspection, we climbed through the airlock and into the cab.

The sleeper looked like a living room, with a sofa, complete audio/video entertainment center, kitchenette, plenty of storage and two bunks. “The bathroom’s in there,” he pointed, “but the shower’s on the blink. I wrote it up. We only run out to Pluto and back, so it’s no big deal. Stow your gear in the cabinet and we’ll head out.” He led me through a small door to the cockpit and we buckled up.

Harley placed his hand on a palm reader and waited a few seconds for two green lights to come on. “This here’s my log book,” he said. “The green light means I’m identified and have hours to run. The other light is a mini-physical. The engine won’t start without both green lights.” He slipped on a headset and flipped a few switches. A low hum and faint vibration ran through the cabin. He clicked on his mic. “Dispatch, this is Phantom 309, and we’re ready to roll.”

“Copy that, Phantom 309, RTR, be careful out there,” came the reply.

That call sign jiggled a dim memory from Billy’s journals, and I asked Harley about it.

“An old song from Red Sovine,” he answered. “I have a great collection of antique trucking songs, from Dave Dudley to Willie Nelson. Ever hear of them?”

“I think so,” I said. “I have some old journals from my great-grandpa who was a trucker a hundred years ago. I’m sure he mentioned them.”

Harley eased the throttle forward a notch and we coasted out of the building. He shut off the anti-grav, and as we lifted into the blackness of space, I heard him softly singing something like, “On the Road Again.”

“Lemme give you a little background so you’ll know what we’re doin’,” Harley said. “This is basically just a shuttle run ’cause it’s only 3.5 billion miles out to Pluto. At light speed, it’ll only take a little over five hours to get to the Star Mart Distribution Center, we’ll drop and hook and come right back. The big boys, the Star Trucks, don’t like to come in this close and try to maneuver around the planets to make the pick-ups. The locals make the pick-ups, and we shuttle the full cargo units out to the DC.

“As you know, our solar system is basically flat, like a dinner plate, and this plate is filled with nine planets, maybe 50 satellites, an asteroid belt and an untold number of comets running about. To avoid all this, we’ll shoot up a 30-degree arc and come out on the other side of Pluto’s orbit to Star Mart. The DC has a stationary fix, so it’s easy to find.”

Harley eased the throttle fully forward, and the rig became quiet. The visible stars no longer twinkled, just bright pinholes in the fabric of space.

“This is the boring part, nothing much to see,” Harley said. “Why don’t you catch a nap, and I’ll wake you when we get close.”

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