It was unusually humid in southeastern Michigan, even for the Fourth of July. At least that’s what local folks kept telling me. I commented about the weather to the trucker sitting next to me in the restaurant of the small truckstop.
“It’s pretty hot,” he said matter-of-factly as he sipped his coffee. “But I’m from Texas so I’m used to the heat.”
“Yeah, I’m from Alabama, but I never get used to the heat and humidity,” I said as I gulped down a Pepsi. I had stopped at the truckstop hoping to wait out a long traffic delay at the Blue Water Bridge leading from Port Huron to Canada.
I judged that the trucker was in his late 60s. He reminded me a little of the late actor Walter Matthau. He really didn’t seem to be in the mood to talk, but I asked him about how long he thought the traffic might be tied up at the bridge. He said he’d been stuck in the traffic for two-and-half hours as he headed south out of Canada.
“It’s the extra security because of the Fourth,” he said without really looking at me. I started to finish my drink and grab a paper when he started talking again. “You know we could end all of this bull – if we weren’t so afraid of hurting everyone’s feelings. We’re becoming a nation of gutless cowards and I think the whole world is figuring that out.
“We’re our own worst enemy,” he continued. “We’re too busy fighting ourselves over stupid crap like whether or not we can say God in our own pledge to the flag. I bet old Bin Laden and Hussein are laughing their [butts] off at that.”
I may be wrong, but this driver struck me as the type who was usually a man of few words. But it was a holiday and he was far from home. I simply nodded.
“We got politicians who are making laws that don’t make a lick of sense,” he said. “They only need to pass one more law.”
“What law is that?” I asked.
“A mind your own business law,” he said. “It would end all our problems because not too many people can get into trouble if they’re minding their own business.”
I chuckled. “You’re probably right there.”
“Damn right,” he said. “Look at all this bull about our flag. People just don’t have respect for others. If you don’t like the pledge, you can at least be respectful of the people that do. It’s a matter of having some manners.”
He told me that he didn’t want me to get the wrong idea. He said he wasn’t anti-government or against the freedom of speech. “I love this country,” he said. A little later he told me he’d lost his only child in Vietnam. I asked what happened to him.
“It was my daughter,” he said. “She was a nurse.” He didn’t say anymore about her and I didn’t ask.
“I lost my wife about five years ago to cancer,” he finally said.
His wife didn’t like life on the road much, but she occasionally went with him after their daughter was killed. I listened for a tone of bitterness or self-pity. It just wasn’t there. Instead, he seemed to be reflecting on his past – a time and place of familiar faces where he felt more comfortable.
“Do you get home much or do you stay on the road?” I asked.
“I’m get home every chance I get,” he said. He told me he had started dating a woman from his hometown recently and he planned to start slowing down to spend some time with her. “She’s a nice lady who likes to fish,” he said. He planned to take her to the Gulf of Mexico as soon as he got unloaded.
He got up and said he had to run. “Be safe,” I said.
I left a few minutes later and noticed the trucker pulling a small, worn flag from under his seat and taping it to the mounting on the driver’s side mirror of his tractor. I waved and left.
That night I watched news reports of the shooting at the Los Angeles airport and updates on the war against terrorism before turning to the movie, The Patriot, at my hotel in Port Huron. As I watched the flag-waving epic, I thought of the trucker whom I had met earlier in the day and felt a sense of security that there are many patriots out there on the roadways as I drifted off to sleep.