Putting The Hammer Down

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Trucking on I-80 in the Keystone one night, a car appeared below my door. The dome light came on, showing a woman naked from the waist down, her feet on the dash, her legs spread. The male driver kept pace with me, then sped up and pulled over on the berm, leaving me room to stop. I kept going.

Most drivers ignore such offers. Unfortunately, because some don’t, all of us are faced with a climate of fear in an occupation that already has more than its share of risks.

I learned that the hard way one June day. I was fueling in Texarkana, when a tall man with a bag on his shoulder and a shining gold tooth told me he had been there for days after hitching from San Francisco. He was desperate to move. I said OK.

As we drove, he told me how he had worked in San Francisco’s Glory Hole, where men paid for anonymous sex with men. I declined his offer to service me, but he was big enough to get his way if he wanted. As long as I was driving, he couldn’t get to me unless he had a weapon. Either he didn’t or he just got tired of asking. I let him out in Arkansas.

I didn’t pick up hitchhikers after that. I didn’t let men who “just wanted to talk” into my truck. I quit answering late-night knocks on my door. After a woman surprised me while I was checking my tires, I began to carry a hammer whenever I checked tires or if I had to park in the back rows of truck stops or rest areas.

Once I was up early for coffee at a Mickey D’s plaza in Wisconsin, checking my tires. I had forgotten my hammer. A beautiful woman got out of the next truck and asked for a “date.” No, I said, but I’ll buy you coffee.

At the table she told me how she had two kids and an old grandma back in a Toledo, Ohio, motel, waiting for her to come home so they could eat. I gave her a 10. She told me how some prostitutes hide condoms in their mouths and apply them orally on clients who otherwise refuse protection. I told her about the hammer I usually carried. Yeah, she said, there wasn’t much she could do to protect herself from that risk.

True enough, as I learned at a Dallas truck stop. Ten minutes into sleep the driver’s door opened – I must have been really tired because I forgot to lock up – and a woman got in. “That man in the res’raun’ – he give me 10 dolluhs to french Mr. Deltus,” she said with a heavy accent. “You Mr. Deltus?” No, I said.

She could have slit my throat before I had a chance to get out of my bag, zipped up to my chin on that cold night. But she sat behind the wheel, repeatedly talking about Mr. Deltus and did I want a french even if I weren’t Mr. Deltus. Finally she left.

A bit shaken, I went into the restaurant. On my way back to the truck, I saw an ambulance waiting. Then I saw the prostitute on a stretcher, blood gushing from a hole in her forehead that could have been made with a hammer. Maybe it was Mr. Deltus. Maybe it was just a driver who, like me, forgot to lock his door but decided to use that hammer kept for self-defense.

Some guys don’t carry hammers. They carry guns. As do some of the working girls and their pimps. That makes a high-risk scene for everyone who spends the night at certain truck stops or rest areas. In a sense, it’s no different than the drug problem; if there were no willing customers, there would be no problem. Too bad undisciplined drivers are so willing to take risks that they jeopardize safety for all of us.