Silent nights

For me the loneliest time of the day is between 9 p.m. and midnight. That is usually when Wes takes a nap, after which he drives till dawn. I try to lie down with him, but often I get up and sit silently in the passenger seat, as I am now.

Tonight, everything appears gray at the thruway stop. It is very foggy out. The yard next to the parking lot is littered with fast-food wrappers. Trucks are pulling in and pulling out on both my right and left. It is an in-between time of day. It is when the doldrums set in. If I let them get the best of me, I will quickly become homesick for my Boston lifestyle. My cure for this restless feeling has always been a good book, particularly a travel book or one that takes place in a far-off land. If the truck is turned off and Wes is sleeping, I continue my travels via the written page.

A couple of hours earlier this evening, we were getting loaded at a paper mill in Versailles, Conn. Knowing how long a driver can wait to be loaded at this location, Wes wisely stopped earlier for a late lunch “‘to go”‘ – a top-notch taco salad from Harry’s Market. As we pulled up onto the long driveway of the mill, the smell of hot peppers and salsa filled the cab.

The number of trucks in line to be loaded was even more than Wes had expected. After turning to the correct CB channel to get line-up orders, he broke into his sour cream-topped meal.

Many of the drivers were suffering from that in-between feeling, the doldrums. Some sat starring deadpan out their driver’s side window. Others looked like those dashboard dolls with wobbly heads, but with their eyes half closed. Most were losing money. Every minute the clock ticked by while they waited to be loaded was an unpaid minute. Unfortunately, several of these drivers had already clocked hours of unpaid time.

Wes Qualcommed into dispatch to let them know the situation. Dispatch called shipping and bumped up his already late load to be next. Wes hurriedly finished his salad, sharing the final spoonfuls with me. After returning from inside the warehouse with his papers, he told me that several drivers in the lounge had pulled in late last night. The vending machine they had been getting food from had lost its appeal and the local pizza place was closed. Wes told them how he always stops at Harry’s first. He said, “I never know how long I am going to have to wait to get loaded, so I always get ‘to go’ before I pull in.”

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Loaded, we drove back through the yard. As we rolled past security, three more trucks pulled in. Wes turned to me and said, “Can you guess what they are thinking?” I replied, “That they should have gotten take-out.” Wes and I laughed, mostly at our ability to so easily humor each other.

Wes drove a hundred or so miles before pulling into the thruway stop so he could catch up on his sleep.

The fog is now as thick as pea soup. A soft rain slides down the windshield. A train horn blows in the distance. I am suddenly captivated by the absolute silence inside the cab. Wes says the simplicity of a sleeper is a comfort. Sitting in the passenger seat, hearing his restful breathing, I feel great comfort.

Looking around, I see the two books I brought with me to read this weekend. In a few moments, I will be either accompanying a Chinese rice farmer up the spine of a mountain or joining an iceberg expedition to the Antarctic. But first, I need one last cup of joe and a bag of honey-wheat pretzels to share with Wes later. I pull on my boots and climb out of the cab. I run between a row of parked trucks and across the slick lot into the cinnamon bun smell of the gift shop.

Susan Dyer, a freelance writer for more than 20 years, has been sharing the cab and the open road for a year now with her partner Wes Schilling – an owner-operator for more than 25 years.