The big rig pulled over on the side of the road an screeched to a stop. The driver looked down at me with a half-tired smile. Relief spread across bearing in the form of a smile that seemed to give the driver a sense of comfort.
I figured he would welcome the company, someone to share random thoughts with as the miles rolled by; similarly I looked forward to his company. After all, he was my temporary savior, rescuing me from whatever dangers might accompany the advent of dusk and eventual nightfall.
"Where you headed?" he yelled down from the cab.
"Oh, as far as you're going toward Sacramento."
"Okay. Climb aboard!"
He pushed a lever that shoved open the passenger door.
Eyeing the entry with curiosity, I hesitated. I had never ridden in an 18-wheeler before, and the first of the three mini metal stairs was so high as to be a considerable challenge for my short legs to manage. So as I swung by overloaded backpack across my back, I knit my brows with concern that I might fall backwards. I flashed a quick glance at the driver not hiding an obvious look of desperation.
The etiquette of the open road remained elusive to me. I quickly learned that such common courtesies as opening doors for ladies, the kind of courtesies one takes for granted growing up in the South, were not necessarily extended to hitchhikers.
He remained unmoved. I was left to my own devices.
"Come on, little lady. If you are out here hitchhiking by yourself and all, I'm certainly not gonna go out of my way to make it easy for you. You've proven you can get along by yourself. Now go ahead, get on in. I got places to be." The voice was kind but firm.
At his good-natured prodding, I grabbed hold of a metal post on my right as I placed my foot on the first high step. The backpack jilted to one side and I pictured myself reeling backward and hitting the curb. Would he offer assistance then? Or would he leave me bleeding on the side of the road? Any rules that seemed to apply to everyday life didn't seem to fit out here in the middle of nowhere. At every new mile I was writing a whole new rulebook for living.
But I recovered.
A new rule: Do it yourself or it doesn't get done. My muscles sprang into action. A couple more steps and I was comfortably situated in the large passenger seat. At his behest I tossed my backpack in the back and soon I was mobile again, glad to have proven once again the trustworthiness of strangers.
But I was even more glad that I was getting closer to my next destination, my hope being that each stop along my journey would clue me in to the secrets of living a life unshackled by what I perceived as a smothering regimen of strictly defined roles - roles that never seemed to apply to me.
I wanted a life based on both self-affirmation and connection with others on a genuine elemental plane. At this moment, bobbing up and down to the bump and grind of the highway and the roar of the truck's motor felt as elemental as anything I had ever experienced.
The trucker's burly arms gripped the giant steering wheel with ease. He was confident and quiet, allowing me at first to absorb the newness of it all, viewing the road from a whole new height and filling me with exhilaration.
I trusted this man. He was easy to talk to and knew where he was going. And when it comes down to it, I thought, aren't these the two most important qualities that any human being could possess? The ability to communicate and the positive drive of having a goal?
Then he asked me the usual question - where I was from, why I had taken off, who was my family.
Then, in the same low-key, mater-of-fact manner, he asked, "Ever had sex with a trucker?"
- More to Come -