“Adversity introduces us to ourselves.”
I like that saying. Life is easy when things are easy. What happens when life gets difficult ultimately defines you. These ideas would soon have new even more personal meaning.
I had set the cell alarm for 4:15 in order to catch the 5am ride to Salt Lake. I wondered before I went to sleep if I would hear it, or ignore it. There should have been a “c” for ‘both”. It was not out of total laziness that I kept sleeping, although that WAS probably a factor. It was another of those weird feelings, this one telling me, “Stay in bed, things will be fine.”
At about 8:30, I rolled out of bedroll and made my way to the coffee machine. This day had a different feel than I had gotten used to. There was a mild scent of purpose, and an out- of- place feeling of calm about me; at least compared to the last few days.
I resumed my position at the table facing the truck drivers. I had not even bothered with the passenger cars since I had gotten there, or even tried the on- ramp. I was truck hunting. I liked my little perch right there where they could ALL see me when they walked inside.
Hitching with truckers’ aint what it used to be. There was a time in a simpler day when they would be happy to pick people up. Now, due to insurance liabilities (of course) it is a terminable offense for those driving for trucking companies to give rides, although some still do. Forget them pulling over though. Owner- operators are a different story. They OWN their own trucks, pay their own insurance, and therefore are not beholden to company ‘policy’. They however do have to beware of the Point of Entries, and can run the risk of scrutinizing POE officials if they see you and decide to check paperwork etc. I understood all of that, and never harassed ANY of the drivers going inside with the “Hey bud, how boutta ride, man?” I had various signs on my pack, which was on the table next to me, so I figured that if they wanted, or could have a rider, they saw me. I have a ton of respect for these people anyhow, especially since diesel prices have shot through the roof. They are the ones who are literally on the front lines of this economic storm. If you do not believe me, hang out at a truck stop and chat with a few… I’ll spare you the lengthy rant… for now! This day is interesting enough.
As I was seated there eating sandwiches a man had given me the day before, I saw a young woman hovering around between my smoking and looking like she wanted to sit down at the table with me. Yesterday I probably would have let it go, but my menstrual cycle had eased a bit this morning, so I invited her to sit down.
Ciel appeared at first sight to be either an athlete, or a farm girl who had bailed much hay in her life. Quite sturdy; NOT fat. She appeared to be in her mid 20’s and was very friendly, out going and almost uncomfortably open! She loved to talk, but when she spoke, I noticed impairment; though not one that was severe. She immediately reminded me of the Cerebral Palsy- inflicted character from the 80’s sit- com “Facts of Life”.
Ciel said that she lived in Salt Lake City, was a Special Needs teacher, and had driven up to McCammon only because she loved the area. She liked the truck stop because she enjoyed people watching, something I had learned to appreciate in my near 24 hours there.
She told of going atop the small mountain across I-15, and just sitting. She would just watch animals and spoke enthusiastically about a family of skunks she had encountered. Then she told about just watching traffic and then the stars. She seemed captivated by it all, and had no interest in justifying it, which greatly appealed to me because had she tried, to someone who did not understand, it would have been useless. She also said she hoped to move there soon because she said she ‘just LOVED McCammon’. She spoke with such passion about the place that I immediately knew what she meant and, although I did not feel the need to tell her so, the same thing had drawn me to Santa Fe. I can’t explain that to you to this day.
Then, the conversation got interesting.
Remember how I said she was open? She LOVED to swear! She swore almost TOO much, and that says something coming from me! She seemed to have a very soft verbal- filter; just said what was on her mind.
She seemed curious and often amazed by what I told her of the trip, especially the train, of course. She asked the typical ‘how do you trust people’ questions, and seemed to be encouraged when I repeated the now tired: “I’ve yet to meet ONE asshole, knock on wood.” We began to chat about the whys of the trip, and expectations v. how we REALLY want to live and the idea that it is really up to us to define our lives and ourselves. I talked about looking for answers from other people and the realization that all the answers we all seek come from within through first learning to be honest with OURSELVES. The hardest thing there is to do. No, the irony of the last few days was NOT lost on me at the time. This conversation was needed at exactly that moment, and, I was setting myself up.
The first story she told me was about being a lesbian in Utah. In addition, I had nailed the athlete part. She had been a softball player, and apparently a good one. The two connected beyond the pathetic stereotype. Ciel told me that she and several other women in her family just “liked women more than men”. Not an isolated case. When she was a sophomore in high school, she had been cut from the softball team because she was gay. Her parents were hardcore LDS (Mormons) and hated the fact that she is a lesbian, but apparently hated SOMEONE ELSE hating it more than THEY hated it. Funny how that works. In short, they almost went batshit on the school and sued; decided to move her to another school instead.
She finishes high school, and is on the verge of getting softball scholarships to schools in Florida and Montana. Then, one of the most timely, and intense things I have ever heard first- hand.
Ciel had mentioned several times that she had been in a car accident. She was about to go off to college, at 18, when the accident happened.
Ciel was riding home in a Blazer with the woman that she repeatedly referred to as her ‘wife’, and the woman’s two boys; ages nine & six. The children were buckled in while the adults were not. I do not recall from where they were returning, but do know they were in a very isolated part of desert. She said that they were having a wonderful day, and that at the time of the accident were laughing so hard that they could barely contain themselves.
Neither of them saw a VERY large rock in the road and they slammed into it, throwing both women in the front seat into the ceiling, so hard Ciel said that it severely gashed her head. The next thing that she remembered was her wife being unable to stop because she had lost the brakes. There were closely spaced bumps in the road, and since there were no brakes, she lost control of the Blazer and it began to roll, throwing both women from the truck.
Ciel flew through windshield and apparently much further than the other woman. The next thing she remembered was having no feeling in her body, unable to move. She said she saw the truck rolling toward her with the other woman was in its path. Then she saw the truck roll onto her, stopping just short of Ciel.
I was sickened. How could someone experience something like that? Yet, the story was not over.
The kids, who were buckled into the backseat, managed to free themselves. Apparently, her wife had not died instantly. The 9- year old tried to help his mother, and was taking her pulse when she passed away. Ciel told of how this child closed his mother’s eyes after she died. I could not even fathom that. THEN this kid then removed two blankets from the truck, used one to cover his mom, and the other to cover Ciel to try to prevent sunstroke.
A NINE year old.
Ciel witnessed all of this, then began to lose consciousness. She described her right sandal as being ‘up by her ear’, having difficulty breathing due to a collapsed lung, fluid collecting in her abdominal area, and her skull being ‘opened’ in four places from the windshield, not to mention a broken hip, clavicle and several ribs.
This kid had lost one of his shoes in the wreck but knew he had to walk, since they were in the middle of nowhere. Ciel then told of how he removed one of the shoes from his mother’s body, put the six- year old on his back and walked for 2 ½ hours until he found help.
A NINE year old!
Incredible. Rarely am I that captivated by someone’s story, but hearing her tell this one kept me completely riveted. How could someone experience all of that, and come out the other side?
Then… the lightning bolt of perspective I had been waiting for.
Todd, you are a whiny little bitch.
I told her that too: “I’m a whiny little bitch, aren’t I?” She laughed. I didn’t.
It all became clear, and all at once. How in God’s name could I justify ANY of my pathetic little complaints? How could I whine about having a bit of trouble getting out of Idaho? How could I piss and moan about DOING what I CHOSE to do in following an idea, when there are people everywhere who DO NOT have the option?
The complaining stopped. So did the chastising of myself. I now realized why I was there, and this incredible sense of resignation, faith, and some weird sort of CONFIDENCE, came over me. Just… calm.
Ciel then told me the story of how she recovered which ties into the first line of this entry. What you do in the face of adversity DEFINES you. I had experienced no REAL adversity yet, I came to realize.
She was in a coma for 3 ½ weeks, and while unconscious, says she first heard the doctors tell her parents that she was going to be a ‘vegetable’ and ask them what color wheel chair she’d want. Then she showed me something I understood, and showed how she was sitting at this table at a truck stop in Idaho: defiant ANGER! She said to herself, “I’m 18 fucking years old! There’s no way I’m spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair!”
How many people would have simply rolled over and died, giving in to self- pity? She told ‘fate’ to go screw itself, and not only survived, but also recovered almost completely. How?
Call it fire, spirit, rage, discontentment, rebellion; whatever you like. THAT is the essence of life. Not settling. Not accepting what is dictated to you, expected of, and expected FOR you. The guts to tap into something you KNOW is right, in the face of everyone telling you you are wrong. Then, having the courage to move past the mental masturbation and fight the battles to get what YOU expect out of life.
THAT defines you as a person.
Not the toys, “career”, bank account, witty personality, or quantity of friends. I saw these things personified in this “odd little person”. The exact things that I value the most, and find the least, in people. The things I fight to achieve, often failing miserably, in myself. I began to realize that this “odd little person” was anything BUT odd. She was rare. A very special human being I was in the company of. The kind that mirrors the person you aim to be, while at the same time showing you just how far you still need to go, despite all the flowery compliments you receive along the way for even trying. A person I “chanced” to meet at an Idaho truck stop? I knew better.
I told her EXACTLY how impressed I was, and that I was thrilled to be having this conversation with her. I believe that set her back a bit, not knowing what to think of that. I told her that surviving the ordeal was astounding enough, but to have the strength to fight, then come through the other side with a positive outlook and to be able to appreciate the little things in life that are REAL. These things elude most of us.
At this I felt embarrassment when I naturally thought back to some of the people who had told me that I am some kind of an inspiration to THEM. That I am doing something that they wished they could do, but lacked either the courage or the opportunity. I literally felt shame in that, especially after all the self- indulgent pity of the past week.
I came away from that conversation as though someone had pushed my Reset Button. Like the old Nintendos that used to freeze up, and you would need to blow the game cartridges out! It is also remarkable that this had the effect of forcing me take it easier on MYSELF as well. I quit stressing whether I wound up in Denver or Montana. I quit stressing the money thing, stopped beating myself up, and recaptured the role of passenger rather than trying to intellectually- hijack the trip.
Life was once again good, and I did not care when I got out of Idaho, or where to. (Still NOT Utah!)
We sat there chatting for a couple more hours, seemingly recharging each others mental batteries. She said that she expected to be returning to Salt Lake either that night or the next day, and that if I was still there she would take me along and drop me at another truck stop. That sounded good to me thinking I would still be there!
She left to have her Sunday, and I sat there writing and trying to process everything. The financial issues ‘happened’ to ease a bit too through a surprise phone conversation, and I now had two weeks taken care of. Things just started to seemingly fall into place.
Later on, and seemingly just for effect, I had another one of these conversations although not one that was nearly as intense. Lori, a girl who worked inside, came out to smoke and started chatting with me because I had now become a familiar face. She told me the story of how she and her husband had moved there after he had been ‘blown up’ in an oil- field accident. They needed to be closer to his doctors, in SLC, and would find out in August if he had a broken back.
All together now: Todd, you… whiny…
The rest of the afternoon, I spent chatting with a couple of drivers, both of whom were interesting. The first, an Owner/ Operator from Murray, Kentucky. One of the ‘common sense Conservatives” I was referring to in another post. We spent about 3 hours just talking about things; economics, sociology, politics, name it. He was a true independent and hated BOTH the left and right. I liked him immediately. He had been sitting at the truck stop almost as long as I had because he had gotten to Idaho ahead of schedule and could not drop his load until Monday morning. He said that if he were going somewhere that ‘made sense’ for me, he would give me a lift. I was quite happy and hopeful about that!
Next was Richard, a driver from Butte, Montana. He was an interesting character. VERY politically and socially aware; also a blatant racist and conspiracy theorist.
He is convinced that Obama is a Muslim operative planted to destroy America.
Other than that, a very delightful person! Once I got him to cut through the xenophobic and conspiratorial nonsense, he was quite fun to debate with, and had some remarkable insights into the effect the price of gas will have on the economy once more trucking companies begin to cut back or fold. He was also quite interested in the idea that I was ‘unplugging and watching’ events unfold. Unplugging from a system that he agrees is rigged, and does not amount to much more than indentured servitude at- best, and slavery at worst. Yes, I WILL spare the rant… but THAT one IS coming! He encouraged me to head to Kalispell, Montana to look up the survivalists he claimed are thriving in the area. I took note.
We spent a few hours talking as well, since he too had to wait until the next morning. He went off to sleep after giving me a pack of smokes unexpectedly. I tried to drop the hint that I’d take a ride if he were to offer it, but it was clear that he, despite his anarchistic attitudes, wasn’t going to violate company policy! I thought that was funny.
Toward bedtime, I decided to try my luck out by US-30, and while I did not get a ride, I did have a nice conversation with a Mormon truck driver who seemed very interested in how the ‘outside world’ views Mormons. I bit my tongue. He seemed like a very nice guy who was also interested in how it is to hitchhike in 2008, and the people I’ve met to date. In the end, he offered me a ride, but it was not even to Salt Lake. I had visions of the Mormon compound in Big Love, so politely declined!
I gave up on finding a ride at about 10:30, feeling oddly confident about my chances for Monday. It had been a rather remarkable, enlightening, and intense day despite the lack of real “events”. I changed spots from the night before, choosing a spot next to US-30 that was beneath some trees to shade me from the parking lot lights. After a pair of feral cats hissed at me as their welcome to the night’s nest, I fell asleep quite fast, and slept nicely all the way through the night.
Travel stories and the occasional rantings of an evolving cynic who's simply in search of a little human authenticity. Tales include hitching across the Rockies with an eventual cop-killer, a weekend with a terminally-ill billionaire, meeting my siblings for the first time, trips to Mexico, and scores of random people from Mass.-Slab City-Chiapas who are often even more interesting...for better or worse!
"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan