Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lessons from the Truck Driver: A Thanksgiving Story

      He'd had it. She was never going to learn. His patience was spent. He was hot. He was tired and he was hungry! He'd done his fatherly duty for the day. Hell, for the year.
He. Was. Done!
      It made no sense to him. Shouldn't this skill be in her blood? In her DNA? He did this for a living.       Driving.
      He'd been doing it so long he was sure he knew how to do it before he could walk. It had been that long.
      Nope. It didn't make any sense whatsoever. He tried to think of all the reasons she could not do it. The skill must have skipped her. It was all that book reading. It was her Nana's fault. She'd never learned how to drive. It was her mother's fault. She spoiled her by not forcing her to go out, get in the car and move it. She was hard headed. Like her mother.
      Her 11 year old brother could do it for Christ's sake. It must be a girl thing. Boys were better at this kind of thing. Her brother was 11. He could drive.
     But then again, her mother didn't have any problem learning how to drive that new car he bought countless summers ago.
     He recalled the look on her face when he surprised her with a brand new car. This daughter was only eight at the time and the life of a long haul trucker was hard on a family. They would be able to visit him and he was sure the look she gave him was pure bliss at the prospect of driving all the kids across California to visit him.
      It took her five minutes to learn how to drive.
(That's what he remembered. )
 Her older sister never had a problem learning how to drive a stick shift. He took her out one time. That's it.
(Yeah, that's what he remembered, too.)

      What was so hard about driving anyway?  You put your foot on the clutch. You put it in first. You give it some gas.  You release the clutch. And you go.

     But each time she tried... Sputter...sputter...jerk...jerk...sputter... jerk.
     Each and every time she tried it the engine died another violent death and this time his head nearly hit the dashboard.
     He was calling it a day. Her mother could try teaching her now. He didn't care that she couldn't maneuver a stick shift. His neck and back were aching, he had a pounding headache and he had not sworn the entire time. That was good for him.
      Patience did not come easily to him. He wasn't raised that way. He didn't know how to be gentle, kind and encouraging. In his world no one ''taught" you how to drive. You just did it.
Like breathing.
      He'd had his fill of abuse from the little red car. The sweat was running down his back, soaking the seat covers and he was becoming delirious with hunger.
     Now, every time she killed the engine he was sure the little red car was mocking him.
Every sputter was a tease. "I'm going...I'm going...IIIIIIIIIIIII'mmmm goiiiiiiiiing...
Psych! Ha! Ha! Haaaaaaaaa!"
 That last time did it for him. He was hungry for turkey.
 And he needed a beer! Hell, he deserved a beer!
      "F@#&* it!" He muttered.

      She caught several other swear words slipping under his breath as he opened and slammed the car door. Where did he think he was going?
     She watched as he walked down the dirt road waving his arms in the air, swearing at some invisible passerby. As he made his way down the road she made out the words, "That's it. I'll meet you in town. I quit!"

      "Where the hell are you going?" he heard her shout out at him from the driver's seat window.
Without turning around he yelled back at her. "When you learn how to get it out of first you can come pick me up. I'll probably get to town before you. I QUIT!"

      Like a bull being released from it's confines, she flung the door open and ran after him yelling obscenities to the back of his head. "Quit? Quit? I'll walk to town. You can drive the frickin' car. I didn't even want this damn car! I QUIT!"

     This stopped him for a fraction of a second.
     When she caught up to him he turned to face her. Both stopped to stand their ground.
 Both readied themselves for a battle. She with fists on hips. He with limbs flying all around.
Punctuated with hand signals.
     Both were primed for a battle.
     While they held their stances they spewed obscenities at each other so profane they could burn the hair off of a passing feral dog. (If one dared come near.)
     It was a good thing they were out in the middle of the desert.

     After a few minutes of this they had exhausted their repertoire of profanities and themselves.
     They noticed the desert sun beating down on them; broiling their heads.

     There was a pause.

     He stared at her with amber eyes that flickered a challenge?
     She glared back at him through fogged up spectacles. She pushed them back up her nose as they slipped down her sweaty face.
      She caught the twitch of a smile tease her from the corner of his mouth. How dare he think this a joke! She glared at him even harder.
Ann Wilson's voice sang through her head...If looks could kill. You'd be lying on the floor...
     Quite often the most appropriate songs ran through her sub-conscious at the most appropriate times.
     Like a soundtrack to her life.
     She imagined herself roaring victoriously "I win!" While he puttered away in her little red car.
      She felt the tickle of a giggle beginning to rise at the image. She squelched the urge to laugh.
 She was pissed, tired, hot, and hungry.
And she needed a Pepsi. Hell, she deserved a Pepsi!
     He dared not laugh at her. He knew better. He'd seen that look before on her mother's face. And it said, Shut up.
     Laughing out loud could send her over the edge and send him into the nearby canal. She was so pissed she didn't care who he was, how big he was and what the repercussions would be. He was sure she could strangle him right there and leave him for the wild dogs. He needed to change tactics. Dammit!

      She turned on her heel and stomped down the dirt road. Continuing her verbal assault (punctuated with various hand signals) she began making her way back to town. Wherever that was."Get back in the car!" he yelled after her.
     "F@#$ you! I'm walking home!" She yelled back.
     She continued her stomp. She didn't know where she was, which direction she was heading and she didn't care!

      She walked until the swear words and music ran out of her head. She was calmer.
     That's when she heard the sound of a car approaching.  She turned towards the little red car. GREAT! What do you want! The frustration was rising again.  He pulled up next to her. "Get in the F@#$ing car!" He yelled out at her. Uh-oh the look again. Change tactics.

      She turned, adjusted her glasses, folded her arms and stood her ground.
Again. Did he really want to get into it again?

     She saw his face change. "Get in the car," he said more gently this time. She could tell he was struggling to do that. The tone helped ease her temper. This side of her father was a rare sight. It caught her off guard. She knew he was trying really hard.

     "Let's try this again. Get in."  He stepped out and she stared at him.  She gave in. She needed to.  She didn't know where she was out here in the middle of no man's land, who knew what could happen to her. She needed him. She needed her dad.
     And it was hot. Like their tempers.

      He got out and she climbed into the driver's seat. The thought of popping the car into first and taking off without him crossed her mind, but, she didn't know how to drive her car yet. She was dependent on him.

     So she sucked it up, and out there in the middle of the desert, surrounded by tumbleweed, canals and dirt, they practiced for what seemed another eternity.
     Until she finally did it!
     She got that little red car out of first. She didn't pop the clutch. She didn't kill the engine. She mastered that skill that came so naturally to her father.
      She was so proud of herself and the small smile on his face told her that he was too. Maybe it didn't skip her.
     "I'm hungry.  Can we go back home now?" She was spent.
     "Sure," he said.  "You want me to drive it home and show you how to power shift?"
     "Sure," she answered, intrigued by the words power shift.
     They traded places.
     The war in the desert was forgotten, forgiven and a thing of the past. They were friends again.
     They made their way back home.  He showed her how you could slip the car into the next gear without using the clutch and she was awed with his skills.  He was her hero again. More alike than different.
     The words they exchanged would be their secret.
they walked into their home and he announced to her mother, "You should have heard the words your daughter was using out there with me!"

Happy Thanksgiving!


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