A Christmas Sleeper Wishlist
There are some people who want to throw their arms round you simply because it is Christmas; there are other people who want to strangle you simply because it is Christmas.
Robert Lynd (1879–1949), Anglo-Irish essayist, journalist. The Book of This and That,“On Christmas” (1915).
The couple at the next table, team drivers for FedEx, were discussing their plans for Christmas. He wanted to spend the Holidays in Orlando; she wanted to visit their grandchildren in Upstate New York. Although Christmas was still a month away, the overheard conversation steered my thoughts to that happiest of times.
Having children (adult) still in the nest, my wife and I have no alternative: for Christmas we're going home to Moss Point, MS. Our newly wed son has been hinting for six months that a Harley would be greatly appreciated; one daughter wants a makeup kit, sexy clothes and a glitzy bracelet; one daughter, the practical sort, wants jeans and comfortable work shoes. My wife has her heart set on a new car, and I'd kill for a new CB.
Our granddaughter is at that awkward age: too old for dolls but a darned sight too young for boyfriends. Maybe we'll buy her a doll in a mini-skirt. My wife Becky will get something really nice, but not that canary-yellow Mustang she's had her eye on--money will be tight for a while. I'll settle for a dozen hugs and fourteen kisses from each of them.
The truckstop's coffee tasted like scorched castor oil, but it wasn't the waitress's fault. I left a dollar tip on the table, paid for my infusion of wake-up juice at the counter, and strolled into the TV lounge.
The place was packed. The Atlanta Hawks were getting stomped by some other NBA team. Outside the lounge stood a group of scowling truckers. Not basketball fans, obviously.
Generally speaking, it's not a good idea to approach strange ladies in truckstops--they are often accompanied by very large, very jealous husbands. But one of the two fillies loafing in the hall was my own spouse.
Grinning as I approached, I said, “Who's winning?”
A grimace and a slight shake of Becky's head plainly said, Not the Hawks. She's the fan, not I.
“I don't know and I sure don't care,” her companion snarled. “I came in here to watch a movie.”
“Then you're just the person I want to see,” I said, and handed her one of my cards. After less than 1/1,000 of a second, she passed it back. Which hurt my feelings. In bold black script on a white background it says ON TIME MEDIA, and beneath, in plain text, it gives my name, job title and email address.
“Since you aren't watching the game,” I said, “how about we go someplace private and talk about sleeper compartments.”
She crossed her arms under her breasts. “You making some kind of pass?”
“He looks kinda shady to me, Liz,” my wife said, snickering softly into her palm. “Want me to call a cop?”
“All right, Becky,” I warned. “Behave yourself or forget about that new car.”
Liz looked at Becky. “He belong to you?”
Becky gave me a kiss on the check. “Liz Chambers, meet my husband, Gary Addis, Associate Editor of Expediters Online.com.”
“I'm doing an article on sleeper compartments,” I replied patiently. I offered my card again, and this time Liz actually read it. “And since it's getting to be that time of year, it needs a Christmas slant.”
“Okay,” Liz said with a nod, “sounds good to me. Go ahead. Shoot.”
“All right, Liz, if a drunk driving a Rolls Royce sideswipes you and offers to buy you a customized rig so you'll forget about it, what extras would you order for your sleeper compartment?”
She glanced from me to Becky, then back again. “Heck, I'd take the cash.”
“Aw, come on now,” I said. “That's no help.”
She shrugged. “I drive solo, expedited freight. I run my buns off. All I need is a comfortable mattress. I mean, who actually needs all that fancy stuff.” I didn't say anything. A journalist's job is to listen. About two seconds before I dozed off Liz shrugged again and said, “If I had all that stuff in my truck I'd never use it.”
“But don't you ever get tired of truckstop food?” Becky said.
“You kidding?” Liz smiled and her pretty face came to life. “Obviously you never tasted my cooking.”
Liz Chambers is pleasant company. And exceedingly easy to look at. But I needed more. I excused myself and went to the men's room. Standing side by side at the sinks, shaving, were two big bruisers. Joe Cowley, the larger man, drove for himself--totally independent. He hauled carpet and whatever from the Southeast to the West Coast and backhauled California produce to all points East.
Joe said he owed four more payments on an '88 Freightliner. The day the finance company laid that title in his hand he was going to give himself a belated Christmas gift. For some time he'd had his eye on a '97 Freightliner. Predominantly silver with black striping, it was “prettier than a Royal Flush.”
“If money was no object,” I said, “what extras would you choose for your sleeper?”
His brow crinkled as he stared at his reflection in the mirror. “Since I'll have lots of room, first thing I'm gonna do is replace my two-quart icebox with a real refrigerator. And I'll want a microwave oven, of course. I've already got a color TV, but one day maybe I'll install a good sound system.” He lifted his electric razor to his chin and resumed shaving. “That's about it, I suppose.”
Mike Sommer rinsed foam off his craggy face, dried with a handful of paper towels, turned to Joe and said, “You being an owner-operator, you ought to forget about that stereo for now and invest in a bunk heating/cooling system. It'll save you a ton of money in fuel and maintenance costs. And a penny saved is a penny earned.”
Joe Cowley nodded amiably. “Yeah, that's true. But to save a penny, you first have to earn it, don't you? And music do make the miles easier.”
Mike Sommer laid a heavy hand on my shoulder. “Follow me out to my truck. My sleeper will knock your socks off.” We entered through the side door--it was a real door, mind you, with a knob that you turn. Heck, this wasn't a sleeper, it was a condo! Enjoying the sudden envy that sprang up in my eyes, Sommer beamed like the father of a newborn.
The compartment held a couch, two end tables, a Lazy Boy recliner, a nineteen-inch television, a modular stereo, and, over in the corner, a chair, a desk and a computer.
The walls were wood-paneled--real wood, mind you. Blue satin curtains covered its many windows and a pale blue carpet insulated bare feet from the cold. Framed photographs adorned the walls. Mike proceeded to open cabinets and doors. “This here is the bathroom, and—”
I slipped under his arm and peered inside. “It has a shower, too?”
Nodding matter-of-factly, he said, “Sure does. But to tell you the truth, we seldom use it, or the bathroom. It's a real hassle to keep the water tanks filled and the waste drained.”
“I suppose you've got a full kitchen too?”
The question surprised him. “Of course we do. The kitchen stuff pulls out of the wall over there when it's needed.”
He wouldn't let me see the pull-down bed; it was a mess, he said, dirty clothes stuffed into the slot. Having seen all there was to see, I thanked Mike for his courtesy and headed for the exit. As I stepped down, he described his wife and said, “If you see her, tell the old girl to shake a leg. I'd like to get to the motel before the parking lot fills up.”
I looked back at Mike Sommer's very large truck. Motel?--they were going to a motel? Oh, well, maybe the reality doesn't measure up to the dream.
For the world we all dream of a lasting peace. A full belly for every baby. That the politicians would learn to tell the truth; that the Media would stop telling us what to think. That the four-wheelers would develop a little courtesy. The most any of us can hope for, I think, is peace and plenty of groceries in the cabinets of our own homes.
Merry Christmas to you and yours, Driver.