Strange Things & Filthy Lies -- May 2019

General proximity with counterculture

May 2019

Wendy Parker

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I’ve never seen any little green men from Mars, although I do know a short fella with a bad gallbladder from Peoria who goes kinda chartreusey when he’s having a spell. Catch that ol’ boy in bad lighting after he gobbles down a basket full of hot wings, and I can see how rumors would get started.

I’m not sure if that qualifies as a “close encounter,” but I can state with a fair amount of certainty that I’ve been in the general proximity of at least one form of alien life during our travels on the road.

They’re attracted to truck stops for a multitude of reasons, y’all.

Where else is there a captive audience of weary travelers who are unwelcome in any place other than the cheap asphalt motels of the road? There’s clearly an advantage to having all the specimens prepackaged in little metal boxes. Marauding aliens can easily pop in and out without disturbing the next-door neighbors, especially when there are an abundance of ancient reefer units wheeze-screaming on and off every 15 seconds. It’s perfect cover.

Or, perhaps, it’s the ambiance of impromptu parking-lot jam sessions featuring Wailing Jean and the Pipettes. We’ve all seen one version or another of this loud and unwanted display – most likely between the hours of 2 a.m. and

5 a.m. and most assuredly when you’re parked anywhere near Memphis, Tenn.

Performances include rousing renditions of “There are spiders in my hair, and I need $20 for gas!” which generally segues into “My sister was born with a kidney on her neck, and we need $20 for gas!”

Whatever the professed ailment, you can be assured that $20 is not going to keep Wailing Jean from a repeat engagement that begins exactly five seconds after dozing off from being woken by the first one. At this point, you’d get more rest during an alien abduction and probably won’t even complain about the BBs in your nose.

You think aliens don’t know this? Pffft … it’s probably broadcast on their late-night infomercials.

 

“Make your interplanetary vacation a work-cation – get paid to travel! All you have to do is collect human DNA and leave BBs in someone’s nose – then you can enjoy the beaches of Boca for free!”

Meanwhile, on Earth …

Inside the travel plazas, tolerance for unusual sights and sounds increases exponentially as you get closer to the back of the house, where they keep the diesel-fuel desk. There’s an unspoken line that usually begins right past the chrome male genitalia ornament display. This prominent offering of embarrassingly detailed cajones signals the end of the general public area and begins rows of truck-specific merchandise and the distinct possibility of seeing something out-of-the-ordinary.

(Side note: The presence

of chrome “sacks” really should be a universal indicator that things have already gotten weird, whether or not you’re in a truck stop. Of course, this is just a personal observation. To each his own. I’m not judging).

Right past the shiny reproductive organs lies the area in which seasoned professionals don’t bat an eye when they see someone standing in the corner, talking to their pet turtle about the quality of raw hamburger available in Albuquerque.

It’s just not a “thing” once you’ve met seven or eight Jesus-dudes along the way.

More than anything, you just want Jesus, or Turtle-guy, or whatever version of “people you probably wouldn’t meet back home at the Beavercreek, Ohio, Costco” to get out of the way, so you can choose the appropriately sized chrome sack to hang on the trailer bumper without having to commit to being baptized by the third Jesus you’ve met this week.

Jeez.

No wonder aliens don’t mingle.

Who the heck needs filthy lies?

Oh, that’s right. Washington, D.C., and the gubmint still exist – one heaping serving of filthy lies – order up!

Let’s talk about the driver shortage. I mean, as long as we’re referencing filthy lies, we may as well grab that one by the chrome … ahem … well, you know.

We can’t keep calling something a shortage when the wash-out rate for new drivers is 80 percent in the first six months. There are an abundance of commercial driver’s licenses issued. What’s lacking is the ability to retain enough of those drivers to mold them into competent professionals.

The industry is most definitely lacking an ability to attract and retain competent professionals.

First and foremost there is a lack of pay. First-year drivers are sent out over the road with expectations that often far outweigh the reality of living on the road. Poor oversight by inexperienced driver-managers, forced dispatch, inhumane time schedules and crappy working conditions aren’t generally part of the recruiting package they pitch at most CDL schools.

Money is great, but if you’re never home to spend it and you have to put up with being treated like an animal to earn it, it becomes a moot point. Especially when the fleet down the street is offering more of it and positions are plentiful in job-hop land.

Nothing feeds and fuels the atmosphere of churn and burn better than continuing to scream “driver shortage” while cranking through a steady stream of drivers. It’s a filthy lie that will continue to fester like a wound on this industry as long as we continue to allow phrases like “driver shortage” to be uttered in the same sentence as “80-98 percent first-year turnover.”

Filthy lies adjourned. Join us next month when we delve in to the politics of grits – sugar and butter or salt and gravy? It’s a valid question. LL

 

Wendy Parker

Wendy Parker has covered the trucking industry since 2012 after she says she “lost my mind and decided to climb inside my husband’s big truck to travel with him as an over-the road, long-haul trucker.” Her unique writing style that ranges from biting satire to investigative journalism coupled with her unbridled passion for fighting round out a wildly talented stable of writers.