By George Tate © 2009
The doors creaked closed on the near 76000 pounds of junk the freight manager stuffed in trailer #10953. Handpicked crap from all over the United States assembled on a half mile of truck dock just east of the stadium in Dallas.
"The load was late getting here. Sorry," said the forklift operator.
Morgan Hanfield had heard the bullshit before, leaving four hours late pissed him to no end. The manager at the other end had put a label on him the last time he pulled in late. He was lucky this time, his delivery in Vegas would be his only drop and there was no schedule after that. That was at 4:30am this morning, he'd been driving fifteen hours and was buzzing. Pouring a fresh cup of coffee Morgan found one of the bottles of toothpicks in the cubbyhole on his dashboard. They were soaked in "giddyap" formula, That was RichieMac McGuire's name for the Mexican horse liniment used to power you down the road at the speed of light.
Morgan and Rich had known each other for years, dating back to Able Air Express of Austin, Texas in the 80's. RichieMac and "Hemorrhoid" had left Able together to run bull wagons for a West Texas outfit. Bull haulers were renegades then and now. The rules didn't apply and they knew their way around DOT scales the jackrabbits wouldn't take. Rich had turned Morgan onto giddyaps, said, "If they don't work put the toothpicks under your eyelids and just keep drivin'."
Morgan wiped his face with his handkerchief, downshifted for the first hill in Texas Canyon, Arizona. The old Peterbilt came to life at the beginning of the climb. It was 7:30 pm Central, the sun was setting and Morgan decided it was break time. Texas Canyon is an eerie spot in the middle of the desert going west towards Phoenix from the New Mexico line. The rocks are stacked one on top of another and are found in all shapes and sizes. They resemble a child‘s toy blocks, but oddly shaped, and at this time of night they throw strange shadows across Interstate 10.
The day was wearin' heavy and he needed a fever reliever to get rid of his late afternoon jitters. His jaw hurt from chewing gum for fourteen hours. Pulling into the "pickle park" Morgan was surprised at the vacancy. This place has room for fifty trucks with 53' trailers. There is parking space to the north of the trucks for the same amount of cars and sidewalks and restrooms. This scenario is repeated on the south side of I-10 if you are eastbound. Usually the place was full to the brim forcing you to drive to Benson and stay at the truck stop. Tonight the place was bare. Morgan was positive, "Aww fuckin right, and I get the spot in front of the shitter."
He saw one truck parked two hundred feet down the hill. On the opposite side was an old hippie VW microbus with all the makings of a 1968 Grateful Dead Hump Van. This thing was painted sky blue with stars on the lower body, including a see through plastic dome attached to the roof. He couldn't help but look at the van, "that thing is smokin'" was his initial thought, no flames, just a hazy smoke that rose from the rear of the bus.
Morgan's cell rings. It's RichieMac.
"Hyah BUUUUUDY. Where are you?" Morgan reached in the fridge behind the drivers chair for the fever reliever, "Texas Canyon, Hang on a minute.:
It takes two hands to twist the cap on a cold MGD and two more to twist the cap on a cold pint of Sauza silver, the drinking requires two hand s as well. "Oh yeah, Mucho Bedda, where you at, Vato?"
"I'm leaving Phoenix and I have to fuel and break in Eloy. Wanna get up early and meet me for breakfast?"
Richard McGuire at 400 pounds was never far from a meal or beer. Richie could eat. Morgan watched him in a tamale eating contest in an Austin Bar one winter night. Rapidly devouring fifty he was awarded the prize, the contents of the cash register. A side $359 dollar bet that Morgan propped the bartender with secured the drink tab for the rest of the evening. The bet was on the bartender's assumption that when he finished all fifty tamales Richie couldn't make it out the front door with the one hundred fifty pound cash register in tow, before pukin'. Fucker made it, just barely.
The phone fat got chewed for thirty minutes, old news, new news, who was getting' screwed and who was doing to whom the screwing. All the while, Morgan is sucking his beer and tequila while watching the microbus SMOKE. Morgan couldn't figure it out have they blown the motor in that relic, or is there a fire smoldering in that thing? "Ok Rich, I got to go, but you can count on me at breakfast. I'll meet you at eight o'clock Central," and hung up. "Damn, it's really smoking now," and sucked down the last of his long neck looking for a target. He missed his trash can an inch. The half empty tequila pint he placed on his dash. He opens the left door of the truck and stepped out, down one step and planted both feet on the ground. "Got to piss," Morgan thought. When he turned toward the bathroom he immediately found himself face to face with a woman screaming at the top of her lungs. Morgan couldn't understand her, she was just screaming, the rant wasn't anything he understood and he was really confused by how loud she was. It startled him. She pulled a quick 180 degree turn, running for the back of his trailer. Morgan followed, thinking he should have jumped in the truck and left.
At the rear of his trailer he rounded the corner to find the microbus fully engulfed in flame. She was still screaming, running in a tie-dyed flame red dress with blue and yellow streaks in a huge sun radiating off her back. It was as though the pattern PULSED. Morgan, as he ran, grew more and more confused... "Child, child," was all Morgan understood, then it changed to "My Child, my child!!!"
Twenty feet from the van Morgan caught the first wave of heat. He was amazed to watch the pulsing image open the van side doors and leap inside. The van was fully covered by flame and the woman's screams were in his ears. He stopped short of the van not believing any of what he was enduring and began to run back to the truck. He looked back one time at the van, it exploded, and when his head returned to his direction of travel he was fully awake. At that moment, he was driving past a sign that said Eloy 15, Phoenix 60. His clock overhead said 12pm central. Ten minutes travel and he was in the Flying J taking on fuel.
There was a long discussion the next morning between friends old and new in the coffee shop.
A lot of old tales came out of the wood work. Rich said Morgan should give up the Sauza on the road. Some of the old bull haulers said it was the effects of the Mexican snake oil mixed with the Sauza. Others said it was Highway hypnosis and Morgan became lost in thought for four and one half hours. Morgan was having a hard time believing anything that day. Arriving in Vegas, he docked his trailer and gambled that night, reloading on the following day he headed for a drop in L.A., stayed two days then reloaded again and started for Dallas.
Leaving California, Morgan's head had come out of the ether and he was feeling better to some degree but still horribly puzzled by the events that had shaped his thoughts. He couldn't shake it! Quartzite was his next stop for fuel a strange town of a couple of hundred people during summer heat but thousands of snow birds flock there in the winter for the free parking on government land and the never ending flea market. The fuel stop was crowded and it took Morgan an hour to get fuel. While fueling he noticed a young long hair in a robe and sandals looking much like a scriptural disciple who had begun to walk across the I-10 bridge then down the east bound ramp towards Phoenix.
Morgan finished fueling and began driving east towards Dallas, after twenty miles he remembered the character in the robe and sandals.
"Where did that sumbitch go I wonder?" His assumption was he was hitching and caught a ride.
In Tucson there is a truck stop on the east end called the Triple T. Morgan took his break there. While fueling the next morning, RichieMac called from Abilene, Texas. He had made his four hooved drops in New Mexico and Texas and was headed home to Paris. "Hey I want you to know something, I did a flip into that west bound pickle park at Texas Canyon day before yesterday and there aint no signs of a burn, scorch or even a boil in that parking lot... nada, nothing, you were fuckin' dreaming man.” Morgan confirmed that was probably it, just so the matter would come to rest where Rich was concerned. Morgan wanted the matter over, he hurt enough from mental trails and the what-ifs now. They made the usual promises to get together again soon and then hung up.
Fuel was paid, key was turned and the engine came to life. The truck was out of the parking lot and left under the bridge headed east on another days work down I-10. Just after making the left, there he was, "the disciple." Morgan had a thousand thoughts roll through his head that landed on, "What the hell." He was not a ride giver, but had an itch he had to scratch. The guy was in the truck when it stopped and they were moving in short order. It was very surprising to Morgan, road people usually stank but this guy had the strong smell of Patchouli oil. And his hands and feet were clean with no road grime that he had observed on others in the past.
Morgan felt compelled to talk, "I just left L.A. gotta be in Dallas tomorrow night to unload. I saw you at Quartzite, then you disappeared and I couldn't give you a ride. Where are you headed?"
"Lordsburg, New Mexico, I am walking to the cathedral there to pay a penance, confess, and give communion."
"That's a walk from where I picked you up," said Morgan. "Where are you from?"
His reply was strange in tone, "I haven't anyplace, NOW."
Morgan felt there was nothing to add and continued driving past Eloy and Benson. The closer to Texas Canyon he got the stranger the patchouli oil scent on the man's robe became. It changed to a musty smell, then the unmistakable odor of smoke, not wood smoke, oil smoke. The young man began fidgeting in his seat and the smell grew stronger. Abruptly the man sits straight up in his seat and demands that Morgan stop the truck. "STOP" the word resonates in the inner creases of Morgan's head so loudly it pierces behind his eyes and into his brain. The disciple keeps repeating it, forcing Morgan to set the brakes on the huge tractor and bring it to a stop. In slow motion two things happen Morgan looks to his left across the jersey barrier in the west bound parking lot, something is burning . Next he is conscious of the right door being open but "the disciple" is not in the right seat.
Traffic is backed up in the highway and the vehicles behind Morgan come around, some passing judgment at his quick stop with a single finger. He checks his mirrors, no disciple. He starts the stalled truck and pulls in the east bound pickle park. As he stops people are gathering watching the fire trucks and emergency equipment enter the west bound pickle park. An Arizona state trooper parks next to Morgan.
"You OK? Damn that was a break check deluxe, you sure locked it up."
Morgan was dazed but came to and replied, "Yes sir, all is well here, scared the shit out of the guy in front of me." Then he lied, "Glad I missed him."
The cruiser's police radio crackled a few numbers of identification, "Three dead, all burned up real bad, a woman, she's burned so bad we can't move he, so is a baby, There's this guy in a robe with sandals on. This witness says he was trying to get them out when that old van blew up."
Morgan was at that rest stop for a long time. It was the same microbus he'd seen in whatever that dream or vision was. Paint was the same but there was the charred melted remains of the rooftop plastic bubble. He was shaking when he walked back west to where his lockup started. The tire marks began at the bottom of the hill. The disciple would have had to cross a five foot jersey barrier then run UPHILL almost a half mile just to make the rest stop exit. The van was 100 yards further. Morgan could see the flames of the burning bus when he set the brakes. As he returned to his truck, he just couldn't stop repeating, "No way."
George Tate is a former over the road driver of fourteen years that love's travel, wild wimmin', Pisano Wine, and Omaha 08. When they are a package, watch out.