as I'm going to my parents for a week and might actually do some work down there. It's rough, I know.
My first day out I drove the freeway in darkness well into the suburb-end of Broad street. I waited in a dirt lot adjacent to an extended stay hotel, my truck alone other than for a couple tractor trailers. I walked around in the morning, wearing my backpack and kicking rocks, too nervous and impatient to sit in the truck. Finally a crew-cab Chevy raced around the corner of the hotel and dove into the gravel, travelling much too fast. It was dented to the point of where I was not sure if it was exactly safe to drive. The window rolled down to reveal the driver as possibly the fattest man I’d ever encountered. Even as dark as it was, I could tell the cab was filled to capacity with men who had only recently gotten very quiet. The driver said, “Hey, you Clay?” I said yeah, he said “I’m uh…Clayton.” And chuckled. He had a baseball hat and a long greasy pony tail. “Throw your gear in the back and jump in.”
Everybody in the cab was cheerful enough and we roared out Patterson into the county, pulled into a stripmall parking lot out front of a closed down Greek restaurant. I’d been by the place a hundred times. The lot was next to a wetland surrounding a river as Patterson crossed it. The sun was finally up and the crew unloaded and commenced to unload chainsaws from the bed of the Chevy. I stood around looking for something to do. Clayton rolled up on me, almost waddling really.
“Just hang out for a second till Redbag shows up, we gotta piss test you before you can drive. Plus we gotta wait for fuckin’ Jose’ and them to show up with the Puddle-jumpers anyway.”
“What’s a puddlejumper?” I asked.
“You shitting me?” he laughed “It’s the god damn truck you’re gonna be driving.”
“Oh. Far-fucking out.”
Clayton’s face was huge and round like everything else about him was huge and round but the thing about his eyes, even as squinted by his cheeks as they were, is that there was no meanness to them. He had the kindest, bluest eyes of any fat straw-boss I’d ever met. It took me a couple weeks before I figured out why he was constantly having to pull his pants up. It was the complete lack of waist for them to hang onto.
The crew bitched about the swamp for a minute and put on pairs of shredded safety chaps that had used to be orange but with years of grease and filth had assumed the color of rust. George the metal kid had one saw taken apart and was threading a chain back onto the bar. Everybody gassed up, made sure the motors fired, after a minute they all walked off in the direction of the overpass. Redbag pulled up in his clean white truck, got out and shook my hand. He produced a little cup and asked me to oblige him with a urine sample. I went off toward a dumpster just behind the Greek place. Halfway there the lower part of my guts informed me no dumpster would cut it, so I kept headed into the woods, found a trash filled ditch and some broad oak leaves and dropping my pants, squatted there, hoping no Greeks would come out the back door.
“What fucking took you so long?” asked Redbag when I got back.
“Sorry, got excited, had to poop.” I handed him the cup.
“Oh god almighty I hope you didn’t put that in there.” He added some chemicals to it shook it gingerly with two fingers, changed hands and held the container up to the sunlight. I guess it had leaked as he wiped his other hand on his jeans. He glanced over said, “Well you’re good to go.” And rearing back, flung my perfect urine sample into the swamp. It was framed for a second by a perfectly clear blue sky shot through with streaks of clouds. I was sad to see it go. He got back into his truck and rolled the window down. He asked next to see my license. I brought it out, showed it to him.
“Just so you know, I’ve only had my CDL a couple of months. I got a spotless record though.”
“That’s fine, we’ll work with you. Oh yeah, do you have your health card?”
“I’m not sure what that is.”
He looked surprised. “It’s required for you to be driving any kind of commercial vehicle. We can both get into big-time trouble with that. If you get pulled they can fine us ten grand. The City didn’t make you get one?”
“I never even heard of it before today.” I said, we looked at each other for a second, “I’ll get it taken care of right away. Whatever it takes.”
“Okay.” And he was gone, leaving me with Clayton. I said Shit. Clayton told me don’t worry, we’ll get you straight. Suddenly the trucks where there.
They were called Puddle-jumpers because they were designed to go off road. You could hear them coming a mile away due to the giant tires. One was an International like the one I was on back at the City. The other was a Ford but a F650. They were both stripped to the frame with nothing but a platform on the back for the lift. They were red and were clean and they roared as they idled there in the parking lot, obliterating everything else.
Nobody told me the truck was stick.