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Tag: trucks

Groom, Texas: My cross to bear

 

With God on my side and Jesus in my cupholder, Ace and I passed through the Texas panhandle Wednesday, revisiting the site where, 18 years ago, almost to the day, I nearly got myself killed.

This time around, the roads weren’t icy, there was no snow; only vicious winds that tried to blow me off the road.

Just to be extra safe — well before my dreaded approach to the tiny town of Groom — I stopped to fill my thermos with coffee at the Jesus Christ is Lord Travel Center, on the east side of Amarillo.

It was opened less than two years ago by Sam Kohli, who also runs a Jesus Christ is Lord trucking line, whose 100-plus trucks are all emblazoned with that phrase.

“He just felt there were a lot of people who didn’t know Jesus Christ is Lord,” the woman at the cash register explained to me, charging me a mere $1.18 to fill my thermos and wishing me safe travels.

Between the caffiene, her well wishes, and Bobblehead Jesus, who has accompanied us on all of our 20,000-plus miles, I felt prepared for what was ahead — namely Groom, Texas.

In 1993, returning to Philadelphia after a three-year assignment in California, my Isuzu Trooper slid off icy I-40, turning over twice before coming to rest, right side up, at the bottom of an embankment.

To your left is how that embankment looks today, not nearly as steep and rugged as it was in my memory.

Anyway, back 18 years ago, I managed to restart the crumpled vehicle and drive half a mile to the nearest motel, where I checked in, along with my dog at the time, a mutt named Hobo.

As I stood in the lobby, trying to contact my insurance company on the pay phone, the desk clerk kept pointing me out to new arrivals, and each time he told the story he added one more roll: “That’s him over there, rolled over four times, he’s lucky to be alive.”

For the next three days, the dog and I licked our wounds and waited for the motel owners to come through with a ride they promised to the Amarillo airport, where I could rent a car for the rest of the trip. The Isuzu was totaled, and I’d been ticketed for reckless driving, though I was driving slower than anyone else on the road.

I kept waiting for our ride to the airport, and I started fearing there was a conspiracy to make me a permanent resident of the town of 500. Groom, coincidentally, is where much of the filming was done for the 1992 movie “Leap of Faith,” about a faith healer who bilks believers out of their money.

Finally, on day four — my room bill rising, my faith waning – I left the dog in the room, walked to a truck stop (it’s gone now, burned down, they say) and hitched a ride on a chicken truck to the Amarillo airport to get a rental car. Then I went back to the motel, picked Hobo up and drove on.

Back to the present: My original plan was to avoid Groom, on this trip and for eternity, but Wednesday, on a route that was sending me right past it, I decided to confront my fears.

The first Groom exit is the site of what bills itself as the largest cross in America.

It’s made of steel, 19 stories tall, with a cross arm that spans 110 feet. It took 250 welders eight months to complete, and weighs 1,250 tons. The man behind it is Steve Thomas, who was disgusted with billboards advertising “pornographic” services and decided to send travelers a different message.

It wasn’t there on my earlier trip — not being finished until two years later — so it took me by surprise. At first I thought that America’s largest cross (Effingham, Illinois, claims it has one eight feet taller) had been built at the precise spot of my accident.

I realized later, though, that the spot where I almost met my maker was a mile ahead, at the next exit.

Rather than get back on I-40, I took the back route, turning left on Route 66, driving through town, and approaching the scene of the accident from a side road.

I parked on the side of the road and left Ace in the car — not wanting him anywhere near the Interstate, or the accursed spot. I did grab my camera and pulled Bobblehead Jesus (B. Jesus, for short) from the cupholder so that he could accompany me.

I felt chills as I gazed at the spot, though maybe that was from the 60 mile per hour winds.

Feeling I had successfully confronted my fears — that I had found closure (not that I’m a big fan of closure; it’s so … final) — I went off in search of the motel that held me hostage.

Turns out it is now a storage facility, its rooms no longer holding people — only people’s stuff.

Next door, I stopped in at a restaurant called The Grill, asking what happened to the motel. The owner told me that what used to be called the Golden Spread Motel stopped being a motel about 15 years ago, changed hands a few times and ended up as a storage facility.

I told her Golden Spread sounded like something you’d put on a sandwich — or maybe a pornographic term describing some act with which I’m not familiar.

I stepped back outside, into the wind, and thought about the gigantic, non-pornographic cross, which, without any guy wires, can withstand gusts of up to 140 miles per hour. In the car, I gave B. Jesus a pat, sending his head to bobbing. Then I gave Ace one.

I was still a little sour on Groom, but I felt a vague sense of gratitude, and gave God that conditional nod I’m prone to giving him or her: I’m not sure I believe in you, but if you’re the reason Hobo and I survived that accident, thanks so much for the ensuing 18 years (in Hobo’s case, about four).

By then I was back on I-40, traveling eastbound, buffeted by winds, bolstered by Jesus Christ is Lord coffee, strengthened by having confronted my demons, and inspired by a giant cross.

Ace looked around, as if confused: What were all those stops about? I’m not sure I know. I get overwhelmed when I start thinking about God and the hereafter. I have enough trouble handling the here and now.

But this much I know I do have: A deep and abiding faith in dog.

Is new Chevrolet ad pawlitically incorrect?

Remember the old Chevrolet commercial — baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet?

Well, decades later, the car company has, for the sake of selling motor vehicles, gotten around to acknowledging another piece of Americana — the dog; specifically, the dog in the pickup truck; more specifically, the dog in a Chevrolet pickup.

And that, they will find out as the new ad airs, if they haven’t yet, is some tricky ground.

It’s one of those topics that raises the hackles of animal welfare activists, some of whom who say under no conditions should a dog be riding in the bed of a pickup , some of whom say it’s acceptable if the dog is crated or restrained, all of whom say riding in the cab would be preferable.

And they are right. For safety’s sake, it probably would be.

Last week, in “Travels with Ace,” the continuing saga of the trip Ace and I are taking across America, we showed you Jake, a golden retriever in Oregon still sporting injuries he received when he tumbled out the back of a moving pickup. We did so without casting judgments or getting preachy, because our road trip is not about how dogs should live in America, only about how they do live in America.

In much of rural America, dogs are still dogs. They roam their property, and perhaps that of other’s, at their will. They chase and sometimes kill wildlife. Some even live, gasp, outside. And they ride in the back of pickups, which virtually all animal welfare organizations will tell you is a bad idea.

The Chevy ad, to its credit, doesn’t show any dogs in the beds of moving pickups, but, even so, I’m predicting it will lead to some lively debate if it airs widely.

On YouTube, it has already started — through Internet comments, gracious and civil as  always.

“Cute video, but I wish Chevy wouldn’t advocate the dogs in the back unless in a crate. Since I have seen a dog fly out of the back of a truck on a busy highway, I am traumatized for life. It should be illegal and is some places for your dog to ride loose in the bed of your truck unless you are on your own dirt road on your property with no other cars around and are willing to pay the vet bill if your dog falls out…”

“If I thought for a second my dog would ever jump out, he wouldn’t ride back there. And he doesn’t on the interstate. But on going into town, on rural country roads, and on my ranch, he will always ride in the back and he wouldn’ t have it any other way. MIND YOUR OWN F***ING BUSINESS FAG…”

“Greatest commercial! Too bad liberal know it all’s have created laws against dogs riding in truck beds! Apparently (like most libs) they know what’s best for us, and will make laws accordingly. My dog will ride in the back forever though, they can suck his hairy nuts…”

Besides reflecting how crass anonymous internet banter can get — how Internet commenting has replaced the punching bag as man’s default mode of venting hostilities — the discourse shows the cultural divide that exists in this country, one that’s not so much conservative versus liberal as it is rural America versus the rest.

It’s a generalization, but many denizens of rural America don’t want the rest of America making rules that govern their access to firearms, or how they raise their dogs — from whether they spay and neuter to letting them ride in the back of pickups.

There’s something to be said for letting a dog being a dog — as opposed to spending life on a leash or in a handbag – but is putting Rover in the back of a pickup letting a dog be a dog? In my view, it’s courting disaster.

Yet, while many experts also advise that dogs in cars be crated or restrained, Ace is traveling acoss the country unrestrained in the back of my Jeep.

Maybe that’s why I don’t come down harder on dogs in pickups; maybe it’s a degree of respect for rural ways; or maybe it’s because the surest way to make people become more entrenched in a bad habit is to tell them they can’t do it anymore.

Roadside Encounters: Jake

Name: Jake

Breed: Golden retriever

Age: 2

Encountered: Sitting in the back of a pickup truck, outside the Paradise Cafe in Port Orford, Oregon.

Backstory: We spotted Jake, patiently waiting in the rain for his master, when we pulled in for some breakfast at the Paradise Cafe. I snapped a quick picture and went inside, taking a seat at the counter — as it turned out, right next to Jake’s owner.

It was a homey little eatery, where regulars have their own coffee cups, lined up on a shelf, and, rather than numerous individual conversations, there’s just one big one, between staff and customers, from table to table. Someone at the counter might say something, and then someone three tables away would chime in. It’s a small town thing.

Jake’s a fine dog, his owner told me while finishing off his breakfast — and not as old as he looks. He had to have his face shaved so he could be stitched up a few weeks ago after he fell out the back of the moving truck.

Despite that, Jake still rides in the back of the truck.

His owner told me that he named Jake after the dog in the song, “Feed Jake,” by the Pirates of the Mississippi.

“It’s a cool song, it’s got bums and hookers and everything,” he said.

I had only a vague recollection of the song, so I looked it up on YouTube:

Tilting at windmills in Montana

Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out what these long tubes I kept passing on Interstate 94 in Montana were.

Airplane wings? Some new form of irrigation equipment? Space shuttle components? Pieces of some secret governmental weapon?

I was tilting at windmills.

Which is what they turned out to be — windmill blades, to be precise.

I found that out later at a truck stop in Rocker, just west of of Butte, where several of the oversized loads, having just negotiated the winding stretch of interstate on Butte’s eastern side, had pulled over for a rest.

According to the Associated Press, the explosive growth of the wind energy industry has led to dozens of trucks a day toting the blades down the nation’s Interstate highways to their new homes, mostly in the west.

Commonly traveling in convoys, the oversized loads haven’t caused too many problems. They’re not any wider than a normal truck, but they are longer — much longer. Some of the blades extend 180 feet, about triple the length of regular semitrailer loads.

That means it takes about three times as long to get around them, but considering the clean, renewable, independent energy they will go on to supply, I’m a fan.

Miley racks up the miles, headed home soon

DSC01118My former cat Miley — the one I took in from the streets of South Baltimore for the winter — is still on the highway, having logged more than 5,000 since joining her new truck driver owner, Kitty.

Miley has now passed through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia — and that’s just to name a few.

Kitty says Miley is doing wonderfully, and has taken well to living in the truck cab, along with Kitty’s other cat, Chuzzle, and two pit bulls.

They were in Louisville when she touched base with me, headed for Waco.

In another week or so, she predicted they’ll be back home in Oklahoma, where she expects Miley will keep her disabled husband John company as he works on CB radios in the garage. It’s not unusual for Kitty to be gone three weeks or more on the job.

Kitty said she kept Miley in her carrier for the first leg of their journey together — from Frederick, Maryland, where I dropped her off, to Bedford, Pennsylvania, where Kitty was taking a load of Oklahoma hot dogs to a Wal-Mart.

She went inside to do the paperwork and returned to the truck cab to find Miley had managed to pop it open and take up a more comfortable spot on a pillow on Kitty’s bunk — “as peaceful as she could be,” Kitty said. She hasn’t been back in the carrier since.

She’s doesn’t mind the noise and rumble of the big rig and is getting along fine with the dogs, but still hisses when Chuzzle, a male Persian cat, gets too close, especially when it’s time to eat.

“I can’t thank you enough,” Kitty told me, when, as I see it, she deserves the thanks for giving Miley a permanent home. “She is just so awesome”