The misadventures of a paid tourist in a strange land
Below is an extract from Highway America – the Adventures of a Kiwi Truck Driver, by Peter Blakeborough. Available as an eBook from Smashwords.
My alarm sounded at on Wednesday 6th June, and a quick cup of coffee got me ready for the drive south along Route 28 to Hawthorn, Pennsylvania. Taking it slowly on the back country road, in case of tight corners or overhanging trees in the darkness, I found the shipper exactly fourteen miles from the freeway, as expected. They had some pallets loaded with food products going to Best Foods-Unilever in Little Rock, 900 miles south.
At I was back on Route 28 heading south, and after about an hour, Route 28 became a dual carriageway with numerous small cities along the way as it followed the Alleghany River. Then it was time to tangle with Pittsburgh and its tangle of partly finished ring roads and road works in every direction. I talked on the CB with the driver of another eighteen-wheeler who seemed to know where he was going and he invited me to follow. For thirty minutes we went this way and that dodging road works and tight corners until I was totally bamboozled and at his mercy. We went through a tunnel, crossed the Alleghany and circled the downtown district until we came to a bridge across Monongahela River. Somewhere, at a spaghetti junction, amid the babble of CB voices, I lost the other driver. A short stretch on the I-279 south brought me to the I-70 junction at Washington, Pennsylvania.
With the pitfalls of Pittsburgh falling astern, the driving got easier as the I-70 took me west onto the Great Plains and then south to Little Rock. The load was taken off at Unilever and dispatcher Cheryl Reed gave me an 1,100 mile load of L’Oreal cosmetics to go from North Little Rock to Sussex, Wisconsin, with a second drop in Dundee, Michigan.
The biggest challenge was navigating right through Chicago for the first time, while making about six stops to pay the tolls. Space is at a premium in Chicago and, as I neared O’Hare International Airport, I was surprised to see a McDonalds perched over the toll road. Further along, I saw another and took the off-ramp for a lunch with a birds-eye view of the traffic passing underneath.
Coming back through Chicago on a different freeway, after the first drop, the traffic was diverted off the freeway and onto busy suburban streets, due to road works. Inevitably, I missed a detour sign somewhere, and went down the wrong street. Things were a bit chaotic, as I realised that I could finish up in all kinds of weird or wonderful places, with a rig too big to fit. But fortunately, after a couple of miles, the car drivers seemed to think I had leprosy and gave me enough room to make a quick U-turn.
It was already dark when I started looking for a place to rest for the night near Toledo. The first three truckstops were full, and I was left with no choice other than to park on the freeway shoulder, after having driven 429 miles for the day, including two transits of the sprawling Chicago metropolis. I slept soundly all night with the traffic whizzing along close by.
A change of scenery was in store after picking up a load of battery materials from Royal Oak, Michigan, and heading for Maryville in the remote northwest corner of Missouri. The route was west through the Mid-West’s corn fields and wide open spaces. Fifty miles beyond Des Moines, Iowa’s largest city with 200,000 people, (everyone seemed to be out of town when I passed through) I turned south and followed the back country roads for a couple of hours. The flat roads were so empty that when I did see people they actually looked up from their activities and waved. I recall a woman hurrying with two pre-school children to the farm gate so that they could get a close look at a big truck going past. They seemed to be awe-struck, so I reached for the air horn cable and gave them a loud honk and a friendly wave.
Maryville is only a pimple on a pumpkin of a town, but it certainly had me baffled when it came to finding my way around. I realised later, that my directions for finding Eveready Batteries were for an approach from the south, while I arrived from the north. The second traffic light from the south was not the same place as the second light from the north. After driving around more or less aimlessly for half an hour, I stopped to make enquiries at the gatekeeper’s shack, at the entrance to a rather austere-looking establishment, with lots of high security fencing around it. Suddenly, I was surrounded by armed prison guards and they weren’t singing Jailhouse Rock. They must have suspected that I was on a mission to ram-raid the state penitentiary with several tons of high explosives.
After some fast talking on my part, one of the guards pointed to a large building that was visible just beyond the city limits; the Eveready factory. The forklift driver was waiting for me when I backed into the dock and within minutes the trailer was unloaded and reloaded with batteries for Fairburn, Georgia.
After circling Kansas City on the beltway the route was east through the middle of Missouri to St. Louis with a splendid view of the famous Gateway Arch rising 630 feet above the west bank of the Mississippi River.
A small green slice of western Kentucky passed under the wheels, as I travelled southeast towards Nashville. Light rain fell to smear the windscreen bugs and I turned on the wipers and engaged the washers. Suddenly, the road ahead disappeared behind a thick blend of bugs and engine oil. With my head outside the window to see where I was going I braked and pulled over to the side of the freeway. Somehow, engine oil had been placed in a container marked ‘Windshield Cleaner.’ I had a couple of standby containers on board and, after a few minutes, the system had been flushed out enough for me to continue my adventure as a paid tourist. Darkness came again and I pressed on to Chattanooga for an overnight stop, after an interesting 751 mile day.
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