river rat: The Open Road In 1988 I drove over 70,000 miles, which sounds ridiculous for someone not picking up trailer loads of artichokes in California and driving them back across the states.
It was a neon thing - beating a path up and down I-85's piney corridor to I-95 into NJ and Long Island - dropping off loads of finished neon tubing and then driving back to Chapel Hill with patterns and sometimes a much needed check for the work delivered. On my way back I'd stop in DC and pick up three skids of high-end paper for a friend who owned a printing company. The paper delivery payed for my IVECO box truck's fuel and my road snacks with a little left over for enough beer to ease me into a coma after 18 hours straight on the road.
Oh, that IVECO. I loved that truck more than my motorcycle, more than any pick-up truck I'd ever owned and crashed, more than *gasp* my very first bicycle. One of my college roommates sold it to me as he matriculated from drinking at school to working at one of his father's heavy equipment dealerships, one product line of which was refurbished IVECO box trucks.
Mine was white, like nearly every other one I'd seen, and big enough to hold three skids of paper with room left over in the bed to walk around the skids comfortably. I remember the first thing I did to it was to take a reciprocating saw and cut a door from the boxed-inbed to the cab, hinging the cutout with a stainless steel piano hinge, installing a doorknob and lock. When anyone else accompanied me, they could scuttle back and forth from the cab to the cargo area, mostly to retrieve snacks or to catch a nap in one of the bunk beds we'd built into the shell of the truck.
At one point, the fuel filter grew algae (as diesel will allow that to happen!) and it became necessary to drive down the road with the engine compartment open, pumping a primer plunger manually until a clot of loose algae would work its way through the deafening, sputtering engine. I became quite adept at flipping that old engine housing cover off in traffic, going sixty miles an hour, hunching hard to the right and pumping the mechanism while keeping it on the road. If performed without earplugs, the noise rang in one's ears for days thereafter. Good times.
I was pulled over by the police once while swerving during the pump maneuver. Being pulled enraged me so much that I slammed my hands into the steering wheel and the cushioned ring broke free from the steering column. While the officer was taking my credentials, I balanced the wheel on my knees until he asked me to step down from the cab and I just carried it with me like that's what one does, carry a twenty pound hula hoop. I joked at what happened to the wheel and then had to show him how I would drive safely without it, how I'd grip the trapezoidal hub of the steering column and steer that way until I could get home. He'd pulled me because we didn't have any identification on the side of the truck and almost wrote me a citation until he pointed out that we had the exact same birthday and date and he gave me a warning only - an odd karmic highway blessing for both of us.
Two years later, I sent two employees to deliver a load of glass to a client in Raleigh. Four hours after they should have returned, I called the client to find out if they'd ever made it - yes, he said. Hours ago. Another two hours passed and finally they trudged through the door, plopping the license plate and a bundle of the glovebox contents down on my desk.
"She blew up, threw some rods." The driver smelled like a tire fire.
My beloved truck. I drove out to Jordan Lake where they left it, still smoking. Beneath the cab a cluster of rods dangled, coated with brackish fluids, smelling foul. Goodbye truck. She sat there for a whole month, growing a rash of highway patrol stickers on her driver side door before finally disappearing.