I was an over-the-road trucker for several years. At 46, I went back to school to get my CDL. I got a job with a company based in Superior. As a flatbedder, my dispatches sent me across most of this country and Canada. I hauled lumber out of Oregon, steel from Pittsburg, and mining equipment into Newfoundland. Before leaving on my initial training run to Massachusetts, I bought a journal to record my journeys. After a particularly grueling day, I recorded the notes that led to the following essay. I always hoped to publish it.
After 600 sticky miles spanning three Mason-Dixon state lines, I cry uncle and submit to the road. From the rear of the trailer, I survey the evening’s amenities. Unnervingly secluded, with an impenetrable scrub brush perimeter, the 10-acre parking lot has less charm than its brethren in Baghdad or Chernobyl. What pavement remains is buckled and heaving, the missing chunks long since pulverized under the weight of 40-ton rigs and the relentless Florida sun. Weeds burst from every crack that will bear them, tracing the fractures of the next pieces to disappear. The guide book’s recommendation for this place conjure up visions of an interstate oasis. However, the book’s missing cover would reveal the description is a decade outdated.
The only light comes from the dirty Southern moon. In the shadows of the hulking shell of a former truck wash bay, I attempt to remove three day’s grime from my body. Everything mechanical or valuable inside the abandoned concrete cavern is missing. Pinched off copper water pipes, stripped away by urban recyclers, look like they’ve been hastily worked back and forth until snapping. Only bird nests and graffiti remain to absorb the echoes from the freeway a hundred yards west. The line from Steve Earle’s song, “Guitar Town,” describing the sound of “steel belts humming on the asphalt” could’ve been written from this spot.
The ammonia-like stench of dried, human urine does little to dissuade me from brushing my teeth. All around, a variety of litter proves that I’m not the first to call this place home for the night. Or longer. Worn out tires, broken pallets, and a mess of indistinguishable flotsam likely jettisoned under the cover of darkness lay in slumped piles. Broken bottles, a mound of partially folded clothes, and an armless Barbie block me from walking further.
Headlights flash across the desolated lot as I see more drivers lurching their rigs into the place. Likely out of time on their hours of service clocks, I imagine them blinking in disbelief as visions of a hot shower and an air-conditioned coffee shop vanish into the humidity of the night. There’s room to park several hundred trucks, but a dozen of us circle our wagons in groups of two or three. There’s safety in numbers.
My toothpaste tube falls open end down into the dirt. Only one barely-squeezable smidgen remains. I do what I can to pick and blow at the crud that stuck; the rest goes into my mouth. With the last swig from a bottle of warm water and a quick baby wipe shower, I’m ready for bed.
Places like this repulse most people. I’m drawn to them. As a kid, my family frequently was on the move. Truck stops and roadside motels appear in my earliest memories. I’ve always been fascinated with the seedy side of society. Abandoned buildings, overgrown homesteads, and urban blight have unknown stories.
Lying in my bunk tonight, I’ll wonder about how this place deteriorated into its lifeless state. My imagination pictures it as a destination once rivaling a stop on Route 66. Cars and trucks steadily flowing in and out, providing the harbor needed for 24-hour lives. The heap of forsaken clothing was likely left by someone needing a dumpster. Because the clothes were folded, my mind envisions a transient family lightening their load as they let go of something no longer deemed valuable as they aimlessly wandered on their way to anywhere but here.
As I crisscross the country, I see many places like this. The next time a run brings me through these parts, I’ll stay here again.
Loren West is a former used camper salesman who knows how to match a necktie with work boots. He remains a person of interest in a 1978 unsolved brush fire investigation.