Amongst my favorite memories are the family road trips I took as a kid. We traveled through the deserts and mountains of New Mexico, the redwood forests of California, the canyons of Utah, passed rivers and lakes through to New Hampshire. What a sense of freedom! Historically and in our contemporary times, one’s ability to move freely has been a prized luxury. The American right to drive from coast to coast, unimpeded, has been a signal feature of our country. Our truckers, then, are emblematic of our independence; the solitary figures of unrestrained liberty.
A blur of rest stops, brief calls at pay phones to check in with family and mix tapes was broken up with the occasional terrifying downpour. There! On the horizon! Is that speck a semi? We kept a beady eye on the ever enlarging form, hoping for another opportunity to signal a road warrior to honk the horn by hanging out of the windows and pumping our arms up and down. And there it was…that skull-rattling, heart-racing, thrilling-like-nothing-else semi-truck horn!!!
I realize now that mom and dad weren’t active, eager participants in our stalking of the road warrior riding a many-wheeled beast. In retrospect, the most important element of those road trips was how, unbeknownst to us children, our parents kept us safe on the road at night. This might be an unusual thing to say, but it’s true: we would look for a Flying J to get gas, stretch our legs and grab a bite to eat. I loved sidling up to a trucker on a bar stool. These guys would nearly always make me feel like a road comrade, talking with us about our journey and theirs, the food, the weather. After probably hundreds of truck stops, the thought of becoming a trucker when I “grew up” had settled in my mind as a possibility- it was my version of a cowboy riding out into the sunset.
I learned about the world and stopped romanticizing that lifestyle and group of people as I had. Still, they are their own breed: in my mind, it’s Americana. I miss those road trips and, especially, that certain feeling of pulling up to a Flying J and nestling in amongst 18-wheeled beasts waiting for their feed of diesel fuel. And every time I glance out my window and into the cab of a semi thundering down the highway beside me, I still feel the distinct urge to signal that trucker to blow their horn.
Thanks to all those truckers who were consistently kind to us kids. Thanks for indulging us and keeping it fun. Just another reason to cherish our independence and our open roads.