“…And if you pardon me…da-da-da-da…forever in blue jeans...” I sang in the voice of a seasoned smoker, out of tune with Mr. Diamond’s static-soaked voice on the radio that lay dangerously close to my aged CB. I sighed with a stoic acceptance that it wasn’t in the cards for me to become the next Neil Diamond, not even with liquid courage in the shabbiest of karaoke dive bars. As a matter of fact, my voice could probably make a deaf person blind. No, there is no logic behind that hyperbole, but these are the type of philosophical conundrums that conjured in my mind as I drove across the lonely and grand Interstate 25.
Interstate 25—my best friend. It’s a somewhat sardonic mishap to believe gravel and tar could provide a man with such an intimate companionship. But twenty-six years of providing stores their alcohol formulated a bitter-sweet relationship that manifested itself through an interchangeable mixture of love, hate, tar and sleazy motels...and the occasional lot lizard. I’m only human. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I lie my head down on the flat pillows that I now prefer.
These years haunted me as they flew by, season by season, as I obliged to stick with the airtight schedule the company I work for have set for me. They preach safety, regulations, and law as strictly as a Catholic nun with a whipping stick in a private school. But their tight schedules almost always seemed to contradict their so-called safety methods. It practically begged for me to press that gas pedal just a tad bit over the speed limit—something I am reluctant to do, because my best friend comes with rules: safety above all.
As I sat in the old, soft seat stained with coffee and other various liquids that have made residence in the cloth, one question continued to itch in the back of my head. One and only one thing seemed to crawl its way back into my mind every time the road seemed to be a little too quiet: when and if my best friend would ever betray me as it has to a couple of my other fellow colleagues and even fellas from other companies. A year ago, most nights since the last employee, Marshall Williamson, fell victim to the road, I'd pondered upon this same question as I tossed and turned in the ironing board-like beds of the motels. It ate at the back of my skull like termites feasting on crisp, weak wood, and then crept down my spine leaving an ethereal chill exiting down to my toes covered by my black steel toes boots, when I was much too exhausted to take them off.
Marshall was the kind of guy I made petty talk with—sports, weather, beer, ect. But nonetheless, as a mutual colleague, I observed others interact with him the same way. He was the guy you ask if he saw the game and engaged in other seemingly meaningless human interactions with. The chances of actually meeting an early demise were not great, but they still existed. And that was enough to keep my mind racing. There are losers and winners in this game. And he lost.
The clock radio in my truck read 3:22 PM. I needed to make my delivery before 5:00 PM, and I was still 119 miles away from my destination. I needed to hurry, but still obey my best friend’s rules as well. The stress of satisfying both employers was enough to explain the premature grey hair sprouting from my sideburns. I had to choose between my career and my life. When you apply for your CDL, they don’t inform you that is the morose reality of life on the road—that comes with experience…and anxiety.
The road was relentless, unforgiving, but worst of all, painted in sheep’s clothing. And that’s why in a sick, sadistic sort of way I considered him a friend, just as I imagined him considered me his best friend. But he was a very jealous one; I had to pay attention to him. If not, my fate would be swift as a guillotine on a traitor’s waiting neck. At least that is how it felt. I didn’t dare take my eyes off of him for more than a few seconds at a time; surely there would be a debt to pay for such negligence. A debt so large that made the couple grand I owed to MasterCard would seem diminutive in comparison.
As the years passed, my life’s enslavement no longer belonged to the liquor company but rather to my best friend. I had to do everything to keep him happy. It became almost an obsession backed by artificial superstition and sheer compulsion. I contemplated jokingly the idea of claiming workman’s comp due to utter and complete insanity. But crazy people don’t know they are crazy, right? At least I think I’ve read that somewhere.
But even if I were to leave my career as a truck driver and pursue another career, I could not escape the friend I had become dangerously close with. If I went to the grocery store to buy a gallon of milk, I could not avoid the friend who had helped me put food on my table for 26 years. What was I to say? — “Thanks for my career and helping ensure the safety of my life, but I never want to see or have anything to do with you again. You make me sick!” No, I could not simply erase him from my life, for he seemed at this very moment to be a master extortionist. Capone had nothing on this guy. Some best friend! I thought to myself. I would never say it aloud because my cowardice and superstition led me to believe that he could hear everything I said. The yellow dashes that separated the two lanes in the road were his ears and they followed me and my truck for the entire trip. I didn’t completely trust him and what he might do to me if I were to even mutter some betraying or cynical remark against him. Deep down I knew I must be some kind of crazy. But, isn’t everyone a little crazy on the inside?
I was much too accustomed to the obeying and serving that I had known my whole life. As a child, we are expected to obey the rules set forth by our parents and learn the manners they try to instill in us. As adolescents, we abide by the rules of the instructors at school. As adults, we are to comply with the IRS and our employers. The consequences for not following these simple rules become more devastating each year that another candle is added to your cake. As for me, if I were to be an insubordinate to the road, it would take several EMT’s, police officers, and firemen to find and scrape the remains of my charred body off of the laughing, smirking, smile of my best friend.
These chilling images flooded my mind as my hands gripped the ridges of the wheel at a “ten and two” position. My fingers felt cold and numb against each ridge. My eyes darted back and forth across my friend, checking for any signs of disapproval from him. I could see none. Only the paved open road ahead, leading to my destination. The time was closing in on me like the walls for a prisoner serving a life sentence, pretending each day was the day he’d get out of the joint. That’s the only thing that kept us the both of us sane—the promise of a tomorrow.
My best friend was smiling with approval; I could tell by the obscenely bright white lines that were marked on the side of the road, as though they were freshly painted just for me. Along the marker of mile 43 were bright red, white and blue carnations, and a cross lying upon the side of the white line. It was as if he were saying, “Look at the last person who dared to defy me and my rules; you have only less than 40 minutes to reach your destination. Please oblige me and keep me satisfied or else…” I quickly turned my eyes from the heart-wrenching sight and kept a steady pace of 69 mph. I was too much a coward to try to push the pedal to make the meter read one more mile per hour for the fear of going over the speed limit of 70. I had to ensure I was obeying his rules.
The clock hit 4:49 just as I approached the 10-mile marker, and I knew I had made it another night. The fear that gripped my heart subsided for a moment, and the sweat ran down my cheek, dissipating as the chill from the A/C hit the left side of my sunburned cheek. My best friend was pleased with my work. The funny thing about it all is my mindset remains the same as it was when I first started this career—life or death and job or no job. Although I did care about making the time my company schedule had set for me, I was a tad more concerned about the schedule my best friend would write. As I finished my delivery and began to make the drive back, I started to sing, “...And if you pardon me..."