It’s amazing what an over the road truck driver can encounter on a daily basis. All of the sights and sounds they experience become so vast that they soon forget and accept them as simply a part of their daily lives. Experiences that few will ever know and even fewer can only dream about. I often stop and remember such things like slipping through the back roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains…….literally sliding my way down a snow covered Snowqualmie Pass……or slowing the rig down a few notches so I could enjoy the scenery of actual wild horses running across the plains of Wyoming…….and of course, that time I had no choice but to stop in the middle of the road and let that massive, huge moose cross in front of me in Caribou, Maine. All the sights, sounds and wonderment that now only live in my memories…..
Though I no longer operate over the road, I am still “running” here in the State of Florida, averaging 420 miles per day. Not too long ago I was making a delivery in Gainesville, Florida at a small BP service station. As I pulled in, I noticed a haggard looking man huddled underneath the overhang of the building. Working nights, I often have to deal with some “rough” characters approaching me for money or food, so I kept my sight on him. It wasn’t long until I knew he was homeless as he walked up to me and the conversation began:
“How you like driving that thing?” he asked.
“It’s OK,” I replied, “Been doing it a long time.”
He remained with me as I began my work and everything seemed to be going fine. Just a lonely guy, I thought, needing a little company. He walked back over to where he had been and sat back down beside a duffle bag containing all of his possessions. Suddenly, he placed his hand on the bag and started shaking it back and forth saying, “Get up! Get up!” I focused my attention back on him. Then, he began moving his head from side to side, his eyes darting here and there. I heard him mumble, “They’re dead……..they’re all dead.”
A massive thunderstorm was moving into the area and I was working feverishly to complete my work before it hit. All of a sudden, an enormous clap of thunder and flash of lightening struck sending me running for cover. I immediately heard him yell, “INCOMING!” He was down on the ground with his hands over his head and it was then that I realized something…….I was in the presence of a hero.
I knew I had to do something to bring him back to reality so I yelled, “HEY!…..HEY!…..you hungry?” He rose to his feet, his shaking subsided and a grin crossed his face, “I’m always hungry, dude” he laughed. I ran out to the truck and brought back a Gatorade and a ham and cheese sandwich. “Here,” I said, “This is my last drop so I’m heading home, I don’t need them.” As the rain poured down and the thunder rolled, I stayed by my new friend as he enjoyed the free meal. The political side of me kicked in and I wondered why is this man, why is this hero….left alone, forgotten by our Government, and made to live out on the streets?
During the next thirty minutes, we talked about many things . . . from the Florida weather to alligators to truck driving . . . and with every teeth-jawing blast of thunder he would yell out, “KABOOM! ,” followed by a fit of laughter. As the storm passed and moved further to the Northwest, I said my goodbyes and told him to take care of himself. He shook my hand and thanked me for the drink and sandwich. Never once did he ask for money or help of any kind. He was his own man . . . he was a hero.
As I began pulling out of the driveway, another loud burst of thunder occurred, followed by an enormous streak of lightening. I glanced over to see him staring up in the sky, his eyes flashing as bright as the lightening . . . his arms moving up and down . . . and I knew, once again, at that very moment he was no longer with me in Gainesville, Florida. I gave him a wave goodbye, but he failed to respond. He was no longer there . . . the hero had gone back to Vietnam.
© 2008, Allen Smith. All rights reserved.