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Breath & Shadow

A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature

 



ESSAY


ROY A. BARNES

My Travelin' Roots

Sometime during my sixth year on this planet, my father, Marvin Barnes, asked me if I would like to travel with him in his semi–truck during some of his long haul trips around the country. I was very excited about doing so, and ultimately would log thousands of miles in states east and south of Wyoming when school was not in session.

My dad hauled freight for a company called Western Nebraska Express. He owned a used, high–maintenance International Harvester that had a flat–nosed, light blue cab. The trailers that his truck pulled contained signs on the upper front corners of them that read "WNX", with an arrow going through the abbreviation. He usually hauled goods that needed refrigeration like slabs of raw beef, fruits, vegetables, and beer. My dad often used the CB radio in his semi to communicate with other truckers. His CB handle was "Ground Hog".

Many recollections of being on the road with the "Ground Hog" remain with me. First, I remember the evening that we were in Jersey City, New Jersey. My dad was attempting to get under a bridge that didn't have a very high clearance, and succeeded until the very front part of the trailer got stuck. Fog had crept into Jersey City that evening as I kept looking down the deserted street, hoping someone would come and rescue us from our predicament. In the distance, another low–clearing bridge, illuminated by a streetlight adjacent to it, awaited us if we ever manage to escape this particular bridge. A foghorn from a distant tugboat added to the eerie setting we found ourselves in. Minutes later, a man appeared from under the bridge, heading in our direction. He looked like a private eye I'd seen in one of those 1940's films, wearing a long trench coat and a fedora. He spotted us and headed our way. I felt a sense of relief as he conferred with my father. The man quickly darted off to get help. Eventually, Dad let out the air in the back tires of the trailer, which caused its height to go down just enough to render it unstuck from the bridge.

Cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes were my staple diet at the roadside diners and truck stop restaurants where we ate. My dad often reminded me of the time that I made a waitress bawl her eyes out because I scolded her for getting my dinner order wrong. Sometimes, we even dined at taverns that were close to the loading docks, as long as they allowed kids inside.

Once, when my dad was unloading his trailer, I was playing just outside of the freight yard. Suddenly, this boy, who was quite a bit larger than me, joined in. It didn't take long before he started to bully me around. After several minutes of this, I ran to my dad and then broke down sobbing. I asked him to go after the young hooligan. His response became a call to arms as he went to the trailer to get a meat hook. Its normal function was to suspend a slab of beef vertically in the trailer. He then admonished me, "I'm not going to fight your battles for you. You have to learn to stand up for yourself."

I followed his order, storming back to where the bully was. Then I brandished the meat hook at him. The miscreant tried to apologize to me as I chased after him for about two blocks. Forgiveness wasn't on my agenda. I ran him out of my play area for good, then went back to messing around for a little longer.

The most traumatic moment I ever had traveling with my father was waking up alone in the spacious cab where we slept, and finding the truck at a standstill in a truck stop parking lot. I became hysterical over him leaving me in the cab all by myself. I put my shoes on, opened the cab door, and climbed down the stairs of the cab as tears streamed down my face. I reached the pavement. Soon after, two men who were walking close to the truck noticed me bawling. They approached me. I told them that my dad was missing. Immediately, one of them went to the restaurant in hopes of finding him. My father was found, and he came out to console me. My dad explained to me that he didn't want to wake me up; and thus, he left me in the truck. I was totally relieved. My stomach started grumbling for some nourishment, so we headed back to the restaurant.

We often traveled in hazardous weather, but my dad always got us through it. The only real weather incident that stands out in my mind is the time when we were traveling through the Chicago area as an electrical storm was in full force. The gust of winds and heavy precipitation battered at the truck and trailer. I was terribly frightened, but by the time we reached the factory where my dad was scheduled to unload the next morning, the storm had passed. My father's safe and competent driving earned him a number of "Driver of the Month" awards. He was also given patches for various milestones. One such patch reads "American Trucking Assns. Safe Driving Award: No Accident 40 Years."

Over time, the expenses of owning a truck became too much of a financial burden for my father, and my parents eventually filed for bankruptcy. After that, my dad decided to work in the security industry. His career change ended my days of riding shotgun on interstates and highways. Years later, my father would go back to driving across the country, but he would only drive trucks that were owned by the trucking companies outright. These firms wouldn't allow the drivers' children to ride along due to insurance and liability.

My love of travel has taken me even farther east and west of the places I surveyed as my dad's "co–driver". Besides North America, I have explored the continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe. I have flown enough miles in airplanes to equal going around the world equatorially more than eight times. My trips as an adult are rooted in the times I spent with my dad in his eighteen–wheeler. In addition, I witnessed firsthand the blue–collar ethics of hard work and dependability that keep the country afloat. I strive to apply these values in my own life.


This work is dedicated to my late father, Marvin Barnes (1929–2000).




Roy A. Barnes lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and has Asperger Syndrome (AS). He is a past contributor to Breath & Shadow and other literary publications, including Skive Magazine, Carillon Magazine, Swimming Kangaroo, Literary Liftoff, and The Goblin Reader. He's written travel articles for online and print publications like Travel Thru History, Transitions Abroad, Northwest Prime Time, Go World Travel, and Live Life Travel.


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