I'm in a Yahoo! group for Clown College graduates, and one of the members recently suggested that we send in tales of train travels (or overland travels, for those of who missed out on the whole train experience). And I, of course, thought to myself, "Aha! There's an entry in there!"
The tale begins in Memphis. Sidewall Sam had taught me how to drive his Ford Econoline van in Jackson, and I was now responsible for getting it from lot to lot. He drove the spool wagon, which contained the tent. Our destination that night was Blytheville, Arkansas, a straight shot up the interstate.
About halfway there, I ran out of gas.
See, one of the many "features" of the van was the broken gas gauge. I usually depended on Sidewall Sam to keep the gas tank full, but it didn't always work out that way.
Anyhow, I pulled over to the shoulder of the road to wait for one of the other troupers to pull over and give me a lift to the nearest gas station. Well, it didn't happen. The trucks were either ahead of me or way behind, or they didn't see me, or they just figured I was pulled over to catch a nap.
So there I was. I thought about hitching, but decided to hang out and wait to see if Sam showed up.
About an hour later, an 18-wheeler pulled over. It was a very spiffy rig -- a corporate rig from Amoco rather than an independent -- clean and shiny. The driver slid out of the cab and came over to talk to me. I told him my sad tale, making sure to emphasize that the circus trucks would no doubt show up eventually and that my BOYFRIEND would certainly be looking for me, so thanks for your concern, but I'm fine.
And the driver allowed as how he really wouldn't mind taking me to the nearest gas station so that I could get enough gas to get off the side of the road, and he was a good guy, and he didn't like the fact that I was stranded by myself on the interstate where anything could happen.
And I thought, Like getting picked up and murdered by a random trucker in Arkansas?
But then, in a stunning example of either trust in my fellow human beings or complete idiocy, I decided that I'd go ahead and let him take me to get gas. I grabbed the empty milk jug we used as a gas can (um, yeah, highly illegal), put my pigsticker (highly illegal knife) into my back pocket just in case, and climbed up into the cab.
The driver regaled me with tales of long-haul trucking. He loved driving, it paid well, he preferred working for a corporation because the work was steady, he only took a white cross (speed) now and then to get him through a particularly long stretch of driving, and so on.
We got to the gas station with no problem, and I cajoled the sleepy gas station attendant into letting me buy a gallon. So far, so good.
On the way back, we had to pass the van and double back. And so we took the next available exit.
And made a wrong turn, ending up on a very narrow two-lane road.
Which was deserted.
In the middle of the night.
In a huge 18-wheeler.
The driver gritted his teeth. He knew he'd have to turn around -- somehow. I must admit that I got a tad bit worried about whether (1) he'd be able to do it and (2) whether he'd get pissed off enough at me to do something that would make me regret having gotten in the cab.
Amazingly, he turned and angled and backed up and pulled forward and turned and angled and finally, after about a 2,576-point turn, he did it.
And I began to breathe again.
We got back to the interstate and made it to the van, still sitting by the side of the road.
As I got out of the cab, he invited me to join him at the next truck stop and he'd buy me a cup of coffee. He made it clear that he meant no monkey business, just a cup of coffee, and I figured that I at least owed him that much, since I'd nearly been responsible for him getting his rig stuck on what was practically a dirt road in the Nowhere, Arkansas.
He pulled off, I got the van started, and yes, I met him at the truck stop, where he was sitting with a group of buddies. He was such a nice guy that I decided I owed it to him. His eyes lit up when he saw me -- I've always wondered if he really thought I wouldn't show up. He bought me some coffee and I entertained the truckers with tales of the circus, and then I said good-night. He shook my hand and told me to take care, and I'm sure he probably said something like, "See? I told you I picked up a clown tonight!"
After that, I made sure there was plenty of gas in the van before I got on the interstate, even though I knew there were good guys out there -- good guys who just wanted to make sure single girls driving alone at night were okay, and maybe buy them a cup of truck-stop coffee and talk about the circus.