Thursday, November 04, 2004

Runaway Truck

There is nothing to get your blood pumping more than seeing an 18-wheeler tractor trailer truck gaining speed -- with no one in the cab.

Heading for California to visit daughter Debra, we stopped for the night at Kingman just off I-40. We picked the Flying-J, because they have been RV-friendly in the past and suspected no problems parking for the night among their crowd of big-rig trucks. It was very crowded. I-40 is a major trucking route, and Kingman was at the end of a hundred mile of empty desert.

Because it was so crowded, and I hated to have any of those trucker's mad at me, I located a parking place with a lamp pole in it. There wasn't room for one of those 60-foot rigs, but there was for my 30-foot RV and my jeep. We settled down for the night in among the rumble of diesel engines and raised the satellite dish. Just then a freight train passed by less than a dozen feet away. It seems that as well as I-40, the pass throught he mountains was a route for train traffic as well. It was a little noisy, but it was free. We could sleep through anything.

In the morning, I sat in the driver's seat as usual, reading my email and testing my blood-sugar, and engaging in the surrounding entertainment -- watching trucks come and go, and watching the drivers who make a living at moving those huge, massive trucks around. It has always fascinated me how skillful they are at parking their rigs in a densly packed parking lot like this one.

The driver to our right was having problems with his truck. He had pulled the engine hood down and was working on something with a hammer. He was oriental and short, but I was nervous about the way he walked all over the hood. If I tried something like that, I'd break it with my weight.

Finally he appeared to be ready to go. He fired up his engine, but then he noticed someone in the parking lot. Mary Ann commented that she wondered if truckers met friends from time to time staying in the same truck stops.

I wasn't paying attention, until I noticed his truck start to move.

In a flash, I realized he wasn't at the wheel. No one was at the wheel! I slammed at the horn, but that didn't work. I jumped up and dashed half the length of the RV back to the doorway, but Mary Ann, as usual, had turned the deadbolt for the night, and I had to fumble with it for precious seconds.

By then, there was nothing left to do but watch in horror as the truck gained speed across the 80 or so feet, not turning one inch as it slammed into a truck parked facing us.

Mary Ann was shaken, fearful that someone had gotten smashed between them, but that was not the case. People scurried around. I didn't see him enter, but the driver took control and backed his truck back into the vacated slot. Truckers from all over came to see the dented rigs. The driver spent more time on the other guy's truck, looking for damage.

Finally, the other trucker came back, probably from breakfast in the restaurant, to discover his truck had been damaged. Now this guy was a Hagrid-like big guy with a beard. The little oriental guy explained what had happened. The big guy was clearly angry, but at my distance, I could hear nothing. The body language spoke volumes, however. I would have hated to be the little guy. No blows, but if the words matched the gestures, they must have left burn marks.

Prudently, it was time for Mary Ann and I to leave. I really hated to be there if anything more physical happened. We pulled around to the other side of the place to gas up, and as she watched me work the pump, Mary Ann spotted a police car pull around behind. I wonder if a helpful trucker or two had called in a report.

It's amazing to me how the body reacts to things like this. Those handful of seconds, from the time I noticed the truck start to move, until the time I saw it hit, must have pumped me full of adrenaline. Muscles shook for half an hour afterwards. And the memory -- that will last quite a while.

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