Monday, July 25, 2011
Montvale Rest Stop, Garden State Parkway, New Jersey
I tried to roll over on the bench seat in my truck. My sleeping bag was caught on the far window handle and I was stuck not quite where I wanted to be. Large trucks idled nearby. I checked my watch for the seventh time in the past ten minutes: 11:37 p.m.
Fine, I was exhausted and still couldn't sleep. I fought the sleeping bag and tried to free myself so I could sit up. No luck. I lost the fight and just settled back into the bag.
I lay there reflecting on the dream that had shattered my latest attempt at sleep. I often have bad dreams, but it had been a while since I'd had one as terrible as this. The people in my dream were different, but my old nightmare returned: I was losing my farm, my money, my business and Moira. I fought, screamed and begged. But it was useless.
Then I woke up, sobbing for air. It had taken me a while to separate dream from reality. When I was fully awake I realized that's because there wasn't much difference between the two.
I rubbed my eyes and looked around. A light mist coated the windshield. Vapor drifted from the big rigs. People pulled up to the pumps, offered their cards to the attendants and quickly rolled their windows up.
I decided to go into the rest stop, hit the head, and grab some caffeine. I opened the door, felt the air and decided to duck over to the building without my jacket. Half way there I realized that was a mistake and began to shiver.
Lights overwhelmed my senses as I walked into the truck stop. Even at this time of night the place was busy --a constant flow of people in and out of the restrooms; an employee placing yellow placards warning of slippery when wet; the pungent smell of tacos assaulted me; kids running around tables in the food court as weary parents threw them the occasional glare.
I ducked into the men’s room and went to one of the urinals. Some foreign dude walked in and, despite us being the only two in there, stood at the urinal beside me. He either he didn't know the two-urinal separation rule or was gay. I didn't care either way; he just annoyed me. He started to talk to me, which annoyed me even more. So I turned towards his urinal, mid-stream, and whizzed in it. He protested in some language I don’t know and quickly re-trousered and left.
I am over-proud of my pee abilities.
I washed my hands, left the men’s room and made my way to the food court. Over to the side, foreign dude was muttering to his wife and making rude gestures in my direction.
I blew him a kiss.
When my turn came I ordered a large drink and two death burritos. I don’t think that's what the fast food chain named them, but I was pretty sure the effect would be the same. I filled my drink while the instruments of death were assembled. When my number was called by a bored fast-food technician, I went back to the counter and took my bag without looking inside. It didn't really matter what was in it; whatever it was, it would taste the same and probably kill me.
I left the rest center not rested at all. The sound of truck tires and diesels downshifting on the parkway filled the mist. I low-ran to the truck, fumbled, dropped my keys, then dropped the bag of food. Cussing to myself I retrieved both and finally managed to climb inside the truck. I turned it on and sat and shivering while waiting for the heater to warm the cab. I pushed the satellite radio power button. Some talking head on Fox News pontificated, so I scrolled through channels looking for something, anything, better. I was just about to switch to the modern country station when that awful "Fox News Alert" sound whooshed on.
That sound always reminded me of 9/11. They must have done focus groups on how that sound hooked listeners and viewers to keep them from turning the channel. Nowadays, however, that irritating noise usually signified nothing more than some reality TV bimbo doing community service or some such bullshit. Still, I waited and listened.
“… The IMF has issued a statement that it is taking extraordinary steps to intervene in the collapse of the Euro. An emergency meeting of the G8 has been called to address this development this weekend. Markets in Asia have dropped sharply. We’ll continue to monitor this situation. Meanwhile, our reporter Samantha Lionel stands by with an update on the new Jazzercize video by the Queen of England. Samantha over to you ….”
Really, the queen does jazzercize?
I bit into the squishy death burrito. Why do they have to use so much lettuce? The heater was starting to warm the cab but was fogging the windshield. I switched over to the country station. I threw the wrapper of the first whatever-the-hell thing that was I just ate on the to passenger floorboard, then tried wiping the windshield in front of myself with my sleeve. That only smeared it and made it worse. So I ate the second nasty thing and listened to Taylor Swift. I liked her the first 2,000 times I heard her. Now I wanted to take a tack hammer to her perky teen tunes.
The windshield was just clear enough for me to creep over to the pumps. When I pulled up the attendant came to my side window. He looked miffed because I had manual window cranks and he had to stand in the cold rain while I lowered the window. I reached inside my wallet and pulled out the debit card Rogers had given me for expenses.
"Fill it up." I handed the attendant the card.
On the other side of the pump I spied foreign dude sitting in a huge rental Winnebago. What the hell.
"Oh, and sir?" I said to the attendant, who looked back from beneath his hoodie.
"I am feeling perky tonight. I’d like to pay for that RV’s gas too."
He looked at me like I had a third eye, but shrugged, started gas flowing into my rig, then ambled over to the RV. Foreign dude lowered his window, listened, then he and his wife got very excited and both started blowing me kisses. I blew them back. Wasn’t my damn card, so why not?
When my truck was full the attendant brought my card back while kisses till flew from the RV. I can only imagine what they’ll write home and say.
I pulled out onto the Garden State Parkway and accelerated as fast as the truck would go. Part of my reason for staying over at the rest stop was to wait out the rush hour traffic across the Tappan Zee Bridge. Even after the wait, I had to bull rush my way onto the parkway. Where do all these people come from at this damned hour?
After about 20 minutes I was on the down slope towards the big bridge. The truck cab was finally warm enough so that I could stop demi-shivering and relax back into the bench seat. Travis Tritt’s resonant voice carried a tune on the radio. Damn, a line almost a mile long waited before the tollbooths on the far side. At this time of night?
I slowed as I approached the red taillights. Crap! The entire 95 corridor is nothing more than a parking lot regardless of the hour. I hate traffic!
After a while I got to where I could put the truck in park, wait, shift, drive 20 feet, and repeat.
My mind wandered back to my dream. More than most, that seemed so real! I crept forward another 20 feet, then parked. It was no nightmare, it really happened. I could see why we were all stalled; there were only two toll lanes open. That day, I thought I had it made. A good deal on the business. I'd signed over the title. All I had to do was get paid. The two toll takers seemed to work slow down just to fuck with us all. It felt like just yesterday – that awful, horrible, beyond belief day. One of the toll-workers opened his half door to retrieve a dropped coin. Son of a bitch! I blew the truck’s horn.
"Mr. MacGregor? There's a man here to see you."
People were standing outside their vehicles yelling at the toll-worker.
"Who would be here today, Jan? We’re closed today for the closing of the sale."
The entire line inched forward. Forty feet this time before we stopped.
"He says he's from the State Investment and Insurance Regulatory Commission."
I was a hundred feet or so away now … maybe seven cars in front of me.
"Jake MacGregor. How can I help you?" I had extended my hand. He didn't take it.
Five more cars. I no longer put it in park.
"Mr. MacGregor, we are seizing all records, accounts, and files of this business."
Two more cars. The line I was in was staffed by an old man.
"What the hell ...?"
"Mr. MacGregor, my deputy will escort you from the premises and take you into custody now."
One more car. Did the toll-taker only have one arm?
My assistant Jan had sat, stunned, as I was led in cuffs from my own office building on the very day I was supposed to close on the sale of my business -- the very day my wife's new husband was to have paid for it.
“That will be five dollars sir.”
I stared at the toll taker. He wore a Vietnam veterans cap.
"Thank you for your service, sir. Here." I handed him a hundred. "Keep the change."
He started to protest, but I waved him off. Horns blared behind me.
"I can’t keep this …"
"You can if I leave fast." I rolled up my window to block him, saluted very slowly and pulled away.
How fucked up is our country when disabled vets have to work the night shift collecting tolls?
Pissed, I floored the old truck.
How fucked up is the world when the criminals win, get huge money and the good guys get dragged away?
I drove into the dark cold night.
Posted by Jake at 3:01 PM