Rain slapped at a high tempo on the windshield of my eighteen-wheeler as I drove through the night down a stretch of Interstate 10. My reddened eyes felt gritty from a long day. I was looking forward to getting some rest in a Tallahassee motel room after delivering a load of groceries to a warehouse. At this late hour, traffic was light with only occasional headlights crisscrossing the cracked asphalt dotted with mile markers. I shifted in my seat and sang Patsy Cline songs to keep myself awake.
Suddenly, my rearview mirror was awash in bright high beams as a car crested the hill behind me at a rate of speed far too dangerous for the treacherous weather conditions.
Instinctively easing off the accelerator, I wrestled the truck close to the highway’s edge as the car bore down and then quickly it shifted to the inside lane before sweeping past in a spray of rainwater. “Slow down, buddy, before it gets away from you,” I muttered angrily, watching the Chevrolet Impala’s red taillights disappear in the distance.
During my years on the highway, I’d seen many careless people driving as if they owned the road, but I never shared that opinion, not even from the wheel of my massive Kenworth which towered over most vehicles.
Then, descending the next hill, I gaped in horror at the frightening sight of the Impala turning over and over before coming to a rest on its passenger side, the row of taillights shining vertically instead of horizontally.
I swung over to the shoulder of the road. The Kenworth’s air brakes sputtered with a hiss as I climbed down from the cab and ran in the pouring rain to where a dazed woman was crawling from the driver’s side window.
“You’re a woman,” she gasped in surprise as she slipped and then gained footing on the wet grass.
“What were you expecting, an ostrich? Are you all right? You could’ve been killed!”
“I’m OK, but look at my car,” she wailed in fright.
“Let’s get out of the rain,” I shivered. A few minutes later, we were in the cab of the truck. I gave her a towel to dry off.
“I’ve never seen a lady trucker before,” she said softly. “I don’t mean to offend you.”
“No offense taken. After all, this is 1963. Most working women are in office or factory jobs, not driving big rigs,” I switched on the heater to remove the chill. “By the way, I’m Barb and this is ‘Kenny’.” I patted the dashboard, “We’ve gone many miles together.”
“I’m Darlene. Isn’t it dangerous for a woman to be on the road all alone?”
“It’s especially dangerous, when people like you drive with no respect for others!”
She gulped, “I’m sorry, I have a lot on my mind. I just left my husband.”
“Why?” I checked the mirrors before pulling back onto the highway.
Darlene stared at the rain cascading down the window. “My husband, Ross, is a loving man, but he recently surrendered to preach. To be honest, I’m not meant to be a preacher’s wife, constantly worrying about what people think.” She gave me a sideways glance. “I’ve reconnected with my old high school boyfriend who’s now doing very well as a Tallahassee lawyer.”
“So, your solution is to leave Ross for this other guy?”
“I’m curious . . . why did you and the lawyer break up in the first place?” I asked as I worked my way up through the gears.
“Well, we argued a lot. He hit me a few times, but now he says it was because he was under a lot of pressure then,” she raised her chin impertinently. “He promises things will be better this time.”
I shook my head, “Some promises are like shiny chrome.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Shiny chrome draws the eye, but it doesn’t guarantee dependability,” I lovingly caressed the steering wheel. “This truck was built in 1940. I’ve been tempted to trade it in, but when I see other trucks disabled by the highway, I’m thankful I kept this old boy.”
“You don’t know anything about my situation,” she said defiantly. “Just take me to the nearest place where I can call my boyfriend.”
I choked back the hot words rising to my lips and drove on in silence. The next exit, along with the next chapter of her life, was just five miles away.
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