Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Truck Stop Adventures "Back in the day"

Going to college in your hometown is almost like a glorified high school, especially when you live at home. So it wasn't until I was done with that little 2-year associates degree, just one summer shy of turning twenty, that I officially cut the cord. My dad said I could take the truck, and I gave them a nonchalant wave hoping it wouldn't betray my beating heart. I glided away from the potato and wheat fields, down past the college campus lined with big trees, peeking in the rearview mirror every 5 seconds and thinking I'll never be the little punk running around Apache Avenue again...I have to grow up now.

My destination? Utah. Time for a school break, get a job, and work on residency so I could eventually go to Utah State University nestled in between peaks, forests, and waterways.

But before I made it to USU, I made a pit stop in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Left mommy and moved in with my dear friend Sophia, and her mother (my new second mom, what a wimp I was!). I flooded Happy Valley with my resume showcasing my newly earned degree:

Craft store? Never called.
Secretary at a respectable office? Oh, yes my resume has an impressive sidebar thank you. Um, well my mother designed it, that's how. When can I expect a second interview?
Salesclerk for unfinished furniture? Not hiring.

I finally settled in at exit 276, an all-night truck stop just off the interstate and right across the street from the steel mill pooping into Utah Lake and cranking their factory run-off after the sun went down.

The first few days, I worked on memorizing four digit codes for the register, determining when the big rigs needed to stop on the scales, and filling the ice machine. It wasn't until later that I realized I had been seeing the same people over and over. The Old Asian man full with a sensai beard burrowing into his clavicle. He honestly looked like the wise man on top of the mountain. He smoked Pall Malls, and I once joked I needed to see his I.D. and he tugged his beard and gave me a wink.

The red-faced steel worker who faithfully purchased a 24-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer every time I saw him. I would see him twice during one 8-hour shift. It wasn't until months later I thought I probably could have called the cops on him, he was forever glazed and always on the go.

Of course we had the not-so-regular and just-passing-through as well. Daddy truck drivers bringing their kids along during summer break. Big rigs filled with a fridge, TV, VCR, and a bed all behind the cab. I determined that most truckers were oversized teenagers with no concept of mortality or health-consciousness...snarfing down hotdogs and twinkies, chuggin' cola and beer, and watching movies until it was time to hit the road again. Every kid I saw that summer skipping in their daddy's shadow was in hog heaven I tell you.

One swaggering driver had brought his kid, probably around 12 years old and mentally handicapped. I figured he must have been a real sweet guy to bring his son that had extra needs. He came into the store and dropped the big bucks for a hot shower for both of them. When he came back with the key and wet towel I ask "How was your shower?". He started laughing at himself before even finishing his punchline: It was better than sex! Up runs his sweet little kid, gazing up with adoration "What dad? What did you say?". Well son, she asked me how the shower was and I said it was better than sex! He was probably the first grown-up I wanted to smack across the head.

There were entertaining ones as well. One friendly old goat from Canada exclaimed to me with great dramatics "CANADA WILL KILL YOU". Excuse me? "That summer sun never sets, you just keep driving and going until you're dead tired and run off the road". I shrugged my approval, and gave him a bonus for flair.

Later in the summer, my dad insisted I borrow his Nissan 300ZX. It was a two-seater sports car that was fast and belonged at the fairgrounds. I have to admit it was fun to drive, but I was embarrassed of it. Just wasn't my style. One day an upper-forty southerner was stuck at my stop for a few days. We made small talk and he glanced out the window and beheld the sports car at the curb. His syrupy accent drooled out "Oooh maw! I jest know that's yo car parked there i'n it?". I was horrified to admit that yes, it was my car.

We continued small talk, and eventually he asked me when I got off work. 6 0'clock, I stated. I cringed at what was coming next, but just waited for it, "Can I take you out on a date?". It was the first time someone ever threw the race card at me. Nope, I said, when he immediately hissed "It's cuz I'm a black man i'n it!?".

Oh no! I thought, what have I done! I swallowed hard and blurted out, Hey Mister, you're old enough to be my dad. I was relieved when he gave me a big sweet southern smile, laughing as he said "Aw-right darlin'. That's aw-right". Phew!

I've never forgiven myself the day a quiet middle-aged man came into the stop wearing a Weezer T-shirt. Because I was young and stupid and he was old and no longer cool, I smirked Nice shirt! He then pointed out to the filling deck where a plush oversized bus was filling up, right there at Exit 276, and explained he was their touring manager and they were on their way to the next show. Not wanting to be a gushing fool, I tried to clear my thoughts (my name is jonas...my name is jonas...my name is jonas) while I asked if I could go say hi.

He insisted the band was not there. They had flown to the next show, and he was left hauling all the equipment in the bus. I gave him the eyebrow curl, and he again insisted they were not in the bus. Figuring I had already made myself a fool, and considering I was on the clock, I stayed put. That night I went home and wept bitter tears that I lost my chance to be a groupie for Weezer.

That was the summer of '95, and gas lingered around 90 cents per gallon. I whined over the days I could fill my car for seven bucks, and now it costs twelve!

Waah (that was the 2009 Mrs. Olsen talking, who paid over fifty to fill her tank last summer).

Eventually, my life at the truck stop ended and I finished my residency protocol at my dream job: Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.

But before I lingered with the ski bums and the valley girls, I skipped out from Apache Avenue and paused for a while listening to truckers, stocking twinkies, and scrubbing stale shower stalls back at the 24-hour stop at Exit 276 across from the Steel Mill.


Lee Family said...

I'm laughing. You are so funny. You wept bitter tears for Weezer?? now come on. Did you really have to clean those sick showers?
You kind of sound a little spoiled. trying to leave Rexburg and be on your own when your daddy insisted that you drive his sports car. If people only knew the crap cars we drove. The crap car I got for BYU cost dad like $500 - was freezing cold, couldn't make it up the hill to our house in Springville, had no power-steering and was just crap. Hence the goal to earn money to buy my own car. I guess that's the difference between daddy's girl who got to ride his precious sports car and me. That's right daddy's girl - didn't have to do dishes because you were witty . . . driving daddy's sports cars and getting chuckles when you cursed. Oh, I'm laughing at myself. Instead of writing traumatic childhood experiences, why don't you write about the fact that you're daddy's lil' girl.

ok, get serious - his sports car was cool in the 70's or something right?

Wade and Marilyn said...

Amber, I love your writing style. What about the tears your Mom and Dad shed when you left?

cozy said...

Amber, you were so brave to work at a truck stop. I don't think I could have done that . . . . but then I look at the jobs I had as a teen and I don't think I could have done them either (yet I did). I drove a red-neck, 20 feet long, paint peeling, 1950's junker car, pulling a small ice cream trailer up and down the streets of Logan in 1969. Music filled the air when I turned on to a street so everyone could see my white-trash car and quickly run into their houses and shut their drapes. I think I sold about 9 popcicles that summer. Good times. . .

Anonymous said...

I just pushed "play" on that video, and Rainbow said, "I wish that came with headphones, Mom."

Great post. It would have been even better if you could have taken the Sprint--I think that was my favorite Anderson car. I don't even know why, but I loved it.

Rochelle said...

Hi Mrs. Olsen, Mrs. Olsen here. Ok I hate referring to myself as Mrs. Olsen because Mrs. Olsen is my Ma in law, not me! I am just Roch or Rochelle or Rochie. Whatev
Your post made me laugh and then I remembered that you were the reason I went to work at Snowbird in the first place. You told me how great it was and you were right! I made a lot of great friends up there and wish I could still have my pass and maybe even work up there once in a while....those were the days.
So thanks!

Jenny said...

OH my goodness, I can't believe you worked at a truck stop! What fabulous stories you have collected, I love hearing them!

Mrs. Olsen said...

Niki, the 300ZX did put off the little rich girl syndrome I suppose. I have to add that it was all a temp loan until I purchased my first car, Shimmy Jo Swisher, the 4 door Geo Metro with nearly 100K on it when I bought it. Man did I love that car (Wendy would have loved it too...so much like the old Sprint).

Okay okay, poetic license. I only cried bitter tears inside, but I honestly should have just run out to the bus- I know they were all there lounging in blue jeans and being cool.

Niki, I challenge you to a hand-wash of a sink full of dishes you little twit. Work your fingers to the bone my arse. You always started practicing the piano whenever it was your turn to do dishes and mom wouldn't let us touch you!

Mama's Girl!

Cozy- Something about the idea of sweet little Cozy driving a beater truck scaring kids with popsicles makes me very very happy. Even your firstborn son had no idea of your fateful summer job. Thanks for sharing.

Roch, had no idea you worked at the Bird. I'm glad some other fellow Bobcat could understand the draw to that bumming life up there. If only I was still that cool. I left a piece of my soul there, as I'm sure you can understand.

Ma and Pa...I can see mom shedding a tear when her chicklings left the nest...but dad?

paula said...

I think I enjoyed reading all these comments as much as I did the actual post. Niki-you are kidding right? I'm pretty sure you came in a close second to Clay so I'm a bit confused about the bitter way in which you say "daddy's lil' girl". I seem to remember things a bit differently I guess. Your banter back and forth is such a crack up! I was still laughing about Niki's as I read your Mom's comment and said "OH" out loud. So sweet. Yes-I remember all your cars. You had some sweet ones-don't forget about that enormous car your cousins drove clear from Texas...it must run in the family eh?