I had an unusual trip last week, and it may take more than one blog to tell the whole story. Let's just call this one Part 1 of my journey.
Riff called and told me to get to Philadelphia, where a load of small trucks had come in and were to be delivered all over the country. "All hands on deck for this one, fat boy. So move your ass and get to Philly. I'll let you know where it's headed once you're in it."
I arrived at the address he gave me the next morning, and found around 300 trucks parked side by side, row after row after row. They went on forever. It was some kind of fairgrounds, and it was a very hot day with no shade in sight. There were other drivers from my company, but also 20 or so drivers from other companies. Some of them I had met before in my travels. And lurking in the back was Andy.
"You!" he yelled when he saw me. "You again! I thought I was rid of you, but like a cockroach you keep popping up." Andy is always high as a kite, but he was flying much higher than usual on this day. And as he yelled and cussed at me about taking work from him, his eyes rolled up into his head and he passed out. A few of the drivers rushed to his side, but I just walked away guilt-free, for they couldn't possibly know about all of the bizarre encounters I had with this man.
A large bald Black man named Howie stepped up to me. "Say man, you know what we's waiting on?"
"I think we are waiting on the man who has our keys and our paperwork."
"Oh no, I sure do hope it ain't that Tom."
"Who's Tom?" I asked.
"You'll know him when you see him. He look just like Santa Claus."
Just then, a beat up trashed-out cargo van came bellowing across the field, belching black smoke and backfiring as it went. The van was parked, and Tom slid out. And darn it if he didn't look just like jolly old St. Nick.
"All right ladies, I'm Tom, and you better listen to me good cause I'm only gonna say this once." He didn't seem too friendly right off the bat. Also, I looked around and didn't see any ladies, only gentlemen. "I'm gonna call off your name, you shout 'YO' and I'll give you the number of your truck and the row its in. Got it? Good!" He looked at the clipboard in his hands. "Roosevelt?"
The Black man I had been talking to said, "Yes sir?"
Tom threw his clipboard on the ground. "No, no, no. I will not allow it to be one of those kinds of days. I'm not a sir, I'm a working stiff. When I call your name, you say 'YO' and nothing else. Got it? If you do not comply and say 'YO' there's gonna be a world of trouble. You will piss me off, and believe me, you do NOT want to piss me off." He picked up the clipboard. "Let's try again. Roosevelt?"
"Truck #323, row 15. Jackson?"
"Yo," yelled a senior citizen.
"Lower your voice, Jackson, this isn't a shouting match. Truck #544, row 18."
"Question, sir?" asked Jackson.
Tom dropped the clipboard in disgust. "Oh goodie, first thing in the morning and we have a comedian in our midst. Whoop-dee-doo. Let me stop everything, let me stop the whole process so that this old geezer can ask me a stupid question. Go ahead, old timer, ask away."
"How are the rows marked?"
Tom picked up his clipboard again. "That has to be the most pointless and idiotic question I've ever been asked. You don't deserve the courtesy of an answer. Figure it out, dammit!"
Another man spoke up, "Pardon me sir, but--"
Tom interrupted by pointing towards the man who spoke. "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that. You must follow rules and protocol or we're gonna be here all day. Thomas?"
"Yo, and a good morning to you sir," I said as cheerfully as possible.
"OK, now I am officially pissed off good and proper. Who in the hell do you think you are being friendly and familiar with me?"
"Bill Thomas, at your service."
"Well let me tell you something, joy boy, you are in truck 231 in row 11, and I better not see you or hear from you again if you know what's good for you. Get me?"
I walked off and started the nearly impossible task of finding Row 11. The rows were not properly marked, and things seemed disorganized in the extreme. Once I found Row 11, I walked up and down it five times, unable to find my truck. I walked all over until I found Tom again. He was looking through a big box of keys. When he turned around and saw me, he said, "Oh no you don't! You are thinking of asking me a question, I just know that you are, but that would be a huge mistake. I am in a royal bad mood, and I will bring the wrath of hellfire down upon your head. Would you like that, lard ass?"
"No, sir, but--"
"You're speaking, you are still speaking, and that is a terrible thing to do to me. You realize how many drivers I'm dealing with? How many trucks I have here ready to go?"
"I can't find my truck."
"Dammit, boy!" He leaned in close to me, dripping with more sweat than I was. "I gave you the row number and the truck number. Now go and find your truck and don't you dare think about bothering me again. Got it?" He stormed away from me cussing loudly as he went. He looked exactly like Santa Claus, but I couldn't imagine that he'd shake when he'd laugh like a bowl full of jelly. More like he'd shake like an earthquake then spew molten lava.
There was nothing I could do but start looking up and down other rows. But there were a whole lot of trucks to check out. And the heat was getting to me, my high blood pressure gets bad when I'm in such an oppressive heat for so long. Whew! Plus my low blood sugar was demanding that I eat something, but there was nothing nearby. I pushed myself hard, and watched as an ambulance drove up and picked up Andy. I guessed that all the speed he takes finally caught up to him. And I thought I was having a hard time of it in the heat.
After going through every single row of trucks and not finding mine, nearly two hours had passed. I went back to find Tom, and stood a few yards away from him as he was bent over in the back of his van. He pulled his head out and saw me standing there, and his face turned red. "I thought I warned you to stay clear of me, butterball. Well guess what? I got no love for you, in fact I hate you with every fiber of my being. You are trash, you are filth, you are the bane of my existence."
"I just want to find my truck."
Tom grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around. "See all those other drivers out there? They just want their trucks, too. Why are you so special? Why do you deserve #1 premium service? Huh? You got some warped sense of entitlement? I don't want to hear one more word out of you, not one more word. You got that? Just one more word and watch what happens. You got it?"
"That's the word, now you done it!" He began poking his finger in my chest. "You just went to the very back of the line. I'm going to make sure to help every one of these drivers here before you. You will get my help only after everyone else is done and gone. How do you like that?"
"I've looked at every truck on this lot and mine isn't here."
"You're still talking? You're a freakin' miracle, you are so stupid. Don't you know when to keep your fat mouth shut?"
"I'm already at the end of the line, I've got nothing else to lose. So where do I look?"
"Start with the row I gave you, and then check every other row. Your truck is here."
At that moment, an ice cream truck came rumbling onto the lot from the street. It was playing LONDON BRIDGES over and over again. A man parked it and jumped out. "Hey boss."
"What are you doing here, Jose?"
"I brought you this truck you forgot."
I walked around to the other side of the truck and found the number: 231. "This is my truck, I'll be going now."
"You're not going anywhere til I say so."
"Call my boss and complain. I've been here over two hours searching for this truck which wasn't even on the lot."
"You are full of crap."
"And you're even fuller, Mister Tom. Have a good day." I started the truck and drove off. Tom threw down his clipboard and cussed, saying some cuss word combinations that I've never even heard. Then he started to run after me, but quickly ran out of breath.
Riff called me an hour later. "What the hell did you do, cream puff? You caused quite a stir at the truck lot."
"There was an evil man working there who gave me an especially hard time. My truck wasn't even on the lot, and I searched for it over two hours. This guy was a piece of work."
"Yeah, that's my cousin Tommy. He's got a hot temper, but I love him like a brother."
"That guy was your cousin?" It figured, nasty gruffness seemed to run in the family.
"You've got five days to get that car to San Diego."
My heart jumped. "I'm going to the West coast?"
"Yep. Andy was going to do it, but apparently he is in the hospital suffering heat exhaustion. Don't wreck the little ice cream truck."
Well, it was literally a coast to coast run. I had been told recently that I'd only be going up and down the east coast, so this would be unique and fun. I smelled adventure ahead. But I hoped it would get smoother along with way, because it started off with a guy who looked like Santa but acted like the Anti-Christ.