Badger swung off the exit ramp of Interstate 64, riding the brakes to slow his big rig as he approached the stop sign. He brought the long nosed Diamond Reo tractor to a halt just short of the white line at the stop.
It had been a long night for Badger. He'd gotten to the steel mill a little later than he'd planned. It was the usual problem getting started out on Sunday night. He'd stayed too long at home, not wanting to tear himself away from his family for another week on the road. The guys at the mill weren't any happier about working the Sunday night start-up shift than he was. They'd taken their sweet time finding the bundles of steel, the swinging them on board his trailer.
The trailer was an extendable flatbed, possessing the ability to telescope from its closed length of 40 feet out to a maximum length of 60 feet. He'd slid it out to 55', allowing a 5' overhang from the trailer rear. He'd installed his OVERSIZE LOAD banners front and rear, attached the blinking yellow strobe to the overhang, hung a couple red warning flags off it for good measure. He didn't want some 4 wheeler to drive underneath the load and get decapitated due to their failure to notice the overhang.
He'd gotten underway and driven all night to make his delivery in Portsmouth, Va. It was just cracking dawn and he was in the home stretch now. It had been an uneventful night, just the way he liked it. Five more miles and he could begin yanking the strobe off, fold his OVERSIZE LOAD banners, pull the chains and binders off and stow them. He was ready for a break, needed a cup of coffee, the opportunity to get out and stretch his legs.
In the dim first light he looked right and saw an old Ford pick up truck coming, but it was several hundred feet away. It was an eyesore, the scaly and patchy faded red paint making it look like a rolling case of terminal leprosy. He decided to go ahead and make his left turn to go in the same direction the pick up was going. He let the clutch out slowly, letting the engine take hold and start moving the 50,000 pounds of steel reinforcement rod on the trailer. He went all the way across to the right lane of the 2 lanes going to the left. The pickup had to slow marginally and it swung into the left lane and passed Badger. Out of the passender side came a dirty hand with the middle finger extended.
"I'll show you who's #1, you rotten SOB," Badger rumbled. His weariness was forgotten, anger pumping adrenaline through his system. His eyes were wide open now, and he was a man on a mission. He was as fully awake as if he'd been stuck with a hot poker, road rage assuming control. He started working the gears, racking the little 290 Cummins diesel for all she was worth. He changed gears without the clutch, running the RPMs to their peak, then backing off the pedal just enough to slip the transmission out of gear. Then he backed off the fuel even further, allowing the Jacobs engine brake to jerk down the RPMs until he could grab another gear. The rig steadily picked up speed while Badger worked the 15 speed tranny, watching the Ford pick up receeding farther into the distance. He figured it was a lost cause but he wasn't one to give up on a project just because it was impossible.
He was sailing along now, making good speed, gaining ground. He saw the stop light ahead of the pick up turn yellow, then go red. "Gotcha now, boy." He kept the pedal down until he absolutely had to hit the brakes. He rolled to a stop beside the scaby Ford and gave a short blat on the air horn, waving to the passenger to roll down his window.
"What do you want?"
The passenger was a little leery of Badger and his insistent hand signalling.
"You boys lost something back down the road there."
"Yeah? What was it?"
"This, you inbred bastard." Badger flipped the bird back in Grubby Paw's face from a distance of about 4'.
"Whu..uh, I'll whup your fat ass."
"Don't talk to me about it, boy. Pull the damned door handle." Badger tripped his own and started to step down, grabbing his tire billy on the way out the door.
The red light changed and the pick up driver decided it might be a good time for a change of scenery. He dumped the clutch on his dinosaur of a pick up, almost causing it to stall out. Badger was hoping it would. He wanted to continue his expression of unhappiness with Old Grubby Paws. The engine of the Ford caught hold and the pickup rolled away in a cloud of oily blue exhaust smoke. This time the occupants didn't flip him the bird out the window. They went down the straight road as fast as they could until they were almost a half mile ahead, then made an abrupt right turn onto a side street. Badger didn't see any sign of them as he rolled past where he thought they'd made their turn. He was perfectly willing to resume the dialogue.
Badger made the last couple miles, then eased into the steel wholesale facility where he was delivering his cargo. He grabbed the Bill of Lading and opened the door, stepped down, and went in search of the receiving manager.
Badger greeted the manager with his customary "Howdy." and got one in return.
"Have a good trip?" the receiving manager asked Badger.
"Yeah, it was about the same as usual."