every landing you survive is a good landing
I rolled into the parking lot, relieved that finally I could stop pushing myself, my rig, and the clock. I'd been rolling hard to make that last delivery. It's Friday night and if I'd been late it would be Monday morning before dispatch could even begin making another delivery appointment. I'd get to sit all that time for no pay because it was my fault if I'd been late. No worries now though, I'd been on time, gotten my load delivered and now I'm free until Monday morning.
I popped the brake buttons, let my rig sit at idle a couple minutes to cool the turbo, then turned the key off. Blessed quiet, no sound, no accompanying vibration. I opened the door and swung down to the pavement. It's good to be on my legs again, out of the seat. The heels of my worn cowboy boots clump as I walk to the door of the truckstop.
This isn't part of a chain, it's an independent operation, one of a dying breed. This place enjoys no 'economy of scale' purchasing power, no billboard annoucing all the perks to be enjoyed by its customers. It was just a plain boxy building with lots of dusty windows squatting out on the edge of the prairie. A line of fuel pumps stand in formation like soldiers, waiting for something to do. A small lighted sign on a rusty pole by the road advertised ICE COLD BEER. "Neighbor, you're singing my song tonight." This place won't attract the trendy young folks, just tired old road tramps like me.
I enter the door, go by the fuel desk which is occupied by an old gal who looks as tired as I feel. She's about my age. She's young enough to kid around with, too damned old to worry about. I give her a hello and keep going, see a sign that says "Over 21 to enter". It's the bar entrance, and I'm rounding 3rd and heading for home.
As I enter I eyeball the place, see how it's set up, look at my fellow patrons. Always a good idea to look for signs of obvious trouble. There's always that one loud drunk who thinks it's his mission to ride herd on everyone else. I don't have any problems out of those guys though. Somehow I always manage to fly below their radar, never make a blip on their scope.
The bar is a little dim, which suits me just fine. It's a long 'L' shaped affair, and at the far end (the short end of the 'L') a TV is mounted. Behind the bar a heavy glass mirror stretches, framed in darkened oak. I like that sense of solidity, no press-apply glass squares masquerading as a bar mirror. A number of tables are arranged in no discernable pattern. They have a sprinkling of sitters and lookers, drinkers and thinkers. The bar has a good handful along it also. A couple pool tables off in a little side area, the clack of balls adding to the atmospherics. A young woman, long and lithe with jeans and long red straight hair bends over the table to make a shot. All eyes at both tables are on her. A jukebox is boogying along somewhere in the background, playing that good old time rock and roll. No hip-hop, no reggae, no modern metal. No George Jones either. There IS a God in Heaven. Bob Seegar is belting out "Down on Main Street", waiting for a long lovely dancer.
I ease down to the short end of the bar where I can sit and watch the TV. The Cleveland Cavaliers are playing some roundball. I can deal with that too, something innocuous to half way focus on while I slay the dust in my throat. There's a guy sitting at the bend of the bar and I'll be his next door neighbor for a while. I hope he doesn't mind. This guy isn't a trucker, he's dressed all wrong. He has on a white shirt and tan Dockers, a tan belt, tan shoes. For Pete's sake, the dude is color coordinated. Maybe his Mommy dressed him, I don't know.
I settle into the padded chair with a little sigh, and crook a finger at the barman. He eases over and I ask his name. His name is Stanley and that boy could use a cheeseburger. He's skinny, tall and angular. His neck is the home of a protruding Adam's Apple. He has ragged reddish hair and bony long fingers. He looks like a junkyard dog, and I'd bet if you had to tapdance with old Stanley you'd have to kill him to get him off of you. He fits this place like a silk glove. I ask ol' Stanley for a Coors Light and he goes to play fetch without a word, without a smile. I bet ol' Stan is gonna retire from his tips.
Hey y'all, look at me! There isn't a safety net!
My next door neighbor says "Welcome to the Evansville Social Club." "Thanks, for a minute there I thought I wasn't gonna be welcomed here." He smiled and said "Don't pay too much attention to my man Stanley, he doesn't mean any harm, he's just a little conversationally challenged." I chuckle a little and say "I believe you." He turned more fully to me and it's uncanny in the dim light but he looks just like George Clooney. Not the 'Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?' George Clooney, but the 'Ocean's 11' version. George version 4.0.
He smiles at me and says "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Time." I stick out my paw like a golden retriever and say "Well, Tim, I'm damned glad to meet you too." His hand pauses on it's journey to meet mine and he says "I'm sorry, you misunderstood. My name is Time. Tee Eye Em Ee." I shove my hand across the gap and grasp his, shake it and say "My name's Bob. The fault is mine, I don't hear as good as I once did and you have to admit you have a rather unique name going for ya there. How did you ever come up with a handle like that?" He smiled and said "Got it from my Father, just like you got yours."
I grasped my longneck and felt the cold of the bottle, took a long pull, felt the dry riverbed in my neck loosen. The Cavs were down by 11 and it was the start of the 2nd half. I considered my companion more closely. What was this guy doing in a trucker bar on a Friday night? Maybe I should just mind my own business, drink a few beers, crawl into my sleeper cab, tuck myself in and dream the dreams of the road weary. I look behind the bar and catch a sliver of my own reflection. No, in for a penny, in for a pound.
" I'm a little slow, friend. Could you maybe explain that name situation a little more?" He sits back a little in his chair, straightens, and looks me full in my eyes. "My name is Time. More properly, I AM Time." Hey, I'm always a sucker for a conversational gambit. I smile and say "Time, excuse me old buddy, old pal, but doesn't Time have better things to do that wipe the dust off the seat of a stool in a trucker bar with the seat of his pants? Don't you have a universe to run or something?" He went back to his drink, a whiskey on the rocks. He was turning the glass on its napkin, maybe a quarter turn each time. He said "Not really. Time isn't what you might imagine it to be." That could be an understatement at this point. "Time isn't what operates the universe. That's my Father's job. Time is like the backdrop, the canvas where all the action occurs. The vast majority of my functions are automatic. I don't need to have my finger on the switch every moment. I have all the time in the world." As he spoke his hands moved, accompanying his words like an orchestra leader working the baton. I could swear I saw nebulae swirling in his palms.
"Ok, I get that. I mean, if you want to sit down and drink in a trucker bar I ain't gonna be the one to question you. But, what IS it exactly that you do?" He looked at me again and asked "Sure you want to know?" "Yeah, I'm sure. I mean, I'm a bit limited in my understanding of this whole concept, but I'm game."
Time crooked his finger and old Stanley made the trek again. Time said "Stanley, look at my finger." He wriggled it for Stanley's benefit. "This is an inchworm. Whenever you see the old inchworm wiggle, come around and keep us supplied, ok? This will take care of all the loose ends, alright?" He lay down a Visa card. "Run us a tab. My friend and I are gonna have a little conversation and we'd appreciate it if you were to do your best to facilitate it. I'll make it worth your while, Stanley." I don't think ol' Stan followed half of what Time had said, but he grasped the concept of tab, Visa card, and tip well enough. Darned good man, that Stanley. Stanley asked me if I wanted another Coors Light. I grinned and said "Hell no, being my new friend here is buying, I'll have a Moosehead. May as well bring her twin sister too, she ain't gonna survive long."
I've got a cold beer and I ain't afraid to use it!
We sat in silence until the drinks arrived, and I gave that longneck a good hard pull. This is so much better. I asked my neighbor if he'd answer some questions I'd had for a while. He said sure. "Ok, take that Coors Light. Time affects beer, right? Why doesn't it taste as good as this Moosehead?" Time said "The Coors has different ingredients, and they're processed differently. The taste of the Coors isn't my fault, so don't blame me. Time can make it worse, but all the time in the universe isn't going to make it any better. It's still going to taste like cold horsepiss."
I could see I was talking to a man who knew his beer. I was starting to warm to this conversation. "Ok, my friend, I can see that. Tell me this if you can. A lot has been said about the amount of time that a person has. I've had 53 years, my Dad had 79 years. Some poor kid is in a hospital bed somewhere tonight, 4 years old and cancer about to take him away. What do you have to say to that?" He paused a moment, thoughtfully considering my question. He said "You know, you have the same amount of time as that kid. What you have is now, that's all. No guarantee of tommorow, yesterday as gone as your tax refund check from 1989." "That doesn't strike me as being particularly fair." "Fair? No, it's not fair. It's just what is. Fair doesn't enter into it. While you're being solicitous of that kid and his situation, bear in mind that fairness would require payment for your past indescretions." "What do you know about those?", I asked in a much less challenging tone. "Remember what I said about time being a framework, a place where everything can happen? Everything that has happened is on the canvas, viewable to anyone who has an eye for it." I gulped a little and took a deep breath, took another pull on my bottle, a strong one. I know when I'm busted.
"Next question. What other abilities do you have?" He smiled again and said "This is a little more fun. I can change my appearance at will. Take a look." I turned in my stool and I swear to God, there sat Adam Sandler beside me. "God, spare me." "Sorry, is this better? Maybe it's a generational thing. All the young folks seem to get a big charge out of that trick." The voice had transformed, become lighter, silky. I glanced and fell into those eyes, those eyes. I was sitting there beside Charlize Theron, in blue jeans and a light tangerine T-shirt. Around her neck a golden necklace glimmered in the dim barlight, and she had golden teardrops suspended from her ears. Tan sandals adorned her feet. I felt the blood drain from my face, the thickness of my lips. Good to know the beer was doing it's job. "That's what I'm talkin' about." "Shhhhh, listen." Kansas was coming from the jukebox, playing "Dust in the Wind". She leaned back,stretched and closed her eyes, murmured "I so love that song."
My voice wasn't working as well as I might have wished. I looked in front of me and there was a small forest of empty longnecks. When did that happen? Things were moving right along and I wasn't in charge of paddling the canoe. A little red warning light went off in my head. I didn't even smell the smoke when the fuse blew.
"Alright, if you're Time you already know what's going to happen to everyone, everywhere? Right?" She responded "Yeah, that about sums it up, Bob." "Ok, whose gonna win the basketball game?" She giggled. "Bob, you don't have to be prescient to know the outcome of THAT. It's the Cleveland Cavs." "Yeah, you got me with that one. No big mystery there." I paused to make my next question more intelligent.
"How about the whole concept of free will?" She favored me with a look and put her hand lightly on my wrist. Her knee brushed against mine and I haven't been that aware of my knee in years. "It's true that I know everything you're going to do. But you still have free will. The only time you lose free will is when you lose the ability to make the decisions for yourself. That doesn't change the fact that YOU don't know, that you still have to decide. Free will ends when you're forced to make certain decisions. Management strictly forbids that kind of interference." I digested what she had said and responded "It's no wonder you need a drink from time to time."
"What are you doing here? Not you as Charlize, but you?" "I'm like everyone else. I enjoy a little conversation, a good cold drink. There's a time for everything. Balance in all things." "Easy enough for you to say. You're immortal."
She was quiet, tapping her manicured fingernails on her glass. A different mood had fallen on her with that statement. "No, I'm not immortal. There is an end to time. There is no end to me personally, but there is an end to my present function. The same is true of you. You won't always be as you are now, a corporeal being, but your energy and essence goes on. I will continue but in a different job, and so will you. I haven't figured out quite whether it's a promotion or a demotion. Whatever, the benefit package stays the same, or so I'm told." The Eagles were just wrapping up 'Peaceful Easy Feeling' on the juke.
Sometimes you just have to go where the road takes you.
I look at her and say "This is way too heavy. I've had about all the liquid refreshment I can haul out of here for one evening. I've never had an evening quite like this, not even close. You, being you, know that for a fact. I got just one more question, if I may." She looked at me, melting me like butter with those eyes, with that smile., She spoke in a low tone, almost purring "Sure Bob, we're old friends by now. You can ask me anything." Throw the dice, boy, see what comes up. Be a winner or go broke."Charlize, let me ask you this one last thing. Would you like to say goodnight to me now, or good morning to me later?" I gave my best smile, and shut up. There's a time to close a deal, a time to make the sale, a time when the next one who speaks loses. "I thought you'd never ask." She laughed and it sounded like rain in the spring falling on fresh green leaves.
She bent across the bar, and the inchworm wiggled for our man Stan. He came down and my partner told him to ring us out, and I'm glad it was her plastic, not mine. He came back, she signed the chit, and slid the receipt into the front pocket of her jeans. It was a tight fit. She bent over the bar and put a folded bill into Stan's tip jug. We both got down from our lofty perches, and I held out my arm for her to accept. She did, lying her forearm atop mine, her nails lightly caressing my wrist as we started to build speed toward the entrance. We were a mobile mutual support society of 2, heading into the night. The jukebox was playing and Mick Jagger was telling me "Ya can't always get what ya wanna." Yeah Mick, damned tootin', but sometimes ya can.
Stanley came down to clear the debris. He tipped the jug and the bill slipped into his gnarled paw. He unfolded it and looked at the Benjamin,his eyes popping wide open and he looked at the pair just making it to the doorway. One old round white truckdriver arm in arm with a tall black man. "Damned fags. They sure did tip good, though." He pocketed the bill and went to get the bus pan.