Truck Stop, Route 40, near Amarillo
After 14 hours of driving, I had made it to Glenrio near Amarillo, the last hundred miles chasing truckers who were jawing about trouble in Schenectady. I gave up and pulled in, dead tired after doing nearly six hundred miles since Phoenix.
The truck stop was a little oasis in the desert of endless cactus and scrub, cotton fields,and wheat fields. The drivers were getting their diesel, 150 gallons, they were heading into the lounge to take showers, use the phone, check the Internet, and get some food. Some came out with loads of "Go Juice," a thermos of coffee to keep them awake.
I just wanted to sleep and pulled in as far from the idling trucks as I could get. I was soon ready for sleep although I kept the CB radio on for a few minutes trying to hear some more Schenectady talk. Just as I was drifting off, two westbounders crackled into my speakers talking about a crazy dame that one had met back east. Their signal came and went like a speeding freight train and after a few more minutes of radio silence, I drifted off.
Morning came with a golden sun searing the desert. I bought the largest coffee and the nastiest bear claw I could find and was soon
eastbound again nearing Amarillo. At Oklahoma City I picked up Route 44 and now swung northeast towards St. Louis.
I approached Chesapeake near Springfield, and after another 12 hours on the road, I was ready to pull in for the night when the radio crackled with a guy talking about a woman who had ridden with him, "We had just come out of Crater Lake in Oregon when suddenly she takes a diabetic shock," He Said.
The signal faded a little. He was an eastbounder I was sure, and I gunned the engine to keep up as he continued to tell the story. I could make out a group of trucks loosely convoyed up about a mile ahead of me and I guessed that was where he was.
"I had to put her on an airplane and send her back east to get .....," He said as the signal faded.
My camper was no match for the speed these pros could sustain nor was I in any shape to drive further. I swung into the Chesapeake rest stop for the night, begging for more info on this story. "...She was a looker, though, a real....." I heard and then silence; the convoy was soon out of range.
I kept the radio on hoping that a west bounder might pick up on the story but soon I was drifting off, the radio still on.
I woke with a start; was I dreaming or had I heard a trucker chattering about Schenectady. I turned up the volume and the chatter faded in and out. "...Two years ago, picked her up at a rest stop in........ rode with me to....family emergency........had to book her a flight with my Amex......." Silence. Westbounders, I figured, jawing about the same topic that was going eastbound. I fell asleep again.
The next day I worked on my CB voice. I listened all morning as the camper lugged through Missouri. I wanted to get in on the chatter and to find out more about the trouble in Schenectady. At St Louis I picked up Route 70 and hoped to reach Indianapolis by nightfall.
I noticed that the daytime CB talk was all business and, "Full Grown Bear," but at night the drivers seemed reflective and talkative. I would give it me best CB voice and try to get into the conversation. I still had an awful craving for the company of Lydia and her enthusiasm for travel but the CB chatter and this mystery woman was filling in the hours. And now I had to know more about this mysterious truck stop woman.
From Indianapolis I followed Route 70 toward Columbus planning to pick up Rt 71 to Cleveland. I started jawing on the CB, talking about the lady from Schenectady as if I was talking to another trucker. There were no takers, however; drivers can be a suspicious lot and keep things close, particularly when talking about picking up passengers or saying anything about how many miles they have done. They know that their bosses monitor and that bears have CB too.
I listened as I sped through Cleveland but the radio glue had gone cold and hard.
I eventually stopped in Erie after 450 miles. I was tiring now and couldn't do much more than twelve hours of driving and not much more than 450 miles. I pulled in for the night, planning to head to Buffalo in the morning and then take 90 east towards Schenectady.
I turned on the CB again as I lay in my bunk, hoping for some night time chatter and some tidbits about the lady from Schenectady.
Two guys were jawing and they weren't mobile by the strength of the signal, they must have been in the lot. "My buddy picked one up and took her clear across 90 to Everett. He bout fell in love, he tells me, They were touring the Sawtooth till she got ptomaine and he had to fly her home from Seattle. Never could find her... phoney address. Gotta go, Driver, you have yourself a good day."
I bolted out of my bunk and lifted the shade. I could see the running lights as the rig lumbered down the ramp onto the turnpike. I grabbed the mike and keyed. "What was that gals name?" I said. No Answer. "Where did he pick her up?" Silence. I couldn't buy a come back and quit trying after a few minutes. I drifted back to sleep still listening to the night time chatter.
I left Erie through the fog of a cold morning and circled Buffalo and headed east on 90. Six hours later I got off the pike at Amsterdam and rode along Route 5 on the north side of the Mohawk River in Pattersonville, remembering how Lydia's commentary had made this stretch of the Mohawk come alive with history. I came down Route Five into Scotia then took a right on Broadway. This took me through Rotterdam and onto Duanesburg Avenue. This turned out to be Route Seven and I remembered biking near Seven in Niskayuna with Lydia. I sure missed her commentary now as I continued looking for that truck stop where I had first met her. She had given me her phone number and I wanted to look her up and see if everything was OK. A return of the money that I lent and the airfare sure would have helped also but in truth, I missed her..
I couldn't remember what the place looked like but I remembered it being on the right side of Route Seven as I headed west. Soon I came to a large station, The Quick Way; it had a large parking lot with a couple of campers along the side and a dozen diesels in the back. It was dark by that time, so I pulled in and planned to spend the night since I had done a straight run from Erie and been on the road for about eight hours.
I pulled in and went around the back. They had signs up about one-hour parking so I parked in back away from the diesels. I lay down to rest, keeping the CB on and hoping for some chatter about the mystery lady. Two drivers were talking close by, I could tell from the strength of the signal.
"Picked up a looker, driver, she is in the little girl's room now, going to ride to Dakota with me."
I jumped up from my bunk; a driver in the lot somewhere was talking about picking up a woman who was going to ride with him. I pulled back the shade and could see the truck in the lights, idling near the coffee shop.
"You have yourself a safe trip, driver," came the response from the other trucker.
A woman came out of the lounge and headed for the truck. The mystery truck stop woman, I was sure; I had to get a look at her. I pulled on my pants and jumped into my shoes. I made for the door just as the truck headed towards the exit ramp. I ran to catch up, running behind the truck and onto the passenger's side as the truck started out the ramp. I tried to look in the passengers side widow. I could see her head. I was now running beside the truck on the grass beside the ramp, waving my arms to get her attention. The woman looked out the window. She saw me. She just kept staring as the truck slowed to enter route seven.. I couldn't make her out. Suddenly the truck came under the lights and I could see her face clearly.
I froze. I stood motionless, transfixed, numbed by what I saw.
Her head came out of the window a little bit as she looked back at me and then her hand came out and she waved: a wave of goodbye. I put my hand up and gave a feeble wave back.
I stood motionless as the truck turned left onto seven and picked up speed and then blended in with the lights of the other trucks.
I stood for a long while watching as the truck became a bubble of light as it took a left and headed towards 90 west.
I felt a deep sadness as I realized that it would be the last time that I would ever see my sweet little traveling companion Lydia; that wave had meant more than goodbye..
I stood there for a long time and then a smile came to my lips, I remembered how Lydia had made the map come alive and I knew that the mysterious truck stop lady would soon be showing another
traveler just how beautiful this country can be.