Off the Road

Ricky Cox

     
   

I guess at one time Charlie had about 150 trucks, but he didn’t have nothing when he died. The IRS took his car, an old Cadillac. And his house. They took his house. He had a girl and boy but they wasn’t much to neither one of them. They growed up, they had money, cars. I think the boy wrecked a lot of cars. I never did see the girl. They never come around the job. He wasn’t there too much his self. So the boy, the boy come and got him after they took his house. His wife was dead. The boy come down to Florida and got him and he died up there in Connecticut in a nursing home. He didn’t know anybody in Connecticut. Never even been there, as far as I know. He didn’t know anybody in Florida either, except a bunch of sorry ass truck drivers. But he liked Florida. Liked the sand, liked the coral because it was easy to haul. We hauled enough coral to build a road to California.

I guess it didn’t much matter that he didn’t know anybody up there. Guess he didn’t even know who he was at the last. I should have gone up there to see him. But I didn’t know he was there. I thought he was still in Florida and I damn sure wasn’t going back to Florida.

            Charlie was foolish over trucks. Liked to see his name on the side of a bunch of trucks lined up down the road. Probably would’ve had his name painted on the sides of a bunch of wheel chairs parked up and down the hall of that nursing home, cussing at them poor old women for slipping their clutches and not checking the oil. Slipping a clutch. That made him madder than anything. Some of them guys was too sorry to lift their foot off the clutch pedal. God damn it’s hard to put a clutch in a Detroit. I must have put in a hundred there north of Miami.

            “Just get them trucks running, get us some drivers, and I’ll pay you what I owe you. I don’t aim to beat you out of it.”

            Shit. He beat everybody that ever knowed him out of money including probably the nursing home if he was ever even in there. He changed the name of the company eight times to get out of paying what he owed. He’d get in a hole and just change the name. Order new decals for the doors of the trucks. After the first time we never did paint the name on the doors. Just get new decals made up. Hateful to get off; hateful to put on. You get a little air bubble in the middle. Water’d get in it and it’d come off. At one time he had 150 trucks. That’s 300 decals. Damn what a job.

            Anyway, there was this guy, Jimmy Willis, they called him Willis, that run a dozen trucks for Charlie up at Dulles. Bunch of guys up there, lot of em’ from Winston, driving trucks, running trucks. Five or six men with about a dozen trucks each to look after. Charlie liked people from Winston. This guy Willis, he was all right, a pretty good guy, drank a little bit. Come from somewhere up in the Shenandoah Valley. Looked after the trucks pretty good. Showed up here one day after I quit with a Chevrolet truck, I guess a year after I left Florida. White Chevrolet. Three-quarter ton. Pretty good looking truck. Toolboxes. Hitch. Out here sixty miles from Lexington. Wanted me to drive him back to Lexington, drop him off. Said Charlie told me to keep the truck for what he owed me. But it woulda been the same old thing. Next day or next week Charlie’d be calling me about coming back to Florida or Dulles or some damn place. “You got my truck.”

            Willis took the truck and went back to Lexington. Looked like a pretty good truck.

            Charlie owed me $2000 when I left Florida. I knowed I’d never get it, so I come home after we finished up in Miami. I told him I was done. He said just come over there to Orlando for a month, get the trucks fixed up, tires on ‘em, get us some drivers, and he’d pay me what he owed me. I told him I was done. I guess the place he bought the trucks, they just come and got ‘em. I don’t know how they got ‘em back up 81.

            I don’t hardly know how we got ‘em down there. He said they worked on ‘em, the people that sold em’ to him, overhauled the motors in DC. I guess they did do something to ‘em, but they was wore out. We started down 81 from DC, out 66 and down from Winchester. Got down above Charlotte and they started throwing out grease, three of ‘em, out of the rear ends. I was in the back in case something happened. Wouldn’t run over 50 miles an hour. We finally got ‘em all stopped beside the road. I went into town and bought a fifty-five-gallon barrel of grease and a hand pump and pumped all the differentials full there on the side of the road. Twelve trucks. Shit they was wore slap out but we got ‘em all down to Florida, down there north of Miami and no place to work except on the ground. Wasn’t cold like up in DC. But hot, muddy. No place to set a jack.

            So he knew this guy that had a place we could work on trucks outside his shop. Big concrete slabs all around it. Went up there. Guy said “I can’t even work on my own damn trucks outside. They passed a law you can’t work on trucks outside.”

            Guy paid a $100,000 for the place. Big shop, concrete all around it, and found out he couldn’t use it outside. So Charlie got that job over in Orlando, good place to work on trucks he said. But I was done. After we got the trucks over there, I was done. Left down there about 3:00 on Friday. Drove straight home without hardly stopping. Maybe 650 miles. Maybe I didn’t stop at all.

            Charlie never had much judgment. There at the last he didn’t have no judgment. Bought 25 Chevrolets, tandems, in DC. Wore out. I went and looked at them. All junk. So after Miami I told him I was going home. He called me, said he’d pay me what he owed me, if I would stay, or just take a few weeks off, do some stuff at home, then come back. I guess he thought I’d get tired of staying home. But he wasn’t never going to pay me what he already owed me. I told him I was done.

     
   
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Ricky Cox teaches Appalachian folklore and American literature for the Department of English at Radford University in Radford, VA. He coordinates the Farm at Selu, a living history site representing 1930s rural life in Southwestern Virginia and teaches introductory courses in Appalachian Studies for Radford's Appalachian Regional and Rural Studies Center.