It was just Crew Leader Carl and I working on the maintenance crew today. The other guys had been assigned to a different job, so they’d driven off together in a separate truck.
We rattled down the highway in the company’s ramshackle pickup, the overloaded trailer swinging wildly behind us. The pipe rack mounted to the bed was loose and wobbling, and the detached tailgate — which was strapped to the back with a single bungie cord — looked like it was ready to shake off. I was keeping a weary eye on it in the side-view mirror, but it, too, was shaking so bad that I was starting to get dizzy.
With all of the random tools rolling around the vibrating truck, we sounded like a spinning dryer full of quarters clattering down the road. I noticed that every driver who passed us was staring with an open mouth, as if they were trying to figure out how the truck was staying in one piece.
As for Crew Leader Carl, he was leaning back in his seat with his left arm flung over the wheel. He was using his right hand to adjust the ancient AM radio. He squinted at the dial as he scrolled past a series of talk-news stations, the highway unfolding before us.
“I’m trying to find us some country music,” he said, spinning the knob. “I always lose the station, somehow.”
“Maybe the knob vibrates while you drive,” I said.
“What’s that?” His eyes narrowed.
I gazed out the window. “Nothing.”
Up ahead, a bicyclist was huffing and puffing along the shoulder. We sailed toward him, with Carl still staring at the radio.
“Um … Boss?” I said.
“Found it!” he exclaimed, as Conway Twitty blasted into the cab.
“Boss!” I said, grabbing the dash.
“Huh?” He looked up in time to see the bicyclist. “Oh, crap!”
He swerved violently to the left and then back to the right. A weed-eater flew out of the back of the truck; I watched in the mirror as it tumbled behind us at 55 mph before breaking in two.
The wobbling bicyclist screamed and nearly fell over. Propping himself up with one leg, he raised his fist and shook it at us as we kept driving. I watched as he grew smaller and smaller in the vibrating mirror.
“Stupid idiot’s going to kill someone,” Carl said. “Wheatgrass breath!”
“Would you mind turning the radio down?” I asked, holding my forehead and wincing. “Just a little? Please?”
“What, you don’t like country music?” Carl asked, adjusting the volume.
“It’s OK. Maybe with more coffee, I could tolerate the twangy guitar.”
Carl pointed at the radio. “This music, sir, is the bedrock of our country. It’s the anthem by which every red-blooded American lives and breathes.”
“The thing is,” I said, “I don’t think any of these musicians are living or breathing anymore. This music comes from the B.C. era.”
Carl frowned. “B.C.?”
“Before compact-disc. And even those are considered ancient. I have one at home that I use as a coaster for my coffee mug.”
“There’s nothing wrong with age,” Carl said. “Take this truck, for example. It was manufactured with strong American hands in 1979, and it’s still getting us to where we need to go.”
I nodded. “Occasionally in one piece.”
“Don’t give me that. You can’t mistake high quality — even after nearly half a century.” He made a fist and pounded the dashboard.
The surface crumbled, leaving a large hole.
“Hmm.” Carl peered over the wheel, squinting at the dashboard.
“You’d never know this truck was a day over 40,” I said. “Except, of course, for the belching exhaust, the clanking motor, the rusted paint —”
Carl reached over and turned up the radio. “Enjoy the twangy guitar.”