Metroblog

A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

29 July 2004

The Man With The Stainless Steel Keyboard



So I am. I blog at you today, dear Reader, from a Flying J brand truck stop in Ripon, California. The whence I am held in duranc vile awaiting freight to return me to my home and native land.

The terminal is equipped with clacketing metal keyboard and costs $0.20 per minute touse, so you'll forgive my elimintion of the usual cascade of links to articles nd pictures.

I wanted to examine truck stops as a sort of cultural genre. Cosidner the hammer: As a developed form of answer to a common problem (violently inserting things into other things), they have certain universal features, namely large lumps of metal or other materiel on the end of a stick. Likewise, most bathrooms are built in answer to certain basic human needs, and with certain basic and universal features (ie. graffitti-proof walls).

What then do truck stops tell us about the populations that use them?

First, the great universals: They cater to travellers. ALL sch stps supply not only diesel fuel for big rigs, but gasoline, and even sometimes natural gas and propane for four-wheelers.

Most offer restaurants for the hungry, and for the sleepy, there are nearby motels for the four-wheelers and parking (but not enough--not nearly enough!) for the drivers, as well as black-and-yellow un-amphetamines to enable you to make that last pickup.

And telehones. The architectural directive in designing truck stops is: On a blank space over 3' wide, place a phone.

But now we start to get into the more exclusive corners: For the dirty, there are showers and often laundry facilities. For the bored, there is often television; indeed, in the comparatively expensive but also relatively luxurious Petro chain there are usually movie theatresshowing dreadful videos--I was once trapped for an entire weekend with Mel Gibson in "The Patriot", whose moribund and sentimental mien was occasionally relieved by bouts of Bruce Willis playing a Serious Man in "Armageddon". Both films, as someone famous whom I haven't time to look up once said, should be hurled against the floor with great force.

Indeed, from an asessment of the fcilities of truck stops, one might conclude that truckers were the most bored, and yet most easily entertained of all groups save preschoolers. Most stops offer "games rooms" containing ovepriced video arcades upon which a bored transport driver may relieve his (the industry remains underwhelmingly female) fury at his dispatcher and at the parade of morons who enliven his trips and congest his highways.

For the excruciatingly un-entertined there are even expensive internet kiosks upon which they may blog their time away. . .

But the most revealing element is perhaps their gross sentimentality. At every stop are sold piles of clothing (in sizes from kids' to XXXL, reflecting the democratic preponderance of sizes amongst drivers) emblazoned with individualistic slogans, and often featuring wildlife such as wolves or eagles. "Ride Free Or Die", "Whoop-Ass", and various "my sports team" slogans predominate. Ball caps nestle in great piles atop signs advertising "X% Off!!!".

If one considers the overall layout, one might see a trend: Frm the cash register, the left-hand lane contains the preactical necessities. Load locks and strps for securing cargo, oil for thirsty engines, antifreeze and radio accessories are here. The next aisle is surplus electronica: AC televisions, with built-in VCRs or DVD units, satellite access packages, and even laptop computers. Here we see video nd DVD movies, plus a small selection of Louis Lamour Stephen King, and gawdelpus Jude Devraux paperbacks.

At the back wall, a long cooler contains ic cream, milk, cold cuts and beer. We turn again into the third aisle: Food (real food--soups, stews, Spam, bread), first aid supplies (band-aids, Pepto-bismol for dealing with shippers, and for some reason, Preparation H), and at the far end, chips.

Now we approach the section on junk food--by far occupying the second-largest shelf space in the store. Here may be found conventional crap such as chocolate bars, and also products named "Ho-ho's" and "Ring-dings", although oddly enough no twinkies are in evidence.

From this you may have garnered that truckers as a group may be thought of as sort of refugees. Their primary characteristics being that they are univesally hungry, tired, and dirty.

But their remains one last element in addressing the trucker mentality. Sloppy sentiment. It originates from the miserable lonliness of the Long Haul. It is in evidence from the number of postcards labelled "thinking of you". The tiny t-shirts reading "My Daddy is a Trucker", and the mawkish gifts too sentimental to be meaningful and too expensive not to be.

Lest my Reader fear a descent into a discussion on this major element, be comforted. I point it out to explore the fascinating stupidity it engenders in its victims. This last element is fully explored by the rack close to the doughnuts and "cold-drinks" (Hyphenated pronounciations a la southern-fried American). This shelf cntains the most astounding selection of esoteric garbage imaginable. "Hand-made" crud of every thinkable (and a few unthinkable) description decorates the shelves--and presumably not a few trucks in the world as well.

I mean, who ever laid out $36 US for a 2'-long ceramic piglet? Who is encouraged to consume odd sculptures of painstankingly ("handmand") accurate skeletons dressed in wedding gowns, pirate rig, jazz-ensemble costumes, or in one somehow discomfiting case, a turban? Who buys the fleet of miniature cars selling for $9.99 (SALE!!), or the painstakingly detailed glass guitar lapel pins?

I would have bought one, but couldn't find the model I wanted.

The best t-shirt I've seen lately, regrettably unavailable here, shows a rig at twilight, drawing up to a house with a light shining through window. The print reads "I'll be home early tonight".

I won't. Hell, I haven't got a load yet, and it'll be a minimum of three daysto get home, unload, and drop off the truck.

I'm about $8 in the hole on this terminal, so I'm signing off. Safe journey, wherever you may be headed.




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