Between the trucker’s trip and the poet’s trip lies the longest hard-surfaced road on earth

BILL HOWELL September 1 1971


Between the trucker’s trip and the poet’s trip lies the longest hard-surfaced road on earth

BILL HOWELL September 1 1971



Between the trucker’s trip and the poet’s trip lies the longest hard-surfaced road on earth

With the road, it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s a matter of where you find yourself, I guess. And when. It’s as Canadian as hoping for what you can expect.

A national metaphor, the Trans-Canada Highway is the longest hard-surfaced road on earth. It strings each of our separate television cities together like beads on our own

special necklace of need. Most of us drive along small sections of it, and only choose to know it in terms of the immediate zones of thought and feeling it runs through, regions of familiarity, each one called home. But the truckers transcend the ordinary human limitations of time and space, and use this road. Alone and always on the move, they are the lifeblood that flows along the main artery of the heartland. Only, they don’t see themselves like that at all. Because the trucks and the men who drive them are, quite simply, symbols of themselves.

When you stop and think about it, truck drivers are pretty necessary kinds of guys to have around. I mean, they haul in 73% of the six million pounds of food consumed daily by the city of Toronto alone. Some 1.2 million trucks in this country work more than half the total ton-miles.

More than railways, boats, airplanes and pipelines combined.

And it’s estimated that, out of our whole labor force, one per-

son in nine makes his or her living directly from the trucking industry. Sure hits you with the hugeness of it all, doesn’t it? I think it’s safe to say that trucks bring us everything we want, and a whole lot more besides.

John Melanson was 50 this summer. He comes from a small village on the western shore of Nova Scotia, somewhere between Digby and Yarmouth, but he’s usually found on the Trans-Canada. Every Tuesday morning he sets out for the Day & Ross transport terminal in Toronto with a load of yarn, cotton duck and canvas from the mill in Yarmouth. He arrives in Toronto just after noon on Thursdays. Every Thursday night he leaves with another load for home. He sleeps in his cab in the terminal yard on Thursday afternoons and has never seen downtown Toronto. He’s been doing this for six years. Before that he ran his own garage, but “I’ve been driving pretty well everything since I can remember.” Five years ago someone at the Toronto end of things

gave him his nickname, “Cotton John.” He doesn’t know anything about metaphors, but he’s a damn good truck driver.

The most important of all facts, the one they can’t measure, is what keeps a guy going out there, when he’s on the’ long haul itself. And that’s what this story’s about. It

has nothing to do with flag decals on lunch pails, Roger Miller songs on midnight radios, or black T-shirts full of beer guts. It has everything to do with making good time in the good air, getting the goods to the people, and knowing where to get a good 10-cent cup of coffee. And mostly it’s about how different people see the same things differently, but still somehow manage to get along, along the way. Because there’s a big difference between riding in trucks for fun and driving them for a living. That’s the difference between John Melanson and me.

I grew up in Halifax, went to Acadia University, quit after my third year, two years ago, and decided to come to Toronto. In a Ford Econoline van with a Bösendorfer grand piano inside it. Both belonged to a particular guy named Anton Kuerti. He’s pianist-inresidence at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, and he plays 12 Chopin Etudes in a row in the second half of concerts all over the country.

You have to have your own piano for that kind of stuff. So, in the last couple of years, I’ve driven that old Bösendorfer clear across Canada, since poets don’t make much money while truck drivers do, though we all like to get around.

I started writing poems about time and space, and got curious about the Trans-Canada and the truckers themselves. I got so curious, I started hitting the road without Anton’s truck, hoping that someone would just pick me up, hitchhiking.

So much for background. This summer, for the first time in this country’s history, the spirit of a whole generation has hit the road. And what it finds and learns on its travels will determine, to a large degree, our future. The road is a great equalizer. Most trucking companies, for a variety of bulletproof, vested-interest reasons, insist that their drivers not pick up hitchhikers. John Melanson has a NO RIDERS decal on his windshield. From inside the cab it’s on the bottom

righthand corner. From the road it’s on the far left. Either way it confronts, rather than supports, an absolutely certain rule of thumb.

Before you have an exception, you have to have some kind of rule. And the rule in any large trucking operation is this: When in trouble call Central Dispatch. The rest of the time Central Dispatch tells everybody where to go and what to take, why and how. It told John Melanson via Telex from Toronto to pick me up at the Day & Ross terminal in Halifax at seven one Tuesday evening. This was out of John’s way by some 50 miles, and he could’ve gotten out of it, but there he was, waiting for me. Neither one of us knew quite what to expect.

I was 25 in February. I’m six feet, weigh 145 pounds, have almost long hair, and wear wire-framed glasses. John is five feet seven inches, weighs at least 200 pounds, has short curly black hair, greying at the sideburns, and wears red, rusty-brown, jade-green and white plaid work shirts. I’m an enthusiast, always wanting things to be better than they really are, and I say “Wow!” a lot, because too cool is cold. John, on the other hand, is roadwise, figures the

on most important words are the ones that are left unsaid, and leaves it that way. I’m carrying my portable typewriter and the 10-yearold Boy Scout knapsack I always take with me on the road. John is carrying a Bill of Lading in one hand and a carton of regular-size returnable-bottle Cokes in the other. He points out his truck and all I can do is look. At least we both come from the same part of the country. We shake hands.

“How’re you now?”

“Fine. And yourself?”


If I felt any better

I couldn’t stand it.

The tractor’s a GMC Astro 95 and John is proud of it. It cost $32,000 three years ago and it’s almost paid for. A cab-over-engine rig, it can haul longer trailers that way. It starts with a huge black bumper, almost a lane wide. A bumper bumper. And the windshield, four feet high, flows from peripheral vision to peripheral vision. The cab itself is painted Hallowe’en orange and black, the company colors. Their pattern imitates the night wind. The license plates (“tags”), laws unto themselves, somehow manage to contradict and complement each other at the same time. Leering over the roof of the cab, framing the running lights, are two immense air horns. You can see what they sound like. At the sides, the door handles are an arm’s length above you. Contrary to popular belief, the doors are quite light. They only sound heavy. And I’ll never forget John’s dual exhaust pipes, four inches in diameter, up from behind and chrome forever. You feel the thing more than you see it, even from this close.

The Trailmobile trailer belongs to the company. It’s a weatherproofed silver box, except for its number, 4465, and it cost $10,000 when it was new. It’s a volume van, different from your flatbeds, canvas-covered stake-and-rackers, car carriers, tankers, container chassis carriers and reefers. (Reefers are insulated vans with Thermo King refrigerated units on them. They can carry everything from ice cream to corpses.) It’s

hitched onto John’s tractor at the “kingpin” by devices called “the fifth wheel” and “glad hands.” (This particular coupling relationship is the source of an infinite number of firstrate filthy jokes at truck stops and terminals across the nation.) All told, John’s rig is 53 feet long, has 18 $200 tires, is 13 feet two inches high, weighs slightly over 32 tons, and it’s worth about $100,000 the way it’s loaded now. John watches me watching it. He has a grin that could crack the world in two.

We climb inside, officially.

Secretly, John wears sandals, even in winter. He only wears his boots when he gets out of the cab because of the mud in the yards. He explains, while I look around. It’s a very special place, the brain of his diesel dinosaur. All padded black leather and chrome. The dashboard looks like a TV studio control room. It swings right around his hydraulic double-cushioned king-of-the-road throne and gleams right to the back of the cab, where the bunk begins. Forming a cockpit. When you try to say everything at once, you could mean anything. The cab says everything at once, and speaks of power, taste, nobility and conspiracy. There is no tele-

conspiracy. no vision set in back, or bar, but I feel as if I’m sitting in someone’s living room. Either that or on my way to the moon. The only things remotely near the doodads and frills from carnivals or Canadian Tire stores I expected are a single, discreet three - inch cardboard evergreen air freshener hanging from the bottom of the dash and two rolls of white paper napkin on top, for forehead wiping. John checks things out with clicks and hisses, starts the engine, and we take off. It’s all done with mirrors.

I take notes while John changes gears in

mid-mind. It’s sunny and clear as we start out, but cool. Because a sea wind has wound in from the harbor and wiped the heat of the day off the green face of the city. It does that every evening in summertime Halifax. Meanwhile, John’s leaning back and forth, staring at all four mirrors at once, playing an inches game around corners and through intersection traffic. His ham-hock hand glides back and forth, between the gearshift and the wheel, and the load behind begins to settle down for the journey. You can feel it.

I tell John I want to know what it’s like to be him and do what he does. My editor, I tell him, wants “A Trucker’s View Of Canada.” And I can see right away that John’s never thought about wrapping words around this, his side of the country. He keeps his eyes on the road.

Cross-country trucking came into its own after the rail strike of 1950. But don’t get the idea that one guy hauls one load clear across, even now. This is very rare, and no human enterprise, even an analogy, works out perfectly. Truck loads on this continent, like people, go north and south more than east and west. And the public carriers’ licenses limit them to specific regional areas. But different companies in different regions have deals with each other. So your especially long haul is made by several drivers and tractors from several companies, while the trailer and the Bill of Lading stay the same. This whole process is called “interlining.” The in-

dustry will have to have more of this kind of internal cooperation if it’s going to survive. Like the country.

“Well,” says John, between shifts, “it’s pretty well the same. You know, no matter when you’re doing it. In the winter it’s the weather; in the summer it’s the tourists. You’re always working.” That’s good enough for now. Our national pastime has to be weather.

John always has his side window rolled down. Like it is now, he says, so he won’t forget what the weather’s like. Even in winter. Otherwise, I imagine, a guy could lose his touch with reality. The windshield is like a television screen with a National Film Board travelogue playing. (“A third of Canada’s trucks work on farms . . .”) We pass pastures full of fat brown-and-white Ayrshire cows with calves, and chrome-domed silos. The air is sweet and green and growing, and here we are.

We meet other trucks and wave, back and forth. We meet them all — Macks, Fords, Reos, Whites, Internationals,

anything on our level. It’s almost a ritual. John says he’s been waving to some of these lads since he first started this run, and he’s only met them like this. But he sometimes runs into them over coffee at truck stops, and everybody finds out who everybody is.

He still keeps on waving. This way you’re not quite so alone.

At night it’s done with headlight dimmers, but it’s the same thing. After a while, you get to know who’s on schedule and who isn’t. But you never know why, except for yourself.

After an hour, the drug of the road begins to take effect.

Slowly, surely, the body begins to shed the weight of distance, and a rhythm is born inside you. You could almost be going anywhere at any speed.

Habit is your only limitation.

Your ears are tuned to the tone of the engine, the numb humming of the tires, the pink sound of air, whispering through the side window beside you, and the bouncing rumble of the trailer behind.

The double-barreled highway ahead, binding your eyes between the white lines, fades into question marks of haze on the rim of the nearest woman-figure hill against the evening sky. The truck becomes a time warp, a monolith of moments, a shiver of electrons . . .

“Doesn’t look like it feeds from here, does it?”


“The lake there. You’d swear to God the stream was at the other end.”

“Oh. Yeah, I guess you would.”

“You hang on there. And watch when we reach it.”


John grins and changes gears. In the right lane, of course, uphill at an urgent 20. We’re well past the Truro turnoff and on our way to Wentworth. The cab bounces with power. It’s like sitting on a ferris wheel when you’re waiting for other people to get on or off. Only it keeps on happening to you. Now I know how truck drivers get bad backs, kidney trouble and piles. '(All the way to Toronto?) We’re already suspended nine feet above the road, so the hill doesn't seem as steep as it really is. John begins to tell me about his fishing

camp back home, and his three-horsepower motor and boat, which, like most of us, he doesn’t get to use as much as he’d like. He has to shout above the roar. And then with one last great diesel grunt, we reach the top.

And everything is worth it to see the lake below. A mirror for the sky. A sign says “Folly Lake.” And he’s right about it stopping right there. We coast on down beside it. A small dark bird dips himself toward the face of the water, touches it, then wings away, into the dusk on the far side. Wow! John switches on his headlights, grins again and changes gears. I’m beginning to see what he means.

But let’s not kid ourselves. You can’t, thank God, expect to find out what makes a man tick in a couple of hours, any more than you can expect to stay awake forever. We cross the border into New Brunswick with the night still behind us, and pull in at Pete Rowe’s Esso station in Aulac. Here John announces that he’s going to go to sleep. And he kicks me out of the cab and locks the doors while he does.

He’ll give me a shout when he wakes up. So I go inside and chat with the night guy on the pumps, who tells me he has five kids and makes $10 a month more than he’d get if he was on welfare. These kind of things keep me awake.

The station is a classic allnighter. Displayed around the counter and cash register inside are Aspirin, Clorets, Certs, Rolaids, Brylcream, Listerine, Vicks, Noxzema, Anacin, and a host of other golden goodies. Including the usual chips, cakes and donuts, 27 kinds of chocolate bars, six kinds of sunglasses, and a Coke cooler with 23 kinds of pop inside it. There’s also a tea-coffee-soup dispenser and a Peter Jackson cigarette machine with a color picture of Montreal by night on the front of it. In the middle of the Happy Motoring display section is a special deal on Flit Weed Killer, the latest gardening herbicide “from Esso research.” The big problem with this society, I decide, is the anarchy of the

spirit. Meanwhile, the rigs continue to roll in.

One of them belongs to a gypsy. Gypsies are the outlaws of trucking, the free lances. They make their living by scrounging their own loads with their own rigs and keeping clear of the cops, since they’re not properly licensed. It’s estimated that gypsy operators took $30-million worth of business away from legitimate carriers last year. They mostly operate up north and in Ontario and Quebec, where the competition is keener. This guy’s just hauled a load from Montreal up to North Sydney, he says, but he’s coming back empty, losing money. The girl with him is young and tired and loves him anyway. They get fueled up, buy some chips and Royal Crown Cola, and leave when he’s through shaving in the washroom inside.

Sleep is the distance between your headlights and dawn, in the bunk at the back of John Melanson’s mobile living room. Time, the shock of distance, hits with fists fast as lightning in a day sky.

There are 32 different kinds of truck transmissions in common use. John Melanson has an RTO-915 Fuller, which

gives him 12 speeds out of 15 pro-

continued on page 71

■^he big green cab lurches, leaps, and almost blows itself up with pride


gressive gears. He changes them with the same care you or I would take in picking up a piece of broken glass. He’s also careful with his tires. Every 100 miles or so he stops beside the road, kicks off his sandals, hauls on his boots, gets a hammer from his tool box and hits every piece of rubber on his rig to make sure he’s got plenty of air and he’s not overheating. Tires that catch fire are pretty well impossible to put out or change. He likes night driving because it’s cooler and his motor seems to run better, and there’s less traffic then. It takes a long stretch of road to stop 32 tons at 60 mph, so John keeps his proper distance. This is mostly what he thinks about when he’s on the road alone. I wake up and watch him.

Between Fredericton and the terminal at Hartland we pass 11 hitchhikers, all but one on our side of the road. We’re right in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery that ever took your breath away — the St. John River Valley. The road is straight and good. John tells me about his eldest son, a lobsterman back home who’s making a good go of it. An independent operator, like his dad. People can find work if they want it bad enough, he says, as we pull in off the road. The terminal looks like the ranch from a leftover cowboy movie set, held together by stray pieces of Scotch tape and string. The huge beasts grazing on the tarand-dirt lot around it are a peculiar orange and black breed. This is where John’s cheque waits for him.

While we’re getting our tank filled up, a worn tire changed and a running light fixed, I get a chance to look around. Inside the garage a dozen men are working on four trucks at once.

You can see there’s sure been a lot of loads pass on and off the loading docks over the years. Meanwhile the drivers are standing around with their hands on their hips talking to each other about what’s wrong and right about their rigs, and the office girls have arrived. A guy named Junior has been running around getting things done, and we’re ready to go. The day is waiting.

The rhythm of road takes us over again. It’s hot inside that cab, and outside it’s an eye-narrowing sun. There are no words necessary. We reach Edmundston and cross the border into Quebec, into another zone of thought. It’s noon again. We pass deer-crossing signs, country-white churches, and

go through small towns. Curves and hills punctuate the monotony. And in the distance, fir forests. Off the highway run mostly dirt roads and dogs, and we see broken-down barns and farmhouses, the wood greyed by the changing seasons of time. Now the road narrows and starts to wind along its own history. Past long lakes dotted with summer camps, shacks and cottages, and groves of yellow birch, bright with sun. People meet us in battered pickup trucks and eightyear-old Chevy hardtops, feeling their way around us in another language. Everyone smiles and waves back and forth. We come to a railway crossing.

And wham! — a flat. It takes half an hour to change it, and one tiny, insignificant - looking jack does the whole job. We only have two spares, and we’ll have to stop to get the tire fixed. Out of his monkey suit and back into his sandals again, John says he knows where to go. It's just past Rivière Bleue. It’s all in a day’s work.

The garage is owned by a guy named André, who's busy welding a car chassis as we pull in. It’s a tiny homemade place with real grease pits and plastic streamers everywhere. And by the looks of things, we’re the only people who’ve pulled in here for weeks. John turns out to be bilingual, “except when we get excited and both

of us get talking fast.” Which they do anyway, since they’re old friends. A teen-ager materializes and starts to fix the tire, pretty well by hand, but expertly. Canada, I’m beginning to think, is the distance between good garages. And the distance between people. And the time it takes to cross that distance.

We finally arrive at the Gill Truck Plaza on Highway 20 outside Quebec City for supper. And right away you can see it’s all in how you leave. There’s a guy with a sneer in a Mack pulling out of the pumps ahead of us right now, all power and smoke and double-clutched gears galore. It’s like a slow-motion movie of a swan taking off. The big green cab lurches, shudders, leaps, and almost blows itself up with pride at the fire inside, and he's almost off the ground, roaring around the corner of the restaurant, yes sir, and on off the lot. A gypsy? The guy at the pumps grins and winces at the same time. John tells him what to do to his truck, slowly. He tells me, “That’s a good way to burn out an engine.” And he’s serious. Then he takes off his sandals, puts on his boots, and things get back to normal.

Normal at the Gill Truck Plaza is two dozen rigs arriving, two dozen

waiting and

continued on page 72

a stop we find the American Dream is alive and well and living off Canada

Big Rigs from page 71

10 dozen

leaving all at once. It’s engines revving, men shouting, and neon light screaming. It’s a football field of asphalt covered with grease, broken glass, tire skids and beer cans. It’s surely the home of both the National Roadeo Champion and the Dunlop National Truck Hero. And it’s all done in milea-minute French Canadian. C’est the guerre de la gare. The place has real style.

And inside the restaurant, the girls. Only they’re women. And I don’t care how old you are or what, it doesn’t hurt to look. Pink-and-white hot-pants outfits sure are some nice. And they’re big women, with big eyes and big thighs, and they're gorgeous and friendly as hell. And you don't have to ask twice for the milk to go along with your hot-chicken sandwich. It’s a good hot-chicken sandwich. This is what truck drivin’ music means. And I'd sure like to see the rigs their boyfriends drive. The American Dream is alive and well and living off Canada.

Meanwhile John Melanson is sitting here in front of me, quietly munching away. And I still don't know what’s with him. Or him with me. There are too many words left unsaid between us. Why are we so scared of each other? Where did the mistrust come from? How can you have a closed society in an open country? How can you measure or act out a war? Where's the lead in the beaver’s tail? We get up to go, and neither one of us leaves a tip.

We pass the “For Truckers Only” sign by the restaurant door and head for the back door, through a foyer. There we find a glass display case full of plastic model trucks, painted various company colors. And on top of the case is a bunch of copies of the Highway Evangelist. And here, by

George, is a newspaper with real integrity, put out by people who really know trucking. It’s major features are highway safety and a good God. Here's a sample of what's inside, from a piece called Cornin’ On Strong by the Reverend Bernard Warren of Milton, Ontario: “I don’t believe that Christians should be violent, aggressive, abrasive people: except sometimes. Never destructive, never mean, never without love, the Christian may be required to take the hard line or move in with muscle.” They’re called Transport For Christ. Inc., and they have mobile chapels running clear across the continent. And they’re poets, too. Like Art Culp from Hamilton:

“IVe love you dear truckers with all of our hearts,

I know of God’s gift to us He did impart.

Please let Him guide you over life’s stormy way,

He is waiting to help you, yes, even today.

Do not end up killing some innocent folk,

This is serious business for life is no joke;

Cash in your pride and your arrogant style,

Turn your life over to Jesus —

He'll make it worthwhile.”

That’s the last verse from The Space Was Not There. As we come outside, the sky is hanging between overcast and clear, trying to make up its great grey mind.

It’s a routine now, settling down, into the road. The hot meal feels good inside. The bouncing actually helps the digestion. The road is good from here on in. It runs past power poles and phone lines, the bodies of small, wayward animals, long strips of pasture and, to our left, the misty St. Lawrence. Toward dusk we pass an-

other hitchhiker, and it starts to rain. Finally, I ask him, phrasing it carefully:

“What do you think should be done about these kids on the road, John?”

But he’s not about to be confronted.

"Well, you know, there's two things I don't like talking about . .

Politics and religion. That’s the end of it, then. He pulls into a tourist rest area for a sleep, and doesn’t kick me out tonight because of the rain. He kicks off his sandals and climbs into the hunk. I make a pillow out of my coat, and stare at the kid on the road, through the rain on the windshield.

( Poor bastard, sure hope he gets a lift.) He's tall and skinny and he looks a lot like me a couple of years ago. (Wonder where he’s going.) He walks past, through the mist, and on over the nearest hill.

Most truckers, and especially gypsies, name their rigs after their girl friends, wives or eldest daughters. Because every outlaw has to have at least one in-law, inside himself or out. John Melanson has no name for his rig. A broker, he leases it to the company. His wife approves of this, and they’ve been married 25 years. Next year I’ll have been married for 12 months, and if I had to drive a rig for a living I’d call it Beverley. I’ll have to go back a bit now, to the Ford van I drove across the country and the Bösendorfer piano, and the letter I wrote then:

Dear Beverley:

I have two beers in my belly and you on my mind. I haven’t shaved for two days. Love has become my distance away from you, measured by the hair I have to add to your old picture in my wallet. Don’t cut your hair until I’m back!

But being here is important, too. The mountains describe themselves here for the first time. Even the foothills are as high as anything I’ve ever seen before. Being here is so important, I almost forgot to tell myself where I'm from. Wherever I am.

Three time zones from home and still trying. There was 1,000 miles I didn’t know existed, between Toronto and Winnipeg. The same 1,000 miles. I’ve discovered, that doesn’t exist between Toronto and Halifax, in Winnipeggers’s minds. It sure takes a long time and a big mind to stretch yourself farther than 1,000 miles and still be in the same place.

March is no time for taking notes when you’re driving a grand piano

over the

continued on page 74

I’m alone with myself, driving the curve of Canada

Big Rigs from page 72

/ Rockies, hon.

(I’m concentrating on the piano, which I can’t play, rather than the truck, which I can’t play, either.) I pass three sports cars with skis, and a chartered bus, barely believing its way along. I like to think the people who pass me know their way better than I do. But maybe, after all, it’s still impossible to cross this country without an Indian guide. I go 70, try to beat the night into the mountains.

My headlights, switched on for safety’s sake an hour ago, are just starting to show. They give me just enough light to see the whole country at once, on the map of my mind, with all its time zones drawn in. And maybe now, when there’s no place left to hide, when everything’s been sped up so fast as to become almost meaningless, when we can make or take all the time in the world, now we can get our zones of thought together. The further I get into future, the more I have to use my high beams.

My terms are as vague as distance, sure as eating, sleeping, waking up, and moving on. If only I could take all these spruce trees, the tallest I’ve ever seen, along the way now, and turn them into ideas. I’m afraid of the dark. And it’s getting darker. I feel doomed enough to try to make friends with what I can still see of the mountains beside me. But the mountains are always more than what I make of them, are friendly only up to their tree lines. Grinning at a mountain is like deciding to dedicate a poem to someone only if she first agrees to misunderstand it.

Like “what one woman has reported to be a rabid fox” on the radio outside Sudbury. Or maybe the World’s Largest Stuffed Moose in Dryden. And most certainly the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Commemorative Postcards with 17 years of prairie road dust on them, “flown by aeroplane to Dundee” and “on sale in London by eleven o’clock” a few short hours after the event, back at some small town, back there . . .

What Rockies??? At night they move in on you like myths. I swallow my way up. The prairies were like a great frozen lake. Alone is a prairie experience. Soon there’ll be more people than trees. I cleared Calgary at five, a football field frozen hard as the last instant of the last instant replay. Someone said I should reach Revelstoke by 11. Maybe I’ll learn something before I’m over and on my way down. I’m alone now, with myself, driving the great curve of Canada.

ICE. In order to get and keep control of this truck I have to start with myself. I clutch myself in and out of gear. I am what I drive as well as how and where and why.

It’s amazing anyone would pay me to do this. Three antelope know enough to keep out of my way. All miles are measured equally on the speedometer’s odometer. More animals, eyes of animals, ideas of themselves . . .

And the road does decide where the mind can go. Even if I’ve never seen it, I can smell the Pacific. Ever since Winnipeg. How can you have a Pacific dream with only an Atlantic memory? You do it alone, I guess, until you come to what you both have known.

AVALANCHE AREA. And though it’s a federal park, they don’t allow you to stop, you gotta keep going. A straight stretch. Why must my country always be my corner of my country? Four snowsheds, sign “LIGHTS?” Where you’re from is nowhere near important as where you’re going. Another straight stretch. I’m already doing 60 when I think about unlocking the other side door. Hell, all the doors! So that when I get caught in an avalanche they’ll (whoever they are) be (whenever they find me) able (if they find me) to get what’s left of me out easier. If a man is too late for his own ideas of terror, then maybe he’s ahead of other people’s.

Except for the odd trailer trucker now, I have the whole treacherous road to myself. They’re considerate with their lights, seem surprised to meet me. I’m growing up, aware of it for the first time. I’ve decided it’s not a matter of finding the someone who’ll be the only one who knows me, but in the someone who’ll give me guts enough to trust everyone with myself. When I reach the highest point on the pass, the piano behind me will sound a C Major, muffled by the wind and its covering. And the truck, which I’m not concentrating on, will gently slip off an icy patch, frozen there specifically for me. And I’ll continue on in the air with the chord for some unspecified lifetime . . .

I wonder what he was thinking, the guy in the fur parka back there, along the road at Revelstoke. Did he notice me? I stop for a leak now, in spite of the signs. There’s Orion, the Hunter. I’ve never felt or been as close to him before. Or you. People who drive trucks have character.

Love, Bill ■