Night Shift Driver.

Copied from the ebook “Trucker”.  I wrote it some years ago.

I want to play a game. Actually, I want you to play a game. It’s called Night Shift Driver. It’s what I do; I drive our rig through the dark of night. I want you to play this game so you can get the true feel of that “call of the open road” romanticized by country-western singers and teenie-bopper movies.

To play the game, you need to devote a 24-hour period beginning at about 6:00 P.M. on a Friday or Saturday night as you’re going to need the following day to recuperate. Also, be sure the night you select is one where you’ll be free of interruptions by family and friends – oh, you can make and receive cell phone calls, but no one comes to visit.

The best place to play this game is down in the basement where it will be completely dark and you can achieve a feeling of being totally cut off – just as in a real long-haul semi. Also, the make-pretend “road” which we will be driving this night will be I-94 from Miles City, Montana, east toward Fargo, North Dakota. I picked this stretch of I-94 because at night, you can drive on it for hours and never see a sign of life. Also, when you’re in eastern Montana and all of North Dakota, the land is fairly flat and the road can be as straight as a stick for miles. Also, I-94, being an Interstate, is 4-lane all the way so you never have to worry about oncoming traffic and head-on collisions.

You will be driving a 10-hour shift, though eleven hours is the legal maximum and the one your employer prefers you drive. Understand that this means ten hours behind the wheel, not just ten hours on-duty. For example, if you start driving at six P.M. and will need a half-hour for fueling and another half hour for potty stops, you will be going until five the following morning. If you choose to work the maximum allowed by law of eleven hours, you won’t be getting out of that seat and turning off the engine until six in the morning.

Because I drive with my wife as a 2-person team, I’ll be sitting up with you for a while, just as Jo does with me. You’ll find the company to be quite helpful.

Now, you’ll need a few things to get set up:

• A chair upholstered in cloth, no leather or plastic. Don’t want to get your hinder all sweaty and stuck to the seat. Also, the chair can’t be a recliner as it must keep you in a fully upright position and allow your feet to be flat on the floor. It needs to be a chair you can tolerate sitting in for at least four uninterrupted hours. This will be your “driver’s seat.”

• A large screen TV placed three to four feet in front of the chair. This TV needs to accept connection to a game-playing machine like an X-Box™. The set’s screen should be placed at eye-level to simulate looking out the windshield of a semi. This will be your view of the “road.”

• A video game that shows a road course which can be played in an endless loop; this will simulate your view out the windshield (HINT: Ask your favorite 14-year-old lad, he probably can name at least three suitable games).

• A ladder back chair, one whose uprights you can grasp to simulate the steering wheel. This should be placed at arms’ length between your driver’s seat and the TV.

• To the right of the driver’s seat, place a small table that can hold your night’s essential supplies. These include:

One non-alcoholic beverage, preferably two. Coffee is suggested.

Munchables – enough to keep your mouth constantly engaged to fend off sleep.

Smokes, if you use them.

A cell phone.

Something to make a constant, fatiguing roar at about 95 dB. Perhaps a large floor fan set on Hi. This will simulate engine and road noises.

Ready now? OK. Turn on the TV, pop the video game into the player and start it up. Turn out the lights and take your seat. Now this simulacrum isn’t true in one vital respect: the road course of the video game will probably be in daylight hours and may have other vehicles on the road with you, but for our purpose tonight, that’s OK. Also, you will see far richer detail on the TV screen than what is available to a night shift trucker on I-94.

Comfy? Good. Let’s begin.

First, getting a semi up to 65 m.p.h. takes less than a minute and once you’re there, you simply set the cruise control so don’t be worried about playing with a shift lever and stuff. What you need to be concerned about in our little game is rolling down the road and staying awake.

I must caution you to keep both hands on the “wheel” as much as you can, for a semi has a mind of its own. In a car, you can be cruising along at freeway speed and still watch interesting things as they pass by: “Gee, Blanch. Lookit that!” you say, pointing out the passenger-side window, “A bucking bronco trampling its rider.” Some seconds later, you return your gaze to the road ahead and find you are pretty much where you expected to be. Not so with a semi. They constantly want to go off the road – into the oncoming lane or over the side and into a ditch, it makes no difference – and the wheel needs constant and massive corrections to stay in your lane.

Do you recall movies of the black & white era showing someone behind the wheel of a car? The driver is constantly thrashing the wheel right and left to control the car? Well, that’s what it’s like in a semi. Except the thrashing a semi driver has to do is far more sudden and violent than the gentle rocking motions we see in those old movies. Even with today’s power steering systems, it’s like wrestling a boa constrictor.

But this is only a game, so you don’t have to be flailing the ladder-back chair around the room. Just hold onto the uprights, that’s good enough. And keep your eyes on the TV screen – remember it’s your road for the night. Taking your attention away from the endless pavement long enough to give your behind a good scratching can get you killed.

We will start promptly at six.

6:09 P.M. ==========

We’ve been cruising along now for ten minutes or so. How do you like it so far? Good. I knew you would.

6:35 P.M. ==========

What’s that you say? The chair isn’t as comfortable as you thought it would be and your back is starting to complain? No problem, just scrunch around and shift positions. It’ll be OK. Also, remember you are on cruise control so you can move your feet around all you want.

6:51 P.M. ============

HEY!! WATCH THE FRIGGING ROAD! {*Stomp* *Stomp*} Goll-dang it! You were looking at the goodies on the little table and took your eyes off the road for three whole seconds. I told you that’s enough to send you out of your lane. You drifted off to the shoulder and if it hadn’t been for the rumble stripe – that was me stomping on the floor as a sound effect – you’d have gone into the ditch and probably rolled the rig. If you had drifted off to the left, you’d have crushed that little red VW that was passing you, the one with the two college kids inside.

OK, the kids are past. But that doesn’t mean you can inspect the table, looking for a particular morsel. You just reach over and feel around for the thing you want.

Oops? What do you mean “oops?” Oh, you knocked the thing you wanted on the floor? No problem, when you stop for fuel and potty, you can pick it up then. Content yourself with Choice NO 2.

And keep those eyes on the road.

7:17 P.M. ============

What do you mean “It’s boring.” You mean the sameness of the road? Well of course its boring; you’re on a lonely stretch of Interstate in the bowels of the night.

As I have often remarked to friends who ask about the driving experience, one mile of pavement looks pretty much like any other mile of pavement. True, isn’t it? Yes, and especially so at night. You can look out the windshield and what you see could be anywhere in the country anytime of the year. All there is ahead of you are:

• The endless unwinding strip of pavement.

• The same mesmerizing dotted lane divider.

• The low indistinguishable stuff on the shoulders which could be wintertime snow or summertime weeds.

• The same little white posts topped with reflector tape,

• The same white-on-green signs and mile markers.

• The same inky black sky.

• The protruding hood of your rig.

Except, that is, for the bugs. Bugs are the big difference; your windshield doesn’t get covered with bugs in the winter.

Have another slug of coffee.

7:36 P.M. ============

Are you sure you’re all right? I thought I just heard your wheels nicking the rumble stripe again. Keep those peepers on the road now.

7:38 P.M. ============

What? Of course you can turn on the radio. Hit the scan button and let’s see what’s playing tonight.

7:39 P.M. ============

Huh. Nothing on but that radio preacher. The one ranting about the “hummasexalls” ruining the institution of marriage. Out here on I-94, I’m afraid there isn’t much else.

Did you bring any CDs? No? Aw, too bad. Well, try the radio again in fifty miles or so. You might have better luck further down the line.

7:56 P.M. ============

What’s that? You say your backside and thighs are starting to get hot and sweaty? Yeah, no doubt they are. I warned you. But, hey, I have a nifty comfort tip for you, though it won’t stop your hind end from sweating: Undo your belt, unbutton your pants and pull down your zipper. It takes a real load off the guts. It also helps you fart – sitting in one spot like this tends to retain the gas, and that gets to be uncomfortable. And it gives you the opportunity to easily twiddle your johnson, if you have a mind to do so. Or your thingy, if you’re a girl.

8:13 P.M. ============

You say your feet feel like sausages? Yeah, sorry. I forgot to tell you to untie your shoes. Better yet, kick them off and drive in your stocking feet.

8:33 P.M. ============

Got to pee now, huh. Well of course you do; we’ve been on the road close to two and a-half hours now so it’s time. I was just looking at the road atlas and it looks like there is a rest area about seventy miles up the road. You can pull in there.

9:03 P.M. ============

Here comes the rest area and … Oh, oh. Sign says it’s closed for renovation. Bummer. But the atlas shows another one in maybe half an hour or so.

What say? You don’t think you can hold it that long? Well, you have to. You simply can’t pull off on the shoulder and get out and pee. If a highway cop catches you, you’d get two citations for sure. One for illegal parking and another for public indecency. Just pull the puckering string; it’s only another hour. Besides, the discomfort helps keep you alert.

9:10 P.M. ============

{*Stomp* *Stomp*} Hey, I heard that rumble stripe again. Mind what you’re doing.

9:49 P.M. ============

What? You say you feel like you’ve grown into the chair and that you are stiff and sore? Welcome to the club. And wait until you try to walk around and find out how wobbly your legs have become. But you’re new to the job. It’ll get better in six months or so.

10:03 P.M. ============

OK, you’re finally at the quote/unquote “rest stop.” Put the video game on Pause and go hit the can. Stop by the kitchen for some refreshments too, if you’d like – after all, the rest stops usually have vending machines of junk food and bad coffee.

10:12 P.M. ============

Got to get back in the truck now. We can’t be late for our delivery. All comfy? Take the video game off Pause and let’s log another 250 miles. It’ll be time to fuel then and you can also have dinner.

11:30 P.M. ============

Getting a bit sleepy after that snack are we? Well here are a few truckers’ tricks for staying awake.

• Open the window and let in some fresh air. Works best in the winter.

• Play the radio way loud.

• Sing at the top of your lungs.

• Turn on a talk show and argue with the host.

• See if you can find someone to talk to over the CB. Your chances are best when you’re out east on the heavily-traveled I-95, but out here? All you’re probably going to get is static.

• Play mind games with yourself: relive old experiences; imagine bedding that hottie you saw yesterday at the Starbucks; role-play a favorite hero – Captain Kirk, maybe.

• Stamp your feet.

• Slap your face.

• Pinch some part of yourself. Hard. Or bite yourself – cheeks, knuckles, tongue. Whatever you can put in your mouth.

Remember, if you fall asleep you’ll get in a smash up. Game over. If you really can’t fight it off any longer, find a place to pull over and nap – I do believe I see an exit ramp up ahead. You can pull off there. In this game, simply put the video game on Pause and you can snooze in the chair. But before you take that snooze, turn on your cell phone alarm and set it for no more than half an hour. You have a schedule to keep.

12:06 A.M. ============

There, that nap felt good, didn’t it? What? You say your eyes feel like two piss holes in the snow? Yeah, I know; rub them around a bit. And if you’re like most people, you have to pee as soon as you wake up. I keep an old CranApple® jug behind the passenger’s seat for this but you can get up and use the toilet.

12:12 A.M. ============

Well, you seem to be doing pretty well now so I’m going over to the couch (it would be the sleeper berth in a real semi) for a couple hours of shut-eye. You’re on your own. If you start getting sleepy again, though, just call and I’ll come up here and keep you company.

Meanwhile, take a caffeine pill and wash it down with some Red Bull.

What’s Red Bull? Dude, it is just the hottest thing to hit trucking since Benzedrine and you can get it at truck stops everywhere. Red Bull is an energy drink that’s got some stuff in it to give you lots of vim and vigor – plus a good hit of caffeine. Chug one of these little suckers after a caffeine pill and it’ll keep your peepers wide open. It gets me through nights like this. But it’s spendy; a little six-ounce can costs almost three bucks and to tell you the truth, I think the caffeine is the real effector here. But the combination works, so … Of course there are other brands if you don’t like the cherry taste of Red Bull.

Anyway, time for my nap. See you in a couple of hours.

2:06 A.M. =============

I’m back. Didn’t hear any rumble strips so you must be doing OK but remember, you still have a while to go so let’s think about taking another break. This one is for fuel but feel free to hit the head and go by the kitchen for some grub. Of course the restaurants and deli counters in many truck stops will be closed at hours like this so all you can count on is prepared stuff – oh, there might be a lunch counter, but that gets expensive so it is best avoided. But this is just a game, so, please, feel free to raid the ice box. Take half an hour.

2:36 A.M. =============

Dinner was good, wasn’t it? Nice of your beloved to leave us those turkey and cranberry sandwiches. If this were a real truck stop, you’d have had a stale precooked cheeseburger from the cooler that you’d have nuked for a few seconds to enhance its palatability. Maybe a Snowball for desert.

Did you get some more Cheetos? Swell. We truckers love Cheetos. Good-and-Plenties are nice too. Actually, we like anything that is sweet or salty. But never veggies or fruit. They’re too hard to keep. Besides, they’re like all that yucky stuff mom made you eat.

2:37 A.M. =============

Conversation helps keep the mind alert. Want to talk about religion or politics? Politics? Good. Well, that ass-wipe Bush, he …

JESUS H. CHRIST! Will you keep your eyes on the frigging road? You were looking at me and not the road and you drifted way over into the left lane. Just about hit that other semi that was passing you. Yeah, I know I told you there wouldn’t be much traffic this time of night but there’s some and it sneaks up. Check your mirrors every minute or so. (Newbies. Honestly.)

2:52 A.M. =============

Well, I am glad to find you too think Bush was a destructive moron. How about we try religion next?

No? OK, fine by me.

3:00 A.M. =============

Bored out of your skull? Yeah, sitting in one spot watching the same-old-same-old for ten hours can get to be a drag but that’s how you earn your 39 a mile.

Tell you what, keep your eyes open until 4:30, then I’ll take over. Now, according to the Federal government’s Hours of Service rules, I’m not supposed to do that; you’re supposed to drive the whole gig yourself but, hey, let’s be human about this.

3:30 A.M. =============

Well, here we are at a rest stop and, saints be praised, there’s a parking spot just waiting for you. Hey. Watch it; you weren’t paying attention to the trailer’s off-tracking and you just ran over a road cone that was set out by a pot hole. Not a problem, though. Almost everybody hits them once in a while.

4:32 A.M. =============

Ah, it is finally the end of your shift. Pull off on the next exit ramp and we’ll switch. Actually, I’ll be going home, but if we were in a real semi, I’d be taking the wheel for the next ten or eleven hours while you sleep. After you update your log book – it only takes maybe fifteen minutes or so – you’re done.

Why don’t you shut off the fan and the video game and I’ll get the lights. Then let’s us go outside to stretch our legs and get some air. The sun should be coming up about now.

Oh, one final jolt of realism: instead of going off to your bed, go sleep on the couch. It’ll be more like a semi’s sleeper berth.

Fun, wasn’t it? Want to do it again tonight?

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