Friday, February 12, 2021




May 1974

In the morning, somewhere in Iowa, Nelson showed me pictures of his two daughters.  “Twelve and ten.” He said, “I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like.  The mother can make it difficult at times.” He pauses for a moment. “Can’t say I blame her, at least not 100 per cent.”

He tells me their names. One is a gymnast. “Gonna be like that Ilya Komenawhatever, that Russian pixie.  The younger one, that one there” --he points to a blonde kid with curls--“She is a really smarty pants. Reads like you would not believe. Been reading since she was five.”

Nelson talks some about the difficulty about being a truck driver and raising a family.  “You’re away a lot.  Some guys bring their wives with them, but what kind of life is that?”

The topic of his Denver sweetheart surfaces regularly. She too is divorced and, according to Nelson, is a barrel of fun.  He is hoping this relationship will last.  Problem is that she’s got a couple of kids of her own and that can be, he tells me, a real source of conflict.  Their father, he claims, is a “no good fat assed drunk” but the kids seem to like him.  This makes Nelson feel like a dork when he is around her kids.  

“I also don’t like the bozos her kids hang around with. So sometimes we fight about her kids.  That’s the only bad side, though.  I swear she is an angel otherwise.”

Nelson is as much of a chatterbox today, as he was yesterday.   He knows someone at nearly every truckstop where we pause to get gas.   My original plan was to stay on route 80 all the way to San Francisco. If you’re travelling to Denver you would exit 80 at Ogallala, Nebraska and take a southwest highway to connect to 70 and then Denver.  So, Denver was out of my way, but who knew how long I would be standing in Ogallala waiting for a ride.  

By the time we hit Ogallala, given Nelson’s penchant for gab and regular meals, it was getting dark so whatever thoughts I had about getting off there were out. I’d promised myself that I would not take rides after dark.  If we ever got to Denver, I’d find a place to sleep and set off the next morning.

His comments about the sweetheart increased in frequency the closer we got to the city.  She was going to meet him at a truck stop where the vehicle was to be serviced.  Then they were off to tryst. He told me he’d ask her to give me a lift to the University of Denver campus where I figured I could score a couch to sleep on.  Yet creeping into the conversation about what she and he would do once they were in mile high, were wistful self-critical remarks about how he’d messed up his marriage. “Not that she was an angel” he regularly added.  “Not by a lot. But…” he said as his voice would trail away, “I could have been a better guy.  And the kids.  Don’t know how much I’ll get to see them.”  He showed me the pictures again, and then there was the one with his ex wife, the four of them a smiling happy clan.  

We finally arrive in Denver. I am beat though I did nothing much but sit in the car and listen.  I meet his sweetheart at the truck stop.  They hug like horny lovers. She is not much what I thought of when he was describing her.  Annie's tall with some heft that would make it tough even for a big guy like Nelson to lift her.  She was polite when he introduced me to her and willing, sort of, to drive me to the University, but Annie clearly had some other things on her mind.  

We get to the University. I said good bye to Nelson and he handed me documents to read. They were anti union broadsides with a petition. “Read about this and if you’re willing, sign on.” I said I would, but never did.

I found the campus dormitories easily enough. It was the end of finals at the school. I knew this drill well. I had been an RA in college and it was common for traveling hikers to lug their knapsacks into the dorms and find a place to crash on a couch.  In the 21st century, this would be unthinkable, but then not uncommon.  I asked some partiers where there might be a quiet lounge and I was sent to a spot which served my needs.  Slept easily on day two of the journey.  A couch in a dormitory at the University of Denver. Better than the side of the road in Iowa but not by a whole lot.

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