The Night Shift

Roger Clark
March 2023

It was a cold April night in the countryside outside El Paso, and drivers were just settling in the TV room when word came down from dispatch. Five trucks were immediately needed to bobtail for Dallas, scheduled to arrive first thing in the morning. Taking a few minutes to grab some snacks, top off the fuel tanks, and empty the ashtrays, we headed out with our bright red T600’s.

Chatter on the CB was heavy that night, but everyone was in cheery spirits, and that always makes the night a lot less formidable. Eventually, however, the trip turned quiet as the evening wore on. Still we motored on, our minds and hearts on the same wavelength as cruise control.

 Somewhere in the hills above Van Horn, deep in the 3:00 AM hour, we were running about a half mile apart from each other, when we were passed by a white KW T600. I was running back door that night, and barely even noticed it. Neither did the three trucks ahead of me. 

By the time the interloper passed the next red racer, they were both beyond my line of sight. Then suddenly the silence of the night was broken by the CB voice of our front door, who exclaimed, “If I didn’t just get passed by a white T600, I’m throwing out this whole bottle of pills!”

 I was once one of three drivers assigned to loads of candy going from Memphis to City Of Industry, a Los Angeles suburb. The instructions were somewhat cryptic. Arrive at 4:00 AM, speak only to Dennis, and pay what he asks for. We didn’t even have a last name, which struck me as odd, but even crazier was the order to show up with seven hundred dollars, each.

Sure enough, as we turned into the gate, Dennis was there to greet us, and he very pleasantly asked for $700. Although it was a breathtaking amount, even for a California lumper, I readily handed it over. So did the driver behind me. But then things got bizarre. 

 The third driver balked, claiming it was a rip off, and refused to pay the lumper fee. Dennis informed the driver that he didn’t have to pay but would be required to unload his trailer without help. Oh, and by the way, Dennis said, the load is 7,500 pieces, and it could stretch out to several hours. 

At 7:00 AM, following a brief nap, two of us were empty and headed for the street. One of us wasn’t. Two of us went to LAX and loaded car parts for Tennessee. One of us didn’t. Two of us passed the candy warehouse on the way back to Memphis, and one of us was still backed into the dock. He may still be there, for all I know.

 My best friend in all the world turns 190 this summer but comes alive in the night. He sees more in the dark than most of us notice in the daylight. But it really has affected his brain because he still listens. He still forgives. He still prays, and still does a thorough pre-trip inspection. 

This was particularly evident when we ran team together. I could rest easy every night, knowing he would be wide awake enough to tell me that he passed 132 trains, 16 wind farms, and 4 classic cars between midnight and 0600. He lived on a thermos of coffee and half-packet of Oreo cookies, most nights, and thirty years later remembers every load we ever hauled.