Thursday, June 13, 2013
Time: About 3:30 pm
Wait: About 40 minutes
Kathy sets me off at Castle Rock exit and I extend my thumb, my guitar strapped against my back. After ten minutes, I try converting to just the backpack for a more “hiker” kind of look, and then switch back to the guitar for a more “traveling musician” kind of look. I’m trying to find out which works better, but apparently today, not either because nobody stops till after 40 minutes of waiting. I watch the coal train pass me by at a slow pace and entertain the idea of jumping on, and then only laugh at myself.
A man pulls over in a Chevrolet Blazer, a beaten construction hat and dirty-orange vest in the back seat. “Heading to Colorado Springs,” he tells me. “Let’s go!” He laughs, I set my guitar and backpack in the back seat of the Blazer and hop in the front.
“My wife just had heart surgery in Arizona,” he tells me. “We went there since we used to live in Arizona, and we trust the doctors out there more. Yeah, I used to do real well on 22 an hour doing heavy equipment operation in Arizona until the economy crashed, and we went from doing really well to struggling to make ends meet. For a while, we had to rent an apartment that was so bad we literally had to keep the lights on all the time or the roaches would come out to play. We were living with the inlaws for a bit too… that really sucked. Funny how fast things can change like that.”
He tells me his name is Steve, and he’s got a shaved head, brown eyes, and a warm, easy-going smile. His skin is caked with dirt from a days’ work.
Not too long passed Castle Rock, we run into a cluster of clogged traffic, which we later learn is cause by some mysterious phenomenon of people gawking at nothing as they drive, and we take a short-cut through the town of Palmer, alongside the train tracks and mountains. ” I learned all the short-cuts when I was a truck driver,” he tells me. ” I learned how to ditch off the highway and taking alternative routes to avoid the weigh-zones and the fees that go along with that.” He laughs.
We get stuck waiting for the train in town, and he reminisces of train hopping as a youth when he was in Oregon. “We just jumped on and road it for about twenty miles or so,” he tells me. “But then some conductor saw us and tried to chase us down, but was fat and couldn’t catch off, so we just ran off, flipping him the bird.”
“Yeah… I’ve got a good lady,” he tells me later. “My wife is a great woman. You know, I met her at a dark time in my life when I was doing hard drugs, and I really cleaned myself up after that…. she saved me, in a way. I’m lucky.”
Steve has been doing heavy equipment operating for about ten years, which he started when he lived in Arizona. “Most guys start by using the shovel, digging for dirt in the blistering heat, by I lucked out and was able to bypass that,” he tells me. “I jumped right in the rigs, got my CDL license eventually. I was nervous driving the big bulldozers at first, because they are so long vertically, and you feel every vibration in the cab while driving…. I’d drive over a rough spot and it felt like the whole thing was going to fall over.. but really, it’s just a sensation and the front end balances itself out and very rarely do they tip over. Now I’m confident to ride at an angle without a concern of the thing flippin’ on me!”
As we get further south, the smoke and haze from the fires gets closer and a helicopter flies overhead with a retardant dump for the surrounding forest fires in blaze. Yesterday, Denver was covered with a dirty haze that blew in during the evening, carrying ash with it in some parts.
Steve drops me off near North Academy, and I hop out, thank him for the ride. “No problem!”, he says. “Can’t wait to get home and get a shower. Covered in grit from working… I’ll feel like a new man!”
I have a strong admiration for a guy like Steve– he’s loyal, friendly to strangers, has a sense of humor, strong work ethic, and he’s not afraid to get dirty at work; I wish him the best and then he speeds off for home.