The wayward child

During the middle and later 90’s, I was driving a semi for a scrap metal company in Chicago. Most of my runs were to neighboring states, like Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. I also had few runs that took me to the other end of Illinois, which was also a long way to go. Our trucks were “day cabs”, meaning that they didn’t have sleepers. We didn’t make any trips that required a sleeper, plus having less weight on the tractor meant more hauling capacity. Scrap metals are always heavy, maxed out loads. Generally, you leave empty and come back with a gross weight as close to 80,000 lbs as you can get.

I had one stop that I’d make when it was my turn through the rotation. It was in Mt Vernon, Illinois. Very near where two interstates crossed in southern Illinois, and of course the was also a reasonably large truck stop nearby. We rotated through making this stop as we did with others that were at the limits of a”day trip”. I’d usually go to my company between 11:00 p.m. and 12 midnight to exchange my car for my tractor, both kept in a secure garage during off hours. Hook up to the designated empty trailer, and head out. Some drivers ran it straight through. I liked leaving a little early so that I had time to make a stop at a rest area, most of the way there, and grab a 30 to 60 minute power nap slumped over the steering wheel. It was close to 5 hours each way. The first person to arrive at the plant, where we’d get loaded with scrap metal, usually showed up around 6:30 a.m., and he was always happy to see one of us already set up in a dock waiting to get loaded. First in, first out.

One morning, when I was within CB range of the truck stop, I was hearing the usual “truck driver chatter”. That can be pretty colorful, and maybe somewhat offensive if you’re not used to it. Today, I was hearing a driver put out a call for someone “going north that needed a ride to their home town”. Of course, anyone interested in doing that wanted to know about who needed that ride. When the driver trying to get this person a ride mentioned that it was a “young lady”, the wolves came out in droves of course. I was listening to this go on while I waited for the plant person to arrive and to get loaded.

When I was nearly loaded and had thought about it, I called back to the driver and asked him what town or nearby town she had to get to, to see how far “off route” it might take me, should I decide to do this. He told me the name of a town not far east of Starved Rock, Illinois. I did some quick math, and saw that I’d have an extra two and one half hours and ensuing mileage added to my trip, plus a truck scale on an interstate that I had no business normally being on. Generally, these loads were close and seldom caused an overweight issue. But, once in a great while they did. If I did get stopped and written up at that scale, I’d risk being out of a job. My boss was a good guy and did have a compassionate side, but I didn’t want to have to test that if possible. If I gave this kid a ride, it was going to be a gamble, no matter how I sliced it, I’d be getting back way later than usual too and I couldn’t “bury” that anyplace. Stopped at a rest area and took a nap longer than I expected on the way back. That would be my only “out”, if needed.

Just after 7:00 a.m., I was loaded, paperwork done, and ready to roll. I called that driver at the truck stop and told him I was heading over there. Once in the lot, I told him what I was driving, the colors, and the company name on the door to look for. It didn’t take long to spot him and his young son standing by his road rig, along with the young gal that needed a ride. I swung around and pulled in next to him. He told me that he’d picked her up in Arkansas some place, as she was trying to get back home after running away with her “boyfriend”. She was lucky this guy had picked her up, as he had his son, maybe 10 years old with him, and obviously a family guy, not a road wolf. He was also somewhat relieved to see that I had a company truck, and it was a day cab. No where for any shenanigans, and like a fish bowl. I told him I had kids about that same age, and would hope they’d be as safe if in a similar situation. The girl was about 15 I’d guess. She put her duffel bag and back pack in the cab of my truck and climbed in to the passenger seat. Before we drove away, the other driver got all of my info and I got his, as we wanted to play it safe. I got the exact name of the town that this girl called home, and mapped out a route to the location where she would call her mom to come and pick her up. We rolled out…

Normally, I’d be on I-57 all the way back up to Chicago. Today, I’d have to switch interstates at Champaign-Urbana to swing west, the head north and pick up I-80. One of the first things this kid said was that the other driver and his son were nice, but that the boy never shut up. He liked to talk and did a lot. Understandable I think. But, she said she was very tired because she didn’t get much sleep because of boy talking constantly to her. I told her that it may not be comfortable, but to go ahead and doze if she could because I knew where we had to go. After we were on the road about 45 minutes, the kid dozed off. For the next few hours, she’d wake up and look around at where we were at, then doze off again. I kept the CB turned down, my mouth shut, and just drove as gently as possible.

When we were about a half hour from our destination, I turned the CB back up. Not excessively loud, just normally loud. When she woke up, she was looking out at familiar scenery now. I could tell she was happy to back, yet pretty apprehensive about the consequences she might be facing too. We talked for a little bit. Being a parent, I gave her my best advice. Told her that her mom would probably be upset at some point, angry, but to do her best to just let that pass. Told her that I was pretty sure that the bottom line would be that her mom would be happy that for he to be home, and that the rest of anything else would just have to work itself out over time. I asked her if she thought she’d ever do this again? Run away or off with a boyfriend? She said no way, and I believed her. Not sure what this kid may have gone through, but I was sure that it had taught her something and that she’d grown up some because of it too. I told her that her mom would know that too, even if she didn’t say it or act like it. I told her everything would probably be OK, but just like her “road trip” you never really know what will happen.

We got in to the town by a 7-11 convenience store that she wanted to be at. I circled the block and was able to park on the road side next to it. Of course, she was broke. I gave her a handful of change and a five dollar bill, so that she could go call her mom and pick up something to eat or drink if she wanted to. She got out and went straight to the pay-phone there. She was on there for several minutes, and I could see her face going through the emotions that one has when making a call like that. I could just imagine what the person on the other end of that call was going through too. After the call, she went inside, bought a sandwich and a soda, and who knows what else. I didn’t ask for change back. She came back to the truck and climbed in, while we waited for her mom to show up.

About 15 minutes later, a lady pulls in to the 7-11 lot, parks, then gets out and is looking around instead of going in to the store. Little gal was pretty involved eating her sandwich when I told her that I thought her mom was here. When she did look, it took about 2 seconds to set her sandwich down, jump out of the truck and run over to her mom. They hugged. Talking, they hugged a lot. It looked like a happy reunion to me, which was a relief, but what I was expecting. Little gal and her mom come over to the truck and they get her duffel bag and back pack. They both just say Thank You and walk back to their car. Happy to be back home, happy to have her back home, they were so wrapped up in that moment, that made me smile and feel pretty good. They drove away, and I headed back up to the interstate.

I had figured out ways to bury the extra mileage in my log book over a little time. I went through the scale I was worried about, and got through it without incident. I got back up to my company, docked my loaded trailer, and dealt with the razzing I expected for getting back so much later than normal. I also found out that my boss, the owner of the company, happened to be out making a business call in his car and was traveling the same interstate that I was on around the same time. he had gotten back to the company just minutes before I had arrived. I don’t know if he may have seen me out there or not. But if he had, he never said anything about it.

Sometimes, to do a good deed, to be a good Samaritan, you have to stick your neck out. Sometimes there can be a cost, as the old adage “No good deed goes unpunished” refers to. Sometimes, you’re just the only one who can possibly make a difference. Then you ask yourself, if I turn a blind eye, walk away or past someone truly in need, how good will I be able to sleep tonight? How am I going to look at myself in the mirror tomorrow? No one knows, except those you’ve helped and maybe any other good Samaritans who were involved. Your only reward is that you know what you did, the risk you took, the cost you paid, and why you did it. For some of us, that’s enough. ~ Mike

About offworldengineer

Still alone. Still Alive. Still Unbroken.
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