Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Leaving home Thursday July 31 just after 5:00, I embarked on a 17-mile walk to I-70 Exit 79 (Ohio), where there is a TA, a Pilot, and several fast food joints. By Friday afternoon I’d arrived at the exit, where the excessive heat and humidity had me pretty beat. Hanging around the TA fuel islands for a few hours that evening, I didn’t get a ride, but that was OK because I wanted another night of good rest before hopping into some stranger’s truck. So I found a nice place to sleep pretty early that night.

Uncomfortable with TA’s layout, I crossed the overpass Saturday morning to check out the Pilot station. Although I usually prefer TA over Pilot, I liked this particular Pilot station, partly because I found out right away that the management had no problem with me being there, as long as I wasn’t bugging drivers for money, which I never do. After a few hours with no ride offers, I walked back across the interstate for a light (cheap) lunch at McDonald’s, then returned to Pilot, where a driver immediately asked me where I was headed.

When I responded “Anywhere,” Vernon Mack told me he was going to Buffalo, then gave me the signal to come on over and get in the truck. So I climbed up into the truck and put my stuff in the sleeper, and we were gone.

A few minutes after we hit the road, Vernon, who is black with some Cherokee, German, and other blood, began telling me about one of his previous jobs. For ten years he worked at Warner Brothers Studios in LA, doing security for live-audience TV shows, a job he acquired after a chance encounter with Queen Latifah, who was largely unknown at the time. Even though I had not even mentioned my interest in making movies, Vernon proceeded to tell me about how I could land an entry-level job at WB, which could lead to cooler jobs like editing. He told me who to talk to and stuff like that. It’s something I’ll definitely look into whenever I get to LA.

Vernon’s load was bound for Connecticut, but he planned to spend almost a full day in Buffalo first, visiting his mom and various other friends and family. By the time we neared Buffalo, Vernon and I had established a healthy rapport. So instead of dropping me off in Buffalo, as was the initial plan, he ended up inviting me to hang out with him and his people, which I did. He also invited me to keep riding with him beyond Buffalo, which was a fine idea with me.

On our night in Buffalo, Vernon parked the truck behind his mother’s inner-city apartment. Shortly we rode with his sister to her house, where we hung out with her husband and one of her husband’s old friends for a while, drinking a couple screwdrivers and having some nice conversation. Eventually one of Vernon’s cousins (Cliff) showed up and took us to a barber shop in another primarily black neighborhood, where we met yet another cousin, Tony (who owns the barber shop), before going off to an apartment in downtown Buffalo, where we hung out and imbibed all night.

The next day, as we sat on the porch of the housing project where he grew up (and where his mom still lives), Vernon pointed to a third-floor apartment in the next building and told me that’s where Rick James lived before he hit the big time. Vernon had a lot of stories to tell about Rick James and some other characters that came from Buffalo’s projects, but I can’t remember enough to retell them.

Late Sunday afternoon we hit the road again, heading east from Buffalo on I-90 to southern Massachusetts, then south into Connecticut, where we spent the night before dropping the load and picking up a new load in New Haven.

Monday afternoon we passed through Norwalk, CT, where I spent a month in 1994 with Katie Hemingway before she broke my heart and sent me home. This was the first time I’ve been to Connecticut since then. Less than an hour later, in the Bronx, traffic crept along at a snail’s pace for about an hour before finally picking up some momentum in the upper tip of Manhattan as we approached the George Washington Bridge, where I finally got a good look at the beautiful and amazing metropolis of New York City. I ♥ NY, so it was difficult for me to just ride right through the city, then watch it slowly disappear from across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

Eventually I could no longer see NYC, so I turned my attention to ugly, industrial New Jersey. Soon we neared Philadelphia, but I never saw Philly because we stayed on the toll road east of the city, in the Garden State. In a nearly never-ending chain of cities that I suppose begins north/northeast of Boston, we continued until the morning hours, passing through Wilmington, then Baltimore, then the outskirts of Washington, DC, then Richmond. Only after Richmond did the hundreds of miles of continuous city finally come to an end. Finally, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, we arrived near the home of another one of Vernon’s cousins (Brad) in Raleigh, NC, where we watched some TV and slept until late in the morning.

Our trailer full of used automobile tires was destined for a small shop in Columbia, SC. As we headed toward Columbia, Vernon called the shop and found out that they close at 4:30, which meant we could not get there in time to make the delivery that day. So we pulled into a Flying J on the north side of Columbia sometime that evening and had plenty of time to relax and sleep before making the delivery Wednesday morning.

Compared to Buffalo and the rest of the northeast United States, which had beautiful weather while we were there, Columbia was HOT!!! I saw a digital sign somewhere that said it was 106 degrees. Consequently, I was glad we’d be heading north again. For the next delivery, we had to pick up in Florence, SC and deliver to Birdsboro, PA (Reading), where we did not arrive until about 3:30 Thursday morning, partly thanks to a couple dumb-ass drivers in Baltimore who, after turning their cars into accordions and basically closing the interstate, probably still haven’t learned why it’s not a smart idea to ride the ass of the car you’re following.

Thursday we picked up another load near Bethel, PA and took it to Bradford, PA (home of Zippo lighters), where we spent the night. Vernon was looking forward to a weekend in Buffalo, so Friday afternoon he went a little bit out of his way to drop me off at a truck stop in Harborcreek (Erie), PA, where I finally was able to finish writing this post (but couldn’t send it because there is no free wifi).

I was at the truck stop until yesterday afternoon. Now I'm in Kentucky, on my way to Dallas.

Unless I just can’t find any time to type, I plan to write more about my adventures with Vernon. So keep an eye out.

Aimless Video Evidence