Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Truck Stop Memories

Sometime in August 1993 I found myself in a rented truck in Peru, Illinois, with my dad, my brother, and all of my worldly possessions.

This made sense at the time.

The day before my dad and I, along with a couple of my best friends, had cleaned out my Pittsburgh apartment and loaded up the truck in preparation for me moving out to Iowa where I would begin my doctoral program. I had an apartment lined up and ready to go in Iowa City, but there remained the difficulty of getting all my stuff from where it was to where it needed to be.

I had a lot of stuff, much of it books – and if you think books are just paper and therefore ought to be light, you really ought to reconsider and start thinking of them as finely sliced lumber and therefore not light at all. But we got it all into the truck and then hung out in the echoing space of my tiny apartment for a while.

The next morning my dad and I got up early, drove out to the airport to pick up my brother, and then headed west.

The plan was to stop somewhere about two or three hours from Iowa City and spend the night there before traveling on. The midwest was flooded that summer and there was only one bridge open over the Mississippi between Minneapolis and St. Louis – the one we needed on I-80. We figured if we stopped before the floodwaters we would have a better chance of finding a hotel. Plus we’d have the whole day once we got to Iowa City rather than trying to unload in the evening.

Peru was – and for all I know still is – a truck stop town, the kind of place that exists for weary travelers to spend a night before moving on. It has hotels, gas stations, and the sorts of restaurants you’d expect in a truck stop town. There may well be a prettier and more residential Peru somewhere beyond the immediate neighborhood of the interstate exits, but we never found it. Can’t say we looked for it either. We were, after all, weary travelers, and all we needed was a hotel, a gas station, and the sort of restaurant you’d expect in a truck stop town.

The hotel was sufficiently full that they had to open up a wing that had been tightly sealed in order to put us somewhere. They never did turn on the ventilation system that night. It was a hot night. But we gassed up the truck, unloaded our overnight bags, and wandered across the parking lot to a steakhouse called The Pine Cone for dinner.

The Pine Cone had $4 steaks, greasy hash browns, and a teenaged waitress who spent a good portion of the evening at her station a couple of booths over loudly discussing with her colleagues the guy she had fallen asleep under the night before. It was entertainment, I suppose.

We sat there, the three of us, enjoying our meal and our time together.

At some point my dad looked around at the place, paused, and then said to us, “You know, sometimes you just have to stop and ask yourself – how the fuck did I end up here?”

It was a fair question.

We end up in all sorts of places, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. We go where we need to be to do what needs to be done, or sometimes we just end up there. Sometimes it’s a combination of all that.

But in the end there is the story because that’s all there ever will be, and those who remember the story are part of it for as long as the story is told.

My dad would have been 82 today.

Happy birthday, Dad.

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