Dear Sir or Madam,
And now, friends, another installment of the True Tale of Survival endured by us gentlemen some years ago.
When you heard from us last, The Councilman and I were for the first time in our years together, separated. He standing sentinel over our wounded minivan, stranded perilously alongside the interstate. I in the cab of a tractor trailer, hurtling westwards in search of rescue.
I cannot recount for you how The Councilman passed the hours that followed. I am not he. My adventure transpired thusly.
The tractor’s driver – let’s call him Jeff – had since abandoned his skepticism towards us and had warmed up to me quite nicely. His love for banjos & the men who play them helped my case considerably. I did not begrudge Jeff his initial doubts. One should indeed be suspicious of a dandily dressed pair of young men, waving madly at automobiles in the middle of the night, in the middle of the desert. I quickly came to be quite fond of my driver and learned from him the following.
1. The fleet of double-trailered we had witnessed rumbling by us were coal trucks that labored nightly shuttling trailerfuls of coal from a nearby coal mine to a nearby coal burning power plant. It was Jeff’s duty to make 4 roundtrips between mine and plant each evening.
2. Mobile telephones do not, and have never, operated reliably in this part of the country.
3. Jeff had a working CB radio with him. But this belonged to, and was monitored by, his employer who frowned upon his drivers rescuing young men in need. He described this to me in a way that suggested that he had previously assisted someone much like myself and had been scolded for it.
4. Jeff had a nice wife and children at home. Utah was a pleasant place to live, etc. etc. etc.
I did not learn precisely how Jeff intended to deliver me from my ordeal. And not wanting to exacerbate my already considerable imposition upon him, I did not breech the topic. I trusted he had something pleasant in mind for me. We rolled westward chatting aimlessly for what seemed like many miles.
And now, Andy Bean, Jeff proclaimed, here is how I intend to deliver you and your man-friend from your ordeal.
There is a town 30 miles west of here. A man lives there who earns his livelihood emptying the wallets of persons like yourself who, through bad fortune or ill-preparation, find themselves stranded in this desert. I will deposit you at a service station where you can telephone this man. He provides this service at all hours of the day and night. (It was, by now, well after 3 am)
Wonderful, I said.
But first! So as not to alert my employer that I am assisting young men in need, I cannot deviate from my route. Before dropping you off, we’ll make quick run over that mountain (he pointed to a mountain in the darkness), to the mine, to fill the truck with coal.
Fair enough, I said.
Shortly thereafter, we turned off the highway and began down a narrow, shoddily-constructed, private coal-company road. Jeff’s recitation of our plan said little about narrow, shoddily-constructed, private, coal-company roads, but my only option was to trust him. The way seemed just wide enough for our vehicle. We traveled on a bit. A very steep cliff appeared on my side of the truck. Jeff’s speed – subject to no legal limit on the private road – hovered around 80 mph despite the conditions. But he was kind enough to hug the left side of the road, leaving a pleasant 3 foot safety buffer between me and the precipice.
Safety first, Jeff said.
Thanks, Jeff! I replied.
We sped around several life-threatening bends. After a dozen or so, noticing myself still amongst the living, I began to relax.
And then another coal truck appeared. It was identical in size to ours, and seemed to be traveling at a similarly unsafe speed. It traveled on the same road as we, but in the opposite direction. Toward us. I again became rather anxious, being quite sure that the road was not wide enough for both. Jeff seemed at ease. But, ever the gracious host, he took note of my clenched jaw, balled fists, weeping, etc. and offered some word of comforts.
Don’t worry, pal! I drive this road every night! he said.
Seeing me still a bit on edge, he followed this up with a little joke: If you look to the right, down the cliff, you can see the truck I was driving last year!
Oh, Jeff! I said.
We hurtled onwards toward a fiery wreck, and my thoughts turned begrudgingly to visions of The Councilman performing as the One Man Two Man Gentlemen Band after my demise. Will people attend concerts featuring only male vocal and male string bass? Of course! He’s going to be rich! Curses!
The crash was seconds away.
Why, I thought to myself, am I spending my last moments on earth debating the commercial appeal of a solo, red-haired, mustachioed, singing, bass-playing person? It is a fascinating topic, yes. But not suitable for one’s final reflections on earth. Damn you, The Councilman! I began to consider instead whether I preferred to perish via a flight over the cliff to our side or a wreck with the truck to our front. Both options had their merits. As I mulled this over, our truck miraculously slipped by the other without notice. What a pleasant surprise, I thought to myself, and vowed to stop worrying like a little girl.
Close-shave encounters with another ten trucks followed and I grew quite accustomed to them. My confidence in Jeff as driver was boundless.
Jeff, my confidence in you as driver is boundless! I said.
Thanks, Andy Bean! He said.
We soon arrived at the mouth of the coal mine. Jeff asked me to hide below the dashboard. The gentleman operating the coal-loader would likely react poorly to Jeff arriving at 3:45 am with a skinny, greasy young man in his cab. Wishing to spare him this awkwardness, I obeyed without question.
We pulled under a large chute, accepted two trailer-fulls of coal, and we were on our way. Back over twenty miles of narrow, dirt coal-company road and to the highway. Jeff turned us westward again. Another few miles and civilization appeared in the form of a gas station. We exited. Jeff deposited me next to an unlit shack at the edge of the gas station parking lot.
This is the tow-truck man’s shack, Jeff told me. Knock on the door. He’ll take care of you.
But, there doesn’t appear to be anyone inside, I replied.
Rescue is afoot, Andy Bean! I bid you farewell!
And then Jeff was gone. Off to deliver coal somewhere.
Thanks, Jeff! I shouted after him.
I knocked on the tow-truck man’s shack. There was, as I suspected, no response. I telephoned the phone number on the shack’s door. There was no answer. I left a rambling message that betrayed my dreadful lack of automotive knowledge.
I waited. Dozens of miles eastward, The Councilman did the same. Rescue was not afoot after all!
Nervously, I remain,
The Two Man Gentlemen Band