|A Union Pacific track rig parked at the Auburn Travel Center truckstop on I-55.|
My dogs, Claire and Leia, are anxious to get back to Williams Mill Road and their big, white and elusive German Shepherd friend,
My generator stopped in the middle of the night, as it usually does. I got dressed in the dark, went outside and pulled and pulled and pulled and pulled on the starter cord, as I usually do, first with my left arm, then with my right. Out of gas. I filled the tank and pulled some more and played with the choke until it kicked in and kept running. Then I made coffee.
The final stop of this road trip is close. Washington University, 80 miles away in St. Louis, where I will interview several coaches who have won national championships and the school's chancellor emeritus for the book I am writing.
When I set out Sept. 27, my speedometer read 59,584. This morning it reads 64,349. A lot of miles to see 14 college soccer games.
|Miguel lives in a motel at exit 100.|
The classes I attended ranged from advanced calculus to abnormal psychology to economics to micro-biology to the films of Andy Warhol. The professors were intent, the students attentive (mostly).
I passed president's birthplaces, Civil War battle sites, historic "furnaces." I crossed Riverthe Erie Canal, the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the Allegheny River, the Potomac River, the Chicago River, the Cuyahoga River, the Delaware River, the Chattahoochee River. I saw Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Springfield, Lake Alatoona, Lake Michigan, the Atlantic Ocean.
I stopped at Travel America Centers, Pilot truck stops, Shell stations, Marathon stations, Flying J truck stops, Love's truck stops. Exxon and Gulf. BP.
The coaches were intense and measure their success not only in wins and losses but in how their charges grow while at school. And how they achieve in life four or five years after graduating. They are determined to win as competitors and dedicated to teaching their kids about life as well as coaching them on the fields and courts. The kids are articulate, self-aware, passionate about their sport. They breed hope.
From Atlanta to New York to Cleveland to Pittsburgh to Rochester to Boston to Atlanta to Chicago to St. Louis, Honey has rolled along Interstate 85, Interstate 77, Interstate 81, Interstate 78, Interstate 280, Interstate 80, Interstate 77, Interstate 90, Interstate 271, Interstate 480, Interstate 80, Interstate 76, Interstate 79, Interstate 279, Interstate 579, Interstate 79 and 90 again, Interstate 490, Interstate 90 again, Interstate 87, Interstate 90 again, Interstate 95, Interstate 90 again, Interstate 84, Interstate 684, Interstate 87, Interstate 95, Interstate 78, Interstate 81, Interstate 77, Interstate 40, Interstate 85 again, Interstate 75, Interstate 24, Interstate 80 again, Interstate 90 again, Interstate 55 and Interstate 64.
And this morning I am parked at another truck stop. Rows of bright green and red and blue diesels are lined up at the pumps., idling a capella There are long-haul truckers and local rigs towing yellow earth moving equipment or open cage trailers full of long plastic pipe or anonymous trailers simply painted white.
Big men made even bigger by their cold-weather coats and vests and sweatshirts and bright orange safety vests climb down from their rigs to fuel up with breakfast rolls and coffee and cigarettes.
I talked to one of them, Miguel, who works for Union Pacific. He's on a welder with a huge crew that is installing high speed tracks from Alton to Chicago. His huge white truck has a Union Pacific logo on the side, track-rider wheels tucked up underneath, oil cans, gas cans, a generator, a welder, wrenches, water and track pullers, which draw the rails together end to end so they can be welded.
Miguel's hair is long and dark and reaches the collar of his canvas coat. He has several ear piercings. He's been on the job for months, and still has months to go and hasn't been home in a long time. He stays in an economy motel at Exit 82 off Interstate 55 with the rest of the high speed crew.
Sitting in the shotgun seat five feet above me, he tells me that the most amazing piece of equipment is just up the road. A massive contraption that picks up and discards old ties in the front end and lays new rails and concrete ties out the back end. At least I think that's what he said over the sound of idling diesels. Sounds like some new-fangled horseless carriage. I should go see it, he says, but I probably won't, because it will mean backtracking several miles.
Then I ask Miguel where he lives. Grand Junction, Colorado, he says, which is where I had my first newspaper job 29 years ago.
I'm coming home.