Thursday, May 08, 2008

Changes -Over Two Decades

Mandy, Kurtis and I went to Altoona today for Kurt's appointment with the allergy/immunology doctor there. We were under the impression the little guy was going to have to have all those lovely allergy tests -with the needles all over his poor little back and such- but when Kurtis not only flinched but flailed and kicked with a lot of force when the doctor put the stethoscope to his chest, that doctor told Mandy he didn't think little guy would be too receptive to the tests today. Very observant doctor this was! He did study Kurt's records, the information sheets Mandy had filled out about him, etc., and gave her a prescription for cingular (or is that spelled "singular") -the allergy meds, any way. She has to bring him back in three months, and depending on how these meds work, he may want to do more blood work, tests maybe following but not for a while anyway.

After we got home, we decided to go out to eat tonight and the choice made was to head down the interstate to the next exit east of us to the truckstop where I used to work, many, many moons ago. As a matter of fact, it was 19 years ago around this time in May when the owner of that lovely establishment fired me! Yeah, I've been canned a time or two over my work life, ya know!

But going back there tonight, seeing how much the place has changed over time, brought back lots and lots of memories of working there.

This truckstop was one of the best place along Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. It had a good business there consisting of a lot of support from locals, tourists and plenty of truckers who used to stop there with regularity. There is a smaller truckstop/restaurant across the street from the one where I worked which never did near the business as this place did. Most of the truckers who frequented the place across the road tended to be steel haulers and meat haulers or independent drivers. The bigger place was often referred to on the CB as "Freight hauler Heaven" because the majority of the truckers who frequented the bigger place, the one where I worked, were drivers for Yellow, Roadway, Preston, CF during my last years there but had also been a haven for the P.I.E., Interstate and other companies that went down the tubes before 1988. It was known primarily as being a "Union" type or company driver's truck stop.

When I first started working there back in 1981, I worked the midnight shift. The other waitresses I worked with couldn't get over how I came to know so many of the drivers by their name or cb handle and what company they drove for too but I made it a point to learn as much of that as I could because those guys were our bread and butter, you see. I would watch when I saw a truck pull in the lot, what company the truck belonged to. Then, when the driver came in (provided I had paid attention to which truck he got out of) I would then watch to see what, if any, other drivers he would sit with. Occasionally, drivers from different companies would sit together but as a general rule, they would tend to sit with other drivers from the same company and usually drivers from the same terminal too.

The days I spent working at "The Shoe" as this truckstop was frequently called, were hectic, hard -lots and lots of running to keep the customers happy -not always all that profitable, sometimes maddening, but almost always, they were fun days. Go figure that out now!

The last time I had a job that I could work really hard at the tasks and still laugh, enjoy pulling practical jokes, listening to loads and loads of jokes too, and just have a great time getting to know some really terrific, but often also really crazy people, was at the job I'd had back in the late 60's, early 70's, down in D.C. This place -the truckstop -really kept the help on their toes, not just from the hard work but also, trying to keep one step, one practical joke, ahead of the drivers.

Back when I worked there, we ran with three waitress on the graveyard shift and generally, at least six watiresses on day and second shift except for major holidays and deer season when we would have three waitresses on the truckers/counter side and anywhere from four to six waitresses in the dining room on the ultra busy days.

When we walked in tonight, the first thing I noticed was a sign on the front door stating new hours for the restaurant: closing at 11 p.m., reopening at 7 a.m., daily. When I worked there, there were the three shifts and the only days the place was closed then was Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and New Year's Eve and New Year's Day!

We sat at a table in the back of the dining room along the windows overlooking the trucker's parking lot. I glanced across the dining room and saw a lady waiting on a youngish couple across the room and was wondering who she might be. Then, as she stood up straight and started to walk away, I was almost in a state of shock and told Mandy, "Oh my gosh! That's Barb!" Back when I worked there, Barb always worked day shift -never filled in on any other shifts -ever! When she started towards our table with the menus in hand, she did a double take too upon seeing us, recognizing both me and Mandy too. When I worked there, I used to joke with the drivers that I would probably go down in history as being the oldest truckstop waitress but I think maybe Barb might end up holding that record. I asked her how long she'd been working there now and she said "Thirty One Years!" Considering she is probably at least nine, maybe even ten or eleven years older than me, you do the math and figure out how old she is. However, if you were ever to stop there and if she were to wait on you, there is no way you would ever, ever think she is in her early-to-mid-seventies! So, just in case some old truckers who used to run I-80 through Pennsylvania back in the 70's and 80's happen to find this blog and this post, yes, guys - Barb from dayshift, is still alive, still working at "The Shoe."

When I worked there the last three years of my time at the place, I worked the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. (second) shift and the hours from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on most any day of the week would almost always find us very busy. Tonight, not busy at all! Quite a shock to my equilibrium to see how little busy the place had. I think the entire time we were there, they had a total of 19 customers in the dining room occupying a total of 7 tables! Peanuts compared to the numbers that used to float in and out of there back in the 80's.

One of the specials today just happened to be liver and onions (with mashed potatoes and gravy), a vegetable, salad and rolls and butter - and that meal just happens to be one of my favorites from that place (as well as other small restaurants around here that offer it on the menu). It's a meal that I could make for myself at home but only the 16-year-old and I will eat it so it gets relegated to a meal I will often order when eating out. So, I had the liver and onions, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied carrots and pepper slaw for my supper tonight. Pepper slaw is one of my personal favorite salad type dishes too and The Shoe makes their own pepper slaw, which was, as always, delicious!

When we left, Maya wanted Mandy to drive home -although we had to take an extended route to get home as we had to come up towards the house and then go 25 miles further over to Clearfield, to the hospital, so I could pick up a cd or dvd from the radiology department with my films and medical records for the past 18-20 months from that hospital on it to take with us to Pittsburgh tomorrow so the surgeon there can compare my most recent cat scan to the ones done back in October of 2006.

While riding over to the hospital and then home, having been back for a meal at my old stomping ground, got me to thinking, remembering some of the things that went on at that place, some of the many drivers I knew over the years too and so much of the fun times that were had while working there.

My kids came to know a goodly number of the drivers over my seven years there because from time to time, some of them would stop at the truckstop about four miles from where I live and call me, asking me to come up and have coffee with them mainly so they didn't have to spend their meal break eating alone. And frequently, my kids went with me too.

Some of my favorite drivers of all time were based in the Poconos and drove for Consolidated Freightways -or CF. Those guys almost to a man were often the craziest, zaniest people you'd ever hope to meet. I used to tell other drivers if they said they were going to the Poconos that if they knew what was good for them, to not drink the water over there because apparently there was something in the water supply in that vicinity that affected people - made them slightly crazy!

Some of the drivers from that terminal whose names and cb handles -or other nicknames they had -that come to my mind right now were Walter, aka Jumper; Stanley, aka Happy Man; Bobbie O or Zero or Moving Violation. Then there was the Green Rooster who later married one of the cashiers from the Shoe and Problem Child, aka Jolly Jack. Definitely can't forget my old friend "Oink, Oink" -the Pig Farmer (Gerry) and his former best friend Tommy, known as "Ragpicker or simply just "Picker." Also Charming Chuck the Cheater! Chuckie looked a lot like one of the musicians in the group "Alabama" and was very much the ladies man too. Would you believe it but at one time, because someone at work had made a comment about how many drivers I could identify, I came home and made up a list of drivers from all the different companies who stopped frequently at the Shoe. I listed them by company and then by terminal too and when I was finished, I had a list of over 600 drivers who I knew either by name or cb handle -and in many instances, by both!

Jumper (Walter) from CF's was really a character and used to take great pleasure in trying to see how quickly he could get our attention while we were busy trying to wait on other people, especially families, and then he would flip us off - shoot us the bird, ya know! The object then was for whoever he did that to that the waitress would then have to find a way to return the gesture to him without the people being waited on being any the wiser to our antics.

I remember in particular one day when the girls I worked with and I were getting ready to go back and punch in and one waitress came to the clock area announcing that Walter was out in the trucker's room and had already flipped her the bird. So, we all clocked in and then lined up, single file and walked through the truckers' room, each one of us calling a greeting to him and politely giving him the finger in the process too. It just so happened that day was the first day for a really nice, very attractive waitress and even she followed our lead so that after we went through, Jumper announced "Geez, they even have the new girl against me now too!"

Those were some silly days, some hectic days, some tiring days, some sad ones too as we learned of accidents that claimed lives of some of the drivers we knew, or news of this driver or that one in a serious accident and even the loss of at least four drivers I knew from suicide too.

I have never been one to hold grudges except in one area and that is to get even with anyone who pulls practical jokes on me. Then, under those conditions, I will go to all lengths to get even! (So did the drivers, I must add, too though so this was a necessity of survival in the world of truckers and truckstop humor.) I once told one of the CF drivers, after he had pumped me and pumped me asking me if I kept a diary, that no, I didn't keep a diary but I did have a notebook in which I recorded many of the things the drivers would come in and tell me that went on at the other end of their runs -where they would sleep and then get a return trip home. You have to realize a lot of these guys were anything but angelic on the road and for some odd reason or other, they often would come in and tell me what they did at the "away" terminal or what other drivers did. I had this particular driver believing I was in the process of writing a "tell-all" type book about truck drivers and their on-the-road antics -something that put the fear into a whole lot of drivers from one particular terminal for close to a year!

Most of the time nowadays, I'm really relieved not to be working there - or anywhere, for that matter but there are many times when I sit back and think, remembering this or that driver and the stunts we used to pull on each other, the fun, the camaraderie we all enjoyed at "The Shoe" and times like those, then I really do miss the place -and especially those drivers -very, very much!

Here's to every last one of those drivers who ever tormented me -or I did the same to him -while I worked at "The Shoe."

Ya'll know who you are. Ya'll know I loved ya then, still do and yes, I miss each and everyone of those drivers very much too!


Suldog said...

That is a wonderful reminiscence, and I think the story about trading "the bird" with Jumper is classic, but I did have trouble getting past the liver and onions. Yuck!

Linda said...

Liver and onions - ack! My nemesis as a child and I still don't like it as an adult. It's an acquired taste that I never acquired!

Sounds like you had quite the job for 19 years but I can't believe that you got fired! Of course, all things happen for a reason and I'm sure there was a reason there, too.

Going back to someplace you spent a good part of your life at can bring back some many memories - both good and bad but it's always nice to reminisce - regardless!

lattégirl said...

Great stories!

Dianne said...

For some reason I'm picturing you as Flo from "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore"!!

I was a waitress for a day once, I was so awful at it. Clumsy and messing up orders and way too slow. I have huge respect for anyone able to do that job.

I love driving on I-80!!

We'll have to meet at the truck stop.

Vic Grace said...

I am glad Kurtis did not have to have all the needles yesterday.

I love liver and onions we have it quite often.