The Journal Of Prevarication
Here lies Jim Cook
As the 18-wheeler auto transporter passed us, one of the cars on its top tier was honking “Beep beep beep beep,” like when you’re trying to find your car in a parking lot.
I wondered what the truck driver thought about that. Then the horn stopped beeping, which didn’t make much sense. That usually doesn’t happen until someone clicks the remote ignition clicker thingamabob.
We were coming south from Kingman on U.S. 93, and now were following what truck drivers jokingly call a “parking lot.” It carried eight cars on two tiers.
Big Jake was driving our company truck, and he snuggled up close to the rear of the 18-wheeler. He wanted to see if we could be pulled along by the “draft” behind a car carrier the same way you can draft behind one of those big squared-off trailers. Apparently not.
The transporters come north through Wickenburg frequently, carrying new cars from the Phoenix area to Kingman and beyond. But most of the parking lots heading south are empty, their hydraulic rams shortened and ramps collapsed.
I told Jake, “Some of those cars don’t look so new.”
“Probably repos,” he said.
Then I saw a small head pop up in the window of an SUV on the bottom tier, taking in the scenery. I saw another head raise up just above the window sill of a Camry on the top layer.
“Jake, there are people in those cars.”
“You sure?” he asked. “That’s illegal.” Jake, my elder brother, usually doesn’t worry about legality.
Just then, a 32-ounce cardboard drink cup sailed out of a Cadillac on the top tier of the 18-wheeler, and bounced along the shoulder of U.S. 93.
At the village of Wikieup on the Big Sandy River, the 18-wheeler pulled in behind a convenience store and gas station. As the dust settled, a small crowd of people poured out of the vehicles on the transporter. Two adults, five kids and a German shepherd came out of the SUV.
For people on the top tier, the descent was perilous. One elderly couple was able to sit upright at last, but elected to stay in the cab of their Ford pickup topside. The sound of disgruntled pigs came from beneath the canvas cover on the pickup’s bed.
The truck driver was a stocky chemical blonde in her middle years, with the mien of a drill sergeant. I tried to approach her in a friendly way, but she grunted, pushed past me and headed into the restroom.
Some of the passengers were reluctant to talk, too. But an old cowboy singer named Ace was all too willing to spell it out.
“Emma got tired of deadheading back to Phoenix with an empty truck, the price of diesel being as high as it is. And it takes forty to a hundred dollars worth of gas to drive a car from Kingman to Phoenix.
“So she offered to haul us all down to Phoenix for thirty dollars a car. I figger this gig will send a message to Exxon-Mobil. Oh, you see that biker wearing his leathers over there? His hog’s in the bed of my pickup.”
Ace continued, “Old Emma’s my brother’s cousin, and she’s mean, but fair. She had us all come to the parking lot at a supermarket before daylight, and loaded us up. She confiscated my Stetson and put it in the cab of her truck so I wouldn’t give away the game.”
Emma came out of the restroom, glared at Ace and me, and stalked through the convenience store, rounding up her charges.
Outside, she slapped a tire iron against the palm of her left glove and laid down the law.
“Now listen up! I told you people to keep your heads down. If the highway patrol catches me carrying all of you, they’ll impound my truck and we’ll be stranded out there by the Joshua trees. And don’t throw anything out of the windows or play with your #*&%@ car horns.
“Now, saddle up.”