For All Nails #246: So I Wouldn't Get Weighed
by David Mix Barrington
(With thanks to Richard Shindell for inspiration.)
George Lowell was a man absorbed in his breakfast. Flossie's was reliable -- sausage made from pork and not sawdust, maple-cured bacon, eggs the way he liked them every time. He sopped up the last of his yolk with his fried bread and contemplated the fried tomato he'd saved for last.
"'Scuse me, this seat free?"
Hello! A very nice-looking girl put a plate of Mexican eggs down next to him. Black hair, leather vest, denim trousers, boots, mid-twenties he guessed. Mexican Army surplus carrybag over the shoulder, and a guitar case in the other hand.
"Suit yourself. Here." He helped her set down her burdens next to the stool. She settled herself onto it.
"Thanks." The girl swiveled the stool toward him a bit and leaned in, speaking low. "Hope you don't mind. I'm trying to lose that man in the red hat." He looked across the room and saw one man with a red hat -- another waggoneer, maybe a little scruffier than average. "I just rode fifty miles with him, and it was forty too many, if you get what I'm sayin'."
"Not always safe for a girl."
"I know it, but I got to keep moving one way or another. It's better findin' a ride inside like this, where you can see the driver. But this fella looked all right--"
"I'm going west. Past New Boston."
"West is good. Just gimme a moment to eat--"
"Take your time." Poor kid, better she rode with him than with some of the teamsters you found in a place like this. He'd be doing her a favor. Hell with that, he thought, he'd be doing himself a favor to have a pretty girl to talk to for a few hours.
"I'm George," he said, offering a hand.
"Abby. Abby Bartlet." She put down the fork for a moment to take it. "Good to meet you."
"So I'm thinking Fort Lodge is where it's happening with the music."
George didn't know much about road music. He mostly kept the radio on one of the NUBS stations. A for news, B for singers, C for orchestras, not much in the way of road music anywhere. But Abby was young, he supposed, and the kids liked the livelier stuff. And all that Mexican music, with that girl in the tight shirts.
"You're going there to play guitar?"
"What? Oh, no, I'm a singer. I can't play much, it's just to have something behind me when I sing. Or when I'm making something up."
"You write songs?"
"Oh, nothing to let anyone else hear yet. It always comes out sounding like something I've already heard. But I'm working on it. I figure I got to hear more, play with people more, sing with people more."
"In Fort Lodge."
"Something wrong with home?"
He saw her smile in the mirror. "You can tell, I guess. Ayuh, I had a bad day. Lost my job and a pretty good boyfriend all at once. That was up in Maine. I got out of town, wound up in Burgoyne. Turned out it wasn't far enough."
"Trouble follow you?"
"No, nothing like that. I got a job, sang in a club or two, but it just wasn't right. I woke up this morning, called in sick, packed my bag, and headed for Fort Lodge."
"Just like that?"
The last notes of the guitar died away.
"That's real pretty. Did you write that?"
"No, I wish I did! It's by Annie Shimerda. You like it?"
"She's got it right about that Wall. You ever seen it?"
"Well, it rises up just like she said, you see it hundreds of miles away. The end of the prairie, the end of the country I guess."
"You ever been over it?"
"To Mexico? Once. A load of pipe to Los Santos. FN3 You climb up a mile or so straight up, then there's just range on range of more mountains. It was summer, too, you could see the flowers all over the valleys. And the roads in Mexico. Wide, well-built, you can go as fast as you want. Make you want to cry coming back here." FN4
"Someday I want to go to Mexico. All the kids back home, we made this big game out of wanting to be Mexican, the music, the clothes. But we got no idea of what it's really like."
"People didn't seem much different, what I met. It was only the one time." Before he'd signed up with Schindler's, he thought. Schindler's didn't do international jobs, he never understood why. Burgoyne to SV, Michigan City to Manitoba, he supposed there were enough places to drive to in the CNA. But those flowers had been something...
The waggon ground to a halt at the traffic signal. After a long minute the signal changed and George began another long, slow acceleration.
"You're wondering why we're not on the stopless any more."
"Hey, you're the driver, not me."
"There's a way around the weigh station in New Boston that doesn't add on too much time. I found it last year, when the Simmonsway washed out in the floods." FN5
"You don't want to get weighed?"
"Oh, I'm legal, the company wouldn't let me out if I weren't. But that's not enough for some of these Indiana freight agents."
The waggon rounded a bend in the road.
"Shit. Oh, pardon my language--"
Here it was, flat in the middle of a local highway -- a temporary Confederation of Indiana weigh station. "ALL WAGGONS STOP FOR INSPECTION." Shit, he thought, silently this time. He must not be the only one with the same bright idea -- there were two other waggons pulled over ahead of him.
"Please, don't worry about it. Are you sure you're not in any trouble?"
"It'll be all right."
And it looked like it was, for a while. The weight matched the manifest, the log showed an acceptable number of hours driven. But the question he was dreading finally came.
"Just a friend."
"You're not licensed to carry paying passengers."
"She's not paying, she's just a friend."
The freight agent looked Abby up and down. "She's not paying money, you mean."
Jesus! He ought to floor him, he really ought to. But that wasn't smart. Not smart at all. It was hard to look like a hoke in front of a pretty girl.
"Here, take another look at my manifest." He took it, with the fiver clearly visible. Was it enough?
"Uh-huh. Well, how you boys get your fun isn't really our business now, is it?" Could he hold his temper long enough? "I guess you're all set now. You come back now, next time you're in New Boston."
George consciously bit his tongue and climbed back into the cab. As they reached forty miles an hour Abby spoke.
"I cost you five pounds. That's a lot of money."
"Don't worry about it."
"I do worry, let me pay you back!"
"No, you're gonna need all you got in Fort Lodge. Don't worry about it."
"It's not fair! You didn't do anything wrong, if anything it was my fault!"
"Please. Don't worry about it. If it wasn't you it'd been something else. And I'm sorry about what he said."
There was a pause. Then Abby said, "Don't worry about it." Another pause. "And by the way, how far are you going tonight?"
"Stoneville, I'd say. FN6 Another two hundred miles."
"You're going further west tomorrow. You said this load's for Saint Louis."
"Abby, I couldn't ask you--"
"I'm asking you, George. You paid the freight agent, I'll pay for the room." She fumbled in the pocket of her trousers, drew out a ring, and ostentatiously slipped it onto the fourth finger of her left hand. "We can even find a respectable place."
Forward to FAN #247: Seven Nation Army.
Forward to 27 July 1975: Houseguests.
Forward to Clarissa Forster: The Waitress is Practicing Politics.
Return to For All Nails.