Truckers live in an alternative dimension, at least so I conclude when trying to figure out how to meet up with the convoy of trucks coming into to DC to protest high diesel fuel prices on Monday. JB, a k a Mike Schaffner, one of the organizers of the action, calls early in the morning to suggest various highway intersections, and I have to explain there’s no way a pedestrian can be just standing on one of the superhighways around DC. We eventually settle on a spot in a desolate area of southeastern DC, but even so, I probably couldn’t have made the connection without the genes of a grandfather who rode the rails. When I hear the honking, low and steady, and see the first trucks rising out from an underpass, I scramble up to a narrow walkway along their route and start waving frantically. Everyone waves back nicely, and about the fifth truck actually stops. It’s JB and I leap aboard.
JB and I have become friends-by-phone in the weeks since I blogged about the first truckers’ protests in the beginning of April, but all I knew about him as a physical presence is that he always wears a black cowboy hat. Its brim is turned down, locating him in the west of Larry McMurtry rather than John Wayne, and his eyes twinkle deeply when he smiles, which is pretty much all the time. Everything seems to delight him: being in DC for the first time, having 250 trucks behind him, the friendliness of the tourists on the street as we inch our way toward the Mall.
Since he hasn’t been home in Texas since January 1, this–the “bobtail” of a truck based in New Jersey–is JB’s world. There’s a neatly made bed behind our seats and a laptop that can swivel into view while he’s driving, as well, of course, as a GPS, a cellphone and CB radio. From this little control room, which is also a workplace and a living space, JB has helped assemble the hundreds of truckers and their families who are with us now. It’s a life stripped bare: He ordinarily eats only one meal a day (nothing fried or from a buffet), sleeps rarely (just an hour and half last night) and drinks no coffee (“it leads to stops”) but admits to an occasional Red Bull.
We circle the Mall, slowly, triumphantly, twice. It’s hard to talk over the honking and the excited CB chatter, but JB wants to know if I’ve ever been at a demonstration in DC before. Ah, I explain, I go back to the ’60s, but the most recent one was an antiwar demonstration organized by the women’s group Code Pink. He laughs, making me think he finds the name amusing. But no, he shows me he has Code Pink in his cell phone. They had contacted him and will be joining us at the rally at the Capitol.
We are to park the trucks at the RFK Stadium and walk from there to the Capitol, giving us about a half an hour to mill around on foot in the parking lot first. There’s a bobtail with “Truckin’ for Jesus” painted on it and, under that, “Truckers and Citizens United.” There are Operation Desert Freedom caps and a POW/MIA flag, as well signs indicting oil companies and “Wall Street speculators.” I chat with members of the mostly African-American contingent of DC dump-truck drivers and with Belinda Raymond, a trucker’s wife from Maine, who tells me that people in her area raised $9,000 to send a convoy of trucks down here, with the Knights of Columbus accounting for $2.500 of that. Whole families have come, and I see a boy carrying a sign saying “What about My Future?” A smartly dressed woman from New Jersey carries a sign asking, “Got Milk? Not Without a Truck.”