Just a few miles from my home, at any time of the day or night, you can find decent food, good company, and share a slice of life with a wide variety of people at The Iron Skillet Truck Stop. In one of his incarnations, my father was a trucker in the 1950's before his health began to fail.
The roaming spirit of trucking never left him and when the urge to wander overtook him, we'd sneak away (just the two of us) in the tank-sized Chrysler and drive to the nearest truck stop. He'd order me a bowl of vegetable soup, poppy-seed rolls and a cup of hot chocolate and without exchanging a word, just coded nods, sooner or later a trucker would sit down at our booth and ask my father, "How long since you hauled a rig?"
I'd be long asleep beside him in the booth under his tan workmen's jacket he wore summer and winter before the two trucker's had traded all their stories of blizzards and runaway trucks barreling down a narrow road in the Poconos. After all these years, I still wander into truck stops and order vegetable soup, poppy-seed rolls and hot chocolate. It never tastes quite a good as I remember but somehow, perhaps by osmosis, I learned to speak the coded trucker language with a nod or a smile, and sooner or later a trucker would pause at my booth, motion to the book I was reading, and politely inquire, "Good book? I'm always looking for something new to read."
The best books I've ever read have been recommended by truckers from "The Crack in the Cosmic Egg," to "The Grapes of Wrath," down to my most recent find of "An Hour Before Daylight." And I ponder with great amusement the mental image of a trucker taking a break in some Midwest truck stop and pulling out my recommendations over the years of "Our Bodies, Our Selves," "Wake up, Stupid," and "Rabbit Hill."
Too sick to cook for the past few days, and tired of microwaving scrambled eggs, I drag myself out of bed and head for The Iron Skillet Truck Stop where I tell the beefy-forearmed waitress to line up six glasses of tomato juice with a grapefruit chaser and then follow that with steak and eggs. Within minutes, the truckers assess the situation and one or two wander by with advice for those suffering from a cold.
With so many trucking companies now requiring urine drug testing, most truckers have steered away from over the counter pharmaceuticals that can give a false positive for opiates or amphetamines, they've ventured into anahcronistic herbal treatments that hearken back to the days of Vick's Vaporub, flannel shirts hosed down with camphorated oil, and my favorite, an electric blanket that plugs into your cigarette lighter to "stave off the chattering teeth of chills on those days when you gotta drive, gotta make up time, gotta keep going down the road."
With my newly-purchased electric blanket trailing its cord, a pint-sized cobalt blue jar of Vick's Vaporub, a "guaranteed not to spill - no matter what!" quart-sized insulated Mack Truck coffee mug filled with honey-horehound tea (made by Ralph from dissolving Ricola herbal cough drops in boiling water), I leave The Iron Skillet Truck Stop feeling a great deal better.