August 13, 2008

Up above the road

How far off the ground are we? I ask Brian.

"The floor of the cab's at 5 feet," he says. "Your head's probably at about 8 or 9."

I look out the window. The ground seems very far away. I strap myself in and Brian gets us going. Not very far, though. We rumble down the long straight road for about half a mile, he turns left onto a lane and he stops. I'm still wondering how he managed that turn so smoothly when I hear his voice: "Step down," he says, already halfway out the door. "This is where we switch places," all the way out the door.

I climb out, walk around the front and climb up into the driver's seat. Brian, a big beefy man in shorts and a deep blue tee, has come the long way -- around the back -- but he's already buckled into his seat.

"OK," he says. "Just remember turns: point at the midpoint of the turn and watch your rear wheels in the mirror." I put the rig in gear, ease my foot off the brake and onto the accelerator, and we're moving. Fifty-thousand-plus pounds of metal, worth nearly half a million dollars, and I'm in charge. I can feel that enormous weight, in motion under me. Quite different from a car, ohhhh yes.

The first turn comes up fast. Quiet reminder from Brian that I should be careful with the air brakes, that there's a slight delay before they kick in (and out). I signal, brake to stop and then make a slow and wide left turn. "Take care of your turn signal," says Brian, "it's not an automatic turn-off." So it isn't. And even with all those pounds, we're accelerating faster than I would have expected. Brian says gently, "Stay under 25, that's the way we like to keep it in these residential parts."

Under steadily darker skies, we make four long circuits, I'm feeling more and more comfortable. In between asking all about India and my writing and my travels and languages there and telling me about how folks here just want the government out of their faces, Brian suddenly asks: "You drive some machinery back there in India? Rig like this? 'Cause you drive it well." I can't imagine that driving a Tata Indica is good training for this, apart from both being the same shade of red. But I feel a kick of delight at his praise.

Eventually, Brian asks, "You wanna take it on back now?" I nod.

He indicates the stop sign that looms ahead. It's the first right turn I'll have to make, at the same spot where he first put me in the driver's seat. "Swing way left now," he says, anticipating the wide turn I'll need to make. "Then turn right, but watch that stop sign in the mirror as you go."

Make the turn, rumble up the final straight and bring the metal beast in. Piece of cake. Yeah, right. I tell Brian, it wasn't a piece of cake, I'll say that, but it was easier than I expected.

I'm faster this time, but Brian still beats me out of the cab and down to the ground.

Later, they share their dinner -- cooked by one of their moms for the entire crew -- with me. These guys, look bottom left at the red "SOU E-7" rig.

1 comment:

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