This Great Society - Arts



"Winnipeg Gravel Pit", photographs and story by Neal Rockwell   "Winnipeg Gravel Pit", photographs and story by Neal Rockwell
"Winnipeg Gravel Pit", photographs and story by Neal Rockwell   "Winnipeg Gravel Pit", photographs and story by Neal Rockwell   "Winnipeg Gravel Pit", photographs and story by Neal Rockwell


Neal Rockwell: Winnipeg Gravel Pit

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The Truck Driver

In August 2009, my friend and I were hitchhiking from Winnipeg. A man picked us up from the edge of town in a blue truck. He was drinking beer. He drove us for about forty-five minutes, letting us off near a gas station. We waited there for a little while. From across the street a man got out of a blue semi and started waving at us. At first I didn’t realize that he was waving at us. He was wearing a white shirt and what looked to be some very short shorts. We went over to him. His shorts turned out to be underpants. He told us that he had spilled something on his pants and so he had taken them off. He had seen our sign for Montreal and told us that his friend was going to Montreal and that he was French Canadian. He called his friend and his friend said that he would be passing by around four or four-thirty in the afternoon. Then the man had us drive around with him in his truck. He had me sit in the back part of the cab, and put my friend, a girl, in the front. He said that he did this because of bad experiences. He didn’t trust anyone. He said the man wouldn’t try anything with the woman in front if he was in back. If the positions were reversed, he explained, then the woman might try something where the driver can’t see.

He took us to a gravel pit, where he got thirty tonnes of sand. He bragged that that was eight tonnes over the legal limit. The limit, he said, was a tax scam. Then he drove us back into town, telling stories about bad hitchhikers he’d picked up – people trying to steal his stuff, or being on drugs and other such things. When we passed the restaurant that was beside the gas station, where we had been let out by the man drinking beer, he said that there was a girl from Quebec who lived near there and that she always went around without a shirt on, in order to protest the unfair laws that allow a man to go bare-chested but not a woman. The bartender at the restaurant had said to her one night that if she didn’t put her shirt on, she would have to leave. “There must have been something funny about him,” he said, “that he wouldn’t want to see tits for free.”

Then, not troubling himself with any kind of transition, he told us about the Natives. He didn’t like them. “I’m not prejudiced but I don’t like Natives,” he said, because they complained and didn’t work, and in his mind they should not complain or not work. He said that his family was originally French Canadian. “They say all French have some Indian in them, so I’m Indian too…” This was how he explained that he was not prejudiced, “but I work.”

He was fifty-five. A few years back he’d almost had a girlfriend, but she’d wanted him to retire. She said that he had plenty of money, that they could have a good time, but he said that he still had more years in him to work and to his mind it wasn’t right for a man to retire when he had more years in him for work. So that was why he didn't have a girlfriend anymore. I asked him what he did mostly and he said that mostly he transported cartons of egg yolk and when he got tired of that he did local hauling – gravel and sand. The company that shipped cartons of egg yolk preferred him to large companies because large companies often had careless drivers who would arrive with tipped over flats. He said that he lived in Winnipeg because it was the “asshole of Canada,” halfway between either coast – good for trucking. He said that he had to be careful in his underpants because they were kind of see-through.

He told us he would retire in five years. He wanted to get a forty-foot RV and travel across Canada. When I noted that it seemed like he would be doing the same thing in retirement as he had done in employment, he appeared a little taken aback, as though he'd never thought of it that way before. "Yeah, but I've driven past all these places that looked nice and I've never been able to stop. I always wanted to stop at them."

Once we were back in town, he dumped his sand at a pit where they made concrete. He ran into his brother who was also a trucker. I asked him if he came from a family of truck drivers. He said no. “When I was young I had three options for what I could be. I could have been a trucker, a police officer or a train engineer. Well, I looked into being an engineer but it’s too boring. And then police officer... well, my friends told me that if I did that I’d have to give up doing all the stuff I did and so that only left trucker. My father was a trucker, my brother’s a trucker, my other brother’s a trucker, my sister’s a police officer in Ottawa.” His sister could speak Chinese because she was married to a Chinese man. “She’s been married to him for thirty years. Man, but I tell you he has slanty eyes.”

We drove back out of the city. He told us about his diabetes. He had just developed diabetes. I asked him if it was hard to maintain his diet being a truck driver. “I don’t watch what I eat,” he said. He said he was healthy and then talked about having various body parts amputated. He was mostly healthy, he figured: “I don’t drink or do drugs or gamble. My only bad habit is women.”

Finally, he left us off where he’d picked us up two hours earlier. “Jean said that he’d be by around four or four-thirty. If he doesn’t stop here, he’ll definitely stop at the truck stop that’s about three clicks that way. He always stops there because he’s in love with one of the waitresses. I told him that she was too young for him – she’s only eighteen, but he tells me that he likes the young stuff.” Then he drove off and Jean never came.



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