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Never Met a Stranger: Riding the Rainbows

By T.W. Burger

I never formally studied any of those Far Eastern forms of meditation. I mean, how long can anyone stare at a doggone candle flame before they fall asleep and set the house on fire? And I went in an out of the University of Georgia on my own nickel to earn a four-year degree. All that work to fill my head and then I am supposed to empty my mind? Not after all that time and money to fill the damned thing.

The idea, I understand, is to find the center of your being during the process, so the buffalo stampede of everyday life does not trample you into little bloody bits.

I finally did figure that out on my own. It did not take somebody wearing a bed sheet with a name longer than a truck and unpronounceable.

In fact, I learned it from a truck.

1979 was not a particularly great year. It started off with a pretty little16-year-old California girl, Brenda Spencer, walked into the elementary school across the street from her house with a .22 caliber rifle. She killed the principal and a maintenance man and wounded several others. Then she barricaded herself up in her house.

An enterprising newspaper reporter called her on the phone and asked her why she did it.

Calmly, she said “I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day."

The year did not improve much after that. The usual political turmoil, stupid wars, financial shenanigans.

Such matters tend to stick to you, like burrs or ticks. Like ticks, they can suck the life out of you.

So that is where I was one day in midsummer, tearing down the two-lane highway on the way to Colbert.

It was hotter than a two-dollar pistol. I was soaking wet, partly from sweat and partly from a quick thunderstorm that caught me while I was outside at the concrete plant, working on something I had to finish.

The storm ended right about the time I finished my chore and it was “Burger, got a trip. Get in line.”

For the record, my truck was a thing of beauty, though it really takes someone who has driven such a beast to really feel it. It was an early 70's Autocar Constructor. It had been ordered for the company’s oldest driver, to his specifications: Bright red, with everything that could be chrome plated, and a really aggressive turbocharger that would sing a form of diesel opera when the engine was opened up. Oh, and maybe the world’s best air-horn, also chromed.

It was said to be the fastest mixer truck in north Georgia. I was young and stupid enough to test that theory often.

So, here I go, hitting “way too fast” on this narrow highway, windows open, turbine singing like a stoned whale, tires hissing on the wet pavement.

The sun was leaning to the west. I was enjoying the ride, but still stewing in the malaise of my time.

And then I glanced into the big chrome mirrors on either side of the cab.

Each set of four tires on each side was throwing up a mist from the recent rains. And each cloud of mist had grown a rainbow.

It all came together: The speed, the bright red and chrome beast hurling me down the road with it, the fierce aria of the turbocharger, and the rainbow wings.

I had the brief thought that “I could die right now and that would be OK,” but shook that off. No need to get carried away.

The moment gone in a flicker, and I was just another sweaty redneck driving too fast in a big red truck.

This is the tricky part. It has been 41 years since that steamy afternoon heading toward Colbert. I have come a long way, in time and distance and what I do for a living.

Every year seems to go to hell in its own way. It did not take long to figure out that would be true as long as we are stumbling around on this ball of mud and misery. It would be easy to feel lost, and I often do.

But, you see, part of me is still gripping the giant wheel of that Autocar, my hand pushing that RoadRanger tranny through its paces, staring out at the glittering asphalt and singing along with my turbo. Behind me, way, WAY behind me, the demons of the day are howling and clawing to catch up.

Eat my smoke, bastards.

T.W. Burger was raised in Athens. He graduated from Athens High School in 1967. He worked as a driver of everything from fork trucks to garbage trucks and concrete mixers, has been an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant.

President of Marsh Creek Media, he has been a newspaper reporter since 1985, mostly in Gettysburg, PA, with various stints at other publications. Semi-retired, he is still working as a freelance writer and lives on the banks of Marsh Creek just outside of Gettysburg.

He is the author of "The Year of the Moon Goose" is currently writing “Never Met a Stranger.”

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