The lorry drivers trudged into the service station diner and lined up along the bar, slouching on stools. They were quiet and bleary eyed – yawning into their fists as they braced themselves for another fifteen-hour shift. With a series of points and gestures they ordered banoffee pie and pancakes, chasing cups of coffee with swigs of whiskey from their hip flasks. On the Perspex table top, they rolled cheap tobacco for the road and slipped the cigarettes behind their ears.
Staggering outside, the men horsed around, told dirty jokes, insulted their mothers. They had never met before yet they were comrades.
They climbed into their trucks in a woozy haze, then eased their lorries onto the motorway, knocking back more whiskey, savouring the alcohol, feeling loose.
Rain fell, and the guiding amber studs stretching out along the freeway sparkled like orangeade. The men did not appreciate the beauty.
They turned their radios up loud, tuning into classic rock and acid jazz, but for one particularly sensitive trucker the commercial jingles pushed him to the brink of insanity. He flipped out and stomped on the radio with his foot until its electric guts were spewed out all over the floor. He sighed with relief and then listened to the hypnotic sound of the road unfolding before him.
As time passed, more men became trapped in a spiral of despair. The highway was an endless grey vacuum and the truckers couldn’t take it anymore.
One popped a handful of Xanax and his worries soon melted into a texture as soft as skin. Another read Superman comics propped up by a bag of nachos on the passenger seat. Another worked on his shoulders by lifting tins of baked beans over his head. It was nowhere near enough but at least they’d passed some time.
And then the police cruised onto the scene, sirens blaring, stunning the truckers out of their dreary reverie. But the cops were so stoned themselves they got the giggle fits, swerved off the highway, and parked on the hard shoulder for another bong session. As it was, the police were lucky not to get involved – many of the drivers had ties to the criminal underworld and favours were owed.
Finally, the trucks came to a halt.
A long trail of lorries and holiday makers were queuing for the Euro Tunnel, to journey deep underground to reach Calais, France and beyond. Some drivers shed a tear at the prospect of leaving their homeland and as they gave a tender farewell to their families on the phone, they wondered to themselves why they continued with their mindless careers.
But the truth was, most of the families remained unmoved by the truckers’ plight – didn’t understand them, didn’t care. They were God’s lonely men, forever bound by the highway, and whenever they returned from a trip abroad all they really wanted was to get out there again – to face what was lying in wait for them and escape the emptiness lurking at home.
As they reached France, the truckers went their separate ways, fanning out in different directions, chugging through Europe’s arteries, slicing through borders, not knowing if they’d ever see each other again.
All they had were memories of their short-lived friendship and the wretched road lying before them.