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Interstate encounter

By Helen Copeland / July 27, 1987



Up and down the hills from Charlotte to Atlanta I played leapfrog with a tractor-trailer truck that hauled a load of long steel rods. When first I saw that bold blue hood expanding in my view, it startled me. In a vile wind it thundered by, darkening the sun, stiffening the curl of my fingers around the wheel. Many times that afternoon I felt the shimmering interval, and miles beyond would come upon those neat laid circles of construction steel groaning uphill. I got used to the whiff he trailed, his gearing up, his bearing down. My arrow green, I'd skim around the brilliance of his big white lights that doffed a signal, all is well. When he came again, fast into the dip between hills, he'd wink hello, apologetic for rushing by.

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I understood. On a downhill roll that rig would seem to float; its bundled rods on their flat bed over eighteen humming wheels would rise like the hollow bones of birds; a buzzard in the air transcends its gawky ways. Naturally he'll fly every chance he gets.

When he flashed an exit I wished to follow his diesel plume. What held me to the road was this: he'd stop at a diner, the door would open wide, and down from the cab would come an ordinary man.