We were well on our way home. One quick stop at the Flying J, fuel up, grab a meal, grab a few sandwiches and sodas, and the next stop would be in Montana at Missoula.
When we walked into the restaurant, a full scale political discussion was under way. This was unusual; truck stop folks, both workers and customers, are generally a pretty quiet bunch.
The only open booth was situated right next to an oversized table that seated eight, seven of the chairs being filled at the moment. There was no way we could miss hearing the animated conversation.
“Chuck,” a rather burly woman asked, “what do you think about Christie?”
The questioner’s baseball cap made it clear she drove for Schneider. Christie, we presumed, would be Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who’d just won relection with 61 percent of the vote and didn’t mind letting everyone hear about it.
They all knew this Chuck fellow, it seemed, and respected his opinion. From where I was sitting, I had a three-quarters view of the man. Hard to be sure with him sitting down, but at a guess he’d go six feet or so, slender, mid-forties, wearing a vest with a blue embroidered patch that read, “Chuck Trucking LLC”, circled around a Pete tractor pulling a flatbed.
Chuck snorted in derision. “I got no use for Chris f*cking Christie. He’s nothing but a fat f*ck!”
“Took on the unions right well, though, didn’t he?” A pudgy little guy seated to Chuck’s left said it mildly, looking a bit amused.
“He did that.” Chuck put his fork down, forgetting the omelette he’d been about to spear. “I ain’t saying he’s ain’t been good for New Jersey. But hell, people, he’s mostly to the left of all the RHINO types in Washington! He parrots the Democrats about it being the Tea Party’s fault for the government shutdown, never a word of criticism for Obama, none whatsoever! The way he loved up on Obama after Hurricane Sandy didn’t do the GOP one helluva lot of good just before Election Day, though admittedly our wonderfully chickensh*t candidate–that would be Romney–wasn’t exactly helping himself, either. Good Lord, people, there’s a reason Christie got more than half the Hispanic vote this last election.”
Chuck’s voice carried some. One clearly Hispanic family pretended not to hear what he was saying, but there were a few people around the restaurant, here and there, either nodding in agreement or looking thoughtful.
“You don’t think he could win against Hillary?” This from the Schneider driver. She wasn’t interrupting her eating all that much, I noticed.
Chuck snorted again. I kept waiting for one of those snorts to blow boogers all over the table, but it never happened. “Hell, Carly, he could kick Hillary’s miserable Benghazi cover up butt all over the countryside! The man knows how to win elections; that’s a fact. Trouble is, I’m not sure we’d be able to tell that much difference between him and Clinton if he did win. They’re both miserable to consider.”
A man across the table from Chuck, seated next to the burly woman, spoke up for the first time. “Why don’t you tell us how you really feel, Chuck?”
That broke the tension some, but the speaker wasn’t done. “Maybe,” he said reflectively, “It really is time for us to be thinking about a third party.”
“Maybe,” Chuck admitted, calming down some as he picked his fork back up and prepared to attack the omelette that was probably cooled to room temperature by now. “I’ve always been against a third party, but we might be reaching that point.”
Things quieted down some as the diners around the table finished their meals and headed back out to hit the highway.
Chuck, I noticed, left a good half of his meal on the plate. Talking about Chris Christie appeared to have diminished his appetite considerably.
By this time, Jack and I’d worked our way through our first cups of coffee. Hill had the pot roast; I’d settled for a giant cheeseburger with coleslaw instead of fries. Between bites, I observed, “Old Chuck did wax a tad enthusiastic in his pontificating, but he’s not stupid.”
“No,” he agreed, “he’s not. You can’t be running your own flatbed in this economy if you’re dumb as a box of rocks. Plus, just for example, you can bet he’s not about to buy into Obamacare, and he’s likely making enough that the tax penalty for flipping Obama the bird will pinch pretty hard.”
“Hngh.” Which was about the best response I could manage until I’d swallowed that last bite. I’d been hungry, just about inhaled that burger. Left room for apple pie, maybe…. “Christie as a candidate in 2016 would scare me, too, I guess. But don’t we have a few fish to fry before then? Like, the whole House comes up for reelection in 2014, plus a third of the Senate, right?”
“Right,” he nodded, without even opening his mouth that I could see. How the man managed that was a mystery; he was about half ventriloquist when he wanted to be.
We were anxious to get home to the Ovando country, but then again we weren’t. One thing I’d learned from traveling with Jack, kind of absorbed it from him, is that you want to enjoy your time on the road. If it’s panic crunch time going, there’s a firefight going on and you need to get there in a hurry, that’s one thing. Other than that, though….
“Honey,” I told the waitress, who arched an eyebrow at me for using the endearment, “I’d surely take a piece of that apple pie.” She’d just stopped by with the coffee pot. “Did you enjoy the Chuck Show?”
She smiled at that. “Oh, don’t mind him. That Chuck Berenson, he’s got some strong political views, but he’s a good man.”
I smiled back. “I didn’t say we minded. It was entertaining. In fact, we could use a few million more like him. Berenson, you said?”
“Yeah. He’s out of some little town in Montana…let me think…St. Regis. He’s from St. Regis. You want ice cream on that apple pie?”
“Sure. Cold, though; don’t heat it.”
She moved on, to put away the coffee pot and round up my dessert.
“What do you think, partner?” Jack was still finishing his meal, taking his time. “Think we might want to make a stop in St. Regis?”
He thought about that. “Don’t see why not. He could be on his way home right now, in which case we’d get a chance to visit with the man. And if he’s headed the other way, we could still ask around, find out what his neighbors think of Chuck Trucking.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Which it was. As fast as Rodeo Iron was expanding, it had plenty of growing pains–one of which involved transportation. So far, we’d been delivering what we could ourselves, towing a horse trailer behind the one ton dually, but that phase was just about behind us, one way or the other. We’d had to ship out several loads of fencing panels via commercial carrier, and the results had been anything but satisfactory. Drivers seemed to get lost a lot, trying to find our remote mountain ranch location, especially winter runs over those last few miles of dirt roads.
Working out something with a hard headed independent like Chuck Berenson…that could be a win-win. If current sales projections worked out, we could give Chuck a load a week before too long. By spring, when things really tended to bust loose, we might have enough to keep him running full time, just for us.
No way to be sure at this point, but it couldn’t hurt to check it out.