TruckSuds – a truckin’ soap opera
Hey, everbody, Miles here agin. Heard a commotion over in the second dining area th’ other day at Mamie’s so I thought I’d just amble in an’ see what’s goin’ on. Of course, it’s drivers, all hangin’ on T-Dawg’s ever word. So I pulled me up a chair, an’ you may as well, too, ‘cause this story’s a good one.
“Well, all of us here know B.A. Grouseman, my best friend, an’ you know he ain’t gonna care if I tell another story ‘bout him, long as I get the details straight. So, let me get another cup of coffee – thanks, Tiff – an’ here goes.”
“I was off for a few days and my wife Barb and the kids was visiting her sister in Oregon, so time was heavy on my hands when I got a call from B.A.”
“How ‘bout goin’ with me on a haul tomorrow, Dawg? Got a load for Potterville. We can deliver an’ be back in a day. I’ll treat you to a chicken-fried steak dinner at Mamie’s.”
“I drive trucks for a living, B.A.” I said. “Nobody makes chicken-fried like Mamie—particularly since she changed the recipe for the cream gravy—but why would I want to spend eight hours in a cab on my day off just to watch you drive?”
“Because I won’t be driving!” he chortled. “C’mon and see the future of trucking!”
B.A. refused to tell me more and curiosity got the better of me, so the next morning I showed up at his rig. He had a tote bag loaded with stuff. “T-Dawg!” he howled happily. “You made it!”
“What’s in the tote, B.A.?”
“Aw, just time-passers,” he grinned. “Chess set, deck of cards, couple of board games, some paperbacks I’ve been meaning to read.”
“You plan on reading and playing Monopoly while you’re behind the wheel? B.A., in case it’s slipped your mind, trucks don’t drive themselves!”
“I’ll be behind the wheel but I won’t be driving.”
“You’re talking in riddles. What’s going on?”
“Climb aboard, Dawg, and let me introduce you to the driver for this trip.”
We got in the cab. “So where’s your driver, B.A.? I don’t see anybody here but you and me.”
He pushed a button on the dashboard and a screen lit up with a musical trill. It showed a computer icon that looked a bit like the head of a female robot, all metal but pretty in a sort of nonhuman way.
“GOOD-DAY-B.A.” said a voice that almost passed for a real woman. The pitch and inflection were right but it had the bland, artificial cheer of a telephone prompt tree.
“Mornin’, Steeri,” said B.A. happily. “We got a friend along for this ride. Say hello to T-Dawg.”
“GOOD-MORNING-T-DOG,” said the voice.
I turned to B.A. “What or who is Steeri?”
B.A. smiled. “Steeri, will you explain to T-Dawg just what your job is?”
I nearly leaped out of my seat. “Drive! B.A., you’re going to let a computer program drive your truck? Have you flipped?”
“Steeri,” said B.A. “Would you tell T-Dawg how many miles you’ve logged without an accident?”
“’Course, that was in a special experimental car,” B.A. said to me. “This is the first time Steeri is gonna drive a truck on a real run, but that’s the only difference. It’s a honor to be part of this. If everything goes according to plan, the company’s going to install Steeri systems in all our trucks.”
“Well, that’s great news, B.A.” I said drily. “Then the company can fire you and all its other drivers.”
“Won’t happen, Dawg. Law requires every driverless car have a human operator ready to take over. This is history! Don’t you see, Dawg? All over America, truckers will be able to take advantage of their new free time! They can take up hobbies, learn to paint, enroll in college courses, all sorts of things. Myself, I’m going to get a degree in meteorology.”
“Meteorology? Weather prediction?”
“Always wanted to be a TV weatherman. Fascinating subject.” He pulled out his iPad. “I’m taking an online course right now.”
I was skeptical that a fleet of Steeri-driven trucks would produce truckers improving their minds with painting lessons or college courses, but I was wondering how well Steeri would do on an actual run. Since B.A. was there to take over, I decided to go along.
B.A. put on his seatbelt. “Steeri, let’s roll!” he commanded breezily.
“GLADLY-B.A.” said Steeri. The engine roared to life and a moment later we were pulling out of the yard. B.A. poured us coffee from his thermos. “Relax, Dawg! This is gonna be a milk run.”
For the first hundred miles, that was pretty much the case. Steeri expertly navigated out of the city and onto the highway, keeping a proper distance between vehicles and following a programmed route.
B.A. was deep into his online meteorology course and I’d sorted through his paperbacks until I found one to my liking. About then, B.A. looked up from his tablet. “Know anything about solar flares, Dawg?”
“Not much. Can’t they cause electrical disturbances?”
“Big time! They go in eleven-year cycles. Been a lot of activity lately because we’re in the most intense period of this cycle. You can practically feel it in the air.”
“You don’t say. What sort of trouble does a solar flare cause?”
“DANGER-BRIDGE-WASHED-OUT,” said Steeri suddenly.
B.A. and I looked at each other. We were on a level stretch of highway, far from any river.
“Steeri,” said B.A., “we ain’t even near a bridge.”
“TAKING-EMERGENCY-DETOUR,” said Steeri. The truck headed for the nearest off ramp and onto the access road, narrowly missing a pick-up hauling a horse trailer.
“Better take over,” I said. “Something’s wrong.”
“Think you’re right, Dawg!” said B.A. He grabbed the wheel. “Steeri, I’m driving the rest of the way. Turn over control.”
“HIJACKING-ATTEMPT,” said Steeri in her pleasant elevator voice. “ALERTING 911. RESISTING HIJACKING.”
Sweat was forming on B.A.’s brow as he attempted to wrestle control of the wheel from Steeri. Suddenly he screeched and let go. “She shocked me!” he exclaimed.
“Yeah, it’s an anti-hijacking technology they installed last month. Sends an electric charge through the wheel if you don’t punch in the right code.” He raised his voice. “Now, Steeri, you listen to me.”
“UNAUTHORIZED-ATTEMPT-TO-CONTROL-VEHICLE,” said Steeri as sternly as her melodious voice allowed.
“Steeri!” yelled my friend. “This is B.A. I’m in charge. I’m authorized! Let me have the wheel!”
B.A. gave a disgusted sigh. “Some of those solar flares must have fried her wiring. Looks like we’re in for a ride to a police station, Dawg.”
Well, T-Dawg looked at his phone an’ stood up. “Got a delivery to make. See you-all later. The other drivers groaned, but they knew he’d be back with the rest of the story. So I got me a piece of Mamie’s Buttercrust Pickled Peaches pie smothered in real whipped cream an’ relaxed. Dawg would be back later, or in a day or two. An then we’d get the rest of the story.