Trucksuds – a truckin’ soap opera
Hey, everbody. Pull up a chair an’ let’s let T-Dawg tell the rest of his story ‘bout B.A. an’ his close encounter with a driverless truck. Kinda reminds me of Nadine, when she gets started back-seat drivin’, but you didn’t hear me say that.
T-Dawg walked into Mamie’s this noon an’ asked for the Daily Special. Just then the other drivers spotted him an’ started hollerin’ for the rest of his story. T-Dawg chuckled an’ set down, clearin’ his throat an’ getting’ ready.
“Remember ‘Steeri’ had decided B.A. was a truck hijacker, obviously destined to be delivered to the nearest police station. So he had quite a situashun on his hands.”
B.A. gave a disgusted sigh. “Solar flares must have fried her wiring. Looks like we’re in for a ride to a police station, Dawg.”
“If we get there in one piece. No telling what’ll happen next,” I looked at the control pad on the dashboard, which had the same set-up as ATMs and burglar alarms. “Can’t you punch in the access code and grab the wheel?”
“Not sure what it is,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, that shock sort of jolted me. Like the flare must have done Steeri. I’m a little vague on the code, Dawg. I know I used a word instead of a number but I can’t recall what.”
“How many letters?”
“Uh, four, I think. Some word I use all the time, Dawg. I just can’t remember right now.”
Suddenly the truck braked and stopped on the access road. There was the sound of screeching brakes and angry honks behind us but we stayed where we were. Cars began pulling around us with drivers making rude gestures.
“B.A.,” I said. “This has been a fun ride, but I’m taking the opportunity to bail out.” I reached for the door handle.
“You and me both, pard,” said B.A. “So long, Steeri.”
But the doors wouldn’t open. “She’s locked ‘em!” yelled B.A. “Steeri, let us out of this death trap!”
“UNAUTHORIZED-EXIT-ATTEMPT-DURING-UNLOADING,” said Steeri.
“Unloading?” yelled B.A. “We’re still a hundred miles from our drop-off, you cuckoo computer!”
“BACKING-INTO-LOADING-BAY,” said Steeri as she put the truck into reverse and began backing down the access road.
“Oh my God, B.A.” I yelled. “She’s heading for the exit ramp! If we go down the highway in reverse—”
“Oh, Gawd, Dawg! What’re we gonna do?” B.A. yelled back at me.
“You’ve got to take the wheel!”
“I can’t remember the password, Dawg!”
I looked in the mirror on the passenger side of our truck. We’d reached the entrance to the exit ramp. I could see cars wildly swerving to avoid us. Horns blared. “Think, B.A.! Think! A word with just four letters, right?”
“Right, Dawg. Something I say all the time. Seems like it was an animal.”
“Animal? ‘Bird,’ maybe?”
“Naw, Dawg, but I think you’re close.”
Behind us, brakes jammed and tires screeched as we backed up the exit ramp. I could hear the crash of metal as cars hit each other to dodge our eighteen-wheeler. “What the hell are you doing?” someone screamed at us as we passed his car.
“BACKING-INTO-LOADING-BAY,” said Steeri calmly, completely out of touch with reality, her circuits burned to a crisp by a solar storm.
“Not a wolf, you say?” I asked B.A. desperately.
“Nope, Dawg, but close.”
“That’s five letters, Dawg!”
“Uh, yeah. What about dog?”
“Three letters, Dawg!”
“Doggone it, B.A. I’m running out of four-letter animals!”
“Doggone it yourself, Dawg, it’s got to be—“
“LOADING-BAY-OCCUPIED,” said Steeri in her unruffled lilt. ‘PREPARE-FOR-IMPACT.”
I glanced at the mirror again. We’d reached the top of the exit ramp and were almost back on the highway. Another eighteen-wheeler was bearing down on us fast. I could hear its air brakes as the driver desperately tried to slow and pull around us. We were seconds away from a pile-up. It wasn’t going to be pretty.
“Reckon this is it, B.A.” I said, bracing for the crash.
“Looks like it is, Daw— Got it!” B.A. suddenly lunged for the control pad, typing in the code.
“RELEASING-CONTROL-OF-VEHICLE,” chirped Steeri. “HAVE-A-NICE-DAY.”
B.A. seized the wheel, hit the pedal and highballed the truck back down the exit ramp, narrowly avoiding the cars we’d pushed aside only seconds before. There were more curses and horns but not the sound of metal smashing metal. In my mirror, I saw the other eighteen-wheeler zoom past on the highway.
B.A. steered to the access road and pulled off. Both of us were dripping with sweat.
“Password was ‘dawg,’ wasn’t it?” I asked.
“Doggone right, Dawg.” B.A. hit the button for the dispatcher. A few seconds later, we heard the voice of Al, his pretty, apple-cheeked dispatcher. “Hi, B.A.! Enjoying your hands-free trip?”
“Afraid there’s still a few bugs in the system, Al honey,” said B.A. “Good thing Potterville can wait ‘til tomorrow. I’ll be doing the driving for the return trip to departure point. Pass that on and I’ll make a report when I get back.”
He signed off and began disconnecting Steeri so she couldn’t resume control of the vehicle. “Steeri, I’m taking over for now. You’re all stressed out from those solar flares.”
“Just the same, you’re taking it easy for the rest of this trip.”
“I’m sure you do. Sweet dreams.”
There was a musical trill as Steeri went out and her screen went black.
“That’s one whacked-out computer program, Dawg,” B.A. said. “Looks like I won’t be getting my degree in meteorology any time soon.” He pulled onto the access road and headed toward an entrance ramp. “If we step on it, we can still make it back before the supper crush at Mamie’s. I’ll buy you two of Mamie’s chicken frieds. And two for myself. What has she done to the cream gravy? It’s different somehow.”
“It’s the pepper. She switched to Sarawak peppercorn form Borneo.”
“Is that it? You put your nose down close to it and there’s a whole bouquet of floral high notes.”
“Hand-ground with a wooden mill made by Pennsylvania Amish without power tools.”
“Is that so? Some things are best left done by human beings with the sweat of their brow.”
“Like driving a truck. Step on it, friend. I can smell the gravy.”
“Amen, brother. I’m pushin’ it.”