Tuesday, March 24, 2015

baby in the cradle

How odd.
I've discovered something that's NOT on Wikipedia.

Do you remember CB radios? They were popular with truck drivers before there were cell phones, allowing truckers to talk to each other while they were driving. They'd share weather and traffic info, alert their fellow drivers where the cops were set up with their speed traps, and if someone had trouble, a CB radio call brought help. When Burt Reynolds' movie, "Smokey and The Bandit" hit movie theatres across the country in 1977, CB radios became popular with mainstream America and the CB culture was born! Got that, good buddy?

I had been living in Key West for nearly seven years when Reagan's recession hit in 1983 and I lost all three of my jobs, one at a time. It was a desperate time for me. I didn't want to leave Key West. I loved it there. I wasn't a world traveler, so, I didn't know where else I could go and find work. I'd been playing around with the idea of Fort Lauderdale; I'd been there a couple of time with my girlfriend and it had a good vibe. But, you don't just up and move when you have a child. You have to plan and prepare. I wasn't yet smart enough to understand this, so I drove to my mother's in Virginia and left my daughter with my mom while I figured out what I was going to do. We agreed it would only be for a few weeks.

It was on that return trip to Key West that I learned about "baby in the cradle."

I was driving a 1977 Toyota Celica, like the one in the picture. From Key West to my mother's home in Virginia was a 13 hour ride, and, back then, I could handle it, stopping only when one of us had to go to the bathroom. It was me, the kid and our dog, and we made it to our destination without incident.

I stayed over for two nights, leaving my mom's right after dinner on the third day for the return run, thinking I could get through the Carolinas and Georgia and well into Florida by morning. Traffic late at night was mostly tractor trailers hauling freight. There weren't that many tourists driving to Florida back in the early 1980s; nothing like it is today. Disney World and Spring Break were folks' main reasons for coming to Florida back then.

I thought I was making really good time when I hit South of the Border at the NC/SC state line just after midnight, so I pulled into a Burger King for a cup of coffee and a bathroom break for me and the dog. I also bought her a hamburger. And, no, she didn't get the bun or the pickle; just the burger! When we'd finished our break, I got back into my car to head out, but it wouldn't start. It was definitely a "what the fuck" moment. Here I was, a long way from home with a tiny amount of money and no idea what to do.

I sat on the curb next to my car, the hood up, talking to the dog, trying to figure out what my next move was. I was grateful that it was night and there weren't a lot of people around. I was able to have a good cry. I'd been sitting there for a while when two guys came out of the Burger King and asked me what the problem was. I told 'em my car wouldn't start. The taller of the two walked over to his big rig and brought out a tool box. The other one, puffing on his Marlboro, poked around in the engine. It took them just a few minutes to diagnose my problem. The tall one said, "Your alternator is shot."

When I asked what that meant, they explained to me that they could get my car started, but, the battery wouldn't charge and I wouldn't be able to run my headlights. They suggested I wait until morning and return to my mother's in Virginia. They were clear that trying to drive to Key West without headlights was a risky thing to do. (Yes. I was foolish enough to think I could do it.)

I remember quietly crying and thanking them for their help and watching as they packed up their tools. The tall guy walked over to his truck, and the Marlboro man walked around behind the Burger King.

I watched as the tall one pulled his rig out onto the highway; then, he pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway. At the same time, the Marlboro man came around from behind the Burger King in his rig and stopped right in front of me. I was still sitting on the curb with the dog on the leash. Mr. Marlboro jumped down from his cab and walked toward me.

He asked me if I was a fan of "Smokey and the Bandit."

Well, of course I was! Who wasn't?

Then he asked me if I had a CB radio in my car.

I did. My handle was "Lady Blue."

Then, he explained to me what they (he and the the tall guy) could do. He asked me if I knew what "baby in the cradle" was. I didn't. Then he explained it.  I could drive my car in between their trucks without my headlights. They were going to Jacksonville, planning to be there come morning, and if I could keep up, this was what they would do for me.

I don't know why they were willing to help me. To this day I cannot tell you why these two men would help a weepy woman with a dog. But, they did. And, I was very grateful.

I asked the Marlboro man if I could go pee and, before he could answer, I handed him the dog's leash. I didn't know how long it would be before they stopped, but, I had consumed a cup of coffee and I needed to tinkle before we hit the road. I was definitely in.

Driving your car between two big rigs is intimidating. Under normal circumstances, when you hit your brakes, your car stops within a few car lengths, based on the speed at which you're traveling. A tractor trailer needs a lot more of those 'car lengths' to come to a complete stop, so there's no messing around when you're riding in the "cradle." I spent the night listening and watching and maintaining 70 mph.

I will admit that the first hour or so was a bit harrowing. If you've ever driven through Georgia via I-95, there is one long stretch that's just forest on both sides of the road for as far as you can see. Somewhere in that stretch of road I began to feel comfortable. They chatted it up on the CB and every now and then they would call out to me. I was so overwhelmed by their kindness that I didn't know what to say most of the time.

We stopped at a truck stop around 5 AM, about 30 miles from the Florida state line. They started talking to me about stopping a good half hour before we ever exited the highway. It was the hardest part for me, maintaining speed and distance, slowing down slowly while watching behind and in front. But, I did it. Or, THEY did it!

They bought me breakfast, waited while I got gas and we got out on the road that one last time. As we crossed the Florida state line, the sun was coming up and they got chatty on the CB. They began explaining to me what was going to happen when we got to Jacksonville, that they would be exiting the highway and I would continue on my journey to Key West. I remember telling them I wished there was some way I could thank them. And, I remember the Marlboro man saying, "Get home safe. That'll be thanks enough."

It's been a really long time since I thought about that trip from Virginia to Key West. A single memory, frozen in my mind. So, when it surfaced recently, as old memories are prone to do, I Googled "baby in the cradle." I was truly surprised that there was nothing at all. Not a single entry.

Since that time, I have loved and respected truck drivers. I'm the one who slows to let them pull over in front of me on the highway when no one else will. And, I'm the one who gets mad (and, blows her horn) at people who cut in front of big rigs. Those idiots need to spend a night in the 'cradle' to teach them a lesson! Although, these days, you probably won't see that happening. Too many cars, too many people and way too many regulations. And, lots of highway patrol officers.

Wherever the tall guy and the Marlboro man went, whatever they did after that night, I'm sure their good karma followed. Lucky for me those angels were on duty that night. They kept me safe and helped me get home. Thank you, both.

1 comment:

Piper said...

What a wonderful story. lots of highlights, insights and and no headlights!!