Norma had tired blond hair, and, oddly, no tattoos. A person would just expect tattoos on a truck-driving lady, but there are none. She is too tired to smile, but soon she goes to the back of her cab and changes into a bright blue T sprinkled with sequins, and things look better already.
Norma and Ralph, her husband, weren’t in Houston during the hurricane. The company that owns them had them stop in Fort Worth, Texas, to sit with their loads and wait.
“Now if I had a Peterbilt, or some other sturdier or high built rig, I could go back in and help make some rescues, or help the other truckers who are stuck there. Some of us even work on the clean up after a storm like this," Norma said.
Norma adds, “we like Newton. Sometimes we pick up a load of furniture at Mid-Continent and take it to Lynchburg, Virginia.”
Ronnie runs a big blue machine and he’s dressed in red from top to bottom, and it’s a totally Smurfy effect. Normally, he hauls veterinarian supplies from New York to California and then takes grapes back to New York. We find him leaning against his blue cab eating, what else — A two-pound bag of grapes. What a friendly guy.
“Now I guess I’m headed back down to Houston where my buddies and I will help FEMA with the clean-up. They pay pretty good, and it makes you feel good, too, doing that kind of work,” he said.
Back inside the restaurant, Charlie’s, we meet Phil, who has a perfect tan and more dimples than are legally allowed in the state of Kansas. He is sitting in front of a supper of two pork chops, hash browns, a pile of scrambled eggs and four pieces of toast. He smiles, and half a piece of toast flies out of his mouth. We wait while he finishes his chops, and we finish the rhubarb pie we couldn’t resist.
The TV is on, and now we see more of the rushing water, 20 feet deep, that used to be the middle of downtown Houston. It hurts to look. Then, we see the orderly Convention Center shelter, where clothing and blankets are being passed out. A number to call for Red Cross donations flashes across the screen (1-888-999-GIVE) and that is for cash, the language of how we can meet need with the exact commodity that is wanted. This is good.
Back to Phil.
“I know, I really eat a lot, but I can barely keep up with the calories I need. It’s totally nuts”, he said. “I’m going to have a big day tomorrow. I’m going to pick up and haul down a load of brand new Ford Fiestas for a car rental place. ... You know, this is the 12th hurricane I’ve worked on. So, I guess…that makes me a storm chaser.”
He laughs. And here come those dimples. There are probably six of them.
“If I get into rain, particularly standing water, the truck is so hard to handle and it’s very easy to hydroplane.”
“Two of my buddies who live north of Houston have been watching out for a friend of ours. She runs a dog rescue place and won’t leave her 40 dogs, so one of them with a high, heavy truck brings her supplies every couple of days,” Phil said.
Wednesday morning comes, and with it a sobering new set of numbers — 30 deaths confirmed, 9 to 10 inches of rain still expected in Houston and 10,000 people are registered at the Convention Center shelter. A total of 18,000 have been rescued, and still — STILL — thousands of 911 calls come in.
Back at the truck stop in Newton, a very thin driver named Dimetrius heads toward his rig, eating from a bag of potato chips. He usually goes down to Galveston, Texas, from this point, but he saw the weather forecast early on.
“What makes a lot of us truck drivers mad, especially us independents, is, they said they were going to fix up the levees and dams at Houston, and they maybe did do something, but it didn’t work, did it," Dimetrius said. "Darn, I’m out of chips again. I can never find enough to eat.”
— Dianna Graber is a Newton resident and writer who writes about the interesting people she meets in the area.