Sunday, November 23, 2008


North Little Rock, Arkansas

Not at home this weekend, after a long run through Texas and back up here, enroute to a delivery later tonight outside Memphis. Hopefully, I will make it back to the Dawg House for the holiday Thursday. We will see.

I was in Saint Anthony, Texas (more familiarly known as "San Antonio") on Thursday and Friday morning. I've been there once before, but that previous trip was probably some eight years ago. On that last trip to Alamo-land I hauled a light appliance load, but on my most recent journey there I lugged a 40,000 pound anchor behind me for almost 1100 miles; a load of diesel engine cylinder heads, which originated at a plant about 25 miles from our terminal in Illinois.

Hauling a heavy load that far aggravates me to no end. I know, I know -- many truckers (reefer drivers in particular) haul heavyweight loads almost constantly, so they would tend to laugh at my griping. However, they don't drive for my company, which tends to haul much lighter loads in general, and sets our trucks up for more moderate loads. When you do get a "lead sled" to haul, with one of our trucks, it's like trying to pull the Queen Mary behind a Volkswagen Beetle. You will see your speedometer begin to run backward on the slightest uphill grades and on the steeper ones, you scratch and claw your way up, with the truck wheezing and gasping all the way, seemingly. You can easily expect to drop as many as four or five gears on a moderate grade and on a steeper one, you might end up with the tranny back in low range again. And that's with thirteen forward speeds, to boot. Grind, grind, grind -- I think I can, I think I can!! Maybe. But somehow, you'll make it to the top, moving at a brisk 20 mph or so, with a whole conga line of angry car drivers backed up behind you. You learn early-on to ignore the sound of auto horns in those circumstances.

"Yeah??? Really?? Like that's gonna speed me up!!" you yell at them, although they can't hear you.

Fortunately, there weren't that many steep hills on the route I took, and it wasn't mountain country at all, really, as I skirted most of the Ozarks. Just a few moderate grades, mainly in Missouri, then onto the relatively flat terrain of Oklahoma and East Texas. Hauling that weight that far takes its toll, though, because watching that speedometer reverse itself seems so counterproductive. You pass a slower truck, go back into the right lane again, then hit a little hill and watch helplessly as your speed falls off and he comes right back by you again. Once you top the hill and get back up to speed, you're running all over his slow ass again! Sighhhhhhh. Repeat this, over and over, for 36 hours and more than a thousand miles and you'll start to see what I mean. It's frustrating. Give me a light load any day!! I soon began to get antsy about unloading my "anchor" and being able to pull a hill at more than walking speed.

The day came. Thursday, and I got to the customer early. Didn't have to wait that long to be unloaded and then felt free as a bird. But I wasn't going anywhere right then; I was totally out of legal hours and more than just a little tired, from the ten-hour jaunt down there from the northeastern corner of Oklahoma. Texas is a humongous state in size. To give you some idea, it's three-hundred and thirty-one miles from the Texas/Oklahoma state line, to San Antonio, traveling straight down I-35. Once you get to San Antone, there's still more than 150 more miles before the interstate dead-ends into a traffic light in Laredo, just a mile or so from the Mexican border. The mile markers on I-20, at the Louisiana line, are numbered with 600-something, and count down as you travel west. It's similar with I-10, which meanders more than 800 miles through the state, before you cross into New Mexico at El Paso. Everything is truly bigger out there.

It wasn't that far through San Antonio, though, down to I-10, and the truckstops that abound down there. I decided to take the "scenic" route, right through downtown, in order to get another glimpse of that historic old shot-up Spanish mission, namely the Alamo. I had passed by it when I was there before, but that was early in the morning, and I got just a passing image of it, lit up in the darkness. Now I could see it in daylight hours. It sits alone, in a square, surrounded by modern high-rise ofice buildings, a stark contrast of old vs new that brings to mind similar mixtures such as you will see in Philadelphia or Boston. Part of the wall that surrounded it back in 1836 has survived all the years, and part of it has been painstakingly reconstructed by various historical societies and by the State of Texas as well. Parts of the mission's familiar arching facade have been reconstructed as well. It sits there, perhaps a mile or so off of the freeway, and I slowed as much as I could, getting a good "mental snapshot" of it. Too many curves and way too much traffic to get a real and clear pic of it, so my description will have to suffice.

The way the Alamo looks today is a pretty accurate representation of what it looked like back in the summer of 1836, when 189 brave defenders held off the entire army of Mexican General Antonio de Santa Ana for an incredible thirteen days, before finally perishing in that final, fatal assault which took place in the pre-dawn hours. Every single defender died that morning. Even from the distance I was at, you get the feeling that this is hallowed ground; from those heroic efforts rose a new republic, which became the state I was now in, only a few years after that ill-fated seige and battle. Here was where Col. William Travis was one of the first to fall; where a desperately ill Col. James Bowie, the co-commander, killed three or four of the invaders from his sickbed, before he was himself bayoneted to death.

Here was also where Tennessee legend David Crockett met his fate. Mexican records have revealed that Crockett didn't die in the battle itself; he survived it, along with nine others, who were all executed after the assault had ended. Crockett was likely defiant to the bitter end, although he was a victim of his own fame, as much as anything. "They can go to hell," he said of the constituents who wanted him to run for another term in Congress, "I'm going to Texas." He went there, believing that the war for Texas independence was over and that he could settle on land there and retire, to hunt and farm for the rest of his life. He found himself caught up in the struggle for independence when he arrived there, however. It most definitely wasn't over. He volunteered to join the others at the Alamo. His fame had preceded him and although he had bargained for none of what followed, he was unable to back out, without totally disgracing himself. Honor being of the highest order in those times, Crockett died a hero, spitting in Santa Ana's direction, when he offered to let the former Washington politician go free.

The sacrifice of those 189 men paid off. It bought Gen. Sam Houston, another transplanted Tennesseean, the time he needed to put a volunteer army together and get them trained. Two weeks after the fall of the Alamo, Houston's army surprised the encamped Mexicans at San Jacinto and routed them completely. Santa Ana surrendered Texas to the new Texans and returned to Mexico in disgrace. Texas at first became an independent republic, then a state a few years later.

As I looked over at that old church standing there, I marveled at the bravery of those men, who were so desirous of freedom and independence that they would all stand together for those thirteen desperate days, knowing fully well that they could not even hope to win, against the army of 5,000 Mexicans that opposed them. The amazing thing is that they were able to hold on for as long as they did -- almost two full weeks, against such overwhelming odds. What it must be like, knowing that you're not going to come out of the struggle alive, but so believing in what you're doing that you carry on, doing what you can and letting the chips fall where they may.

That's a breed of hero that we have very few of, these days. We have gotten soft and take our freedom for granted. Nowdays, our leaders would be more likely to try and negotiate with Santa Ana, rather than fighting him. They would never gain freedom, because everyone who ever did had to fight for it. And fight to maintain it. Too many among us now don't seem to understand that at all, and it's worrisome to me.

"Remember The Alamo" is more than a battle cry; it's a lesson that modern Americans need to re-learn. Before we lose the freedom we've always known.


Jeanniebuggz said...

A very interesting entry. You know your history well and I feel I've had my lesson for today. I AM REALLY WEAK ON HISTORY - it was my weakest subject in school and I still can't remember so many details.

Nancy said...

Sounds like an interesting trip. I hope you're able to get home for a few days at the holiday.

Nancy :-)

Sammie said...

Yes Larry most of you dry boxers lead a sheltered life with your lightweight freight. Be glad you are regional! It would only take a trip or two to the northwest before you sang praises to God for those heavy loads to keep your caboose on the ground in the high winds. :)
I still remember the first time I hauled styrofoam across Wyoming. I'm positive the trailer came off the ground to some extent but I refused to look because whatever that was that I felt I did not want to KNOW what it was. Death grip on the wheel, keep truckin', and pray for an anchor load next time.