Memorial Day, May 25, 2009
Highway 85 Westbound
Driving past Exit 86 and Bill’s Truck Stop in Linwood, N.C.
We’re driving on Highway 85 westbound on Memorial Day – destination Spencer, North Carolina – for a day of SKIP-BO card playing with Grandma. On the side of the road, just before exit 86 and the town of Linwood, there is a disturbing and unusual sight – the Big Man is down. Yes, the towering Big Man, a Paul Bunyanish pioneer type who watches over the speeding traffic with a rakish olé of a wave from his post at Bill’s Truck Stop; he was down for the count.
On previous drives to Grandma’s, I have attempted to capture the waving image of Big Man with my still camera, but he has eluded me. Granted, I have not been as vigilant as Big Man photo capture requires; usually I’m reading the paper in the passenger’s seat, ignoring the monotonous stretch of Piedmont greenery and billboards flashing by. When my husband Mike would announce “Big Man!” I’d scramble in vain for my camera. And by the time my Olympus was powered on, Big Man would be reduced to a receding speck in the Camry’s rear window, smaller than a splattered windshield bug.
But on this Memorial Day I was ready – poised for the capture with my camera in hand, watching the highway sights of route 85 flicker through the viewfinder, primed to catch Big Man’s hearty and somewhat Latin-flavored greeting for digital posterity. “It’s coming up, anytime now,” Mike said. We passed a sign announcing Big Man’s Davidson County.
“I think that’s his truck stop up ahead,” I said, spotting the red cursive of the Bill’s Truck Stop sign floating above its supporting white poles that seemed, hey, strangely empty. “Where’s Big Man?” I asked, confused that he wasn’t at his post, leaning in his freewheeling, open-road way against the sign poles. “What’s going on? There’s the truck stop, but where’s the Big Man?”
As I said this, I spotted him, lying on his side, collapsed on the service road asphalt. “He’s down, he’s down!” I yelled, panicked by the inert figure of Big Man gone horizontal. I turned around in my seat, snapping his prone figure as we sped by. Big Man’s wide, indifferent back faced the motorists instead of his usual, welcoming, roadside-icon wave. Disoriented, he was greeting a clump of disconnected trailers loitering in the field next to Bill’s gas pump area. The normally robust Big Man looked feebly confused and demented – like an aging flamenco-dancing lumberjack who had fallen over in the Alzheimer’s unit. In the indignity of this moment, Big Man wasn’t even sheltered, but forced to live his shame and vulnerability al fresco on the side of a busy highway cutting through the middle of America.
What happened to Big Man? “Drive back, drive back!” I yelled to Mike, wanting to investigate up close at the truck stop. But we were late for Grandma’s, having lunch reservations to eat meatloaf and banana pudding before playing SKIP-BO.
We speculated. Did a tornado rage through Linwood, ripping Big Man from his post? But the rest of the truck stop looked in place. Vandals? Was there a mob hit on Big Man? Did he blow the whistle on truckloads of fenced cigarettes, getting wind of illegal operations when the wise guys fueled up at Bill’s? Big Man’s five feet of face was a countenance of wide-open wonder, so I could see him naively getting into a mafia mess. Or – was that gee-whiz guilelessness a smoke screen for the opportunistic heart of a calculating addict who used his plastic-molded muscle to demand his share of the illegal drugs running down 85? Did Big Man OD on the side of the road?
I’d have to wait to find out. Damn Mike for putting his 88-year-old grandmother before Big Man.
Memorial Day, May 25, 2009
Bill’s Truck Stop
1210 Snider Kines Road
Big Man loomed upright ahead of us. What’s going on? Big Man was standing up, waving towards the highway like nothing had happened. Had we imagined him prone and ruined in the ditch? I expected him to turn in our direction and acknowledge us, especially considering our day-long concern for his welfare. I was wounded by his indifference. Mike pulled up next to the white posts where Big Man had been restored to his usual waving place. He looked none the worse for the wear. Bloated from all the Cheerwine I drank at Grandma’s, I waddled out of the car with my camera and took a picture of Mike gazing up at Big Man. “They put him back,” he yelled. Thanks, I didn’t notice.
I imagined an elaborate Big Man rescue operation. Cheers, tears, and television crews. I took more pictures, close-ups of the straps binding Big Man to the white poles. Was he being held here at Bill’s Truck Stop against his will and forced to wave? Today’s events had prompted me to think about Big Man’s possible inner -life of ennui. Black clouds hung overhead and raindrops splattered on my camera lens. Mike retreated to the car. “Come on, let’s go home,” he yelled from the driver’s seat.
“I want to talk to them about the rescue operation,” I said, pointing at the truck stop’s restaurant and travel store where I imagined a team of strapping truckers, almost the size of Big Man, eating chicken fried steak together at a long table, bonded forever by their communal hoisting of the Big Man back to his rightful place. Did they use a crane?
Mike shouted something about a basketball game on television that he wanted to get home to watch. So much for conducting the rescue interviews with the truckers. Big Man stared past us as we pulled onto the highway. He looked strangely business-like, as if his cheerful character had been altered by the day’s events. His hand was raised over his head like he was trying to hail a taxi right out of rural North Carolina. With our car flashers on, we blinked goodbye to Big Man and crawled home to Raleigh through the car wash rain. I don’t think Big Man likes basketball, even though he’s in ACC country and feigns interest. He’s definitely more of the hunting and fishing type.
May 26, 2009
Big Man – The Investigative Follow-Up Telephone Interview
“Bill’s Truck Stop,”
“Yes, is this Bill’s Truck Stop?”
“Uh, I drove by your truck stop yesterday.”
“And, uh, the Big Man was down and I was wondering what happened to him?”
“Honey, he was taking a nap.”
“Yup, he took a nap.”
“Honey, we took him down to repaint him.”
“Yes, paint. Who’s calling?”
“So he didn’t fall down? There wasn’t a storm or anything?”
“Nope. Just some paint. Who’s this?”
“So that’s it? Big Man was repainted?”
“All right. You have a good day now. Bye-bye.”
Click. Dial tone.
So there you have it. Big Man maintenance. No storm, no mobsters, no freeway freebasing. The Big Man needed a new coat of paint as we all do from time to time. Big Man is back on the hospitality front, waving to the world as it speeds by Bill’s Truck Stop. I wonder how many people wave back?
Mike and I have decided that Big Man Down would be an excellent name for a rock band.