Becoming the Daydream Boogie of Simultaneous Speed and Stillness: The Truck Road Trip and the Cabcruiser
Issue #56 · Summer 2001
Gilles Deleuze, the French philosopher, says that nomads do not travel because travel blocks becomings. What a crock of shit. What Deleuze did not take into account was the trip. Sure, when you get there you are enchanted by the exoticism of everything, by its immensity. But during the drive everything is micro; it is all about waiting and the textures of time.
In Europe there is a vast literature of the train ride and the dreams it induces. The American equivalent is the road-trip narrative. Everyone has his or her own road-trip stories. My father recently bought a red Corvette with his buddy and together they drove Route 66. Each night, staying in some hotel, they would send digital photographs and an email account of their journey to all of their friends.
What is it about a trip that inevitably inspires such accounts? My father and his friend spent most of the day driving and the photographs were often of bridges and other such methodological markers (method- means ëroad to be followed' in Greek.) Though not as high-tech, the postcard or souvenir bought at the gas station serves the same function. During the long stretches of driving one is forced to talk to oneself, to construct something of the trip.
Driving on the open road is radically different than driving in the city. The cab driver and the truck driver are two fundamentally different human types. The cab driver's routine is determined by circles, starts, stops, and turns. The trucker, on the other hand, most often faces long stretches of space, time, and language that move so smoothly they become warped. It is no accident that the mystic hero of Somerset Maugham's novel The Razor's Edge, decides to become a trucker when he returns to America. Nor is it an accident how often truck driving and road trips appear in country music. Hearing a sad song a thousand miles from anywhere in the middle of the night, missing someone, does something to you -- that and the motion, the blending of space and time in the miles per hour at which you move, in which you exist. That is becoming.
Deleuze, perhaps embarrassingly to those of us from a generation sick of the Beats, cites Kerouac enough that he should have learned this fact from him. Despite his many flaws as a writer, Kerouac wrote well of the warp of long distances, the possession of the road and its incitement to speech. Just as you feel as if you are still moving for several hours after a long drive, you feel as if you are not moving at all while you drive. You are always in the middle. The stories don't have beginnings and endings; they drift into the horizon and across the river bridges into storms of stillness. This is why people who first check into hostels after a long train ride in Europe are so often seen next at the bar writing in their journals.
Often the silent scream of road trips and their daydream boogies are overshadowed by the tourist cab driving of the destination. Truckers, on the other hand, prefer the road to the towns (other than their own) where they simply drop off or pick up loads. Whereas hyperbolic activity and elliptic motion characterizes the cab, a big rig manifests an elliptic activity and hyperbolic motion. These two combinations form very different states of being. The being of the cab/cruiser is active and aware: It moves, determines, and shakes. It's got its own boogie. The being of the truck/roadtripper is, to the contrary, passive and less engaged: It waits and simply drifts along in the time it creates. It waits, it talks, it daydreams. This is a daydreaming boogie whose motion creates a stillness more akin to the flaneur's dreamy pace than to the taxi's busy-bodiedness.
If we were to create functional lineages for these two vehicles, they would be completely different. The cab is descended from the rickshaw and the carriage, whereas the rig is descended from the locomotive, the wagon, and the steamship. If the modern street is descended from the path or trail, the freeway is descended from the river. The devil hangs out in harbor towns and truckstops even more than at the crossroads.
Both cabs and trucks use CB radios. The former, however, use them in order to maintain contact with a central base; the latter use them to communicate with other moving points. The cab gets told where to go; the truck follows the terrain. Truckers tell stories on the CB; cabbies get directions. I was once good friends with a man who worked the ìhoot-owlî shift at a truck stop in West Virginia. Part of his job was to be a CB barker, talking up the diner. ìIt's not about what you say,î he told me, ìbut about the rhythm. You quickly say where it is but then you say things that encourage daydreams. They'll see it. It doesn't matter if they're hungry, but if they want to stop and talk.î
This same difference between the directional and narrative use of the CB is found in the esthetics of the cab and the rig. The rig is more often customized. It belongs to the driver. Under such circumstances only the trailer will bear the logo of the employer. Trucks are less unified than cabs; they are not as anonymous. The cabs of big rigs, as Tom Wolfe pointed out of hot rods, are thoroughly baroque. They share this with the RVs of retirees and the Volkswagen vans and schoolbuses of Deadheads. In this regard cabs are closer to police cars -- and are often mistaken for them by stoned and paranoid drivers.
Sometimes a cab will carry goods, furniture, or something along with its passengers, or a truck may pick up people along with its cargo. But these traits are only accidental and contingent. More importantly perhaps, from a socioeconomic point of view, cabs and trucks share certain important traits. Both are considered transient, though in different ways. For this reason both share a certain social stigma. Waylon and Willie would certainly include driving a cab in the class of being a cowboy, picking guitar, or driving a truck long before they would categorize it together with the work of doctors and lawyers. Depending on our perspective, we can group the truck with the cab and against the cruiser and traveler, or with the traveler against the cab and cruiser. It depends on whether we are speaking in terms of being or becoming.
We are here concerned more with the becomings of the long-distance drive. The truck is both defined by its lines and by the highway. An 18-wheeler makes no more sense outside of the highway system than a barge does outside the water. A rig in the city is like the boat being built atop the urban roof in Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog. The truck does not like to stop -- its being is momentum. One passes through the landscape and the landscape passes through one like two mirages merging. The mirage: There are no points, only wavering lines, only dreamscaped boogies that are not an itinerary but a mobile settling. The truck driver is the conjunction of an acute experience of time's layers and the stretches of imagination between thoughts and cities.
It is here that the truck driver and the road-trip traveler are different. The truck driver feels the lonesomeness as she or he pulls out of town and feels anticipation and is excited coming back in, back home. The traveler, on the other hand, is ready to boogie when he or she leaves, but is lonesome and tired on the way home. Economics are, of course, also involved here as differentiae. One pays for the thrill of the boredom of traveling, and the other is being paid for the boredom of the thrill of traveling. These figures can be the same person in different capacities; the traveler can become a commercial driver and the commercial driver can go on vacation. But the highway system is always about money. When the vehicle is moving one is either making or spending money, but not actively. In this work one changes gears occasionally and presses the gas, but the difficulty involved is one not of immediate exertion but of waiting and endurance. It has brief periods of exertion (loading, unloading, working on the rig) followed by extremely long hauls. Other similar jobs, such as those performed by Greyhound drivers, are over when the drive is done.
When I first moved away from home at age 18, I lived with a woman who was an exotic dancer, a stripper really. It was my job to drive from city to city, and when we got there she'd dance and I'd have a few drinks. Then in a couple days I'd drive again and she would sleep while I drove. We went across the country several times. I have done this drive alone and with others many times since. It is not the events that we photograph or write about en route that are important. Rather it is the boogie-down becomings between them: the times when we have so thoroughly become the non-substantial singularity of the speed and the great distance separating us from any point and the sun or the darkness and the other trucks and the fields and the cowshit smell and the flowers, that we don't know what happened to the time, don't know what we've been thinking about, don't remember what music was playing, what we were saying, or whether or not we are even talking, taking us beyond our original hypothesis concerning narrative. Narrative is an essential component of the long-distance drive, but it is an essential accident, for the narrative is the result of these spaces in between, these becomings that we only experience after driving 8, 15, 20 hours at a time and consuming countless cups of coffee, countless cigarettes, singing, and listening to countless songs. Everything becomes countless -- gas stations, signs, license plates, trees, rocks, cowboys and fat families in station wagons.
This countlessness is essential to the experience of the long drive. But it's only incidental to the commercial essence of trucking, which is to get something somewhere. Now. It is the commercial aspect, the Now of the free market that gives the daydream its boogie. If you go on vacation you want to get there, Now! The question, ìHow long till we're there?î becomes a cliché repeated by children on a long drive. But if you are driving a truck you want to get there and get back home, responding to different incentives and imperatives. In either case the subject is antsy and yet still. Entranced and distracted. Detached and yet hyper. The truck driver boogies down the road without ever moving, always waiting to move, but the movement really begins only when she or he gets out of the truck and starts walking towards the door.
Bay Woods is a student of ancient philosophy and languages who aspires to be a professional horeshoe pitcher.