Kevin White walked along the edge of the highway leading out of Rockland Springs. The sun was already in the lower half of the sky and he hoped someone would take pity on him soon and offer him a lift.
When he was younger, his father had told him that growing up was a matter of making bad decisions and learning from them. If that was the case, he told himself, then he'd certainly grown up a lot in the last twelve hours.
Otherwise, the decision to use his bus ticket to back what he thought was a winning hand in the all night poker game he'd got into was all for nothing. What were the odds of anyone beating a straight flush he had asked himself at the time. Now he could answer that question as pretty good since he was now walking instead of riding.
The twenty-year old college student had come down to Rockland Springs to try his skills at one of the legendary poker games he had heard about. Too late he learned that cleaning out fellow students was a lot different than winning against men who treated cards as if they were holy relics.
He could call his father and ask him to wire him enough for a new ticket, but the never-ending lecture about a fool and his money was something he could do without right now. If he didn't have a ride soon though, he promised himself, his father's sermon might be something he'd have to put up with.
Glancing back over his shoulder, as he did every few minutes, Kevin saw another eighteen-wheeler coming over the horizon. The last two truckers going in his direction had simply passed him by, so he didn't hold much hope for this one to be more understanding. The problem was that, aside from the trucks, there had been no other traffic in sight for the last hour. There was a gas station about two miles ahead where the Greyhound bus had stopped on the way here yesterday, he remembered. If he hadn't gotten a ride by then, he'd decided, he would swallow his pride and call home.
As a matter of form, he held up the cardboard sign he had made using a magic marker with the name of the college town some hundred and ninety miles down the road. To his surprise, the large transport slowed to a stop.
The truck seemed pretty old as compared to some of the other rigs he'd seen. Doubtlessly, it had seen better days.
The door opened and a high-pitched voice called from the cab, "Hurry up kid, I ain't got all day."
Kevin climbed the small ladder built into the side of the truck and swung into the cab, pulling the door closed behind him. As soon as he did, the truck lurched forward and the driver swung it back on the road.
"Thanks for picking me up," Kevin said as he pulled the seat belt across his lap and locked it down.
"No problem," the driver said, turning to face Kevin for the first time.
It was only then that the college student realized that the driver was a heavyset woman. She looked to be in her mid-fifties with short-cropped, brown hair, filled with gray and white highlights. Wearing a baseball cap along with black jeans and a short sleeved denim shirt, she could easily be mistaken for a man, at least from a distance. Close up, there was no mistaking the large breasts that filled that shirt.
"So what's your story kid?" she asked.
"Someone had a royal flush when mine was only a straight," Kevin said.
"Can't say I haven't been there and done that," she laughed as she gave him a longer once over.
"Are you going anywhere near Bridgeport?" he asked, giving the name of the town his school was located next to.
"You go to Mount Royal?" she asked instead.
"Yes I do," he replied, surprised she knew the school's name since it was rather small and not that well known.
"My sister's son went there some years back," she explained, "pretty nice school. I have to drop off this load at Rockville which is about an hour and a half away from there, but I don't have a problem dropping you off there after that since I have to pass it anyway. If time is a problem, I could let you off at one of the truck stops along the way and maybe you could get a faster ride."
"No, that would be fine," Kevin said, thinking he shouldn't knock the first good luck he'd had this weekend. "My name's Kevin by the way."
"Nice to meet you, kid," she replied. "I'm Alice."
The miles went by quickly for the next hour as the sun dropped lower and lower behind them. As she drove, Alice started to entertain him with tales of her life on the road. Stories that turned out to be quite interesting.
Alice had first started driving four years before Kevin had been born. Originally she had been part of a husband and wife team, her husband being Iron Mike Murphy, who spent the better part of fifty years behind the wheel before he'd died ten years ago. Taking over the family business so to speak, she'd never remarried but made oblique reference to several men she knew across the southwest.
Kevin in turn told her of his life at school, although his stories weren't as interesting. He talked about school and how he had only one more year to go and then he'd have his degree.
"Got a girlfriend?" Alice asked.
"No," Kevin replied.
"You queer?" she asked further.
"No!" he said emphatically.
"Not that it would bother me if you were," Alice said. "I know a lot of men on the road who take what pleasures they can, where they can."
That thought sent a shiver up Kevin's back. It never occurred to him that he could've wound up in the middle of some desolate road with an amorous trucker who outweighed him by a hundred pounds.
"I can tell what you're thinking," Alice laughed, "but believe me, having to worry that some burly guy who gave you a lift might be looking for a little head in return for your ride could be the least of your problems out here. There are a lot worse kinds of people riding these roads. That's why my late Mister always insisted I have this handy."
Kevin turned to see a silver-blue revolver in the woman's left hand. Where she had produced it from so easily, he had no idea Just the sight of it made the young man nervous.
"Relax kid," Alice said as she made the gun disappear just as easily, "I've already decided that you're okay."
Alice went right into another story about her days as an honest to goodness flower child back in the 1960's. She rode cross-country with six others from her parent's home in Connecticut to a commune in San Francisco where she lived a semi-nomadic existence for the next few years. It was there that she met Iron Mike one day when the group's Volkswagen bus broke down. The trucker had offered to give one of them a lift to the nearest phone so they could call for a tow truck.
Despite his being at least two decades older than the twenty-five year old, Iron Mike was the most impressive man Alice had ever seen. Before anyone else could volunteer, she'd jumped into the cab of his rig and into his life. When she called for the tow truck to help her friends, she told the mechanic to tell them that she wouldn't be coming back. She'd slept with Iron Mike that night and every night after that until the day he died.
"Don't you get lonely out here all by yourself?" Kevin asked.
"Sometimes," she admitted, "but I guess I'm pretty used to it by now. A few times after my husband died I took on partners to help with the driving, but all of them seemed to miss the point that this was my business and that I wasn't looking for someone to run it for me."
Kevin's impression of the older woman had certainly changed since he'd first climbed aboard her rig. At first he though she was pretty old, especially since she sort of reminded him of one of his aunts. Then, as he got to know her a little, she exhibited a much more youthful personality which changed his thinking.
"You hungry?" Alice asked after they had been traveling for a while.
"Not really," he lied badly, knowing his last meal had been the night before at the game.
"I didn't ask if you could afford dinner," Alice said, seeing right through his lie. "Like I said before, I've been there myself. Springing for a burger and fries is hardly going to break me."
"Yeah, I'm a little hungry," Kevin admitted.
"Well so am I," Alice smiled. "There's a diner a few miles up the road run by a friend of mine. The food is really great, you'll love it."
From the outside, the diner the old neon sign identified as Belle's didn't seem to back up Alice's claim. As they pulled into the parking lot, Kevin saw a long line of trucks that said that either the food was indeed pretty good, or it was the only place to eat in a hundred miles.
After they had been served, steak and hash browns instead of the burger Alice had mentioned, Kevin had to admit it was the former that was indeed true. He couldn't remember the last time he had a steak this good. Hungry as he was, he left a nearly bare plate.
"It's nice to see a man with a healthy appetite," Alice said as she watched Kevin eat. "My Mike would put away two of Belle's specials and still want a large slice of apple pie."
"I don't think I could handle another one of these," Kevin said as he put his fork down next to an small unfinished piece of steak, "but apple pie sounds great."
"Apple pie it is then," Alice said as she began to rise from her seat.
"But only if you let me reimburse you when we get to Bridgeport," he added.
"We'll worry about that when we get there," Alice smiled as she pulled her thermos out of her bag. "I'm going to get this filled up and I'll send the girl back with the pie."
.... There is more of this story ...