Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jesus Is Lord Truckstop

Audio File / Podcast

“You’re not going to find any garages open on Labor Day.”

The guy at Pilot Truckstop off I-40 on the east edge of Amarillo and just south of the airport was polite but glum.

I was glummer.

Three nights before, in the dead of night, I watched as one by one each major system in my car failed, finally leaving me on the side of the road with not even enough battery power to flash the emergency lights.

Coyote. Armadillo. Rattlesnakes soaking up heat on the still-warm asphalt, then squished by a fast-moving semi on the short-cut-without-weigh-stations to Denver.  I could have been road kill, too, except for miracle of miracles – I could get a cell signal.

It was a brush with death and I knew it.  Now my “check engine” light was on, and the last thing I wanted was to be caught on the side of the road again – this time with 105 degree heat and no cell signal.

I formulated plans. If I could not find a mechanic to see what was wrong with my car, I’d rent a car at the airport, then drive it to Oklahoma, and then I’d return next weekend to collect the car (or trade it in for something).

“There is the “Jesus Is Lord” truckstop two miles back east on the way to Oklahoma City. They have a mechanic who works on just about anything.”

“Great! Maybe he works on holidays,” I said.


The “Jesus Is Lord Truckstop” was a 70s time capsule that had not withstood the ravages of 115 degree summers and 5 degree winters. The asphalt was cracked, and you had to pay in advance for gas. At first I wondered if it were open. While the Pilot Truckstop had been an anthill of activity, the Jesus Is Lord truckstop had only one car in the parking lot, and a woman wearing pants and a dark t-shirt smoking next to the back door.

I parked carefully and approached the building. The windows had been covered with white butcher paper, each one with a different Bible verse.

I John 1:5: This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

Three nights ago, the prairie had been horribly dark, except for the full, full moon. The moon was full again the next night. They called it a “blue moon,” but I did not bother to find out what “blue moon” meant.

Darkness is what has defined me year after year. Not that anyone else really sees it. It’s just my entire consciousness is all about detecting the darkness as it threatens to encroach, and then, anticipating its crushing blow, proactively going to battle with the darkness.

What I did not realize is that it made me dark. 

How so? Well, all I had to do was to listen to my inner voice to see just how far the darkness had taken me over.

“Susan. You’re doing well right now. At least that’s how it looks on the surface. It’s all an illusion, though. We both know that we’re on the edge of a collapse. That would be okay, but, thanks to your performance in the past, everyone expects you to perform at the same level, plus 10 or 15 percent. How are you going to pull it off? You can’t. So. Run NOW before it’s too late, and before you’re utterly humiliated and laughed at—or, worse – reviled.”

It would be nice to blame the oil bust of the 1980s and say that’s what pushed me to darkness.
But, I would say that it started long before that. I remember changing majors after receiving the Outstanding Freshman in Chemical Engineering award. It was all about fear and being convinced that I would fail – thus being humiliated. I often wonder what might have happened if I had continued… I was working in membrane ultrafiltration … could I have been a part of a solution to water problems?

Affordable desalination? Purifying produced water to the point that it could recharge aquifers, be released to surface impoundments, and even be bottled / sold as potable water?

If we could find out how to desalinate affordably enough, we could transform Africa. I’ll never forget speaking with a young mother in Mozambique who had spent most of the afternoon hauling dirty water from a distant pond in order to provide water for her family for a few days. I am quite sure that they did not waste their valuable firewood to boil the water.

My fears have pushed me to the dark side.

There is no doubt, I’ve been there for years, but the last 10 have been, in a word, BLANK. They have been filled with pressure and the need to formulate one, two, twenty contingency plans. Most of those plans were not worth the paper they were written on, especially since they required me to do whatever twitched with life, no matter how absurdly out of synch with my interests and expertise they might be.

But here I was at the Jesus Is Lord truckstop in Amarillo, Texas. I am smiling. There are tears in my eyes. Does anyone see how lonely I am? How the last years have been a blur of 24-7 work, with the soothing and preoccupying metamorphosis of technology as my only constant companion.

I pushed open the door and was greeted by row after row of merchandise, as well as a small snack area and grill. This truckstop had all the requisite elements of a full-fledged truckstop, but it was on a shoestring. There was something rather touching about the effort that was made.

“Dennis is at the auto parts store, but he’ll be back soon,” said the cashier.

I pulled my MacBook Air from my car, returned to the café section of the truckstop and started to work on a few articles that were behind deadline.

Anything to keep my mind off the very real possibility of being stranded here or in the middle of dry, drought-stricken, middle-of-nowhere depopulated Texas and Oklahoma.

A leathery-faced guy with a long ponytail and a bandanna, wearing jeans and a workshirt came into the restaurant. I jumped up, extended a hand, and introduced myself. He went out to my car. I popped my hood, and he left briefly to retrieve tools.

“You’re fine.  Just a bit low on coolant,” he said. “What happened is that your battery was so dead that the electrical systems shut down. The computer was not reset – and, it records things, but does not actually control anything. You’ll be okay a soon as you get an oil change.”

We talked for a few minutes and, for some inexplicable reason, I felt an intense wave of emotion.

I walked slowly back to the grill area of the truckstop.

Young employee with fashion-forward glasses and ear plugs walked up.

“Dennis is our chaplain,” he said.

I glanced again at the butcher paper in the windows:

I John 1:5: This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
Flash of light in the dark road I had been traveling for years – at least 20 years, if I am honest with myself.

Wasn’t it about time to change the tapes I played in my head? Wasn’t it time to stop scaring myself with apocalypse, and look simply at the reality that our creator is light – pure, hot, clear light. There is absolutely no darkness – no fear, no self-reprisals, no self-harming, no self-punishing.

I had a lot to think about on the long road back home.