It’s been over three years since I last drove “El Camion”. El camion is what we all call a GMC W4500 in our company. It translates to big truck or in this case a box truck. Not much had changed with el camion, but boy did I do a lot of growing these past three years. It took going through an experience like this one to reflect, humble myself, and appreciate the little things in life. There is a lot that people take for granted. Three years ago I took my license to drive for granted.
In 2006, my father bought el camion. Business had really grown in the years prior. He had recently bought a shop for all his work vehicles and working material and just like we refer to el camion in Spanish, we referred to the shop as “La yarda”. El camion made task ten times easier with its weight capacity and large bed. Instead of making five trips that would have wasted an hour there and other back each time, it cut all that to one single trip. Larger amounts of materials were delivered quicker and trash was hauled out in no time.
I didn’t get a chance to drive that monster truck myself until in 2010, after an unexpected return from living in Houston. From that day forward, I was the main driver to el camion. It was a huge responsibility but I took pride in it.
El camion and I have a lot of history together. To the right of it, a long, deep gash spreads across the side. Screws that were once secured tightly were now loose, so loose that it rattled on the road. The holes were the actual pins locked in to secure the back doors have now been filled with drywall dust and scraps. It had been filled up so much that the pins no longer could enter the holes. Paint spills on the bed and the list goes on. Of course, between us and the workers, we all found other means of fixing the problems to the truck, temporarily fix that have lasted. The camion had little scars on it but to me (they) are reminders of experiences we shared together.
For example, the gash on the side of the metal framing above the bed was almost as if someone took a light saber and tried to cut its guts out. I wish the real story was that cool but the truth is I was just being reckless.
This incident happened about five years ago. El camion has a huge bed but it has a fairly small front seating area. The most that could fit on the front seat are three men, and even then it was still uncomfortable. Luckily, that day, the three men that were assigned to the job were all fairly small; the tallest being me at 5’7”.
It was Jose, Rigo and I. Two Mexicans and one Salvadorian, me being the Salvadorian. All three of us had left “the yarda” (the shop located in Waldorf) at five a.m. in order to make it in time at our job site in Rockville Maryland. With traffic, it’s easily a two hour trip; maybe more. We stopped at the seven-eleven gas station, as we usually did when we traveled up north. The store sits off the side of route 5, and it shares the border line between Waldorf and Brandywine. We got our coffee, pumped our diesel and we headed on our way.
Because it was a two hour drive, (and we left so early) Jose and Rigo fell asleep as I drove el camion. On the camions flat bed were about thirty panels of twelve foot drywall sheets, each panel weighting about sixty two pounds. I would take a sip of my coffee about every thirty seconds, almost as if each sip gave me unnatural super powers and energy to fight against the traffic. After a long, draining journey through traffic, I finally made the exit off the ramp from the beltway that lead to the job site. The exit ramp looped right under a bridge, and surprise! More traffic…
As I waited, I took turns looking into at the clock and looking forward to see if the traffic had moved. Nothing. I would occasionally look back at Rigo and Jose to see if they were awake to keep me entertained but they were still asleep. Ten minutes passed and the light turned green. Only allowing about three cars to go through before it turned red again. Again… another ten minutes I had to wait. The tow truck with the flat bed in front of me barely had even moved forward. I began to grow inpatient. I prided myself for being on time to all my appointments and when I saw that I was getting behind on schedule I grew anxious. Finally, the light turned green again. I was determined to not be stuck another ten minutes and be delayed to my job. The lane to my left began moving but the tow truck in front of me was not. I made a decision I felt was the best decision at that moment and that was to switch lanes to the left and make that green light; by any means necessary. I quickly jerked the steering wheel to the left in order to switch lanes. What I didn’t take into consideration was the length of el camion and that proved to be a costly mistake. As I turned the steering wheel to the left and began to switch lanes, the side of el camion got caught on to the rear edge of the flatbed tow truck. It hooked onto it, holding me back like an anchor. I panicked and I accelerated the gas pedal, immediately I broke free, but not without the corner of the flat bed slicing through the metal framing, like a machete cutting through a bag of rice. The whole incident made a loud, screeching noise and shook the truck up. It was more than enough to wake Rigo and Jose up. They both looked at me in shock, with a face of confusion asking what the fuck happened. “Que putas paso?” they asked. It all happened so fast I don’t even think I answered them. I looked at my side mirror and saw that the tow truck wasn’t damaged, just el camion. Assuring that the other vehicle wasn’t damaged and the driver wouldn’t chase me, I took off. The driver to the tow truck flicked me off, shouting in rage, to what I can only imagine were unpleasant words, as I passed him. I couldn’t blame him.
I swerved to the left as I made it just in time before the light turned red. Mission accomplished.
We made it to the job site, Rigo and Jose laughed at me, and till this day, that gash to the side of el camion has still yet not been fixed.
The memory still plays in my mind as I look at it this morning. A pole use for cleaning pools had been wedged into the metal frame as if to give it more support or keep it from falling off. Maybe it was me who placed it there or maybe my dad. So much time had passed that I couldn’t remember.
Me and another guy load el camion with about thirty sheets of drywall again this morning. I load up a few buckets of mud, my hanging belt and finishing tools, close the back door and head towards the driver seat.
Looking down at the steering wheel and dashboard, it all seems so surreal. Just the fact that its been three years. Three years, I keep thinking to myself. I log into the time sheet and take off. My mind still on the memories I had and what point in my life I was three years ago.
Three years and I’ve put on about thirty pounds. Not proud and its certainly something I am working on. Three years ago I had not yet met my fiancé. The most important person in my life right now. I have new people in my life, new friends, but I have also lost a lot of people too; a lot I considered friends at the time.
A lot of co-workers that I use to drink with after work no longer work for me and my father. Three years ago I was in the hanging crew. In my opinion, we were the hardest and most badass workers in the company. We did the hardest labor jobs in the company, jobs many wouldn’t want to do and we took pride in it. Everyday we did physically demanding task such as walk on stilts all day, and hang the drywall. The list of the employees on the payroll had to be adjusted weekly because the people who were placed in our crew never lasted. Mostly because they couldn’t handle the work. That was probably why I was so in shape back then. Now I work in the office and supervise jobs all day.
In our hanging crew there was Rigo (the foreman), Jose, Alexis, Hugo, Osmin, Chico, and me. After work, we would all usually drink, (except for Rigo and Osmin) especially on the weekends. Looking back at it now, I can see how that was a red flag, I should have controlled myself more. I think about all the people I put in danger every time I took the steering wheel and drove home. I see that now and I feel ashamed but at that time I thought I was invincible, I thought I was the best driver in the world, and I thought that since I worked so hard I deserved a few beers after work. Let me tell you all who are reading this right now: DRINKING AND DRIVING IS THE WORST THING YOU COULD DO and PLEASE, PLEASE DON’T DO IT. You have a choice now but one day it will be too late. It is wrong and its the most irresponsible thing you can do. Although I am ashamed, I am guilty of doing it in my younger days.
One afternoon, after work and after a few beers in (Heineken was always our beer of choice), I remember something Hugo told me that still sticks to me till this day. And looking back at it, its probably one of the realest things I have ever heard. The actual conversation that led to the conversation itself is blurred out of my memory but I asked him about friends and his reply was
“I have no friends”. He said with a serious voice. “I may sit here, drink a few beers with you guys but you are not my friends, just people I drink beer with”.
His response shocked me but I didn’t take it personal.
I asked “What about me? Me and you have always gotten along”.
“That doesn’t mean we are friends” he replied.
We sat there as we cracked opened another beer and moved on, and within seconds we were all laughing about something else. Although we never wanted to admit it, at that moment we were friends. We joked, teased each other, at times even gave each other advice. I introduce them to rap music like Tupac and Biggie, and in return, they introduced me to Spanish artist like Vicente Fernandez and Los Tigre’s del Norte. Both are Rancheras artist which is the equivalent of southern country music here. All things you do with a friend.
Three years later and all of them are gone except for one person, Hugo.
I look back at how close we all were and never in my mind did I think the crew would one day no longer exist. There was an unspoken loyalty I felt we all had for each other but as time goes by, so do the people around you. Everything changes through time. Now its other people in our company, good people.
In May of 2014, I was involved in a three vehicle accident. I was intoxicated and needless to say, I was the one that caused that accident. As far as details, I would like to remain discreet and brief about it but I was found guilty and served my term in two different counties in Maryland. I also did four months in rehab. It turned out to be a life changing experience. My license was suspended for a year and it took about a year and half to get it back.
I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes certain events and experience need to happen in order for you to grow as a person and help others who are going through the same struggles. Sometimes things happen in order to put the right people in your life. And in September of 2014, life did exactly that.
In September of 2014, I met Pierre, who at the time was working at a fast food restaurant and was growing tired of it. He came up to me looking for work. I offered him a job here in the company. I put in a good word for him to my father and eventually got him a position in our company. He started off as a painter but he was also my personal chauffeur, due to the fact I had just lost my license. He came to me looking for a job but the truth was, I needed him as much as he needed me, maybe even more.
Sometimes he would drive me in my own car, a 2003 Cadillac Deville, which I later sold in 2016, or he would drive me in one of the company’s vehicles, el camion being one of them.
When Pierre and I rode together it never felt like work, it felt more like two friends hanging out. A friend I would later consider my brother. Some mornings we would leave my place at five am but our love for music, specifically rap and hip hop, kept us both awake. When we were not listening to music, we’d be disputing which artist was better than who, discuss different eras in the music and artist themselves. Pierre was someone I could always look to for advice; a genuine, honest advice.
Halfway through 2016, Pierre left the company to work for another company. We always remained in touch and in February of 2017, he girlfriend gave birth to his first child, a beautiful little girl, Marlee. Later in May of 2017, I had the honor of becoming Marlee’s godfather. It was around the same time I had my interlock removed after eighteen months of blowing into the damn thing.
I assume most of you who are reading this do not know what its like to have an interlock in your car, and as someone who has had it for a of total three years, let me tell you, it sucks! During the winter, it takes about five minutes for it to warm up and allow you to blow in it, five minutes you are stuck, reevaluating your life and the decisions made leading up this point. The interlock doesn’t care if you’re freezing your balls, it will make you wait as long as it wants for you to blow in it. However, during the summer, on a really hot day, it would warm up in two seconds. Still, the idea that you can’t leave your car for a minute because the interlock could go off any second was stressful. I would literally have a nightmare each month and it would involve me missing my chance to blow in it. Whether it was because the music was too loud and I didn’t hear it, or I stepped out and missed it, or simply forgot I had the car running, I would always dream that I got a violation for it. For each violation you receive, your sentence with the interlock was extended by another month. That meant another month I had to pay a hundred dollars for nothing. And after three violations, you had your privilege to have an interlock taken away and were now back to having your license suspended for who knows how long. As long as the MVA wanted to, because believe me, they are in no rush to complete your paper work and assign your license back. The longer they take, the better for them.
I thank God for allowing me another chance to live life, this time the right way. As I drove down the road once again in el camion, I became humble and grateful once again. To think that I would be grateful for living inside a dump truck seems funny but in reality, it could be worse. I could have killed someone on the night of the accident. I could be sentenced to jail for the rest of my life. I could be paralyzed in a hospital bed and I could still be an alcoholic. I thank God I am none of those and thank him for giving me the opportunity to bring awareness to this. I thank God I am able to live another day, another day to drive el camion, another day to add on to my story.