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Sleep Thieves

Excerpted from "Sleep Thieves":

Take the typical case of one truck driver named Joe.

"Now what used to happen on long hauls or circle hauls is that you started pretty fresh, but after a week or so of this kind of schedule you were tired all of the time. It got to the point where I could fall asleep sitting on the john in the men's room in a gas station. But then, somehow, in the morning, even without any sleep, you felt OK again, at least for a few hours.

"The fatigue thing would get pretty bad toward the end of a haul. It would get really bad when there was nothing going on--like crossing through Kansas where there is nothing but flat farms all growing wheat or corn. Nothing to see but the road and the fields. My truck has a CB radio, and talking to the other guys helps some. I also have the radio and a built in tape recorder. I used to take these 'books on tape' out of the library, that's where some guy reads a book for you, and listening to the stories helped keep me awake some. But even with all that I still had some pretty close misses that started to scare me.

"Probably the weirdest was when I was doing this cross country job. I was heading west or maybe southwest and getting pretty near to Salt Lake City. Coming on in that direction you go down this highway that crosses through the salt flats, and I'll tell you calling them flats is a good description. In the summer it looks like a big flat empty parking lot out there. It was, maybe, around 3 or 4 am and I was really tired and I'd been tired for days on that run. At night, out there, there is no lights, and all you've got is what you see in your headlights. Damn little other traffic either. I would sort of line myself up on the white line down the middle of the road. Since there was no other traffic it didn't matter much, and it gave me something to look at. Anyway I'm tooling along at the speed limit watching the road and the next thing I know the road is feeling sort of bumpy, and sounding noisy, like I was going over gravel or an uneven road surface. I look at the road and there's no white line in sight. I figure to myself, 'They're repairing the road', so I go on for another couple of minutes but nothing changes. So I go to pull off to the side of the road, but there are no shoulders. I got really spooked. I stop the truck and put on my flashers in case someone comes down the highway, and I get out the cab. I'm looking around and I'm seeing nothing. No road, no lights, no signs, just nothing. It's like I'm parked on this big flat airfield.

"Now I'm not superstitious or nothing, but I started to think of one of the 'Twilight Zone' spook shows where this guy finds himself in the middle of nowhere and it turns out that he has landed in Hell. Well that's what it felt like. So I said to myself, 'I'll just leave the lights flashing and rest until morning when it will be light enough to see.' I crawl back into the cab, get into the bunk, and just fall asleep. Next thing I know there is this pounding on the side of the truck. When I get out its daylight and there is the highway patrol cop standing there. 'What the hell you doin' out here?' he asks. 'Out where?' I asked, feeling pretty stupid. 'Look it, you're nearly 10 miles off the highway in the middle of the flats. The patrol plane spotted your lights flashing', he says.

"The only thing that I can figure is that I fell asleep, drove off of the road and just kept on driving. It made me real scared to think that if I had been somewhere where there was traffic or houses or things on the side of the road I could have killed someone and myself too. I mean there I was 10 miles in the middle of nowhere. If the cops hadn't spotted me with that road patrol plane I could have just got up in the morning, not knowed where I was, and driven off in the wrong direction. You sure couldn't see any road from where I was, and every direction looked just the same. If I got stuck out there, without fuel, I hate to think about it. Lot's of people have died out in deserts like that and I figure that no one would ever bother looking for an eighteen wheeler out in the middle of the salt flats even if someone ever did report me missing."

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