Drivers working at Christmastime know that having their loved ones close - even in a big rig - is the best part of Yuletide

A holiday special: trucking with the family

December 25, 2007|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,Sun reporter

There will be no green bean casserole or homemade pumpkin pie this Christmas for Clayton and Mary Wilson. Instead, the Atlanta couple will be sleeping in the cab of their truck, somewhere near Allentown, Pa., some 12 hours and about 800 miles from home.

But the Wilsons don't really mind - in a couple of days, they'll be out West again, savoring the open roads beyond the interstate highways on their way back to the Pacific Coast.

"The pink skies in Arizona are beautiful. You can see so many more stars at night out West," said Clayton Wilson yesterday while stopped at the Maryland House along Interstate 95. "I've seen colors in the plants out West that I've never seen in Georgia."

And the Wilsons, who have been married five years, will come back home after the first of the year with their pockets filled with good money for working the holiday, and a late Christmas dinner to make up for what they missed.

For most Americans, traveling on or near Christmas Eve is something of a dreaded ritual - high-speed traffic punctuated by seemingly endless lines at toll plazas and the occasional stops for bathroom breaks and greasy fast food. But for truckers like the Wilsons, Christmas is often just another night on the road - one that's usually peaceful simply because everyone else is already home.

Some truckers, such as Samuel Roldan, bring their families along for the ride. Yesterday, Roldan pulled his yellow rig into the Maryland House parking lot and out poured three kids, his wife and his sister-in-law. Underneath a rainbow sticker on the truck's doors, it said: "God's in Control."

Roldan also lives in the Atlanta area, but he was taking the family to New Jersey to visit his wife's relatives. He would also be dropping off a load of textiles before they all sat down to dinner.

While the rest of his family watched DVDs and took turns napping, Roldan, a native of Guatemala, stayed focused on the road.

"I'm tired sometimes. Sometimes not," he said. "It all depends."

Debra and Kevin Owens volunteered to be away on Christmas. Their youngest son, a high-school senior, encouraged them to do it - he was only too happy to spend the holidays with his older brother in North Dakota. So the couple were on their way to Newport, Del., yesterday to pick up a load of bananas.

"It's kind of like camping, except you're getting paid for it," Debra Owens said. "The company offered that I could come along, and this way, we can be together instead of being apart, all while making money on the holidays."

For the Minnesota natives, December in Maryland feels downright balmy - Debra Owens even remarked on how she is enjoying seeing flowers now and again - and the East Coast countryside is a welcome change from snow-covered fields.

Like most regular truckers, they have brought along all the comforts of home - DVDs, a refrigerator, phones. They are in regular touch with their children from each stop on the road. They even brought along his-and-hers Santa hats - his came with a built-in beard - which they will wear while driving today.

A few minutes into their rest stop at the Maryland House, Kevin Owens got some unexpected news: the bananas he was supposed to pick up in Delaware were not going to be ready until tomorrow. Would the couple mind staying in a hotel for a couple days to wait?

"The monkey's off my back!" Kevin exclaimed. He would not have to rush to Delaware, and he and Debra could have a nice dinner in Havre de Grace or Aberdeen - "someplace cozy," Debra Owens said, though she acknowledged they will have to settle for whatever's open.

Outside the rest area, Sam Fitzgerald didn't seem to be in a big rush to make it home to Connecticut on Christmas Eve. It was already almost 2 p.m., and he would probably be hitting New York City around rush hour, so why not let his 3-year-old son, Joe, ride the Flintstones dinosaur outside the now-closed ice cream stand for a few minutes?

Fitzgerald, his wife, Margaret, and their children Ben, 5, and Joe had been with relatives during the weekend. Even if the family would be on the road on Christmas Eve and possibly forced to stop at a fast-food place or a diner, they would be home for Christmas Day. Then they will have a Christmas roast and plenty of family time, he said.

"It feels important to be home on Christmas Day for the kids," Fitzgerald said. "How is Santa Claus going to know where to go if the boys aren't home for Christmas?"

Fitzgerald said the thing he most looks forward to is the looks on his children's faces when they open their presents.

Despite spending every hour of the day together, the trucker couples at the rest stop seem to be getting along beautifully - much better than the three sets of bickering husbands and wives inside Maryland House, arguing over some slight that occurred many miles ago.

And while Debra Owens said she wouldn't mind being on the road next Christmas with her husband, Clayton and Mary Wilson are hoping that they'll be home in Georgia.

They're looking forward to his mother's green bean casserole and Swedish meatballs, and her mother's piping hot pumpkin pie - not to mention all of those smiling faces opening presents on Christmas morning.

"I think next year, we'll be going home for Christmas - that's what they told us anyway," Clayton Wilson said. "The company tried to make it as easy on us as possible. They even gave us a bonus - but I'd still rather be home."

rona.kobell@baltsun.com

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