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Truck Stop Thanksgiving by Allison Swaim
 

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  • Felicia Batten didn't think she'd make it home in time for Thanksgiving, but she got lucky. She pulled into the Wilco Hess Truck Stop, off 1-85 exit 71 in Salisbury at 11:00 a.m. and parks her truck.

    "My home stop."

    Felicia, 42, is a truck driver. She's been away from her East Spencer home for three weeks.

    "I was comin from Connecticut and I dropped my load in Kentucky. They wanted me to go to Louisville. I was like man, I gotta get home. My dispatcher was like, 'Alright.' So I just drove home."
  • Her daughter picked her up at the truck stop and brought her to lunch at her church, Love Christian Center in East Spencer. The church gives out free Thanksgiving dinners every year. After Felicia ate, she and her family loaded the car with 20 boxed lunches and came back to the Wilco Hess stop to hand them out to drivers who didn't make it home this Thanksgiving.
  • Daughter Kiana (22) drives the van. Grandson Jaden (3) sits in the back next to the crate of styrofoam boxed dinners. Felicia and daughter Jackie (16) walk down the row of trucks.

    [Knock knock knock]

    "Driver!... Driver!... Gotta free meal!..."
  • Felicia raps on the door of the cab. Dark curtain on the window pulls aside, the door opens.

    "Hi, I'm a driver too.... how you doin? My church is givin away thanksgiving dinner. Want one?

    "Yeah! fine thank you."

    The guy inside smiles as Felicia reaches up to hand him a styrofoam box full of turkey, ham, beans, dressing and other homemade dishes.

    "Happy Thanksgiving!"
  • Felicia made it home, but a lot of other drivers aren't so lucky.

    "Lotta times there's not a lotta freight going around. You got some people that are outta hours. They might be pretty close to home but legally they can't drive anywhere. Honestly a lotta guys this is all they got so they don't have to rush home for anything anyway. I'm just gonna make sure they eat a little somethin' if nothin' else."

    Felicia walks down the row, knocking on each cab door. From many, there's no answer.

    "Lotta these guys are knocked out. They just drove their whole eleven hours"
  • She meets one driver, Mark Rowe, walking across the parking lot. He'll be home to Bowling Green, Kentucky tomorrow. Will his family hold Thanksgiving a day for him?

    "Nah. It's alright."

    "Part of the job," Felicia laughs, commiserating. Felicia's been driving for 15 months. Before, she worked as a CNA. When she lost her job at Jockey International, she turned to trucking. It's a good job. The drawback is all the time away from home, and especially 3-year-old Jaden.
  • "You pay your dues. Gotta start out over the road. But what I'm lookin for is somethin' local so I can be home every night."

    For now, she's happy for the job she has.

    "I can't complain. It's payin the bills."

    After they've finished a loop of the parking lot, Felicia and her family buckle into the van. With the dinners they have left, they head to the Pilot truck stop in Kannapolis, looking for more drivers who will appreciate a homemade meal.

    ****************************************************************************
    written for the Salisbury Post, 29 November 2012
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