One late-summer evening, I sat alone atop the world, as a breeze chilled the night and tussled my hair, watching the sun fall beyond the horizon.
Far below, cars rushed past on the highway. Unseen on my clifftop perch, I watched and wondered where they were headed. What adventures each pursued. Going camping? Visiting a loved one? Running from the law?
This guy in the white BMW fancies himself an F1 driver racing up the hills of the Belgian Grand Prix, weaving in and out, passing everyone, safety be damned.
The grey-green Wrangler, coated in thick red mud spent the day off-roading near one of the mountain lakes. Frightened its fair share of mule deer, elk, and a family of racoons, too, as it rumbled through the woods kicking up dirt and rutting the waterlogged backroads, soaked by recent rains. But, nature got its revenge — as told by the flapping tears in the soft top — when a hungry bear, fattening up for winter rest, discovered the cooler full of food stored inside.
The dad driving the silver Grand Caravan creeping up the hill has every window open to counter the oldest kid’s motion sickness, which is currently being made worse by the fact that the baby desperately needs a diaper change.
And there, at the back of the line, a gleaming red semi, pulling a classic, clean white trailer adorned with warm white running lights. More than just his business and his job. This is his pride and joy. His raison d’être.
Who is he?
Reggie, everyone calls him. Reginald Buxton Huntington III, his given name. A southern gentleman to the core. Well-spoken, genteel. He always holds doors open, tips his hat, and still calls every stranger “sir” or “ma’am” as he was raised to. Shortly after he was born in Mississippi, his family moved to Tennessee, then headed on to Georgia. And to Georgia he remains loyal. The Bulldogs stickers and stuffed plush that liven up his otherwise tidy dashboard are a quiet testament of the life he left behind to see the country.
He will tell you if you ask about his past, but never volunteers. He was a varsity football player and graduated at the top of his class. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance and a Master of Public Administration. He began working on a doctorate, but academia was tiresome, and he wanted to do more. To serve others. To never work in an office, or have his life dictated by a boss. So he changed gears, and hasn’t looked back.
Even so, during football season Reggie plans his routes and drive times precisely, and never misses a Dawgs game as he drives his rig back and forth across America hauling whatever cargo needs moving. “I’ll haul it if it’s lawful, even if it’s awful,” he’ll tell you with a broad, genuine grin. He loves a good rhyme, and he’s especially fond of helping “the little guy.”
“Port to port or door to door. Savin’ you money so you can make more!” He is so proud of his slogan, not just because it rhymes, but because it’s his business model and his work ethic. He doesn’t believe in overcharging. Just earning enough to pay the bills and keep a little in reserve for maintenance and emergencies. He drives because it is what he loves, and he couldn’t be happier… most of the time.
At the moment, though, Reggie is cursing the steep, winding mountain grades and the way the setting sun keeps blinking in and out of his mirrors around the cliffs and between the pines. It’s true that he prefers to stick to major highways, when possible, but this state route isn’t the worst road he has traveled. Lots of ruts and patches, but mostly two lanes in each direction. The usual assortment of arrogant hotrodders and too-timid drivers. But, it isn’t really the driving conditions bothering him.
“Dear Mr. Reggie — I wish to engage your services to transport extremely precious cargo from my business in southern California, to a rural home in northeastern Arizona. This is a very important job, and you come highly recommended. It is imperative that delivery be made on time, or all will be ruined. I will happily pay additional fee for guaranteed timing. Please contact me to discuss details.”
Guaranteed timing is never a problem with sufficient notice, and business-to-home deliveries are regular contracts. So that was not responsible for his mood either.
It wasn’t even the little white Hyundai which had sped up behind him, and was now — unable to decide if it actually wanted to pass in the completely and utterly wide-open left lane — playing a slightly ludicrous game of peek-a-boo in his side mirror.
No. The irritation had been building as he drove east, away from the Pacific, across the Sonoran Desert, on through Phoenix and up on to the Mogollon Rim. It began as crates were being loaded into his trailer. Crates which he had been told contained a special surprise for a party.
“Yes, yes, all very legal. Of course, Mr. Reggie! But, tip-top secret. We don’t want you to spoil the surprise by mentioning the contents accidentally, do we?”
Reggie was a bit put off by the insinuation that he might comport himself with anything but the utmost professional discretion and decorum delivering the precious parcels, but nevertheless agreed to take the job.
“Thank you, thank you, Mr. Reggie!” — he had never had such an excited, happy customer, and that is saying something — “Thank you again for taking special care to see this delivery is made on time. It is everything.” And with that, Reggie was handed a crisp $100 bill as a tip, and wished well on his journey.
He always knew what he was hauling. Always. Chickens. Bedroom furniture. Watermelons. A race car. Cut flowers for a wedding. Treehouse lumber. Clothing. Crates of canned beans. Stinky cheese. It was in the terms of his contract. But this time, he had let the client talk him out of knowing the specifics. The gentleman had seemed deeply sincere. Trustworthy. “A special surprise for a most important family member.” But what was it? And how could he be certain what he was hauling was in fact “all very legal”?
Up the hill he drives beyond my line of sight, trying not to worry. Trying to avoid being blinded by sun-shots in his mirrors. Trying not to get rear-ended by the wiggly Hyundai, whose driver he now suspects to be drunk.
“Soon enough,” he thinks to himself. “Because there is no way I am leaving without knowing what is in those boxes.”
As shadows spread through ponderosas and oaks, delivering night to the woods, Reggie arrives — precisely on time, as promised — delivering his precious cargo and unloading the crates promptly into the family room of a charming home. The furniture has already been rearranged to accommodate them, and the whole house is decorated with festive orange, yellow, and blue streamers, coordinating bouquets of flowers, confetti, and a beautiful hand-lettered banner that reads “HAPPY SENIOR YEAR, ROSALIE!”
Rosalie had spent the entire summer in the hospital battling a terrible respiratory virus, and, mostly recovered, had returned home just a few days before. Mid-summer, the family feared the worst — praying, holding vigils, and raising money for her care — but now they were celebrating her survival and the fact that she would be the first high school graduate in her family.
Reggie will erupt in deep contagious laughter when he learns that the boxes from her uncle are loaded with Rosalie’s favorite things in the world — Reese’s Sticks and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, plenty to share with all of her friends and teachers at school — and when balloons in orange, yellow, and blue spill out into the room and fill the space with a cascade of coordinating ribbons as each crate is opened.
Reggie will be there to see it all. The decorations. The moment they walk Rosalie into the house and take off her blindfold. The stunned look on her face, which will immediately transform into a bright smile and giddy laughter as she opens the crates and wonders aloud “Where am I supposed to put all of these Cheetos?” And he will be there when Rosalie gives him a big hug and thanks him immensely for bringing her gifts to her, making it a perfect day.
As he returns to his rig, his arms loaded with a share of the loot — Rosalie’s way of showing her gratitude — he will consider how to eventually tell the story of his clandestine gig, smuggling Reese’s Sticks and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to a small town in Arizona.
These are the days Reggie lives for. The small, but infinitely important deliveries that no one ever hears about, and which he gets to make possible.
Safe travels, Reggie.