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Big rigs line the shoulder of Highway 203 near the Flying J Travel Plaza Tuesday as truck drivers wait for Interstate 84 to open after the westbound lane between Pendleton and La Grande was closed for much of the morning and early afternoon due to weather-related traffic accidents. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
It is the loudest parking lot in Union County, one in which the hum of idling diesel engines is heard perpetually each winter. This expansive parking lot’s decibel level was a bit higher than normal Tuesday morning.
The parking area at the Flying J Travel Plaza near the Highway 203 and Interstate 84 interchange was filled beyond capacity Tuesday morning with at least 100 large rigs.
Their drivers were waiting for Interstate 84 to reopen following weather-related traffic accidents east of Pendleton. The loud engines of the trucks remained running as drivers tried to stay warm in their cabs in the midst of sub-freezing weather.
The drivers were pictures of restlessness and patience. Most have been through this drill before and knew that long hours of waiting are inevitable.
“It is very tough but it is part of the business,” said Jose Guerro, a truck driver from Valencia, Calif. “I have no choice but to wait. It is part of the deal.”
Guerro passed the time in his cab reading newspapers online and watching videos on his cellphone.
“Without this phone it would be a harder life,” Guerro said.
Truck driver Ben Talmadge of Atlanta, like Guerro, spoke with a resigned sense of inevitability regarding the delay.
“It is part of driving. There are going to be setbacks. There is nothing you can do about it,” Talmadge said. “There is nothing to do but talk and drink coffee. Waiting is waiting.”
Mike Dobson of Holt Summit, Mo., said he switches on his CB radio during waits like the one he had to endure Tuesday. His CB radio let him hear from fellow truckers what was happening on the interstate scene.
“They know what is going on,” Dobson said.
Most of the drivers were westbound, waiting to tackle the often treacherous stretch from La Grande to Pendleton. Nick Parker of Portland said the stretch, which includes infamous Cabbage Hill, is hazardous for truckers with heavy loads regardless of how slow they are going.
“Even if you are driving 10 miles per hour, the load tells you where you are going,” Parker said.
Talmadge said that part of the reason there are winter traffic accidents is that drivers of passenger cars get overconfident and drive too fast, causing them to spin out.
“You can’t go flying through weather like this,” he said. “Many of these automobile drivers may feel invincible because of how their vehicles are portrayed in ads. All-wheel drive does not rattle the snow and ice like the television commercials show.”
Talmadge, who was bound for Mt. Vernon, Wash., speaks like the day-to-day existence of a trucker and its occasional long delays, has a mystique all its own.
“It is a whole different lifestyle, a whole different way of life,” he said.