Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Bill Archer

February 27, 2012

‘Paid to be nice to you’: Memory-driven lyric of a song left unwritten

— I smiled when I read a story about how the city leaders of Indianapolis had transformed their city in recent years, and of how much visitors to the Super Bowl would enjoy their trip to the Circle City. That, Circle City, was what truckers called Indianapolis back in the early 1970s, and it may be what truckers call the city now. The article I read didn’t report on what modern truckers call Indianapolis. In fact, it didn’t mention truckers at all.

Back in the 1970s truckers, including me, were familiar with the cities we trucked through. We all knew that motorists drove around Indianapolis’ I-465 beltway like they were racing in the Indy 500. Even with the fast-lane traffic, it was easy to feel at one with cities back then. Most U.S. cities had a brick and mortar presence that made them all appear older than they really were. I remember seeing a huge Eli Lilly sign in Indianapolis that was as  impressive as the Gulf building in Pittsburgh was.

The J&L Steel plant in Indianapolis where I delivered cold-rolled steel coils was located off the same exit on I-465 as the big racetrack there, although the two places weren’t truly close together. When I needed quick cash, I would haul a load of coils from the J&L plant in Aliquippa, Pa., to J&L Indianapolis, and pick up $350-$375 for about 16 hours of work. That time included loading and unloading. Mill workers were quick on both ends of the haul. It was a pretty sweet deal.

The six-and-one-half-hour dead-head drive from Indy to Claysville, Pa., was nothing, and since I knew the precise weight of my truck, I could usually match up the Aliquippa coils close enough so I didn’t need to dodge the scales at Cambridge, Ohio, and west of Richmond, Ind., In order to make a load of Indianapolis coils work out for me, I always had to avoid anything that would slow down the process.

I did, however, get stuck in Indianapolis twice that I can remember. On one of those times, several truckers leased to Ace Doran picked up loads out of the US Steel 2nd Avenue plant in Pittsburgh, but there was a delay and we couldn’t deliver in Peoria, Ill., until early the next morning. When we stopped at the Shenandoah Truck Stop near Cambridge to axle out, we decided to stop at a truck stop in Indy and spend the night there before driving on into Peoria the next morning.

We arrived at the truck stop in Indianapolis at dusk, and after we ate, one of the guys decided it might be fun to check out the Indianapolis night life.

Five of us — all cowboy looking dudes — climbed into a taxi and headed to the one and only night club we visited that night. By that time, I was wise to the ways of the world. The bar we went to had dancers. They didn’t disrobe, and they were dressed in two-piece bikinis. That was as far as it went. When I think about it now, I’m amazed at how much our culture has changed in just 40 years. Things that were risqué then, are tame by the standards of today.

My friend, John Whitt, was in the group, and he wasn’t drinking at the time. When he and I were running together, I used to follow his lead. When he ordered a Coke, I decided to do him one better and ordered a glass of milk. When the bartender gave me a funny look, Whitt said: “He’ll have a Coke too,” and that was it.

Since I had nothing but time that evening, I decided to examine my surroundings. The smoky night club had carpets on the floor that went up the walls. There was no dance floor, except for the small shelf-like affair behind the bar where bikini-clad girls took turns dancing. None of the young ladies appeared to be very enthusiastic about being there, but somehow, a young trucker who had traveled to the bar with us in the taxi had become smitten with one of the dancers. Imagine that.

Whitt was the old guy there, and when he said it was time for us to go back to the truck stop, I was agreeable, as were the other truckers except for the young guy who had fallen head over heels in infatuation with the young dancer. For a moment, I allowed my thoughts to wander about how their lives would unfold with him as a steel-hauling trucker and her as a dancing girl at a bar, but Whitt was ready to go and called for a cab.

As we were leaving, the young driver protested, and tried to talk at least one of the others in our group to stay and return to the truck stop later. When the other drivers ignored him, he pleaded his case with Whitt who responded as sharply as he could: “You fool. She’s paid to be nice to you.”

I loved the quote and I even tried to transform it into a song. Years later, when I found myself in Bluefield working as a bar doorman at the former Holiday Inn (now Mountain View) Whitt’s words ran over and over through my mind. I never wrote the song, but I still smile every time I think of that moment. Paid to be nice to you.

Bill Archer is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

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