Driving through Abbeyleix on a March evening, an articulated lorry occupied a half dozen of the parking spaces. Its sidelights lit, its stop was no more than a pause. Its probable destination, Dublin, not much more than an hour away. Ireland, being so small, is hardly more than a matter of local deliveries.
Stops elsewhere can punctuate journeys of a different scale. A service station on the autoroute south of Bordeaux can have ranks of lorries, their registration plates an alphabet of European nations. The drivers are seasoned travellers and shrewd with money. Tables and camping stools will appear and meals will be prepared from stores in the trucks. One afternoon a greying middle aged Portuguese driver worked at checking his lorry while his grey-haired female companion set the table for their meal; a scene of domestic tranquility in a car park beside a motorway.
Driving deep in south-west France one Sunday morning, the autoroute was open and clear. A Co Wexford truck headed southward, brisk and steady in its progress. The Dublin registration caught the driver’s eye as we passed in the August sunshine and the headlights flashed a greeting; the wave back seemed a gesture worthy of a meeting with a neighbour on a country road in rural Ireland.
The lorry driver’s life must be filled with hassle. Traffic problems; mechanical faults; incorrect paperwork; the constant fear of stowaways, or of illegal substances, being hidden in loads; the times of loneliness and isolation; but among it all there must be another side.
To be driving southward through France on an August Sunday morning would not be such a bad way of earning one’s living, but there’s more than that. The long distance drivers, not those who drive up and down Britain or back and forth across Ireland, but those who drive from the Baltic states down to Iberia, or from Turkey up to the North Sea, must watch a landscape constantly changing, seasons advancing and receding at differential speeds.
What seems really attractive, however, is the hours when there is no-one to annoy you; when the engine is running smoothly and the road is open and the forms are in order and when the nearest border is hundreds of miles away. There is no one phoning and no-one looking for you and no deadline to meet other than driving the hours permitted. Such moments would allow time for thinking and listening to the radio and playing favourite CDs and listening to audiobooks and, at the end of the day, being able to rest in the knowledge that there is nothing else to be done.
For such moments, enduring service station car parks would not seem such a bad price.