Thanksgiving at the truck stop
By Allison Swaim
For the Salisbury Post
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 Interstate 85 exit 71 in Salisbury at 11 a.m. and parked her truck.
"My home stop," she said.
Batten, 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, 'All right.' 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 they had eaten, she and her family loaded the car with 20 boxed lunches and came back to the Wilco Hess to hand them out to drivers who didn't make it home for Thanksgiving.
Batten usually helps coordinate the Thanksgiving dinner giveaway at her church. This is the first year she's been on the road, and she says it felt strange to be out of the loop with the meal planning and preparation.
Daughter Kiana, 22, drove the van as grandson Jaden, 3, sat in the back next to the crate of boxed lunches. Felicia and daughter Jackie (16) walked down the row of trucks and knocked on doors.
"Driver!... Driver!... Gotta free meal!..."
Batten rapped on the door of the cab, and a dark curtain on the window was pulled aside.
"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 she reaches up to hand him a box full of turkey, ham, beans, dressing and other homemade dishes.
Batten made it home, but a lot of other drivers weren't so lucky.
"Lotta times there's not a lot of freight going around. You got some people that are out of hours. They might be pretty close to home, but legally, they can't drive anywhere. Honestly, a lot of 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."
She walked down a row, knocking on each cab door. From many, there's no answer.
"Lotta these guys are knocked out. They just drove their whole 11 hours," she said.
She met one driver, Mark Rowe, walking across the parking lot. He'll be home to Bowling Green, Ky., today. Will his family hold Thanksgiving a day late for him?
"Nah. It's all right," he told her.
"Part of the job," Batten laughs. She knows. She's been driving for 15 months. Before that, she worked as a certified nursing assistant. 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.
"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, she and her family buckle up in the van. With the boxed food they have left, they head to the Pilot truck stop in Kannapolis, looking for more drivers who will appreciate a homemade meal.