John Steinbeck

"The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 2"

A HUGE RED TRANSPORT truck stood in front of the little roadside restaurant.
The vertical exhaust pipe muttered softly, and an almost invisible haze of steel-blue
smoke hovered over its end. It was a new truck, shining red, and in twelve-inch letters
on its sides—OKLAHOMA CITY TRANSPORT COMPANY. Its double tires were new,
and a brass padlock stood straight out from the hasp on the big black doors. Inside the
screened restaurant a radio played, quiet dance music turned low the way it is when no
one is listening. A small outlet fan turned silently in its circular hole over the entrance,
and flies buzzed excitedly about the doors and windows, butting the screens. Inside,
one man, the truck driver, sat on a stool and rested his elbows on the counter and
looked over his coffee at the lean and lonely waitress. He talked the smart listless
language of the roadsides to her. "I seen him about three months ago. He had a
operation. Cut somepin out. I forget what." And she—"Doesn't seem no longer than a
week I seen him myself. Looked fine then. He's a nice sort of a guy when he ain't
stinko." Now and then the flies roared softly at the screen door. The coffee machine
spurted steam, and the waitress, without looking, reached behind her and shut it off.
Outside, a man walking along the edge of the highway crossed over and approached
the truck. He walked slowly to the front of it, put his hand on the shiny fender, and
looked at the No Riders sticker on the windshield. For a moment he was about to walk
on down the road, but instead he sat on the running board on the side away from the
restaurant. He was not over thirty. His eyes were very dark brown and there was a hint
of brown pigment in his eyeballs. His cheek bones were high and wide, and strong
deep lines cut down his cheeks, in curves beside his mouth. His upper lip was long,
and since his teeth protruded, the lips stretched to cover them, for this man kept his lips
closed. His hands were hard, with broad fingers and nails as thick and ridged as little
clam shells. The space between thumb and forefinger and the hams of his hands were
shiny with callus.
The man's clothes were new—all of them, cheap and new. His gray cap was so new
that the visor was still stiff and the button still on, not shapeless and bulged as it would
be when it had served for a while all the various purposes of a cap—carrying sack,
towel, handkerchief. His suit was of cheap gray hardcloth and so new that there were
creases in the trousers. His blue chambray shirt was stiff and smooth with filler. The
coat was too big, the trousers too short, for he was a tall man. The coat shoulder peaks
hung down on his arms, and even then the sleeves were too short and the front of the
coat flapped loosely over his stomach. He wore a pair of new tan shoes of the kind
called "army last," hob-nailed and with half-circles like horseshoes to protect the edges
of the heels from wear. This man sat on the running board and took off his cap and
mopped his face with it. Then he put on the cap, and by pulling started the future ruin
of the visor. His feet caught his attention. He leaned down and loosened the shoelaces,
and did not tie the ends again. Over his head the exhaust of the Diesel engine
whispered in quick puffs of blue smoke.
The music stopped in the restaurant and a man's voice spoke from the loudspeaker,
but the waitress did not turn him off, for she didn't know the music had stopped. Her
exploring fingers had found a lump under her ear. She was trying to see it in a mirror
behind the counter without letting the truck driver know, and so she pretended to push
a bit of hair to neatness. The truck driver said, "They was a big dance in Shawnee. I
heard somebody got killed or somepin. You hear anything?" "No," said the waitress,
and she lovingly fingered the lump under her ear.
Outside, the seated man stood up and looked over the cowl of the truck and watched
the restaurant for a moment. Then he settled back on the running board, pulled a sack
of tobacco and a book of papers from his side pocket. He rolled his cigarette slowly
and perfectly, studied it, smoothed it. At last he lighted it and pushed the burning
match into the dust at his feet. The sun cut into the shade of the truck as noon
approached.
In the restaurant the truck driver paid his bill and put his two nickels' change in a
slot machine. The whirling cylinders gave him no score. "They fix 'em so you can't win
nothing," he said to the waitress.
And she replied, "Guy took the jackpot not two hours ago. Three-eighty he got.
How soon you gonna be back by?"
He held the screen door a little open. "Week–ten days," he said. "Got to make a run
to Tulsa, an' I never get back soon as I think."
She said crossly, "Don't let the flies in. Either go out or come in."
"So long," he said, and pushed his way out. The screen door banged behind him. He
stood in the sun, peeling the wrapper from a piece of gum. He was a heavy man, broad
in the shoulders, thick in the stomach. His face was red and his blue eyes long and
slitted from having squinted always at sharp light. He wore army trousers and high
laced boots. Holding the stick of gum in front of his lips he called through the screen,
"Well, don't do nothing you don't want me to hear about." The waitress was turned
toward a mirror on the back wall. She grunted a reply. The truck driver gnawed down
the stick of gum slowly, opening his jaws and lips wide with each bite. He shaped the
gum in his mouth, rolled it under his tongue while he walked to the big red truck.
The hitch-hiker stood up and looked across through the windows. "Could ya give
me a lift, mister?"
The driver looked quickly back at the restaurant for a second. "Didn't you see the
No Riders sticker on the win'shield?"
"Sure—I seen it. But sometimes a guy'll be a good guy even if some rich bast*rd
makes him carry a sticker."
The driver, getting slowly into the truck, considered the parts of this answer. If he
refused now, not only was he not a good guy, but he was forced to carry a sticker, was
not allowed to have company. If he took in the hitch-hiker he was automatically a good
guy and also he was not one whom any rich bast*rd could kick around. He knew he
was being trapped, but he couldn't see a way out. And he wanted to be a good guy. He
glanced again at the restaurant. "Scrunch down on the running board till we get around
the bend," he said.
The hitch-hiker flopped down out of sight and clung to the door handle. The motor
roared up for a moment, the gears clicked in, and the great truck moved away, first
gear, second gear, third gear, and then a high whining pick-up and fourth gear. Under
the clinging man the highway blurred dizzily by. It was a mile to the first turn in the
road, then the truck slowed down. The hitch-hiker stood up, eased the door open, and
slipped into the seat. The driver looked over at him, slitting his eyes, and he chewed as
though thoughts and impressions were being sorted and arranged by his jaws before
they were finally filed away in his brain. His eyes began at the new cap, moved down
the new clothes to the new shoes. The hitch-hiker squirmed his back against the seat in
comfort, took off his cap, and swabbed his sweating forehead and chin with it.
"Thanks, buddy," he said. "My dogs was pooped out."
"New shoes," said the driver. His voice had the same quality of secrecy and
insinuation his eyes had. "You oughtn' to take no walk in new shoes—hot weather."
The hiker looked down at the dusty yellow shoes. "Didn't have no other shoes," he
said. "Guy got to wear 'em if he got no others."
The driver squinted judiciously ahead and built up the speed of the truck a little.
"Goin' far?"
"Uh-uh! I'd a walked her if my dogs wasn't pooped out."
The questions of the driver had the tone of a subtle examination. He seemed to
spread nets, to set traps, with his questions. "Lookin' for a job?" he asked.
"No, my old man got a place, forty acres. He's a cropper, but we been there a long
time."
The driver looked significantly at the fields along the road where the corn was
fallen sideways and the dust was piled on it. Little flints shoved through the dusty soil.
The driver said, as though to himself, "A forty-acre cropper and he ain't been dusted
out and he ain't been tractored out?"
"'Course I ain't heard lately," said the hitch-hiker.
"Long time," said the driver. A bee flew into the cab and buzzed in back of the
windshield. The driver put out his hand and carefully drove the bee into an air stream
that blew it out of the window. "Croppers going fast now," he said. "One cat' takes and
shoves ten families out. Cat's all over hell now. Tear in and shove the croppers out.
How's your old man hold on?" His tongue and his jaws became busy with the
neglected gum, turned it and chewed it. With each opening of his mouth his tongue
could be seen flipping the gum over.
"Well, I ain't heard lately. I never was no hand to write, nor my old man neither."
He added quickly, "But the both of us can, if we want."
"Been doing a job?" Again the secret investigating casualness. He looked out over
the fields, at the shimmering air, and gathering his gum into his cheek, out of the way,
he spat out the window.
"Sure have," said the hitch-hiker.
"Thought so. I seen your hands. Been swingin' a pick or an ax or a sledge. That
shines up your hands. I notice all stuff like that. Take a pride in it."
The hitch-hiker stared at him. The truck tires sang on the road. "Like to know
anything else? I'll tell you. You ain't got to guess."
"Now don't get sore. I wasn't gettin' nosy."
"I'll tell you anything. I ain't hidin' nothin'."
"Now don't get sore. I just like to notice things. Makes the time pass."
"I'll tell you anything. Name's Joad, Tom Joad. Old man is ol' Tom Joad." His eyes
rested broodingly on the driver.
"Don't get sore. I didn't mean nothin'."
"I don't mean nothin' neither," said Joad. "I'm just tryin' to get along without shovin'
nobody around." He stopped and looked out at the dry fields, at the starved tree clumps
hanging uneasily in the heated distance. From his side pocket he brought out his
tobacco and papers. He rolled his cigarette down between his knees, where the wind
could not get at it.
The driver chewed as rhythmically, as thoughtfully, as a cow. He waited to let the
whole emphasis of the preceding passage disappear and be forgotten. At last, when the
air seemed neutral again, he said, "A guy that never been a truck skinner don't know
nothin' what it's like. Owners don't want us to pick up nobody. So we got to set here an'
just skin her along 'less we want to take a chance of gettin' fired like I just done with
you."
"'Preciate it," said Joad.
"I've knew guys that done screwy things while they're drivin' trucks. I remember a
guy use' to make up poetry. It passed the time." He looked over secretly to see whether
Joad was interested or amazed. Joad was silent, looking into the distance ahead, along
the road, along the white road that waved gently, like a ground swell. The driver went
on at last, "I remember a piece of poetry this here guy wrote down. It was about him
an' a couple of other guys goin' all over the world drinkin' and raisin' hell and screwin'
around. I wisht I could remember how that piece went. This guy had words in it that
Jesus H. Christ wouldn't know what they meant. Part was like this: 'An' there we spied
a n*gger, with a trigger that was bigger than a elephant's proboscis or the whanger of a
whale.' That proboscis is a nose-like. With a elephant it's his trunk. Guy showed me a
dictionary. Carried that dictionary all over hell with him. He'd look in it while he's
pulled up gettin' his pie an' coffee." He stopped, feeling lonely in the long speech. His
secret eyes turned on his passenger. Joad remained silent. Nervously the driver tried to
force him into participation. "Ever know a guy that said big words like that?"
"Preacher," said Joad.
"Well, it makes you mad to hear a guy use big words. 'Course with a preacher it's all
right because nobody would fool around with a preacher anyway. But this guy was
funny. You didn't give a damn when he said a big word 'cause he just done it for ducks.
He wasn't puttin' on no dog." The driver was reassured. He knew at least that Joad was
listening. He swung the great truck viciously around a bend and the tires shrilled. "Like
I was sayin'," he continued, "guy that drives a truck does screwy things. He got to.
He'd go nuts just settin' here an' the road sneakin' under the wheels. Fella says once
that truck skinners eats all the time—all the time in hamburger joints along the road."
"Sure seem to live there," Joad agreed.
"Sure they stop, but it ain't to eat. They ain't hardly ever hungry. They're just
goddamn sick of goin'—get sick of it. Joints is the only place you can pull up, an' when
you stop you got to buy somepin so you can sling the bull with the broad behind the
counter. So you get a cup of coffee and a piece pie. Kind of gives a guy a little rest."
He chewed his gum slowly and turned it with his tongue.
"Must be tough," said Joad with no emphasis.
The driver glanced quickly at him, looking for satire. "Well, it ain't no goddamn
cinch," he said testily. "Looks easy, jus' settin' here till you put in your eight or maybe
your ten or fourteen hours. But the road gets into a guy. He's got to do somepin. Some
sings an' some whistles. Company won't let us have no radio. A few takes a pint along,
but them kind don't stick long." He said the last smugly. "I don't never take a drink till
I'm through."
"Yeah?" Joad asked.
"Yeah! A guy got to get ahead. Why, I'm thinkin' of takin' one of them
correspondence school courses. Mechanical engineering. It's easy. Just study a few
easy lessons at home. I'm thinkin' of it. Then I won't drive no truck. Then I'll tell other
guys to drive trucks."
Joad took a pint of whisky from his side coat pocket. "Sure you won't have a snort?"
His voice was teasing.
"No, by God. I won't touch it. A guy can't drink liquor all the time and study like
I'm goin' to."
Joad uncorked the bottle, took two quick swallows, recorked it, and put it back in
his pocket. The spicy hot smell of the whisky filled the cab. "You're all wound up,"
said Joad. "What's the matter—got a girl?"
"Well, sure. But I want to get ahead anyway. I been training my mind for a hell of a
long time."
The whisky seemed to loosen Joad up. He rolled another cigarette and lighted it. "I
ain't got a hell of a lot further to go," he said.
The driver went on quickly, "I don't need no shot," he said. "I train my mind all the
time. I took a course in that two years ago." He patted the steering wheel with his right
hand. "Suppose I pass a guy on the road. I look at him an' after I'm past I try to
remember ever'thing about him, kind a clothes an' shoes an' hat, an' how he walked an'
maybe how tall an' what weight an' any scars, I do it pretty good. I can jus' make a
whole picture in my head. Sometimes I think I ought to take a course to be a
fingerprint expert. You'd be su'prised how much a guy can remember."
Joad took a quick drink from the flask. He dragged the last smoke from his raveling
cigarette and then, with callused thumb and forefinger, crushed out the glowing end.
He rubbed the butt to a pulp and put it out the window, letting the breeze suck it from
his fingers. The big tires sang a high note on the pavement. Joad's dark quiet eyes
became amused as he stared along the road. The driver waited and glanced uneasily
over. At last Joad's long upper lip grinned up from his teeth and he chuckled silently,
his chest j*rked with the chuckles. "You sure took a hell of a long time to get to it,
buddy."
The driver did not look over. "Get to what? How do you mean?"
Joad's lips stretched tight over his long teeth for a moment, and he licked his lips
like a dog, two licks, one in each direction from the middle. His voice became harsh.
"You know what I mean. You give me a goin'-over when I first got in. I seen you." The
driver looked straight ahead, gripped the wheel so tightly that the pads of his palms
bulged, and the backs of his hands paled. Joad continued, "You know where I come
from." The driver was silent. "Don't you?" Joad insisted.
"Well—sure. That is—maybe. But it ain't none of my business. I mind my own
yard. It ain't nothing to me." The words tumbled out now. "I don't stick my nose in
nobody's business." And suddenly he was silent and waiting. And his hands were still
white on the wheel. A grasshopper flipped through the window and lighted on top of
the instrument panel, where it sat and began to scrape its wings with its angled jumping
legs. Joad reached forward and crushed its hard skull-like head with his fingers, and he
let it into the wind stream out the window. Joad chuckled again while he brushed the
bits of broken insect from his fingertips. "You got me wrong, mister," he said. "I ain't
keepin' quiet about it. Sure I been in McAlester. Been there four years. Sure these is
the clothes they give me when I come out. I don't give a damn who knows it. An' I'm
goin' to my old man's place so I don't have to lie to get a job."
The driver said, "Well—that ain't none of my business. I ain't a nosy guy."
"The hell you ain't," said Joad. "That big old nose of yours been stickin' out eight
miles ahead of your face. You had that big nose goin' over me like a sheep in a
vegetable patch."
The driver's face tightened. "You got me all wrong—" he began weakly.
Joad laughed at him. "You been a good guy. You give me a lift. Well, hell! I done
time. So what! You want to know what I done time for, don't you?"
"That ain't none of my affair."
"Nothin' ain't none of your affair except skinnin' this here bull-b*tch along, an' that's
the least thing you work at. Now look. See that road up ahead?"
"Yeah."
"Well, I get off there. Sure, I know you're wettin' your pants to know what I done. I
ain't a guy to let you down." The high hum of the motor dulled and the song of the tires
dropped in pitch. Joad got out his pint and took another short drink. The truck drifted
to a stop where a dirt road opened at right angles to the highway. Joad got out and
stood beside the cab window. The vertical exhaust pipe puttered up its barely visible
blue smoke. Joad leaned toward the driver. "Homicide," he said quickly. "That's a big
word—means I killed a guy. Seven years. I'm sprung in four for keepin' my nose
clean."
The driver's eyes slipped over Joad's face to memorize it. "I never asked you nothin'
about it," he said. "I mind my own yard."
"You can tell about it in every joint from here to Texola." He smiled. "So long,
fella. You been a good guy. But look, when you been in stir a little while, you can
smell a question comin' from hell to breakfast. You telegraphed yours the first time
you opened your trap." He spatted the metal door with the palm of his hand. "Thanks
for the lift," he said. "So long." He turned away and walked into the dirt road.
For a moment the driver stared after him, and then he called, "Luck!" Joad waved
his hand without looking around. Then the motor roared up and the gears clicked and
the great red truck rolled heavily away.

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