He parked his truck at the Montana-Idaho line and stepped out to an open valley, filled with sun. He sat out by his truck and watched as Bald Eagles soared in the open air for hours. He was soon joined by other drivers, strangers, who in turn took their places next to him just to watch Eagles soar.
Kenneth Drake found himself in the hot and humid air on a Tuesday afternoon under a shelter at Oakdale Park, seeking escape from the heat. Spread across the picnic table where he sat were a pair a sunglasses, a lighter, a pack of cigarettes and two inhalers. His shirt pocket drooped under the weight of a wallet and pens and hung away from his body. He occasionally lifted up his trucker hat to run his fingers through his long dirty blonde hair, his beard is multiple shades of brown and grey.
“I’ve been trucking ever since I got out of the service,” Drake said. “I was stationed in Honduras between ’81 and ’86 during peace time. They had me building landing strips for assault planes. In my time there, I laid 6,000 ft of runway and 3,000 ft of apron (parking area for planes).”
Drake, an Abilene native, has traveled the world driving trucks and has seen the most “wonderful” of sights and lived through the most “terrifying” experiences.
“Driving trucks got me a daughter,” Drake said with a heavy laugh that ended with coughing. “I met her mother at a truck stop, her husband had passed away in a trucking accident a year earlier. She was a really nice woman.”
Drake pulled out his phone and thumbed through his pictures. He held his phone out and pointed at a woman in a wedding dress.
“That’s her right there and me at her wedding, my daughter,” Drake said with a smile. “I found out I had a daughter about three years ago in July. She was already 22 years-old and I had never met her.”
“She was definitely a Drake though, there was no doubt about it. I could tell as soon as I saw her that she was mine,” Drake said letting out a laugh.
Drake rubbed his lighter with his thumb over a worn sticker.
“She gave me this lighter. It had a truck on it, but you can barely tell anymore. I always keep it with me,” Drake said.
Occasionally Drake tries to reach out to Carolyn, the woman he met at the truck stop, but she hasn’t been returning his calls.
Drake is 53 years-old and married.
“My wife’s name is Angela,” Drake said. “But she’s in St. Louis right now with her step-dad. We’ve been separated, but we’re pulling back together. She’s been battling cancer.”
Drake wiped the ash of his cigarette into the cracks of the picnic table with his dark hands, leaving white smears on the table.
“I was driving home one night from a delivery and got a call from my wife. She said she got up out of bed and fell, landing on her stomach and that her belly started to hurt and swell. I was three hours out from home, there was nothing I could do,” Drake said as his eyes widened and his hands raised. “There was a couple that I knew from church that I knew I could call so I called them to pick her up and take her to the hospital. The doctor’s found a cyst in her ovaries and it was malignant.”
Angela made it through chemotherapy and her cancer is gone.
“I’m a loner,” Drake said. “I don’t like having some 20 year-old, just out of college boss breathing down my neck telling me what to do. When I’m driving trucks I’m all by myself, I get my delivery, I go get it delivered and that’s it. I get to do things on my own and I like that, but I do like to meet new people.”
“I was at a truck stop once and saw a guy sitting by himself so I joined him and we got to talking. After a little while the man told me that he’s gay and without any pause I told him that I’m straight and we kept on talking about life,” Drake said. “We kept talking for a bit longer and then he stopped me and asked me why I wasn’t scared off by him telling me that he’s gay and I told him right there that I didn’t care what he was, he was intelligent and nice to talk to so it didn’t bother me.”
The man at the truck stop gave Drake his business card and told him that if he were ever in Oregon to give him a call.
“I’ve got friends all over the country,” Drake said. “I meet people on my stops and we get to talking about life and we become friends. Sometimes when I go through certain stops I’ll call one of them up and tell them I’m coming through and we meet up.”
Drake has lived homeless, spent nights with the Salina Rescue Mission and has lived out of his truck.
“Life can be cruel. You’re gonna learn that,” Drake told me with a serious expression on his face. “Mark my words, you’ll see the same bad things that have happened to you happen again.”
Drake pushed the long hairs of his mustache away from his mouth and lit up another cigarette; he took a drag.