First Time In Paradise? by Gary Berg

It was still dark when he pulled out of the truck stop and headed up Highway 99 to Chico, a toothpick out the side of his mouth and a belly full of coffee. The fucking dispatcher had given him a truck without a radio that morning.

“Do you know what it is like to sit in a truck for 18 hours without a radio?” he had told the asshole.

It was payback for not slipping the dispatcher a 10 spot, like everyone else does. Staring out at the blacktop on the two-lane road, he thought about yesterday’s conversation. She said she’d always love him. Isn’t that the title of a fucking Whitney Houston song?
How would I know – I don’t have a radio?

He ran his hands through his thick hair and thought he’d get a haircut today, maybe in Paradise, after Chico on the route. The driver had made a habit of using company time while working to stop and take care of things like banking and haircuts. Consequently, his hair style was constantly changing with his random tour of Northern California
“hair stylists”.

In Chico, the sun came out like it was seeking retribution. The thermometer on the dashboard pushed up to 100. At his first stop, he unloaded half the truck. The driver put lamb carcasses over his shoulder and handed them down like lumber to the butcher at the back door of Smiley’s Market. The air conditioning unit blasting him as he worked towards the front of the box restored him. The driver made half a dozen other stops in Chico, and then headed up Skyway Road along the ridge to Paradise.

As he had planned, he made it to the top ridge and the small town of Paradise around noon. He grabbed a quick lunch at a red-booth Chinese restaurant he knew, and then followed the barber pole to his haircut. He was soon seated in an empty shop. Why was it that so many of these barbers had bad hair? This one had dyed his hair jet black, with grey pushing up underneath. He trimmed the driver’s hair between sips of gin from a coffee mug.

“First time in Paradise?”
“Name’s not from the bible, but a saloon–‘Pair ‘o Dice’.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”

The driver drifted off in thought. Is it even possible to love someone “always”?
What a stupid song.

A small yellow bus pulled up in front of the shop as the barber brushed off the driver’s shoulder and swung the apron off with a finishing flare. As the driver paid, an attendant led half a dozen men. A sign on the side of the bus read,

“State Mental Hospital”.


About the author:

Gary A. Berg has an MFA from UCLA in Screenwriting, and is the author/editor of eight non-fiction books.