In 1971, my husband was an impressionable thirteen-year-old boy when the ABC made-for-television movie, Duel, first aired. Based on a real-life experience, the first film Steven Spielberg ever directed terrified innocent television viewers right off their couches and straight into the arms of anyone who was not a trucker.
In Duel, Dennis Weaver plays a salesman who unfortunately has a chance encounter with a tanker truck and its angry, sadistic driver on a lonely stretch of road somewhere apparently between Los Angeles and hell. It made no difference to my husband that in the end of the movie Weaver runs the truck off the road, causing a major explosion that caused men everywhere to produce testosterone faster than their bodies could keep up. Duel forever changed the way my husband looks at the trucks who share the open road with him.
“Yep, it’s just us and the open road,” my husband cheerfully remarked as he merged onto the interstate recently. The sun had just risen, he had a cup of hot coffee in his hand, and life was good.
Just as I patted his hand and optimistically replied, “The open road is always full of exciting possibilities,” his disposition immediately changed as he glanced in the rearview mirror. “Duel,” he muttered as he hurriedly set his coffee in the holder and firmly placed his hands in the ten and two position on the steering wheel. I quickly looked over my shoulder. A semi-truck was barreling down on our SUV so quickly that I figured in six seconds or less, I was going to discover what it felt like to have an eighteen-wheeler inside my colon.
“I gave you the road, why don’t you just take it?” my husband yelled into the rearview mirror.
I glanced over my shoulder again. The truck moved into the passing lane and began creeping up next to our car. My husband looked in the side mirror. “Here he comes,” he shouted, “Brace yourself!” He gritted his teeth, gripped the steering wheel, and waited. The truck passed our car without incident.
My husband hissed between his teeth and mumbled, “Road bully.”
“Come on, honey,” I said as I handed him his coffee cup. “This is getting ridiculous. Really. It was just a movie. Truck drivers are not evil people.” I knew it was all just silly talk to my husband, but I had to try.
“Here comes another one,” he said as a semi-truck inched closer to the back of our SUV. “I just can’t break eighty and ninety miles an hour,” he added, “But he’ll never be able to beat me on the grade.” He wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand.
I looked out the window for the grade. The last time I checked, we were in Nebraska. The only grades we had were K through 12. My husband began to sweat. The truck inched closer. I peered over my shoulder and quickly noticed I now had a pretty good view of the driver’s nose hairs. “Honey, I’m just warning you,” he warned, “This could go on for ninety minutes and I just can’t promise you there will be a happy ending.”
But before he could caution me again, the truck slipped into the left lane. “He’s in my blind spot!” my husband shouted, “This isn’t going to be good. Brace yourself!” A few seconds later, the truck inched past us, leaving my husband with nothing but unwarranted fear and a cold cup of coffee.
“That truck driver was endangering my life,” he remarked as he slowly released his death grip on the steering wheel.
“I know, honey, I know,” I replied as I patted his hand. Just like he said earlier, it was just us and the open road. Oh yes, and apparently several hundred deranged, crazy truck drivers who are clearly after us—at least in his impressionable thirteen-year-old mind.
I’ve learned one thing from this experience. The sign of a good movie is when the plot still terrifies you after forty years. Just ask my husband—but not while he’s driving on the interstate. He’s much too busy trying to save our lives to answer questions.
By Vicky DeCoster – All Rights Reserved