SHIFT HAPPENS – MARGOT GENGER
“This is a bare-knuckle truth of the soul, told with humor, humility and excellent craft” – Bob Olofson
In 1979, out of desperation to escape the confines of her small, northern California town, Margot Genger breaks every rule of her social class, gender and upbringing to become a long-haul truck driver.
Shift Happens is a twenty-first century incarnation of the classic voyage to find one’s self and one’s home.
By facing her mental health and addiction demons, at the age of 28 she sees her role as a young woman flip-flop from cheerleader, girl-friend, young wife, sex-symbol, to a strong, self-determined individual who knows what she wants and how to succeed.
Along the way, Margot discovers the many facets of America—its beauty and its meanness—and eventually realizes what she values in ‘home.’
“Margot’s story is so compelling that I was proud to “be” her while narrating this journey through alcoholism, mental illness, and family dysfunction to self-discovery, recovery, acceptance, and love… Margot also beautifully describes her alcoholism, bipolar disorder, mental breakdown and resulting psychiatric hospitalization – and honestly describes her own life choices (including initial skepticism about AA) and lessons. All along the way, she discovers her own sheltered early experience and learns from every colorful character she meets, inside and outside of her long-haul truck.” – Randye Kaye
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The night before our wedding, on the way home from his bachelor party, my fiancé stepped out of a moving pickup and fractured his skull. An unbelievable stroke of luck. I didn’t have to marry the lying, argumentative cokehead after all. I actually looked up and thanked God that night.
From the hospital, the poor bastard came straight to my house, not because he lived with me, but because his room had already been rented. I fed him, changed his sheets, washed his clothes, and found my backbone.
“We’re not getting married, Jeff.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t want to get married anymore.”
Two weeks passed. He’d eaten a month’s worth of [ain meds. I hadn’t seen him get out of bed. He hadn’t looked at me, or spoken to me. Day fifteen, I’d had it.
“I need you to move out.”
“Where am I gonna go?”
“Call a friend.”
Not a single person had called or come by to visit. “How about calling that guy who was supposed to work on our car.”
Another ten days dragged by. Jeff made no attempt to get out of bed or communicate. The doctor would not refill his pain medication, said Jeff should be getting exercise, walking would help him feel better.
Two days before the July 4th weekend, after Jeff had lain there for a month, I said, “I’m leaving for the weekend. When I come back, be out of this house. If you’re here when I get back, I’ll put your stuff in the street.” I walked out and, despite its loose steering and bald tires, I drove the 1940s black Volvo up past Salyer and spent the next three days on the Trinity River with my dog. Sonny, a big, protective, loving, concerned, German Shepherd, never left my side.
Eureka, on the coast, rarely got above seventy degrees, but inland the dry heat could reach triple digits. That weekend, the temperature climbed upwards of 85, but a warm wind, that felt like cotton, blew downstream and kept me content to sit there.
I stared at the river. Sat there in my lawn chair. Didn’t even bother with lotion.
How did I get into this mess?
I had sold my Rambler and was now stuck with this piece of junk I’d bought to advertise Jeff’s future catering business in Wisconsin, where he was raised. Where his parents still lived. When I was head over heals I’d thought it was a good idea. Good advertising. Using a cool car as we drove around delivering food for our catering business. I’d prep for him till he got established. Then maybe I’d go back to teaching.
I’d wanted to get out of town, but Wisconsin? I didn’t even know exactly where Wisconsin was, except somewhere near the great lakes. Fourteen weeks ago, head up my ass, Wisconsin only meant four seasons, a white Christmas. Giant mosquitoes didn’t even occur to me, much less the heat and humidity.
I’d lived in Eureka – population 30,000 – all my life. Plenty of rain and fog, not too hot, green all year round. In the heart of the towering redwood forests, Humboldt County had pristine beaches, clean rivers, and wildlife. If I hadn’t been so focused on turning my life around, maybe I would have noticed how much home meant to me.
Jess asked me to marry him three weeks after I’d met him. He had a plan for his life, and so I attached myself. An adventure and an answer. Just what I’d been looking for. Marrying Jeff was y ticket to see a wild birth of new green in the spring, a stark dying back of foliage in the fall, and snow. Way back in March, when we were all hot with his plan, I bought this Volvo on Jeff’s recommendation.
“I’ve got a friend that will fix the steering.” But two months had passed and I still hadn’t me the friend.
I’d quit waiting tables because we were moving. My morning job at Eureka City Schools paid three times what I made waitressing, but I’d quit that job a few weeks earlier, having slammed the receiver in my boss’s ear after yelling a few obscenities. My first unemployment check hadn’t arrived yet.
A thousand bucks up Jeff’s nose every month. My thousand. We’d hardly saved enough for the new tires we needed to start our big trip.
I poured Purina into Sonny’s bowl. Brought water up from the river. Cracked open Watership Down, by Richard Adams, but kept reading the same paragraph and not remembering what I’d read. So I rolled joint.
I’d met Jeff in February, the first night on my job. He’d flirt with me as I walked by his ovens to dump my dirty dishes at the washing station. Short, maybe 5’8, but handsome. Maybe Italian. Dark wavy hair, blue eyes, tan skin. We hung out together after hours, and three weeks after I’d met him, he proposed. I hadn’t even slept with him, but I said yes. How stupid was that?
Jess was adamant. “I mean now. Let’s get married now.”
I hadn’t divorced Aaron yet, although we’d been separated for over two years. Nevada didn’t require a waiting period like California, so I called an acquaintance who lived in Reno, stayed with her, and went through the whole process in three days. Jeff and I set our wedding date for the last weekend in May, three whole months from the day we met. We bought the car, but Jeff wouldn’t move in with me.
“Jeff, we’ll save rent money.”
“I want to wait fill we’re married.”
No amount of protest on my part budged him an inch. I did get him to sleep with me. He claimed he’d had too much coke, ne was nervous.
“Okay. I understand.”
A month before the wedding, my stomach hurt so bad I could barely eat. Why didn’t I call if off then?
Jeff insisted our wedding invitations include a little phrase at the bottom. We’d prefer money instead of presents. He’d quit his job at the restaurant, to remodel his friend’s kitchen, although he had not one iota of experience with a hammer.
A week before the wedding, he bullied my brothers, acted like know-it-all and ordered the most expensive meal on my Dad’s dime.
“I’d like my salad AFTER the meal.” Jeff pontificated, waving his arms. “And bring me another whiskey, with a water back. Red wine with dinner. And I’d like to see the bottle before you open it.” When he started explaining to my father his expertise with wine, I excused myself to the bathroom.
I sat on the toilet, elbows on my knees, head in my hands. Why didn’t I call it off then?
“Shift Happens will make you laugh, cringe, and celebrate as Margot navigates the underground life of long-haul truck driving with 11 different driving partners.” — Susan Bennett, PhD, English Professor Emeritus
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About the Author
Margot Genger never tells a joke, she’s only funny by accident. In her debut memoir, Genger breaks every rule of her social class, gender, and upbringing to become a long haul truck driver in the ’70s’ all while trying to stay sober.
A former video production instructor, she is also a wife and mother, whose bipolar disorder eventually morphed from curse to gift.
Her poems have appeared in publications, including Humboldt State University’s “Toyon.”
Find her on Tuesday nights, sharing her poems at Word Humboldt, or in Eureka, CA where she lives with her husband and big red poodle, Apple.
“Genger writes with a poet’s heart, a truck driver’s focus, and a tourist’s eye. She transports us across America’s breathtaking landscapes and urban blight all while trying to stay sober and neutralize her own demons. I’m glad I went along for the ride.” — Neal Tarpey, author of Flashes of Lightning
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