Apples and Oranges and Broccoli! Oh My!

The truck grumbled and rattled as we slowed to a stop on the side of the highway. Cars and larger more powerful semi trucks cruised easily by us.

“Umm, this can’t be good.” I exclaimed.

The "Veggie Man", Michael Cleaver.
The “Veggie Man”, Michael Cleaver.

“Well, this is what happened before.” Michael Cleaver cooly stated. “I switched to the secondary fuel tank too late and air must have been drawn into the fuel line.”

“Right, that’s why we were running so rough back there?” We hadn’t made it 5 miles from Bishop and now we were sitting on a gravel pullout.

Michael maintained a collected calm as he beamed a friendly grin. “Ahhhh…it only needs a few minutes to work out the air bubble,” his cheery voice was reassuring. “Good thing the battery has lots of juice!” he turned up the volume and we continued listening to Fresh Air on NPR.

It was a Monday, a little after 4 P.M., and the sun had already set below the Sierra in the early December afternoon. We had about 3 more hours to drive and it would be dark in about 45 minutes. Pastel blue, orange, and red had begun to glow on the western horizon.IMG_1067

I had offered to do the Abundant Harvest veggie run with Cleaver this particular week. With time off work and as a weekly beneficiary of the Abundant Harvest CSA, I decided I’d take the opportunity to make the trip to Mojave, California. So there we sat in his Ford F-250, with a 24 foot long trailer in tow. I remembered back to this previous summer when Cleaver bought the truck and trailer.

Having been the Bishop host for Abundant Harvest for the past year, he’d made the choice to go all in and invest in his own rig. Now, he would not just host the weekly veggie pick-up, but also transport all the boxes for the satisfied subscribers of both Bishop and Mammoth Abundant Harvest. Over 200 hundred and growing! For the better part of a month, our backyard looked like an industrial complex – sheet metal, insulating foam, plywood, and power tools scattered about – as he labored in the August heat retrofitting the trailer into a refrigerated unit capable of keeping the fresh organic veggies cool as they made the weekly journey from Mojave to Bishop and Mammoth. I had thought the task seemed improbable at best, but with tireless focus, Cleaver managed to create a refrigeration unit in the trailer capable of fitting four pallets and other assorted coolers and containers for fresh food. He could now maintain constant temperature in the trailer around 40 degrees fahrenheit, just right for fresh produce. It took a month, in the blistering August heat. But, he did it!

“Hey, Cleaver. Should you give it another try? It’s been about ten minutes.” I had been staring out the window. A cow paused from chewing its meal and looked over the fence toward me.

“Uh, yeah, let’s give it another try.” He turned the key in the ignition and it roared to life. We started back down the highway. This time, full throttle and Mojave bound.

“We are gonna stay at the Motel 6. It’s just around the corner from the truck stop where we will meet Miguel in the morning.” Cleaver excitedly explained to me as we passed a sign indicating we were about 10 miles from town.

It was dark by now and wind was blowing tumble weeds across the road. We were maintaining a steady 60 miles per hour; cars and larger semi trucks passed us. As we neared the Motel 6, the scream of a passing freight train sounded from across the road. Situated at the intersection of CA HWY 14 and 58, the corner of Mojave we’d call home for the night offered little more than a truck stop, fast food restaurant, a small grocery store, and the humble Motel 6. Cars, trains, and trucks kept the ambient noise high the whole night through. We parked in the back of the motel parking area, taking up about 7 parking stalls. Cleaver went into the office and checked us in.

“You wanna go try that ‘Primo Burger’ joint across the street?” I was hungry and could use any kind of food at this point.

“Yeah, first let’s get our stuff up to the room, it’s the second floor.” Cleaver pulled his bag from the back seat of the truck.

We stepped from the stairs to the second floor deck of the motel and I spotted our room, ‘236’ down a few doors. Outside the room next to ours, a phenomenally tattooed young man stood on the concrete walkway smoking a cigarette. He looked rough, but nodded and said ‘good evening’.

We dropped our bags inside and went back outside and across the highway to the burger joint. Lucky for us, we made it through the door just before closing and ordered some food to go.

“Let me get this, Danny. You are helping me out coming on the veggie run with me.” Cleaver said in his cheery voice as he pulled out his wallet and paid the lady across the counter.

“Wanna get a couple beers to go with the food. On me.” A cold beer to go along with dinner sounded nice after our long truck ride. We ventured next door to the grocery store before heading back to the motel room.

“This Santa Fe Chicken sandwich is gonzo, dude”. I took a slug from my can of beer and looked over at Cleaver.

“Oh yeah, gonzooooo!” Cleaver exclaimed with great pleasure from his queen size bed. “My burrito is way good, too.”

We sat in our beds and channel surfed the cable TV while we finished our food. Nothing but garbage, we spent the next 45 minutes lamenting the de-evolution of humanity and praising our choice to not have TV at our house.

“Well, I’m going to bed. Gotta get up at 4:45 in the A…M…!” Cleaver rolled over in bed and pulled the sheets over him. After brushing my teeth, I followed suit.

“Dude, Cleaver.” I called from the bed. He was in the bathroom. “Did you hear the train? It was around 3:30 this morning. It was so freakin loud. And the horn wasn’t even the worst of it. It was vibrating the tracks so loudly, it felt like it was in my head.” I slowly sat up in bed, rubbing my eyes.

“Oh yeah, dude. All night long. The tracks are just on the other side of the road from the motel here.” He stepped out of the bathroom wiping his face dry with a towel and pointed through the wall toward where the trains come and go.

“Yeah, they were screaming all night long. Just that one particularly… loud as hell.” I limped into the bathroom and got ready for the day.

IMG_1069We pulled into the truck stop right at 4:45. Darkness still enveloped us as we navigated the maze of parked trucks, gas pumps, and parking stalls. The eastern horizon was beginning to glow with the promise of sunrise and warmth. Miguel and his truck were waiting for us in the back corner, plenty of room to unload the vegetable boxes and reload onto Cleaver’s truck.

“Good morning, Michael.” Miguel jovially called from the side of his giant semi-trailer truck. He towered over a rather large pallet loaded with veggies. His large frame was bundled for the cool air, making him appear larger. He wore leather work gloves and a Carhartt jacket and a smile on his face. An Abundant Harvest Organics logo was printed on the side of the two trailers the giant truck towed. Cleaver’s truck and trailer get-up, that I had considered quite large, were dwarfed next to Miguel’s truck.

“Hi, I’m Danny. Good morning!” I reached out my hand toward Miguel, who was busy with a pallet jack. He pulled his giant hand from his work glove and we shook hands.

“You ready to unload these pallets guys.” He grinned at us. I did some light stretching in an attempt to ready my underdeveloped muscles for the work ahead. 

Now, this actually meant that we hauled some small ice boxes and crates into our trailer while Miguel worked methodically to load each of the giant pallets of produce with his pallet jack. It had a motor to assist with moving around large loads. But the back of our trailer was small, which made loading somewhat difficult.

Miguel worked with the precision of a professional. In the darkness, guided by his headlamp and what little ambient light shown from the street lights, he carefully guided each pallet up the trailer gate into the back of the trailer, then up another ramp and through a small door – just wide enough for a pallet to fit – into the cooling room of the trailer. The motor of the pallet jack groaned with each trip up the ramps. Once in the cooling room, he delicately maneuvered each load to fit side by side, with only inches to spare. Like a Tetris master, Miguel finessed one final pallet into the trailer.

“Hey, Michael.” Miguel called as he backed the pallet jack down from the trailer one more time. “we have lot’s of extra broccoli again this week.” He pointed over to three stacks of crates, four in each, filled with broccoli.

I knew where this was going. The last three weeks had been an overload of broccoli. Steamed, sautéed, raw; people had nearly exhausted their palate for the deep green mustard cultivar. I know we had at our house – the freezer was cram-packed full of the vegetable.

“Yeah, I don’t think I can take much,” Cleaver quickly read the situation. “I’ll take 2 crates,” he lifted one crate from the stack and carried it off to the trailer.

“Hey Miguel.” I called to him as he finished with the last pallet and started back to his truck with the pallet jack.. “Where else do you haul Abundant Harvest?” I was curious and didn’t want to leave not knowing.

He made a half turn back to me and continued forward with the jack. I shuffled closer to him to hear over the noise around us.

“After I leave here, I’ll drive to Adelanto, Apple Valley, and Twentynine Palms, all through tomorrow. Then this weekend, I will leave from Fresno again and drive down to LA, Escondido, and San Diego.” He listed off his stops with rote memorization as he continued his work.

“Wow, so you pretty much cover the entirety of southern California. Our little Bishop-Mammoth run is just a small piece of the Abundant Harvest family.” I smiled toward Cleaver who was closing the trailer and preparing it for the road.

We stopped at the gas pumps to fill the truck’s tanks once more before heading back north. I went inside and after mulling over the poor selection of food and drink, I bought a hot cup of coffee and a donut. I figured I would really give myself a taste of life on the road. Back in the truck, Cleaver turned north on Highway 14 and we made back toward Bishop. The sun started to peek above the mountains to the east now, illuminating the creosote plains of the desert. We had the produce. We had the milk, cheese, and various meats that had been ordered by customers in Mammoth and Bishop. We had a long day ahead of us still. We would bypass Bishop and drive straight to Mammoth and unload the produce for subscribers there. Then, we’d turn around and back down the hill to deliver fresh veggies to the wonderful people of Bishop.

But for now, we were on the open road. We were tired, but happy. And we slowly climbed north, with the sun climbing in the east. Toward Bishop. Our Home.


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