Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505
“I-80 Nebraska M.490-M.205” covers one night in the life of a big rig driver who calls himself Ryder P. Moses. No one has ever seen this larger-than-life trucker, but his voice rules the night citizens band (CB) radio on which the long-distance haulers depend. These eighteen-wheelers travel the highways, carrying their huge loads from coast to coast, and their drivers use their CB radios to warn one another of police cars (“Smokey Bear”) or errant passenger cars (“four-wheelers”) and to entertain fellow truckers with stories and information. All the truckers have colorful names such as “Gutslinger” or “Oklahoma Crude,” except for Ryder P. Moses, who in the last few weeks has come to dominate the thoughts and conversations of the other truckers. No one has ever seen him, which makes them suspicious when they see one another in the cabs of their trucks or at truck stops until they can identify one another, but he appears on the radio each night with powerful messages conveyed in apocalyptic language.
On the night the story describes, Moses first taunts other drivers with thoughts of where their wives or girlfriends may be and with what other men, and then he lets loose a rant on drugs such as amphetamines that truckers use to stay awake. “Sweetpea,” called the “Grande Dame of the Open Road,” tries to lure Moses into the open by suggesting over the CB radio that they meet at Bosselman’s, a truck stop on Interstate 80 somewhere between Lincoln and Grand Island, Nebraska, and when Moses agrees, all the truckers on that section of the road pile into the truck stop to see him, but it is soon clear that Ryder P. Moses is not there.
A boy at the Husky gas station three miles away later reports that he saw a cattle truck filled with dead cows getting gas, and back on the road again, the drivers hear Moses claim that he stopped at the Husky because the gas was a few cents cheaper. He continues his rant, westbound on Interstate 80, this time on the problems of the economy and corporate America as they affect independent truckers such as his listeners. He tells them that he is educating them and continues on about life, eternity, history, and other essentially philosophical, even mystical, questions, urging them to break through life’s cycle by never stopping.
Another trucker, “Coyote,” is following a cattle truck he believes to be Moses through Kearney and then Lexington, headed west on Interstate 80. He sees that the truck is fishtailing, so he breaks into the CB chatter to try to warn Moses. Moses signs off without ever acknowledging Coyote, and then apparently collides with a concrete overpass support somewhere before reaching North Platte, for the story’s last line describes Coyote swerving to miss the wreck “as the sky begins a rain of beef.” Moses has been killed, readers assume, his load of dead cattle scattered along the roadside, but John Sayles leaves the ending ambiguous. Was that trucker really Moses?
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