Trucker Cometric Wright is one red-eye asphalt Cowboy who needs his Joe.
In the wee hours Thursday, Wright rolled into Cheyenne’s Pilot Flying J Travel Center off Interstate 25 with his 18-wheeler. He stepped out of the truck he’d been sitting in for nearly two hours, bundled up in a thick winter jacket, proudly sporting his Quality Logistics knit beanie cap.
First thing to do: The sleepy-eyed Wright wanted a large jolt of black coffee, which they brew often and by the gallon at the popular southern Wyoming truck stop. He also topped off his truck with diesel.
One of the busiest truck stops in Wyoming, the Cheyenne Flying J orders its coffee hundreds of pounds at a time, multiple times a week. Running out of coffee at a truck stop would be almost as sacrilege as running out of diesel.
Wright, like many truckers who frequent Wyoming’s busy truck stops like the Flying J, wouldn’t be a happy camper if he pulled up to find it was out of “hundred-mile coffee” – trucker speak for a stiff cup of Joe.
They don’t drink Starbucks, as it’s too sugary. Black is best, and along with diesel for their trucks, it’s about the most important liquid for America’s army of truckers.
“I’m beyond tired,” Wright told Cowboy State Daily. “I usually limit my caffeine intake, but I need it.”
The trucker still had to push the pedal to the metal for another 180 miles over the next two-and-a-half hours to drop off a load of appliances in Casper.
“I’ve only had three hours of sleep after driving 900 miles on another haul,” he said. “I really don’t care for driving up the I-25 because of all the wind if you’re not loaded up enough.”
One of the most important road companions for truckers is their coffee.
The caffeine-rich brew boosts energy to help them stay alert on the road and make delivery deadlines on long stretches of empty highways. Without it … well, they get grumpy. They also get sleepy.
Tatyana Lawrenz and Fred Culek, who work graveyard shifts as cashiers at the Pilot Flying J, have seen it all.
Tired truckers chugging coffee is a real thing, although neither of them drink it. The 20-year-old Lawrenz said she prefers swigging a sweet-tasting mango dragon fruit beverage from Starbucks.
“I see lots of truckers filling up their 2-quart thermoses,” said Culek, a former Vietnam-era Marine veteran who has worked at the stop for nearly six years.
The thermos fill-ups could be the best deal at $2.19, the same amount as a small cup of coffee.
“I change the coffee every hour,” said Culek of the convenience store’s wall of coffee urns. “If I don’t, I hear the complaints.”
The urns brew large quantities of ground coffee — the equivalent of two pots at a time — and are designed to keep the jitter juice warm for long periods. One of the store’s urns is broken, so supplies are tight.
Lined up along the rear wall of the store are three flavors: Pilot house blend, dark blend and 100% Colombian. There also are freshly ground bean-to-cup flavors that cost about a dime more than regular brew.
Matthew Powers, the overnight manager, clocked in on his shift about 15 minutes before midnight Wednesday.
“We go through quite a bit,” said Powers of the coffee and creamers that are Pilot Flying J’s hottest selling commodities, even more than energy drinks.
In the back room, Powers likes to show off big 6-foot tall metal cages stuffed with coffee and creamers. They run through the ground beans so quickly that they schedule deliveries a few times a week.
“We end up going through our urns twice by the time the morning shift starts at 6 a.m.,” he said.
Coffee sales to the hundreds of truckers who pull in are steady overnight from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Business blows up between 4 a.m. to 7 a.m.
“We probably see about 100 fill ups at that time,” Powers said of the narrow window.
“We can go through 15 pounds (a day). We rarely run out,” said Powers who broke down the volume sales metrics by pointing to a box of coffee in the metal cage that holds six bags, each weighing 2 pounds.
The creamer boxes hold 116 ounces of a sweetened, hyped-up version of milk.
‘Only If I Get Sleepy’
Trucker Gilbert Ben stopped at the Pilot Flying J while on a marathon 3,200-mile drive from Emerald, Texas.
He arrived Wednesday afternoon, caught some sleep, then walked into the convenience retail store at Pilot Flying J to grab a large cup of coffee and Gatorade before hitting the road just before midnight.
First on his schedule: Pick up a load of dry ice in the Cheyenne area before driving I-80 across southern Wyoming overnight. Other stops included Wendover, Nevada, and Stockton, California, before returning to Texas.
“I don’t like to drink my coffee all the way, but only if I get sleepy,” said Ben, who said he prefers black over the sugared coffee sold in chain stores. “I’ll be OK now.”
Some truckers don’t get the infatuation with brew.
“I drink green, herbal tea,” said a soft-spoken Luvlin Wahla, a 26-year-old trucker who drives a big rig to pay for her education at the University of Alberta, where she is close to earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
About 11 p.m. Wednesday, Wahla briefly pulled over her 18-wheeler at the Pilot Flying J to walk her dog, Cocoa, before driving on to Oklahoma City.
Wahla claims she doesn’t get tired of driving on long hauls and doesn’t sip brew because she sleeps in a bed in a hotel, never in the cabin of a rumbling truck.
“There’s not enough time to relax in a truck,” she said. “You can’t get a deep sleep.”
Pat Maio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.