Sunday, August 21, 2005

Guest Post: The Lure of the Road

Note: I'm happy to have a guest poster here on Kn@ppster -- my sometimes political opponent, but always cordial fellow blogger, WebLoafer of Sanity's Bluff. Enjoy! -- Kn@ppster

Many of you know I am a diesel truck driver. I could not begin to count the miles I have driven, the places I’ve seen and the people I’ve met as a truck driver.

Have you ever wondered what that semi-truck driver is listening to as you pass his rig, or his rig rolls past you?

For ease of writing I will refer to truckers as male from now on in this article, although I know many fine and talented female truck drivers.

That driver may be listening to one of a thousand songs about the road.

There have been more songs written and sung about the road, and truck driving specifically, than all the songs about doctors, lawyers, nurses, politicians, factory workers, NASCAR drivers and movie stars combined.

Here is a link to a government website that lists songs written about the road. The people who compiled this list say this is only a partial list; they know there are more songs about the road than these Songs about the Road.

Like me, you’ll probably say “our government has way too much time and money on their hands” but this list is great. Probably not worth the money spent compiling it, but you know how government works.

Truck drivers listen to all kinds of music, but in the noisy world he works in, a truck driver wants songs with lyrics he can hear above the roar of the road. That is one of the reasons country music is the staple of most music loving truck drivers. I love country and western music, because I can hear the lyrics. The last thing I would want booming on the speakers of my diesel truck is rap, or some heavy metal band screaming out unintelligible drivel. I might choose to listen to some when not at work, but when I am at work, I have to be able to understand what is being said or sung. Yes, I want to hear words, words I can understand. This is one of the reasons talk radio is so popular with truck drivers. To me, talk radio is how I invite people into my world as I work.

Sometimes it almost seems like Rush Limbaugh is sitting next to me in the passenger seat, talking just to me. [editor's note: Might be a good time to avoid the scales! - Kn@ppster]

Good company of country western singers, and talk experts have helped me compile a remarkable driving record, several million miles of safe driving.

Truck driving gets in your blood, some of the truck driving songs say, I know they speak the truth.
Truck driving can be a lonesome vocation; I know this to be true.

Truck driving will test your nerve and mettle, oh, how I know this to be true.

Truck drivers love their jobs. Yes they may be cranky old men like me when I climb out of the drivers seat, but they love their work. I love driving truck. YET. There is no logical reason anyone should love driving truck, at least not one I can lay my finger on. It is hard work, the pay is not all that great for the constant stress of the road. It is dangerous, very dangerous. A truck driver must be 100% right 100% of the time, or he ends up in the ditch, or piled up against a bridge pillar. And, it is hard on relationships and marriages. I am fortunate to have a dedicated route now, the same 400 miles, 5 days a week and home every night with my family. There are not many vocations that require as much perfection as truck driving. Soldiering would be one equally as demanding, but there aren’t many more. Perhaps that is why truck drivers are sometimes referred to as "Road Warriors."

There is one intangible though, which trumps all of the hardships of the road. It is the Lure of the Road.

The lure of the road became apparent in my life at the early age of fifteen, almost sixteen. That is when me and my friend, Jerry took to the road. Yes we thought we were ready to head down the road, and remove ourselves from parental control. There was a "Youth for Christ" rally every Saturday evening that Jerry and I were required by our parents to attend. A bus picked us up and took us to the auditorium where the rally took place. It was very easy to skip out of the rally and sneak back on the bus later when the rally was over. We did this many times, got caught and punished a few times, but this night 43 years ago, Jerry and I, decided to run away from home. Somehow we obtained ten Rum Soaked Crooks and we figured this would be all we needed to get to California.

We walked for several hours until we spotted train tracks. We both joyfully spoke “we’re on our way now.” We hid in the darkness and watched what was going on. We decided to leap up into a boxcar that was headed west. This was a reckless dangerous plan, but we were young. Somehow we both safely held onto the side of the boxcar at the open door and vaulted up into the boxcar. Yes we were finally on our way.

But we had no idea we had chosen to jump a freight train in a large switching yard of the Union Pacific Railroad. The trains were going slow, but not very far. We knew something was wrong when the train switched directions and headed back east. We jumped out of the boxcar and waited for another westbound train. It wasn’t long until a long line of hopper cars rolled towards us. We decided to jump onto one of them, I jumped the ladder on the front of the hopper and Jerry jumped the same hopper at the other ladder.

We both made the leap safely and climbed to the top of the ladder, and there it was! Coal, hard, dark, dirty coal. By this time we were tired and starting to get scared, but we wouldn’t talk of such things out loud. We both lit a cigar and fell asleep talking about California. I was sure that when the sun came up, we would be almost to California. It was not to be! Like I said it was a switching yard. I don’t know which of us realized our mistake first, but it became apparent that we had goofed, so we decide to jump off of the train and walk to a nearby highway where we would then hitch (bum) a ride to California. By this time it must have been well after midnight and there was not much traffic on the road, but we headed for the highway. Standing there in the chill of the morning, things didn’t look too promising. One or two cars passed us by, but finally a big diesel truck and trailer pulled over and we ran toward it. The driver got out of the rig and started asking us questions. Questions like, “what are you two young boys doing out here in the middle of nowhere hitching rides?” “We’re headed for California” we said, and the driver answered, “Jump up in the cab, boys.” He actually never said he would take us down the road on our way to California, and he did the wise thing and drove us to the nearest police station. The great trip to California was over, and we both were in lots of trouble at home.

The short ride that night, in the semi truck was like heaven to me, the headlights beaming down the road, the gauges and switches glowing in the cab, and the noise, yes the noise of the rig was glorious to me. I think I remember the song, ‘I’ve been everywhere,’ by Hank Snow filling the cab of that diesel truck on that fateful morning.

I was hooked on the road, at a very young age and have been on the road since then.

By the time I was 18, I had made my mind up to follow in the steps of Jack Kerouac and head to places unknown somewhere down the highway.

I have a wealth of memories from the days of my youth. Dropping out of college, hitchhiking like my heroes, Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac. For many years I would emulate either Jack or Neal, and lived on the road. Now as I look back upon those years of my life, I realize I was headed down the road to a sad ending, just like Jack Kerouac.

During these "beat years," later known as "hippie" years of my life, I rode in a lot of diesel trucks. I have lost all my journals, but I know I crisscrossed this great land at least 40 times with only the use of my thumb. Every time a truck stopped for me and anyone else I was traveling with, I found myself envying the driver. But, I knew truck driving took dedication, and I was not ready at that time to be reliable.

Truck Driving helped save me from a dead-end path, and has provided me with a comfortable life for over 3 decades. No wonder I like Truck driving songs.

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