“Why are we here?”
The Existential Trucker
by Miles Moore
Humans have been asking this question since we figured out that there are other places TO be. Other planets. Other galaxies far, far away, other dimensions and so forth. According to the lovely woman who serves as my love interest, that’s called “existentialism”. That’s a mighty long word for something that means “why am I here?”. But I have to brag on my future wife a little. You see, she went all the way through a big city junior college right here in Oklahoma, so she’s a high intellectual. I can’t compete with that.
So, I guess what I’m going to concentrate on here is the lingering question of why I am here. Me personally, that is.
Why am I writing this book, in this period of my life when a lot of people are thinking about retiring? And why am I doing it with a paltry 600,000 miles ? That few ticks of the odo would be considered something akin to apprentice level in a respectable career full of tough professionals.
Why, indeed …
Well, I reckon it’s because of what Garth Brooks might call, a chain of events. I myself had the great opportunity to go to a very fine school. With a LOT of help from my wonderful parents, I worked my way through as a waiter, a pizza parlor worker, an auto parts counter man and a beer delivery driver. Got myself an education in journalism, and that afforded me a living as a new graduate with a beginning salary of just under $13,000. A year. Yeah, it was nothing those decades ago either. So I continued my career as a freelance writer, working many “Joe Jobs”, doing the tour through retail, food service, servicing cars, mopping bars and doing whatever I could find until my ship came in. Unfortunately, few “ships” came to port for the middle class during Reagan-omics. Even if / when mine did, I was probably hanging out at the bus station.
So, in the words of the great Ernest T. Bass, ” First one thing, then another happened,” and life kept on a’goin’.
For awhile I continued wandering through the service industry, then landed in a job teaching high school English to the Hillbilly masses. It was a wonderful, horrible, thankless job that I will never forget. I could never return to it, but I wouldn’t trade it for another career with half the heartache. But after several years and a heart attack at age 45, I decided it might be time to get away from people for awhile. Where could I work where I wouldn’t have to deal with people much? Where could I put in my dozen hours a day, at once working hard, but also not having to work with those who would drive me crazy… ?
After several weeks of doing what you’ve been doing, (we’ll come back to that again later), Trucking seemed the best answer. So I took my remaining summer pay and enrolled in a truck driving school well known for its asshole instructors and their coarse-but-effective courses. This locus of higher lernin’ was located on an abandoned WWII air base, surrounded by a sprawling inland ocean of ancient Arkansas bayous. Local commerce depended upon welfare and controlled dangerous substances, but since before Abolition, it had been gerrymandered with vast expanses of top grade river bottom land. The great slave drivers of the day turned that black dirt into cotton fields, and meandering rice paddies situated cleverly among the never-dry backwaters. It’s big there today as well. Well, they get a lot of good from the recreation it brings there too. When the smooth-mouthed locals get bored with hunting, fishing and tattooing NRA slogans on each other’s faces, they take to the wetlands for date nights with Thelma Lou. A classy night time activity consists of a mass wade-out among the ancient Goliath cypresses. The ones who don’t get too drunk or drown stick around to chastise the coach whip sized cotton mouths and cook meth. I’ll spare you the real name of that gleaming burg.
Glen Campbell and Mary Steenburgen are claimed to admitting to it being home for some reason. But those good country folk ain’t the area’s most impressive natural product. This caca hole should be red marked on the map for having the biggest skeeters this side of the Mekong Delta. Seriously. The local city handlers had hired contractors who drove around every evening fogging the air for the gigantic bloodsucking bastards, but it seemed to do little good. I think the really tough ones snorted the bug tonic before eating the littler ones. Late at night when traffic died down you can hear them droning all over the bayou; plotting and scheming to overthrow humanity. Monsters.
It should be said that no one needs to consider a career with a CDL unless you’ve been through a reputable trucking school. You’re going to learn a great deal about the industry into which you’ve thrown yourself, and the people who are taking a chance on hiring you. Those very folks are going to insist that you pass a trucking school because they probably can no longer insure you without it. Some of the better companies will send you to school themselves if you sign a contract of indenturement. This means you agree to work for them for a period of a year or two after you’ve graduated in exchange for them paying for your schooling. That helps to make sure that they get drivers who will stick with them for at least until they burn out and quit, or decide that this life is for them forever. It’s really a good deal for both sides, but you need to shop around. The Captain and Tenille were right. Before your time, eh? I could have said Neil Sedaka.
Anyhow… go to trucking school. Don’t Eeeven try to get a driving job without it. They won’t even talk to you and you’ll just wind up embarassing yourself. It’s well worth your time, and it’s a month that you’ll never forget.
I’ll get to a more detailed account of my own experiences as a student trucker later down the road. Pun intended. But right now, it’s back to the “why am I here” part.
How does anyone come to be a trucker? I suppose its within us all to want to be in one of the big rigs, booming across the nation in the biggest thing on the highway. What we see is a gleaming land train full of potential, and the freedom to do what we want. Why are we so fascinated with trucks anyway? It’s my guess that it’s a further extension of man’s relationship with the great beasts. Thousands of years before machinery, it was oxen, asses and horses of every imaginable type. Hannibal crossed the Alps on elephants. And when Christ came to town, He rode on a donkey colt. Once Hank Ford came on the scene, he made cars affordable, then trucks of every needed size right behind them. Two world wars perfected the engineering of our petroleum fed work hosses , then a legion of geniuses from Cummins, Caterpillar and Detroit honed the diesel engine into the work horses of our day. The love we hold for our steel beasts of burden is the stuff of legend and lore. We each have our favorites, but we worship them all, whether they are our pocket sized Toyotas, Grampa’s rattle trap 59 Chevy, or the titanically lifted four wheel drive monstrosities that the 1980s brought us. We groom them, wash them, feed and water them well. We keep them shod with the finest rubber, covered in expensive stable-like garages and put only the highest grade fuels in their tanks to enhance their performances. The greatest difference between our mechanical beasts today and those of our forebears is that we don’t have to feed ours every day if we don’t use them, and they’ll last basically until the end of time if we just keep them greased, oiled and in the barn.
Hell, chances are good that they’ll even out last the barn.
We are here at least in part due to that love for the great beasts that is somehow part of our human DNA; a symbiosis of purpose since pre-prehistoric times. But this time we’ve come back to this partnership through need; not because we have to have one of them in our lives – no.
This time we’re doing it mostly… because Truck Driving is Easy.
Miles Moore is a second generation trucker whose grandfathers never had a driver’s license. Neither of them. He is addicted to diesel smoke, fried foods and the smell of new rubber truck tires on a waxed showroom floor.