Many years ago, my friend Cathy Sherman told me, “Our neighborhood is 3,000 miles wide.” Back then, it wasn’t like it is today, with our cell phones and instant information world. If you got to run with friends, it was probably planned. Friendships were made, and it was tougher to keep in touch if you didn’t have similar runs or times that you knew you would all be in the same place at about the same time. For all the bad things that Facebook can be, I would like to focus on some of the good things it can help make happen. When it comes to truck drivers, it’s helped many friends I know reconnect and stay in touch.
Trucking always has been and always will be a lifestyle – not just a job. Old drivers totally understand this, and the new drivers just starting out will learn it better the more years they spend on the road. An experience that happened to me recently made me think about the odds of it all coming together the way it did. First, we met our friend Su Schmerheim in the driver’s lounge at Kenworth in Tulsa. After exchanging numbers, a great friendship has come from that meeting.
Last fall, John Jaikes and I were both loading in Crete, IL about 1.5 miles from where Su’s horse was competing at a U.S. Arabian & Half Arabian Sport Horse Nationals. We were able to watch Jesse’s top 15 performance out of 40 horses entered, and meet Su’s trainer, Ariel Filonczuk, as well. Fast forward, and here is where I really started to think about the odds of all this happening.
Ariel recently told Su about some books her grandfather Jack Thiessen had put together in the late 90s and 2000s. Each book is a bound compilation of the Truck Stop Travel Plaza magazine for each year – 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2000. I’m not sure what happened to 1999, but it wasn’t there. Ariel’s grandfather Jack was the editor for this publication back then, and I can remember picking those magazines up at the truck stops. This was the magazine for NATSO, which stood for the National Association of Truck Stop Owners.
Ariel brought the books with her to the barn when she was going to meet Su a day before Su and I had planned to meet in Michigan. As Su started flipping through the pages, she saw an article that I wrote back in 1997. Talking on the phone, she asked me who else might have wrote back then. She said that there were articles that my dear friend Bette Garber had written. I said, “The Silver Fox, Pete Rigney, is he in there?” She turned a few pages and found that he contributed regularly. I said, “How about Dave Sweetman?” A few more pages and there was a story he did about a MATS show back in 2000. Then, Su thought it was getting a little creepy.
The next day, I got to flip through history I’d lived. Seeing those pages brought back a flood of memories, and I was like, “How could this be?” Su and I met at a random truck shop, our freight couldn’t be any more different, and here her horse trainer’s grandfather was the editor of the Truck Stop Travel Plaza, a magazine I wrote for at one point, and she ended up with this cool collection of books, which included some of my old articles, because of her connection to trucking. It was cool, but weird.
The odds of something weird like this happening again, less than a week later, when John Jaikes friended Robert Budzik, is even stranger. John and I were running together, and I made a comment about being hungry. He asked if Long John Silver’s sounded good, and I told him yes, yes it does. When we stopped, there was a young man videoing John as he rolled into the truck stop in Upper Sandusky, OH. I told John to look at a cool T2000 which had straight pipes running up the back of the bunk and, believe it not, it was the young man that John had just friended a couple hours earlier. We were actually able to sit down and have supper with him, but then it was time to roll on across Ohio.
On the east side of Akron, Robert told us, “Something bad happened to my truck,” so he pulled over on the shoulder. John and I turned around and went back the three miles to see if we could help. There was nothing we could do – he had dropped a valve with under 12,000 miles on an overhaul. But then I found out that he is good friends with Art Czajkowski, a 10-4 Magazine contributor, that writes the “The Spirit of the American Trucker” column each month for the magazine.
The other day I posted a picture of what I called a “humpy bridge” in Pennsylvania, and my beautiful friend Emily Wolford called me and asked, “Where are you?” When I told her that I was at the TA in Harrisburg, she nearly screamed that she was at the TA in Harrisburg, too! It didn’t take long for us to find each other and have a wonderful visit. Had I not posted that picture, we might have been so close but not known it, and not had the chance to visit.
When you think about all the miles we travel, some of the connections we make are pretty incredible. Last year I was talking with Cathy Sherman while she was driving her little camper van back from California. We were both in Wisconsin, as she was almost home, and it worked out that we could have lunch at a little 50s diner she knew.
One day when I was riding with John, I saw this camera with a nice lens that had a polarizer on it hanging out the passenger window of the truck passing us. I made a comment about it to John, how it reminded me of Bette Garber. Then, I got an instant message from Shannon Royce through Facebook, that says, “I see you!” We got to stop at the Petro in Richmond, IN and finally meet Shannon and Greg in person, after being friends on Facebook for a few years.
At the 2018 Mid-America Truck Show we met Warren Aitken – a driver and photographer from Australia. I wrote about Warren in my May 2018 Trucker Talk column. His night truck photography is amazing! Last year, Warren and his father-in-law flew to Chicago and then drove to Walcott to attend the Truckers Jamboree there, get some awesome night shots, and do a few interviews for the magazine he writes for back home.
After the show, we got together and took a little day trip to Dubuque, IA and then took a drive to Dyersville where we got to visit “The Field of Dreams” from the movie of the same name! Warren had watched the movie the week before, and never could have imagined he’d be visiting the famous baseball diamond the very next week. I lived 70 miles from there for many years but had never been there before. If you do go, I recommend that you go in the summer, when the corn is tall (see photos).
After going to the Field of Dreams, we visited Bellevue State Park, which overlooks the Mighty Mississippi and the little town of Bellevue, along with a lock and dam. To travel all the way from Australia to Iowa and be wowed by a few sites was pretty awesome, and I was super happy to be Warren and his father-in-law’s tour guide for the day.
You never know when you will be able to meet up with someone in our “neighborhood” – be it someone you’ve never met in person, or someone you’ve known for years. Make the most of these opportunities, for they are how you make a memory out of every mile.
And for the new drivers out here, it will never be like it was when a lot of us started decades ago. But one day, in the not-so-distant future, it will be 20 years from now, and who knows what trucking will be like then. Hold on to the things you treasure most, because when you look back on those “things” from 20 years ago, they will have become your priceless memories. And the odds of that happening are pretty high!