By Dennis Mitchell
Tell us another story old timer! Hey, who you calling an old timer? I ain’t that old yet, but if I keep working on it, I’ll get there someday. I started my March 2021 article last month talking about teaching the next generation some tips for successful driving. I had more I wanted to say, but there is a limit to space, so I will try to carry my thread through this month. You can always read the first part, titled Concrete Classroom, on the 10-4 Magazine website (www.tenfourmagazine.com/2021/03/veteran-view/concrete-classroom/).
All of us use the Internet today to find information of all sorts. Mostly we try to find facts about some place or someone. Dispatch likes to text us a name of the shipper and a time to be there for our next load – the rest is up to the driver to figure out. So, grab the cell phone and start searching. Let’s see, we know who they are and where they are, but what’s the best way to get there? Now where did I put that GPS unit? Even with all this information available, we still don’t get the lesson or the knowledge we seek. Why not… isn’t this the age of information? The average 10-year-old has more book smarts than I think I had when I graduated from high school. So, what am I missing, then?
Book smarts will only take a person so far. After that, you are going to need ability, and with ability you should gain experience. Often in trucking these two things come the other way around. Most of us don’t think twice about starting a job we are not qualified to do. A good example would be if a tanker driver dropped his/her trailer and hooked up to a flatbed. Pulling a skateboard isn’t much different than their original trailer, right? True, but what about the loading and securement process? I bet all of us have pinched our fingers or bumped our head the first time we used a cheater pipe or threw straps over a load to tie it down. “Don’t forget your hard hat, driver!”
There is something to be said for hand and eye coordination. First you experience a misfortune (pinched fingers or a bump on the hat rack) and through the process of saving yourself, you find a better way and, thus, the road to ability is much easier. Now, if we were common folks, we would just chalk all this up to “That’s truckin!” – but, sadly, we are not common, we are special. So, give me a minute to dance around holding my head with one hand and looking dumbfounded at the two fingers on my other hand that are quickly changing from pink to purple! Just for the record, no drivers were harmed or injured during the writing of this article. The bandage on my hand is from spilled coffee, which happened when I was telling my buddy about the experience. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it! For now, at least.
Everyone loves a good story. Some are true and some are, well, let’s just say trucker tales. Riding up and down the interstate all day gives me plenty of time to spin a yarn or two. People ask me where I get all these fables from? Well, they are all highway highlights, and some are stories I hear on the CB radio. If you don’t have a CB, then I strongly recommend you purchase one and learn how to use it. It is undoubtedly the voice of transportation and the key to your safety as a driver. Many of the huge pile ups we have seen this winter could have been avoided if drivers were able to alert one another early enough to STOP! Plus, it is great fun chasing those large cars and trying to keep up with their BS.
Some of my stories are things I make up while watching life happen. How many of you see something funny on Facebook (don’t forget to join 10-4 Magazine’s group on Facebook – the Lounge) and then try to describe it to someone else? That’s how many of these “trucker tales” first get started. For example, a driver might see an accident on the highway and starts to figure out what might have gone wrong or how it could have been avoided. The more he thinks about it, the more information the driver will be able to piece together. Sometimes, all the info is not available, so we throw in some unknown variables on our own. Add circumstances like weather, wind, traffic, construction, or maybe just a rough road to see how it plays out in our head. Now, two or three drivers may have seen the same event, and when they get together at the truck stop, things can really get mixed up.
If you ask twenty drivers the same question, you might get twenty different answers. They may all be good answers, just from a different approach or angle. That’s the benefit of a driver’s lounge or an area for drivers only. It is a place that lets us drivers be, well, you know, drivers (away from the watchful eyes of law enforcement and the public). That area is fast dwindling since the small truck stops are closing their doors and their parking lots. I once sat in on an advisory board with the owner of Uncle Pete’s Truck Stop in Lebanon, TN and he told me if drivers didn’t stop shopping at the big box stores and eating out of their sleepers, he and many like him would soon be forced to close.
Fortunately, Uncle Pete and his truck stop have survived, at least for now, but many other small truck stops have not been so lucky, closing their doors, and then quietly slipping into trucking’s history books. Those parking lots are expensive to maintain, and that trash doesn’t go away on its own. Keep that in mind the next time you can’t find parking at 10:00 PM and you see chains across the driveway with five acres of vacant space. Note: I never stop and use someone’s restroom without buying something from their store – ever!
For those of you who still wonder how we survived back in the day, it’s not too late to experience a taste. Have you ever stopped at the old 49er Truck Stop and RV Park in Livingston, KY? If not, then you are in for a treat, because that place is from way back when. They always have a western movie playing on the TV in the dining room, there’s only a few tables out front, and the menu is printed on a sheet of plain white paper, but their beans and cornbread are killer. The television shows kinda fit the people who stop there, and I keep waiting for Marshall Dillon from Gunsmoke (James Arness) to walk in with his spurs jingling and a six-shooter on his hip. Most of the drivers who stop there are from back in coal country, or they are folks like me who take life at a slower pace. If you’re not sure where coal country is, you’re in luck. Down here, folks will all tell you the same thing: “It’s over the hill a piece, and two or three hollers past that. You can’t get lost, but if you do, follow an empty dump truck!”
A local driver named Tom came in one day and I noticed he was limping quite badly. Since I knew him to be a regular at the round table, I did not hesitate to ask about it. I thought he would tell me some hair-raising story about driving on the goat trails they call roads down there. A good-natured man, Tom has been driving since they retired the last set of mules hitched to a wagon. He’s always reminding young drivers to “Slow down on the curves,” and, “Never pin it to win it on the upside of the hill.” The locals like to kid travelers, telling them the only flat spot in Kentucky was imported by Caterpillar, then delivered on two yellow tracks and a flat blade.
So many of the old drivers will greet ya with a hearty “hello” and, when they are parting, always leave you with some words of wisdom. A driver just has to listen to what these old timers are saying. My favorite is when someone states the obvious, like, “Don’t mind what’s behind you, cuz it’s what’s in front that will hurt ya!” Oh yea, back to my friend, Tom! I asked him again, “What did you do to your foot? If you don’t mind telling me.” He didn’t seem to mind, since he is a good-natured hand with a quick wit, to boot. Tom looks at me for a minute, pulls on his trousers leg, then he stamps his good foot on the floor, looking around to see if everyone was watching. He takes his hat off and, scratching his head, starts his story.
“Well, young man, it’s like this. I been working up in these hills all my life…” I start to zone out on this part of his story, but I am mesmerized by the slow rolling twang in his voice. Until he gets to the part where I hear, “and that’s when the problem started. You see sir, my brother fell off the front porch at his girlfriend’s house when his wife called on the cell phone, yep, and broke his arm! So, he called me to run him to the local doctor down at the feed store. That’s where he, the doctor, works for chicken feed.” Since I’m not sure what I’m hearing, I zone out again… and just like that, ol’ Tom says, “You keeping up with me, son?” But before I can answer, he says, “Now about this limp.” I’m still not too sure Tom wasn’t pulling my leg. He winked and said, “So you see, I put a stone in my shoe to remind me to walk backwards.” I still chuckle at that story, remembering that not all trucker tales are true, and some are told just to see if you’re actually listening.
These little snippets are commonly referred to as driver stories, and some of them will start with, “Hey buddy, you ain’t gonna believe this…” If it started with once upon a time, then you would have known it’s a fairy tale. I never tire of hearing these stories or trucker tales. Every driver who repeated it adds a little something extra to it, giving the tale a personal touch. After a while, the story becomes so crazy and outlandish that you know it’s not true, but somewhere in it is a kernel of truth. The drivers table was an excellent place to fetter out that kernel. The old hands were our sounding boards, and most of all, our mentors. Those drivers, no matter their age, have driven the same roads we drive today and fought all kinds of highway demons. Most of them lived to tell about it, but for those who didn’t, well, we can find a lesson in there, too.
New drivers are often afraid to approach a seasoned driver for fear of being chastised. Just because you don’t know the answer to a problem doesn’t mean you are dumb. Dumb is when you don’t ask, and someone gets hurt, or worse. Even us old hands don’t have all the answers individually, that’s why the round table is helpful. Often, just talking to a veteran helps. Any one of us can be smart, but together we can be brilliant.
The art of conversation is getting lost in our industry, so tonight when you stop to eat, find a place that has a real sit-down restaurant and make a friend. Brush up on your CB lingo… 10-4? I will be 10-10 (standing by) here at the truck stop. My favorite 10-20 (location) is still the Petro and T/A Truck Stops because of their large parking lots. You have a ten-hour break, so use it. Put down the cell phone and turn off Facebook, unless, of course, it is Friday night and you are watching JT (John Testa) on his weekly live broadcast on the Ten Four Magazine Facebook page (or on YouTube). Then, after his program, enjoy your meal with someone new. Introduce yourself as if you are at a party: “Hi, I’m Dennis, and I drive for a small company.” You will never know when you can be the spark that ignites a great friendship.
All of us have had experiences in our lives – who knows, maybe one day you will be the one giving advice. It’s that time of day, and I’m going inside to meet a new friend at the driver’s table. I’m going 10-10 my CB friend. I wonder if they have chocolate cake and ice cream in here? Until next time, I’m waving a big hand at you, 10-4.