When It All Started

Roger Clark
July 2020

 I started my trucking career in 1978 the way we all did back then. The agency manager of a Minneapolis moving company casually tossed me a set of keys.

“These belong to a Ford cabover out back,” he said, “hooked up to a 40-foot furniture van loaded for Dallas. Be there Monday morning!”

Hardly a thing of beauty, the cab was a square steel box with a faded blue paint job. Powered by 220 Cummins and shifted with a 5/2 tranny, it doubtless would have cowered at the sight of a mountain grade. But then, I would have too! 

It had no power anything, no air conditioning, no chrome, and no carpet. It did have a sit-down sleeper, wedged behind the seats, with a mattress stolen from the county jail. But it also had my name on the door, and so I was sitting tall in its non-air ride driver’s seat.

 There was no orientation class back then, and not even CDLs. There were no DOT physicals, no drug tests, and no serious background checks. If you could work, then you would drive. And there was no ten-year record of employment. If there had been, they would have learned I was a teenager in reform school. 

Now days, of course, professional drivers are inspected, injected, rejected, and dejected at record rates, but that’s a good thing. There is still rampant job-hopping, drug abuse, and alcohol-fueled domestic violence within our fraternal brotherhood, but now we’re universally regarded, respected, arrested, and detentioned.

 Once a year or so, like the rest of you, I’ve been on the scene of some kind of trauma. It’s usually a crash, often with injuries, and occasionally with road rage. It’s why I carry a trauma kit and keep a defensive uh, tool close by at all times. 

Like you, I’ve been a witness—and victim—of domestic abuse, truckstop scams, and rookies who don’t know which end of the truck is the front. We’ve all waded through snowdrifts, mudslides, and road trash to render aid, comfort, anger, or advice. It’s the human condition, and often we don’t know if we’re the statue, or the birds.

 By 1990 the winds of change included NAFTA, Jake Brakes, Deregulation, and the World Wide Web. Cabovers were out, satellite tracking was in, and Rush Limbaugh was on. But none of us knew the world would end until the arrival of Y2K. 

When Y2K came and went, without computers crashing and airplanes falling out of the sky, the federal government knew it was time to find creative ways to mess with our lives. Thus, was born the TSA, something called gaming, and reality TV, which is as far from real as the news is from honest. Then came the emergence of real world leaders, like Gabriel Iglesias, AKA Fluffy, and Jeff Dunham, AKA Achmed The Dead Terrorist. 

 Yet the more things change, the more they stay the same. Fellow travelers on America’s highways glance wistfully at our rigs, when they look up from their cellphones in terror, and beggars standing on get-on ramps still check theirs for text messages. Smokey Bear is still a good friend to most truckers, but who of us doesn’t look back in the mirrors till we’re over the hill.

Speaking of being over the hill, I’m old enough now to tell you how to drive, but young enough to make the same mistakes myself all over again. I know, because I get a friendly dash-cam reminder from the Safety Department about once a month or so. “Just because you’re not paranoid”, my father used to say, “doesn’t mean you ain’t being followed!”

 You can find Roger Clark on Twitter, or at ALikelyStoryBlog.com