Tags

, , , , , ,

Bucket Lists. Wish lists of to-dos before a person dies. It’s the title of a movie from 2007 about a couple of cancer patients that escape their death sentences and check of things they want to do before kicking the bucket. I didn’t have a bucket list—still don’t. I did have an unfinished chapter of my life that I left behind many years ago.

When I met Shorty Sellers he was in his mid to late eighties. He didn’t know how old

he really was; his birth records were destroyed in the Johnstown, PA, flood of 1889. He remembered going to third grade, but not finishing it.  I was eighteen when I met him. I listened to his stories of mule skinning in Oregon and how he finally found his way into trucking. I marveled at pictures he had, especially one of his 1923 Schacht flatbed truck. I loved his stories of hauling freight all over the Eastern States. He had stories to tell and I listened with both ears. I was hooked.

Shorty was some kind of guy. He was educated in Life’s University. He worked hard, was smart, and caught on quickly. Several years before he retired, he left the road to become dispatcher of the freight company for which he’d driven. After retiring he sold his Ohio farm, and headed West. Sadly, I only spent a few years knowing Shorty before he died. It was long enough, however, to pass on to me his love for the road, for trucks, for being a knight on the highways of America. The smell of diesel in the morning. The sound the tires make when kicked. The way it feels to climb into the seat of an eighteen wheeler. The calm of the open road.

Some years later I wrote about Shorty for a writing class at a community college. The title ended up as, Chain-drive wallet and double-clutching boots. What Shorty passed on to me was partially realized during the time I spent in the military. I transferred from my infantry company into a transportation company as a wrecker operator. The wrecker had a fifth wheel and a fifty-five foot drop-bed trailer for hauling vehicles and equipment. I drove other rigs. I made a lot of runs between Camp Roberts, CA, to what is now the National Desert Training Center at Ft. Irwin, CA, in the Mojave Desert. I hauled heavy equipment, mostly. The one thing I didn’t do was drive “over-the-road,” interstate.

I went on to do many things, but there was always, always, that unfinished chapter. Nine years ago, nearing the age of sixty, the time was right. No job. I resurrected the longing for the open road, earned back my commercial driver license, and headed to Tulsa, OK, to haul steel and lumber and other flat-bed freight for Arrow Trucking. I outfitted my Kenworth with an HF radio to operate Amateur Radio, a CB radio to talk to truckers, several boxes of The Road Home, a trucker’s Bibles, and a few boxes of pamphlets that contained daily devotionals.

Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. —Luke 14:23.

Life on the road is tough. It is hard way to earn a living. Most over-the-road drivers spend from six to eight weeks straight away, then return home for a week. Many simply live on the road, taking short breaks here and there. Nothing was easy. Down time is merely waiting time in truck stops. The pay isn’t great, and the road is expensive. And when times are tough, people begin to look for something that they’ve missed, or that’s missed them. Hence, The Road Home trucker’s Bible, and the pamphlets. There are truck stops ministries, and Sunday services in many truck stops, but there is always the need for a personal touch, a person to talk to, someone that understands the road. I don’t pretend to be an evangelist. I was just me offering what I could give. A book or an ear. Or a few words as able. Helping another driver with a load or a tarp. Or being available to all the people I met along the road.

The people I met were mostly just real people doing what they could do. Many were just trying to make it through another hard day, get home to family, and were happy they had pay checks. I remember one night, eating dinner in a truck stop. A waitress slipped on a spill. She hit her elbow hard on a table. I could see the pain in her eyes. I asked if she was alright. She said, “not really, but I can’t stop. I need the job.” I offered aspirin to help the pain. She said that would be nice. I went back out to my truck and brought some back to her.

In East St. Louis, one time, I was stuck in a truck stop for several days awaiting another load. I didn’t like the fast-food restaurant the truck stop offered, and ate food that I stored in my truck. But one evening, I felt I needed to go inside for a while. I got a snack and sat at a table reading. A fellow two tables down was on the phone with his wife. A couple sat quietly reading at another table. A few truckers in another room played video game machines. I noticed the guy that had been talking to his wife put away his phone. I simple got up and picked up my backpack, pulled out The Road Home, and walked up to him and asked him if he’d like a trucker’s Bible.

“Yes. Thank you,” he said. “My wife was just telling me I needed to start reading the Bible.” We spoke briefly with introductions, and that was all that was needed. He was heading out. I went back to my truck. Right time. Right place.

“Thank you, LORD,” I said. “If I don’t drive again, this is what it’s about.”

There were many frustrating days. There was one particularly day in Houston, TX. It seemed like forever that I spent getting unloaded at some manufacturing company. Sometimes you just get the run around. But then I picked up another load without the usual wait time. It was a good, long run, heading out West. I fought with rush hour traffic to get to the shipper before it closed for the day. It was a load of formed pipe and huge valves, stacked on pallets. I’d just strapped down the load, which wasn’t an easy task, when one of the yard crew said there was one more pallet that had been forgotten. By this time I was low on legal operating hours. If I didn’t get out of Houston, I’d be stuck trying to find parking, which in the evening is not easy. Finally, that remaining pallet secured, I poked along in heavy traffic for too long until the road ahead cleared. I picked up speed, dropped into 10th gear, and felt the calm of the open road come over me. I opened the windows and let the stress blow out. That’s the feeling. That’s what I was looking for. To really experience the life over the road, is to find the calm after the storm. The calm of the open road. It was a gift.

“Thank you, LORD,” I said. “If I don’t drive again, this is what it’s about.”

There were more frustrating days. There were also some nerve-wracking days, too: Black ice made winter anything but a wonderland, especially one night on a slow run through South Dakota; snow-covered summits, like Snoqualmie Pass, east of Seattle, WA, and the one near Vale, CO; high winds in Wyoming; and getting caught in rush hour traffic in any of one of American’s megacities. One time, north of Tulsa, I sat in the second lane of an interstate for eight hours while a wreck was cleared miles ahead. There were church youth groups walking up and down the interstate, along the miles of cars and trucks, offering water and snacks to the stranded.

And there were those other times. The “awe” times. It was two in morning and I was heading east through Montana. I pulled off the interstate some sort of wide dirt pull off. It was a clear winter night. The temperature outside read below zero on my mirror gauge. I turned off the lights. I shut down the engine. I stood on the running board—it was just too cold to wander farther—and listened to. . . nothing. Total silence. Not even a breeze. It was the stars that really got to me. The sky wasn’t just filled with light, the band of stars dropped to the horizon all the way around me. And in the distance, below the stars, nothing. No lights. No houses. Nothing. Blackness. Awesome.

“Thank you, LORD,” I said. “If I don’t drive again, this is what it’s about.”

Have you ever heard the song, Wolf Creek Pass, by C.W. McCall? The chorus is:

Wolf Creek Pass, way up on the Great Divide
Truckin’ on down the other side

There are four Wolf Creek Passes in America, I read. I wound my way up a steep highway and to my shock, once at the top, I saw a sign that said, Wolf Creek Pass. How totally cool.

“Thank you, LORD,” I said. “If I don’t drive again, this is what it’s about.”

There’s another song from the 1970s. This one’s by Merle Haggard. It describes the pull of the open road. It describe why truckers do what they do, despite the risk. Here’s the first verse.

White line fever
A sickness born down deep within my soul
White line fever
The years keep flyin’ by like the highline poles

Truckers. Asphalt Cowboys. Knights of the Road.

That unfinished chapter was finished many times as I continued on, always moving on. I admit it was hard to finish the chapter, despite having said many times,

“Thank you, LORD,” I said. “If I don’t drive again, this is what it’s about.”

The fever that is” born deep with my soul” led to meeting some incredible Americans from all over this wonderful country and to experience, finally, what Shorty told me about so many years before. I thank G-d for Shorty Sellers.

Not all chapters of a person’s life are completed, however; many are left unfinished. It was only a few weeks ago that I listened to a preacher speak about the unwritten chapters of our lives. Those are the tragic chapters, he’s said. Those are the things we failed to begin.

Lord Bless, Keep, Shine. . .


The Daily Post Unfinished