By John Latta
I run into too many loners who make their living behind the wheel. They’re like the cowboy who rides remote fences for a living so he can live apart from the world. The “don’t fence me in I’m not someone who can be tied down I don’t care” kind of guys.
Some years ago I wrote something for my wife. It had to do with commitment. I wrote that she was the anchor I swung round. It was built on an image from my childhood. There was an estuary behind our house where fishing boats swung back and forth at anchor as the tides and winds moved them.
What I was telling my wife is that whatever happened to me, I was committed to her. However far up or down I went, I was like a big, colorful kite flying around excitedly in the wind, dramatically, hurtling earthwards toward disaster then soaring back up into the heavens. Or, most days, simply floating and coasting in the breeze. All the time, I told her, you were on the ground at the other end of the line. And I hope sometimes I took hold of the string and let her fly wildly through the sky.
I hear some of you saying that a line is a tether. Wouldn’t you be better off totally free of that rope? I don’t think so. Truth is I’m the kite’s pilot, and the kite will go where I tell it to go and do some amazing things if I have the courage. But it is the line that helps me make the dramatic moves instead of just blowing away out of control, destined to crash.
This driving life can make it easy to be an uncommitted drifter, the sort of unattached renegade overly relied on by television and movies. Music, too, I suppose. There’s an American iconography about him. He’s been around since film began. In reality, before Hollywood rewrites him, he’s almost certainly not a very happy guy. Why he really does what he does may be an ugly story. He’s a myth, yet we put him on our T-shirts and bedroom wall posters when we’re young.
It’s too easy to say that life on the road makes it hard to commit to something or someone. It’s also too easy to walk away when you see some sort of commitment may be in your future. Somebody who needs you is not an impediment to the freewheelin’ life of the interstate. A family that needs you to commit to be the glue that keeps them together is not a hindrance to your life. A friend who will lose his way without you to guide him doesn’t make you “soft.” Having a home with photos of people you love on the wall doesn’t make you weak. These commitments don’t tarnish your tough-guy-on-the-road credentials. Not to us who meet you. Because you aren’t that loner in that movie and I’m not a kite that can defy gravity without that line.
Sometimes I think the loners who run away to sea in the trucking industry find caring and committing scarier than too fast downhill overheated brakes nighttime black ice jackknifing. Being a trucker is about the toughest job you could want to do, and you’re no less a road warrior if you have MAMA tattooed on your chest than if you wear ME AGAINST THE #$%^&* WORLD or HELLBOUND AND PROUD OF IT.
I know truckers who are devoted family men, who enjoy playing with little children, sipping sweet tea with grandmothers on porches or helping a buddy out of an embarrassing situation. They know they are as good behind the wheel as any other man, and they don’t let their commitments to women, children and friends embarrass them. Most people they know think of them as real truckers, the best of the breed.
Hardness not only stops the outside getting in, it stops the inside getting out. The HELLBOUND loner behind the wheel opts to control his environment by shutting all of it out rather than daring to be someone who might get hurt on occasion. Maybe take small steps. Maybe begin by joining the Trucker Buddy outfit and becoming committed to a group of school kids who will start to depend on your letters and visits. Wait until you see how good that feels. The rest is history.