By John Latta
There’s this trucker named Hank. We shared a table one day, but I never knew his last name. Never asked.
He wasn’t that old, late 30s maybe, but he’d been driving most of his working life, he said, when we got to talking at a truckstop on I-65 in southern Tennessee. He was a big feller with a haystack of light brown hair, rugged type, check shirt, jeans, cowboy boots, ostrich I think. We broke the ice by smiling about how we both chose the chicken-fried steak lunch and got to talking.
“You’re an editor? You like it?”
“I don’t think I’d try that.”
He looked blank for a moment, thought about it and told me. He spoke slowly, thoughtfully I suppose you could call it, and he dropped most of his ‘g’s.
“Mostly because I’d feel like I should be back here doin’ this. You know that feelin’ you get that you’re not really doing what you were cut out for.”
I recognized the feeling.
“I didn’t always feel like this. There were a lot of years when I think I really hated the drivin’ life.”
“Well. Drivin’s always been pretty much the only thing I’ve known how to do, at least to do really well. But for years I was angry at myself for just drivin’ to make ends meet and not being out there trying to do what I’d dreamed of doing. I’d always wanted – now this’ll sound like the darndest thing but it’s true – I’d always wanted to be an actor. No, really. I mean, that’s what got me through high school, dreamin’ of moving to Los Angeles after I graduated.”
But instead, for a number of reasons, Hank went into the family business: trucking. He drove locally, then regionally, then all 48.
“A couple of times, well, it was four actually, I quit and went to L.A. The last time I was already married. Family said I should try it. My wife, too. But I never got far. I went to actin’ school and drove delivery trucks. All I got was half a dozen scenes as an extra that didn’t do or say anything and a few little bitty parts in commercials. It was pretty discouragin’. I mean, I knew it was gonna be tough, but that didn’t make it any less disappointin’.”
Hank went back to long-haul trucks full time after his last shot at acting fame fizzled. But he didn’t let go of the dream.
And that was the problem.
“It took me a long time to work it out. Actually my wife worked it out for me. You see, being an actor wasn’t a dream. It was really a sort of excuse, I suppose you could say. When I was drivin’, strugglin’ to make more money, not home enough, missin’ my wife, stuck in traffic or arguin’ with a DOT man, I always had in the back of my mind, ‘I’m gonna get out of this, chase the dream. I don’t need these hassles.’ And as long as I could do that, I never really had to face the day and handle it. Believin’ that in the end I was an actor, not a trucker let me just scowl my way through the day, cussing at the bad stuff the truckin’ life threw at me and doing nothing about it. You follow this?”
I certainly did.
“Now my wife, she finally set me straight. She made me see that I actually have what I want. I own my truck, make a good living, love my family, love to drive and enjoy the work. I mean, it’s a flatbed – you have to love it to choose to do that, right? Acting was a kind of crutch. When something went wrong, I could lean on it. Sort of like saying, ‘Why should I care?’ things like that. And I’d say ‘But man, when I’m an actor, things will be different, I’ll be different, I’ll give it everything I’ve got, not like this job.’ But finally, I saw it. It was like my wife had pulled the covers off something and there it was.
“It took gettin’ used to. I came the long way ’round, but these days I enjoy my work and who I am, and I don’t want to do anything else. You must know people like that.”
Oh yes. I surely do. Intimately.