Thieves Like Us

Apples are nice clean freight. You can put them in a vented trailer and haul them pretty much anywhere. You can put onions in a covered wagon, but they can rot on you, especially the ones on the bottom. And watermelons will rot quicker than roadkill. You can be unloading melons in New Haven you brought from Immokalee down in the Florida swamp, and they will just explode from rot and pelt you. Onions stink and mush up but won’t normally attack. With onions the man in Brooklyn doesn’t want them, and what are you going to do with 17 bags of rotten onions? But apples, apples are nice little round fruit with names like Granny Smith and Delicious and Winesap. Some onions have names, Vidalia for one, but as far as I know watermelons are watermelons.

On the other hand, you can get yourself in trouble delivering any kind of produce just because produce markets are rough places. Maybe not as bad as, let’s say, Fulton Fish Market in the City, where all the dock hands walk around with big, long, shiny, curved steel hooks over their left shoulders, kind of like pirates, dragging boxes of fish off trucks with those big hooks that could just as well grab you if they didn’t like the cut of your jib. Tough guys. Give your jib a new cut in a heartbeat. At least you know who they are, and there’s no question about who does what on the street. Other places, a hand can run into shady characters and not even know it until the sun comes up. They can be slick like the man who got me to give him a 50 in Detroit and said he would be back in the morning with two lumpers to get me unloaded. I figured he was for real. He was inside the locked produce yard and had the rap down. You know the rest.

Well, a man like that is just a thief. No hook over his shoulder, just a smile and a handshake. The fish men will get you unloaded a little faster if you float some cash or make you wait forever if somebody else has more to spend. Their game is intimidation, even if it’s unspoken. They just look like you would want to be as cooperative as possible. The scale master in Mississippi will let you roll even if your ground pressure’s high if you let him take home a few melons for the kids. That’ll get your weight just about legal. His thing is to use the law as a cover for his watermelon habit. Of course, it probably would have cost you more if you hadn’t wanted to part with those melons. Anyway, it all boils down to thievery, except in the case of the honest scale master who won’t take your melons. He’ll let the state take your money legal-like. One way or the other, they’ve got your money.

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Believe it or not, there are truck drivers who will steal from you. They’ll take your new LEDs unless you’ve got the tamper-proof screws. They’ll steal your chains, anything that’s not locked up. It’s kind of like stealing from family in my book. You expect it from con men and dockhands – people who just naturally see drivers as marks. But it is lowdown for one driver to make it harder for another to do his job and cost him hard cash out of greed or laziness. Some will even get you in a shell game, take your money, pack up their card table and hit the road before you can figure out how stupid you’ve been. Happened to me in Missouri once.

I figure a thief is a person who believes there is only room for one point of view in the world and that point of view is his. For a thief there is only one side to the story. And that story is his. He can take your toolbox or your tarps and justify it by saying he needs it for himself, like he is the only person on the face of the planet. Of course there are plenty of people, plenty of truck drivers, who think they are the only ones who have figured out what the truth is. There is only one side to the story, and that story is the one they have always believed, and nothing will change their minds, not even new or better information. You can show them they’re wrong with facts, and they will just keep on believing the way they do, as if nobody but them has any idea of what is right and what is wrong. In a way, this is robbery. It robs you of your validity as a person. Instead of your toolbox the person who knows it all takes your identity.

On the load board of life, you’ve got three loads. There’s a load of apples, a load of onions and a load of watermelons. They’re all going where you want to go, and they all pay the same. The difference is, the apples will give you fewer problems. It would be foolish to put all three in a hat and take the one you pick blind. In some ways it would be foolish not to judge a man who acts like an onion, who will mush up and start to stink on you. It would be foolish not to judge a man who acts like an overripe melon, ready to explode his truth all over you without giving you a chance to get a word in edgewise. You’d probably want those apples. But people are only like fruit up to a point, and condemning a man for his behavior is pretty much putting yourself in the onion and melon category. Maybe the best thing is to just separate behavior from the person. You can judge behavior without condemning the whole person. That way you protect yourself, but you don’t hurt anybody else. Who knows why a man does what he does? Who knows why a perfectly good melon goes bad except it’s been at the bottom of the pile for a little too long.

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