Breakfast Club

There comes a point in your life when you begin to look back as much as you look forward. No one knows when it will be over, and no one knows when the midpoint has been reached, but somewhere in the mind a switch is pulled and there seems to be more in the mirror than through the windshield.

You can begin to feel old long before you really are. You can lug your motor too much and burn a lot of fuel and tear up your driveshaft. Or you can over-rev and blow it up like the driver who said to me one time, “I’m not here for a long time, I’m here for a good time.” It may be true that the way you live your life is the way you drive your truck. One thing’s for sure – if you spend too much time looking in the mirror, too much time at 2,200 rpm, too much time lugging, the sweet spot will escape you; and if you crest without a thought for the downside, the bottom will get closer far too fast.

So have a coffee, a nice pile of eggs and home fries, and think about where you are right now and whether where you have to be is where you want to be. Find a friend and ratchet-jaw, and don’t forget to listen when it’s the other guy’s turn. Maybe he’s been around longer than you, made some mistakes you haven’t made, driven a truck you haven’t driven. He might know something that will make your job easier, even if he’s a rookie.

Most of the guys I am having coffee with this morning are older than I. My dad is 78. Norm Rush is about the same. Only Carl is younger, but they all have plenty of wheel time. We all have the work in common. None of us drive the way we used to. Carl ran Texas for years out of Ohio. My father was over-the-road and Norm drove locally for a long time. We’re all doing different things now, retired from the super slab. I am the only journalist, a driver who writes about driving.

There is talk of old trucks. Carl remembers the 318 Detroit. It was an awfully loud truck and a two-stroke. Like a lot of older models, you had to keep it wound up, and it would scream like it was going to come apart. I remember the old 290 Cummins, an engine you couldn’t kill and a great performer for its size. All of us have a story or two to tell about the old days when trucks were trucks. I begin to feel young in the company of these men, not because they are older or because they seem to know so much about an industry I thought I understood, but because I am in the company of men whose experience I can share.

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For an hour or two, there is an equality that is quite different than what happens when a group of young men, rookies, get together. The younger men might share their anxieties, frustrations and fears, finding a bond in that. But one of the kindnesses age brings is having gotten through all that and on into confidence. Then even confidence is out of date, and the reality is remembering the struggle and the reward of doing a job. I have the unique pleasure of writing about it all, making sense of a work life that can be brutal, surprisingly peaceful, challenging and often boring.

The talk somehow moves from trucks to the media, and all these men with whom I share a bond remark without rancor on their distrust of journalists. Nothing personal, but the feeling is strong and unanimous. The most damning accusation strikes home: “You can’t trust them. They will make what you tell them into something you never meant if it means making the story more exciting. They twist the facts this way and that, they put in only the facts that support their point of view. They don’t lie; they just don’t tell the truth.”

The coffee is gone and the eggs eaten, the bond disintegrated by the call of present work. I am left feeling like I am starting at the bottom of the mountain, wondering like a rookie what I should do if this rig ever gets to the top, wondering even more what I will do if it does and the snow starts at the crest and the flat land is farther away than the truth.

I am an old truck driver but a young journalist, and I respect what my friends have said. All of us have done the best we could to get this far. Telling that story is the best I can do.