‘Geography Game Show’ host Neal Nichols interacts with kids in their classroom to help them learn about countries all over the world.
Children sit in amazement as a silhouette of the world takes shape on their classroom dry-erase board, the lines flowing quickly out of the marker in Neal Nichols’ hand.
This is the first step in the trucker’s “Geography Game Show,” a fun tool he uses to teach kids about the world.
“I can draw the whole world without looking,” says Nichols, 37, who drives for Magnum Moving & Storage, a division of Atlas Van Lines. After he draws outlines of the continents as we see when we look at a big map – and he draws it freehand using only his memory – he adds detail to fit kids’ requests, answer their questions or help them in what they are currently studying, including a compass with the points written in the language spoken in that country.
Nichols says he can identify most countries and major cities on all the continents because of his globetrotting travels.
His audience – students of all ages – learn about the world by guessing where different countries are. If they guess correctly, Nichols rewards them with souvenirs collected from all over the world, such as Filipino money or an Australian boomerang. All the students leave class with a hand-made print of the map.
Nichols’ interest in geography and art started at an early age, when he was growing up in North Eastham, Mass., on Cape Cod. “As a kid I grew up drawing,” he says. “My mom said I drew everything.” His first subjects were the trucks in his father’s collection of Overdrive magazines, but over time his interest turned to landscapes and seascapes.
Besides his mom, Nichols’ big inspiration was from James Owens, his high school art teacher. Today Nichols’ work is displayed alongside Owens’ at The Framing Gallery in Orleans, Mass. After high school, Nichols spent three years at the Massachusetts College of Art; then he found a job that combined his love of travel and art – driving for Fine Arts Express out of Boston, hauling the artwork of greats like Andy Warhol and Norman Rockwell.
“They were more of an inspiration and a reason to travel,” Nichols says.
Running pieces of art up and down the East coast, Nichols learned to draw every aspect of the geography.
After leaving Fine Arts Express, Nichols traveled all over the nation and visited many foreign countries. Then he moved to Japan with his now ex-wife, and his son Seiya was born there in 1993. When he returned to his hometown, he rediscovered a desire to start trucking again and joined Magnum Moving & Storage. Driving over-the-road, Nichols was able to learn the ins and outs of all 48 mainland states.
Nichols first discovered his talent for helping kids learn about other parts of the world in 1993 when he helped a friend of a friend entertain his elementary school class by drawing maps of the world on the chalkboard. When the kids started correctly guessing a country’s location, he had the idea to reward them with foreign money. He performed the show at his niece’s school in 1997 and at his nephew’s in 1999, but nothing came of it until 2002 when Nichols found his inspiration to continue the show.
At a show for a class in his hometown, he met fourth-grader Justin Brady. Justin was a troubled child who the school officials thought Nichols could help.
“They informed me that somehow I’ve been able to reach him when no one else could and asked if I would share more time with him,” Nichols says. A brush with a potential heart attack had left Nichols searching for something that would help him enjoy life, and he felt Justin might be it. He says Justin helped him see that he wanted the simplicity of being a kid again, or at least to be surrounded by them.
“Justin re-inspired something I created in ’93,” Nichols says. “He even went on trips with me.” Nichols’ son still lives in Tokyo, so Justin became a sort of surrogate child. “Here I was to do God’s work in this kid’s life,” he says. “Simple things like throwing baseballs and football, hiking and biking turned into Nova Scotia, Florida, California, Alaska.”
Now Nichols performs his show for classrooms all across the country. Alaska is the state he frequents most often, and he hopes to move there one day with his dog Beowulf.
“Alaska has become like a second home to me,” Nichols says. He spends weeks at a time hosting his show in various daycare centers and classrooms within the state when he’s not on the road.
After four full-time years with Magnum, Nichols has worked the past six years part time, mostly in the busy summer season, to give him plenty of time for his game show.
“If it wasn’t for these guys I wouldn’t be able to do this,” he says. “They like what I’m doing,” but, “I have to put in the work.”
Nichols works for Magnum whenever he is in between game shows. They do not subsidize the show, but they do allow him to come and go between shows. He says other companies would not allow him to work this schedule. This flexibility means he doesn’t have to choose between security and adventure. He can have them both.
His work at Magnum also helps support his world travels. Jetting around the world is now a favorite hobby of Nichols. He loves riding in airplanes and hopes to have taken 1,000 flights by age 40. He is also learning to fly small planes.
“The change is pretty dramatic,” Nichols says about looking out over the Great Barrier Reef one day, then following the white lines with a load of furniture the next.
“The life of a trucker I wouldn’t want full-time forever, but this is great,” he says.
Nichols’ ability to instantly sketch the world also has helped his name and talent become well known in truckstops across the country. “Over the years, truckers, waitresses, travelers and strangers have watched me practice on napkins. I would leave them and travel on,” he says.
“Many ask, ‘why drive a truck when you can do this?’ Well, the bills come in, but it’s the trucking that inspired it.”
– Kristen Buck
Owner-operator James Hardy traveled all over Europe playing basketball before he became an over-the-road driver in the United States.
ON THE REBOUND
Former NBA player finds second calling on the road
Former NBA player James Hardy doesn’t want to talk about basketball anymore. Twenty-two years after leaving professional basketball, his first love, and favorite topic, is trucking.
“I like driving,” says Hardy, 47, who started driving 13 years ago. “The fact that I’m still in trucking and not calling up the NBA association begging them to find me some kind of job as an announcer or something is because I love trucking.”
The 6-foot-9-inch driver discovered his affection for the road when he was in college at the University of San Francisco. There he was on scholarship as a star for the basketball team, but he refused to join the team on a tour of Europe because he wanted to stay home and keep doing his day job – delivering milk.
In 1978, Hardy was recruited by the then-New Orleans Jazz and left college a year early. He played forward for the Jazz for four years, staying with them through their move to Utah.
But the NBA wasn’t all Hardy had dreamed it would be. The stress – and untimely deaths of two of his fellow players and friends – was too much, so he left for a team in Europe, where he could truly shine.
“With the Jazz I wasn’t a superstar,” Hardy says. “I wanted to be a star, so I decided that I wanted to go to Europe. I had a great time over there being a star.”
He lived in Italy and France, playing teams from rival cities and countries with only one or two Americans on each team of foreign players. He learned to speak French, Italian and Spanish and can still carry on a “mild conversation” and order food in all three.
“I was kind of young, but I stayed out of trouble, didn’t cause any international incidents,” he says. “For me to live in a villa in Tuscany in the middle of an olive grove, it was an experience for life. I met some interesting people.”
His stay in Europe extended from a visit to eight years. He met, married and divorced two wives and had two children, Jennifer and James Michael.
“I thought I was just taking a break, but I kind of liked it where I was,” he says. “All we did over there was play basketball and eat. Basketball was easy for me.”
But basketball would not be his life forever. When he ventured back to the United States in 1990, he was called to trucking.
“The first time I saw a truck in Utah, I wanted to start a business,” he says. ” I started with driving and training, but there’s not a lot of information out there. I was going to do it in five years.”
He started with CR England in 1990 and worked there for three years. “They taught me everything,” he says. “It’s a pretty great company.”
But he still had the dream of becoming an owner-operator.
Then he picked up a copy of Truckers News and saw an ad looking for owner-operators. He used the magazine to send information to several companies, and after he jackknifed a truck with the first company, Arctic Express called, and he was on a plane the next day to join their lease-purchase program.
In 2001 he did a leverage buyout with the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association and traded his leased truck for a white 2000 Freightliner Classic XL – his first new truck. It was the last 2000 on the lot, and “actually, my wife bought it for me,” he says. “She picked it out. I just walked in and signed.” He also owns a Utility refrigerated trailer. He and his then-girlfriend formed a corporation named Harco, Inc., a combination of his name and her last name, Cooper. She got 10 percent, so he said she could get two letters and he got three.
A year ago he leased on with Dynamic Transportation, Inc. out of University Park, Ill. He transports anything refrigerated but “quite a bit” of Sara Lee and product to make sausage. He hauls all over the lower 48 but spends a lot of time in Northern California. “Everything seems to end in California,” he says.
Hardy tried regional work after he and his wife Cathy adopted his now-4-year-old daughter Emma Claire, but he prefers his over-the-road, irregular route. “I like the surprise,” he says. “I got back to over-the-road. It was in my blood.”
And he couldn’t be happier about his job and his company. “Those are the greatest people whatsoever,” he says. “Every morning is cheerful. I look forward to calling those guys and saying, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’
“Some companies advertise that you’re not just a number, but at Dynamic you’re definitely a name, a nickname, kids’ names, wife’s name. They’re as personable as you want to be without being overbearing.”
But it’s not just about personal compatibility. “They let me work as hard as I want,” he says. He says he makes 47 percent higher than the industry average. “I work hard, but I do really well here at Dynamic.”
Hardy also gets plenty of home time to spend with his wife and daughter (his two children from a previous marriage live in Amsterdam, Holland) at their house in Holladay, Utah, outside Salt Lake City.
But he plans to retire in two years to spend even more time with his family. “I have an incredible father-daughter relationship,” he says. “When she gets into junior high, high school, I want to be there for her. No ifs, ands or buts.”
Of his wife, he says, “She’s super educated and really intelligent. She’s my soul mate.”
But his daughter is the true light of his life. “I talk to her every day,” he says. “She’ll get up and the first thing she says is, ‘I want my daddy.'”
Hardy’s life is full and he doesn’t miss basketball one bit, he says. “When I left it, I left it,” he says. He doesn’t play basketball anymore, though he does watch it. “I like the NBA now, watching them, but that is serious work,” he says.
“I don’t miss playing; I miss the ability to play,” he says. “I don’t like getting old. I would not frustrate myself by getting out there when I used to be able to run and jump around. It was fun. If I can’t be the best at something, I don’t want to do it.”
He is a member of the NBA Retired Players Association, but he doesn’t attend meetings. “I like having money, but I like life better,” he says. “I don’t like the pretentiousness. It was difficult for me to stay normal, but you can’t get much more normal than a truck driver.”
– Kristin L. Walters
THE ‘NEUTER SCOOTER’
Mobile clinics tackle overpopulation of our four-legged friends
Every year millions of cats and dogs are killed because there aren’t enough homes to care for all of them. The best way to prevent this is to curb the pet population, and trucker Jim Rose is part of that solution.
Rose, a nine-year veteran of the road, has been the driver for Maryland’s mobile veterinary clinic, the Neuter Scooter, since it started rolling in 2000. The Neuter Scooter is one of several mobile clinics nationwide that travel around states offering low-cost neutering and other veterinary services in convenient locations.
Most of the clinics are contained in vans not large enough to require a driver with a CDL, but Maryland’s 36-foot Scooter needed a truck driver to man the wheel. At other clinics, such as Utah’s The Big Fix, the veterinarian staff itself take turns driving.
Experience on the road has helped Rose navigate through the Neuter Scooter’s minor mechanical problems – like a malfunctioning speedometer – and handle the air brakes it requires because of the weight of the equipment. He prefers the consistency of the job to his former trucking ventures.
“I didn’t like I wasn’t home all the time,” Rose says. “I enjoy coming home to my stuff every night.”
Rose pitches in when he’s not behind the wheel, too. “They trained me to work with animals,” he says. He helps prepare the animals for surgery and assists where needed during surgeries.
The Maryland clinic offers free surgeries with the cost of a vaccination. A normal surgery could cost up to $100-$150, while surgeries at mobile clinics can cost as little as $25 for the vaccination.
Most mobile clinics, like the Scooter, are operating on grant money and ask for donations to keep them running. The Big Fix, Utah’s version of the mobile clinic, received a five-year grant from Maddie’s Fund in 2000 to reduce the killing of healthy adoptable pets in Utah.
“We are trying to build infrastructure for fundraising to continue on,” says Stewart Gollan, the spay/neuter director for the program “No More Homeless Pets in Utah.”
“It won’t be easy without the money coming into the state.”
Nothing about the program has been easy, in fact. The Big Fix was built in Texas and wasn’t prepared for Utah winters. After many problems, the crew had the clinic “winterized.”
“We now have heaters for water tanks so they don’t freeze anymore,” among many other changes made for the winterization, says Gollan.
But the winter problems weren’t the only ones The Big Fix faced.
“The engine broke down all of the time,” Gollan says. “They replaced the entire engine.” The clinic had to be towed from location to location to meet the demands of its services.
But the results far outweigh the difficulties these clinics have faced, says Gollan. The Big Fix spayed/neutered 8,618 healthy adoptable pets from July 1, 2002 to June 30, 2003. The Neuter Scooter is passing 8,500 since its beginning in 2000.
Mobile Clinics Across the Country
(602) 997-7586 ext. 3002
M.A.S.H. (Mobile Animal Surgical Hospital)
Central Coast Spay
The Sno Mobile
The T.E.A.M. Mobile Feline Unit
ARC Mobile Spay/
(941) 957-1955, ext. 7
Arni Spay/Neuter on Wheels
Marion County Neuter Commuter
(352) 245-6019 or 245-0908
Mobile Animal Care (M.A.C.)
(305) 884-1101 ext. 239
Project Cat Snip
I-Can Mobile Feline Spay/Neuter Clinic
Pawprints on the Heartland
Stop Pet Overpopulation Today (S.P.O.T.)
ASPCA Cares Mobile Spay/Neuter Clinic
(212) 876-7700, ext. 4303
Spay-Neuter Assistance Program of North Carolina
STEP (Spay/Neuter Team for Every Pet)
NOMAD, Inc. – M.A.S.H.
The Feral Cat Coalition Mobile Hospital
The Spay Station
(615) 352-4030, ext. 4030
The Big Fix Tour
The Spay Station
– Kristen Buck