Picture this. You go to a society garden party heavy with the rich, famous and high-fashion models, all bejeweled and unhappy that the caviar is not quite the right temperature. When one of them condescends to ask you what you do, you say, “I drive an 18-wheeler.”
How many of you can now see the look of disdain and/or distaste on your questioner’s face? Now imagine you’d said, “I’m a defensive lineman,” “I’m a #$%^&*% rock star” or maybe “I play an adulterous doctor on a television soap opera.” Can you see the response? There it would be, a look of “Oh my God, a person of story and legend, a piece of Americana, someone who is one of the reasons America is great and strong, someone I must be seen with.”
Why the difference? They “entertain.” How much real use is that? You work hard in a no-frills, backbreaking, dirty, essential job and contribute more to America than they do.
I think part of the problem is the way we convey values to our youngsters, especially in the fairy stories we read them. As an editor, I can help.
Little Red Riding Hood is getting ready to go to Grandma’s house. She goes to the refrigerator and gets some fresh produce to take to her ailing old granny. Now, when parents read this to their children they add the line: “Red had bought the produce that very morning at her local Super Wal-Mart where it had been delivered by a trucker who had driven eight hours to get there and waited three more to unload.” Then off Red goes with her basket to meet the wolf.
Perhaps daddy is reading “The Three Little Pigs.” The story remains unedited until the first two pigs flee the house of sticks and make for the bright brother who built with brick. As they race inside and close the door against the onrushing Big Bad Wolf, the dad adds this line: “Now straw and sticks can be found locally almost anywhere, but the bricks for this house had to be hauled in by a Peterbilt 379 long nose with a flatbed that was driven through the night.” Re-enter the wolf and the next round of huffing and puffing.
Mommies love reading Cinderella to their children. Fleeing the ball at midnight, Cindy loses a shoe. But not just any shoe. There is, of course, a little problem here with the fairy godmother who will claim to have created the shoes with her magic wand. But it’s this cavalier disregard for reality that is part of our problem. So instead of a wand, Mommy will now tell the children that the fairy Godmother has a cell phone and calls a local, very fashionable shoe store for something with heels, perhaps open-toed, almost certainly Italian. Now mom adds another line: “A container of shoes had been trucked in from a port on the East Coast on a three-day run behind a Kenworth W900L.”
The list could go on and on. Our young listeners need to be made aware that in “Hansel and Gretel,” when you consider how much flour it would take to build a gingerbread house, there’s no doubt a truck brought sacks of it to the wicked witch’s local supermarket. And isn’t it natural for children to wonder that if the Seven Dwarfs go hi-ho-ing merrily off to work in a mine, isn’t a truck going to be needed to take what they dig up to a market somewhere? And “The Princess and the Pea”? Oh, please! All those mattresses little miss sensitive sleeps on came in a 53-foot dry van from somewhere else.
Now if we really want to turn the heat up, how about Old Mother Hubbard. She goes to the cupboard to get her poor, hungry dog a bone. But the cupboard is bare. The parent/reader adds the line: “Because federal hours-of-service regulations had caused massive backups in truck deliveries.” Forty years later there’s your congressman or woman who is the key vote in killing a bill that would rewrite HOS rules and make it even harder for truckers.
And at a party afterwards that congressman or woman and a lot of other rich, famous and not-very-useful-but-awfully-well-dressed people ask someone what she does for a living. “I drive an 18-wheeler,” is the reply, and the room is silent and open-mouthed in awe and admiration.