By John Latta
If Polish-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Kenyan-Americans and Moroccan-Americans keep their historical and social traditions alive and wear their hyphenated names with pride, why can’t you be a Trucker-American?
These American groups, picked entirely at random, have, like all ethnic groups, a distinct cuisine, music, dress, history, style, culture, language and so on. Well, so do you.
Take music for example. It’s not all country music any more, but look back at trucker history and people like Red Sovine and Dave Dudley are icons for Trucker-Americans. Nowadays Toby Keith with his flag-waving songs is a big trucker favorite, and that’s no coincidence. Just like Toby, truckers love to hoist Old Glory high. Doesn’t mean you don’t like to listen to other American music, just that this stuff tugs at your Trucker-American roots the way a waltz turns the head of Austrian-Americans.
Trucker-Americans don’t have elaborate, colorful costumes in their ancestry. But trucker hats are not only something Trucker-Americans wear, they’ve become a popular part of the mainstream American culture.
Your history is clearly defined, too. A huge number of truckers come from families that followed the same career path before them. And an equally large number can tell you about the industry’s historic highlights and lowlights and some of its most famous names (usually trucks rather than people).
When it comes to culture, if someone says Polish-American, millions of people think polka, even if that is a vast oversimplification of Polish culture and its influence on modern American life. It’s a knee-jerk kind of thing. It’s simply word association to the general public. Try this: Hawaiian-American – it’s either Don Ho, Elvis in Blue Hawaii, Magnum P.I. or Hawaii Five-O. Again it’s knee-jerk stuff and not a way to truly get to know and understand Hawaiian-Americans. Now, tell them you’re a Trucker-American, and average non-Trucker-Americans respond animatedly about loving Smokey and the Bandit or Convoy.
Trucker language is also distinct. Sit in a room full of Cambodian-Americans talking in the language of their ancestors’ homeland, and odds are you won’t understand a word. Now take a busload of joyriding Americans stopping to dine at a truckstop. They hear you talk about lumpers, Jake Brakes, fifth wheels, HOS logs, deadheading, hammer lanes and gelling and have no idea what you’re talking about. The numbers and letters you talk about – 379X, W900, T600, VN880, 9900ix, FLD, CH and so on – convey nothing to them.
When it comes to a native cuisine, perhaps truckers don’t have such unusual items on the menu as sushi (Japanese-Americans) or haggis (Scottish-Americans), but truckers do have a fairly predictable diet. It’s one that could use some attention in a lot of cases with less fat and more fruit and veggies, but it is nevertheless clearly part of Trucker-American culture.
OK, you say, what about those unusual names a lot of people from foreign lands bring to their American life? There may be surprising names in American families that hail from the Mekong Delta or the banks of the Euphrates, but come on, where will you come across more surprising names than on the CB?
Where Syrian-Americans can show you pictures of ancestors posing with the finest of Arab horses, truckers will be just as proud of a picture of Pops with his White cabover. Both photos are lovingly kept in albums (or stored digitally these days), so that future generations can keep a link with the old ways and the old days of the family.
Our histories are far more sophisticated things than I have suggested here; they are part of our identity, of who we are. I’ve simplified to make a point. Many of you will have one of those hyphenated names to begin with because a long while ago – or maybe not so long ago – your family came looking for a new life. America’s immigrants came willing and eager to work hard because it was a way to break free of an old life that gave them little or no chance of freedom and betterment.
Whatever your hyphen says, there are some ancestors somewhere proud that the hard work ethic they brought to America is still alive in their Trucker-American descendants.