A common concern of psychologists, sociologists and political scientists over the years has been the danger of alienation between worker and work.
It’s something that can affect the everyday laborer or the highest executive. The problem in it is that you might be doing your work but feeling little or no connection to the final product. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most people worked on things they could see from beginning to completion, whether it was a bale of hay or an armchair. With industrialization, the argument goes, most of us just “worked” and got paid without caring much about what our corporation produced. There was thus none of our personal, sweat-drenched, hands-on work evident in the final product, and we had no real feelings of contributing much to it.
Modern American truckers aren’t alienated from their work; they know the value of what they do. They can see it on supermarket shelves and factory production lines every day. They know if it weren’t for them, those shelves would be empty and the lines would be stopped.
But are you in danger of being alienated from America? What if instead of the Industrial Revolution as the change agent we use our interstate system, and instead of a product we talk about an ideal – America?
When all you see are truckstops and interstates that all begin to look alike, there is a possibility you will form your opinion about modern America from a fairly small pool of images and the ideas and attitudes of a limited range of people. Perhaps when you live in Interstate America, you are at risk of seeing the rest of America only through the eyes of an Interstate-American.
Before the interstate system truckers drove the same roads everybody else used whether they were going to work, dropping the kids off at the swimming hole or hauling oranges to a warehouse. Drivers saw the sights of Main and Elm Streets all over the country. They waved at school children waiting for their buses, parked to let parades roll by, saw up-close Eastern farmers with sleeves rolled up and Texas ranchers with them rolled down. They slowed to read church signs and hand-made high-school homecoming posters. They’d overnight and wake, looking out bleary-eyed in the morning ready to be surprised. Rarely did they find 100 or 200 miles of road where nothing much changed, even if the change they saw was just some subtlety in the design of barns from one remote town to the next. Drivers used to the holdups inevitable on these roads took their time and took it all in.
Add another twist: the modern tractor cab. It is indeed a delight not to feel every bump and pothole and to have cleansed fresh air defying the weather to keep you comfortable. But before the interstates and the modern cab, drivers smelled the roses of small town gardens, rain, restaurant exhausts and drying hay. They could smell cattle and hogs on the wind. Crossing the deserts and plains, drivers could feel on their faces some of the harshness and cruelty of the elements that assailed pioneers in covered wagons.
I don’t expect to hear drivers saying, “Right, we should go back to riding the small roads with the windows down.” I’m not extolling some good-ol’-days virtue. Times change and we change with them. But before the interstates and the supercab, drivers were more viscerally attached to their America. Sure, it was a different America. But the Interstate America that you live in while you are hauling is just one America. The others are out there on the lesser roads.
Truckers who realize that Interstate America is just one village in a land full of them can balance this America they see with the worlds back home, among friends, family, community, the ones down the county roads, blue highways, urban boulevards and Main and Elm Streets you used to know from the cab.