In the back of a Maryland tank wash in the Spring of his 45th year long ago, a friend I’ll call Mr. Haney had come to the end of himself. After years of hedonism, surfeiting and debauchery; the stripper wife; the seven stripper girlfriends; all the fast trucks; all the fast living; all of it had finally caught up to the grizzled trucker. Raised in the farm belt by conservative Catholics, he would instead embrace Judaism and become a rabbi. The conversion had been instantaneous, occurring just seconds after witnessing a rabbi certify and bless 50 food-grade tankers to the tune of $100 a pop. That was $5,000. Not a bad afternoon.
Haney made no bones with the Almighty. He was going into this to create a value for his employer, coming in at $50 per tank. He was doing this strictly for the money, and there was no sense lying about it. So he Googled him up a rabbinical school, called his safety man with his proposal, and by the time his tank made the front of the line, Rabbi Haney he was.
While the decision had been quick, Haney’s road to conversion had been one fraught with thistles and thorns.
Clocking in at 400 lbs., the intern rabbi had always been one of those big dudes who had a hot girlfriend. There may have been a little mental instability here, a little chemical dependency there, but they all looked like movie stars.
Once an LTL reefer hauler (turned exotic car hauler, turned tanker yanker), Mr. Haney’s cosmetic shortcomings were to him just another set of obstacles to get around, like so many Georgia scales. In fact, his entire life up until then had been about finding ways to get around difficult things. We were owner-ops for the same outfit a few years back in the ’90s and early 2000s.
We were paid by the pallet and the hundred-weight. When Mr. Haney stopped to weigh his load at the Beloit, Wis., Pilot, it was for bragging rights and weight-verification purposes only.
For example, if you were being paid for 67,000 pounds of billed LTL refrigerated freight, by God that gross weight better not be much over 105,000, or you were being hosed. There were always those little shippers who were underestimating their weight intentionally, and Haney was not a man to be short-changed.
We would make our way down through those trusted, obscure routes in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. If it was determined that the DOT was camping at the Florida ag check, Haney even had a way around that. He would go over that Cat scale in South Georgia with just half his wheels on the platform for the sole purpose of creating a fresh document which suggested he was legal. It worked several times. When it didn’t, an old friend would drive up with his straight truck from Wildwood, they would transfer around 25,000 pounds, and he would leave legal.
Lumping comprised a significant chunk of our pay, as we sometimes had a dozen drops on a load. A new policy had been instituted by the company that reimbursements would only be made to the lumper companies themselves. Seething at the injustice of this policy, Mr. Haney took up the trade of forgery in earnest, investing in the equipment needed to mint some really convincing lumper receipts from receivers throughout the South. He was still doing the unloading, and doing it for less than the lumpers would charge. He just wasn’t going to get buffaloed out of his money.
Then there was the large Florida-based grocery chain, whose name will go unmentioned, that’d instituted a policy that stated you had to have a forklift license in order to operate their equipment. Mr. Haney arrived the next week with his shiny new license, presented it, and was told it had to be laminated. Outraged at the scam, he then took to Googling around and came up with an entire stack of fifty laminated forklift licenses, which he would sell a guy for $5 if you needed one. If he liked you, he’d just give you one.
There was something that happened to Mr. Haney when he perceived someone was trying to beat him down. An almost diabolical intelligence took over, and he would find a whole new level of Haney-hood. It was sometimes a scary thing to watch, though at other times highly entertaining.
But now things had gotten serious. I mean, Judaism in the back of a tank wash. This was hardcore.
He emailed his new creds to his safety man in Florida and was told something to the effect of “that’s a good start, but we need your certification papers as well.”
Just a few kosher certification agencies do the majority of the work of inspection in the United States. Each has their own trademarked symbol printed on a certificate, giving the the rabbinic field rep the respected title of Mashgiac. Finding such an article and forging it would be Haney’s finest hour. Everything up until now had brought him to this point.
Fueled by a healthy contempt for organized religion, and the overhead inherent in maintaining a girlfriend, he had seen what the Mashgichim (for the uninitiated, the plural form of the kosher supervisor’s title) had done firsthand and was confident he could do it himself, just as confident as he was that he could drive a forklift. All he needed was to find one of those documents.
Haney cultivated friends throughout the country like so many orchids. He always tried to carry around something he could give people, which he called “currency.” It might be a case of apples: “Want an apple? Here, take two or three. ” When he hauled bulk wine, sometimes he would drain the last remaining gallons into clean jugs, which, depending on the angle of the tank while unloading, could comprise five or six gallons per load.
He would then parlay that wine for things you don’t even want to know about. One of his friends was his buddy at the Maryland tank wash. Upon revealing his plan to stick it to the man, he asked if he could borrow the in-house rabbi’s certificate. He promised to bring it back.
The attendant was certain he could lose his job over such a scheme.
His hopes dashed, Haney abandoned Judaism shortly after his tank was finished and went back to the online rabbinical school, not wishing to squander the $37.50. Turns out the seminary also ordained nondenominational ministers as well, so Haney returned to Christianity, announced his new ministerial vocation on Facebook, and called it a day.
Then something happened. An old flame reached out to the newly ordained Reverend Haney and asked if he might officiate her wedding. People began confiding in him. Other requests to officiate other weddings followed. He bought a nice suit. Just as he had spent years figuring out ways to get around things, a new truth was finding ways to reach him. Turns out Reverend Haney was one helluva nondenominational minister. All the tenderness which had once endeared him to half the strippers in the South was now manifest in his new calling.
An Unseen Smith was forging His divine stamp on the old forger. No one knew more about sin than Haney, and everyone knew it. No one knew how to get around stuff like him either. So people began to share the secrets of their souls with the old trucker. Even Haney’s “currency” began to change. Troubled by the problem of homelessness, he purchased food in bulk, divided it up into baggies containing a meal, and distributed a bag to anyone who panhandled him when he was trucking.
“It costs me $1.88 per bag not to be guilty,” he quipped.
But by now, his old sins began overtaking him, and his health was failing. So he, like thousands of truckers, began making that semiannual pilgrimage to a certain Atlanta physician some called “Doctor Yes We Can,” a folk hero and friend to the big ol’ boy. When the feds moved in, shutting down the clinic so conveniently located by the truck stop, for fraudulently certifying thousands of unhealthy truckers, Mr.Haney knew his traveling days were numbered. The letter came from the feds, just as he knew it would. He had 30 days to re-certify, or he was done.
So he got took a few days off, got his levels as close to acceptable as he could, and saw that friendly chiropractor in that certain other state. Thankfully, he passed, and could go on a little longer. Then, about six months later, the news came in — his kidneys were done, and he would have to go on dialysis.
Last week , when the Reverend and I had our little Sunday talk, he expressed relief for hanging up his traveling shoes. There was just no way around things anymore. The nightly fight to find parking, watching the decline of his carrier in the wake of ELDs. … It had all become too much. When I asked whether there were plans to expand his ministerial career, he chuckled. “Ya never know.”
As the trucking career of Mr. Haney comes to a close, and I begin to contemplate the sunsetting of my own, it signifies, to me, the imminent extinction of a certain type of trucker, namely the character. In these days of regimentation, regulation and restriction, there is just no more room for the unsung servants of Mr. Haney’s ilk, who kept this country fed. Notwithstanding his penchant for low company, his uncanny ability to polish off a wheel of damaged brie in one sitting and so much more, there was no one who could outwork him.
As we retreat to a new normal of 400-mile days because there’s just no parking, and special-ed regs designed for a lowest common denominator workforce, Reverend Haney will remain, for me, one of the heroes of this country, and the longtime guardian of this gearjammer’s soul.