Six Days on the Road|
Joe Buck Trucker Extraordinaire
How I Became a Trucker
by Rick Beck
Joe Buck, American Trucker
It's the HORN!
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At ten I was as close to a perfect zero as it's possible to be. My life hadn't offered me any concrete glimpse of who I might be or what I might be able to do. Survival was good and at ten I was still around. I took it as a positive sign.
While sitting in the backseat of the family car, we were going to Aunt Ann's and Uncle Bob's in Landover Hills. I remember this because of all the places I had to go with my parents, Bob and Ann's was the one I liked best.
All the other people I was forced to visit with my parents were carbon copies of my parents. When I went to those houses, I was with my parents. They had to take me along because I was a kid but I wasn't really there. No one noticed me. I was invisible for the most part. If there were other kids we were free to be invisible together.
Bob and Ann were different. When I walked into their house, I was greeted like they were happy to see me. I was offered a drink when everyone was having a drink. I got fed if anyone got fed. Bob and Ann would ask me how things were.
My life had no direction except I was in the way a lot. There was nothing I was good at or that I wanted to do. School wasn't helpful in identifying anything I might want to do. I was no better in school than I was at anything else. I wasn't there when I was there. I had a mind that was often wandering far from the classroom I was in.
I'd survived. My social promotions to keep me with kids my own age were gifts all the way through elementary school. My teachers knew they were gifts. I knew they were gifts, and so far life offered me no hope of things changing.
While going to a place I liked being, I had no thought that this would be the day that a piece of my future would come into focus. I didn't have many thoughts at all. How much thinking did one do in the backseat of the family car?
I know the answer. Not much where I was concerned.
I could have used the travel time from Hillcrest Heights to Landover Hills to read a book but I couldn't read. Oh, I could struggle through Dick and Jane ran up the hill alright but once we got Dick and Jane up there I was lost. I was no good at reading, although I wasn't sure a full-time job would have much reading in it, not how I did it anyway.
Reading was definitely out.
I sat and looked out at the world I knew nothing about. I noticed cars, trucks, and places like the frozen custard stand where we never stopped. What was frozen custard?
Expecting to have an epiphany in the backseat of the family car on the way to Bob and Ann's wasn't in the cards. I didn't know what an epiphany was and even after I had one, I didn't know what it was.
The family car and a tractor trailer didn't have anything in common, except when I turned around in the backseat and I was looking out at the front of a truck that was behind us. We were on Landover Road.
What got my attention as I looked back at the front of the truck, its logo seemed to say, "HI." I was good at two letter words and I know hi when I saw it. I smiled. Hi back.
The simplicity of it had me giggling. The truck said, 'Hi.' Actually it was the International Harvester logo. The I was on top of the H. It said HI. At least it said that to me.
That's when something unexpected happened. I rarely looked at people. They didn't interest me for one thing. I was always in trouble when I got too close to people. I was either doing something I shouldn't be doing, or I wasn't doing something I should be doing. One thing was for sure, anything I did needed to be criticized. After a while I didn't do anything. It was all very confusing to me. Did I mention I was ten.
Once I turned around in my seat and noticed the truck, I looked it over. There were two big pieces of glass that were the windshield. I looked into the passenger side first. No one was there. I looked into the driver's side. I saw the man's face.
Being a professional truck driver, he had both hands on the wheel. He was maybe twenty or thirty feet behind our car. I could clearly see the driver's face. When he saw me looking directly at him, he smiled and lifted his right hand off the steering wheel to wave.
I waved back. I think I smiled. I tried to smile and then I heard the blinker coming on as we moved over to turn right. As the truck passed the driver lifted his arm and gave me a big wave. I waved as we turned. The truck went on its way.
I made contact with another human being. I was not accustomed to being waved at or even noticed by adults. The meeting of our eyes and arms was life altering. I knew what I wanted to do. I could drive a truck. That knowledge changed everything. I could be a truck driver.
If that incident wasn't enough, as we turned right and that truck drove out of my sight, a song that I'd never forget came on the radio. I knew it all had meaning. I was being shown a direction.
Dave Dudley began singing, 'Six Days on the Road.' A trucker is singing about being on the road for six days and he's going to make it home tonight. It was too perfect.
Since I had no idea what else I could do before that incident, it was a big deal. I was no longer less than zero. A truck driver took the time to notice and acknowledge me. He showed me a road that I was certain I could go down.
I didn't immediately become better at anything. I was still in trouble with my parents all the time. Teachers still gave up on me shortly after each school year started. My best thing was always wandering aimless around my neighborhood. From time to time that truck driver came to mind.
'I can become a trucker,' I would think.
I wouldn't become one right away. I needed to be sixteen to get a driver's license. Then I might want to get some experience driving for a year or two. Then I would become a truck driver.
School days came and went. I found things I could do. I got a gym teacher's attention. He began to offer me instructions on how to do things better. I could make my body do remarkable things. I wasn't just good at it, I was one of his best athletes. My mind might have been weak but my body was strong. I was able to move forward with that knowledge. I wasn't a complete zero any longer.
Then I met the teacher from hell. He didn't give up on me. He forced me to read every day in his class. It was agonizingly humiliating. I stumbled, stammered, and stuttered my way through a paragraph each morning.
Mr. Warnock made me read every day at the beginning of his class. It wasn't easy but in a few months I was reading at grade level for 8th graders and beside me was sitting a boy who was destined to become my best friend.
Making a friend wasn't something I'd ever wanted to do. People were trouble and I had all the trouble I needed at my house, but Tommy was different. Tommy was kewl, as innocent as boys come, and he decided we were going to become friends and we did.
Tommy had four brothers, a sister, and they were a family. I'd never been exposed to a kid with a real family before. I became his fifth brother. I saw how a family worked. My family didn't work. I was inconvenient on my best day and unfortunate on my worst days at my house.
I could feel the love and warmth at Tommy's house and I was there every day after school. For the first time I spent time with other people. I'd always been alone and wandering in the wilderness. Tommy brought me in out of the cold.
I grew up with more than I'd ever had before. Teachers took to me for some reason, once I reached junior high. Maybe it was my time to shine. Maybe I was just ready to make a change. I became something other than an observer.
I'd learned to read. I began to write. I was a good athlete and a good student, as hard as that is to believe. The people around me saved my life. Had I not had these experiences with people who didn't have to care about me, but did, I hate to think of what would have become of me.
No matter what I achieved or what else I became interested in, I remembered that truck driver. I remembered the man who made me feel good about who I was if ownly for two minutes on Landover Road one day.
He left his impression on me.
As a boy I wandered and as an adult I drove. No matter what was going on or what I was doing, I needed to drive every chance I got. I loved being behind the wheel. I could achieve a peace within myself that wasn't there at any other time. My dream of becoming a truck driver was never far from my mind.
I imagine I could have become any number of things and I had no difficulty finding work. The one thing I knew after high school and I'd had all the school I could take, I had no difficulties getting a job.
I got jobs I was told I couldn't have. There was always some rabbit I'd pull out of my hat and I began reshaping whatever I was doing into something I could enjoy. I made every job mine in time and work was good for me. I was always driving.
One day it was time. I woke up thinking, I've wanted to be a trucker since I was ten. I'm going to become one and I did. It wasn't easy. Being a truck driver beat me to death for about three months.
I'd gone to a truck driving school. I was buying my own truck, a GMC cabover. I was doing my best to become a trucker but there were times when I thought, I'm not going to make it. Trucking was hard work.
Being on the road all the time didn't bother me. Seeing the country was magnificent. Being alone a lot of the time didn't bother me, but the detail of being a truck driver was beating me to death. I didn't get enough sleep. I was always running behind, but I was never late on a pickup or delivery.
After three months, give or take a day or two, I woke up one morning, slid into my blue jeans and cowboy boots, and I hit the start button on a new day.
That day I was a truck driver. Maybe the truck driving fairy came to me in the night and tapped me on the head with his magic wand. Maybe I'd just learned all the lessons I needed to know but on that morning I was a big time truck driver when I got behind the wheel.
I never had a moments problem after that. I never doubted I could do it after that. I got up every day and I did the job. I got up every day and I loved doing the job and it all went back to a trucker who had no idea who I was but he cared enough to share his experience with me for a couple of minutes one day and because of it, I was a truck driver.
The story might end there except one of my very good friends was a teacher. Mr. Willon said, 'Bring your truck by the school. Let my kids see it. They'd love to see your truck."
As luck would have it, I was gone for a couple of months, after he gave me the invite. One day at a truck stop while going about my business, I stopped at the rack of post cards. I felt bad about not visiting my friend's school yet.
I'd send his class a postcard and tell them that I'm looking forward to dropping by. Once I did this once, I figured I'd send a postcard from each state and my friend would be able to use the postcards to teach geography. It sounded like a plan to me.
It was nearly three months before I got back to where my friend lived. Once again he asked me to come by the school to let the kids see my truck.
"Kids love trucks."
I took my truck to his school the next morning.
As he walked me into his second grade classroom, there was a bulletin board at the front of the class.
Truckin' Across the USA was written in bold letters. All my postcards were pinned up on a gigantic map of the US and each postcard has a string going to the individual state the postcard came from. I was shocked. It gave me such a warm feeling inside. I had already been impacting his classroom.
I stayed in my friend's class most of the day. When we went out for me to show them the truck, there was no calculating on how to get the kids up there. These are like little kids, 7 or 8.
I sat in the driver's seat as each kid his hoisted up and allowed to see the inside of a big time trucker's truck.
I bet you can't guess what the favorite part of my truck was for 7 and 8 year olds.
You guessed it.
As each kid blew the horn, I noticed the principle standing just off to one side watching. I'm sure she's about to come over and say, "Enough with the horn already."
She never moved from the spot where she was. Each kid was lifted up and they blew the horn and got back down.
The picture above was taken as I explained the gauges to three of the kids. After they got that part of the lesson, they came around to my side of the truck and were hoisted up again to blow the horn.
Every student blew the horn and the principle was still standing a few feet away. I'm sure she doesn't like the horn blowing. It is a neighborhood with houses all around but she never comes over to the truck until the last kid gets a chance to blow the horn.
After the kids and their teacher have started to go back into the school, the principle walks toward me. I smiled and she smiled back.
As she stood below the driver's side door she spoke.
"Can I blow the horn too," she asked in the sweetest voice.
"Yes, you can," I said, delighted that even the principle loved big trucks.
In high heels and a red dress, she climbs up the way I climb up into the truck and she reaches for the cord and gives it a toot toot.
"Thank you," she beamed and headed back to school.
I was delighted. What a terrific experience and it wasn't the last school I'd visit. The picture above appeared in a local paper and I sent a copy to my company. I was about to become a minor celebrity at the company I leased my truck to.
My visit to a school is a big hit and there are other schools who want a trucker to drop by. I knew just the guy.
Not once do I drive up to a school, where I'm going to talk to dozens, maybe hundreds, of kids that I don't think of the truck driver who took the time to acknowledge a little boy. Because he did hundreds of kids have been introduced to my truck and the truck driver he created by being nice.
I have no greater joy than when I drive up to a school. I know how important it is to encourage kids and to tell them something about the work-a-day world. The kids are always excited. That's a thrill for me. I am giving something back that was given to me when I was ten. Its the best thing I've done.
Trucking is an option if you don't mind long hours and always being on the move. It isn't for everyone but it is for the adventurous and those who like to be in charge on the job.
I've never lost sight of the lost little boy I was. When I visit the next school, there may be a kid or kids as lost and lonely as I was. If my visit gives them some possibilities they hadn't considered before, all the better.
Remember, all you four-wheelers, keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down. I'll catch you on the flip flop.
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