Why Hedon became a trucker

2008 August 10
by Hedon

When I was a kid in the 70s truckers were still considered heroes on the highways. Movies like Convoy and Smokey and the Bandit were big hits, and CBs were all the rage. My dad got the CB bug and, being a welder by trade, he erected a massive 30 foot tall antenna tower at the end of our house. We lived pretty close to I44 in Missouri, and dad’s base unit was so powerful that we had a huge range of miles where we could talk to a driver going by on the interstate before he drove out of CB range.

Dad’s preoccupation with the CB waned quickly so I had the chance to use it pretty much whenever I wanted. I remember night after night when everyone was watching TV how I would go into the room where the CB was to talk to the truckers. It was a different group of voices every night. Different but the same because they were all in motion. All moving purposefully into the distance. Quite a heady thought to a restless twelve year old who was stuck in place for the foreseeable future.

They would tell me where they had come from and where they were going. What they were hauling and how much they would get paid when they delivered the load. They talked about their families back home. And where home was for them. What it was like there. After a couple of months, the guys who had regular runs started to call for me when they hit what they knew to be our range. They would ask how school had gone that day and if I had finished my homework yet. Some of them even remembered to ask about things like a test I had been nervous about and how it had gone. I didn’t appreciate how special that was back then like I do now looking back on it.

But mostly they told stories. Trucking stories. About all the places they had been. And all the things they had seen. I loved their stories. They talked about driving in the swamps of Louisiana. They talked about driving around the great lakes in Michigan where you could hit a swarm of bugs so thick that in one instant you could no longer see out your windshield. About the vast wheat fields. The beauty of the desert at sunrise. The tunnels through the mountains and the great bridges across the bays out east. And the cities. Cities that were a towering wall of lights at night. Cities with every kind of person you could imagine living side by side. Cities with narrow streets so tight that the truck’s mirrors rubbed the light-poles on both sides of the street when they drove by them.

They told the stories of the heroic truckers with whom they were proud to be associated. The driver who, losing his brakes coming down a steep hill, chose to turn his truck into an embankment rather than hit a bus full of widows and orphans. The driver who pulled an unconscious woman to safety from a burning car and then died when the gas tank blew up while he was going back for the box of puppies in the back seat. The countless stories of truck drivers helping stranded 4-wheelers on lonely roads.

But my favorite story was about a mysterious place called Cabbage Hill and the widowed woman who lived at the bottom of the hill called Sad Mary. It seems that Mary had this son, Bill, who was a truck driver. They were both quite happy. Mary worked at the truck stop at the bottom of Cabbage Hill. All the truckers loved Mary because she was so friendly and smiled a lot. And she went out of her way to make them feel at home when their own homes were so far away. When a driver would thank her for being kind, she always said she just hoped someone was doing the same for Bill wherever he was. When Bill did come home, Mary looked forward to spoiling him by cooking all his favorite foods, baking him pies, doing his laundry, etc.

Then Mary’s birthday came around but Bill wasn’t home yet. Bill had never missed her birthday before, but this time there was a horrible snow storm and Cabbage was just too dangerous to risk coming down. Mary knew it and resigned herself to celebrating her birthday at the truck-stop with her friends. Late that evening a driver pushed in the door shaking snow off his coat and looking for Mary. His face was white and he was trembling. “Oh Mary, I’m so sorry. Bill was trying to push through the snow to celebrate your birthday and he lost control on Cabbage. I think he lost his brakes. I saw him go over the guardrail.”

Mary stood utterly still. That was the same way she had lost her husband years before. Lost him to Cabbage. They looked for Bill’s truck but it was days before the snow let up enough to find him. He had rolled 27 times into the bottom of a ravine. That’s when Mary became Sad Mary. She worked in the truck-stop like always, but the men would often see her stop and look up at the hill that had taken first her husband then her son. She had nobody to take care of anymore. She didn’t smile. She didn’t laugh. She didn’t care.

Well… well… I loved that story. I would get choked up and think about how very sad Sad Mary must be now. And secretly I swore to myself that I would become a truck driver. And I would drive through city streets that rubbed my mirrors. I would brave the swarms of bugs and the creepy swamps. I would save stranded motorists on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. But mostly I would conquer Cabbage Hill. I would drive down that hill through drifts of snow six feet high. With my brakes on fire. I would pull into the truck stop, find Sad Mary, and ask her to do my laundry. And maybe bake me a pie. A gooseberry pie. And she wouldn’t be sad anymore.

Those truckers probably had no idea how much they meant to me. I’m sure talking to me was just a way for them to pass a few minutes of their day. But I was a bored kid stuck in a small town. To me their tall-tales and our conversations were tiny glimpses of this huge world just down the road. A great big world that you made your own. Where you depended on yourself and you knew you could handle any situation. Because you were a truck driver. Where you made lots of money and lived really well. Because you were a truck driver. Where you did the right thing. You treated people right. You had self-confidence and self-respect. And the respect of the people you met. Because you were a truck driver.

3 Responses
  1. 2008 August 31

    Oh my God, Hedon, I absolutely LOVED this. Absolutely one of the BEST things I’ve ever read on being a driver. I hope to someday be as accomplished as you are as a driver and I too, hope to be able to conquer Cabbage on my own. In snow.

    And I love hearing about your childhood and your CB experience with the drivers. So fabulously written – I’m sending it to my mother! She’s going to love it. :)

  2. 2008 September 11
    Anonymous permalink

    I Liked it.JG Noel Mo

  3. 2008 September 12

    Very glad you liked it, JG. Welcome to the blog. Make yourself at home.

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