Ultimately, I survived childhood, as did Mom and Dad—barely. I didn’t end up in jail, a lawyer, or politician, though Mom and Dad—or so I thought—would have settled for doctor. But truck driver?
Though no one had ever taken the time to browse my bookshelves—or so I thought—they foretold, with extreme accuracy, a less conventional future—what mom’s friends would consider a phase, something I would grow out of.
But I never did, and after four directionless years at university, at the end of the sixties, I was nowhere—no clear path, no money, no job. At the State Unemployment Office, looking for something temporary, I jotted down three entries from the State’s database, then took a number to present my findings to the next available agent.
Looking over my completed form, he said they’d already sent the maximum number of applicants to one of my listings. His phone rang, and while briefly turning away, I scanned his screen and saw the company and address of the one he said was off limits. I went anyway and got lucky. The dispatcher at this manufacturing plant turned out to be a first cousin I hadn’t seen in years.
“Rob, do you know how to drive a twenty-two-foot straight truck with a two-speed rear end.”
“Piece of cake,” I said. He looked worried and excused himself to the dock area where trucks were loading. I couldn’t hear what he said, but the dock foreman’s response was loud and clear.
“I don’t give a flying fuck who he is, or how you’re related, we need him. Now!” I was hired. To my great good fortune, the drivers had recently joined the Teamsters Union so if I survived, I’d be making a decent wage.
I had my foot in the door of a semi-skilled profession that many folks looked upon as a legitimate job for life. While truck driving as a career had never been a goal, I started out like a kid on a carnival ride, loving every minute, thrilled to be on a new, unexpected road to self-reliance. My acceptance into this blue-collar brotherhood seemed sudden and a surprise in many ways, especially after four years at university.
Never had I dreamed of being in a position to see and experience so many extraordinary things so early in life, soon realizing that these would be the first serious stepping stones to fulfilling my boyhood dream.
Sadly, the enchantment only lasted a few years, as the long hours of isolation gradually replaced the initial excitement. I became anesthetized, white line fever, as good as an excuse as any in the face of a shitload of adult responsibilities that at times seemed almost cliché. Listening to Janis Ian’s lament in her song, At Seventeen: “married young and then retired,” or Springsteen’s ballad of loss in the The River, “all those things that seemed so important, they just vanished right into the air,” struck a frightening chord.
As the gear jamming days ground on, something in my psyche, under my skin, like a virus, tingling—wouldn’t stop. I had to find a way out, to the next chapter. Up high, in the cab of an eighteen-wheeler, the mind-liberating freedom of the road allowed me to keep dreaming. In the end, I was able to quit, allowing pieces of my mixed-up life to sort themselves out, paving the way to the freedom I had dreamed about for years.