One Step Forward and Two Steps Back
(the truckers Waltz)

Chapter 7

IT’S HARD BEING A MINOW IN A POND FULL OF SHARKS

One afternoon after Bill had finished painting the fence, a job that had taken him 3 days he decided to go down to the truck stop for a coffee. Jeanne protested a little, “All you want to do is go down and BS all those old truck driving cronies of yours, isn’t it.”

“Yes dear, all this labor intense retirement is playing me out, don’t worry I won’t take a job driving truck?” he said with a smile as he left.

When he walked in the coffee shop he was greeted by a few people he knew, one of them was an old friend of his that he had trucked with over the years.

Tom Harding was a man in his late fifties or maybe early sixties who like Bill, liked to reminisce about the past. He was a tall thin man who had been up and down the highway almost since trucks had hard rubber tires and four speed transmissions and he was good at his job.

“Hey Bill come on over and I’ll buy a old retired guy a cup of coffee.”

“You bet Tom you have got your self a deal, now that I’m on a pension with a fixed income, I need some one to buy me coffee. This retirement is a lot tougher than I thought it would be, Jeanne had me painting the fence for the last three day, you know this retirement takes all the meaning out of weekend. What the hell day is it to-day?”

“What difference does it make, you don’t have to be any were, except painting the house,” laughed Tom as he said it.

“Enough of this BS, tell me some real lies, what has being going on out there?”

“Not a heck of a lot, just up and down the highway like a yo-yo. Oh by the way, you remember Tim James, he use to pull with us over at Highway Transport.”

“Yeah I remember Timmy, he had that real nice Western Star, real good operator.”

“Well I ran into him on the coast the other day at the card lock and he’s not doing to good these days, It seems that he tied up with an outfit that was running across the line, so they had plated him up with their Pro-rated plates. Of course he had to transfer his truck into their name for licensing. Well it seems he was having trouble with them, the cheques were slow and some times short, just about every trick in the book, so he quite and got another job. Now they won’t transfer his truck back to him, so he can’t go to work. He has been sitting for three weeks now, they have a months hold back on his cheque and he said the bank account is gone and his creditors are starting to get a little restless.”

“Didn’t he have a contract and what is their reason for not transferring his truck?”

“He told me it was over an outstanding cargo claim, that he never heard of. I think they are just pissed off with him for leaving.”

“It seems funny they just don’t hold back the deductible on the claim and turn him loose, what about a lawyer has he gone to a lawyer?” ask Bill, shaking his head.

“Yeah, he went to a lawyer, but he said he would have to refinance his truck or mortgage his home for that, he might just have to do that anyway, just so his family can live.”

“Why are they allowed to do that?” Bill said in discussed, “Thank goodness I never ended up in a situation like that.”

“Well I sure did, do you remember that tractor service I was working for years ago, that went broke and left a bunch of us holding the bag. Well they took me for 1500 hundred dollars; they got a lot of other guys for a lot more when the smoke had cleared. I got wind that something fishy was going on, from the coast, so I just phoned the dispatch and told them my truck was broke down, in the shop and I went fishing, so I only got taken for a couple of trips that month.”

“Come on Tom, you will go fishing with less provocation than your outfit being broken,”

“Old Tom will go fishing with no provocation at all,” one of the other guys at the table said and every one, laughed.

“No, all kidding aside,” Tom said, “this guy just packed up his tent in the night and went back to the coast, a couple of the guys lost their trucks over that, he left owing money for fuel, he owed of the oil company’s a lot of money.”

“He got me for 1800 dollars.” One of the other guys sitting at the table said, “And the sad thing is, he started up again under a different name and is still operating and still is screwing Lease Operators.”

“That is one of the sad things about deregulation,” said Steve, “any Tom, Dick or Harry or who ever, can hang out a shingle, hire a bunch of Lease operators, rent some trailers and start a trucking company. Guys like us have to really be careful who we go to work for, its got to the point that before we go to work for a company, we should talk to some of the guys working for them first, check them out on the internet or where ever and if we’re still not sure, hell, we should ask them for a financial statement as well. We need a resume to go to work for them, why not them giving us one.”

Steve took a sip of his coffee, looked around the table to see if any one was going to disagree and continued, “Most suppliers won’t deal with a company with out checking them out, neither should we. The sad part of getting caught in one of these situations is that even if you get a lawyer, by the time every thing gets settled, your broke, lost your truck and have a brand new mortgage on the shack. I don’t think I ever remember anyone ever coming out with what they were owed”

“You got that right Steve, we can’t afford to be carrying any more weight, then we have to, we have enough on our shoulders as it is.”

“I some times have asked myself, over the years why I have stayed in this business all the years I have. I look around this table and see all you ragged assed old truckers and ask the same question now, why do we do it. If you take any other business were you put your name on a piece of paper for 75,000 to 150,000 dollars and get the return on that investment you get and work the hours, you would probably go to a shrink and have him look in side your head.”

Steve looked around the table and seen nothing but question marks in the eyes of every one there. “Well I have thought about it a lot and there are two things its not, one is worry free and two its not financially stable, but tell me of another job where you can get out on the road and feel the freedom you feel out there. You’re controlling your own destiny; you and you alone are responsible for getting your outfit and your load to its destination safely. You and you along are making all the decision, the satisfaction of knowing that it was you that got it through a bad patch of fog or down a slipper hill, or you that got it out of what could have been a bad accident. With all this comes the pride that you done it.”

The silence at the table was broken only be the waitress, who stop with her coffee pot and asked if anyone else was ready for more coffee.

“But I think there is more to it than that, there is the people you run with out there, some of them you have never meet face to face, but you know they are taking the family on a holiday or that one of their kids is sick and how many they have, all of this you have learned on the radio after meeting them every night on the road. These are the people you trust with your life when you meet them on a stormy winters night in a mountain pass, with the snow blowing around blinding you, on icy roads. These are your phantom friends, a voice on the radio whom you trust your life to. The people, that’s another reason why we’re doing it.”

Every one at the table sat silently pondering what Bill had said when Tom stood up and said, “Ivors, you should have been a preacher, you have almost got us in tear’s and for that sermon, I will buy your coffee.”

When Bill walked into the kitchen that evening and Jeanne greeted him, he said to her, “You know sweetheart, after all these years of me coming into this kitchen, covered with mud at all times of night and day and asking you why was I doing it. Well I think today, I might have answered some of those questions.”

“Well I think that’s great, now you can go and get washed up for supper and tomorrow after you clean the mess you made painting the fence. Then you can solve some of the World’s problems,” Jeanne said with a smug smile on her face.

Go to Chapter 8