JUST PASSIN' THROUGH
For most of us they just pass by in an anonymous 55 mph (give or take) blur on their way to somewhere else. Truckers. Ever wonder for just a moment who's driving that rig? Where they're headed? Where they're from? How long have they been driving? What they think is the best and worst thing about the trucking life? Or maybe even what they're listening to during all those hours on the road? Just something to help put a face and a person behind those huge, impersonal grills. There's no better place around here to solve these mysteries than at the Flying J Truck Stop just south of La Grande where hundreds of these big rigs roll to a hissing stop every day, and drivers emerge from their little cocoon of a home on the road for a quick shower or meal or just to stretch their legs after that long drive from Portland or Boise to here. This is that fleeting moment where, if they have the time, those blurs can be momentarily focused and the impersonal made personal. Of course there's not near enough space or time to get a life story, but just enough to introduce you to
the person behind those so impersonal
ump-teened-wheelers. So here are a few of the drivers I met at the Flying J who happily gave me the time to tell me a little about themselves and the trucking life. It seemed as if they were thrilled to be put in focus for even a moment in a line of work where they are continually in a blur just passing through to somewhere else.
Glenn Moench, Carseland, Alberta Years: 13
On the way to: Boise
The Worst: "You pretty much have no social life since you're always on the road.
The Best: "The changing scenery and meeting good people from all over."
Favorite Area: Texas/Louisiana "The wide open roads and the people."
Worst Area: New York City and state "Way too much traffic."
Listening Pleasures: Satellite radio tuned to country, talk.
"My most interesting trips have been in the Northwest Territories crossing the ice bridges up there in the winter. They usually don't make you too nervous."
Chris Moon, Ontario Years: 23
On the way to: Virginia Beach, Va.
The Worst: "C.B. radio. You have to listen to it to know where the police are and what's going on but it's just overrun with people selling stuff and even prostitutes get on there."
The Best: "Freedom. No boss."
Favorite Area: Northwest "It's beautiful and its climate is just right."
Worst Area: Northeast "The traffic."
Listening Pleasure: XM radio and the Nascar station.
"Everyone should ride for a week in one of these rigs so they know what blind-siding and signals are."
"I delivered submarine missles and cadavers to a military base once. That was pretty interesting."
Tim Sigler, Ohio Years: 14
On the way to: Wyoming
The Worst: "Either speed limits or D.O.T. regulations. They're just looking for money. Also, in the winter, putting chains on 14 tires is not very enjoyable."
The Best: "Getting to see different people and places."
Favorite Area: "Anywhere but California."
Worst Area: "Michigan for their speed limit, and Missouri for their terrible roads."
Listening Pleasure: Country. Specifically JoDee Messina.
"The construction nationwide is just awful. You can't
seem to go more than a few miles before running into something."
Bill ColE, Griffith, Ind. Years: 10
On the way to: Boise
The Worst: "Traffic."
The Best: "No clocks to punch and I can do my own thing."
Favorite Area: Montana "It's gorgeous up there."
Worst Area: Texas "Flat and nothing."
Listening Pleasure: XM satellite radio and audio books. Currently listening to a "Shell Scott Mystery" titled "The Scrambled Yeggs" by Richard Prather.
"My most interesting load was delivering vulcanized rubber for seals on the space shuttle boosters. Not the ones that failed, though. My load was after that."
Mark BennetT, Salt Lake City Years: 25
On the way to: Seattle
The Worst: "Boredom. Doing the same thing every day."
The Best: "The freedom to stop when you want and where you want."
Favorite Area: Oregon "Actually, it's the best for summer driving but not too good for winter."
Worst Area: "Depends on the season. The Donner summit is about the worst I've gone across in winter. And any big city is the worst."
Listening Pleasure: Books on tape and talk radio. Currently listening to a W.W.B. Griffin book about World War II and the marines.
"Aside from the beginning and the end, I really enjoy the Salt Lake to L.A. run."
Mike Pearson - St. Louis Years: 31
On the way to: Seattle
The Worst: "All the different laws and standards from state to state and of course the fuel prices."
The Best: "Independence."
Favorite Area: California/The Northwest "It's wide open down in Cal, and up here it's nice and cool. Don't need A.C. Just crack the window and you're set for the night."
Worst Area: Tucson or Chicago "Chicago because of their low overpasses, and Tucson because it's just way too hot."
Listening Pleasures: Jazz, blues and gospel
"My most interesting job was probably moving Wayne Gretzky's stuff to his new home."
Autumn Olingar, Cheyenne, Wyo. Years: 1
On the way to: South Dakota
The Worst: "Four-wheelers (passenger cars). All drivers should have to take a CDL class so they know what it takes to drive one of these big trucks. They'd be a little more careful about cutting us off afterwards."
The Best: "Good money and you get to see new things every day."
Favorite Area: "Pennsylvania or any state with a 75-mph speed limit."
Worst Area: California "Congestion."
Listening Pleasure: Country music.
"I think my most annoying load would be sheep. They're so stupid."
Vern KanE, Portland Years: 30
On the way to: Amarillo, Texas
The Worst: "Having to be away from family and home and eat a lot of bad food."
The Best: "Freedom. No boss. Well, at least no boss you have to talk to for days at a time."
Favorite Area: Wyoming "You can drive fast out there."
Worst Area: Oregon and Ohio "Police aren't very lenient there. Especially over towards The Dalles area here in Oregon."
Listening Pleasure: Satellite radio and all kinds of music.
"The Flying J here is known for its good food. Except it was a bit cold today for some reason. And I'd better edit my T-shirt here for ya'."
Willie Harris - Pensacola, Fla. Years: 20+
On the way to: Seattle
The Worst: "Acts of God, like weather and such. Breakdowns."
The Best: "No bosses. Freedom."
Favorite Area: Florida and Arizona "Flat. Nothing but a straight shot, and you only have to worry about the wind."
Worst Area: Montana "There's nothin' there. And it's a long way from anywhere once you get there."
Listening Pleasure: "Nothing. I want to hear what's going on around me, especially the engine."
"I really miss the family. There's hurricanes going on down there right now, and I just have to hope they'll be OK."
Beverly Billings & Sasha - Lewis, Iowa Years: 9
On the way to: Portland
The Worst: "Not being home. When my father was dying a couple years back, I only just barely made it back in time to say goodbye to him."
The Best: "Seeing different people, places, and the satisfaction of doing a good job without having someone looking over your shoulder the whole time."
Favorite Area: Southeast states "It's just so pretty and green and the people are so laid back."
Worst Area: California "Traffic and police."
Listening Pleasure: XM radio Old-Time Radio channels.
"My most memorable experience driving was pulling a big rig onto a ferry to cross Lake Erie. The drivers of the little cars were sort of nervous about the weight."
So now you've met a few of the faces behind these big wheels. Now you know that all truckers aren't listening to Willie Nelson all the time but almost all truckers love their relative independence best and either love or hate Montana, Texas and California. And if you don't come away with much else, hopefully you'll remember to try and stay out of their blind areas and to never cut a truck off in a rush to make an exit. After all, Willie and Beverly and Vern and the rest are just trying to get their job done safely so they can get back to home and family, just like the rest of us. So to all you truckers out there, have a good and safe run and enjoy your brief glimpse of our little corner of the valley. Oh, and forgive me but I have to say it, keep on truckin'!
Stories and photos by Chris Baxter of The Observer