Line One
Dashboard Confidential
Life lessons from a tomato

By Dave Sweetman


Back when I was just a young lad, my Uncle Richard was a truck driver. The kind of driver that singer Dave Dudley used to portray in his music. I looked up to Richard in many ways, as he would come home and tell tales of the road that inspired me to want to travel, just as he did. Family vacations ended too soon for me and I always wanted to go further. Richard went further and I wanted to go, too. I still do.

I remember when I accompanied him on a short trip in his rig and was fascinated. The noises, the rough ride, the potential for danger were the very things that should have scared me away, but instead drew me in even closer. I recall Richard showing me a tomato he had put in the glove box at the beginning of the trip with no explanation.

I also recall the rough ride of that old White and the flatbed loaded with steel we had behind us. The number of chains and binders that held the load in place, the smells of the hot tires when we stopped at a diner, the flirting of the waitress, and the taste of the food far away from home.

I remember it all. And it made me want to be a truck driver. And it still does. Visiting with Richard’s trucker pals in the diners, listening to the tales about bad weather, bad cops and bad dispatchers made it seem even more exciting.

Reaching our destination, I recall the unloading of the steel beams, the hanging of the binders and chains, and being thanked for making the delivery safely.

I even recall the stupid joke when I was asked why I was dragging the chain back to the truck. “Because you can’t push one,” was the reply. I remember laughing about it for the rest of the day. It’s no funnier now than it was 50 years ago, but to an 8-year-old it was.

I remember getting to a factory where we loaded big bags of something stacked high and watching while Richard struggled to secure the load. Steel seemed easier to deal with.

The ride back home went without a problem, but I watched the mirrors intently to make sure we did not lose any of the bagged cargo. My job was to watch outside the windows for any signs of danger, and I did my job well.

At the end of the trip, Richard reached over and opened the glove box and pointed to the tomato. What had started out the trip as a fresh, red tomato was now battered, bruised and split. Nothing that I would dare eat and I told him so.

Richard had made a point and let me try to figure it out on my own. The tomato had taken a severe beating, been bashed about, and had suffered damage from the rough and bumpy ride. I was told in no uncertain terms that I should never want to drive trucks for a living. After a few years, he predicted, my “insides” would be like the tomato and my “outsides” would be equally damaged.

Now, all these many years later, having dragged myself around the country with more than 4 million miles behind me, I think about what Richard said quite often. He was right, of course. The road has taken its toll on me. Like every driver out here, both past and present, there are sacrifices made but we either ignore them or endure them.

I can recall Richard telling me that this trucking life is no kind of family life and in the next breath would talk about his trucking buddies as a brotherhood, like a family. And we know that to be so. Not as a replacement for but an addition to our blood relatives and family. Try to explain any of that to non-truckers and it usually goes right over their heads. It’s one of those things that average folks never consider when they go to the market.

I raise my old Consolidated Freightways coffee cup in salute to Uncle Richard for life lessons well taught, even those that I did not heed. LL


Dave Sweetman can be reached at