By Bill Hudgins, columnist
Recently I needed the feel of pavement rolling under my feet. So with the Fourth of July coming up, I hopped into the vintage Cornbinder commanded by my friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe.
With her nose pointed toward the setting sun beyond the end of I-40, we rolled out of the Tennessee hills to the Mississippi River and onto the seemingly endless miles.
The CB hummed and chirped and popped with updates of open or closed coops, questions about the weather and, most often, reports of local yokels or full-grown bears at this or that yardstick.
After several of these conversations, Rufus said, “You know, you were right on target back at the Mid-America Trucking Show when you said that truckers are ‘Yardstick Nation.’ ”
I had to stop and think a second. Then I remembered posting a photo on the Pork Chop Diaries blog captioned “Yardstick Nation.” It showed a MATS visitor carrying a yardstick, which is the show’s signature souvenir.
But I sensed Rufus meant something more. “How do you figure?” I asked.
Rufus nodded at the CB.
“Well, most everything that we do is connected to miles somehow. And what civilians call mile markers, we call yardsticks. We’re paid by the mile – by the yardstick. And just listen to the
CB – the stuff we need to know about, like scales and wrecks and bears, we talk about in yardsticks.
“When we’re running tight on a deadline – or, worse, tight on a deadline AND on hours – what do we think about? ‘I’m at this yardstick, need to be at that one; can I make it?’
“If you run the same route a few times, you start to remember every one of those yardsticks. You can see it in your head when someone talks about it.
“A few of us will drive for our whole lives and never have a chargeable accident. That’s what, 3, 4, 5 million yardsticks? And when you add up all the miles all of us truckers run every year, it’s into the Billions with a really big capital B!
“There aren’t that many of us, when you get down to it. A few million hands behind the wheel to supply … what, 350-some million folks? That means truckers are one in a hundred. And people say anyone can do this job? Sheesh.
“And most of us do it safely and courteously and responsibly, but you know what happens: People only remember the meatheads. You know, to them the meatheads are the yardstick they measure all of us by,” Rufus mused.
“Personally, I think we should take a lotta pride in being ‘Yardstick Nation.’ Maybe then people would measure us by the billions of safe yardsticks we put behind us every year to keep America fed and clothed and housed. By the sacrifices every driver makes to support families they don’t see often enough.
“Hold that yardstick up against the driver who waits for hours, without pay a lot of the time, and then has to lump a load, without pay, and measure the pride and determination that keeps him or her going. Then hold that same yardstick up to someone who hollers about @#$# truckers and see how they measure up. I bet they come up more than a little bit short!”
We rolled on without talking for a bit. There were a lot of rigs out for a holiday. With the Fourth of July on a Wednesday, I suspected that, like Rufus and me, many of these drivers would spend the holiday in motion, trying to time their trips to match up with the docks’ opening on Thursday.
I said as much to Rufus. “Oh, there are worse ways of spending a holiday. We truckers choose this way of life, so running the road when we choose is just another yardstick. It’s how we measure our independence.”
Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often. LL