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truck loading redux

Yesterday I helped my friends Terry and Kirsten move. They had a household’s worth of stuff to put in a 32’ rental so Terry could drive their stuff from the garage of their old house in Columbia Missouri to their new home of Corvalis Oregon. I always think of Corvalis as the last bastion of civilization because of David Brin’s The Postman. They kept the lights on when no one else did. Good science fiction serves as a thought experiment; a way to illuminate “what if”. Brin convinced me that when the shit hits the fan communities survive, not individuals, no matter how strong the redoubt or how advanced the warning.

I’d told Terry after he asked for help that I would be happy too, as loading trucks was something of a specialty of mine. My dad drives truck, when I was a youngster he used to haul furniture. When I was three years old he gave up his career as a meat manager at Foodtown to drive truck for Beacon Van Lines, after my little brother drowned in our swimming pool. It was a way to runaway without really running away. He took one trip on his own, discovered he was powerful lonely, and grabbed me up for the next one, and all the ones after that till the accursed state decided I should be in school “learning something”. By kindergarten I’d been to 43 states but my moving days getting limited to Summer it took me till I was 12 to get the 48 continental states, and I’m still waiting on Alaska and Hawaii.

My main job was keeping Dad awake on the long night drives. I used to sit “Indian style” on the doghouse, the plastic console covering the engine raised up between the seats in the old cabovers he drove back then. He would confide in me and share his plans and dreams, hopes and regrets and tell me about the world we were driving past and what excitements lay ahead. I would share questions, jokes and stories and my thoughts on all we’d seen and what lay ahead.

Driving truck is brutal. Getting paid by the mile, it’s the last piecework. There is heavy pressure, Darwinian survival pressure even, to drive fast and even more so to drive long. There was no getting off work, only getting laid over when there was no work. Furniture haulers have it the worst. Hump heavy shit all day into a metal oven whose ambient temperature is running 20 degrees higher than outside than drive all night so you can hump it back out the next day. I was not only told the value of hard work but also, observed it first hand, and was soon enough actively participating in it. Carrying lampshades and the like and learning quickly the art of staying out of the way led to ever increasing workloads. By eight I could handle an end of a dresser and we didn’t always hire an extra guy anymore. I felt pride and a sense of accomplishment. I realized quickly how lucky I was to see the world and all the different ways that people could live, later how rare to have my father’s undivided attention for hours and hours day after day as we drove across this grand land of ours.

I also learned a thing or two about the loading of trucks. Just as my dad would survey the assembled objects that were to be carefully arranged for the long haul, I surveyed their things and sketched a plan in my mind. “I want the washer and dryer and we’re going to have to unbury the deep freeze for the first layer”. I tried to explain the process so I wouldn’t sound imperious as I pretty much stayed in the truck building the first layers and calling out for what I needed next. Between layers we started roping box springs and mattresses as they became increasingly less elegant as the game of Tetris was played with increasingly bizarre shaped pieces.

Terry and Kirsten’s 4-½ year old son Kai started carrying up some of the lighter items. I called him sir and thanked him and marveled at the size of his carries as I remembered the many workmen doing over me when I was his age. I praised him and his parents in front of him for staying out from underfoot and following directions. Even Ben at 2 ½ waddled up an item or two, his pudgy toddler legs pumping up the sandpaper ramp like mine must have in those early days.

It brought a smile to my face and the heady joy of some serious nostalgia even in the hard work in the heat and the humidity. My carriers faded in and out as more helpers arrived and other helpers got engrossed in conversation or childcare as the day progressed, but I didn’t relinquish the loading job till the very end. I’d paid my dues carrying and watching Dad build the layers, thousands and thousands of layers, trying to anticipate what he was going to need next. I’d earned my “Alright I want those three purple tubs and all the rest of the heavy boxes. Then I’ll take those long handled tools.”

The saddest part of the day was when the layer got seriously funky and I had to say; “Lets keep the kids out of the truck now, its no longer safe.” Saddened to see my remembrances cut short I was still glad to be done before the serious heat of the day. Hopefully Kai will have as sweet memories of driving truck as I do.

Michael Trapp

7/29/07 1:00 pm CST

Categories: childhood, travel
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