Goals and ambitions disappear in the glow of Christmas lights, lost in the end-year hubbub and reflection. I’ve been taking it easy by reading a couple of on-the-job memoirs, one by a Nevada state trooper and the other by a British immigrant to Canada who began driving commercial freight trucks in her fifties.
I suspected Patrolling the Heart of the West would make for a good read, given how desolate Nevada is; there, a trooper works alone, and has to be a resourceful jack of all trades, equally skilled at un-snaring traffic after a wintry jacknife or rendering first aid to someone critically injured. There were no desperate straits recorded here to witness Trooper Raab climbing out of, though; the one time he squares off with an armed felon, said felon is so tired of running that they shoot themselves in the car. There are a lot of human-interest stories here, but not much of the “A Man Alone Against the Elements”-type adventures I was expecting. It’s…cop work — pulling over people, sometimes chasing them, analyzing traffic accidents to figure out whose insurance agency gets the unhappy news. If you like COPS or LivePd (and I’m an addict of the latter’s youtube clips), it’s enjoyable enough.
Far more entertaining was Trucking in English, the story of a middle-aged ambulance driver and British mom turned American truck driver. Steele offers the most detailed memoir I’ve ever encountered on learning to operate big rigs, devoting a full third of her book to training alone, then detailing her first few months as a driver — beginning in the Canadian winter (!) before finding warm respite in Texas, Kentucky, and the Carolinas. Steele introduces herself as a longtime feminist crusader, claiming to have fought for the right of women ambulance drivers to be taken seriously some decades prior. The advancing of years apparently removed the chip on her shoulder, as she takes the kidding of other drivers in good humor and occasionally uses the lovable-English-mum to good effect in enlisting help or getting past obnoxious bureaucrats. I found Steele to be warm, amusing company; although frequently on the verge of feeling overwhelmed by the challenges before her (climbing the Canadian Rockies in winter, navigating Detroit), she buckles down and does the work. She learns from her mistakes, too, filling a book with notes about particular drop areas and accumulating tools in her cabin to handle any contingency. Not until the end of the book, when months of seventy hour weeks take their toll does her dauntless and good humor begin to fade Steele’s memoir is breezy but detailed.
Other trucking books of interest:
Danger Heavy Goods, about the UK-Middle East run of the 1980s. Unique.
Truck This For a Living: Tales from a Lorry Driver.
Pedal to the Metal: The Work Lives of Truckers, Lawrence Oulett. My favorite trucking book, a sociological study of the profession.
This year is not over yet. I may finish The Prince of Frogtown (Rick Bragg) or The Judge’s List (John Grisham) before 2022 rolls around…provided I don’t get distracted by my Christmas gift to myself, Farming Simulator 2019.