We all remember them from our time in high school – the girls that wanted to be popular and make the cheer squad, and the boys who aspired to be captain of the football team. I’m from a time long ago and a place far away. Michigan in the 1960s and early 70s wasn’t that much different than Southern California, except for the long, cold and wet winters, and nobody could surf. We did, however, have Motown (Detroit) and the music and vibe that it generated.
I remember going to the county fair each year and seeing some big stars perform. Don’t ask me who they were, because I may have lost my memory or misplaced their names. Chances are I was more into my date than the band. Just being honest here – music wasn’t my thing back then, but girls… HELL YES! Oops, I forget this is a family-friendly publication! I managed to grow up in the middle of corn fields and livestock pens only to ship off to, you guessed it, Southern California. The West was the land of everything Michigan wasn’t.
When I got out to California, I was labeled a “Jarhead” and easily spotted by my haircut (we all wore it the same, high and tight). If you’re not sure what that is, it’s shaved, all except for a little bristle on top. As military personnel, you can bet we were never mistaken for beach bums or the surfer crowd. In fact, most of us were only popular two days of the month – on both our paydays. It’s a safe statement to say we were not “Teen Idols” to the community members that lived near our base at Camp Pendleton just north of San Diego, CA.
Flash forward to now, where I spent a good part of my day listening to the oldies music station on my XM radio. Today was a warm and sunny Saturday, and I only had 650 miles to drive, so I turned up the tunes and “let it ride” (song reference from the 1960s). At some point thereafter, I realized the music was talking to me. I mean that in the literal sense – it was telling not only my story, but the story of most truck drivers.
The song that was speaking to me is called Teenage Idol, and it was sung by Ricky Nelson (1962). “There’s no time to love me, just smile, and then it’s off to the next show.” Such is the lonely life of a teenage idol (insert truck driver here). “I’ve got no time to find her, because I’m just passing through, I guess I’ll just be a rolling stone. They got no way of knowing how lonesome I can be. If I find fortune and fame, and everyone knows my name, it won’t mean a thing if I’m all alone.” Now, these aren’t the complete lyrics, but you get the idea. I don’t want to be a “Debbie Downer” here, I’m just using this song to point to the obvious – life is about more than hauling freight and making money.
Some of you may know a famous or mega popular person and, if so, I think you will be able to relate to this. I can tell you we have had not one but two in our close circle of friends. The first is the son of a very close personal friend of mine, and since I live on the eastern side of the US, we didn’t know he had a life outside of home. This was a normal kid, except for his extreme good looks. The kind where you see him and just think, “He’s too handsome for his own good!” He must have all the girls running after him. He was polite to a fault and smart for his age group. He came to the farm for the first time with his dad when he was maybe 12 years old or so.
The first thing we noticed about this handsome kid was that he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do some of the rough house things most kids do. I asked why not, and his father informed me he was under contract, and couldn’t do what might be considered dangerous. That was almost everything around our house! Looking stupid, I asked, who would think up something like that? The answer – his employer – Walt Disney Productions. It turns out he was a character actor and made commercials for a company out West. Back East no one recognized him, and he could be normal for a bit.
Jump forward a few years, and this “kid” landed a significant role in a movie that became a smash hit. Unfortunately, his voice changed before filming began, and his part was recast to someone else. Since then, he has committed himself to the Lord and works as a youth pastor in his hometown. He is leading a very productive and normal life. Moral of this story: be careful what you wish for. Like the words in the song, “If I find fame and fortune, and everyone knows my name, it won’t mean a thing if I’m all alone.”
The second “famous” person I know is someone a lot of you might know, as well. And when I say teen idol, this kid was barely a teenager when he began to gain notoriety on Facebook. Convoy Cody Jenks is a young guy who has done more in a few years than some drivers will ever do. He went to the Louisville truck show with my family many times, and he knew everybody, and they knew him, too. Many thought he was a driver for us, not knowing he didn’t even have a license to drive a car yet. Sometimes the perception of one’s knowledge and worth can be overstated due to their popularity. There is a meme going around that says, “When you surround yourself with millionaires, you stand a good chance of becoming one, too. But if you are surrounded with bums, there’s a good chance you will become one of those, as well.” Help me on this one: I’m still not sure of the difference between a bum and an out-of-work truck driver!
Back to my point for this month. This is directed to the drivers who have nice rides and roll under the radar. These are people you probably won’t find in a centerfold or on John Testa’s live Friday Night program on the 10-4 Magazine Facebook page and YouTube. Why, you ask? Because they are just truckin, and don’t want the fame. You know who they are, just not their names. They ease into the parking lot low and slow, with the sun gleaming off their chrome, and you can’t help yourself from looking and thinking, “Damn, that’s cool!” Are you starting to see what I’m thinking?
In our industry, it’s the equipment that becomes our items of affection, but the center of attraction is still like it was back in the day when we thought, “I want to be that guy (or girl).” Only this time it’s, “I want to drive that truck.” We have our own celebrities in trucking, too. All someone has to do is go back over the glossy pages of 10-4 Magazine to find them. Shoot, we even have our own paparazzi, or whatever they call the people who catch us doing our thing (insert names like Stephanie Haas, Dan The Man, or that guy who does it all at the speed of sound, Art Czajkowski). And the best part about this is, if you don’t like your “look” you can rebuild or remake yourself. You can even change your voice! Remove your old Detroit and shoehorn in a big Caterpillar for a brand-new growl. You’re on the way, driver, to notoriety. It’s time to practice your shiftin’ and learn to roll the jakes.
I wrote earlier I was gonna give homage to the drivers who ride under the radar. These are some real runners who burn more midnight oil than a tanker could haul. They load the wagons in the twilight hour and crush concrete until well after the sun rises, then start the next day looking as fresh as a company driver who slept at home the night before. You won’t hear them complain about much, except maybe the freight rates and bad coffee. When most drivers are rushing to get to the house on a Friday night, they can be found getting pressed out at the nearest truck wash, and before they take time to shower, they make sure every inch of their iron is gleaming.
You won’t find them at any shows on the next weekend, either. And it’s not because they don’t want the trophies, it’s more about how they would rather spend time with the people who mean the most to them and away from the places they might be recognized. Instead, doing mom and dad things, or maybe fishing with a non-trucking buddy. After the challenge of the highway, who doesn’t want to spend some time straddling their two-wheeler with the wind in their hair and the sun on their back? I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with many of these types of truck drivers, and most would rather roll the truck stop than park on the grass for a weekend festival. These are drivers who you might not know their names, but if you see their trucks, you know all about them.
I once had a friend called Low Boy Lukas, and his favorite phrase was IMAGE IS EVERYTHING. Let’s just toss some names out here. Most of these drivers are from the Midwest and they don’t roll much out West, but thanks to Facebook, they are still recognized in pictures. When your “Rollin with Knowlan” you don’t have to ask who is driving – it is the big guy himself, Phil Knowlan. His purple Pete was featured in the Shell SuperRigs calendar a few years back. How about Ivan Yoder from the world of steel haulers up in Indiana? His fleet gives “Top Shelf” its rightful place on the scale of cool.
Anybody ever hear of a guy named Brian Holmberg from Minnesota? He’s a regular at the wash in Barstow, CA on the weekends. We tease him, saying he runs Holmberg Worldwide, because we don’t know where in the world he might be. One thing for sure, it’s not home on Saturday night. “Roll on, Buddy!” I could go on for a very long time and not name anyone twice. These drivers, and others like them (Brian Hitchcock), are the people they write songs about. Songs like Big Wheels in the Moonlight and Daddy’s Hands are two of my old favorites. Hey, this isn’t all about the guys, there are girls out there doing it, too. Here’s a shout out to our adopted daughter Priscilla Sprenger from the land of Kenworth. Roll that coal, Miss Prissy, and keep on dreaming. This article started out about teen idols but ended up being about truck idols.
How many of you get asked by your lifetime friends about what it’s like to be on vacation all year? I know I do, and many of them really think this job is like being retired. Few ever take the time to realize how much we miss when we are on the road and the price we pay in our personal lives. The cost of cool ain’t cheap. We all pay a price, and that price is paid with gold chiseled from our souls. No money can ever repay or replace the rough edges it leaves. These edges are the impressions that shape our character. Every time our idols face down Mother Nature and race against Father Time, they pay the toll. Just like in the song, “They see my smile, but then it’s on to the next show.” This isn’t the first time or the only time… it’s every time, and each time they tear another piece from the fabric of our soul.
The first example I told you about, our childhood actor friend, is true of all drivers. Had fate not stepped in and played her hand, he may have become the next Tom Cruz. We are all secretly glad things happened the way they did. This young man went on to have a great relationship with the girl of his dreams and is serving a higher purpose. Who knows, maybe later in life, when he has time, he might take up acting again.
Now, regarding the other guy I mentioned, he lives just across the river from Aunt Barb and I in his own little house beside the creek. Why would that be important? Because he also made choices that altered his path. His first job put him in a good place to find his second and third jobs, and then the hits just kept coming. A number of jobs later, he realized what one must sacrifice to have one of those “teen idol” rides, and that realization took its toll. The road to success can be littered with burning bridges. There’s an old refrain that says be mindful of those you offend on your way up the chain of life, since you may see them again on your way down. Once again, fate stepped in, and hopefully he has found a suitable path that will allow him to find his own way. I have no doubt one day he will have his own ride, dressed to impress, just not today.
I went a little long here, but I want to leave everyone with this advice. Not everyone we impress is important in our life, so make the most of your life with the ones who are! In our search for fame and fortune, we may never see the true value in ourselves. Here’s a note to my sweetheart: leave the gate unlocked and the porch light on, because I’m rolling in. I’m not pressed out, just worn out. And I may be rolling dirty, but I’m leaving lonesome on the road, since my house is full of love, 10-4!