Down in the basement lie several boxes of my old logbooks. Twelve books a year for each of the 20 years I spent playing in traffic -- half a lifetime on 7,200 pages.
Photo by Jim Park
What's on those pages isn't as remarkable as the fact that I can still recall almost every load, to the day and location, as I read the details etched in carbon. Whatever memory is made of, I'm glad it doesn't get used up like the money I earned. If it did, I'd need to wear a name tag.
There's the time I told a waitress in this sunny little truckstop near Augusta, Ga., one Sunday morning in June 1992 that I was absolutely sick of bacon and eggs, and Raisin Bran.
"Surprise me," I said. She brought me a Southern delicacy of mushed pork brains. Be careful what you ask for.
Here are four consecutive days of off-duty time from September '84. Rapid City, South Dakota, it says. Nothing moving eastbound, I guess, but plenty of stuff to see in that part of the world. I bobtailed over to Mt. Rushmore with a guy named Dan who lived in St. Louis. He had a gunshot wound on his cheek and a metallic green 357 Pete with gold striping. We spent most of the day underground in a cave, but still managed to get a good look at the work carved into the side of the famous mountain before the sun went down.
The old logs are a diary. The pictures are a little faded, but when part of the image clears, the rest comes into focus pretty quickly. It's like driving through fog. I can see part of the scene, and that leads to the next part, or was it the last part? The old logbooks are a long montage of scenes and memories that have no place on the current radar screen, except that they contributed to the present condition in a very significant way.
It makes me wonder how many other people have kept such a detailed record of their lives. If I ever become rich and famous, I wonder if the logbooks would protect me in a paternity suit?
"I'm sorry, Your Honor. My client was clearly nowhere near the plaintiff on the evening in question. It says here, in his log book, that he was in Montgomery, Alabama, while she claims to have been home in bed, in Poughkeepsie."
The triumphs are there, and the tragedies too -- separated by only a few pages in some cases.
Like the day I assisted with the birth of a baby girl in a cabover Freightliner on the dirt parking lot of a truckstop near Red Skelton's hometown of Vincennes, Indiana. And a week later, the morning the guy crossed the double line and slammed into the rear axle of my trailer near Latchford, Ont., killing himself after falling asleep at the wheel on his way home from work.
I should get rid of them. They take up space I could use for motorcycle parts. The truth, of course, is that they represent a part of me that I'm quite proud of but can never hang on a wall the way I could a university degree. They're my Red Badge of Courage. The T-Shirt, as it were.
Those 7,200 pages represent about 57,000 hours behind the wheel. My father, in contrast, was an airline pilot who accumulated some 24,000 hours of flying time during his 35-year career. Amateur aviators gasp at the number. Veteran flyers understand what that time means in experience and insight. What does 57,000 hours mean to a tired old trucker? A bad back, hypertension, sleep apnea and 40 cents a mile.
Hang onto your old logs as long as you can. They tell the greatest story you'll never remember.