In this blue-collar memoir, a writer shines bright lights on the long-haul trucking industry.
In 1973, Clark (Back Door to L.A., 2016, etc.) lied about his experience and got hired by Chicago’s oldest moving company, Hebard Storage. At age 23, he learned to load and unload trucks using a “hump strap” to balance boxes on his back. Though the hours were long and sweaty, the job was more about problem-solving than brawn, writes the author, who learned how to fit a 10-foot sofa through an 8-foot doorway. After Hebard fired Clark (he would work for the company again in the future), he obtained his driver’s license and became a full-time, long-haul trucker, once logging as many as 12,000 miles through 19 American states and one Canadian province. Dreaming of becoming a writer, he also worked on a detective novel and took a journalism class. With prose that hums as smoothly as an 18-wheeler on a wide-open interstate, the author tells memorable—and sometimes startling—anecdotes. Once he accompanied a morgue driver on a pickup of bodies bound for Chicago’s Potter’s Field. But these colorful memories mostly highlight the lively working folks Clark met, and they’re likable—though sometimes dark. For example, there was Bill, a huge man with a 1950s flattop haircut, who gulped gin at lunch and ran afoul of the law. Bill was also an amazing worker who could pull Clark and a piano up the stairs at the same time. Then there was Sam, a Yugoslavian immigrant who sadly ended up in a potter’s field. The author’s nitty-gritty adventures are often gripping—in one nightmarish late-night scene, he came upon a horrific accident. On a different run, his own truck jackknifed. Sometimes these cleareyed anecdotes contain compelling history lessons. Once during the 1979 independent truckers’ strike, his tire was shot. And according to Clark—who at one point drove with his girlfriend—negative attitudes about female truckers began to change when husband-and-wife teams had the best safety records in the industry.
Vivid memories successfully combine working-class pragmatism with romantic glimpses of America’s open road.