Fathers, Sons, and Driving

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My mother married a truck driver named David Berry, an owner-operator, when I was 17. They had been together for a couple of years before that, and he taught me how to drive.

(Not entirely true. At 15, my girlfriend’s father came barreling down the road while we were skipping class, drove the Toyota onto the sidewalk, jumped out, pointed at me and yelled “Get in the truck!” He was 7 feet-tall, big beard, and looked like he could snap a bear in two should he so desire: I got in the damn truck, and got in it fast. Five minutes later we were on some back road, he got out, put me in the driver’s seat and taught me to drive stick that afternoon while he smoked. He drove truck, too.)

But back to Dave: I got to know him from behind the wheel. “I love your mother,” he said during one of my driving lessons. “Would it be okay if I asked her to marry me?”

The best driving advice I ever got was from him: “It’s a piece of metal, Jason, that’s it. You control where it goes.”

Everything clicked after that. I got my license, and overconfidence wasn’t far on the horizon (130km/hr. going up Hwy. 108 to Elliot Lake, ON.? No problem! Would I do that now? Not on your life.).

When we went on trips down to Toronto or Barrie, I would watch the moves he made. At 17, it used to frustrate me that he kept the vehicle at 100km/hr the whole way. But he’d make these moves on the highway that took my breath away. Respect. He had skills — skills that can only come from driving truck and knowing what to watch for ahead. And from watching him, I learned to calculate when to pass and at what speed, to look ahead and anticipate the movements of other vehicles.

Dave — or Poppa Bear — is still the best driver I know. I’ve always wanted him to be proud of my driving ability. When situations on the highway tested my driving skills — like the time on Hwy. 11 near Timmins when I had to dodge a car, a bear, a sign post (“DON’T FEED THE BEARS”), and a guard rail (in that order) — I told him, proud of the decisions I made to avoid having a bloody, pissed off Yogi Bear smash through my windshield and land on my face.

When I was landscaping and doing snow removal in Toronto, hauling a car trailer full of equipment and learning to backup in very tight spaces, I would tell him and we would talk driving details and I would get more advice.

I remembered all this during a recent conversation with driver Ben Lehman for a story in our May issue. Ben is a third generation driver, and he told me about the conversations he has with his father about trucking wages, the work itself, how it has changed. I assume they talk driving, too.

I’ll be getting my Class A soon — a necessary requirement if you want to be an editor at Today’s Trucking — and you can bet I’ll be calling Poppa Bear for advice.

Your song of the day is by Drive-by Truckers (been listening to them well before writing about trucking was on the radar), titled “18-Wheels of Love.” It’s an extended, live version, but it’s worth the listen.


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John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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