Well actually, it was his researcher who found me after I posted a blog titled “Trucker as Anti-Hero.” In the blog I argued that the truck driver is never going to get a fair shake from the public as long as film media continue to depict him as a negative stereo-type, or even worse as a depraved, sinister character.
It’s been so long since we’ve been thought of us as road knights. After the CB craze died down in the 70s, Hollywood soon tired of making flicks with the trucker depicted as rebel hero. Where are the Kris Kristoffersons and Jan Michael Vincents now when we need them?
Since that time, truck drivers are usually cast in a negative light when they get to the big or little screen, and this does nothing to help the public perception of the trucking community.
My opinion was enough to get me a slot on the Dave Nemo satellite radio show one Tuesday morning, along with writer Greg Martin, who’s working on a film script called “Dispatch Me Home”, about a gentleman trucker making his last journey across the States in his soon-to-be-retired truck
Nemo is a legend in truck radio broadcasting. I recall picking up his Road Gang show three decades ago on AM radio in my Ford Louisville (or was it a GM Brigadier?), tuning in some whistling signal from Cincinnati, or Cleveland or New York City or Wheeling, West Virginia. I was a young cat tearing down the 401 doing a peddle run around Windsor, Ont., and the four hour run back and forth to Toronto was like a dream world, dialing the radio and smoking cigarettes to stay awake while working outrageous hours.
During my 24 minutes on air, I made the observation that the road movie and road story is a great American institution, that goes back through Walt Whitman, Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck. Historically, Americans are miles ahead of us when it comes to highway infrastructure and mythology. Eisenhower initiated the Interstate highway system back in 1947, while Canada only paved the last section of the TransCanada in 1966. Before that time, Canadian drivers would go through the States to get to Vancouver.
My point was that if America is making bad road movies that cast murky shadows on truck drivers, the genre should be reclaimed from the evil-doers, which is what I think Greg Martin is trying to do with his screenplay. Check it a few sample chapters at www.dispatchmehome.com/newsite/Dispatch2.html
The 24 minutes swirled past in no time. I never did find out where the show was broadcast, I suspect Chicago, and since it’s satellite radio it probably doesn’t matter. But the discussion got me thinking afterwards about the differences between Canadians and Americans, particularly when it comes to “heroes.”
It’s worth stating off the bat that Canadians like to think of themselves as quite different from their American cousins, but on the surface we’re essentially the same: very similar culturally, but with some subtle yet profound divergences.
A hero is someone who has done something beyond the abilities of ordinary humans, who makes something better for others, sometimes by giving their lives. Well Martin Luther King would fit that bill, so would the captain of the airliner who brought his goose-stricken craft down on the Hudson River. Obama might be that saviour that America awaits (so far), but look at the adulation for the dead Michael Jackson. What do you make of it when a tragically-flawed pop singer is elevated to hero status? Does America need heroes? You bet.
Canadians, on the other hand, are usually more understated and less concerned with celebrity,
The “Greatest Canadian” contest sponsored by the CBC Radio a few years back declared Tommy Douglas the winner. Who’s that? The NDP leader and Saskatchewan premier who founded universal medicare in Canada.
It’s also interesting to note the transition when rebels become heroes. Take Apache insurrectionist leader Geronimo, who was sentenced to life in prison but allowed out to ride with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Or Canada’s own Louis Riel who led two Metis uprisings and finished eleventh in the balloting for the greatest Canadian. He was hanged by Sir John A. Macdonald who refused to grant him a reprieve (Macdonald finished 8th, while Wayne Gretzky was 10th.).
Just a quick survey of some of the two neighbours’ attitudes towards various issues exposes some deep gulfs. Remember the United States was founded by a revolution while Canada sloughed along as a colony for so long.
So here are some generalities for your amusement: Canadians are good at lining up, very orderly. But I find Americans to be better and more polite drivers.
Americans are generally more religious than Canucks, more likely to go to church. Canadians are often uncomfortable talking about religion and most would prefer to not do so.
Race is still a major issue in the States. Lots of racism in Canada, too, but we’re more oriented toward class. Being under the thumb of the British for so long accounts for this, I suppose.
Americans are somewhat gun crazy. Canadians aren’t as interested in fire arms and certainly don’t get excited about needing “the right to bear arms.” I followed a recent discussion on the Trucking Bozo one night on AM radio as commercial drivers were calling worried about a new law that could limit their ability to carry firearms between states. What percentage of US drivers carry sidearms, I’d like to know. In Canada I’d say it’s very low, most drivers would never think of arming themselves, it’s just not part of our culture. But according to Bozo’s call-in show, it seems many Yanks are packing heat in their rigs besides the bunk heaters. In my career I met two US drivers who carried guns, and one crazy Canadian in Windsor who kept a pistol in his boot.
As far as universal medicare goes, the US hasn’t figured it out yet. Sure there are lots of stresses on the Canadian system but it’s one aspect of social reality that our government has gotten right to some degree. But south of the 49th parallel there’s huge opposition to this idea if you listen to any of the right wing talk shows (one radio station in upper New York has nothing but right wingers on its masthead: Rush, followed by Inga, followed by Mark, followed by Bill, and the way they squawk and rant, you would think they’re already living in a soviet collective eating potato peels. Unfortunately, the 46 million Americans who have no medical insurance coverage whatsoever don’t have the same access to the media–maybe that’s why the debate appears so one-sided..
I’m not going to bother mentioning the death penalty, same sex marriage or abortion, except to say that approaches and solutions to these issues in Canuckistan are different and less polarizing (we don’t have the first, allow the second and third, and although there is some lingering unease, we’re OK with this).
But getting back to commonalities and heroes, we don’t have to look much further than the American and Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan. These are the bona fide heroes and are recognized as such by the numbers of people who jam the overpasses on the 401 every time a fallen soldier lands in Trenton, Ont. The crowds are there to salute the procession on its way to the morgue in Toronto. As a driver, I’ve seen this phenomenon a few times and can’t help getting emotional each time. It’s the best and saddest part of being Canadian, and unfortunately it happens too frequently.
Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.
With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude. All posts by Harry Rudolfs