I have a penchant for discovering myself in new situations and environments and learning all that I can about things which are unknown to me. I love exploring the unknown – it represents growth, learning, passion and so much more to me. My ultimate favorite thing to explore is people – learning from and about them. People are intrinsically cool and have taught me so much about myself and the world around me – and have taught me how much more I have yet to learn.
A number of years ago I found myself in Nova Scotia, visiting family (2002). My mother is from Cape Breton and this was a fairly regular visit – something I still adore when I have the opportunity. It was a wonderful trip but I decided I had to come home a little earlier than planned – I started asking around if anyone was coming up to Toronto. Within 24 hours I was told that a local trucker was taking the drive to Toronto on a long haul and he would take me. His name was Whitey.
I remember being in a pickup with my uncle and father as we roared out to the highway – Whitey would pull over on the TransCanada to let me hop in (he had left from Sydney). Within moments of seeing the truck lumber to the side of the road I was in the truck of this strange man who loved to garden and confessed early on that his wife would not allow him to drive around town when he was off. Whitey was a veteran of the road – had been driving for more than 30 years. We were in a truck filled with yogurt and we were heading to TO.
The trip was a long one. Whitey was small, respectful and liked to talk. He was friendly, charming and an old road veteran. He was also a creature of habit – he stopped in the same restaurants, the same truck stops and the same gas stations each time he made the trip – which was two or three times (both ways) every two weeks. More than 2,000 kilometers each way would have him drop off a trailer of active bacteria product and he would return.
Whitey stopped in a small place in Northern Quebec. He refused to try to speak French, the waitress refused to try to speak English. I got the idea that both could speak a bit of each but were too stubborn to try. They were not playing – the stress was palpable. He explained that he was the customer and he should be respected. He had a club sandwich – apparently what he ate every time even after examining the menu for 10 minutes. He asked to “Weave the wettuce on the wide” which reveals his visible speech impediment. I can relate after years of speech therapy and most certainly am not mocking him. The waitress could not understand and he would become more frustrated and they would battle until he got what he wanted – or whatever they served.
There are strict rules and governors involved – meaning that your truck cannot pass certain speeds. Every kilometer is logged and your driving time is extremely limited. A professional driver takes 2 night of sleeping on the road to get to Toronto when most tourists do the drive in one overnight. It seemed like a harsher treatment for a pro – however it is a fact of life for the modern road warrior. Whitey would take 5-6 days to get to Toronto and back when most of us could do the same in 4. He explained that this was tough on him and his family – compared to a tourist he was spending 50-75 days a year on the road that he could spend with his family and friends otherwise. He was forced to sleep on the road, sometimes in less than desirable places – but he loved it.
Whitey went to bed on night one – he had a place in the truck to sleep. He ushered me in to the truckers lounge (a room that felt like a frat-house – old couches stained with coffee and panelled with wood siding). There was a TV with rabbit ears and I watched the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators in triple-overtime in the playoffs. I was thankful for that – a short game would have meant a long night.
Part way through our second day together he got excited. We pulled alongside another truck and he honked, waved and smiled. He was on the radio right away. He explained that the other truck was a friend. I was surprised at first realizing that the other driver was not much older than me at the time (in my mid-late twenties). Whitey explained that he had driven for years to Toronto with his friends Father and the legacy now continued. He was excited to have a partner and they bantered back and forth on the radio for hours before trouble struck.
We were following the truck and everything seemed normal until, in a moment, it blew a tire. It didn’t look like a big deal to me – I thought it had splashed through a puddle as rubber sprayed the road. The truck instantly signaled and started to slpow, eventually lumbering off the road. Whitey’s demeanor instantly changed. I found it difficult to understand what was happening as he signaled to the left – he headed for the passing lane and wished his friend luck. No stopping. No offer of help. No asking if he was ok.
Whitey explained this was just part of the deal. There was nothing we could do and stopping would mean that he wouldn’t make it as far as he needed that night due to regulations of maximum amount of hours you were allowed to be on the road (driving or not). He could have stopped and had company for the next 4 days or keep going solo and get home 3 days from now. His friend had just lost a day with his family, Whitey did not want to do the same. I felt like a goose had just fallen from the flock. Whitey choose 3 days of solitude for 1 day of family. He explained that this was not uncommon and that being left behind was even tougher.
All this for yogurt?
I asked Whitey about his toughest day on the job. His answer came quick and, paraphrased: “I drove for 3 days to Toronto. I left Sydney with an empty trailer to drive 20 minutes and have it filled with watermelons. 3 mornings later I arrived at a warehouse in Toronto and emptied my load. I drove another 15 minutes to pick up a load of something to get back to Nova Scotia – I was to bring it back to the warehouse I started from. As they were loading I found out that my return trip was a load of watermelons. If I had stayed home and had 6 days with my family, someone could have got the exact same thing done in 20 minutes in Toronto.”
For a moment, let’s put aside the environmental impact of all of this, the impact on pricing, waste and mass production and just be thankful to people who are willing to put their families on hold to make a living bringing us food – at the sacrifice of their families.
Thank you Whitey and thank you to all of those who help sustain us.