Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 27, 2000

Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / May 27, 2000

There’s something about the open road which tends to lure the male members of my family. I went to a Gray Family reunion a few years backand quickly found out that my dad and I were the only men there who weren’t long-haul truck drivers.

Somehow, that lure of the open road escaped me. I try to imagine days andeven weeks on the highways of America, going from Detroit to Dallas, Mobile to Minnesota, Pennsylvania to the Pacific, and it just sounds so exhausting.

Mind you, I like to drive. I drive quite a lot in relation to my job here, and Ialso have a 45-minute commute to work every day.

What put me in mind of all this was a visit Thursday from my oldest brother, Jim, who just got in from Indiana, by way of Chicago and Minnesota, originating in Alabama.

On his last visit home, he was there a total of three hours before he was due back to pick up another load and bring it hundreds of miles, only to pick up another load and bring it somewhere else.

He was on his way to Houma, but wasn’t due there until 1 p.m. Friday,there to dump his load of french-fry packs for Wendy’s. These aren’t thefries themselves, but the little paper things which hold them on the tray.

He had crates and crates of them. Guess they eat a lot of fries in Houma.He talks about his trips and the things he’s seen, such as the James Dean Museum at the little Indiana town where the actor grew up, and the dismal truck stops in West Virginia and the truck-stop floozies forever lurking for the lonely drivers.

He also warned me about the state troopers in Ohio, notorious for strict enforcement of the 55-mph speed limit on the interstate highways.

When he first trained for this job at a trucker school in Minnesota, it happened to be in mid-winter and this southern man had never seen snow, never mind Minnesota snow – plus the challenge of learning how to manage a big rig through that snow.

Jim says he’s making more money than he’s ever made in his life, and I can believe it because the work itself is so rigorous and demanding and draining.

Fortunately, he’s currently divorced and his son is grown, so he can spend weeks at a time away from home. I don’t have that option, but then again Ireally don’t want that option.

I picture myself riding high in the cab of some long-haul truck, perhaps listening to the CB radio traffic or listening to some book-on-tape (which Jim often does), worried about the cars who don’t know how to drive around a large truck.

I picture endless hours of interstate highways, my senses dulled, exhausted, trying to make my delivery on time. I’d be worried aboutaccidents, state troopers and falling asleep at the wheel.

It’s a tough life and necessary for interstate commerce.

And somebody has to be behind the wheel.

It just won’t be me.

LEONARD GRAY is a reporter for L’Observateur.

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