I am no trucker. I am a sportswriter. But the occupations have their similarities. I occasionally spend consecutive days, sometimes weeks, away from home in service to my employer. I have deadlines that don’t meet with my definition of reasonable. I eat beige meals under fluorescent lights alongside disgruntled colleagues whose complaints about the business, some certified beef, some crotchety folly, are constant and peppered with humour and genuine hurt. Just like a truck stop, the press room has foul mouths and large bellies in quantity; failing marriages and failing bodies; successful entrepreneurs and pseudo business types; hangovers heaped with coffee and storytellers fuelled by the alco-caffeine buzz.
But, as my cousin says, “Driving truck’s like nothing else.” And I don’t claim to know the fine points of the pavement. The most truck-like vehicle I have ever driven is the rusty 1983 Volvo sedan I recently left for dead at a garage after a frustrating three-day span in a particularly harsh December during which the brakes failed, the radiator burst, and, worst of all in teeth-chattering throes of a northland winter, the heater blew cold. I had purchased said Volvo three years earlier for $1,000 on the recommendation of a friend who swore by the Swedish-built boxes because they were easy to fix, and because he had once been driving one — a baby blue coupe circa 1978 — on the day he survived a head-on crash with a truck on a two-lane highway. Just as my friend began the search for another Volvo the next day, I replaced my beloved ’83 with a ’92.
Since travelling, and not necessarily driving, is a passion, I will be more than happy to occupy the passenger seat, seeing the world through the high-riding windshield of a four-hundred-horsepower mammoth. I have chosen to travel with truckers, to mine their stories and probe their feelings, because their work is more important than most people know. Although the railroad built North America, joining it from coast to coast, the roads renovate it, feed it, clothe it, and employ it. Trucks dominate the transportation business in Canada, moving about 90 per cent of all domestic consumer products and foodstuffs, shipping out about 60 per cent of our exports to the States, bringing in more than 80 per cent of the imports. Truck driver was the most common occupation of Canadian men according to Canada’s 2001 census. Somewhere — everywhere, it seems — there is a truck rumbling down a highway, and another truck riding its bumper, and probably another riding yours. But while trucks are as ubiquitous as the potholes they chew — and while their drivers are often resented for clogging our automotive arteries — most people don’t know much about the goings-on inside those massive cabs.
Excerpted from Every Highway by Dave Feschuk. Copyright © 2006 by Dave Feschuk. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.