Other suggested titles: Truck Stop Confessions, Gearshift Swallowers and Horny Truckers Vol. 6
Last Saturday evening, I found myself at the counter of a truck stop diner in Caroline County, Va.
I was sitting next to a weathered trucker whose accent betrayed an East Texas upbringing and a lifetime devoted to tobacco products.
LIAR! I'm sorry David, but even pornography has to have some basis in reality. It's bad enough you ask us to believe you ate at a truck stop diner. But that trucker is a caricature. Come on, was he wearing a denim jacket and did that denim jacket have an American flag with an eagle on the back? And on his feet were there Stetson cowboy boots? A cowboy hat on his head? What of his handshake? Was it steely, though his eyes betrayed a sadness and world weariness? Give me a freaking break.
He’d been trucking for 46 years, away from home for nine months a year for most of them. He’d run through five marriages and now traveled with a little dog.
Oh really, Mister Marriage Is The Foundation of Western Civilization? A Paris Hilton-kinda little dog or a Mike Vick-kinda little dog?
His son, who dropped out of school at 15, was also a trucker. His brothers and nephews were truckers. He’d tried to retire from trucking a few years ago, but he didn’t like fishing so now he is back on the road driving routes like this one, from Las Vegas to Newport News.
Dude. Loves. Trucking.
He wanted to be a trucker since he was a little boy.
David Brooks wanted to be a fluffer.
He talked about the time two young women rear-ended him doing 110 miles per hour in a Camaro (they survived), about the dangers of marrying your secretary, about the introduction of power steering and about the two stints in the Army that interrupted his life on the road.
He would not show me the inside of his cabin or give me a tour of the rest room. No matter how much I talked about it.
I don’t know what came first, the mystique of trucking or the country music songs that defined the mystique
The mystique. Why the fuck would someone sing a song about something that isn't interesting? Then again, with his grasp of music, I guess I shouldn't expect much from David.
but this trucker had been captured by the ethos early on and had never let it go. He wore the right boots and clothes.
Certainly these are the things that truckers worry about. Clothes and boots. Definitely not amphetamines and blowjobs from hitchhikers.
He had a flat, never-surprised way of talking. He didn’t smile or try to ingratiate.
To me, someone who's never surprised isn't really worth knowing. And what's wrong with smiling? Did Jesus not say, "When you smile, the whole world smiles with you"?
He has one of those hard jobs, like mining and steel-working, that comes with its own masculine mythology and way of being in the world.
He was a hard man. I tried to picture his rippling forearms beneath his flannel shirt and kept my lip from quivering while thinking of his iron buttocks.
Jobs performed in front of a keyboard don’t supply a code of dignity, which explains the spiritual anxiety that plagues the service economy.
Office jobs have no dignity? Oh fuck you Brooks. Now, just because you were never manly enough to drive a truck or mine for silver or work in a lumberyard (ahem) doesn't mean you get to tar office workers in a national newspaper. They have enough problems as it is without you, the "genteel conservative" columnist at the New York Times telling them their jobs lack dignity. God, you're barely a real reporter.
As the trucker spoke, I was reminded of a book that came out a few years ago called “The Dignity of Working Men,” by the sociologist, Michèle Lamont, who is now at Harvard. Lamont interviewed working-class men, and described what she calls “the moral centrality of work.”Her subjects placed tremendous emphasis on working hard, struggling against adversity and mastering their craft.
Doctors? Lazy. Lawyers? Shiftless. Stock brokers? Coke addled crumbums. (OK, that last one is true)
Her book is an antidote to simplistic notions of class structure, because it makes clear that these men define who is above and below them in the pecking order primarily in moral, not economic terms. People in other classes may define the social structure by educational attainment, income levels and job prestige, but these men are more likely to understand the social hierarchy on the basis of who can look out for themselves, who has the courage to be a fireman, a soldier or a cop, who has the discipline to put bread on the table every night despite difficulties.
And as they do this, Rupert Murdoch and Richard Branson play golf. With platinum clubs. And silver balls. And they bet using pure gold bars. Uhhh...gold made out of diamonds. Yeah.
When Lamont’s subjects looked at professionals and managers, they didn’t necessarily see their social superiors. They saw manipulators.
All code for J-o-os.
They defined themselves as straight-talking, shoot-from-the-hip guys.
So do many politicians, columnists and assholes of all stripes. This is why I never trust anyone who describes themselves as a "straight-talker" or a "shoot-from-the hip-guy".
People who worked in offices, who worked by persuasion, were dismissed for being insincere, for playing games.
For using their brains? I sure hope these guys keep true to their roots and don't, I dunno, put their money in banks.
This is why class resentment in the U.S. is so complicated, despite inequality and lagging wages. When it comes to how people see the world, social and moral categories generally trump economic ones.
Oh yes, and they should be commended for viewing themselves as so morally superior that they don't see rich assholes distracting them and sending their kids off to die in pointless wars. Yes, thank the Creator that these people don't realize they get fucked economically.
This is why successful populist movements always play on moral and social conditions first, and economic ones only later. This is why they appeal to the self-esteem of the working class, not on any supposed sense of victimization. This is why their protests are directed not against the rich, but against the word manipulators — the lawyers, consultants and the news media.
The trucker I met Saturday in Virginia not only believed in the American Dream, he believed he had achieved it. He owned his own truck. He owned a nice house in Texas on a lake near the Louisiana border. His brother owned five trucks.
You know what the sounds like to me? Sounds like that guy is rich as hell. His brother owns five trucks? When I was being all manly and working at a lumber yard (ahem) I saw many Mack trucks drive up. Those things looked incredibly expensive. And this guy's brother owns five.
He probably drew certain conclusions from the way I dress and talk.
He thought you was a gay.
But if he was at all curious about what I did, he didn’t show it, or didn’t want to veer off into topics where he wasn’t in control.
Because he thought you were gonna ask him if you could go down on him.
Instead, he talked about the things any guy would want to put at the center of his life: highways, engines, hauling, dogs and food.
These are indeed things truckers would think about. Things the trucker's non-honorable doctor would think about: health charts, human anatomy and the plastic jug of dirty needles. No, just kidding, he's just thinking about his ill-gained mansion.
I didn’t ask about the wives.
Because you love men.
God, that took forever. Brooks is really begging for the Michael Wines treatment.