Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

So today is Father's Day. I rarely have the opportunity to hang out with dear dad (notice I didn't include the old part) on Father's Day; and this year is no exception. Dad is a trucker, and he's almost always on the go, and almost always several hundred miles from wherever I am. Not intentionally, of course, that's just the way it is. When dad's not driving he's usually taking his federally required down time in his truck, at his house in Oregon, or at grandpa's house in Humbodlt County, California.

Dad started driving an 18-wheel truck when I was about 8 or 9, and riding with him was always a treat. Back then he did two short runs each day hauling plywood from a lumber mill on the coast to a railyard further inland and he was home every night. The days I would get to ride with dad are probably the only days in my life I've been woken up willingly, and happily, before dawn.

Those days we would head to the mill and dad would do whatever he did to get the guys to load up his truck and I would sit inside the cab, pretty much staying out of harms way. At least until the forklift was done, after that dad would need to strap down the load. At some point I started helping dad with this. I say helping in the loosest possible sense. I couldn't even throw the straps over the load all the way, so he would need to climb on top of the load and to kick them over the other side, where I would try to finish strapping the load. Dad always needed to undo and redo whatever I had done. But he never complained.

Though he did seriously freak out the one time when after throwing the straps on top, he was away talking to the foreman or somebody, and I had climbed on top of the load to kick the straps over and he couldn't see me when he came back to the truck. Dad's freak outs are pretty mild; he doesn't do drama, but you know when he's upset. Eventually I was able to throw the straps completely over the load.

Once dad figured out I wasn't going to stay put in the truck, he made sure I learned to hook up the straps correctly so that he only needed to tighten them down after me instead of undoing them. At some point, probably when I was about 12, he says a was getting the straps on to where he couldn't tighten them anymore. It was a point of pride for both of us. Yup, I'm a trucker's daughter.

We would usually stop to grab a bite on the first trip to the railyard. One time we stopped at a restaurant, I think it was the Twin Pines. I'd never really eaten breakfast at a restaurant and I didn't know how to order eggs the way I liked them, at least not without my mom there to tell me what I liked. Actually, I didn't know how to order, period.

I knew I wanted pancakes; okay. But waffles sounded good too; okay. And eggs, scrambled, soft boiled, poached, fried over-easy, fried sunnyside-up; okay, okay, okay, okay, and okay. Oh, and bacon, must have bacon; okay. And sausage; okay. And orange juice to wash it all down; okay. Dad let me order all of it, a la carte no less, then he ordered his own breakfast. I'm sure the waitress thought we were looney. But dad's one of those people who feels we all learn best by doing and making mistakes.

I learned that my eyes are bigger than my stomach (hello, pancakes and waffles and 5 types of eggs?), I don't like soft boiled eggs, and that breakfast ain't cheap that way. I must have thought breakfast was a flat rate and you just ordered what you wanted. Hell, I don't know what I thought. Dad loves this story and tells it often; I'm sure he remembers more about that day than I do.

Being a trucker's daughter, I enjoy driving and pride myself on being a good driver. That doesn't mean I always use my turn signals (though I do more often than I don't) and it certainly doesn't mean that I obey all posted speed limits. But it does mean that I control my vehicle, am aware of what other drivers are doing, and am courteous on the road. It also means that I drive a stick shift.

Mom and my step-dad did their fair share of time with me behind the wheel when I got my learners permit, but we pretty much kept to empty parking lots. Most of my practical behind the wheel learning was with dad. He taught me how to look at something on the side of the road without driving off the road. He taught me how to get over passing anxiety and pass on the interstate and how not to hang out in a truck's blind spots. He taught me how to down shift and how to slip a clutch, though that lesson nearly killed us both.

Dad had me practice how to slip a clutch on a dirt embankment. The river was on the other side of the embankment--at the bottom of a cliff. The first time I managed to slip the clutch without killing the engine, I had given it too much gas and nearly took us over the cliff, all I could see over the hood of the pickup was open space and the river below. I'm pretty sure dad was freaked out then too, but I was more freaked out. I just remember how calm he seemed as he refused to take over the driving and coaxed me into putting the truck in reverse and getting off the embankment.

He's been driving the western states now for around 26 years and when I pass a truck with the company logo, I always look to see if it's him, and I've never seen him, up until a couple of weeks ago. I was driving home from work and looked up into the cab when I passed the company truck. I had to circle around a second time to make sure it was him since I'd only caught a glimpse of his beard and glasses the first time. We talked on our cell phones and I invited him home for dinner, but he had to keep moving to make his drop off and pick up on time in Bay Area traffic. Even though I didn't see him face-to-face, seeing him on the road made my day, actually, it made my day for a few days.

Happy Father's Day, dad. I love you.

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