As the oldest of the clan, and my working mother's stand-in housekeeper, I was too busy sweeping floors and too immature to appreciate my siblings' unique personalities. I thought my brothers were annoying nuisances. They used to call me “The Boss”, and bossy I was. “Pick up your clothes! Clear the table! Keep your dirty boots off my clean floor!” I don't remember harbouring warm tender feelings towards them.
If I was the Boss, then Dave was the Helper. He willingly pitched in with farm chores: milking cows, stooking hay bales, handing tools to my father when the cultivator broke down. As a young man, and then an adult with his own young family, he continued his helping role, spending a good portion of his career leading L'Arche communities, inspired by the example set by L'Arche founder Jean Vanier.
A natural connector, Dave is the one to organize family reunions and offer his home as the venue. He's the one who makes the regular phone calls and stays in touch with family in Canada and abroad with an annual Christmas letter. He's the one who is most likely to suggest to my mother that they make the long trek from southern Ontario to Ottawa to visit John and me in Wakefield, my mother's old friends in Ottawa, and friends in Arnprior from the years that he and his family lived there. And yet, I rarely spend time alone with Dave: our phone calls usually center around family news, and during visits there is always family present, children to play cards with, meals to be prepared, and others to converse with.
So here we were, youngest brother and oldest sister, five days captive in the 6'x8' space of the semi's cab. If we didn't get along, it would be the week from hell. It was anything but.
Dave's rig, like he himself, is middle-aged: it's seen roughly one and a quarter million kilometers and lost its new vehicle smell ages ago. Two tan upholstered bucket seats with fold-up naugahyde armrests and serious lumbar support made for comfortable, if somewhat bumpy, rides. The driver's console displayed enough switches and gauges to rival a pilot's cockpit. Three extra-large cup holders were molded into the lower half of the console, and three more hugged the inside edge of the passenger seat. Truckers, who typically drive 11 to 13 hours a day, drink a lot of coffee.
The rear of the cabin boasted two comfortable bunk beds, each with a decent foam mattress and convenient bedtime reading lights. Thick industry-grade plastic curtains in a dull brown separated the front of the cab from the sleeping quarters. Similar curtains could be pulled across the side windows and windshield, affording complete privacy. Dave gave me the lower berth and levered himself onto the top bunk by placing a foot on one of the several cupboards bumped out from the walls. One cupboard contained books and CDs. Another, fastened with a bunjee cord, held an accordian file folder and Dave's backpack with his two changes of clothes. A toolbox with screwdrivers, a drill, flashlight and other tools sat in the cupboard right behind the driver's seat. A 5' x 2' piece of plywood, tucked against the back wall served as Dave's yoga board. To ease the inevitable stiffness that accrues from hour after hour of sitting, he does yoga stretches morning and night. Dave's thoughtfulness as a host extended to anticipating the female nightly pee. Hidden in one cupboard was a white plastic portable toilet, complete with seat and cover that he had bought at a garage sale. Inside, a removable green plastic bowl. (I took responsibility for dumping the contents in the morning.)
Various cables crisscrossed the floor of the cab, supplying power to a battered blue refrigerated picnic cooler -- another garage sale find -- and to Dave's two computers. The first looked a bit like an ancient Etch-a-Sketch toy. It connected Dave to Erb's dispatchers back in the home office. From time to time it would beep urgently and Dave would haul it onto his lap. At a break in traffic, he would check whatever message the dispatcher had sent him. The second computer, a heavy IBM Think Pad, displayed “Streets and Maps” which gave him directions on how to get from point A to point B. Dave admitted that he's too cheap to buy a GPS.
We constantly checked Streets and Maps. Starting out from Vancouver, our initial destination was Salem, Oregon. We were almost at the bridge, ready to cross to the U.S. when the Erb computer barked sharply. Dave pulled over to the side of the road. “Holy moly,” he said as he read the message. A last minute change of plans meant finding somewhere to do a U-Turn and head north to Pitt Meadows (where was that?) to pick up 40,000 pounds of frozen organic blueberries. I fired up Streets and Maps and acted as navigator. Our route then took us through the Rockies and the northern border States to Hartford, Michigan where we unloaded the blueberries. There, a switch of trailers and we ferried 30,000 pounds of some Campbell Soup product back to the Erb truck yard near Kitchener, Ontario.
Except for one pancake breakfast, we bypassed truck stop food, which is probably why my brother is considerably slimmer than most of the truckers we saw. He had prepared ahead of time all the meals for the week. Our menu rarely varied. “That way, I don't have to spend a lot of time planning meals,” Dave said. Breakfast consisted of diced apple chunks in yogurt, sprinkled with walnuts. Lunch was chicken salad on a soft baguette. Morning and afternoon, we snacked on carrot sticks, green beans, snap peas, radishes and red grapes, all neatly portioned and packaged in re-usable plastic bags. Our dinners were chicken or beef stew topped with rice and then mixed vegetables, all of which had been frozen in a serving-sized glass containers before the trip and placed in the cooler, where they gradually thawed out over the week. About mid-afternoon, we placed one of the frozen containers inside a metal-lined lunch box, which had a heating coil in its base, and plugged it into the cigarette holder. Two to three hours later, the food was piping hot. I spooned half the mixture into a small yellow plastic bowl for myself; Dave slid the other half into a wooden maple bowl, then set that bowl within a larger and flatter cherry bowl that acted as his tray. He had turned both bowls himself on his home lathe. We drew forks and knives from a black milk crate that carried odds and ends, including cloth napkins that did for the week. Meals were always eaten while rolling. Dave ate with one hand and drove with the other. During this week, I served as waiter. When my brother is on his own, he sets the cooler in between the front seats, right behind the gear shift, and places the milk crate on the passenger seat. His right arm takes on the swing and precision of a robotic instrument as he reaches across the cab to retrieve food, utensils and computers.
We spent an average of 22 hours out of every 24 in the truck, eating, talking, reading, and sleeping. About every six hours or so, we would locate a “Flying J” or “Pilot” truck stop and allow a half-hour break to use the bathroom and make a quick call home. Every couple of days, Dave filled the gas tank to the tune of $800. The truck stops also served as our sleeping campground. At the end of a long day, we nosed into the parking lot, already nearly full with row upon row of trucks, many with engines constantly running. Once I got used to the continuous drone, it made for a rough but effective lullaby and I slept decently. A couple of mornings, we treated ourselves to hot showers, $10 bucks each, with the second one free if the driver had a Pilot loyalty card. Which of course Dave had.
|L to R, Annette, Dave, Luke, Cathy, Andy and Monica|
Can you tell I'm proud of my little brother? I am. And today, April 10th, is his birthday. So happy birthday, Dave, and keep on truckin'!