Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Reader's Diary #350- Don McTavish: Big Rig (FINISHED)

It used to surprise my friends and family when I'd refer to trucking as my "dream job." I knew, deep down, that I probably had an overly romanticized idea: open roads, seeing the country, listening to my favourite tunes, perhaps sticking in an audiobook every now and then.
Still I thought I heard the pavement calling...

Then last year when I decided to take a hiatus from teaching, my wife (who up until this point wasn't keen on the idea) started looking into trucking schools on my behalf. Then I backed off. Those deep down reluctancies came to the fore now that I no longer had her disapproval as an excuse.

Still, we've joked about it since then and for Christmas she gave me Don McTavish's Big Rig and Big Rig 2. Would these convince me to finally go for it or swear me off the idea forever?

Perhaps I should wait until reading the sequel, but the first certainly didn't sell me on the job. Subtitled "Comic Tales From A Long Haul Trucker," it's probably surprising that a light-hearted book, one filled with nostalgia for life on the road, would push me further away. I think it's the machismo that I'd find hard to take. Not that McTavish himself came across as a muscle-bound goon who crushes beer cans on his head, but many of those he encountered along his way certainly did. He seems to find such men amusing and colourful, but I don't think I'd want to leave the cab.

A few weeks ago, the Booking Through Thursday question asked what connotations the word "literature" brings to mind. I'm sure it's different for everyone, and I'm not sure exactly what it means to me, but I don't think anyone would accuse Don McTavish of having literary pretensions.

It all sounds harsh on my behalf, but I actually enjoyed Big Rig quite a bit. Perhaps it was refreshing to read someone whose only motivation seemed to be to entertain. Don McTavish had a lot of cherished memories and he just wanted to share them.

Perhaps what I enjoyed the most was the conversational tone, especially his expressions: "You probably picture Alberta to be all flat, like pee on a plate...","the old man was tighter than ten-dollar boots", "the tarp starts to creep up the front of the load like a new bride's nightie."

I genuinely enjoyed the anecdotes, too. In one particularly funny tale, a psychiatric hospital patient pretends to be a doctor and convinces him it's okay to drive up on the lawn with his heavy load, destroying the grass in the process.

There are times when McTavish seemed unclear of who his audience would be. Certainly he had fellow truckers in mind when he referred to his "gas-powered 427, 1957 International bed truck, with a single-axle float" without any explanation, but on other occasions he'd take the time to define certain terminology which, in turn, might be annoying to those already in the business.

Likewise, the chronology of the episodes seemed sporadic. He'd have one chapter about his early days as a novice, then a tale that took place when he'd moved to dispatch after a long career, then without warning he'd flash to a story from his mid-career. However, as a feature writer for the trucking magazine Highway Star, he's probably used to writing stories that stand up on their own, as the ones in Big Rig certainly could.

This is an amusing book, and I'm sure it's honest in its portrayal of the funnier side of the trucking business. It may not win a Governor General's Award, but it might put a smile on your face.

The Soundtrack:
1. The Truck Got Stuck- Corb Lund
2. Alberta Bound- Gordon Lightfoot
3. Roll On Down The Highway- B.T.O.
4. Give Me 40 Acres (To Turn This Rig Around)- The Willis Brothers
5. Hard Road- Sam Roberts


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I guess we can blame this book for denying the world the awesome sight of John the longhaul trucker. As I haven't entertained thoughts of being a trucker since I was a teenager, I think I'll safely be able to pass on this book.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: I'd probably be the first trucker that required a booster seat.