TRUCKIN’ by Johanna McCloy

Truckin'

It was the fall of 1984 and I was a sophomore at Duke University. My boyfriend Mark had just graduated and was uncertain about what he wanted to pursue as a career, so he extended his summer job as a driver and mover for a local moving company while he pondered his path and his future.

The moving company that he worked for was founded by a couple of Deadheads, Doug and Toni. Besides them, the staff comprised of Mark, Mark’s brother, and about five other employees, so it was small and had the feel of a large family. The name of the company was Truckin’ Movers and their logo was the same famous Grateful Dead boot that is seen on the cover of the band’s live Europe ’72 album. (I was told that Doug ardently pursued and happily received the band’s permission to use the name and logo.)

In addition to being Deadheads, Doug and Toni were also Krishna devotees, so Doug sometimes wore traditional Indian clothes to the office and donned a tilak (ash mark) on his forehead. In their Durham warehouse, incense smoke wafted in the air and shoes were stashed at the front door. Tapes of the Dead played all day with occasional interludes of Krishna chanting. We knew to be quiet upon entering the warehouse whenever chanting was heard.

While I made my way from Philosophy to Japanese to Geology classes at Duke, my beau mastered the art of loading and driving an 18-wheeler. The large truck had just been added to their fleet of smaller vehicles and Mark was the first employee to get a big rig driver’s license. It wasn’t easy. Maneuvering such a large truck was one thing, but there were also 12 gears and a very specific approach to braking. (If you’ve ever seen runaway truck ramps, that’s what they’re for, braking problems.) Mark had to know about the truck’s mechanics and followed a regimented checklist before each trip, just as a pilot does with a plane before taking off. He also had to know what to expect at highway weigh stations and how to address any issues that might arise there.

When Mark drove long distances over holidays, school breaks or weekends, he’d sometimes take me along, picking me up at the house where I lived off campus. Everyone knew he was coming for blocks before he arrived, because you could hear the truck’s rattling diesel engine and the hissing and squealing of its brakes. Large rigs weren’t supposed to drive through smaller neighborhoods, so as soon as I heard his truck approaching, I’d run outside and wait at the curb. He’d drive up and I’d open the passenger door, take the three large steps up into the cab, plop into the large rotating seat awaiting me, and throw my duffel bag into the sleeper area behind us while the truck barely idled. Then, he’d get the truck out of there before the police could arrive to hand us a ticket. (Doug and Toni weren’t always informed that I joined him.)

Truckin TrailerThe truck’s CB created another world on the freeways, an audio salon covering about a five-mile radius. Over the CB, truckers talked to each other about their jobs, the roads, their trucks, or the area around them. The most common use of the CB was to announce “Smokey” (highway patrol officer) sightings, which allowed truckers approaching the area enough time to slow down and avoid a possible speed trap. In Mark’s case, he received a lot of questions regarding the relatively new crate and tarp system that was being used on his 18-wheel trailer. After explaining how it worked several times, Mark suggested that I take the next query. I happily consented and we decided to make my CB “handle“ Tokyo Rose, based on my years of living in Tokyo as a teenager. It wasn’t typical for a female voice to be heard on the CB and the actress in me loved it. I’d use any excuse to start a conversation. “What’s the weather like in Bammy [Alabama]? Over.”

Truckers also used the CB to comment on motorists, looking down from their high perches into neighboring car windows and taking note of what they saw. Approaching truckers would be told to watch out for the chick in the blue skirt in the brown Toyota, for example. They’d look into the car as they passed, commenting to everyone with a “woohoo,” or “let’s see more of those legs, darlin’.” Little did that poor girl know that all the truckers in the vicinity were talking about her. Moving freely to her tunes, she was likely feeling invisible inside her boxed enclosure.

I learned about runaway ramps located off steep inclines for trucks whose brakes were failing. I learned about the frequency of torn tires and the need for replacements. I also learned the silent ways that truckers communicate by blinking their lights once to tell a truck behind them to go ahead and pass, and blinking twice as a way to say thank you after getting in front, if you were the truck that did so.

When we went to truck stops, we always used North Carolina accents so we could blend in and converse without calling attention to ourselves. When we pulled into weigh stations along the freeways, we’d hear the universal request from the officials awaiting us, arms outstretched with a palm open toward the driver’s window, their words jumbled together as one: “drivuhzlicenserestrationlawoogbuuk!” (driver’s license, registration, log book.)

A trucker’s log book identifies the drivers, the truck owner, the type of truck and the commodities being shipped in its trailer. It also tracks the location and miles for every 15 minute interval of time, whether on or off duty, and throughout every 24 hour period. (This is because there are strict laws regulating how much time a trucker can drive between rests. A faulty log book can result in harsh fines and even prosecution.) After the officials checked the documents and found them to be okay, which was most of the time, Mark would drive onto the designated scale markers on the ground. Each axle would be weighed to ensure compliance with state law maximums and a red or green light would indicate whether we’d need to pull over for further inspection or were free to move on.

When Mark first started driving for Truckin’ Movers, they only owned small trucks, so we were accustomed to riding together on those long vinyl seats that ran across the cabs and rattled along with the truck engines. When he graduated to the 18-wheeler, it felt like we’d become freeway royalty, bouncing with soft air suspension above everyone, in big comfortable easy chair thrones. The first couple of times we rode in those trucks, we’d inevitably break into British accents, pretend waving as if on a parade, “greetings to the minions.” When I rode along with him on multi-day trips, we generally stayed in motels overnight, but when he was alone with the big rig, he’d park at the large truck stops and sleep in the sleeper section of the cab, occasionally awoken by truck stop prostitutes knocking on the cab door to see if he might need anything.

One time, we were hit by a horrible storm in Alabama. I usually helped him by tracking inventory of the items being moved, but that day, I helped him load the truck as well. He was solo and the weather made the work even more grueling. The shipper couldn’t have been nicer and didn’t balk about the trucker’s girlfriend helping him load. After we finished loading, it was after dark and we were frozen to the core. We drove to a motel, took long hot baths and buried ourselves under the blankets, our bodies aching from head to toe. Another time, we unloaded a truck in San Francisco, where Glen, Mark’s “humper” (that’s the actual job title used for the person who assists the main driver/loader in the moving business), literally humped the client in her bedroom as we inventoried and unloaded her furniture on the floor below. She came downstairs with a wide grin on her face and when we were done, she took us all out for pizza.

Mark and I enjoyed all the adventure and independence that came with life on the road. We enjoyed it so much, in fact, that we seriously pondered buying our own truck and taking a year to live and work on the road as independent owner/operators after I graduated from college. That didn’t come to pass, but it remained a dream for some time.

When I’m on road trips and I pass big trucks on the highway or on long country roads, I consider my brief sojourn into that world and smile. Sometimes, I blink my lights to offer a trucker the chance to pass me, or as a way to say thank you for letting me do the same.

Tokyo Rose says hi. Over.

Johanna McCloy is editor of the Dare to be Fabulous website and the book, Dare to be Fabulous: Follow the journeys of daring women on the path to finding their true north. She also edited her mother’s memoir, Six Car Lengths Behind an Elephant:Undercover and Overwhelmed as a CIA Wife and Mother by Lillian McCloy.

Every little step we take

“Every time we take care of some piece that we have a little resistance to – ‘it’s going to take too much of my time, it scares me’ – we become more whole, more alive. We’ve dealt with stuff that’s been bugging us consciously or unconsciously, and it’s not bugging us anymore. As we do that, we help the whole interconnected life be less bugged. Something else will come up soon, and that’s okay because that’s how we keep growing. We’re taking care of everything, whether we’re aware of it or not; it’s what we call cosmic resonance. When we take care of something we think is just in us, we’re affecting the whole world. With every little step we take, we’re affecting everything and everyone.”

– Roshi Bernie Sanders, from his book with Jeff Bridges, The Dude and the Zen Master

Yes, indeed. The personal is universal, and the universal is personal. It’s all connected, maaaan. And that’s what Dare to be Fabulous is about: experiences of facing up to our own personal resistance. Sometimes, such an experience might even be surprisingly spontaneous, but in the doing of it, you realize how good it makes you feel, and that positive charge then resonates with the people around you… and the community… and the world. Dare to be Fabulous provides a platform to help boost that positive charge.

Buddhist teacher Roshi Bernie Sanders founded the Zen Community of New York, which later became Zen Peacemakers, an international order of social activists. His book with Academy Award-winning actor Jeff Bridges is a dialog between them, a deep and often hilarious conversation about incorporating the spiritual in our daily lives and doing good in a difficult world. It’s a delightful and insightful read.

Female characters in films today

Did you know that the ratio of male-to-female characters in film today has remained the same since 1946? Yes, you read that correctly: the same since 1946. This comes from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media, which recently released the results of a study titled Gender Bias Without Borders, investigating female characters in 120 popular films across the world. There are more statistics to go with that, none of which should be surprising if we pay close attention when we watch movies, but here are some:

  • crowd scenes contained approximately 17% female characters
  • only 30.9% of all speaking characters went to women and girls
  • ratio of men to women playing attorneys and judges were 13:1, and professors 16:1
  • females were over two times as likely as males to be shown in sexually revealing clothing, partially or fully naked, thin, and five times as likely to be referenced as attractive

Here’s a three minute interview with Geena Davis from CBS News:

Geena Davis suggested two easy steps that Hollywood and others can take to make their films less sexist:

The first step was for writers and producers to sift through the projects they’re already working on, and immediately switch several of the male characters to female ones. “With one stroke you’ve created some colorful unstereotypical female characters that might turn out to be even more interesting now that they’ve had a gender switch,” Davis contended. If this exercise was practiced across the industry, this would acclimate audiences to seeing significantly more females in traditionally male roles such as plumbers, taxi drivers, politicians, scientists, techs and engineering experts. Davis argued that by exposing young girls to shows depicting more females holding such jobs, the result would be more girls growing up to pursue these jobs in the future.

The second step Davis advocated was for writers to specify in the script that the story’s crowd gatherings include “half female” gatherers. “That may seem weird, but I promise you, somehow or other on the set that day the crowd will turn out to be 17 percent female otherwise,” Davis insisted.

-excerpted from Casting Frontier

The Geena Davis Institute’s motto is “if she can see it, she can be it.” We couldn’t agree more.

DTBF!

Johanna

Maya Angelou’s daring

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“Angelou was little known outside the theatrical community until “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which might not have happened if writer James Baldwin hadn’t persuaded Angelou, still grieving over King’s death, to attend a party at the home of Jules Feiffer, a cartoonist and writer. Feiffer was so taken by Angelou that he mentioned her to Random House editor Bob Loomis, who persuaded her to write a book by daring her into it, saying that it was “nearly impossible to write autobiography as literature.”

“Well, maybe I will try it,” Angelou responded. “I don’t know how it will turn out. But I can try.”  (Excerpt from an A.P. article)

And the rest, as they say, is history. Aren’t we lucky that she dared to try?

What a book title, too.  “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Beautiful, powerful, resonant. As she was.

“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace,” said her son, Guy Johnson.

She dared to sing her song, and out of the cage she flew.

 

Then Again and Miss Representation

Don’t you love it when you read back-to-back great books?  I’ve been on a nice roll lately, and not just with books, but also with movies and documentaries. In this post, I offer two recommendations.  (I will share more in future posts, as well.)

Diane Keaton‘s memoir “Then Again” is beautifully written and very insightful, not to mention, poignant, funny, and entertaining.  Yes, you’ll read about her acting career and her relationships with Woody and Warren and Al, but more, you’ll read about her mother, Dorothy. Much of the book is comprised of journal entries and letters that her mother wrote over the years, so as Keaton explains it, this memoir is really written by both of them.  Keaton, like her mother, kept everything in the recording of her own personal history, stashing every letter and even keeping some of her phone messages. When her mother passed away and Keaton began to pore through her many journals, she decided to weave together a combined memoir, using much of this wonderful source material.  I, for one, am glad she did.

“A poem about women living in one another’s not uncomplicated memories. . . . Part of what makes Diane Keaton’s memoir, Then Again, truly amazing is that she does away with the star’s ‘me’ and replaces it with a daughter’s ‘I.’ ”—Hilton Als, The New Yorker

Miss Representation is a documentary by Jennifer Siebel-Newsom that explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence.  Among the people featured in this film are Condoleezza Rice, Katie Couric, Margaret Cho, Rachel Maddow, Jane Fonda, Gavin Newsom, Rosario Dawson, Cory Booker and others.  It premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and aired on OWN: Oprah Winfrey’s television network.  Since then, it has grown into a movement, with its own action oriented website and a list of educational resources, including the option of purchasing DVDs for K-12 and university audiences.

The term “media literacy” is unfamiliar to many people, which is a shame, given the amount of media saturating our daily existence. Even if we think we’re well aware of media bias and how the mainstream (or as some might call it, the “lame stream”) media works, there is much to learn from watching films like this one.  I particularly recommend it for girls in junior high school, when much of what the media depicts can become particularly impressionable.  You’ll be amazed by some of the statistics this film offers. (It also has a fabulous soundtrack, featuring songs from Metric.)

Click here to watch the trailer. 

To watch the film, you can add it to your Netflix queue, get it through iTunes, or purchase it from a film distributor. You can also look for a local public screening…or even host one of your own.

“A searing critique.” – Fortune Magazine

“Oprah stamp of approval could make Miss Representation the Roger & Me of media reform.”  – Bitch Magazine

DTBF!
Johanna

 

Renewable marriage contracts. Why not?

Mexico City legislators just proposed legislation requiring prenuptial agreements for all marriages  there. The agreements would not only cover child custody issues, but also the expected duration of the marriage. The reason for this proposed legislation? The huge number of nasty and costly divorce proceedings taking up room and time in the capital’s district courts. (There was an average of 40 divorces for every 100 marriages performed between 2009-2010.)

The Roman Catholic Church has reacted harshly to this proposed legislation, calling it “absurd.” The Rev. Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Catholic archdiocese for the capital region said, “This is a proposal made by people who do not understand the nature of marriage.” I don’t know where he’s been lately, but anyone can attest to the fact that divorce has become an increasingly common occurrence. I can’t speak for Mexico City, as I don’t live there, but I’d say as many as 95% of the people I know who are fifty and over have experienced divorce. I’m sure none of them expected that going in, but it’s still a fact and I think it merits attention and discussion.

The proposed legislation in Mexico City suggests an estimate on the duration of a marriage contract that is no less than two years, and as long as “’til death do us part.”  Personally, I think this suggestion makes great sense. Marriage, by civic standards,  is a contract, despite what the Roman Church might state, and I think that having a discussion about the terms of this contract, prior to signing it, is a prudent and sensible thing to do. Isn’t that the understanding with any contractual agreement that we sign?

I’m not married now, but I’ve written here about almost doing so when I was 24 years old (see “I Canceled My Wedding.”) Fortunately, I opted out in time, rather than ignoring my second thoughts and going through all the paces, which would have led to watching the marriage sour and a likely, eventual divorce. That relationship lasted a total of seven years, so that’s a time marker that has stayed with me.

Since that experience, I have often opined that marriage contracts should be offered in definite year increments, with the option of renewal. Seven seems like a good number, due to the concept that our cells and our bodies completely change in seven year increments, and that we subsequently live our lives in seven year cycles. At least, that’s a known hypothesis. (Thus, the “seven year itch.”) Why not make marriage licenses into renewable seven year contracts?  Then, when the time is approaching for renewal, you can revisit what you have, discuss it with your partner, and decide if you’d like to renew.

This contractual arrangement is also likely to keep people from taking their marital relationships for granted. I’ve been with my love Henri for nearly ten years now. He agrees with my renewable contract concept and when we got to our own seven year mark, we happily agreed to a renewal. For us, it’s not a written contract that we share, but one of mutual understanding. We also don’t have children (not counting our kitties, of course.) If we did, I agree with one columnist who suggested twenty years as the possible minimal term for a couple who wants children.

People get married for many different reasons. Why not revisit our approach to marriage and treat it as the contract that it truly is? Discuss all the terms. Agree to them.  If “’til death do us part” is the way you want to go, then so be it, that can be the length you determine. Romance is wonderful, but at least honest communication and mutual understanding will be part of the deal before you both sign on the dotted line.

My guess is that couples will be happier and their relationships healthier by approaching marriage in this way. There will be a lot less divorce and a lot more happier marriages in the world.

For International Women’s Day

March 8 is International Women’s Day.

Cause to Pause.

Cause to Celebrate.

Let this day be a reminder to spread the love to your sisters far and wide.

And to take action to help the ones who need it.

DTBF!

Johanna  & Patti