WOSTER: Thinking about the paths not taken
From the riverbank near my house, you can see the trucks, big rigs that haul from coast to coast, as they cross the Missouri on the interstate bridge a ways south of me.
You can hear them too. Early morning or late evening, if you stand outside you’ll hear the hum of the wheels and the deep growl of the powerful engines as the trucks come down the slope and hit the flat on the I-90 bridge heading west. At night from my bedroom window you can see the headlights of the eastbound trucks when they make that sweeping curve at the approach to the causeway and gather speed for the long uphill pull ahead.
Time was I wanted to be the guy driving one of those big rigs. When I was 12 or 14 years old, still new enough to the experience of driving grain trucks to consider it an adventure, I wanted nothing more than to grow up to be a long-haul trucker. I was a dreamer, you know. Nothing seemed more romantic than a lonely, late-night haul from Chicago to Los Angeles in a semi tractor pulling a trailer load of new cares or refrigerators or televisions or, heck, peaches and pears. I didn’t care what the cargo was. I just longed for the freedom of the open road.
By the time I reached high school, I’d decided on journalism as a major. I liked writing. It was an easier way to communicate than talking face-to-face. Besides, it was a good answer when adults asked what I thought I’d like to be after school. “Not sure” never satisfied people.
My high school guidance counselor, Ed Lodge, thought I could do better than journalism. He had a cramped office up the stairs behind the study hall. Racks and stacks of college brochures and curriculum guides filled the place. He also had several kinds of tests that were supposed to indicate aptitude for various careers.
My pal Bill Miller and I used to swing up to the guidance office during free periods just to shoot the breeze with Mr. Lodge. Bill asked him for brochures from a place called McNeese State down in Louisiana. Bill came to Chamberlain from Florida before his senior year when his dad got a job building the Big Bend Dam. Bill knew about the South. He wound up at the University of South Dakota, but he collected a ton of information from Mr. Lodge on McNeese State.
I asked for brochures from Marquette in Milwaukee and Creighton in Omaha. Mr. Lodge got pretty excited about that. He thought those were big-time schools and he seemed to think it meant something if students he guided went far away from home for their advanced education.
Mr. Lodge said my tests showed an aptitude for medicine. He spent some time trying to convince me to be a doctor instead of a news reporter. The fact that I nearly fainted at the sight of blood didn’t stop him. When I picked Creighton, I think he figured I’d get to campus, see the medical school and switch majors after a year. Instead after a year in Omaha, I switched schools — to South Dakota State in journalism.
I’ve never regretted my decision to get into the newspaper work. It didn’t occur to me during school that as a reporter I’d spend a ton of time on the road. I mostly drove midsize SUVS or pickups instead of Macks or Peterbilts, but I covered enough to figure out it wasn’t always as romantic as I had once imagined, but saw a lot of places and met a lot of people.
Looking back, I see that Mr. Lodge was giving me his best advice, even if I chose to ignore it. I don’t think I’d have made a good doctor. I don’t think I had what it takes to be a good long-haul trucker, either.
Some days, though, when I stand by the river and hear the hum of the big rigs crossing the bridge, I feel like singing “Six Days on the Road.”