02 June 2010

How a truck restored my faith in America.

I drove down to a friend's ranch in Texas last week for a get together of former and current Army Rangers. I had a great time, as I always do around other Rangers, and enjoyed the camraderie, Texas barbeque, beer and lots of stories. At the end of the gathering, I followed a buddy who needed to drive an Army 2 1/2 ton truck (affectionately known to generations of soldiers as a "Deuce and a half") he had recently bought at government auction to Dallas. The purpose of getting to Dallas was to leave the truck with a company that would transport it to his home in the northeast. I was following him as a support vehicle in case he broke down (which was a definite possibility as the truck was nearly 40 years old) and because it didn't have a license plate etc.

We plotted a course on backroads to avoid highway patrols on the busy Memorial Day weekend and slowly worked our way north for the next nine or so hours. Taking the back roads always makes your journey slower, but much richer in terms of actually seeing the towns and people along the route. Since I had never really been around much of Texas, it was a real treat to see the change in elevation and terrain as we headed out from the flat and desert like south, through the hill country and up to Dallas.

About 30 minutes into our journey, we got our first wave. A big semi truck came roaring towards us in the opposite lane and the driver waved with a big smile on his face. A few minutes later, another car came towards us with the same result. Wow, I thought, people in Texas are sure friendly ! It then dawned on me- they weren't waving at our ugly mugs, they were waving at the truck. It was the first of literally hundreds of waves and smiles that we saw during the rest of our trip. Even the policemen we saw (which easily could have busted us for the truck not having brake lights, turn signals etc.) just laughed and waved as the beast rolled through their towns. The best part of the trip for me was when we passed a retirement home and a couple of elderly gentlemen absolutely beamed as the truck roared past. My guess was that they were veterans and the old truck stirred some memories of far away places and the time when they were young, strong and old age seemed impossibly far in the future.

Spending 9 hours in the car behind gave me plenty of time to think. How could a 40 year old truck built for war, bring so much pleasure to so many people ? Since it was Memorial Day they probably thought we were coming or going to a parade but I guess in our own way, it was a parade of one. I spoke to the owner about the truck and how many of these vehicles are just scrapped. I was really glad that he had bought it and was going to restore it to its former glory. The people weren't just waving at a truck, they were subconciously waving at the generations of soldiers that drove the truck and paying homage to their service and sacrfice. For veterans, I'm sure the truck stirred memories of war but also some of the good memories that they carried from their service- the lifelong friendships and brotherhood, the sense of honor, duty and loyalty to each other.

The truck triggered good memories for good people. Good, honest hard-working Americans that we passed just stopped in their tracks and smiled- toddlers, kids, grown men and the elderly. We passed everything from palatial multi-million dollar ranches to small shacks with a couple of goats and a cow in the front yard. They were all scraping out a living in an unhospitable climate through hard work and sacrifice. It just reinforced to me that it isn't the government that makes up this country, its the people like the ones that we passed.

After our journey, we dropped the truck off. I know it's just a piece of equipment, but I swore that it looked like it was smiling. Maybe it was just the 103 degree heat. Then again, maybe it really was.

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