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Kindness Counts

By on October 28, 2009
RoadKing Mag

Audiences for International’s film Drive and Deliver remember Steve Donaldson buying two stuffed toys, giving them to the children who’d admired them while their mom shopped at a truckstop grocery, and knew that for many drivers that was a common gesture. Each day, some trucker goes out of his or her way for another human being.

Individual acts like giving a spot in line to a fellow driver in a rush, to commitments like writing to and visiting with schoolchildren through Trucker Buddy, to acts of pure heroism by nominees for the Goodyear Highway Hero Award show the heart of the trucking community. Sure, plenty of drivers come off as gruff and grumbling, but overwhelmingly the trucking community is full of real humanitarians.

They see it as doing what’s right, and that means doing it without expectation of anything in return.

Good deed for a family in need
One trucker told me of a time he helped a stranded family. He insisted he remain anonymous because, as he put it, “The purpose of a Random Act of Kindness is always about the recipient and not the giver. I didn’t do this to be recognized. I did it because it was what these folks needed at the time.”

He was parked at a large truckstop and noticed a couple with two children “hanging out” at the truckers’ entrance. “They were asking for money so they could buy some food.” This trucker asked why they were hanging around, figuring they were panhandlers taking advantage of the two kids. But they explained their car had broken down and was being repaired at the auto shop next door. Yes, they had some money, but just enough to pay for the repairs and put gas in the car to get to their destination.

He took the family into the restaurant and bought them a meal. While they ate, he went to the auto repair shop and verified their “broken-down car” story. The mechanic said it would be two more days before the car was ready. The trucker returned to the restaurant, paid for the family to receive two meals a day for the next two days, and then went to the nearby motel and paid for a room for them for two nights. The  mother and father were so taken aback by this, they sat down on the curb and cried.

Before he rescued them, they’d been kicked out of several stores and restaurants, cussed at and threatened with arrest, when all they wanted was to feed the kids and get back on the road, headed to the father’s new job.

Classic roadside assistance plus
Two sisters driving I-64 in Kentucky during a snowstorm were startled when their tire blew out. Unable to keep control of the vehicle, they slid off the road, and though they were uninjured, they were shaken up. Realizing that the spare tire in the trunk was also flat, they felt a bit of despair.

Then Larry Goessens, driver for Anderson Trucking of St. Cloud, Minn., showed up. He pulled the car out of the ditch, made sure the sisters were OK and then drove into the next town with the spare tire to get it repaired. He returned to the ladies and vehicle in distress and replaced the flat tire with the new spare, refusing the women’s offer of payment for his help.

“You would not believe how many people just drove right by me,” Rhonda Davis wrote to Anderson Trucking. “It was snowing to beat the dickens and I am an old lady! It was as if God himself sent this man to help me.”

Goessens got a Highway Angel award, and Davis says she and her sister have a newfound respect for truckers.

Trucker to trucker
Johnny Ramos, an Armstrong Relocation van operator, was having his truck repaired in Hurricane, W. Va. He absent-mindedly laid his wallet on the counter while discussing the problem with a tech, and walked away. He ran back to the shop once he realized the wallet was missing, but it was too late. It was gone.

Ramos spent four hours looking for the wallet. “I left the  truckstop with that ‘naked in Times Square feeling,’ on the road without my CDL and all my credit cards.”

Dean Vanderbilt, a Power Source driver, was driving through the night on a tight schedule. He pulled into a truckstop near Wytheville, Va., to get a bite, and parked next to a Jersey wall. As he swung down out of his cab, he practically stepped on a wallet. He picked it up and it flipped open to a CDL. A driver for 30 years, Vanderbilt knew he had to try and find the CDL holder. With a few phone calls, he did, and arranged to meet.

Ramos drove back to Hurricane. Vanderbilt waited in Wytheville. Both were puzzled at the other’s no-show, until finally they connected again and discovered they were standing in different states. The wallet was left for Ramos in Wytheville. The truckers chuckle every now and then as they drive down the road, remembering how they were at different fuel desks in different states looking for one another.

The kindness recipient
Now here’s a time when a fellow trucker rescued me. As a newbie still learning to make the trailer go where I wanted it, I was having a real difficult time. I had to back to a dock that required a jig to the blind side — around a power pole. My efforts were slowing up everyone from dock workers to other truckers as I tried and tried to get that trailer to the dock.

Another driver walked up to my truck and looked at me. Sweat was pouring down my face as I wrestled the steering wheel. “I don’t think I can do this,” I told him.

He didn’t answer that. He just said, “Stop! Put your left hand at the bottom of the steering wheel. When your hand goes left, the trailer goes left, when your hand goes right, the trailer goes right.”

After all that previous frustration, I was backed to the dock in less than five minutes. This one little piece of knowledge made my trucking life much simpler, and I’ve passed it along many times during my 23 years of driving. Wish I knew that trucker’s name. I’d still like to thank him.

Countless others have that same feeling, because a driver did them a kindness. Why do so many drivers go out of their way to extend themselves to others? “There is something instinctual in them that leads them to do the most they can to help,” says Deborah Sparks, vice president of business development of the Truckload Carriers Association. She’s heard of hundreds of good deeds on the road from people nominating drivers for a Highway Angel award. “Some people offer the theory that there are a lot of farmers who got into trucking and brought that farmer’s sense of community to the road. You reach out and help when somebody needs it. I’ve used the analogy of an office. If I hear a crash down the hall, I will run to see what happened and assist if I see someone is injured. For drivers, the highway is their office, and they rush in when they see trouble.”

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