Say and think what you will about long-haul movers, Connecticut-born Finn Murphy can write and write well, and his book, “The Long Haul, A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road,” kept my interest the whole way through with his gritty, sometimes hilarious descriptions of the people he moved for and his observations about life on the road, other movers and trucking in general.
He freely admits that long-haul freight drivers have no use at all for movers, calling them “bedbuggers” and their trucks “roach coaches.” But he quips: “In my personal hierarchy, an owner-operator [mover] driving the junkiest old cornflake Mack is still miles ahead of a clockpuncher in a company-owned Pete. ‘Whatcha drivin’? is a standard first question at truck stop coffee counters. ‘Got a bank account’? would be my first question.”
He has only kudos for diesel engines, saying that “Diesel engines want to work hard. What they like is a full load and a 20-hour run at 65.”
He had this to say about mandated electronic logging devices: “That will kill off what’s left of us owner-operators. They’ll call it a safety issue, but I’ll bet it’s the big carriers lobbying the politicians. There was a point somewhere when the big carriers were against government and then came the point when they figured out they could use government to get what they wanted. I suppose people call that maturity. I call it corruption. As an owner-operator, I’m a dead man walking.”
According to Mr. Murphy, movers call their clients — the people whose household items they’re moving from one part of the country to another — “shippers.”
The most poignant and weird story concerning a shipper was about Mrs. “M,” who according to Murphy was extremely large and hooked up to an industrial-sized oxygen tank. Her husband had died the day before. He was an archeologist who had been helping Native Americans set up a system for cataloging shards of pottery in the Four Corners area of New Mexico, a stark and wind-swept area popularized by late mystery writer Tony Hillerman and populated by the Navajo Nation as well as Hopi, Ute and Zuni tribal nations.
Murphy is told by Mrs. “M” and her adult son to haul her and her husband’s belongings — including hundreds of pieces of broken pottery — to New Mexico from Boston without any help to unload it when they arrive at the widow’s residence near Farmington. No help. They insist. The son is bringing his mom out West in a camper loaded with so much oxygen it’s illegal.
Enroute, however, Mrs. “M” dies and her son has to leave her body at a funeral home in Salina, Kansas, “in the refrigerator.”
Again, Murphy is told by the son, he is to hire no help to unload when he arrives.
With only about five hours sleep, he gets to the residence in the mountains about 4 a.m., parks his truck in the middle of the unpaved county road, sets his flashers and goes to sleep in his bunk.
He’s awakened about 9 a.m. to find himself surrounded by about a dozen pickup trucks carrying Native Americans. Soon Mrs. “M’s” son arrives with the ashes of his father in an urn. The Indians blindfold Murphy for a dusty, hot trip by pickup to a “warrior burial ceremony” for their friend Mr. “M” in his urn along with the broken artifacts. The burial site is about 15 minutes away and known only by members of that tribe.
The chief explains to Murphy that they bury the dead with items they’ll need in the next world. “As their life on Earth has been broken, so too are the gifts for the next world. What’s why all of the objects are broken.”
The ceremony lasts from mid-morning until early evening and Murphy is asked not to divulge any details of the actual rite.
The next day he’s paid to haul the household items minus the broken pieces of pottery back East and drop everything in storage at Murphy’s moving company in Connecticut.
Just another week or so in the life of a driver who by turns is in love with and disgusted by the life of a long-haul mover.
Like I said, it’s a good read.