Doug Chandler may not be able to share his emotions face to face, the thoughts that sometimes cloud his mind with sadness, loneliness, fear or joy, and love. But give him a brief moment in time and a Smartphone to type on and his soul will pour out in a Facebook post.
“That’s my way out. I can’t express to people how I feel face to face. Sometimes I can write for hours. Sometimes I may go months” without writing poetry, said the 46-year-old Chandler, an owner-operator who hails from Coxs Creek, Kentucky. “Depends [on] how it hits me. It’s a release, I guess.”
And with a job that can sometimes lead to isolation, that kind of creative release can help keep any driver on the right path. Chandler drives a 2012 Peterbilt 386 throughout the lower 48.
“I wanted to travel; I’ve never been one to stay in one place, have a consistent income,” he said of why he started trucking in the late 1990s. “I come from a construction family; I just got tired of being laid off.”
He’s been a company driver, but within the last month and a half jumped into his own truck as an owner-operator.
“Some people say congratulations; some people say ‘I’m sorry,’” he said. “… It’s tough. It takes a different individual to do this. It’s not the money because you’re giving it out as fast as you’re bringing it in. I’ve always wanted to do this. I’m different than most. I’m a renegade; I like to do things my own way.”
It’s a matter-of-fact attitude for Chandler, dealing with a life that has carved some rough edges into his very being. In February 2014, the married father of two lost his son, Brian, who died of a heroin overdose at just 21 years old.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through,” said Chandler, who added they were close “at one point until the drugs came into the picture. Typical teenage hormones just went downhill from there … There’s no good advice, it affects all walks of life — rich, poor. They may try it once and walk away but if they try it more than once, that’s how addictive it is.”
He was driving through West Virginia, about to make a delivery when he got the call.
“Empty,” he said of how it felt to hear of his son’s death. “He had everybody fooled there at the end. I think he knew he just tried to make so many wrongs right. You just feel empty; it’s one of your kids.”
While Chandler had dabbled in poetry throughout the years, he began publically sharing his writings when he son died. He runs the Facebook page “Trucker Poems” with a fellow trucker who lost her husband.
“It still blows my mind. We’ve had people from Australia ask to borrow stuff for funerals,” he said of the outpouring of support he’s received from his poems. “It’s just a release, stress release. Sharing it with others, maybe it’ll help somebody along the way.”
Inspiration may strike at a loading dock after his work is done or in the middle of the night. The key, he said, is to get it written in a post immediately, something that doesn’t always work.
“It’s sort of like songwriters. If you don’t get it when it first rambles in your head, then it’s gone. In my occupation it’s kind of hard to do,” Chandler said.
After Brian’s death, there were a lot of “really, really dark, dark, dark” writings, meant to purge the soul from the pain. Then there’s off-the-wall observations, “my perspective on life in general.”
A favorite for many was his poem about a “faceless rider,” the life of a trucker.
“That’s one of my favorites. A lot of people like that. It’s kind of true, that’s kind of what we feel like out here. It’s a thankless job,” he said.
Even though writing has been a lifeline, his “rock,” has been his dog Roro, a chocolate lab who has been on the truck with him for about three years, after his son died, Chandler said. The dog, now about eight or nine years old, was found abandoned.
“That was the whole reason he came on the truck. I was pretty out there,” he said after his son’s death. “He’s got this [sixth] sense. He knows when I’m going to have a bad day before I have it. He will smother you to death. He’s a lot of fun. At first it was a challenge; there’s days we want to kill each other.
“But he’ll come lay his head on my lap or nudge my hand. He’s pretty vocal sometimes. Laid back, doesn’t bother anything” unless there’s food left out, Chandler said.
Chandler’s spirit brightens when sharing about his adventures with Roro, including the Facebook page he made for him called “Roro trucking adventures,” (facebook.com/Rorostravels123), where he shares photos and Roro himself gets to “talk” about his best friend.
“Roro here. I caught dad not looking, stole his piece of chicken. It was good too. But he’s not smiling,” Roro posted.
“We like to go hiking when we get a chance or go to doggie parks. We do a lot of hiking when we’re out West. He gets me out of the truck and I’m no spring chicken no more. By the end of the day your legs are killing you and it’s good to get out and play; it gets your mind off everything,” Chandler said. “He’s my world. My wife would tell you the same thing.”
His world might be Roro, but his stomach only has a taste for tacos.
“I love tacos. Anything tacos. We love street tacos, authentic street tacos. Little mom-and-pop places, not Taco Bell — that ain’t tacos,” he said, adding he’ll eat them “Every chance I get.”
It’s those moments of joy that help him get through the tough times and for any driver that wants to share his poems on the Facebook page, he has one bit of advice: “Just be yourself.”
“That’s what I learned the hard way a long time ago. You just got to be yourself. You’ve got to put it out there,” Chandler said.
To read more of Chandler’s poetry or to submit a poem, visit facebook.com/TruckerPoems.
I'm the faceless rider many see me but don't know me
Day after day I take to the wind and let it carry me away
Some days though I see many faces in different places not one single soul says hello
When my clock starts ticking it’s time for me to go though many times I would rather stay
I ride from place to place and only still alive because of God's grace
Many think I'm tough but really it's just rough in a world all alone as I ride on streets of stone
Guess you could say wild horses carry me away
Sometimes I believe I'm a prisoner of my own device in this gypsy life
Yeah I miss my wife and kids as I'm out here on this skid
I do a thankless task that sometimes burns like whiskey from the flask
Never the less I'm at it every day, mile after mile, hour after hour
I live life on a highway that never ends with a heart that never mends
I have friends in every town I’ve been, but never enough time to spend with them
I'm the faceless rider this highway is my home
I'm the faceless rider off I go into the unknown
It's one of those days they come and go
Watching the sun come up waking the pup
I can feel you like you’re still here
Tears roll down my cheek as I miss you from day to day
Pain inside it's me as I ride. Deny, I can't how I miss you so
Dark place inside my soul since day I had watch you go
I can't control the way I feel thinking of you how young you were, still asking myself why this had to occur
Smiling face and a heart of gold those are the memories I hold of you in my mind as I'm chasing these ol’ white lines
What I wouldn't give so you could still live as I'm trapped in this place without being able see your face
So until we meet again
I just hope when my time comes that at heaven’s gate you sit and wait to see me again
The day I laid you to rest was the day God took the best from us down here and I just hang on as I shed another tear, wishing you were right back here instead of up yonder
I know you’re in a better place, but I sure do miss seeing your face
Four paws, a wagging tail
He came along to save this man from a place dark as coal in an empty soul
No matter where I go, he always lets me know I will never be alone
When his muzzle touches me I know he feels the darkness inside of me
Day by day he helps me chase the demons away
Words he doesn't have to say because through his eyes I know he knows and love he always shows
Some will never know the bond we have
Sometimes I think he was sent from above
To show a broken man what love is truly meant to be
Hand and paw through this world we stand together
Four paws and a wagging tail this soul has mended things broken without one word having to be spoken
Many won't ever understand how this fella’s saved an old man