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Moment of Terror

Posted May 1, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

The darkness engulfed me as I climbed the steps into Dillon. I’d just completed my pretrip inspection by flashlight and needed to drive four hours into Mississippi to pick up my next load. This one would take me into our terminal in Missouri. My trailer was having problems with the refrigerated unit and the mechanics wanted to make sure they got it inhouse to repair it.

I wheeled off the farm onto a major US highway. Suddenly, the second my automated transmission tried to shift, my truck stopped! Right in the MIDDLE of a major highway! I was completely blocking both southbound lanes and the shoulder.

Terror gripped my heart. In the darkness, a southbound vehicle may not see me. I flipped on my emergency flashers and switched into neutral then back to drive. My truck started up again. My overwhelming sense of relief only lasted until my truck began to shift. Then it stopped. Again.

It took ten long, horrifying minutes to coax my 73 foot vehicle to the nearest place out of traffic: the center turn lane. I sat for a few moments until my heart stopped pounding and the blood stopped swishing in my ears. Two trucks roared by southbound and I knew I desperately needed to somehow get to the shoulder.

Surely I could make it.

I switched into drive again and tried to let the truck roll at idle speed across the two southbound lanes. Shifting seemed to be the issue. If I could keep the truck rolling slow enough that it stayed in first gear, maybe I could get it safely to the other shoulder before the next trucks barreled in my direction.

Despite my best efforts, the truck gained speed, tried to shift and stopped. Again I was blocking both southbound lanes. I repeated the switch to neutral-switch back to drive scenario ten times before I finally getting the truck safely out of harm’s way. The shoulder isn’t the safest place but it would have to do.

I immediately put out my emergency triangles, trying desperately to stop shaking as I walked. I needed to determine if the problem was coming from the truck or trailer so I disconnected. I pulled up with my truck and it shifted fine. The process of elimination told the story. The refrigeration unit was not the only malfunctioning piece of equipment on my trailer.

I reattached to my trailer and tried to pull up. Just like before, the moment I my automated transmission pushed in its clutch to shift, the truck and trailer stopped. It had to be the trailer brakes sticking.

I pushed and pulled, knocked on things with a hammer. I inspected everything I possibly could. I yanked. I cursed. Ok, I didn’t curse but only because those words just aren’t in my vocabulary. But I did pray.

Somehow, something that I did released the brakes and I continued on my way. Each time I stopped or turned into an intersection, I held my breath, praying the brakes would not jam.

I made it to my shipper and to our terminal without any further incident. My best pretrip inspection failed to reveal any problems with the brakes and yet, I was placed in a precarious situation.

My company’s equipment is the best in the business. My truck has dozens of safety devices and our trailers cannot be beat. But the fact remains they are mechanical devices and as such, can break down without notice despite our best efforts.

I have hundreds of friends who cover my travels with prayer. For that I am grateful. I have been spared many disasters because of them. It had just never occurred to me that I’d need those prayers pulling out of my own driveway in the middle of a very dark night.

Thank you all for following me on this incredible journey that sometimes produces a moment of terror. Fortunately, those are few and far between.

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A Blast From Two Pasts

Posted April 24, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I drove Dillon across the bridge on US 41 south into Henderson, Kentucky as memories played in my mind. Four short years ago I’d ridden into the town on the Ohio River during the Road to Freedom Tour. It had been a place like no other.

But I was headed to a nearby town to the south to pick up chicken so I could not stay. I finally found my shipper in the middle of nowhere. I parked and headed in to the shipping office. No one was sitting at the desk behind the window. As instructed by the handwritten sign on the wall, I rang the bell.

A man came out of the back office and told me to back into door 7. A few moments later, a young lady with a pink high visibility vest came out and approached my truck. I climbed down as she asked me to unhook one of my air lines (they place a lock on it to ensure the trailer cannot move while workers are inside).

She looked at me for an awkward moment and finally said, “I know you.”

“Really? I’m not from around here.”

Her eyes widened, “You’re the Bicycle Lady!!”

I took my first good look at her. “Oh my goodness. You’re Charlotte! But how did you recognize me?”

“Your voice. I’d know it anywhere!”

For the next fifteen minutes Charlotte told me how she’d left her abusive husband, moved and started a new life. She thanked me a dozen times for wheeling into her neighborhood on a bicycle in 2013. That had given her the courage to take back control of her life and get out of a bad situation.

They loaded me in no time and after hugging goodbye, I was back on the road and headed toward coastal Georgia. I’d been on the road since early morning and wasn’t able to make it too far before having to shut down for the night only sixty miles away.

The mom and pop truck stop was empty so I opted to go there rather than the two crowded national brand truck stops. I meandered inside hoping I could talk them into making me a vegetarian pizza. The lady behind the counter eyed me strangely as she waited on other customers.

One man kept getting in my face. No matter where I moved or turned, he followed me and continued to get in my face. I returned to my truck until I saw him leave the parking lot. As soon as I walked back in, the lady behind the counter asked if she could help me.

I told her my request and her eyes opened wide.

“I know you! You’re the Bicycle Lady! I’d know that voice anywhere!”

“I know you, too Joanne!”

Joanne was yet another woman I’d met along the Road to Freedom Tour. She’d been working at a restaurant at the time. We’d met the one night I spent in her town. Joanne had bruises on her face and a broken hand. Today she looked radiant.

“That man I was with is in jail. I realized that if you could ride your bike all over America to tell your story, I could tell mine too. I filed charges against him and he’s been in jail ever since. My kids and I are safe. I’m the manager of this place and my life is back on track.”

She gave me my vegetarian pizza on the house and we spent the next hour talking like old friends. I finally said goodnight and as I climbed back in Dillon, I realized that God was orchestrating things for quite some time.

In 1993 I battled cancer that left me with partial vocal paralysis. My scruffily voice is quite unique. Because I used to sing, I HATED when my voice was compromised. But at that moment sitting in my truck thinking about Charlotte, Joanne and the thousands of women I’d met on my bike trip, I was grateful for it. Years after we’d met and I pedaled away, these women recognized me again because of my weird, gravelly voice.

God knew. He knew each of those women needed help and that I would answer the call. He knew I’d run into them again the other day and would be blessed to see how far they’d come. And He knew we would have to have some form of identification. After all, we were all on new adventures.

As I settled in for a peaceful night’s sleep, I thanked God for my strange voice. I thanked Him that out of all the millions of women on earth, He chose me to take the Road to Freedom Tour. I thanked Him for my weird, unique voice that suddenly sounded angelic.

Somewhere in the night my memories turned into dreams in the hills of Kentucky, two pasts having converged into an amazing present.

 

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In His Steps

Posted March 31, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Jeffrey rolled down the road into the evening sunset in his Peterbilt. He’d been a trucker for twenty years and loved the open road. With country music playing in the background, his thoughts went to his mother. She died when he was sixteen and after bouncing around for a couple of years, he began driving a truck. The road was now his home.

He missed her more than he could imagine, especially since his father was absent. When Jeffrey was a young boy, Dad put on a uniform, picked up a gun and went off to fight the Vietnam War. He never came home. Whether he died a hero or abandoned his family, they would never know.

The lonely trucker wheeled into a favorite truck stop for some home cooking before finishing his run. He selected a seat at the counter amongst other truckers doing the same thing and struck up a conversation with the older fellow next to him.

Between sips of coffee and bites of greasy food, the two men traded stories. Midway through the elder man’s historical account, he looked up at his younger counterpart and stopped talking mid-sentence. Tears filled his widened eyes as he realized he’d happened upon someone very, very special. More slowly, it became apparent to Jeffrey that the stranger sitting next to him was his father and he’d followed in his steps.

Through tears, Jonathan explained to his son that he’d come back home from the war but he and his mother were no longer at their old homestead.

“Mom couldn’t make ends meet. She couldn’t pay for the house. I wanted to work but was too young. We lost the house and had to move away.” Jeffrey wiped a tear from his eye with rough hands of the strong man he’d become.

“I looked for you for so long,” the old man offered. “I asked everyone but no one knew where you went. When I knew I wouldn’t find you, I went on the road and have been out here ever since.”

They forgot about the time, their loads and the need to deliver them. They made up for lost time. Jonathan gazed at his son with pride and complete acceptance that without even knowing his son was walking in his steps. Jeffrey felt the hole in his heart seal up with every passing moment.

A chance meeting in a truck stop with two strangers chatting over a late-night meal changed the lives of two people forever. The ocean between father and son was eliminated and the joyful reunion was more than either could hope or dream.  That chance meeting—or was it fate—ignited a fire and bond that only happens between a father and his boy.

Five years have passed since Jonathan and Jeffrey were reunited. Today they mostly drive together, one truck behind the other. Father and son. Owner and partner. They recently visited a grave where a wife and mother was laid to rest. After more than four decades, a husband soldier was finally able to say goodbye to his bride. He looked toward Heaven and thanked God that He’d looked after his boy who despite his absence, had grown into a fine man. He marveled that even though they’d been miles apart and separated by tragic circumstance, a son had followed in his father’s steps.

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Temporary Home

Posted March 27, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I pulled into a truck stop in a remote part of Kansas just as I ran out of drive time. The day had started at 2am and I’d been bombarded with challenges all day. My patience had reached its limit and I was ready for a relaxing dinner in the local restaurant.

I grabbed a window booth and perused the menu. As with many local eateries in Kansas, they had a Mexican food section. I ordered my vegetarian enchiladas and chomped on the chips and salsa. My young waitress drew me to her immediately with her infectious smile. She was friendly and attentive, and eager to please her weary customer. We struck up a conversation.

Jennifer is only 18 and was orphaned at age five. She was never adopted, although she is so delightful, I can’t imagine why. Throughout her childhood, she was placed in over a hundred foster homes, until she finally aged out of the system.

I was amazed and couldn’t help but ask, “How were you able to cope with bouncing around with no place of your own?”

“When you’re in the foster system, you learn quickly that nothing is permanent. No matter where they place you, it’s just a temporary home.”

“That must have been very difficult for you.”

“Sometimes. But I’m no different from you.”

I thought she somehow knew about my life and my story.  “How so?”

“We’re all just passing through. Earth not our destination. It’s our temporary home. I’m headed to Heaven. What about you?”

For the next few minutes, I let Jennifer share Jesus with me. It was important to her. I finally told her that I share her faith.

“I knew it. It just felt good to tell you. Thanks for letting me.”

“So what now, Jennifer? What are you doing now? I’m sure you had to qualify for college scholarships.”

The smile momentarily faded from her face for the first time since we’d met. “Another thing I learned in foster care was it’s best to not take the handouts they give you. There are always strings attached in foster homes.”

“So you’re on your own now?”

“Yes. I rent a room from my boss. I work here and two other jobs. No colleges around here to go to but I’m taking classes online. I pay my own tuition as I go. Another year and I will have my BA degree.”

“What then? Have a plan?”

“I suppose most people would think I’d do social work or something to right the wrongs and save the foster care system. But that’s impossible to accomplish and God rescued me from it. I have no plans to go back. This is cattle country. The cows need veterinary care. I’m going to Vet school. I’ve already been accepted. I just have to complete my biology labs at the campus this summer. I start in the fall.”

Noticing that Jennifer’s smile had returned, I knew in my heart she would be fine and go far in life. She’d been bounced around more than a tennis ball on centre court at Wimbledon, yet her attitude remained hopeful. She possessed a wisdom beyond her years, that true wisdom forged on the anvil of suffering.

I wanted to do something to help her. I wanted to adopt her and make her my kid. But she was not a child. She was a bigger than life young woman determined to grab life by the horns and force it to follow her lead.

Jennifer knows it is fleeting. She’ll never get it back. She knows this earth, however unfair it was to her during her childhood, is merely her temporary home. She embraces every moment and squeezes every drop of goodie out of it, not intending to waste a single one lamenting over water under a bridge she did not build.

As I reluctantly said goodbye to my new friend and slowly walked back to my truck, I was reminded how temporary life—good or bad—really is. I let the challenging waters of my day roll under the proverbial bridge and disappear somewhere beyond my world.

Jennifer got it right.

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Shatter the Night

Posted March 25, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I quickly checked the weather report before departing for my new pick up point. It would be dark by the time I trucked the sixty miles east to Lexington, Nebraska. The weather reports promised some rain and winds to 30mph, well within the limits to drive with an empty trailer. So I rolled.

Ten miles into my journey and right on cue, the rains began. Surprisingly there were far less severe than the dark, ominous clouds threatened, and had completely stopped before I arrived at my shipper. I knew my load was already ready so it was just a matter of checking in, dropping my empty trailer, hook to my loaded one, check out and pull into their overnight parking area for a nice, relaxing evening of movies.

Or so I thought.

The trailer I was to hook to was a foot too high. I exited my truck, went back to the trailer and began to crank it down. I looked back toward the front of the truck and a huge brown cloud began rushing by. Within a few seconds, I could no longer see my truck just a few feet in front of me. I was in a sand storm.

The winds increased rapidly and strengthened every second. Suddenly, they began to blow underneath my trailer so hard, it was blowing me off my feet. I knew I was in trouble and the safest place was inside my truck. I just couldn’t see it.

I closed my eyes, held on to the trailer and inched my way back up to my truck. In the space between my truck and trailer, grains of sand pelted my skin like thousands of pin pricks. Sand got into my ears, my eyes, under my fingernails. I staggered to stay upright but finally made it to my driver’s door, opened it and climbed inside.

I sat looking out my windshield at a brown out as the fierce wind rocked my truck violently. Suddenly, my passenger side window shattered into a million pieces. Shards of flying glass rocketed toward me, slicing my skin as they made contact.

The brown sand blew in through the hole where glass once protected me. I attempted to put up a blanket to stop the flow of wind but it was useless. I was bleeding and being pummeled by sand and ferocious wind.

Within a few minutes, the winds subsided to a mere 37mph sustained. I exited my truck again. As I walked back to my trailer again, I left a trail of all sizes and shapes of glass that had blown into my lap, into my pockets, my hair and boots.

Safely hooked but shaken up, I drove to the guard shack and told them what happened. Fortunately, they’d included eye irrigation to their first aid kit. I used all they had. My eyes were scratched and hurting. I suppose it didn’t really matter much whether it was from glass or sand. Both cut.

I cleaned the blood from the micro cuts, removed the glass from my ears, mouth and boots. I realized that only ten minutes before the storm hit, I was out on the open highway with an empty trailer. There is no way it would have remained upright had I been hit by the storm NO ONE SAW COMING!!!!

I waded through debris in my truck that looked as though a bomb had exploded and through tears, thanked God yet again for His protection. Through filing the accident report, dealing with our safety department, making arrangements to have the window replaced and ultimately putting my heart back inside my chest, I realized how blessed I really am.

Just as with any thriller, I could not have a calm exit to the ordeal. Before I could finish the reporting and phone calls, a violent thunderstorm arrived and threatened to make mud out of the three inches of brown sand inside my truck. I quickly grabbed a piece of heavy plastic and duct tape (no person should ever be without these), and patched the hole.

Finally, at 1am, I vacuumed the glass and sand off my bed, crawled into it and wept. One final release at the end of another harrowing experience. One weapon I have to right my world when it gets turned on off its kilter. Somewhere in the ocean of those tears, I drifted off to sleep and put a period at the end of another sentence in the book of my life.

They say the winds of that sand storm exceeded 100mph. I believe it. I felt it. I battled against it.

I thank God that in that moment of terror, when I least expected something to happen, He gave me the resourcefulness to know what to do and survive. The gale force winds of adversity may have shattered the night but in the morning light the storm had passed and life goes on…

 

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Where the Wind Blows

Posted March 9, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I awoke from a night of being tossed around by an ever-increasing wind. What had rocked me into a blissful slumber in the darkness was about to become a most formidable foe.

I dismissed my first proposed load. It had six stops, three of which were early in the morning in downtown Chicago. I do NOT go to Chicago. My next proposal would take me to Janesville, Wisconsin to pick up canned vegetables bound for Arkansas. Nice run. There was just one problem. I’d have to fight high winds for nearly 200 miles in an empty trailer.

Weather reports promised it would get worse as the day progressed. I was close to maximum winds for an empty trailer but still under the threshold, but safe. So off I rolled from Greenbay southwest to my new shipper. Hopefully, I’d get there safely before the winds became dangerous.

The moment I headed south on the interstate, my trailer was slammed with an invisible freight train. That started ongoing dialog with Siri regarding wind speed. Definitely intensifying. Very uncomfortable but still manageable.

After an hour of being blown around like a rag doll, I came into OshKosh. Just twenty-four hours earlier, I peacefully drove though the quaint town. Today, I was white knuckle weaving through gust after gust.

Suddenly, I saw a bridge up ahead. It was the lake! And I had no way to go but over the bridge! I slowed down to 30mph, normally a dangerous speed on the interstate. But, all things considered, I’d rather be rammed in the rear than be fished out of the lake. I turned on my emergency flashers right as the wind slapped my trailer. I slowed more, to 25mph. The trailer in front of me came off the ground. I whispered a prayer of thanks when the wheels touched down again.

I tapped the button on my headset, then asked Siri the wind speed.

“The wind is blowing at 62 mph right now.”

She sounded so calm. I was terrified! I slowed to 15mph and maneuvered my truck to hallway in the right lane and the other half in the emergency lane. That way the wind would not be able to get underneath my trailer and provide lift. If my enemy was going to blow me over, it would have to be from a direct hit.

It took over five long minutes—or was it an eternity—to get to the other side of the bridge. There was no safe place to stop so I had to keep going. Slowly.

One by one I began to pass carnage of the battle. Truck after truck lay in medians and on off ramps, where they came to rest after being blown over. I prayed for the drivers, hoping they were not seriously injured.

A family from Louisiana cruised along beside me in the left lane. I braked drastically to quickly get them away from me. I was a ticking time bomb and did not want to take innocent victims when I exploded.

Five hours after my nightmare began, I turned into my shipper. After checking in with the security guard, I pulled into a parking space and shut Dillon down. I stepped into the back of my truck, got down on my knees, cried and thanked God for protecting me.

An hour later, we received word that two of our trucks blew over. One was in Wisconsin and the other in Pennsylvania. They urged drivers to shut down and wait it out. I sat safely as the 38mph wind blew my parked truck around, knowing all too well that except for the grace of God, that would have been me.

Sometimes we know what we will face as drivers. We can avoid them. Perhaps I should not have struck out across Wisconsin yesterday. But the reports indicated I’d be safe. They were wrong and I found myself in a life threatening driving situation.

Prayer works. I am grateful to all those individuals who pray for me as I travel these highways and backroads of this great nation. Yesterday your prayers were needed and answered. I survived the ordeal with only a broken skirt on my trailer, severe motion sickness and a few shed tears.

The wind blows where it will. We can neither stop it or control it. We must find our way through an invisible obstacle course. It is the prayers of saints that keep us upright in the midst of the gale force winds of adversity in our lives. Pray… always pray…

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Roses in the Desert

Posted February 20, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I laced on my running shoes and jogged out into the early morning of the Mojave Desert. The sun had not quite yet made its appearance from behind purple mountains. This is the best the weather would be all day and I planned to make the best of it.

Not far from the truck stop where my adventure began, I saw a camper out in the desert. A peculiar sight for someone from Tennessee, but not at all uncommon in the vast desert. I’ve pulled my truck out in the desert to spend the night before. As I approached it, I made out large letters across the hood, “CB Man.” Moments later, an older Hispanic man emerged from the camper. I could not help myself so I ran over to him.

Manuel Gonzales is a Mexican immigrant who came to America knowing he could build a better life than back in his home country south of the border. He brought skills with him and put them to good use. Living and working in an old RV he purchased for $500, he repairs and installs CB radios for truck drivers. He advertises at the four truck stops nearby and is on call 24/7. He has never asked for a penny from anyone and has never taken government assistance of any kind, unless living in the desert would be considered taking a handout. His smile warmed me as the new morning sun cast a glow on his brown skin. We said goodbyes and I continued to trot down the highway.

I stayed on the road for a short while, then left the pavement behind, pounding across the desert floor. Soon I came to an entire community, completely abandoned. I’d read an article the night before about Barstow, California that had been printed in one of the large LA newspapers in 1955. It touted the boom town as the next Las Angeles. With its 10,000 citizens at that time, it was the crossroads of California. Today, sixty-one years later, the population has only doubled. I’d stumbled upon row after row of uninhabited homes in the middle of nowhere. I stared at the graveyard of a dream that promised to thrive, only to be boarded up and long since forgotten.

The cold morning briskness reminded me how harsh the desert can be. Buzzards flew overhead and landed nearby, just in case I succumbed to the harshness and became their morning meal. The wind began to whip the sand in my face. I knew all too well, it was only a prelude of the tropical storm strength winds that would come through later in the morning.

I spotted a young man riding a bicycle. As he approached, there were several unique things I noticed about him. His bike was a one speed beach rover, hardly what he needed to successfully navigate the desert. He carried everything he owned in a backpack on his back. And he was very, very happy. He embraced the morning and enjoyed a freedom that normally only eagles experience, having the entire Mojave Desert as his playground with no fences to restrict his adventure in any way. We talked for quite a while just like we were old friends. Jeremy’s pure uninhibited joy and zest for life was infectious. He was a bright red rose in the midst of a dry barren desert, the second one I’d seen this morning.

Jeremy reluctantly rolled on and I continued my jog through the brown sand, watching carefully for signs of rattlesnakes, though I knew the cold had driven them underground. Eventually, I made my way back to the road. I’d run much farther than I’d intended. The desert just lured me deeper and deeper into her enchanted grip.

I passed a deputy sheriff and waved gratefully, although I never felt anything but perfect peace in the Mojave. I looked up and saw a man walking toward me. As he approached, I began to slow and finally came to a stop as I reached him. Brock carried a huge backpack and had walked all the way from San Diego in search of a better life. He has friends some three hundred miles to the north and was going there hoping he’d find work, perhaps on the farms.

It seemed I was doing more talking than running today but this courageous man had me so intrigued, I did not want to leave. He did not feel comfortable asking people for rides so he used his own two legs and was making his way north. He then divulged he’d watched television and was afraid to get into vehicles with total strangers.

I told him about my bicycle trip and told him America is filled with wonderful people with a genuine desire to reach out and help their fellow human beings. He thanked me for being so positive.

I needed to make my way back east to my truck so I wished him well and jogged away. Suddenly, I remembered I had cash in my running pouch. I spun around and shouted his name just as I saw him leave the road and retreat into the desert. He stopped and turned. I jogged back to him.

“Brock, do you need money?”

He did not hesitate, “yes!”

I gave him the folded bills I had in my pouch. I have no idea how much it was but I saw a twenty and a five-dollar bill. Then I said, “Brock, don’t give up on Americans. Don’t doubt there are wonderful people out here who can help you get to where you’re going.”

With that I jogged off. After a while I looked back. He was still standing there staring at the old lady in spandex shorts in the middle of the Mojave Desert on an early Sunday morning.

Three people I encountered on a run through the middle of nowhere. Three times I came across a rose in the desert. One found a way to make a life. One left a life in search of freedom to be himself. One walked away from disappointment and marched hundreds of miles toward hope.

I’m not sure who got the greater blessing in the Mojave, them or me but as I jogged the last four miles back to the truck stop, my heart danced on the wings of the wind. As I rounded the corner and my truck came into view, Siri told me the wind was blowing at 23mph. I knew the window of opportunity to run had been timed perfectly. What a tragedy it would have been if I’d not experienced roses in the desert.

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Farm Fresh Indeed!

Posted January 31, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I clicked off mile after mile up the familiar I-44. Before I would arrive at our terminal, I just had to make one stop. My fleet manager landed me a load to bring in to put my truck in the shop. Rather than deadheading from Oklahoma, I would now be paid for the miles.

I called ahead to the shipper because my loading appointment was not until five in the afternoon. I would need a place to park my truck for eight hours before I would have enough drive time to get into the terminal. The shipper said they were a farm so parking would be no problem. I could stay as long as I needed to.

Sweet.

I left the modern road behind and climbed the roller coaster hills into the farm country of southern Missouri. Two turns and I arrived at—a FARMHOUSE? Surely, the GPS was incorrect.

Just as I was about to keep going, three men began waving happily at me so I pulled into the driveway. Within seconds Abraham, Isaac and Jacob greeted me as if I was their long lost friend. Unlike the two younger men, Abraham wore a long beard. All three donned leather hats and old fashioned button-down breeches.

I had just stepped back in time!

Abraham told me they would not be able to load me before my appointment because, well, they had not picked the kale yet. He asked me to turn my truck around and I could just stay right there until they were ready to load.

Hours went by but I didn’t notice. I was fascinated by this incredible Mennonite family in Missouri. They were quiet, respectful, and very hard workers. Men, women and children began to arrive in cars. Before long there was an army of workers ready for work in the fields.

All the men wore button down breeches and leather hats. The women wore skirts to their ankles, jackets and bonnets. The children were miniature versions of their parents. Each of them waved at me as they pulled in. Their smiles were infectious!

Within moments, the troop entered the fields and began to pick the valuable commodity. The little ones carried the kale in cloth shoulder bags to a washing station just outside the house. The women washed the greens and placed the clean product in boxes. Other children took box after box to a trailer. The young men prepared the boxes onto pallets inside that trailer and slid the pallets by hand to one side of the trailer. No one broke a speed record. It was slow and methodical and yet, strangely effective. I watched in awe at this completely manual process was getting the job done.

About four in the afternoon, Isaac asked me to open the doors of my precooled trailer so they could load. The only modern part of this entire process was a fork life. Interestingly, it never went into the back of my truck. It stayed on the rocky ground of the farm. They had no dock for me to back up to. Getting the machine into my truck was an impossibility.

Loading my truck was a two-man job. One slid a pallet to the edge of the preparation trailer to be picked up by the fork lift. He then jumped out of the trailer, and climbed into mine. The forklift carried the pallets to my truck and lifted them inside. The other worker then slid the pallets by hand to the front of my trailer. This process was repeated fifteen times until all the pallets were loaded. Kale is super light and even a pallet full, it can easily be moved without the use of lifting equipment.

As Abraham prepared the paperwork for me, I marveled that my truck could be loaded by hand in a completely manual process more quickly than most modern shippers can load it with all the best equipment.

Abraham shook my hand and asked if there was any way I would be the one to come back for future loads. I would have loved that but I had a feeling it might not happen. He assured me that I would not be disturbed in their driveway and again told me to stay as long as I wished.

Cars loaded with Mennonite workers disappeared the same way they had arrived, waving and smiling at me like we were BFF’s. My heart soared at this part of America and this family who remains untouched by our ultra-modern, super-techno charged way of life.

I stayed another three hours to get time back then left the Mennonite farm behind, my life enriched by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, their families and a culture that, despite all the modern conveniences available, choose to live a simple lifestyle.

The heartbeat of yesterday’s America is still alive in southern Missouri!

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The Apacalypse, Days 3 and 4

Posted January 23, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Springville, Utah to Twin Falls, Idaho

When I awoke, night still blanketed the horizon just outside Provo. The mountains in the distance were covered in a blanket of virgin white snow. Mother Nature had also left the gift of two feet of snow on my truck during the night. I have to say the mountain looked better than my truck.

I slipped and slid into the truck stop and began asking truckers about road conditions. Most of them—including dozens of seasoned drivers—had not ventured out yet. Fear in the eyes of those who had confirmed what I already knew in my heart… roads were bad.

Because I had crept along the day before, I was even more behind schedule so my fleet manager began looking for a team to take it the rest of the way to Washington. I was fifty miles from my Salt Lake City terminal. Surely, I’d be able to get the load that far.

Reports were two feet of snow on Interstate 15 and the plows had stopped trying to keep up. They would resume at four. So I walked back to my truck and waited. And waited. At six I went back into the truck stop and asked questions again. Roads were still bad and now there were seventeen reported accidents between where I was and Salt Lake City. There was a two mile back up just to get onto the interstate at my exit.

I passed the time shoveling the snow off my truck. When I felt that rush hour had passed, I pulled out. At the corner, cars were getting stuck in the snow. I swung left and headed up the hill toward the entrance to the interstate. The traffic suddenly stopped. On ice. I slowed down and tried desperately to not come to a stop. I could not afford to slide backwards into a car.

The light finally changed and traffic moved before I had to stop. Cars were slipping in the ice and snow. Trucks and larger vehicles tossed the frozen slush into windshields, blinding drivers. Traffic was stop and go. Mostly, stop and wait for emergency vehicles to pick their way through the sea of stopped cars to ones that had been involved in accidents.

I crept toward the exit I would need to take to go to the terminal. The excitement I’d felt at the possibility of having another truck take this load farther into the frozen tundra broke through the ice when my fleet manager told me to keep rolling. No team nearby. He would try to find a team farther up the road.

He asked me to stop in Twin Falls, Idaho. Surely, he’d find someone by then. So onward I slid. The roads improved slightly between Salt Lake City and the Idaho border but as soon as I crossed the state line, conditions deteriorated quickly. I flipped on my four-wheel-drive and slowly picked my way between black ice, two feet of slush and steep drop offs on the rolling hills.

The landscape disappeared as I drove the last forty miles in a white out. Again. The weigh station in Burley, Idaho was open despite the conditions and all trucks are called into that station. When I rolled across the scales, I got the electronic message to park and bring in my paperwork. That’s never a good sign. I grabbed my stuff and headed inside. The officer checked my declared weight on my paperwork and concluded that I was overweight because my truck had collected ice from the road. But overweight is overweight, no matter what the reason and I was busted. I stood there in silence waiting for him to write my ticket, realizing I would be several hundred dollars out of pocket because of the ice I’d grown to HATE.

Surprisingly, he let me go with the warning that I would be ticketed in Boise if the problem was not corrected before then. I scooped up all my paperwork and headed out the door, grateful that I’d just been extended mercy. Unless there was an unexpected spring thaw overnight, I figured I was just prolonging the agony. But I was still grateful all the same.

The next day conditions were so bad, the roads closed in the westbound direction. Eight feet of snow dumped on and around my truck, effectively burying it. A few trucks were coming through the fuel isle, getting stuck, having to get help to get out. One truck got stuck right in front of me, so I dug myself out of my own igloo and trudged through the snow to help him. The driver behind him became impatient and tried to pass him. He got stuck as well.

A fourth driver walked up and we all worked together to get the trucks unstuck. It was fifteen below and snowing. We all stopped installing chains and looked up as another driver approached. His question would have been comical if we hadn’t been frozen.

“Do you think you could move your trucks somewhere else to put your chains on? You’re blocking the exit, and we need to get out.” He spoke with a very thick accent, which seemed to anger the driver who was laying on the frozen snow. But the four of us who’d been up to our elbows in snow and ice for the better part of an hour all successfully resisted the urge to kill the guy. And, when we suggested he lend us a hand, he excused himself and ran back to the comfort of his nice, warm un-stuck truck. Apparently he’d never heard that we’re all in this together and we should help each other.

The two trucks finally grabbed some traction and away they went. I returned to my igloo and tried not to think of the HUGE job I would face in the morning digging my seventy- three foot long truck out of six feet of snow before I could move an inch. I had no idea how things could possibly get worse but I would soon find out.

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Walking in Memphis

Posted February 8, 2016 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I sat with anticipation staring out the window as we thundered toward metropolitan Memphis. We passed old stone and brick houses that I desperately wished could talk and tell me their amazing history.

At long last we turned into the ornate grounds of the Pink Palace. The enormous home and thousands of pink field stones stood tall among the winter bare branched trees. Its lavish décor makes it every bit the coveted location as when it was built in the 1920’s.

After memorializing it with snapshots from every side, wwee wound our way through surface streets, past the airport where hundreds of FedEx jets sat on the tarmac. The tails towered over the small row houses nearby. The old. The new. The historical. The technological, all dwelling together on a street in Memphis.

We turned onto US 51 and parked in what appeared to be a strip mall. It turned out to be the mecca for The King. People from near and far flock here to see and purchase all things Elvis. One of my friends went to the café to buy Elvis’ favorite sandwich—peanut butter and banana—while I inspected his bell bottomed sequined costumes and autographed guitars.

As I stood in the shops completely surrounded by Elvis, his music and his fans screaming on the video loop playing on large screen TV’s, I pondered how difficult it had to have been for him to live a normal life. Though he clearly loved entertaining audiences, he had to come to a point when he just wanted to be normal… perhaps even anonymous.

After getting all shook up by the memorabilia, we drove another block and found the place where Elvis lived… and died. I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought about when he walked the grounds after flying home from a concert in Lisa Marie, one of two private jets he owned. She sat on display across the street from the home.

Graceland stands as a shrine in Memphis, the only thing in the neighborhood that remained untouched by time. People walk the nearby streets, weighted down by the burdens of life, while streets, curbs and buildings are worn down by years of hard labor. Yet the home of Elvis, like the King himself, lives on seemingly unscathed and unforgotten.

I still had questions for Graceland but they would have to wait. It wasn’t talking and I had other places to see. A short drive to downtown and THE River brought us right to the entrance of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

Unlike Graceland, the patients who come here are very much alive. And the professionals here are using every ounce of their energy, skill and knowledge to keep them that way. Just miles away from where people make the pilgrimage to honor and remember someone who died four decades before, people here make a different sort of trip. No private jet. No fans or fanfare. Just a quiet arrival with hope against hope that a cure will be found and they will grow up, go to the prom, have their first kiss, graduate high school, get married, have a family and live happily ever after. Some of them would settle for living just another day.

We wound our way past the tall buildings down to The River… the Mighty Mississippi. How I desperately longed for it to talk. To tell me its stories that wrote history in our great nation. The streets were as old as the buildings, each one luring me into their moments of old. None of them telling the stories.

Memphis is a magical place where history and modern times walk arm in arm. The soul of the city runs deep in the hearts of those who live here. She sings the blues and people listen with open hearts that change moment by moment as the music of the city permeates their being.

I never thought my life would change by a city I avoided for decades but I now understand what the songwriter meant when he wrote:

 

     Walking in Memphis

     I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale (Street)

     Walking in Memphis

     But do I really feel the way I feel?

I’ve been asking myself that same question since Saturday. Memphis, you’ve changed me. Lured me into your embrace. Accepted me as one of your own. My heart beats with a different song, one I haven’t quite named yet. The melody is still evolving. The harmony is yet to be heard. One day it will be set to music and I will have my own song… one that was written upon the tables of my heart while walking in Memphis.

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