Yesterday, I had a job to do for my friend Drew Berry. Along with my old FEMA trailer cohort John, and a new friend Brian, I went up to Rockport, IL to inspect and purchase some huge Ford F-750 Heavy Duty Trucks for Drew's Underground Cable-laying business.
These trucks are basically a semi-tractor with a extended frame. Powered by the same Caterpillar Diesel engines as a semi, and having Air Brakes and 6-speed manual transmission, these big machines are a step above what I am licensed for with my Chauffeur's License, but regardless of legal requirements, I can, and have long been capable of Driving Anything.
On the long trip back from Rockport, which is right on the Wisconsin line, I had plenty of time to think, and it occurred to me that I have always gotten an almost Spiritual satisfaction from Driving. From Tricycles and pedal cars in the big garage at Hilltop, to the souped-up cars and motorcycles I raced on in my teens and twenties, there is some visceral thrill to be had from confident control of a motorized vehicle.
I've often heard people say that Racers must have death wish, from the chances they take when driving Indy 500 style, "open wheel" cars at 200+ MPH, or Stock Cars on NASCAR tracks, or the Formula One cars on the Road Course tracks in Europe or South America. Now, it may seem presumptuous for me to lump myself in with these highly skilled and Professional Drivers, but, I'm merely saying that I have always understood both the risks and the rewards that motivated and sustained people who did such Driving for a career.
I thought back to those days when my brother Steve and I raced laps in that big garage while pretending to be Bill Vucovitch, Parnelli Jones, Jack Brabham, and other Speedway Greats, and to how much we admired and envied those lucky men who got paid for doing what they loved. Those days when racing was much less sophisticated, and a lot more dangerous than today, days where every lap of every race was fraught with danger beyond what "normal" people could or would face in life, were times when I totally "got" what those men thought about the challenges versus the risks. So, long before the dangers we faced while flying combat missions, or even routine Patrols in Vietnam, I understood that only a fool is "fearless", but it's what you do in times of fear that truly separates the brave from the timid. I used to tell people that "I fear No Man,(unless he's wearing a badge or a black robe)", and that was true, and when it finally did come a time when I stood before the Bench, and had my freedom curtailed for a couple of years, I found that I wasn't afraid of that reality either, and having survived that ordeal, I had reached a place where I really didn't fear a thing. Once Again, that sounds a lot like bragging, and there are caveats here as well, for one thing, I fear Pain a lot more than death, because Pain can last for seeming eternities, while death can be quick and merciful.
* This post was written in August 2014.