Ben from Oklahoma

Photo of a diesel truck on a roadway pointed to a cloudy sunset

Several years ago I found myself working one miserable, rainy Thanksgiving. Holidays, weekends, and inclement weather don’t stop anything in the oil and gas industry, and I was called in to work about 10 that morning. Being the only single, childless guy on the payroll of a small trucking company, I guess I was obligated to work. In hindsight I should have probably offered to do it without being asked.

I was 22 years old and alone on a major holiday for the first time in my life. All I wanted to do was stay inside with the curtains drawn and nap all day and feel sorry for myself.

I got dressed, drove to the shop, and climbed aboard the tanker truck I was assigned to. I headed west towards Texas with a list of five or six loads needing hauled that day. I thought to myself: Great, not only am I getting a late start, now I’m looking at easily at least a 10 or 12 hour day if everything went smoothly.

As I settled into the drive, it seemed like the weather reflected my mood. Dreary, gray, overcast, and it being the Texas Panhandle, the wind never stopped howling. Endless sand and tumbleweeds blew across the road. My coffee didn’t taste good and my favorite CDs didn’t seem to lift me up. Nowhere was open with truck parking to grab a bite except the tiny truck stop on the main highway out of town. Heat-lamp deli burritos and string cheese for my Thanksgiving, hooray for me.

Oh well, I thought. I will just get these loads hauled as fast as I can, go back home, and drink beer until I fall asleep.

I did everything I could for the first few hours to cut corners and shave minutes off the rest of my day. It was looking like I’d be in my recliner at a decent hour until I pulled in to pick up load number four. Another driver had pulled in right before me and had begun loading his tanker. I was completely blocked from doing my job. Those tankers can transport 200 barrels of crude, 8,400 gallons. This meant an hour or more of me just sitting there, being miserable and waiting.

The other driver waved a gloved hand and flashed a friendly smile at me, but I didn’t return it. I slumped deep in the driver’s seat of my Peterbilt and dug into my gas station cooler feast. Any other day I would have walked over and introduced myself. I just couldn’t do it that day. At some point I started to feel a little guilty for not even waving to the guy. He was just doing his job, same as I was.

I heard a knock on my driver’s door. I looked down to see the guy holding a brown paper lunch sack and something wrapped in tinfoil. There was no getting out of it now. I had to force a smile, climb down out of the cab, and meet someone whose actions made me think about how stupid my negativity was. I can’t even remember his name. I just remember a red white and blue Lone Star flag patch on his shirt.

With a small grin he asked, “D’ja eat yet?”

He handed me the lunch sack and it held a giant tinfoil wrapped turkey sandwich on homemade bread. To this day it’s probably the greatest sandwich I’ve ever eaten.

He let me eat while we made small talk. His wife had sent him off to work with more food than he’d ever need, and said he could tell by looking at me that I could use a little thanksgiving. We probably talked about the wind and the weather, road construction, dot cops, and crude oil prices. Typical small talk.

He handed me the other tinfoil packet, and it was a slice of pecan pie his wife had made. He was done for the day after that load and said he would have plenty of leftovers when he got home. He figured I could put it to good use. That’s when I felt a big scratchy lump in my throat and stupid water in my eyes. From what I can remember I did a pretty good job of hiding the fact I was choked up.

We parted ways, he finished loading his tanker, and I climbed back into mine. I watched him ease the truck into gear and move away towards the road, and he gave another wave. That time I waved back.

The food itself isn’t the reason for this being the nicest thing a stranger ever did for me. I’m sure he could tell by looking at me I wasn’t starving, so it wasn’t a handout. I think he could just tell exactly what was going on that day, even without knowing me at all.

That was years ago and I still think about it from time to time. I forget and find myself occasionally feeling sorry for myself or judging others but I guess that’s just human nature. I can genuinely say that, ever since the embarrassment of my self-pity that day, I always try and keep an open mind and give people the benefit of the doubt, sometimes to a fault. When I originally posted this online, someone replied that the greatest quote pertaining to this was, “Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” That is the most accurate and simple quote I can think of to sum up the lesson I learned.

Since that act of kindness, I’ve worked several more Thanksgivings and even spent a couple Christmases alone. They’re not nearly as sad and unbearable as you might think. There are worse places to be than the cab of truck on Thanksgiving or an Oklahoma Waffle House on Christmas morning, especially if you look at life with the right perspective and a little sense of humor.