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Sunday, September 25, 2005

A New Zen and the Art...

Several years ago, I read a wonderful book entitled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. It became somewhat of a cult classic and while ostensibly the peregrinations of a father and his son, was as much a philosophical meditation on what constitutes quality.

Driver: Six Weeks in an Eighteen-Wheeler by Phillip Wilson reminds me of that earlier book. Wilson, after numerous other careers, decided in his late forties that he'd like to become an over-the-road truck driver. This book is a quasi diary of the six week training period when he is paired with a driver who supposedly has more experience to learn the ropes. The company they work for is a good one, emphasizing safety and it's clear that Wilson has been trained well. One harrowing scene describes the instructor, referred to in the book as Trainer, takes the load 40-ton truck down a steep hill, realizing too late that he has picked the wrong gear. Wilson had warned him at the top that he was doing it wrong. Trainer stands on the brakes, Wilson watching the trailer brakes sending up clouds of smoke in the rear view mirror, fearing death is imminent. They make it down safely, only just, bail out of the cab fearing a fire; fortunately none occurs, but now they are faced with calling the company and requesting a repair to fix brake sets that are now seriously dangerous. Trainer makes a bad decision regarding the call. Wilson uses examples like this to muse on death, life, and recklessness.

I love Wilson's combination of detailed descriptions of how the trucks work, the minutiae of driving one of those rigs, the dangers and the satisfactions, and he has just the right combination of personal musings and philosophy and trip detail. Ultimately, it's a book about quality and interpersonal relationships, much like Pirsig's book.
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