Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I have recast my appreciation for truck drivers. In my dumb youth (yesterday) I thought that truck drivers had one of the easiest jobs in the universe: load up, haul off, merge onto the highway with the radio on and lean back into your big bucket seat and let your ass grow. Now I know there's a lot more to it than that. It takes a constant concentration just hauling around a little one-ton, 14 foot trailer in rain and traffic. I feel for the big rigs and their multiple axles. I really do. I get out of their way.

After a day of driving through three counties in all conditions, man, I'm just beat. Shirking the trailer at the end of it was the best feeling in the world, like jumping in the ocean on an August Friday at sunset. Of course, it was a Tuesday in February, and today I've got to go build what I delivered. Big fancy columns, painted white. At least the job is local.

I'm getting good at the columns. I have assembly-line tricks I use all day and it enables me to do three or four things at a time. Finished with a tool? Pack it up. Take it back to the truck when you need to go out there to get something. Never waste a trip. Because, I swear, loading and unloading the truck adds an hour to the day. It's a job where you use every tool at least once. I'm building a patio cover from the ground up, for crying out loud! And people are always impressed how fast it goes up. This emotion lays in stark contrast to the look of consternation I usually get from them when I arrive at ten o'clock.

I am not like other builders. If a job takes a day and a half, I see no reason to go in at 6AM on two days in a row, when I can just go in at 10 and work six hours without a lunch. I beat traffic both ways. I get office work done in the morning. We go on appointments. Sometimes I get a half hour in the garden before the sun goes down, or time in the hot tub if there was a lot of lifting. I believe I've finally figured it out, where before I couldn't stand it. Now, I hate it all less.

Oh, but I complain all the same. (Still working on that.) These routines of mine are only good if the jobs are landed, however, and some mornings I wake up and see all those inverted red triangles on the tv and I think, well, I'm gonna have to work harder for when it gets really bad later on. People think the economy only hurts rich people, but it's not true. I don't make a quarter million a year but a lot of my customers do. If they have less money, I have less work -and then less money. There's a lot of hardworking, everyday folks out there installing granite countertops and washing yachts. Of course, we're still trying to play catch-up on the winter slow season, and having two kids slows things down even further. It's a wonder any bills ever get paid around here. Mrs. Ditchman and I are a team, and six years into it, we're proud of what we've accomplished. We're not the best salsa dancers in the world, but I'm pretty sure we worked better together than half the folks out on the floor.

Last night was BUNCO night and Mrs. Ditchman lost. "How'd you do," I asked her as she staggered in drunk to the gills (just kidding) at 10:30 last night. "I was the biggest loser," she replied. I was surprised to hear it. She's usually pretty sharp at these things. Then she added, "But the biggest loser gets paid out $20!" Considering that the biggest winner takes home only 50-60 bucks, it's not half-bad. If I know my wife, she was down toward the end and played to lose with everything she had. Gave it her worst shot!

The baby, he cried inconsolably with an angry face -reddened cheeks, upturned bottom lip, shrieking in between gasps. The Other One, she's regressing on the potty training. Or something. They say some kids master one thing and then just move on to the next. Learn to walk and then ditch it after a week or so. Who knows? Parenting is not like herding cats, rather, it's the other way around. I picture myself out on the suburban prairie, actually herding cats, when I turn to the rancher next to me with the Joke Of The Year and say, "It's like parenting!" In parenting, it's not the kids that go every direction, it's the methods and theories. You try one thing, and then it doesn't work after a while, and then you try another. Mrs. Ditchman and I are constantly meeting about it: "How are you handling this now, so I can be in step with you?" and "Why do you think she flips out about that?" We believe in consistency and reliability as the two most important parts of the job. But, who knows, we may ditch that too. Being unreliable blow-offs has a certain attractive quality.

So yesterday was lame, but there's nothing like routine to get out of the routine, and work awaits. A friend recently described the last few miles of a marathon as "pondering your existence without attaining a memorable epiphany" and every long day of work is a lot like that. Even moreso for truck drivers, I imagine. In any case, today is a hot tub day for sure.