Friday Night At Iowa 80 Essaytyper


We present here a fieldworking project completed by one of our students to give you a sample of the kind of research and writing we hope you'll ultimately do. We want to show you how a fieldworker "steps in" to a culture to investigate it, at the same time "stepping out" as he maintains the outsider's perspective while he observes. Rick Zollo wrote this study about a truck stop in Iowa as his major

paper for a course centered on researching and writing about field work. Though your study will probably be shorter than Rick's, it will share many features of his approach, particularly the emphasis on the self as part of the research process.


Rick is an older student with a background in journalism who is new to ethnographic research and has long been interested in truck drivers—so much so that he attended trucking school the summer after finishing his study. You'll notice immediately that Rick's study of the truck stop is "written as a narrative and reads like a nonfiction article from a magazine, a genre often called literary journalism or creative nonfiction. As a reader new to ethnographic writing, you may not immediately distinguish the features of this study that make it ethnographic research and not journalism or reportage. You'll need to slip underneath Rick's smooth narrative line to see what goes into the fieldworking process.


Look for places where Rick interweaves his own feelings, beliefs, and reflections. While reading, ask ethnographic questions like:

What were Rick's sources of data?

How does he confirm or disconfirm his ideas?

What interpretations does he offer?

What is the culture he describes?

What makes it a culture?

Does his writing convince you?

Can you see the places and people he describes?

Do you understand what it would be like to be an insider in this culture?


You'll need to keep in mind some background knowledge as you read Rick's interesting journey into the culture of truckers that he has captured by describing one truck stop, Iowa 80, on a Friday night. First, it's clear that although Rick writes about a single Friday evening, he's spent many Fridays and other days gathering data and working his way into this field site. He writes with the authority of having been there, and he makes us feel that we've been there too. It's also obvious that Rick has permission from the owner of the truck stop, Delia Moon, to hang out and interview truckers and staff members. Finally, it's also apparent from his study that Rick has read other articles and books about the trucking culture. He has knowledge about what he expects to see there.


In some ways, this background information could put blinders on Rick as he sets out to confirm or disconfirm the ideas of other writers who claim that truckers form a community with shared interests, values, and language. Because, like Rick, you will be researching a place you are already interested in and want to know more about, you'll need to admit your possible biases about your topic and look at how other researchers have written about it.


As you read Rick's study, make a list of questions about his research process so that you'll be prepared to discuss the piece from that point of view. We realize that Rick's research may be the first ethnographic study you've read, so we'd like you to recognize its form and content. For example, Rick provides headings to guide you through his study and help you organize the questions you may have. His form takes the shape of a journalistic essay and his content focuses on the trucker subculture, but most important, Rick describes his fieldworking process with in the essay.



Friday Night at Iowa 80


The names of all truckers and employees, except those in management, have been changed


The Truck Stop as Community and Culture Rick Zollo


Truck stops are the center of trucking culture. "Trucker Villages"... offer the driver an equivalent to the cowboys' town at trail's end or the Friendly port to sailors.

James Thomas

A Modern Trucking Village

Friday nights are a special time all across America, for big and small towns alike, and it's no different at a "trucker town."' Iowa 80 is advertised as "the largest Amoco truck stop in the world" and is located off Interstate 80 at exit 284, outside the small town of Walcott, about I0 miles from downtown Davenport and 40 miles from my Iowa City home.


I arrived at suppertime one fall Friday evening, with the intention of enjoying a meal in the full-service restaurant. But before I could even consider eating, I had to walk the grounds. In my experience, the best way to observe a community is with a walkabout, observing climate and current social interactions.


A huge hole occupied what had most recently been the south-side front parking lot. The hole was filled with a bright blue fuel tank roughly 40 by 60 feet in size and topped by five large green plastic spirals. The operation was a result of another government mandate concerning leaky fuel storage containers. Delia Moon, company vice president, told me this operation would cost Iowa 80 $I80,000 ($40,000 to take out the old tanks and $I40,000 for replacements), another example of "government interference." According to Delia, the tanks dug up so far were in good condition.


The truck stop is laid out in the form of a huge rectangle, taking up over 50 acres on the north side of the interstate exit. The first building facing incoming traffic is the main headquarters, which includes a restaurant at the front, video and game room next, a sunken shopping mall, and a stairway leading to second-floor corporate offices, hair salon, laundry room, movie theater (seats 40) and TV room, dental offices, exercise room, and private shower stalls. The last renovations were completed in I984, about the time I first began noticing the village, but Delia stated that a large building project was planned for I994.


The evening had yet to begin, and the yard was only a quarter full, without that convoy pattern of trucks coming and going in single file, an orderly parade that in several hours would take on Fellini-like dimensions. I sauntered through the yard (in my usual loping stride), notebook in hand, making eye contact with truckers when they passed, not trying to act like one of them so much as feeling comfortable in their company,


Will Lennings, a former trucker and personal friend, talked about the insularity of the trucker community in Frederick Will's Big Rig Souls. "You go in truck stops and they have their own section.... Most of them [truckers] could tell from the minute you walk in the door you're not a driver. They hold most people who aren't drivers, with a good deal of disdain" (27).



I had already been spotted by employees of Iowa 80 as "not a driver," and in my many youthful years of hitchhiking around the country, I had been made to feel the outsider whenever I'd stumble into one of these trucking lairs. I had trouble understanding this resentment of outsiders, especially when I was on the road in need of a ride. But familiarity with the culture was bringing what scholar Sherman Paul calls "the sympathetic imagination," and I now felt I was beginning to understand.


On this late afternoon, the lot was rather calm, even though rigs waited in line to diesel up at the Jiffy fuel station, all four bays at the Truckomat truck wash were filled, and service was being rendered at the mechanics' and tire shop. The three buildings stood in a row on the north side of the lot, each about a third the size of the main complex and separated by several truck lanes for traffic.


The truckyard occupied the southern half of the property, with the interstate in its full glory to the south of that. Every time I stood in the middle of this immense yard, with truck traffic in full promenade, I'd experience a thrill. But for now, with walkabout complete, I doubled back to tine restaurant. I was hungry.


Truck Stop Restaurant


By 6 p.m., Iowa 80's restaurant was full to capacity. Customers appeared to be divided equally between truckers and four-wheelers. After a short wait, I was led to a small table in the back section, where at an adjacent booth; a young waitress was serving supper to a grizzled veteran. I detected a mild flirtation passing between them.


The night's special was catfish, which I ordered. I ate heartily, fish fried light and crispy, a scoop of potatoes adorned with gravy, coleslaw, and a fresh warm roll. Every book on truckers I've read describes truck stop food as rich, plentiful, and greasy.



I sat opposite the veteran and watched him He ate with gusto, enjoyed a smoke (truck stop restaurants are not smoke-free), and wrote in his logbook. Should I approach him? Why not?

"Excuse me, I'm doing research on truckers and truck stops. Can I talk to you?"

He looked up from his logbook and smiled. "Yeah, sure. I've got time."

I grabbed my gear and joined him. His name was Gordy, and he drove out of Oklahoma City for Jim Brewer, a company that hauls racks of automobiles to dealerships. Gordy spoke with easy affability, and underneath his three-day growth of beard, I detected once boyish good looks reminiscent of the actor Lee Majors.


Gordy drove all over the country, hauling General Motors vehicles. He stopped at this truck stop often, but only because of the food. He made it a point to let me know that he generally didn't frequent truck stops.

"Your truck have a sleeper?"

"No, Wouldn't drive a truck that had one."

That was a surprise, since I thought that just about all long haulers used sleepers.

Gordy was a veteran, with 22 years of service on the road. "How does driving compare now with twenty years ago?"


"Worse. Things are worse now." So are the truck stops, he said, which are bigger, with more features, but run by national chains with no feeling for the trucker.

He blamed deregulation for today's problems. Before deregulation, freight rates were controlled, and a trucker knew what he could make from each delivery. Then came deregulation, and "all these fly-by-night companies" flooded the market.


The power of the Teamsters was also curtailed, and Gordy, a union man, found his position threatened. "I'm real bitter about it."

He once owned his own truck, was out on the road for long periods of time, and made good money. Today, he drove only four-day runs, for a company that was the highest bidder for his services. He slept in motels and had his choice of destinations.

As for the cursed paperwork that so many truckers complain about
"Hardly got any. Just this logbook. And they're fixin' to do away with that. By '96, they figure it'll all be on computer."

No issue galvanizes a trucker more than the logbook. Anytime I wanted to test a trucker's spleen, I'd only have to mention the issue.

"I've been told that most truckers cheat on their logbooks," I said. "If they computerize it, you won't be able to cheat."

Gordy gave me a sly Lee Majors grin "Oh, there'll be ways."



The Arcade

Fortified by a meal and a successful encounter, I ventured into the arcade area separating restaurant from shopping mall. The area was packed. During my hour with catfish and Gordy, many truckers had pulled off the road, and a handful of them were engaged in pinball games, laser-gun videos, a simulated NBA game, and in front of one large glass case with a miniature pickup shovel, a man and a woman were trying to win a pastel-colored stuffed animal. I stopped to watch. After several tries the man succeeded, and the couple rejoiced I waited for their enthusiasm to wane and then introduced myself.


The driver's name was Morris, and he wasn't sure he wanted to talk to me Like Gordy, he was middle-aged and grizzled, but where Gordy's three-day growth covered handsome features, Morris was a buzzard, with a hawk nose, a pointy chin, and a leather motorcycle cap pulled low over his forehead.


I assured him that my questions were for research purposes only, but he looked at me suspiciously, as if I were an authority sent to check on him.

Had he ever been at this truck stop before?

"First time, but I'm corning back. It's got everything."

How long had he been on this particular run? (Gordy was careful to emphasize that he made only four-day hauls.)

"Been home three and a half hours in the past four months."

Did he drive his own truck?

He was a lease operator (leasing his own rig to a company that moves furniture), presently hauling a load from Lafayette, Louisiana, to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

How long did it take him to drive from Lafayette? (Knowing geography, I tried to calculate the time.) The question of time raised Morris's suspicions again, and instead of answering, he fixed me with a hard gaze. Sensing I had crossed some invisible boundary, I thanked him for his time. Obviously, my question related to logbook procedures, and I made a mental note to avoid that type of inquiry.


Also, I noticed that Morris and the woman for whom he had so gallantly won a prize were not together. Seeking a couple who actually drove in tandem, I walked into the mail area, past the cowboy boot display and chrome section ("the world's largest selection of truck chrome"), and spotted a couple with a baby moseying down the food aisles.

"Excuse me. I'm doing a research paper on truckers and truck stops. Are you a trucker?" I asked, directing my question to the presumed dad in the group

"No, I'm not," he said emphatically.


Iowa 80 Employees

Truckers, four-wheelers (about 20 percent of the business at Iowa 80], and employees make up the truck stop community. The employees keep the community functioning, like municipal employees without whom towns and cities could not operate.

Two such employees stood at the end of one of the food aisles, stocking shelves. Sally and Maureen knew about me, thanks to a letter that General Manager Noel Neu had sent out a month ago, asking Iowa 80 workers to cooperate with my study. Sally was the shift manager of the merchandise area, and Maureen was one of her staff. I directed most of my questions to Sally

How long had she been working at Iowa 80?

Eight years. Maureen had been with the company for only a year.

Which was the busiest shift ?

"I think it's four to midnight, but if you ask someone on the day shift, they'd probably say their shift


What did she most like about working four to midnight?

"The people. We get all kinds here. Down-to-earth people...crazy people." And she told me about a woman who several weeks ago came into the store ranting and raving, apparently in the throes of paranoid delusions. Authorities were called, and it was determined that "she was on some kind of bad trip— cocaine or something."

Sally mentioned that the police were out in the yard at this moment, making a drug bust. "How do they know somebody was selling drugs?" I asked.

"A trucker reported it at the fuel center. Heard someone over the CB. We called the cops."

Apparently truckers police themselves. Sally also said that drivers will even turn in shoplifters. "They know if we get too much shoplifting, prices will go up."

I asked Sally about those prices, which I considered reasonable. She replied that they were cheap enough for most truckers, but there were always those who wanted to haggle.

"You're allowed to barter over costs?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah. Not as much as the day manager."

Sally came from a small town north of Walcott, and Maureen was from one of the Quad Cities (Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa, and Moline and Rock Island, Illinois). Iowa 80 employed over 225 workers and was one of the largest employers outside of the Quad Cities municipal area.

"One of the things that most impresses me is how friendly the workers are here," I said.

"We try to be the trucker's second home," said Sally.


Talking to Truckers

Business continued to pick up. As with previous Friday night visits, I found much conversation in the aisles, as if the truckers could afford to be expansive, find community with colleagues, socialize at the end of a workweek. Many of these drivers, though, still had loads to deliver; others were settling in for the weekend, waiting for a Monday morning pickup.


I had hoped to talk to women and minorities. The popular image of the trucker is that of a Caucasian blue-collar male, and for the most part, that group represents the majority of the industry. But more women are entering the field, and from my observations, black men makeup I0 to 20 percent of the population. Two black truckers stood behind displays of music tapes, engaged in spirited conversation. I didn't want to interrupt them. Near the cash register, I spotted another black trucker, a beefy 40-something fellow with flannel jacket and flat driving cap. He was reluctant and wary, but he agreed to answer questions.



Ronald was a long hauler from Detroit, making his third stop at Iowa 80. He had been driving for five years, after serving a 12-year hitch in the armed services. He drove all over the country, going out for three to five weeks at a
time. He didn't mind sleeping in his rig. For every week on the road, he got a day off. He was presently hauling a load from Omaha to New Jersey, with plenty of time to get there, (I consciously steered my questions away from time lines.)


He wore a forced smile, which served as a shield, and any question that might seem personal made the smile stiffen. He didn't give off the scent of danger I detected from Morris, but he definitely eyed me more as an adversary than as a friendly interlocutor.


Our session was interrupted by a midsized white fellow, probably in his mid thirties, sporting an orange pony tail, two diamond studs in his left ear-lobe, and several menacing facial scars.

"What you up to, man? Who you workin' for?" His voice had a manic edge that reminded me of Gary Busey in one of those action adventures they watched in the movie theater upstairs.

"I'm a researcher from the University of !owa " [described my project.

"Oh, yeah?" he said, as if he didn't believe me. Then he turned his high-voltage attention on Ronald. They started talking about the rigs they drove.


Cal spoke so fast it was hard to keep up with him. He was telling Ronald that he had bought his own truck and would soon go independent, a status he encouraged Ronald to seek. Ronald's smile by this time had tightened like a band of steel. He was cornered by white guys, one with a notebook, the other a speed rapper with a pony tail. Ronald was clearly on guard.

Cal was from a nearby town, and he mentioned a motorcycle-driving buddy who was writing a book with help from someone in the Iowa Writer's Workshop. I dropped a few names Cal recognized, and he suddenly decided I was OK. When he couldn't convince Ronald to use his method to buy a truck, he ducked away to collar someone else. Ronald kept smiling and muttering, "Man, I don't want my own truck."


Before I could finish questioning Ronald, a well-built 30-something trucker with finely brushed hair and trimmed moustache jumped before me, arms folded, ready to unload his truck.

The atmosphere was getting uncomfortable. Who did these people think I was? I recalled a previous visit, when I was down at the truck wash. A woman named Connie, a road veteran who bragged of living on the highway for years as a hitchhiker, told me, "We thought you were a spotter."


Not knowing what that meant but reckoning that it couldn't be in my favor, I assured her I was only a writer. "What's a spotter?" I asked.

"They go around checking on company drivers, to see that they're not screwing up, taking riders, that kind of stuff."


My new friend's name was Dan, and he was at the truck stop because a trailer he was supposed to pick up at a nearly meat products plant was late being loaded. "Never come down here normally. Know why?" I sure didn't. "No counter in the restaurant They took out the counter. And the food's greasy."


Dan presented me with a challenge "Want to know what makes me mad? Want to know what pisses me off?"


A Trucker's Lament

Dan started in on his own speed rap His eyes weren't glazed like Cal's but instead fixed on me, as if I were an authority he wanted to confront, an ear that would be judged by its sympathy or lack thereof.


I wanted Dan to know I was sympathetic. I'm all ears, good buddy.

As Dan began ticking off his grievances, I asked him the same questions I had asked the others. He didn't stop at Iowa 80 often. His schedule enlisted him on 9,000-mile hauls (however long they took—it varied, he said). He drove for a company, was nonunion (didn't like the Teamsters but wanted to organize truckers into a national force], and had been driving for 12 years.


With that said, most of our conversation dealt with Dan's copious grievances, a litany other truckers voiced to various degrees.


Grievance number one. "I'm pissed about multiple speed limits. Iowa, the speed limit's the same, sixty-five for cars and trucks, in Illinois, it's sixty-five for cars but only fifty-five for trucks. Know why it's set up like that? Supposed to be for safety, have the trucks go slower, but it creates two flows of traffic, and that's a hazard No, the real reason is revenue. Easier to give us a ticket.


Dan was angry, and I had trouble writing down all his words in a standing position, I suggested we go upstairs, where we found a spot by the shoeshine area just outside the movie theater, giving me a better position to get everything down. The Illinois complaint was not new; other truckers had sounded off about that state's split speed limit, as well as their war against radar detectors. The opinion in the trucker community was that the authorities in Illinois were against them.


Once we were seated in comfortable chairs, Dan went off on another tangent, "They take three million basically honest people and force us to break the law to make a living."

I assumed he was talking about the infamous logbook, I just so happened to have one with me. Dan grabbed it. "Know what we call this? A comic book. It's a joke!"


He proceeded to show me why. The logbook was symbol and substance of what was wrong with the industry, a monitoring device that was set up so it couldn't be followed except by lying. Once lawbreaking becomes institutionalized, other more serious laws become easier to break until the small man is truly the outlaw of romantic legend. And the trucker, in Dan's mind, at least, was a small man caught in the snares (Clifford Geertz's "webs of suspension") constructed by government and big business, a conspiracy of sorts designed to keep the proverbial small man down.


Dan opened the logbook and ran through a typical workweek The trucker had two formats: 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight Time frames are broken into four categories: off duty, sleeper berth, driving, and on duty. The last slot was what most agitated Dan. As he simulated a California run, he showed that loading and unloading is held against the trucker, since it is considered on-duty time. (Note that the trucker does have the option of leaving the site where his trailer is located, which is what Dan was doing when he met me, but that involves risk, especially in terms of truck hijacking and other forms of larceny.


"Sometimes we gotta wait eight hours before they load or unload our truck. That time is held against us, against our sixty- or seventy-hour week. We get paid by the mile. I don't make a cent unless my truck is moving."


Dan was convinced that big business and government were in a conspiracy. "Suppose I've got to deliver a load from Monfort, Illinois to San Francisco. That's two thousand miles. Then they want me to turn around and bring a load back. How canI do it if I honestly report my hours?" He tapped the logbook nervously.


"You have to cheat," I said.

"Cheat or starve. Because if I follow the laws, I get no work. Company won't say anything. They'll just stop giving me orders."

"And if you get caught cheating, does the company back you?"

Dan's eyes lit up, and he gave me a manic half grin, half grimace, as if to say, "Now you're catching on."

"We get caught cheating, breaking the speed limit, you name it, and the trucker pays all fines. Our fault, so we gotta pay."


Gripe number three; who is supposed to load and unload the truck? Dan waited for me to record this complaint. The company sells his services, which are to deliver meat products to supermarket warehouses. He's not paid to load and unload the truck. But the supermarket chains will not provide the service

"I have a choice," he said. "Unload the truck myself, which I'm not supposed to do. Or hire a lumper."

Mere mention of the term lumper sent Dan into another paroxysm of indignation. Lumpers are scab laborers who hang around warehouses and get paid under the table ("out of my money!"). Dan was convinced that most of them were on welfare and made as much as $300 a day that they don't declare.


"I pay taxes on my wages. Lumpers get government welfare plus this other money." Another symbol and symptom of what was wrong with America. And who was to blame? The Department of Transportation.


"All the DOT does is drive up and down the highway busting truckers. They never go to the grocers and make sure we're not forced to unload our trucks." And the reason for the conspiracy? Simple. The supermarkets "get all this free labor."

The combination fuel tax and low-sulfur diesel oil requirement was another gripe. (A government-mandated low-sulfur fuel plus an additional 4 cents fuel tax had been imposed as of October 1)

"Truckers are supposed to pay to clean up the air, but not airlines or bus companies or farmers. They all get exemptions. Farmers are exempt because of off-road use. Yet how many tractors we got running in this state?"

I asked if he thought conditions would improve. One trucker told me the split speed limits in Illinois were supposed to be abolished.

"Rumors. To keep truckers in line. They know if we organize a work stoppage, this nation'll stop running.

The interstate spilled a cascade of shifting letters, advertising the night's menu, chrome supplies, free showers with tank of fuel, guaranteed scales to weigh freight.
I loped across the yard, tired but feeling fine, realizing that the more I learned about the trucking community, the more they would never know I was a four-wheeler, a writer temporarily tangled in all these "webs of significance, an outsider whose sympathies could never connect all the many lives spent in forced but voluntary isolation. Long haulers were sentenced to a solitary voyage, and the truck stop was the oasis where they found temporary community.


Old-Timer at the Fuel Center


Inside the Jiffy Shop: quiet. Iowa 80's fuel center is built like your average convenience store, with fuel and sundries sold at a discount, except that here the fuel is diesel instead of gasoline and the sundries are marketed for truckers' needs.

A young black trucker was buying a sandwich at a back counter. Several of his white comrades were paying for their fuel up front. In one of the two-person booths that line the windows along the west wall sat an older gray-haired gentleman, resplendent in a green polo shirt and reading a trucker magazine.


I sat across from the old-timer in an adjoining booth and, after a few minutes of sizing up the situation, made rny introduction. "May I ask you a few questions?"

He looked up from his magazine and admitted to being a trucker but added, "I don't like to get involved."
Fair enough. Still, we talked. Gradually he warmed up, and eventually I opened my notebook and began recording his remarks.


He had been driving trucks for some time but wouldn't say how long. He was at the truck stop getting an oil change for his tractor. He was primarily a short hauler, though he had done long hauls in his time.


I placed his age in the mid-sixties. Books I had read on over-the-road trucking mention how the long haul prematurely ages the driver. I could understand that this old-timer would change to shorter routes. As he warmed up to me, he revealed more information. He was articulate and had the face of a learned man. Perhaps he had retired from another profession. (More and more truckers were coming from other professions; many were veterans from the armed services.)

He asked me questions as well. His early pose of disinterest belied an avid curiosity. I soon had the impression that he would rather interview me.


He lived in the Quad Cities and had been a trucker all his life, starting at age I7 when he drove for construction outfits in the Fort Dodge area. He let slip that he was 60. An owner-operator of his own rig. Allusions to problems from years gone by hinted at previous financial difficulties.

Dan's populist appeal was still ringing in my ear, so I mentioned the rigors placed on truckers by big business and government. But the old-timer was not buying. True, big business and government put obstacles in the way, but there was a good living out [here for anyone willing to put in the time. He told me a story similar to the fable of the tortoise and the hare. He always obeyed speed limits. He was in no hurry. Younger drivers would pass him. Impatient with his caution, but the old-timer always got the job done on time.


He clearly identified with the tortoise.
I found myself taking a shine to this man. There was something strong-willed and flinty about him, even in his refusal to give me his name. We talked about trucks, and he became a font of information. He pointed to his rig in the yard, a Ford. He would have preferred a Freightliner but couldn't get financing. He made disparaging remarks about Kenworths, called the Rolls-Royces of the profession, and about another highly rated competitor—"Why, I wouldn't even drive a Peterbuilt. Cab's too narrow."



He was presently leasing his truck and services to a company that hauls general merchandise to stores like Pamida, Kmart, and Sam's Warehouse. Earlier in the day, he had hauled 45,000 pounds of popcorn, but at present he had a trailer full of supplies for a Sam's Warehouse in Cedar Rapids. As for his earlier mention of being a short-hauler, well, that wasn't quite the truth. He tried to limit his runs to the Midwest—within the radius of Kansas City, Omaha, Fargo, and Youngstown—but sometimes he ventured as far as Atlanta or Dallas.


What about the complaint, first voiced by Gordy, that times were worse now than 20 years ago?

Yes in some instances, no in others. True, the logbook was a joke, especially concerning off-duty time. "Why, when I hauled steel out of Gary, sometimes they made you wait I2 hours to get your load. That's all your driving time." Yet the trucks these days were better, and the money was still good. "I can drive from Kansas City to Des Moines without hardly changing gears. Couldn't do that 20 years ago." And, "I'm not saying I'm not making money. Making more money now than I was three years ago."


He had to get back to his work, make his Cedar Rapids drop by 11. Otherwise he'd continue the conversation, I could tell he enjoyed our talk, and I had the urge to ask him if I could go out on the road with him. I was sure several weeks of riding with this old-timer would have given me an education.


But we parted as comrades, although when I asked again for his name, he declined to give it

"I'll just refer to you as 'an esteemed older gentleman in a green shirt,'" I said. He enjoyed that description immensely and left me with a loud, ringing laugh.




My night at Iowa 80 was coming to a close. I had only to walk back through the truck lot and get into my little Japanese-made sedan. I was a four-wheeler, but that didn't stop me from making eye contact with the truckers in the yard, waving a hearty hello before I made my Hi-ho Silver.

What was I to make of this experience? I was exercising what Clifford Geertz calls "an intellectual poaching license" {Local Knowledge I2}, engaging in what John Van Jaanen terms "the peculiar practice of representing the social reality of others through the analysis of my own experience in the world of these others" (ix).


But had I truly experienced the community and culture? Had I penetrated the veils of unfamiliarity to become a reliable scribe of trucker life?
I had no doubts on that Friday night, as I returned to my car and drove home I felt flush. My informants, reluctant at first, had been forthcoming. Employees were friendly, and the truckers, although initially suspicious of my motives, spoke from both head and heart.


My experiences with the culture reflected what I had read by James Thomas and Michael Agar. I sensed a community that felt both proud and put upon, holding to perceived freedoms yet reined in by new regulations and restrictions. Some company drivers like Gordy and Ronald, felt insulated from variables over which they had no control (fluctuating fuel prices), but others, like Dan, were angry about issues both on the road (DOT and highway patrolmen) and off (time and money constraints involving the unloading of deliveries). The owner-operator, my green-shirted older gentleman, did not feel like an endangered species, and the fact that Cal, however reliable his testimony might have been, was becoming an owner-operator attested to some of the virtues of that status.


The metaphor of the road cowboy certainly has significance. I surveyed the boot and shoe shop and found three varieties of cowboy boots (but not a loafer or a sneaker in sight), ranging from the economical $40 model with non-leather uppers to $150 snakeskin cowboy boots. Not far from the boot section were belts and buckles with a decidedly Western cast and enough cowboy hats to populate a Garth Brooks concert.



But connections to cowboys run deeper than clothes. Thomas writes that the "outstanding characteristics of both the trucker and the cowboy are independence, mobility, power, courage, and masculinity" (7). With all due apologies to the many women now trucking, that definition seems to apply. But it might be more mental than physical since, as my old-timer professed, driving a truck these days is not the physically rigorous activity it once was, and Dan's complaints about loading and unloading aside, truckers are not supposed to touch the product they deliver.


The cowboy element of the culture might seem like romantic accouterment rather than realistic assessment. Yet as Agar has pointed out, even romantic notions of the cowboy were more nonsense than truth, since that species in actuality "wore utilitarian clothes, engaged in long days of hard work, and ate boring and nutritionally deficient food" (Independents Declared 10), a description that sounds like trucker life.


I also found some agreement with Agar's assessment of present versus past times. The old-timer had a healthy attitude. "Some things are better, some things are worse." But for the most part, the veteran truckers I talked with see the past as the better time, because regulations were simpler, enforcement was more lax, and fines were lower. Although the technology of trucks and roads has improved, the culturally spun webs of regulation have thickened into a maze.


As for trucker grievances, one thing I found for certain, which Frederick Will documents in Big Rig Souls, is that "the trucker is condemned to rapid turnarounds after each load, to physical discomfort, to little or boring leisure, to being forever harried" (29).


I believe I found a community at Iowa 80. Delia Moon described the company's goal as turning the truck stop into a "destination." The dictionary defines destination as "the place to which a person or thing travels or is sent." Iowa 80, for all its scope and size, is still a truck stop. But a good many of my trucker informants were regulars, and the ones who were there for the first time were impressed by what they found.


Thomas states that "providing personal services for drivers is not where a truck stop gains most of its profits. The extras... are to lure truckers in from the road to the fuel pumps and service area" (17). Delia Moon supported this view. "We're working primarily to satisfy the...trucker. That's why you see the movie lounge and so much parking and chrome and everything" (interview, Oct. 7, I993).


Yet in the process of giving truckers these amenities, as varied as a part-time dentist or a portable chapel for those needing to be born again, Iowa 80 is creating a context, setting up a multiplicity of complex structures that are both conceptual and real A Friday night at this village is truly an adventure and, for those willing to engage experience as a form o! education, an introduction into a dynamic community and culture.


Works Consulted


Agar, Michael. The Professional Slrtmger An Informal Introduction to Ethnography. New York. Academic, I980.

Agar, Michael. Independents Declared. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Inst., I986

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York; Basic. I973.

Geertz, Clifford, Total Knowledge. New York: Basic, 1983.

Horwitz. Richard. The Strip: An American Place. Lincoln- U Nebraska, I985.

Kramer, Lane. Trucker Portrait of the Last American Cowboy. New York: McGraw, I975

Paul, Sherman. University of Iowa, English Dept., personal communication.

Thomas, James. The Long Haul- Tracers, Truck Stops and Trucking Memphis: Memphis State U, I979.

Van Maanen, John, Tales of the Field. Chicago: U Chicago P, I988.

Will, Frederick. Big Rig Souls: Truckers in the American Heartland West Bloomfield-Altwerger, I992.

Wyckoff, D. Daryl. Truck Drivers in America. Lexington: Lexington, I979.

2nd Class Passengers Muriel & John Bartley, played by Maria Doyle Kennedy & Toby Jones are considering a refund about now.

I didn’t sleep well last night. It must have been something I ate, more like something I watched. It appears that Canada is the first to view Titanic, perhaps in recognition of our involvement of rescue and recovery efforts.  The first course of the four part Titanic mini-series was served across Canada last night, and well, was lacking something.  I was hoping that infusing the writing talents of head chef Julian Fellowes into this drama which would satisfy my appetite for Downton Abbey,  currently out of season.  Julian is a self-proclaimed Titanorak (Titanic junkie) which lends credibility to his involvement in the project.

The Titanic mini-series “meal” is divided into 4 courses, providing three different flavours, and a final dessert course to finish off the meal.  My husband with a distinguishing palate for docu-dramas got bored very quickly.  As a cook, I have been trying to put my finger on the missing ingredient or method.

Lord Manton is a good comparable to Downton Abbey’s Lord Grantham, and the sets are well appointed.  Historically the portrayal is accurate enough so I shouldn’t have been put off in that regard.  There certainly wasn’t too much garnish (sentimentality) which is my problem with James’ Cameron’s version.  I do enjoy shows which humanize historical events, but thus far prefer CBC’s Waking the Titanic (click to view the video) to this mini-series.

Of the 80 reported characters in this drama only 6 are crew members.  Sad since 40% on boardwere crew members.  The mini-series playbook website will likely be hosted on your own network.  I am disappointed that we likely won’t see much action below deck in the kitchens– Head Chef Charles Proctor barking orders to sous chefs and stewards.  Part of the charm of Post Edwardian period dramas like Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs is watching how servants and employers co-existed in the same enclosed environment.

Perhaps the meal is just too ambitious: the final 1st class meal on Titanic had 10 courses, a great deal to consume, even with palate cleansers between courses. Too many characters and too little time for us to really care about who survives.

Perhaps Julian’s other projects have protected us from some of the harsher reality of Post Edwardian class ceilings.  Downton Abbey has its share of nasty scheming characters, but not racist mean girls, like Lord Manton’s wife who openly berates everyone who crosses her path.  I certainly appreciate Downton even more now.

I am reminded of my muffin disaster this week.  I have a wonderful non-fat muffin recipe which I can make in my sleep; indeed some Saturday mornings I am barely awake.  For some reason my binding agent of egg whites just didn’t do their job and the muffins, while still very moist, fell apart when I took them out of the tins.  Perhaps the problem with this mini-series is the binding agent just wasn’t there to bring the ingredients together.  Or perhaps we shouldn’t judge the meal by the appetizer, and should patiently wait until the other courses are served.

I rescued my muffins by crumbling them and baking at a low heat to make a chewy granola.  So, I am a trooper, and will stick it out through the other two courses and dessert.  My husband, on the other hand, will likely be dining at another restaurant.

UPDATE:  now after seeing episodes 2 and 3, the meal does improve, particularly after the 3rd course which features romance and a killer on board, but I am still left with the impression that the sinking of Titanic was like leading lambs to the slaughter.

Lamb with Mint Sauce

A simple elegant meal perfect for Easter Dinner

Served as part of the fifth course in First class on the Titanic, this would be perfect to serve at your upcoming Easter Dinner.

Recipe from Last Dinner on the Titanic (US), Canada and UK

Serves 6


1 leg of lamb (3 1/2 to 4 lbs)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 tsp. salt

Mint sauce
2 shallots, minced
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 tsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint or 1 tbsp. dried mint flakes


  1. Trim lamb of gristle and excess fat.  Stir together garlic, 2 tbsp. of the oil, rosemary, mustard and pepper; rub over surface of the meat and marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or for up to 48 hours in your refrigerator.
  2. In a large skillet heat remaining oil over high heat; add leg and sear, turning often for about five minutes or until well browned on all sides.
  3. Place leg in roasting pan. Pour wine and salt into a skillet and bring to boil, stirring to scrape up any brown bits; pour over meat.

Cook lamb in 450°F/230°C, Gas Mark 8 F oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350°F.

A meat thermometer gets best results.

Cook to your preferred taste, using a meat thermometer inserted into the middle of the meatiest part of the leg without touching the bone.

  • Rare: 125°F degrees, approximately  25 minutes
  • Medium Rare: 140°F approximately 35 minutes

Remove roast from pan and let rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving.

Mint Sauce

After the meat has been cooked and removed from the roasting pan, place the pan over medium heat.  Stir in shallots and cook, stirring often for 5 minutes or until softened.  Stir in wine and bring to a boil and cook, stirring for 1 minute or until reduced to a glaze.  Stir in stock, vinegar and sugar.  Continue to boil rapidly for 2 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened; pour through fine-meshed sieve.  Stir in mint.

Serve sauce alongside roast.  Garnish with fresh mint sprigs or curled strips of lemon zest (the outer skin of a fresh lemon).


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