July 13–Driving the roads of America for the past 40 years, trucker Finn Murphy has seen changes in the landscape and the people of our country that are both charming and disturbing.
The Greenwich native has gathered his thoughts and experiences together in a memoir, “The Long Haul” (W.W. Norton), that is earning rave reviews for both the quality of its writing and Murphy’s acute observational skills. If you loved the mix of warmth, humor and sadness in “Travels with Charley,” you should enjoy this new book that often feels like a 21st century update of the 1962 John Steinbeck road classic.
Murphy fell in love with trucking as a teenager at Dan’s Service Station in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich, which was next door to Callahan Brothers Moving & Storage. Although he would go on to college and a deep love of literature, Murphy was never able to find work he enjoyed more than driving a big rig on U.S. highways.
“I was completely exhausted, but I was exultant too,” the author writes of his early-in-life conversion to physical labor.
As a young man he gravitated to long-haul moving — drivers known as “bedbuggers” in the trade — and for many years has specialized in packing up and transporting furniture and other belongings of high-end customers. Murphy has seen the sad decline of small towns and cities as so many of the jobs once done by the working class have moved overseas or been eliminated by automation.
“As I can figure, the only places left in America that can boast of vibrant downtowns are college towns and high-end tourist towns,” Murphy says. “In the rest of the country the downtowns were hollowed out when nobody was looking. You might think it’s only your town that’s been ruined … but it’s happened everywhere.”
In addition to knowing vast swaths of America as well as the back of his hand, the writer has gotten an up-close-and-personal view of thousands of people’s homes as he has packed them up for moving.
“I see people as they really live,” Murphy says from his home base in Boulder, Colo. “That’s a fascinating part of doing the job (but) I don’t really get voyeuristic pleasure out of that most of the time.”
In at least one case, the trucker moved 40 tons of possessions for a wealthy client. (“More than the pharoahs.”) “Rather than being a judge, I try to apply it to my own life,” he says of the fact that most movers have learned to pare down the tchotchkes that clutter up so many homes. “The continuum of life becomes very obvious in my work. The 20s are about moving upward and accumulation and that goes on until the mid-40s. When the kids are grown the accumulation starts to dissipate.”
Movers learn that “everyone has almost the exact same stuff and … it’s going to end up in a yard sale or in a dumpster. It might take a generation, though usually not, but Aunt Tillie’s sewing machine is getting tossed. So is your high school yearbook and grandma’s needlepoint doily of the Eiffel Tower,” Murphy writes.
When I mention my own problem with books piling up all over my place, Murphy laughs. “It’s very easy to sit in my perch and pontificate, but I have the same problem,” he says.
The trucker is a voracious reader, both of physical books at home and audio books on the road. But he fears readers are becoming a dwindling minority in America. “Back in the day every house would have 50 to 100 book cartons to move — now there are two. It’s a huge cultural change. … Dens don’t have those built-in bookcases anymore … and there are 72-inch screens where there used to be paintings hanging.”
When I ask Murphy how long he has been working on the book, he chuckles again. “Oh God, I think I’ve been making notes since 1980.”
The writer began recording audiocassettes of his thoughts early on. “I would do that at the end of the day or record them while I was driving. … I was also recording some conversations surreptitiously.”
The real work on the book began after Murphy sent “scores and scores” of his tapes to a transcriber and was given 600 pages.
“I didn’t actually realize my own personal journey until I started reading that material,” Murphy says. “I think it might be a useful thing for everyone to make that kind of a life assessment.”
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