By Jerry Wynn of St. Paul
As I approach the seventh decade of my life on this planet, a very important decision must be made that most my age have already made...retirement. My question is, “Do you retire if you honestly enjoy your work?”
The story begins on July 1, 1975 when I commenced employment with the parcel delivery company that is distinguished by its brown vehicles. As a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, I was seeking part time employment to supplement the income I was receiving from the GI Bill.
A year later, on July 2. 1976 I was married to the love of my life. Fast forward to January of 1981, after graduating from the U of M, and three years of graduate school, plus four children later, I decided it was time for full time employment at the company.
After 25 years delivering door to door, it was a time for a change. A feeder position (semi driver) opened up so I put my name on the list. All my children had graduated from high school so my parenting skills were no longer as necessary.
The training for this position was all done in house, as the supervisors both train and test the driver to assess his/her capabilities. After the two week training, I was fortunate to pass, which began the next 15 years of my employment, and the most enjoyable.
You might ask yourself, what is so special about the last 15 years on the open road, the 1.5 million miles, 2,000 round trips between Fargo and Minneapolis, 800 round trips between Eagan and Fergus, topped with 200 round trips between Minneapolis and Bemidji.
These trips, for the most part, took me away from the Twin Cities and back to Central Minnesota, the area I was raised. Leaving the metro area was like a breath of fresh air, away from the congestion of traffic and dense population...back to the farm fields, lakes, and forests.
It wasn’t just the work, the drive or the open road I enjoyed, it was something more ethereal. In some way, being alone in the cab of my semi stimulated my creative juices. Being in the middle of the seasons in the semi almost felt as if I was a part of the action. Fall was particularly exciting.
As a semi driver who travels the highways and byways of Minnesota, you might think we are fixated on what is between the white lines, but the changing colors of fall get our attention too. We are especially fortunate as we are able to see the colors change day to day, from the pale yellows to the climax of bright gold, oranges and reds. It is as if all the artists who ever lived are magically resurrected, given their tools of the trade, and each night are assigned the chore of coloring the trees, and when dawn comes, they return to their eternal homes… only to repeat the cycle the next night.
As drivers, we have the privilege of observing these daily changes as around each curve in the highway and over each hill is a new canvas waiting for us to admire and appraise. Approaching a lake, clear blue and calm, the trees on the opposite side have achieved maximum color. It is as if the artist has run out of trees to color, and has resorted to coloring the water with the same brightness and vivid colors as the trees, resulting in an exact reflection.
And the day comes that I have been waiting for, the entire trip of 250 miles appears as if a 3D mural has been painted, and I drive into a kaleidoscope of colors. A chill runs down my back, and goosebumps form on my forearms as the colors almost take my breath away. This “grande finale” is worthy of a standing ovation, but I hope a sitting ovation will do.
Of course, the Christmas season is the most challenging for our company. With these challenges comes the reward of knowing you are making so many children and their parents smile.
“As I left the cities, on my daily trip to Fargo, I glanced at my side mirror and could see the reflection of city lights. It was the wee hours of the morning and it appeared as if there was a dome of light surrounding the city, insulating it from the darkness above.
The light seemed to follow me down I-94. It wasn’t till I passed Monticello that my headlights had any effect. Then, the streams of light from my headlights illuminated the pavement, fog line and the center line. Occasionally, a loud rumble could be heard, as my lane departure system would tell me I strayed off my intended path.
A few miles before St. Cloud, a light snowfall began and by the time I had passed the exit, the snow was coming down with gusto. I could see the tail lights of the vehicle ahead of me but not much beyond. It was as if I was driving in a giant snow globe and the Master of the Universe had shaken it to send the snow swirling.
The falling snow seemed to muffle the noise from my tractor; what little noise remained was easily drowned out by the Christmas music pouring from the speakers. The music was like an elixir, a remedy for the loud, obnoxious and boorish culture that is currently holding us captive.
My speed diminished to compensate for the weather change. I continued on. The semi-tractor pulled the trailer so effortlessly, it seemed that the 50,000 pounds in the trailer were actually pushing me forward. Could it be? The trailer was filled with packages destined for North Dakota and Montana. Packages that would most likely occupy the precious space beneath a Christmas tree. Could those toys be joining together, wishing with all their might that I complete my run in a timely manner?
And the radio played, Silent night, Holy night.”
So, I have a dilemma. Do I retire, and lose that passion that burns deeply as a travel down the highway, or do I take a different path...eastward across the river to the land of cheese and beer, to see what stimulates and frees my mind for additional challenges.
I believe you know which one I will choose.