Thursday, November 4, 2010

Trucker Buddy the Cowpoke way

Our chocolate Cocker Spaniel “Dudley” was first. Then the truck, my wife Geri and I were in a three-way tie for second by our Trucker Buddy class on who they wanted to see first when we visited the school.

We had a Trucker Buddy class of fifth-graders in Tyler, TX, for two years. Going in we knew nothing about it, but I could see that to do it right it would have to involve a school visit near the start of the school year and again at the end. We did and it worked out super.

At our first visit in the fall we were all strangers, so old “Dudley” was a real icebreaker. We did the usual stuff, and everybody got to go in the truck. “Hey, they have a TV, refrigerator and microwave in here.” I explained that it was a “Dave Sweetman Starter Kit.”

And we had a question-and-answer session. We talked about our job and some of the places it took us, promised to send pictures and other mementoes of our travels, and agreed the kids would each write us a letter once a month and we would respond.

We did our part. Running all over the country gave us plenty of opportunity to get some neat mementoes, especially in the second year when we had leased on with Trailer Transit. Places like the Kennedy Space Center, various Broadway shows, golf tourneys, The Grand Ole Opry, Grand Canyon, etc. We would collect fliers, programs, take photos, etc. We had stuff to send in every week.

Houston, we have a problem.

Everything had been going smoothly until one weekend Geri and I were hiding from that Houston heat and humidity in a motel. We had been working on our letters, 25 or 30 to our class, and had them spread out on the unused queen-sized bed and went out for breakfast. When we got back, the maid had thrown them all in the trash. We saved them without the manager having to go dumpster diving.

Before our spring visits we knew we couldn’t come empty-handed. We were in the Shell SuperRigs calendar in 1997 and had a copy of the calendar for everyone. One year just before our visit we were in Denton, TX, as members of Peterbilt’s Council of Class doing a focus group thing. I told our host about our Trucker Buddy class and our visit the next day. He promptly overnighted Peterbilt hats and key chains for everyone. The next year Trailer Transit furnished hats all around.

The visit in the fall had been kinda laid back, the get-acquainted meeting, but the visit in the spring after we had been “together” all year was electric. You would have thought we were royalty. Only if you have had a class would you know what it’s like. We spent the whole afternoon there. They carried in dinner and brought another round of Mexican food for us to take with us. We might have mentioned that was our favorite …

I’ll admit, to do the job right took some time and effort. To keep coming up with something new and communicating to kids so young was hard at times, but the rewards far outweighed the bad. That final school visit both years made it more than worthwhile.

Looking back, I would have robbed a Boy Scout to have a digital camera and a computer back then. We could have sent updates and photos every day: a photo of last night’s desert sunset, a big city skyline, mountain sunrise or state welcome sign this morning, and a note about where we were and our plan for the day.

Of course a “Dudley” report every day would have been a given. Wish we could do it again, but with today’s technology.