Monday, April 4, 2016

The people are what make MATS special

They say you’ll always remember your first.

That is definitely a true statement when it comes to my first trip to the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky.

My first MATS adventure is one I’m still attempting to recover from days after returning to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association headquarters in Grain Valley, Mo.

From the time I left for Louisville with OOIDA “Spirit of the American Trucker” driver Jon Osburn on Monday morning, the week was a whirlwind.

But it was the good kind of whirlwind.

Riding in the Spirit, which was my first long trip in a big rig, was an eye-opening experience into what it takes to be a true professional truck driver. The job requires a significant amount of skill, patience and perseverance. Drivers like Jon are going to every length in order to keep our highways safe.

Once we arrived in Louisville, it didn’t take long to realize I was about to take part in something huge. By Tuesday, the show trucks began to roll in, and the displays inside the Kentucky Exposition Center took shape.

The sheer size of the show was difficult to comprehend. One can only guess how many miles my shoes logged from Tuesday through Saturday. I spent the whole week at MATS, and I don’t think I even came close to seeing everything.

What I did see was remarkable.

There were breathtaking show trucks like Sean McEndree’s “Band of Brothers,” an abundance of cool gadgets, legendary musicians like the Kentucky Headhunters, and reality TV stars like Freddy Dodge from “Gold Rush” and Edgar Hansen from “Deadliest Catch.”

There were informative panels and educational exhibits from such groups as Truckers Against Trafficking, as well as captivating speakers like Patrick Murphy, the Acting Secretary of the Army.

But the aspect of MATS that will stick with me the most is the people.

I was lucky enough to meet bundles of generous and kind-hearted truck drivers who welcomed me with open arms. Thank you to Bob Lloyd and Richard Conaway Jr., for showing me around on Tuesday, as well as for introducing me to many other charitable truckers, such as Nancy Aguilar, Deborah Richard, Bruce Richard, Ben Pernell, Michael Frybarger, Dean Owens, Vickie Youngs, Sue Wiese, Mary Abraham, Mark Abraham, James Burlison and Robert Palm. The work you put in to give back to truck drivers in need is inspiring.

There were many others.

I will never forget my talks with OOIDA Life Member Steve Davenport, who has made it his life mission to honor fallen veterans. Davenport, a veteran himself, hauled the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Replica and Mobile Education Center to MATS.

Highway Hero finalists Julian Kaczor, Mark Cavanagh and Dorian Cole provided uplifting stories and served as great examples for the industry. Kaczor, who won the award, pulled a man from his burning car and dragged him to safety.

I also enjoyed meeting such OOIDA members as George Smith, Ed Main, Del Sanchez, Todd Wulf, Joey Holiday, Arthur Boudreau, Eric Pyles, Shannon Pyles, Edward Strack, Donald Acor, Dale Compher and Dave DePhillipeaux. They were all entertaining, informative, and more than willing to point “the new guy” in the right direction.

There’s no way I could write this without mentioning Citizen Driver winners Jon Osburn, Bill Underwood, Michael Zanella, Bill Ater Jr., Denis Litalien, Bill and Robyn Taylor and Mary “Candy” Bass.

For someone who started at Land Line Magazine in November, I didn’t know how accepting the industry veterans would be to someone new. 

Before I left the Papa John’s lot on Friday night, Candy gave me a big hug and informed me that I was now officially one of her many adopted grandchildren. Now, I truly belonged.

Moments like that make me hopeful that this trip to MATS was the first of many.