Finn Murphy offers us a striking example of a unique person cutting his own deal about how to live his life not patterned by his upbringing environment or his family’s economic or social status.
His story in his book published by WW Norton in 2017 called “The Long Haul” tells of his evolution as the child of an upper middle-class family in upscale Cos Cob, Connecticut, into an over-the-road “mover” for several long distance household moving companies since about 1980.
Such work is often dangerous, back breaking and frustrating, but to Finn it offers a form of what he feels is personal freedom, which seems to me to ironically restrict freedom.
His intimate knowledge of his craft and of the trucking industry is encyclopedic and written about with humor and terrific insights on human nature. We learn, for example, that there here are castes within the trucker community. Finn regards his financially rewarding caste (more elevated than mere over the road freight drivers) as the top rung of the business. I would call Murphy a Brahman without racial prejudices or religious preferences—but with brains and erudition provided perhaps in part by his 3 years of Colby College, from which he dropped out in1980 without finishing his senior year. However, while on the road Finn listens to classic books and NPR, calling Terry Gross, the NPR commentator, his girl friend as he has spent more time with her than any other woman. He is single but not celibate.
Although the life he has chosen will likely be completely incomprehensible to most middle or upper-class people, his analysis of America today is acutely and sadly right on.
He has covered more of and seen more of America’s underbelly, and elites in their off moments (at their best and worst) as a household mover than anyone in the media! His wisdom about what has happened to America because of greed and immigration hits hard—I partially quote here from pages 177 to 179:
The next day I picked up I-94 west and stopped for the night in Ann Arbor.
In college towns –like Chapel Hill, Boulder, Iowa City, Missoula, Austin, Madison, and Oxford, Mississippi, to name a few—all of a sudden, instead of unemployment, meth labs and poverty, there are real jobs. …
As far as I can figure, the places left in America that can boast of vibrant downtowns are college towns and high end tourist towns. In the rest of the country, the downtowns were hollowed out when nobody else was looking. Your might think its only your town that’s been ruined by sprawl, but it’s happened everywhere.
You’ve got the new CVS, the Walmart, the Home Depot, on the fringes, while the old downtown is either empty or the buildings have a Goodwill store, an immigration law office, and an “antiques”, meaning junk. The chains on the outskirts provide the nine-dollar-an-hour jobs and wire the day’s receipts to Bentonville or New York every night.
I hate it personally, but we deserved what we got. We wanted the eight-dollar sneakers and forty-five cent tube socks. Well, it’s not unlikely that those socks were made by a twelve- year old girl in Madagascar more or less chained to a machine. While we were happily buying goods on the cheap, the developers were buying the local politicos on the cheap and getting the zoning changed so they could build even more big boxes. We didn’t consider that maybe it’d be a better bargain to pay twenty dollars for sneakers and buy them from a neighbor who owns the store downtown and stocks sneakers made in Maine.
It’s too late now. The game’s been won by companies who don’t give two shits about community character or decent jobs. Congratulations, America. We did the deal. Now we got an unlimited supply of cheap commodities and unhealthy food and crumbling downtowns, no sense of place, and a permanent underclass. Yay.
This underclass isn’t relegated to urban ghettoes either. Take US 50 west from Kansas City to Sacramento, or US 6 from Chicago to California and you’ll see a couple thousand miles of corn, soybeans, and terminally ill small towns. It looks like an episode from The Walking Dead. If there’s such a thing as the American heartland, it has a stake through it. What’s left are factory towns and meat packing plants far off the main roads jammed to the rafters with immigrant laborers getting paid who knows what.
So let’s all enjoy the cheap pork chops while wearing our new sneakers, because we paid a heavy price for them.
This country has almost twenty thousand towns, and I’ll bet I’ve been in or through most of them. The pattern of sprawl on the fringes and decay in the canter is firmly established everywhere. I love seeing tourist posters of America the Beautiful. In New England the cultural icon is the small town with a white church, in the West it’s the false front frame saddlery with the hitching post, in the South it’s the roadside peach stand, and in the Midwest it’s a ruggedly handsome farmer in a John Deere hat. Oh really? Is that what America looks like? I’m all over the country all the time and guess what? There are barely any family farms left in the Midwest, hardly anyone goes to church in New England, the Georgia peach groves are tract homes, and towns in the West are either bedroom communities or ghost towns. If a tourist poster of America were made with some verisimilitude, it would show a Subway franchise inside a convenience-store gas station with an underpaid immigrant mopping the floor and a street person at the traffic lights holding cardboard sign that reads ANYTHING HELPS.
Murphy provides many other episodes which are riveting and disquieting.
I have not heard our billionaire media moguls offer us that honest a description of what unchecked immigration and feckless development has done to undermine America. And the full effects of automation are yet to be imposed on job vacancies. Can’t imagine any of their talking heads or journalists could possibly have had the extensive first hand experience this trucker has had in watching this evolution occur over his decades on the road.