Sign Language

Truckers learn early in their careers to read every sign they can. Road signs, weather signs, billboards signs, and hand signs that use more than one finger. In the days before GPS, it was many of those signs that pointed us in the correct direction.

One of those times was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I was delivering a load of 50-pound mail sacks to the local Bulk Mail Center. Normally unloaded onto portable conveyors by post office personnel, I received a double-whammy from the dock supervisor when he told me there was no help, and worse, no conveyor. Dismayed by the prospect of hand-unloading 360 bags by myself, I received permission to swing by the local truck stop, where there were local guys looking for temporary work.

There were a few guys there, but they were all suddenly unavailable. Like the gaggle of people often seen hanging out near the large orange-and-white national home store, they really want the money without the inconvenience of having to work for it.

Some days you just have to do what you have to do. Heading back to the Bulk Mail Center, I passed a homeless guy hitch-hiking on a freeway entrance ramp, holding a crumpled cardboard sign. Scrawled in barely visible English were the words “WILL WORK FOR FOOD”. While I normally don’t feel sorry for those folks, I was feeling sorry for myself that day, and wondered if I could improve the lots for both of us.

“I have some work for you, if you’re interested”, I said, pulling up alongside him. I noticed his shabby clothes, of course, and the five-o’clock shadow that shaded his sunburned face, but was captivated by the grin.

Learning his name, and sharing mine, I said, “Here’s the deal, Larry. I need your help to unload 360 bags of mail, it’ll take about three hours, and I’ll pay you $65. Fair enough?”

“Okay”, he said firmly, and proceeded to climb up into the cab of my truck.

Grabbing gears and thanking my lucky stars, I drove us right to the mail center without further delay. Returning to the same dock door, I was backing in when I spied the dock supervisor making a beeline for my truck.

“Driver, I have good news”, he said with a disarming smile, “the conveyor is working, and there’s people available to unload your truck!”

“Well, Larry,” I said apologetically, “there’s been a change of plans, but a promise is a promise. If you’ll help these guys, we’ll be done in an hour, and I’ll still pay you sixty five bucks. Deal?”

“Okay,” he said eagerly.

Sure enough, we were done in an hour, and rolling back towards the truck stop. As we pulled up to the freeway ramp where he wanted to be dropped off, a look of alarm suddenly spread across Larry’s face.

“What’s wrong?” I said with genuine concern.

With a quivering, uncertain smile, my new friend stammered, “I can’t find my sign!”

We found his sign. He found his way. I found a purpose. It’s a reminder that even angels sometimes have shabby clothes, a 5 o’clock shadow, sunburned faces, and a cardboard compass!

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