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“The Long Haul”

By Finn Murphy

c. 2017, W.W. Norton

$26.95, $35.95 Canada; 229 pages

From here to there. That’s where you need to move your stuff: from point A to point B. Take it out of one place and put it in another, possibly many miles away. And it’s not like you can wiggle your nose or wave a magic wand to do it, either; you need someone who knows what he’s doing.

In “The Long Haul” by Finn Murphy, there’s somebody like that out there.

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You could blame it on logo shirts and cheap beer. At the end of each workday, as a group of drivers from Callahan Bros., a local moving company, gathered beneath a nearby tree, Finn Murphy watched with envy. He was a teen then, working his first job at a “service station” in his childhood hometown in Connecticut . They were working men, beers in their hands and logo shirts on their backs, talking trash and razzing one another. It was a brotherhood he long to join – and so he did, on the day he turned 18.

Before then, he couldn’t legally drive a large truck. Also before then, he had no idea that the job was hard work, but he stuck around to earn his shirt and his coworkers’ respect. He gained a reputation as a solid worker, “a good shipmate,” and a reliable employee, learned to pack a truck, meet a deadline, deal with clients, unpack a truck, and maintain everything at job’s end.

Today, in his job, Murphy sees the usual amount of unusual things. He’s not a “cowboy,” he’s a furniture mover, sneered at by drivers who haul freight and derided at truckstops and diners. He’s been praised, yelled at, and bought dinner; he’s moved humble folks with very little, as well as prideful people with too much. He wears company clothing, unloads his own cargo, and doesn’t own his rig – yet, despite the latter, there are costs. His job, in fact, is expensive, exhausting, and exasperating sometimes.

He’s one of the elite, he says.

And “It’s the best job in the whole world.”

“The Long Haul” is one of those rare books that peeks inside an industry that you almost never hear about, from a voice that’s more upbeat than hammer-down.

Indeed, author Finn Murphy has an almost Zen-like composure in this memoir, although irritation does show up in his remembrances of dealing with rude clients and demanding company owners. Note that that aggravation doesn’t show up so much with co-workers, which isn’t surprising when you learn how Murphy’s niche industry works.

On that business side, which is as much a part of this book as his personal tale, readers will be spellbound with tales about the job itself and its inner parts. That includes the kinds of anecdotes readers crave: stories of the best and worst, most unusual, and what to know when sharing the road with an 18-wheeler.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable story, quick to start, and really quite fascinating. Get “The Long Haul,” and leave it by your bedside table.

Tonight, you’re going to want it there.

“Mean Dads for a Better America : The Generous Rewards of an Old-Fashioned Childhood”

By Tom Shillue

c. 2017, Dey St .

$26.99, $33.50 Canada; 273 pages

“Just wait til your father gets home!”

Once upon a time, those words struck fear into every child’s heart. When your father got home, punishment might commence. Heads could roll. Your bedroom might’ve been the center of your life for awhile. Or, as in “Mean Dads for a Better America” by Tom Shillue, Dad may’ve understood kids better than you think he did.

Old TV shows were wrong. “Duh,” you’re probably saying to yourself. Nobody in your neighborhood was like the Bradys or the Partridge Family. Few kids actually wore love beads and fringed vests. And yet, says Tom Shillue, despite stereotypes, dumb TV, and goofy fads, the late 1960s and early 1970s were the best time to be a kid, ever, hands-down.

That generation, he says, “might have grown up in the ‘70s, but” it was raised by an older mindset. That meant having a stay-at-home mom, at least most of the time. It meant being a kid without a care. And it meant having a dad that ruled the roost.

Shillue’s dad, for instance, got Shillue and his brother up every Saturday morning for a little trip-slash-history-lesson that involved the Revolutionary War. The hour was always early, the lesson was often Bicentennial-based, and the ride was rough because Shillue was prone to motion-sickness. Still, nobody questioned the need to obey when Dad said “ ‘Get in the cah.’ ” Like “Darth Vader with a Boston Accent,” Shillue’s dad’s word was final.

Because he only really wanted to raise good citizens, Shillue’s dad wasn’t exactly mean but he did mean business. So did Shillue’s mother, who taught Shillue to “be practical” and to fight back when confronted by a bully. Both parents taught him gratefulness, and to love.

A profitable lemonade stand taught Shillue to “be thrifty.” His mother’s abundant (and unfinished) “projects” showed him creativity. The church taught him reverence and how to attract girls (or not). Bravery and audacity showed him that he could speak up for his own benefit, however badly it might turn out. And, he says, the “love of a great woman … changed everything for me.”

To say “I laughed, I cried … ” seems clichéd, doesn’t it? But I did – I laughed at author Tom Shillue, I got teary, and I loved “Mean Dads for a Better America.”

There’s a narrow audience for this book, but it’s a big one: anybody born between, say, 1956 and about 1971 will recognize nearly everything Shillue recalls – the fads, feelings, awkwardness, first dates, and social faux pas - and you’ll remember them wistfully, even warmly. As a comedian, Shillue also knows how to give the most embarrassing things a humorous spin and his memories are so universal that you’ll wonder if he didn’t go to your school once. Wasn’t he that nerdy kid who …. ?

Nah, probably not. Here, look over your memories; Shillue helps uncover them with a smile. “Mean Dads for a Better America” is a memoir like that, so just wait til your father gets home. He’ll want to read this book, too.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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