Saturday, March 24, 2012

Humor and hope, a MATS tradition

While comparing notes and photos from this year’s Mid-America Trucking Show, a co-worker suggested I was somehow like Forrest Gump because no matter where I go, I always seem to be in the middle of the action. I haven't ever really thought of it like that; I simply subscribe to the fact that everyone has a story to tell.

At MATS, the action is everywhere, and so are the stories. Strolling out of the press room on Saturday morning, I didn’t have to look very far to find the first group of people I wanted to know more about. The icebreaker was that this group of two adults and two teens were all sporting OOIDA hats. Some truck talk and a quick photo and I set out to get their names. Looking at the first nametag, I began to write the first name, “Robert” … “Redford.”

MATS hatters, L-R, Michael Nahodyl, Mike Smith, Jennifer Shupe and Daniel Miller
I sensed that they were starting to crack up, and only then I realized I had been had. “Robert” is actually Mike Smith, a company driver and new OOIDA member from West Jefferson, Ohio. The boys, Daniel Miller and Michael Nahodyl, were also playing the nametag game, and they were getting a kick out of it. Rounding out this group of show goers was Jennifer Shupe, who used her real name.

They showed me some photos of their favorite trucks, and I had to ask about the hats.

“I hear a lot of people talking, but somebody’s got to do something about it,” Mike said.

Rolling along, I needed to make a stop to see Marcia Campbell in the West Wing. If you don’t know Marcia or her overnight radio show on WSM 650 AM, she is a friend to all truckers.

OOIDA Member Shawn Compher, WSM's Marcia Campbell and OOIDA Life Member Dale Compher
While at the booth, I met OOIDA Life Member Dale Compher, his wife Pat and their son, OOIDA Member Shawn Compher, who were there to get a photo with “America’s Trucking Sweetheart.”

The Comphers are from Henryville, IN, the site of a devastating EF-4 tornado back on March 2. That particularly nasty tornado killed three people in Henryville and took out countless homes and buildings. They got out their digital camera to show me images of the aftermath.

“There used to be a barn there,” Pat said, showing me a photo of nothing but open field and debris. “That was a brand-new house,” Dale said of a photo that showed more of the same. They said a woman they knew lost both of her legs when her house collapsed and she was trapped under a beam. At the closest point, the Comphers say they were probably 150 to 200 yards from the funnel.

“They tell you that you hear a freight train,” said Shawn, “And you do hear a freight train.”

They said the whole town has rallied and is in the process of rebuilding. It's hard to keep good people down.

Walking the floor at MATS is sort of like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. The people we've met and interacted with at this show have been generous with their stories, their senses of humor and hope, and will always keep us coming back for more.

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