I don’t do it every year, but for some reason, I don’t really feel like I’ve completed my MATS experience unless I make it out to Papa John’s.
Of course, I’m talking about Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, where the satellite truck parking is for the big show.
The truckers who stay there – as I’m sure most of you are aware – started years ago forming a kind of gypsy camp, with food and music, so they would have something to do when the actual truck show closed for the day.
That’s how it started, something small, something nice. But a couple of years ago, it took off toward something bigger.
For me, the event that seemed to jumpstart the whole thing to a new level was the benefit concert for Chance Rodgers, an OOIDA life member the grandson of Life Member Jim Rodgers. The truckers that year raised thousands to help Chance in his struggle against cancer.
Perhaps that’s why this year held special meaning for me – Leland Martin, our good friend and musician extraordinaire, played a concert in honor of Chance the final Saturday evening after the closing of the 2012 edition of Mid-America.
In the years since that first concert, the single gypsy camp has become many – I counted several, from just a few truckers, to groups of tents, to the two major stages, one where Operation Roger was auctioning off items to benefit the pet rescue charity, and the other nearby, where Leland performed.
Truckers United for Charities, a group mainly made up of OOIDA members, organized that stage, with the JRB Memorial Fund put up the money needed for a generator to run Leland’s equipment.
People were wondering from one area to another, enjoying different parts and meeting and greeting each other as they went.
What was interesting – and probably most symbolic – was when the MATS Parade of Lights took off. The Special Olympics benefit convoy is in its third year at Papa John’s.
The line of trucks left the parking area down the center driveway – that place in the middle where at the parts of that parking lot come together. It really had the feel of a team effort, a community coming together.
And that is what a community is – when people come together.
We often talk about trucking not as strictly an industry or business, but as a community. Trucking is a lifestyle, and all those who engage in it have a fellowship, even if they agree on little else.
At Papa John’s, people have conflicts and disagreement; sometimes, things don’t go perfectly. But what I saw were hundreds of smiling faces, whole families enjoying themselves, an environment where all the arguments didn’t seem to matter so much, and spending some time enjoying each other’s company was what was really important.
I would never want to miss MATS; it’s become a signpost on my personal calendar, and it’s still the biggest and the best, and it’s my one chance each year to see some old friends.
But it will never quite be complete unless I have some time with all our friends at Papa John’s.