Looking to cultivate impressive ways of spending your time this winter?
Aspiring to capital “c” culture while remaining sprawled on a sofa wearing a stained robe and slippers?
Do as I do and watch World’s Toughest Truckers on A&E.
It’s a great show. Gripping.
Here’s what happens:
Eight truck drivers converge on different continents and drive all manner of trucks in all manner of conditions carrying all manner of cargo. Producers, capitalising on the fact that truck drivers are solitary, rebellious types who tend to be ill-tempered and uneven of temperament due to long-term amphetamine abuse, have divided them into pairs. This creates a good deal of conflict, confrontation and coarse language – the bedrocks of good reality TV. The coarse language is especially enriching because a) it comes in a great variation of colourful local vernaculars and b) it comes from the mouths of truck drivers, who are traditionally handy with an expletive.
There is a hideous man from Mobile, Alabama called Rookie. He is repulsive in an indefinable and unnerving way. His eyes are sly and shrewd and he has a sardonic slit of a mouth suggestive of barely leashed aggression and rat cunning. He also has an unpleasant, droopy moustache and a nasty, hectic disposition.
He is paired up with an Australian, who is the amalgam of several thousand Australian men I have had dealings with in my lifetime. You know the type. You know the type because he is a type. See if you can spot him in that group photo.
He and Rookie are not getting along. Their fraught mutterings have already spilt over into a blazing argument that saw them disembark from the truck so as they could abuse each other in a more spacious and expansive fashion. The Australian is very rigorous and thorough. He seems to be in possession of a logical and orderly mind. Rookie’s mind seems completely clapped out. He drives in a hell-bent fashion, and casually mows down a road sign without notice or concern. This causes the Australian a good deal of distress.
The only thing I like about Rookie is that he uses the word ‘bubba’ in the same way and to the same degree that we use ‘mate’. The effect, however, is startlingly different. Coming from Rookie, with his menacing air of ill-bred derangement, it basically sounds as seedy and grotesque as a word possibly can.
There is another American called Shane. Shane declares himself “a dumb hillbilly from Tennessee”. He is blubbery and sweaty and short-tempered. Shane wears denim overalls, which I believe people in the south refer to as ‘hog washers’ (calm yourself, ladies). It is my understanding that good ol’ boys called Leroy and Jim Bob wear them while they sit on the sagging porches of their hillbilly shacks in remote and lofty mountain hollows, whittling and planning their next incestuous act.
Shane is paired with a trucker from Colombo, Sri Lanka, whose style is based on a Village People aesthetic. They too have failed to gel and came in in last place on the first leg. Shane looks the most likely to fray and fall apart as the strain of being alienated from his life and his country takes hold.
There is a third American who I think was cast to counter the assumption that all American truckers are Southern and severely impaired. This one comes from Detroit and is exactly as you would imagine a truck driver from Detroit to be. Hardscrabble cities breed hardscrabble men.
There is also a Canadian, who is like every other Canadian in that he is dull and inoffensive and devoid of a sense of humour. He is paired with a rotund Scotsman whose dialogue is impossible to understand and should be subtitled but isn’t.
This episode they were in Australia, transporting cattle from Cape York down to Mossman Gorge. There were soaring aerial shots of the top-end with an over-caffeinated American voiceover gleefully espousing the terrible dangers of the hostile Australian environment in that typically hysterical fashion that they seem to like. I say “they” but I like it too. And I really love seeing Australia through an American lens. It makes me feel terribly proud and patriotic. I was watching these immense Kenworth-whatevers speeding across the landscape throwing up cyclonic sheets of red dust as the drivers ground the shit out of their unfamiliar gearboxes and rained regional curses upon their inner workings, and all I could think was “is this a great country or what?”
What a great show.