Finn Murphy—known by his trucker handle U-Turn—has enjoyed a fascinating view of the American experience from the driver’s seat of his 53-foot eighteen wheeler, Cassidy. More than thirty years ago, he dropped out of college to become a long-haul trucker, and since then has covered more than a million miles of asphalt.
His memoir, The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road, details the ups and downs of his travels back and forth across the country, moving people’s belongings in and out of every nook and cranny of the States. In describing the stories filling the book, the New York Times notes, “how astonishing they are, and how moving, and how funny, and how just plain weird.” Filled with compelling characters from every cross-section of American life, The Long Haul is a riveting portrayal of a life spent traveling the wide expanses of our open roads and the tight, heavily-trafficked streets of our cities.
Libro.fm: What was the genesis of writing The Long Haul?
Finn Murphy: Well the genesis—particularly in the framework of this conversation—is my book started out on audio. I had one of those old cassette micro recorders, and at the end of my work day, I would talk into it just to unwind. Then I started talking into it while I was driving, describing things I was seeing. Then I started carrying it with me on my moving jobs and recording conversations with the people I was moving, and my moving crews—and that’s when it started getting really good, these illegal, surreptitious recordings. Over the decades I accumulated scores and scores of audiotapes. I had them transcribed and ended up with over 800 pages of stuff. That formed the genesis of the book.
L: What first captured you about long haul trucking as a job?
F: That there wasn’t anybody tapping me on the shoulder telling me what to do. I came from a very regimented and structured Irish Catholic family. And when I wasn’t with my family, I went to a very regimented and structured parochial school. And then my first job was with a local moving company owned by a Mr. Callahan who was also part of the church, so I lived in this phalanx of control. Then I took a road trip with a driver to Virginia Beach from Connecticut when I was eighteen, and it was probably the first time in my life that there wasn’t somebody telling me what to do. The driver told me about the life of a long haul trucker and I was like, “Oh, wow…yeah, let’s cut all the strings here and get free.”
L: So how do you fill those long hours driving the truck?
F: I use radio, I use NPR, I use local radio for traffic—I don’t trust the GPS systems—and then I use audiobooks. Audiobooks have been my savior.
L: Do you have any audiobook recommendations?
F: Here’s a general recommendation: try listening to a book that you found inaccessible in print for some reason—like Ulysses by James Joyce or The Harry Potter books. I couldn’t access either one of those by reading them. But the audio versions of those are just amazing. So if there’s a book in your personal pantheon of cultural stuff you need to check off but weren’t able to do so by reading, try the audio, because a lot of times you can break through that way. I have to say that though I did like the Harry Potter books, I still have found Ulysses inaccessible.
L: As have many!
F:Infinite Jest I have on Libro.fm, too, and I haven’t quite completed that one.
L: That’s another one of those that often lays uncompleted on the shelf.
F: Yes, always mentioned but never read.
L: You’ve just completed a 10,000 mile book tour through 60 cities. What surprised you most about the reception to your book?
F: The biggest surprise was how much people liked it. I was girding myself for an onslaught of other opinions, largely from my trucker brothers. My book is funny and breezy but it also has some serious parts. I take a few shots here and there, and I thought that those shots would come back to me. But no, everybody love it, I was just amazed. I was in the New York Times Book Review twice, the New Yorker…I mean, I’m just this trucker guy. I’m just thrilled. It’s like a Cinderella story.