T

V host Mike Rowe is famous for his television programs “Dirty Jobs” and “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.” When my husband, who hauls pools, asked me to be his pilot car driver, shades of Mike Rowe came to mind. Here was a job I had thought little about and knew even less about its importance.  

In spite of my lack of experience but up for a challenge, I channeled a little Mike Rowe in my heart and said, “Sure.” 

Always seeking advice when starting a new job, I asked a few people what they thought I should do to assure success in this new role. Advice included, “Roll up your pant legs and wear work boots!” Another helpful adviser told me to wear a red bandana and sport a cigarette in my mouth. They thought a cigarette as a pointer might provide me with some “cred” as cars sped around me and attempted to pass a 16-foot-wide pool carried on a flatbed. 

Cigarettes were not needed as we headed to Chicago to deliver two pools, but what was needed was a lot of hand waving and middle-line driving.

My first lesson began on Highway 61. On the four-lane, the pilot car driver provides a play-by-play for the flatbed driver. This is a simple description of every vehicle that comes speeding his way. With an oversized load, the flatbed driver cannot see when people are zooming around them. 

Being a storyteller, the play-by-play (which is something simple like “four wheel behind”) became colorful as I described each vehicle coming his way: “Taupe car from Nevada on your left – watch out — may have the Wayne Newton tunes cranked up.” Or a car with an Iowa license: “Hey, Iowa driver on the left – looks Iowa nice.”

 It wasn’t long before the comments gave warning: “Here’s a red car with Colorado license plates – watch out – might be a little Rocky Mountain high!” 

Comments also became directive: “Motorcycle rider attempting to pass on the left.” My husband Brian moved left. “Attempting to pass on the right now! Watch out - backside cleavage showing!” Nothing like seeing a moon in daylight!

I had packed a lunch for the haul and within 45 minutes of pilot-car driving I had devoured a bag of Cheetos, a banana, and half my sandwich. Stress eating at its finest! 

I hadn’t really considered the danger involved in pilot-car driving, but a billboard on Interstate 80 caught my eye, “When you die, you will meet God!” Who puts something like that on a highway filled with maniacal drivers? I wondered: “Is this a sign for me and the near future?” Even a trip by the Joliet prison gave warning. With a mural in the neighborhood sporting the faces and the car of the Blues Brothers with their famous movie quote posted on a wall, “We are on a mission from God,” I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into with a simple “yes” to the job.

Four-lane highway driving with me tailing and commentating was easy compared to the streets of Plainfield where I had to lead the way – “flushing out” the middle turn lane, gesturing for vehicles to move over, and speeding ahead to park in the oncoming traffic lane to block traffic as Brian made his way over a bridge. I could have used those work boots, that red bandana, and that cigarette just to assure oncoming traffic I was someone to reckon with.  

The drive was fast and furious but the delivery to a family was priceless.  I had not anticipated the joy the delivery of a new pool would bring to families. Really, what is there not to love about a new in-ground pool for family fun? 

Our stop was with a family of three boys, ages preschool to 10, who were excited to see us and even more excited to see the crane come into their neighborhood. Their mother Emily was a delight as she invited me into her home for a bathroom break and began to offer me cold drinks and food. 

By the end of our 30-minute visit, pool was in the ground, videos had been taken, neighbors had gathered to admire the new addition, and I had received an invite to come swim in two weeks once the pool had settled. Even Grandma hugged me and invited me to return. As I was getting to my truck, the young mother called me back, insisting I take a beach-themed cookie.  

We removed our “oversize load” signs from both trucks, strapped the signs down on the flatbed, and headed toward home. Somebody’s gotta do it, and I was glad I tried my hand at pilot-car driving.