Dashboard Confidential
Back when I was a know-it-all

By Dave Sweetman, columnist

The other day I was cruising across west Texas in no real hurry, cruise control set 10 mph below the 80 mph speed limit and channel surfing satellite radio.

The radio landed on a station playing a Montgomery Gentry song titled, “Back When I Knew It All.” For a few minutes I reflected on the meaning of the title and lyrics and it gave me pause to think. You see, I used to know it all. I really did.

A three-year stint in the U.S. Army taught me to drive big trucks safely. That carried over to my pursuing a civilian driving career that has lasted more than 43 years and more than 4.75 million safe miles. All because I knew it all. Or thought I did.

I knew that I could handle a big rig in all kinds of weather and stupidly tried to outrun a tornado or two in Kansas and Arkansas, and drive on Elk Mountain snow and ice when common sense said to park. Because I knew it all. Or I thought I did.

When I was snowed in on the east side of the Sierra Mountains in Reno and I-80 was closed across Donner Pass, I had to go. Because I knew it all, I listened to some big riggers and drove Feather River Canyon, bypassing the closed routes. Truthfully, I was never so danged scared in my life and if I could have turned around, I would have. But I knew it all, so I pushed on and made it through.

I knew I was smarter than the cops and had the best radar detectors money could buy, so I could drive as fast as I wanted (safe, but fast). I hated the

55 mph speed limit. But, because I knew it all, the speeding tickets were someone else’s fault. I also found that the time made by speeding was proportionate to the amount of time spent on the roadside with the trooper.

My first trip going east across I-80 in Pennsylvania in the early ’70s had me going to Atlantic City, N.J. Because I knew it all, when I saw the sign for the Jersey Shore exit, I knew I was close and went to bed.

The next morning, I found out that I was still many hours away and could not believe that Jersey Shore was neither in Jersey nor was it anywhere near the shore. And, there’s no easy way to get there from I-80. That wasn’t my fault, as I knew it all. Or thought I did.

Getting dispatched with a hot load going to Chillicothe, Mo., from California, I searched the whole town for the address with no success. I asked a police officer, and he told me there was no such business in his town and the street did not exist.

Upon making a phone call, I found out the customer was located in Chillicothe, Ohio. And because I knew it all, I still had time to make my delivery the next day.

Rolling forward a number of years, it took me a while to realize that, perhaps, I don’t know it all.

Most of my safe driving practices are solid, tried-and-true methods that continue to serve me well. But to some degree, I have been blessed by plain old blind, dumb luck.

Learning that I do not know it all took some adjustment. I slowed down. No more radar detectors (which are illegal in commercial vehicles anyway). No more speeding tickets, either. So does that make me a saint? Hardly. Most states raised their speed limits, and I drive the speed limit (or under).

Because I don’t know it all anymore, I use a computer to track weather, road conditions and trip routes. I can find Chillicothe no matter which state it’s in. I can do a satellite map search of a customer’s neighborhood and determine if I can get a truck there or not. I really like not knowing it all and should have tried it sooner. LL