Can you identify the proudest moment of your life? Do you have a moment that currently outranks all other moments of your existence… for you?
Let’s disqualify the day our babies came into the world, or the day we married “the love of our life”. Those moments, as amazing as they are, kinda depend on someone else to make them special. I’m asking for your proudest, most special, amazing, awesome moment.
I asked my office mate this question, and she didn’t hesitate with her reply. “The day I got my degree. No question. I was working full time, raising three kids, and I did it.”
I think it’s great that she came up with it that fast. I have a more difficult time coming up with mine. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve led a life that has been blessed with so many milestones and magical moments that a “greatest” or “proudest” moment can’t be singled out, or, when it comes to things that only involve me, maybe it’s been a lifetime of “nothing special”. Hard to say…
But I know a guy…
…let me set the stage.
Flashback to Sunday, April 24th, 2016…San Diego, California, Marriott Marina & Convention Center…National Tank Truck Carriers Spring Convention & President’s Meeting
The National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) is a non-profit advocacy association that works to support the business interests of trucking companies who deliver goods via tank trailers. Most of the gasoline delivered to your local gas station is carried by a trucking company that is a member of this association. Most of the liquid and powder chemicals delivered to the manufacturing plants in our country are delivered by NTTC members. The chlorine that sanitizes your pool, and the propane that cooks your steaks to that perfect warm red center, are all delivered at some point by a tank trailer.
The NTTC has two major conventions a year, one in the spring, one in the fall. The company I work for makes parts and pieces that keep the chlorine, gasoline, propane, ethanol, and glycol, inside of those tanks, even if those tanks roll over or catch fire…it’s kind of an important thing. So, I get to go to these conventions and meet with the people who own companies that have tank trailers that use the parts and pieces my company makes. It’s a good gig. San Diego any time of year is beautiful, for a guy who lives in northwest Pennsylvania, San Diego in April is medicine.
So, it’s Sunday evening in San Diego, on the convention hall floor, and there is a “Welcome” reception, with music, hors d’oeuvres, and an open bar. Because I am the trade show coordinator for my company, and I’m a genius, the open bar is right next to my company’s booth. Patrons of the show see me and all of my company’s wares, as they wait in line for their gins and tonics, Buds and Lites, and Jacks and Cokes, and they sarcastically chide me, “Hey Large Man, did you plan this? Pretty convenient for you, Ha ha haaaa!”
Hell yes! I absolutely planned this. I get thirsty, and I crave attention. My booth needs to be where the action is. To quote ‘Hamilton, The Musical’, “…in the room where it happens!”
As my coworkers and I are meeting and greeting other patrons of the show (and the bar), I notice this one guy kinda checking things out, and he has a familiar look. A good beginning descriptor would be that he is “thick”. He has a thick barrel chest, solid, thick upper arms, wide and thick shoulders connected to a thick neck, that terminates at a beautifully shaved & shiny head. This man is a Large man.
I watched him looking at the valves and lighting products on one of my tables, and some of the trinkets on tabletops at the booth next door to mine. As he studies these products, holding them in his big thick mitts, his dark eyes stared intently…he neither smiled nor frowned, he didn’t seem to approve or disapprove of anything he examined. He just seemed to be processing…taking it all in.
I approached this Large man and asked, “Can I answer any questions for you?” (‘Cause that’s my job).
He looked up from the 6496ALB Normal Vent (it’s a thing, really), and says, “No not really. I’m a driver, and I use a lot of this stuff, but I rarely get to see it when it’s not on the tank trailer. Kinda cool. I do have one question though, where did you get that beer?”
I get excited when people ask me questions and I immediately know the answer, so I smile real big and say, “Follow me.”
The thick, Large, man returned my smile, and did as I requested. I felt this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. We shook hands and introduced ourselves by name and company as we stood in line at the bar, and when my new friend spoke to me, he did so from a big wide toothy grin, surrounded by a meticulously trimmed goatee. He had these lively, dark eyes, that seemed to dance in rhythm with every word he spoke. We’ve all met people who have a presence, people who immediately seem “Larger than life”; my new friend, Darryl Ray Nowell, is the quintessential example of that essence.
Darryl is a truck driver for Eagle Transport, based in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He works out of their Richmond, VA terminal, and has been employed there for 16 years. Darryl was attending the show as a nominee, and one of eight finalists, for NTTC’s annual award for “Truck Driver of the Year”.
The bar line moved quickly, Darryl and I grabbed a brew, and went back to my booth to chat about business and life…this is TRULY the best part of my job…it’s the best part of my life. To be able to continually connect with people from all over the world, and from all walks of life, keeps me in a constant state of fascination.
The “Driver of the Year” award is in its early stages, there have been only two prior recipients, and this year’s group of 8 nominees had 4 drivers who were finalists in the previous two years. Darryl was a first-time nominee, and appeared to be the youngest of this year’s group…in my opinion, he was clearly the most colorful.
Let me share with you a few of the things Darryl shared with me while we had a chat:
Darryl Ray Nowell is 52 years old. He served our country honorably in the US Army for 11-1/2 years. He has done volunteer search and rescue work. He has been a professional wrestler for over thirty years…his wrestling character’s name is “Pyro”. Pyro does public safety commercials, public appearances, fund raisers in the greater Richmond area, for free, to promote fire safety for kids. He’s also starting his own chili company…so he’s a chef. In the 16 years he’s been driving a tractor & trailer for Eagle Transportation, he has logged almost 3 million (2.9 million) accident free miles. And as cool as all these things are, I truly felt Darryl’s humanity, when he talked to me about his son. Darryl is a single father of an all-star bowler and honor roll student. When this proud father told me things about his kid, the dark, lively, dancing eyes, glassed up a little bit.
This Large, thick… bad ass, Army veteran, searcher & rescuer, professional wrestling truck driver…was as sweet and gentle as a puppy when we started talking about our kids. And he listened intently as I shared stuff about my kids as well. When it’s all said, and done, Darryl…Pyro, is just a dad.
I love that stuff.
And yet, as much as I enjoyed my time with this amazing character, I didn’t like his chances for Driver of the Year. He was a first-time finalist, and he didn’t have the time or miles that most of the other nominees had.
The award ceremony takes place during a Monday morning breakfast reception that my amazing company has been sponsoring for about 20 years. We have an opening blessing, some yellow re-hydrated protein product that’s supposed to resemble scrambled eggs, flimsy bacon, under-ripened fruit plates, a celebrity keynote speaker, and now we close the event by announcing this year’s driver of the year.
Eight finalists from eight different companies are introduced to the crowd, and as they walk up to the stage, a short “bio” video tells their story on a giant screen in the background. It’s all very Large and loud, with music and pictures of their families, and events they’ve participated in. There’s a few seconds of interview and action shots of these guys, who in many ways, are the backbone of American industry. It’s a celebrity moment for men and women who should be celebrated every day…but like most of us in the working world, they are not. They’re just a group of people who go to work in the morning, and do the very best they can to see that they get home…AND WE GET HOME, safely, at the end of our working day. Driving and delivering hazardous material, safely and efficiently, is no easy task. Darryl and the fellow nominees who shared the stage with him, had logged close to 40 million accident and incident free miles on our highways & byways. That is “job excellence”.
So at the end of the introductions, and the tribute videos, the eight finalists stand on stage and listen as the master of ceremonies announces the winner. It’s not done by opening an envelope and announcing a name, it’s done by the emcee giving us deeper details about the individual. The first sentence or two could describe any one of the finalists, then the next sentence might narrow it down by one or two.
These eight men face the crowd.
As the announcer continues down the list, you see some guys shift their body weight, some guys shrug their shoulders, and you see some guys stand up a little straighter…
…as it got down to the last sentence or two, I saw my guy flash that big toothy grin, and I saw him shift his weight from side to side, and I saw those dark dancing eyes glass up again. Then he put those big thick hands up to his eyes, made a nod to Heaven, and wiped away tears of pride and joy as the announcer said, “This year’s National Tank Truck Carriers, Driver of the Year Award, goes to Darryl Ray Nowell of Eagle Transportation. Congratulations Darryl!”
I was pretty sure Darryl had won the award when they described the community service aspect of the resume, and they said “…a professional wrestler who works tirelessly in the community to promote fire safety”. I don’t think there were any other pro wrestlers on stage, probably not even in the building.
After a round of congratulatory handshakes from his fellow nominees, Darryl stepped to the mic and humbly thanked the men he shared the stage with, and congratulated them on getting there. He thanked the association, and all the people standing and applauding.
As we settled back into our chairs, we could feel Darryl’s emotion. I don’t have enough colors on my literary palette to paint this picture. It was probably the most emotional scene I have ever experienced in the work place.
Darryl explained to us through all this emotion that “…other than the day my son was born; this is the greatest moment of my life. I only wish he was here to see this.” That’s the one that got me. I looked around the room at that point, and there was no doubt…it got a lot of us. There were a lot of tears being wiped away throughout the crowd.
On Monday, April 25th, 2016, I got to see a man experience one of the “greatest moments” of his life. I got to share the experience with a couple hundred people who appreciate the hard work it took to achieve that moment…Darryl worked for this “greatest moment”, he didn’t get lucky, it was earned. Maybe the best part of the audience’s experience was that we could all see that it was appreciated and valued by the man being honored.
I think it was one of our greatest moments too.
Thanks, Darryl…”Pyro”, for letting me tell your story.
There’s a comment section at the end of this post, or on the Facebook post where you opened it up… if you feel like it, I would love to know your proudest, or greatest “moment” (so far). Thanks for reading.