“Talk Less , Listen More” that was the advice to all new trucking students from Mr. John Cooper , dubbed “Cujo”.
This gentleman was “Sam” from my student trucker story on “Ask the Trucker – A Day in the Life of a Lady Trucker“, he passed away unexpectedly Christmas weekend , it was a shock to everyone in our company.
“Cujo” was a dedicated company man, he was one of the first people a student trucker would meet and he was the first person many of us went looking for as our training experience unraveled. Often he could do little more than encourage us to remain optimistic, pick ourselves up and try again. “Cujo” motivated me to keep trying.
I learned to read between the lines with Cujo and because of that I overcame many obstacles which is my student trucker story. He was a man with a great deal of integrity but his hands were tied to make changes. His optimism and upbeat demeanor may have seemed to some that he did not understand but I know he truly cared about the students success. He was simply not in a position to be much more than a figure head, the Ambassador.
So dedicated was Cujo to the company, I never told him I wrote about him or about my story until the night of the first Dan Rather Broadcast. By that time he had seen me overcome many challenging situations. He played a key role in my success with just a few directives.
After my story became public knowledge, I was stopped by a female driver in my company at a North Carolina Fuel Stop who said “You called Cujo , “Sam” after Samuel L. Jackson in your story.” , I smiled and said “Yes, I did”.
I knew what she meant, many drivers looked to Cujo for a hand out “so to speak” rather than a “hand up”. While it was true this man probably heard more firsthand horror stories from the student trucking fleet, he could do little more than try to motivate them to dust themselves off and keep trying. Disregard the rumors, gossip and keep rolling.
It wasn’t any special treatment this man gave, it was what he didn’t say that clued me in that he carried a huge burden. I sensed this right away when I heard him speak at our orientation. I took the initiative to ask him to dispel rumors from day one about our bonuses, the team driving requirement and my reservations about teaming with “Tony”.
When my trainer brought me in short of segments to test out, it was Cujo who said “She got paid good money to teach you and she could not even complete your paperwork”! He saw that I wanted to learn the best way, I did not want to cut corners … it was me who asked to go with a second trainer to iron out the kinks of my poor training.
I waited several days for the second trainer but he never showed, it was Cujo who saw me roaming the halls a few days later and realized that trainer never came for me. It was Cujo who made sure I got a second trainer so I could pass.
When “Tony” had his meltdown, Cujo knew it would happen because he met him, he knew I had made a promise and would not break it. He tried to encourage me to be selfish and think about myself before teaming with “Tony” but I had to give it a shot, seeing how I did promise and we had gone to CDL School together.
When the company attempted to remove me from the truck and give it to “Tony”, it was Cujo who informed me what the correct wording was to utilize to prevent it from occurring again.
Unfortunately, we had one miscommunication that was very unfortunate. When I rode the bus back to re-team with “Mag” it was Easter Weekend. I arrived at 5pm on Friday, everyone had gone home or I would have stopped by to see Cujo.
Following the bleach incident I became aware that “MS” knew that “Mag” had recent problems and could be a potential threat to my safety. “MS” was inapproprately friendly and unfriendly to certain student truckers and this was common knowledge. She booked my tickets, she seated me on the truck with the people she knew were potentially violent or could hinder my success.
It was Cujo who told me “Mag is a crackhead” and “Do not tell “MS” Shit”. WOW!!!!
This was totally out of character for a man like him to use this language. He worked closely with “MS” who is the team coordinator. This was my only point of contact and he was telling me to avoid her at all costs!
He had regrets but with the weekly volume of students and the turnover how could he possibly keep up with it all? He shared just a few candid comments which helped me overcome obstacles, he gave me no special treatment. I sent others with simialr problems to him with this advice. “Cujo is not going to fix the problem, he can’t but he needs to know and then read between the lines of what he is saying to you. “Talk Less, Listen More”.
My last co-driver was a girl Cujo set me up with, after everything I had been through I tried one last time to team up but it was actually a test.
When I returned to the terminal after Hurricane Ike with “CC” I went to see Cujo who had recommended her to me the week before. I spoke with him and another fellow driver/trainer. I told him I was trying to let her take the bull by the horns but she was not stepping up. The trainer said “someone needs to be in charge, be the leader” Cujo interjected “She’s is a leader” meaning me. I was flattered but I admitted that if she does not want to be led it was only provoking her. I told him that her temperament was predisposed so I was trying to let her lead but she showed no initiative. I said “I’m not sure she really wants to drive”. Cujo said “That’s what I thought”.
It was a test! He set me up and he set her up.
I did not always get straight answers from Cujo and sometimes I took my questions elsewhere. I did not give up and he saw that.
I never told him about the story or the show because I did not want him to feel he was hiding something. I called him the evening of the the first Dan Rather Report and explained to him what the emails and qualcomm’s meant. Everyone was confused and many still have no idea there was a show.
He was calm as I told him and wanted to watch the show. Then toward the end of the conversation he said “Girl, you really got em goin around here…” he was absolutlely tickled that something was happening. He carried a very heavy burden.
With regards to the Million Mile Driver I mention in my story, he told me on many occasions “They are screwing her over” and from her when she heard of his passing, she said “He knew a lot of stuff and I know it ate him up”.
Cujo called me late one evening at out nowhere late on November 20th 2009, this was very much out of character for this gentleman who was very much “by the book”.
He wanted to see how I was and what my plans were for the future. He said things I have never heard him say and never imagined he would be the type to be that unguarded.
I didn’t know what to make of the conversation but when I received the news of his sudden passing on Christmas weekend the timing seems to coincide with a diagnosis he received.
Ever the optimist, I understand he was upbeat and downplayed his condition. He never said anything in our phone conversation about it but he spoke in a way that was out of the ordinary. He was clearly distressed. Of course I feel guilt that I did not press him, he obviously needed someone to talk to and I did not hear his wheel squeaking. He died from complications after a treatment for Cancer. It seems he had just been diagnosed with it around the time he called me.
He was a bright light of sunshine despite everything that was going on around him. I would not have been able to overcome the obstacles I faced as a student trucker without Mr. John Cooper, his optimism and few candid moments are key ingredients in my success.
Mr. Cooper passed away in his home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was 59. He was laid to rest in Montgomery Alabama. He was active with his church and community in numerous organizations including Big Brothers, Big Sisters Organization, the Boys and Girls Club.
Rest in Peace “Cujo” Thank You for touching my life.