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I've just realised that I have a slight obsessive nature. If I am really into something whether it be Johnny Depp or Bruce Springsteen I have to collect all their work as well as books written about them. My new obsession is Ice Road Truckers and my favourite trucker is the working class hero, Alex Debogorski. For those of you who don't know who he is - he is a veteran trucker, Polish by birth, married to his one an only true love (childhood sweetheart) with 11 children and ten grandchildren and lives in Yellowknife, Canada.
The book I am going to review today is his biography - King of the Road. No ghost writers here - just down to earth, plain common sense and a lot of hair raising moments all writtten by the old dog himself.
My copy is hard backed with a glossy cover showing Alex stood outside his truck with his red hard hat on. The look on his face is a pensive one as if he is contemplating his next journey along the frozen lakes of Canada. 235 pages in all including one section of colour and black and white photographs. Paper quality is rather cheap and porous, print is large which is a good thing for my failing eyesight. Chapters are short ranging from two to four pages with large bold headings that stand out.
That's the grit - what about the book?
Even though it's classed as a biography and every page is about the man himself it doesn't read like a classic biography more like a collection of stories and sometimes I did wonder if this bear of a man has one fantastic imagination because even though I can slightly believe the stories they do seem rather exaggerated but then people never believe me when I tell them some of the things I have done so perhaps they are true.
In the beginning we hear about his parents and grandparents trying times in Poland - how they suffered, under Nazi rule, how is Granddad was executed at Auschwitz, his Dad shipped off to Siberia by the Russians and how is mother was a member of the Polish underground. Alex's style is straight to the point - there is no self pity or extreme emotion. It happened and although these incidents were harrowing, life had to go on. Throughout the book I get the impression that Alex was very close to his mother and admired her for her artistic and creative characterisitics even though he only had twelve years of his life with her. She was sophisticated and loved to sing, she even taught him to sing which he laughs about it but he can actually sing in his gruff sort of way - I've heard him in the truck on the programme.
After this first chapter we are then introuduced to other family members and a collection of stories telling us about life on the farm in the freezing cold. Life was pretty tough when he was a kid and he worked like a man. He was always big and strong for his age and people took it for granted that he could work. He didn't have a lot of choice as he had to help his Pa. I think what shines through in these stories are his love of the wild environment of Peace Valley, Alberta. This is where he was riased. Fishing and hunting was part of his survival when he was a teenager and a young man but he also had and still has a great respect and love for wildlife. There are quite a few stories of his experience with bears and other strange critters that he sometimes took in as pets.
I liked the stories of his brother Ritchie who was a bit of a wild one, always fighting, drinking and getting into trouble with the law. They both loved cars, well any sort of vehicle and they enjoyed taking engines apart and customising vehicles. Alex always mentions his brother with great affection. What I didn't realise until I read this book is that he was quite violent in his teenage years and was involved in a lot of fights himself. Pretty serious stuff too - involving smashing car windows to pieces and torching cars. These incidents were often at parties out in the woods where the drinking had got out of hand and he was generally asked to step in and sort the gangs out but got involved himself. His nose has been broken eight times. Not surprising seeing that he had a spell at being a bouncer in a club. Instead of calling for police help he often tried to sort unruly situations out himself and was good at it so the police left him to it.
One thing I love about life is that you can find yourself in some ridiculous situations and you have to conjure up a way of getting out of them. He's certainly been involved in some crazy pranks like chasing thirty brown bears at a town dump, nearly crushed to death by a road grader, had his mobile home set on fire by his children accidentally and nearly drowned in a bath. He's certainly never been lazy with the different jobs he has taken on throughout his life before he became a trucker. He's tried his hand at gold prospecting, working on an oil rigg, pig farmer, cattle rustler, taxi driver, bouncer. You name it Alex has done it. All these tales are told with affection and are funny if a bit over the top.
And then we come to the tales of the Ice Road and twenty five years spent travelling up and down those frozen lakes. When he started he hadn't even passed any sort of driving test. He laughs about this now and says that perhaps he can't actually drive. There could be something in this (said in jest) - he did struggle with the gear changes when he went to Alaska and freaked out at driving in India. I think he also missed a turning and went in the wrong direction for miles before realising. All this can be forgiven though - he is such a character and I love people who have 'lived a life' - not just spent their days doing the same job and afraid to take on new challenges.
Alex speaks lovingly about the Ice Road Truckers and mentions some of the characters like Hugh Rowland. He also explains how the programme and series changed their lives and the people of the Northern Territory, a very remote area in the Arctic. The stories in his biography are all about how a roughneck like himself has become the improbable star of a TV show and loves every minute of it. The stories are short but there are lots of them, outrageous, sweet, hilarious, heartfelt tales of his life and his pals. Not forgetting his family, cars, trucks, colleagues and animals. He's not the greatest writer in the world, style wise but this doesn't matter. Not to me anyway, I love to imagine him sitting in his cab relating these tales - that's just how the book reads. It's a good book - I loved it and read it in a couple of hours. I can't wait for the next one. He's up there with Johnny and Bruce. Alex rocks on!
Price: The book was a gift from my lovely son but he bought it from Amazon so go with the price at the top of the page.