A Stanhope man is traveling the country doing something he said he never dreamed he would do. Gary Green, who has worked as a truck driver off and on for the past 40 years, is traveling with a Broadway touring company.
While he's not singing and dancing on stage, his job is vital to the traveling production "Memphis,"currently playing at venues in the western United States. Green is the lead driver in a caravan of semi trailers hauling the set pieces, wardrobe and other equipment essential to mounting a Broadway-style production.
Green said that about 20 years ago worked for a company that had hauled shows like this and he never forgot that experience. Plus, the schedule seemed to favor how he liked to work.
Michaeline Acker and Gary Green, along with their dog, Lue, ride in the cab of their truck. The couple is traveling with the national Broadway tour of “Memphis.”
"I like to take 3 to 4 months off a year," he said. He spends much of that vacation time working on a house he's building on the family farm near Stanhope.
"So, when I get done working on that after three to four months, I'm physically drained and ready to go back to work," he said.
But not every company is willing to let a worker take that much time off, he conceded. In the world of Broadway touring companies, however, Green found that work schedules revolved around the tour schedule. Shows usually begin to tour sometime around September and wrap around May, he said.
"This kind of fit in with what I thought would work for me," he said.
But the rigors of the road are not easy. In fact, Green said he considered quitting nearly every day for the first six months. As a driver for Clark Transfer - a major player in the Broadway show transportation scene - he has to maneuver the huge rig through the traffic and crowds in metropolitan areas like Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Phoenix.
"This business operates totally in these big population bases," he said. "There are no small cities for us."
"I'm just a farm boy," he said. "I wasn't used to this kind of driving."
After working for a little over two years on the road with Clark Transfer, Green became the lead driver in September 2011 for the production of "Memphis." The driver said he wasn't sure he wanted the position when it became available.
"There is so much responsibility for so many things," he said. "We come into these theaters and there are 100 Teamsters and stage hands waiting for us to arrive so they can unload the truck. It's the lead driver's position to designate, delegate, solve problems, put out fires and get these trucks in order so the show can get unloaded."
Green has six trucks under his supervision. Arriving on time at each new theater is a huge factor for Green and his fellow drivers. Clark Transfer has a guarantee to buy out the whole house if the caravan is late and the show can't go on as scheduled.
"My job is very stressful," he said. "It takes a minimum of two years to get set up to drive for this business, and I'm still learning."
"But its probably the best job I've ever had," he said.
Life on the road also made it difficult to spend much time with his fiancee, Michaeline Acker, Sioux City. The two made a connection about five years ago on Match.com. Acker said that while Green was on the road she would only see him about every six to eight weeks. With a little encouragement, she decided to attend Western Iowa Tech Community College to learn how to drive a big rig. Acker said she had worked as a hairdresser and after her husband died in 2006, she went back to WITCC to study nursing. She worked as a nurse on a cancer floor at Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City.
"My guarantee was that when she got out of nursing school, we were going to settle down. We'd finish the house and settle back in Stanhope," Green said.
"You can see how well that went," Acker added.
"I certainly never imagined I would ever be doing this," she said about the truck driving. "I didn't like passing anyone on the interstate and I'd never driven a manual transmission."
"I convinced her to go to WITCC for truck driving school," he said.
She joined Green on the road the end of September and said she's now a gypsy traveling the countryside.
Green said he hadn't been particularly interested in theater before taking on this job. But now, both he and Acker have truly bonded with the members of the production company and often watch the show from the wings of the theater.
"It really is just like a family,"?he said. "We're included in their family. It takes a while to get into that circle. But it's a tight-knit bunch of people."
The couple will be traveling east with the show soon and this year scheduling will allow them to home for Christmas. The show will move from Milwaukee to Omaha during the Christmas break, which brings the couple right through Iowa to see family and friends.
The couple is still considering what to do after the tour ends. While his home in rural Stanhope beckons him, Green said they wouldn't rule out another tour. In fact, they've been contacted by a couple of tour companies already.
"I just don't know,"?Green said. "I miss home, But this has been a good run. We're having a good time. I guess we'll have to wait and see."