This is a book about people who drive trucks, captain ships, pilot towboats, drive coal trains, and carry lobsters through the air: people who work in freight transportation. John McPhee rides from Atlanta to Tacoma alongside Don Ainsworth, owner and operator of a sixty-five-foot, five-axle, eighteen-wheel chemical tanker carrying hazmats—in Ainsworth’s opinion “the world’s most beautiful truck,” so highly polished you could part your hair while looking at it. He goes “out in the sort” among the machines that process a million packages a day at UPS Air’s distribution hub at Louisville International Airport. And (among other trips) he travels up the “tight-assed” Illinois River on a towboat pushing a triple string of barges, the overall vessel being “a good deal longer than the Titanic,” longer even than the Queen Mary 2.
Uncommon Carriers is classic work by McPhee, in prose distinguished, as always, by its author’s warm humor, keen insight, and rich sense of human character.