Tales of the trucking cat

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Ptolemy was an amazing cat. Terri and I estimate he had an understanding vocabulary of over 300 words. And we would both swear he knew our names and would try and pronounce them whenever we returned to the truck. He just was amazing.” –Tim Brady, author, consultant, and business editor of American Trucker magazine, on his one-time travelling companion back in his days as an owner-operator in the moving & storage industry.

I’m going off on a feline tangent today for, frankly, I need a break from the steady drumbeat of horrible news offered up on cable television and online. [The Fort Hood, TX, shootings that left 13 dead is one that stands forth – a tragedy show that drove the news cycle for days on end. I still can’t believe something this awful actually happened.]

When the gloom starts piling up on me, one of the curatives I turn to is our pet cat Woody. As a child, the curatives were dogs – lots of dogs, of all breeds. To some ears, it may sound strange, but I’ve always found interacting with my pets to be a soothing stress reliever; uncomplicated by the realities of our often chaotic human existence.

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The author John Grogan in his best seller Marley & Me really hit the nail on the head when he described the importance of his bond with his crazy Labrador Marley:

Was it possible for a dog to point humans to the things that really mattered in life? Things like loyalty, courage, and devotion. And the things that did not matter, too? A dog has no use for fancy cars or big homes or designer clothes. A waterlogged stick will do just fine. A dog judges others not by how they look but by who they are inside. A dog doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, smart or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his. It was really quite simple.”

Though cats are VERY different creates than dogs, they most definitely share those virtues of loyalty, courage and devotion. That’s why it’s no surprise to me that many truckers have cats and dogs as travelling companions on the road; they offer, in my view, a friend that is always there for them, that looks out for them, that never leaves them in the lurch.

Some such “road pets,” if you will, also serve as inspiration – especially the twelve-pound Applehead Siamese trucker cat Ptolemy, the travelling companion of my editorial compatriot Tim Brady and his wife Terri Jenkins-Brady.

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Though Ptolemy passed on over four and half years ago, he’s come back to life as a character in a Christmas tale Terri co-wrote with fellow author Harold Konstantelos (also someone with trucking in his background) called Three Wise Cats: A Christmas Story.”

It’s a lovely book (I had the privilege to read an advanced draft – and oh what an antidote it is for the negative news cycle!) about how the wise old Ptolemy sends forth three cats – Abishag, Kezia, and Ira – on a quest to “follow a star of unusual brightness that was seen in the heavens, indicating an event of earth-shaking importance.”

I am sure you can see the plot similarities to another story that has three humans following a certain star to a certain town with a certain stable. But this version adds a fourth traveler to the mix; a rat by the name of Asmodeus, who can hear of no glorious thing without wanting to spoil it. Thus the stage is set for a long journey fraught with peril and dangerous adventures.

Though Ptolemy in this Christmas tale does not join this band of felines on the road for their adventure, the antics of his real-life namesake – who travelled with co-author Terri Jenkins-Brady in her husband’s tractor-trailer for years on the road – influenced the characters in this story to a high degree.

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[As an aside: I LOVE the name Ptolemy, which is pronounced “Tall-oh-me” where the “P” is silent. There are TWO great figures in history that bear this name, by the way. The first Ptolemy was a general under Alexander the Great and went on to found the Ptolemaic empire in Egypt as well as the great library in Alexandria. The second Ptolemy was a Roman mathematician and astronomer. I’ll let you decide which one the Bradys named their cat after!]

One of the greatest things about the real-life Ptolemy, Tim Brady told me, was his protectiveness. He would hiss and snarl at anyone that approached the truck unless it was Tim or Terri. Consequently, when getting the truck serviced or washed, Ptolemy got placed in his cat carrier and stowed in the sleeper. Yet though some might look down on what they’d describe as an “unfriendly cat,” to a trucker out on the road in unfamiliar places, such behavior can be a boon.

“Once we were parked overnight at a truck stop with both Terri and I sacked out in the sleeper,” Tim told me. “Then, at about 3 a.m. Ptolemy came from his nightly post on the right side dashboard and started lightly tapping me on the check. Of course, at 3 a.m. in the morning I found this to be a great annoyance so I shooed him away.”

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But being a typical feline, commands such as “no” and “shoo” are routinely ignored – sometimes for the best. “Ptolemy continued to run from the dashboard to the sleeper to tap me on the cheek and then back to the windshield. After this had happened five or six times I finally got up to see what was going on,” Tim said. “Lo and behold, when I looked in the right mirror, two men were running off with my trailer top-hat hubcaps.”

Another time, Tim recalled, he were parked his rig overnight at a high security facility waiting to make a delivery the next morning. As was his routine Ptolemy, would sit or pace across the dashboard like a vigilant guard, always watchful. “The next morning the supervisor of the guards of the facility told us that the cat should have high security surveillance clearance,” Tim said. “The guards who had watch duty overnight indicated in their reports ‘the cat was alert and aware of our every move, any time we drove or walked by the truck.’ I was very pleased, to say the least.”

Tim also noted that when he ordered a new custom sleeper, they had a special vented compartment with and outside access door for the cat box to be placed.

A lot of karma swirled around Ptolemy, too. “He was born on July 12, 1994 on the one year anniversary of Terri's mother's death, and the 19th anniversary of my father’s death,” Tim said. “Terri and I estimate he had a vocabulary of over 300 words. And we would both swear he knew our names and would try and pronounce them whenever we returned to the truck. He called Terri ‘Erri’ and me ‘Im.’ He did this the first time when we had been shopping for groceries at a Big Y in Sutton, MA. I think he was a little ticked because we had taken longer than he thought we should have. From that point forward each time we returned he would yowl, ‘Erri, Im.’ Or if he wanted Terri he would yowl, ‘Erri, Erri, Erri.’

Ptolemy passed away on July 14, 2005, two days into his 11th year of life from a perforated intestine caused by cancer. “Terri and I were covering the Walcott Jamboree truck show at the time when this happened,” Tim told me. “It was a tough time.”

Yet here the venerable Ptolemy is again, brought back to life in a Christmas tale, with his trademark guff on display for the world to see; a fitting tribute, I think, to a trucking cat.

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