The Idle American

World-class commuters ...

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One invites correction when declaring folks to be champions of anything.

I learned this lesson 60 years ago as the editor of a small-town newspaper, when a local farmer lugged in “the county’s largest watermelon.”

It looked like a record-setter to me; I snapped a picture for the next edition. Within hours of publication, several other farmers appeared--each proclaiming his melon to be larger. They wanted pictures, too, but settled for tepid corrections. On top of that, the Brown County Gazette publisher said “no more expensive picture engravings”--except for obituaries….

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I risk similar responses today.

Again, I wade innocently into the dangerous, swirling waters of controversy. My claim is that Snyder, a community of some 12,000 souls in West Texas, ranks #1 in commuting. I’m referencing two daily highway grinds to and from work, remembering Bob Hope’s comment: “In Texas, there are miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles.”

The late D. V. Merritt and Zeb Alexander--toiling in the 20th and 21st centuries, respectively--were both Snyder products, albeit born some 50 years apart. They traveled the same route to work--U.S. Highway 84--but drove different directions in the a.m. and p.m.…

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Merritt had the better of it, direction-wise, that is. He served as Santa Fe’s agent in Snyder for a couple of decades, and when the position was phased out, he took a Santa Fe job in Lubbock. He rose early each day in Snyder, the rising sun behind him for the 85-mile drive. At shift’s end, the sun was setting in his rearview mirror.

In his hometown, he was a community leader, church deacon and respected family man.

It is estimated that he drove some 700,000 miles, wearing out three Volkswagens….

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Alexander, 6’ 4”, could pass for the Marlboro man, but his only “smoke” emits from company vehicles’ tailpipes--initially a pick-up but the last two, Ford Expeditions.

The Vice President for Human Resources of Gravity Oil Field Services joined the company seven years ago, driving from his Lubbock home to his office in Snyder. Now, Midland has been added to his territory for a company that began in 2004. Employees numbered 180 when he started. It grew to 2,000 two years later.

He squints in both directions for his commute, facing the sun both in the going out and the coming in….

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He racked up 110,000 miles on his first vehicle in 14 months. If U.S. 84 were the Jericho Road, he’d be the Good Samaritan. A chain and other emergency items at the ready, he commonly rescues stranded motorists foiled by icy roads and sometimes high water. He recently retired a vehicle with 305,000 miles on it; it had been used to pull 80 motorists to safety.

Zeb likely will reach Merritt’s mileage mark in a couple of years. He has logged almost a half-million miles to date, determined to see HR team members daily in Snyder, Midland or other “oil patch” towns….

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On weekends he’s home with his family. He’s a church elder, and helps Michele--his wife of 11 years--rear their three sons--Noah, 10; Caleb, 7, and Jonah, 3. Zeb, a star football player and nominee for “Mr. Snyder High School,” is a leader in his sons’ sports leagues.

Merritt was known for his well-ordered, Christian life. Zeb is, too. His was evident at Howard Payne University, where I handed him his diploma. Both men deserve “good-to-ride-the-river-with” status, or, in this case, U.S. Highway 84….

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