I believe in three irreversible truths when it comes to dealing with certain situations. One, if I had to fight my way through an angry mob; I want Marty McSorley on my side. Two, if I ever have to survive a military interrogation; I want Ghandi as my legal representation. And three, if the world freezes over and I decide to drive to Hollywood to try my luck at making it big; I want Alex Debogorski driving me.
Yes that Alex Debogorski. You know, the father of 11 kids who drives truck on some of the most perilous of frozen roads, who recently wrote a book, and survived a pulmonary embolism a few years back.
This eclectic Yellowknifer seems to have done a little bit of everything in his life, and it shows true when he is on camera during documentary/reality show Ice Road Truckers. When I got a chance to talk to him, I was a bit surprised. I was expecting a gruff weather-worn individual, who at any moment would start yelling at me about how the world works. But what I got was a gruff, weather-worn individual, who was more like an uncle who told me jokes about how the world works.
“I’m a character, I could be in Hollywood,” laughs Debogorski. “I could be one of those guys that would be the lead in a movie and not have to act. I don’t have to be a character because I always am one. Most people try really hard because they want to be different. They get piercings in their nose and tongue, but I let my character shine. I don’t need any tattoos or hair colouring to make me stand out. It’s funny because I was a shy kid, but now I’m pretty gregarious. The show depends on the strength of the characters, and they’ve cast a pretty good collection. We wouldn’t be happy being someone else. We enjoy being ourselves. Others want to be other people whereas we don’t need to be. I’m the funniest guy I know; I even laugh at my own jokes,” says Debogorski.
“When I think about it, I’m not surprised by the success of the show, because I’ve never had time to be surprised; I’m too busy,” Debogorski continues. “I was a wild child from the Peace River country. I haven’t grown up yet. I’m wondering if this is as much as I’ll ever grow up. And that’s the thing; I’m not the same as other people. I don’t want to be 20 again. I figure I would mind being 45 again though. I think about a healthy 70 would be cool, I’d settle for that.”
As much as Ice Road Truckers is about the characters involved and their everyday dangers, the collection of all these characters into one ice globe is what people see. What Debogorski sees, is a way to reach out to them and, in just being who he is, teaching them a bit about his world.
“I tell people that it’s a character driven documentary,” says Debogorski. “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to explain to a lot of people the weather and the countryside and the things I do, but now they can just watch the show and they get it. There is something about it when people see what others actually live trough, and a lot of people watch the show. We have quite a few Canadians, about three million Americans and a lot of English. In all, I think we reach about 30 countries. And that is the thing; I’m representing myself, I’m representing Canada and the North and my family. At the same time, if I’m representing this country, I would like to take it further. I wish I could speak Polish, Russian, French, Spanish … just to be able to reach out to others.”
I wanted to ask him if he ever sleeps but I couldn’t. He was too busy describing all the things he’s working on. I’m pretty sure that he may have to live two lives in order to get it all done.
“I build walking trails, I make top soil, and I have 150 cars in my yard,” Debogorski explains. “A bunch of them are neat old cars. I have 200 years of projects and they just keep coming. I’m working on a book of poetry that Johnny Neel is turning into an album….so many things to do. I also want to invest some time in building a new wheelchair. A high-track wheelchair on rubber tracks like those Bobcat tractors type of tracks.”
With all the things he’s doing and selling and wanting to do, the thing that stood out most about Debogorski was his humanity. He was utterly honest and forthright throughout the entire conversation. You might not agree with him on certain topics, and you might not really gel with his personality, but he has a candour that is utterly appealing. Like an uncle that you were always fond of but don’t see often, Debogorski has a way of talking to you, not at you. He is, ultimately, real.
“Growing up in Peace River, not a lot of us survived,” recalls Debogorski. “We died in car accidents, or pulling coal out of the ground. We died just trying to survive. Life is like that, and growing up you learn a lot of things fast. For example, when I was younger I always thought alcoholics were old people, but not so. Things are pretty tough and people try to deal with them the best way they can; but because of that, not all stories are nice stories. You know, I’m a strong believer in God. I’m not a great example of Christianity, but I’m much better than I was. My life has always been jumping from one frying pan to another frying pan; and I’m sort of surprised, I look around and it’s sort of interesting. I live in extremes. I remember once telling my wife that I only wanted one kid, now I have 11. Things change so much, it makes you stop and think about what could have been. I was going to be a lawyer once, but now I’m a truck driver. You never know though, I may be a lawyer yet.”
Lawyer, trucker, poet or wheelchair builder, Debogorski could conceivably be all of them at the same time. One thing is for certain though; I may have to overturn two of my three irreversible truths. If I’m ever in a military interrogation because of some sort of conflict with an angry mob, I may have to call Alex Debogorski in as legal counsel. That is, if he is not too busy.