Let me start off by saying that I love my job. The life that I lead is meant for me. I do what I do for many reasons, but the most important one is that I love what I do! So if this sounds like I am complaining, I am not, this is just the way it is.
To me there is nothing better than a full moon night, with some heat lightning off in the distance on a road that is all to myself. On a night like this I will sit back and listen to the rhythm of the tires on the road, solve a few problems in my mind, write a song, and really just enjoy what I do. To me this is why I drive a truck, and nothing more! Sound romantic? I guess it does, but there is a lot more to it than this. .
My average time out on the road is six weeks. When I do come home, I will take a week off and then go back out again. Now not all drivers drive this way, some are home once a week. The common practice is to be out about three weeks and then come home for a couple of days. The industry standard is that you get one day off for each week out on the road. A workweek consists of seventy hours. There is no overtime, and once you figure in all the hours that you don’t get paid for, or manage to hide, your average workweek is more like ninety to one hundred hours a week! This is just working time, but remember you don’t get to go home every night, you get to eat, sleep, and be trucking! The hours are long and very irregular. One day you will be trucking through the day, the next the night. You may deliver at 3:00AM or 10:00 PM. There is no such thing as a set schedule when you are a cross-country truck driver.
A lot of people think that we put freight in the trailer and go, we have a nice trip across country and deliver our goods. Well, the reality is that all pickups and deliveries are by appointments that we as drivers don’t set. There have been times where I have gone from LA to North Carolina in 42 hours. That leaves no time for sleep, and before you ask — NO I do not take drugs to stay awake!!! I drink a lot of coffee, smoke too much and take 15-minute power naps to keep going! Not all trips are like that, but if you are not getting as many miles in as you can, and you are not keeping your dispatcher happy, you are not going to make a living. If you sit down and figure out what you make with the hours involved, you make less then minimum wage! That is not to say that I don’t make good money, I do. But time worked that is not paid, plus the time spent away from home brings your average way down.
This is not a vacation; I have seen all 48 states of the continental USA, every province of Canada, The Northern Territories, Alaska, and the Border of Mexico, all through the windshield of a truck. I have seen a lot. However, I very rarely get to go sightseeing. Try pulling an 18 wheeler into a national park, and see what you are told, or try taking a truck into downtown and find a show to park at, in most cases it ain’t going to happen. Unless you have friends that are willing to come pick you up, most of your time off is spent in your truck at a truck stop, or terminal. Even personal time out on the road is limited. You would think that we could drop our trailer and take the truck only to get around. Well, in today’s trucking you are now tracked by satellite, every move you make is recorded, and your dispatcher can tell where you are at right down to the block number. This is not as much of a problem if you own your own truck, however as an owner-operator you have to report every mile the truck runs to the government for road tax reasons, so you really don’t want to go running around to much!
Most of America thinks that their products come from the storeroom in the back of the store; they don’t think any farther then that. If you can think of one thing that is not delivered by a truck driver please let me know, but I doubt that you can. At some point a piece of everything ends up on a truck, and people like me are there to get it where it needs to go. Birthdays and holidays are nothing when you drive a truck. In 1997 I spent Christmas day driving through Utah and Colorado, and Christmas dinner was at a truck stop. The morning after Christmas I delivered my load, the receiver asked where I lived; I told him, he said “Gee, too bad you were not home for Christmas, but we really needed this product for an after Christmas sale.” So there you go, they need it, your life is put on hold. I did get home on New Years, and that was when I got to celebrate my Christmas. This is not something that is uncommon, its more common then anything.
Being out on the highway is normally the best part about this job. Once the freight is on the trailer, and you have made your way out of the city into open country, you can relax and enjoy what you do. Then there are times when you have to fight just to keep rolling. Last November I got caught up in a Midwest winter storm. I only had 10,000 lbs. in the trailer (I can haul 47,000 lbs.) After spending a good part of the night fighting snow and ice, trying my best to keep the trailer behind me, I decided to call it a night. After about 4 hours of sleep I got back up and pointed west. The winds had picked up. Blowing out of the north at about 70mph. I played Hell trying to keep the truck on the road. About 40 miles from Cedar Rapids, Iowa the wind gusts where close to 100mph, with a 70mph steady. There where 4 of us running together for some moral support if nothing else. As we all came around a sweeping corner to the right, a gust hit us all hard. The truck in front of me was blown over, the two trucks behind me where blown over, I went up on 9 wheels and came back down on all 18 just in time to swerve and miss the truck that was in front of me. I pulled over and made sure everybody was OK, and called the cops, then made my way to the next truck stop. I called my dispatcher and told him what had happened and that I was shutting down. I sat for 13 hours until the wind died enough to go again. The customer had begged me to try and make it on time, or their assembly line would come to a stop. It is hard to make up 13 hours of driving time, and all I will admit to is that I made my appointment time with 5 minutes to spare! This is one of many stories that can be told about fighting and beating the elements. The other trucks that I was running with were not so lucky! There have also been times when I wasn’t so lucky myself, one night a drunk driver caused me to roll my truck. I was lucky in the sense that I am here to tell you about it, and I should not have been!
You would think that shippers and receivers would be glad to see you. Not true! In most cases you are treated like shit! If you happen to be at a grocery warehouse you will end up unloading your own load, taking it off of the pallets that it was shipped on, and putting it on theirs according to the way they want it stacked. Then you will pallet jack it down an aisle where they will count and put it away. Ask for a bathroom, you are not allowed to use it, ask for a phone, again you are not allowed to use it. The only thing you are allowed to do there is work for them. If you are 5 minutes late for an appointment, you are told to come back the next day. If you are on time, you will end up waiting for a couple of hours just to get a door to back into. If you are more than 30 minutes early, you are not allowed on the property. You are nothing more than cheap labor! Again this is more common than not, and the whole time you are there you have to keep a smile on your face and put up with it.
You are also a target for a lot of states. You are a great revenue source. If you get a ticket you are not likely to come back and fight it, so you are most likely to get a bogus ticket. Tickets for truck drivers are 3 times as much as for other drivers. The average speeding ticket starts around $200.00 and they go up from there. If you happen to be in California, they start at around $1500.00. Truck scales in some states can be the same way. That is not to say that there are not nice cops out there. I have gotten out of more tickets then I would care to admit.
Should you still decide that you want to drive a truck, truck-driving schools are about the only way to learn. There was a time when the only way you could learn was from another driver, and to be honest with you, I wish it where still that way. However, trucking companies will not hire inexperienced drivers unless they have some kind of school behind them. I don’t recommend schools, I have never had to deal with them, only their product, and in most cases I do not get close enough to find out where they went to school. So let me instead give you some suggestions. You can not learn what you need to know in a week, two weeks, or even three weeks. The longer you are in school, the better. Look for a school that gives you as much driving time as they do book time. The book knowledge is great to know, but a book does not drive a truck, and in most cases the writer of the book never has either. Once you have completed school, and get hired on with a company you will end up with a trainer for a month or so. After that you are on your own. At that point I recommend that you open up your eyes and shut your mouth. When you don’t know something, admit it; then ask. If you think it is a stupid question, ask anyhow. If the driver you asked thinks it a stupid question, ask another driver. If you cant back up a trailer very good, have somebody spot you. I was watching a driver who was new try to back into a very tight dock at a Safeway Warehouse in Portland. After almost an hour at it, he still was not backed into the dock. I asked him if he would like me to put it in there for him. His Answer “I have to learn sometime, might as well be now.” Great Answer; I spotted him to make sure he wouldn’t hit anything, and he eventually got it in the dock. In the winter never drive above your comfort zone. If other drivers are passing you, let them pass. They either know what they are doing, or will end up in a ditch. If the drivers on the CB are telling you to go faster, and the only reason they give you is that they need to go, shut off the CB. When you are in a truck stop, there is always some story being told. As I said, shut up and listen. Don’t tell your own, you will look like a fool. I have been at this game for 22 years. The stories stay the same, only the people telling them change. There are some good lessons in those stories, but there is a lot of crap as well. You need a good ear to sort it out. I can’t know it all. I learn something new all the time; I’m just not as stupid as I once was.
You can play the part of a truck driver really easy — get a chain drive wallet, some cowboy boots, western shirts, and a big buckle that says Peterbilt or something like that, and a cowboy hat or ball cap. But to be a truck driver is a lot different then what you see in the movies. It is hard work that takes a lot of commitment, with very little respect.
Why do I drive a truck? It was a dream. Why do I stay with it? I love what I do! Do I recommend it? Hmmm, I would have to talk to you to find out what makes you tick. It takes a special breed of person to be out here. Part Nomad, part Gypsy, and mostly Loner. You have way too much time to think, so you need to be comfortable with your thoughts. You have very little time to do, so again you need to be comfortable with your thoughts. What I do out on the road is not a game, nor is it a big adventure. What I do is my life, my highway, and most of all, my Dream! I drive for no other reason then that!