It’s 2:00 AM and the sky is clear, the moon is full, and a few lonely stars are piercing through. My wheels roll onward through the night. The sound of my engine is comforting, and the ribbon of blacktop stretches out as far as the eyes can see. Tonight, I don’t need my headlights to see. The desert is bathed in moonlight and the sands sparkle like diamonds clustered in a broach of solid granite. The wind blows gently across the road shifting sand like new-fallen snow. I’m riding with the windows down and the smell of sage in the air. That’s a cleansing scent, and it makes me wonder how many people before me have traveled this road, and if they truly appreciated its beauty?
This is February – the month of love – or at least that’s what the Hallmark cards have been telling us. Since all of us want to be special to someone, why not start with ourselves? When most people think of love they probably don’t immediately think of their job. Truckers, on the other hand, aren’t like most folks, right? Case in point: check your phone, and I bet there are more pictures of cool trucks on it than your family, right? Bet you even bought your ride a Christmas present. I know I did, and it looks sexy wearing that new chrome bumper.
Since I spend more time in my truck than anywhere else, I treat it as if it were a person. I, like most of you, talk to my ride every day. I beg it not to breakdown or give up before we get the job done, and then heap praise on it when that load is delivered. Call me crazy, but I have never considered my line of employment as work. I really do love what I do. I worked other jobs earlier in my career, but every time I would go back to trucking. What is it that keeps drawing me and others like me to it? The answer is not as obvious or easy to explain as one might expect. Or is it?
Trucking involves long hours and the other requirements that, well, let’s just say, not everyone can do. But, what’s not to love about driving those large, loud and extremely powerful (not to mention brightly colored) machines? Many of us spend days and even weeks away from our homes and loved ones to deliver the goods and services garnered to our trust. And drivers that do local deliveries or day work, well, they may actually spend more time working than their long-haul counterparts do driving, once you add up all the hours spent going to and from the yards where they work. When I talk to dock workers and office personnel, they always quip about how they couldn’t stay awake to drive the long hours or remain awake through the night, not to mention dealing with the effects of weather or traffic.
Often, the most common remark I hear is, “My partner would throw me out if I was gone that long.” Many people are surprised to find out I’m still married. As a matter of fact, so am I, since I live a crazy mixed-up life of hauling produce and other seasonal food products! This year marks our 41st wedding anniversary. Aunt Barb and I have been in this deal a long time. The State Farm ad on TV says it best: “We know a thing or two (about trucking) because we have seen a thing or two!” But my wife is still my most important customer – without her help and understanding, I couldn’t continue to do my job in a timely manner.
Time is a relative thing – if you have no place to go, then there is not a sense of urgency to get there. Drivers, on the other hand, have plenty of places to go, and most of the time not enough time to get there. How much do we “see” while driving but still not see? What rolls past our windows without a spark of recognition? Do we miss the simplest wonders in our daily travels or, by chance, does fate sometimes intervene and shake us to our senses?
I enjoy watching and reading the 10-4 Magazine Facebook page and group. It’s not hard to see what some of you love about trucking. There are now drivers all around the world who are introducing us to their slice of heaven. I am encouraged by the new members from Europe and Australia who post pics of their style of equipment and how their lives revolve around trucks. I don’t care if you run a large car across Texas, are a lorry driver in Denmark, or if you run a road train in the land down under, the freedom of the open road calls all of us, just maybe not for the same reasons.
Myself, I love the fellowship with other free spirits, and often that happens over a heaping plate of barbecue. Did I really write that? Well, it’s true, and don’t forget the ice cream afterwards! I think it was International Harvester that once advertised their trucks as offering an office with a view – that undoubtedly is the greatest love for me of my job. Some days I stroll through the Great Smokey Mountains, other days it’s the majestic Rocky Mountains, or maybe a ride along the ocean’s edge. In truth, I’m a professional traveler. I just haul freight to support my diesel habits. Every day my experiences are different, and I’m good with that. Going places an seeing faces is what I do.
As I write this article, I am sitting in a receivers’ parking lot. There are trucks on both sides of me with their drivers inside waiting, just as I am. How each of us manage our daily schedules is our own business. As drivers, we still have to get the job done – and not lose our cool doing it. I set out each day to find goodness in whatever I do. That means not wasting any part of my time. I can hear some of you screaming at me, “Get a life!” Well, I have one, and it is filled with diesel fuel, time schedules, loading and unloading appointments, traffic jams and people with bad attitudes.
If I concentrate on all the things that can go wrong in my day, it won’t take long before I too become just another pain in someone’s… side. Golly gee, I’m proud of myself (see how I cleaned that up and made it family-friendly). Here is another example of finding the good in something. It’s Saturday night and I’m in one of Walmart’s distribution centers. I have been here for a couple hours and it might be a couple more till I’m done. I could keep running inside and making a fuss, or I could decide to do something constructive. Sure, I have done a bunch of little things like clean out my cab and polish the fuel tanks (showing my truck a little love), but now I’m just setting here in my red lawn chair and listening to the night sounds.
While much of America is dealing with winter, I’m sitting in the middle of the swamp in south Florida. On this warm and sultry evening, its more than most folks could bear, but I make it look easy! I sometimes forget it’s my job and I even get paid to do it. Sure, I could climb up in the seat and turn on the air conditioning, roll up the windows and read useless information on Facebook. That might pass some time, but I’m not that kind of driver. I still love to walk in the rain, stand against the wind and feel the sting of cold snow on my face. Call me simple if you want, but life is meant to be lived in real time, not through pictures or news clips on television. I hold on to my sanity by experiencing life, reaching out and embracing it.
I keep my lawn chair in the side box, and it is at the ready anytime I’m stopped. Right now, I can hear birds chattering in the trees just across the fence and, somewhere, I hear frogs or maybe a gator croaking in the reeds. The answer is no – I’m not going to wander out in the water to find out which one it is. I don’t need that much excitement tonight. It’s early in the season down here, and the trees are flowering. Not only are the buds colorful, but their fragrance is intoxicating. Those drivers sitting in their cabs will never know because their air conditioner will filter out the smell, and the soft breeze that blows off the gulf, as well!
Each and every month I try to write something that will be helpful to other drivers – and not just the new ones, because the old crusty ones sometimes need to be reminded of why they chose this career, too. I had logged a lot of miles before I got my hands on a truck with creature comforts. These newer machines aren’t really trucks – they are more like movie theaters with motors. Something as simple as air conditioning, back in the day, meant running with both windows down and the auxiliary fans blowing full tilt. When you stopped driving, that system didn’t work so well, so we had to come up with other ways to sleep comfortably and rest without drowning ourselves in sweat.
Out of necessity (and a little Yankee ingenuity), hammocks and folding chairs were born. Yes, I have spent a few nights under a reefer trailer stretched out quite comfortably. Just for the record, heat rises and cold air falls, so if you set under a reefer trailer that has a frozen load on it, you will be considerably cooler than the ambient air temp. However, I highly recommend you advise the driver to make sure he knows you are under there, so you don’t wake up in the hammer lane running wide open headed for Boston! I think I may have even partied a time or two in the comforts of an empty trailer with the unit running.
I seem to have jumped the rails once again. This started out to be about loving your job and taking notice of your surroundings, which is the real reason why I love trucking. I’m reminded because a flock of large birds just flew overhead (something must have spooked them). Here in the Everglades, you are either the hunter or the hunted, and I’m not sure where any of us fall in the food chain when the sun goes down. If you’re curious what I’m doing tonight, I’m staying right here on the pavement, in the light, and I don’t plan on falling asleep anytime soon. I might like a pair of alligator boots, but not if they still have teeth in them.
I would encourage all drivers to climb down out of the cab, sit outside, and take in some of nature’s bounty. There’s far more to your life than just cruising down life’s highway trapped between the windows. Look around and take it all in. Watch the storm clouds roll overhead, feel the wind pick up, taste the bite of snow in the air. There’s still time to drink in all that’s natural. I’m still setting in my chair watching drivers roll past. Hopefully, they will take a little “me time” and notice what is happening around them, too. Then, be thankful for all of it. Man, I LOVE THIS JOB!
Soon I will be out of here and back on the concrete corridor, better known as Alligator Alley, strolling across one of America’s treasures. But for now, my last thought tonight is what a wonderful day it has been. Tomorrow will get here in its own time and there is nothing I can do to alter that. When it does come, I will be ready and waiting for its first shreds of color as it breaks the horizon. I will be awake during the pre-dawn hours and anticipate the early calls of nature. Who wouldn’t love this job? Well, I hope you do. If you see me seeing you, wave and I’ll wave a big hand back to ya. Until next time, speed safely!