Desperate times require desperate actions. It was a desperate act. I desperately needed a job or a story to sell.
Basically, I needed money and something to do. I was still searching for a second career and running out of options.
It was a Sunday morning and I had a bus pass, but nowhere to go. I was trying to “think outside the box” in hopes that I could find a second career with the skills some human resource specialist always tells me are “transferrable,” but never knows any company that is hiring someone with over 20 years’ experience in a different industry. I was frustrated, tired, irritated and just plain bored.
I had to do something, even if it was wrong. I had always done all the right things throughout my life, but even a stupid person knows that you can’t keep doing the same things over and over and expect different results.
Looking for a job was not getting me a job. The odds were against me. There are too many unemployed people with good skills, education, and plenty of experience and, still, too few jobs to spread around. I thought if I could ride along in the second seat of a semi-truck, it would give me an opportunity to really learn what the job was about before I invested time and money into getting my Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and searching for a company willing to pay an over 40 year-old woman to drive for them. I would still have to pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) medical test also. I worried that age might be a barrier too. With so much to worry about, I was finding it difficult to prioritize what to worry about most.
So, with this in mind, I went to a local truck stop to interview some of the drivers. I was considering driving a semi-truck as a potential second career because my dad had been an over-the-road truck driver when I was young.
Once, during summer break from high school, my dad let me “ride along” with him when he was driving locally. Then, a few years later, he taught me some simple maneuvers like how to drive the tractor around a warehouse parking lot and dock the trailer so the warehouse men could unload it. That was how I had spent one Saturday afternoon.
So, on this particular Sunday afternoon, I rode the bus to the nearest truck stop in Denver. I stood out back and watched. I watched as the truck drivers carried their luggage and shower kit from their semi-truck through the back door reserved for “professional drivers” on their way to the 24-hour restaurant, the coin-operated laundry room or to purchase a $12-ticket for a private shower.
I watched as the drivers fueled their trucks. I watched them drive through the parking lot and back their big rig in a slot. A truck driver is judged, not by how fast he can drive on an interstate, but how smoothly he can back his trailer between two trucks. I watched the other drivers watch the other drivers.
Mostly, I was surprised by how many female drivers I saw climb out of the truck. I was encouraged to see them climb out of the driver’s seat. I spoke to a few of the women as they headed towards the back door. I asked them questions about their jobs and the lifestyle that came with it.
Most of the women I spoke with were over-the-road (OTR) drivers which meant they drove long-distances, cross-country and, therefore, weren’t home often. All of them were single; many of them traveled with a dog for companionship. One of the women traveled with a dog and two cats in her truck. She was an independent driver with her own truck. She drove “solo,” she said, and preferred her animals to humans as companions. She had been driving for years and wouldn’t go back to office work for love of money. That’s pretty much what they all said.
As I stood and watched the truckers fuel their tractors, inspect their trailers and look for a parking spot for the night, I tried to imagine what it might be like being a professional semi-truck driver. I was hopeful that my limited understanding about the basics of semi-trucks and the trucking industry might give me an insight into a new industry where there might be a job available for an over 40 year-old, white female, with no children and no need to return to a home base to visit family or friends. This was my hope anyway.
Road to Employment
I thought I might have discovered a new road to employment. I was expecting a new job which would allow me to work independently from the comforts of a semi-truck with a combination trailer complete with surround-sound stereo, a portable 24-inch flat-screen satellite television, a mid-sized refrigerator, a microwave and, of course, a full-size sleeper. What more could a girl want? There was even an on-board Global Positioning System (GPS) to help me map my way across the United States. With one touch, on the 7-inch touch-screen, I could locate the nearest rest stop, truck stop or my final destination.
The job was starting to sound ideal – especially considering my current situation.
It was a job that would allow me to see the countryside without having to pay for an airplane ticket or a Greyhound bus ticket. It was a job where I could eat, sleep and work in one vehicle. I could travel the country, with a paycheck in one hand and a steering wheel in the other. I wouldn’t even have to go home to visit friends and family because after being unemployed for so long – I didn’t have anything better to do. I could work day and night and pack my savings account with cash.
I closed my eyes as I tried to envision myself sitting in the driver’s seat, enjoying the scenery, while listening to my favorite music as I traveled the countryside from one state to the other. I had noticed some of the newer models that one man called a “condo cab.” He said they are called condo cabs because they are large and have almost as many amenities as a recreational vehicle. Some of the men told me that some of these interiors are custom designed and, of course, are really fine. I didn’t get to see the inside of one though. I did speak with one female driver, however, who called her standard-size sleeper a “bedroom suite” because she liked it so much. She admitted to having it “out-fitted” in pink with goose-down pillows, a goose-down comforter, floor rugs and curtains to match.
The thought of driving a semi-truck with the interior decorated in pink was appealing to me. I was starting to get caught up in the decorating while trying to think about the actual job of driving. It was starting to work for me. I could combine my desire for the comforts of home with the need to earn a paycheck and I wouldn’t even have to give up my laptop computer.
Global Positioning System
I also didn’t anticipate any problems learning how to use the on-board, Global Positioning System (GPS). The on-board email system shouldn’t present any major problems either. Half of my problems were solved. I just had to learn how to drive a semi-truck and, of course, get a license to do so. The thought of transporting about 80,000 pounds of cargo in an aluminum trailer during rain, hail, sleet and snow rarely occurred to me. I could drive by day and write by night. I thought this might be the perfect solution. I could solve two problems with one job. I could earn a paycheck by day and use my computer at night to freelance my writing career. The secret is in the decorating.
In addition to decorating my tractor-trailer combination vehicle in calm, soothing colors, I could have my name painted on the side and look really cool. Most of the tractors can be identified by the writing on the driver’s door which identifies the owner or operator of each vehicle. Many drivers will have their name printed on the driver’s door. Other drivers paint a favorite expression or scripture which usually complements the custom paint job. All vehicles are required to have custom numbers; however, these are supplied by DOT. It seems the Department of Transportation (DOT) insists on it. These numbers are always printed in black. I guess this is a regulation or something. But, that’s okay, black goes with everything. It never clashes. Besides, it will make the big, black tires more noticeable and provide a more “grounded” look to the vehicle.
The newly designed, aerodynamic “scoop hood” and “scoop roof” are really cool too. Salesmen will tell you that they help the air flow over the tractor and trailer and, therefore, reduce wind drag and improve fuel mileage. I think they just did it because it looks cool and gives more head room inside the cab.
More headroom allows the trucker to actually stand inside the cab. More headroom also provides a nice open feeling to any space; which appealed to me and my sense of the outdoors. The additional space also allows the trucker to more easily open and close the refrigerator door while he watches satellite television on his new, 24-inch flat screen television, with a built-in DVD player.
Most truckers reported that they especially like the remote control which allows them to change television stations while sitting on the sleeper. This allows them to remain seated and, therefore, not have to stand or move to change the channel or insert a new disc.
The refrigerator is typically located next to the sleeper, which is also convenient. This allows the driver to open the refrigerator to grab a drink or a snack without getting up. Only a man would think to engineer the cab of a truck this way. Men live in their trucks the same way they live at home; food in one hand and the television remote in the other.
Automated Power Unit (APU)
The Automated Power Unit (APU) was also considered by most truck drivers to be a popular feature. It is responsible for making all of these appliances and comforts works so easily in a semi-truck. The APU provides power to the refrigerator, microwave, lights and other electrical type things that make living in a truck more pleasurable. All of the truckers wanted an APU. The APU makes luxury happen.
The dashboard inside a semi-truck is cool too. It has a gauge for everything. The inside of these trucks look like the inside of an airplane. They have enough gauges to monitor almost everything on the truck or trailer. They have gauges to monitor fuel levels, oil levels, manifold pressure and even the gross weight of the cargo in the trailer.
State patrol inspectors are also fond of the weight gauges also. They especially like the weight gauges that they can monitor while sitting inside the “shack” at the port of entry. The state patrol can now monitor a semi-truck’s front and rear axle weight “in-motion” as it passes the port-of-entry. Even the port-of-entry is automated these days. The highway department put scales underneath sections of the interstate which allows the state patrol to check the weight of the cargo as the semi-truck travels past the weight station. The truck drivers no longer have to stop at every port-of-entry when entering a new state; instead, they can just drive-by while the state patrol monitors the weight on a computer screen. If the cargo weight is too heavy, according to Federal regulations, the state patrol still gets to get in their cars, turn on a siren and chase the truck driver to give him a ticket. Some things haven’t changed. The truckers watch the state patrol and the state patrol watches the truckers.
Commercial Driver License (CDL)
While riding in a semi-truck, I learned a lot about the trucking industry. I learned so much that I decided to get my CDL license so that I, too, could haul cargo across the country. It is a difficult job, but does have the primary benefit of not having a boss inside the cab. Having a boss inside the cab is similar to having a back-seat driver who wants to tell you how to drive. This is the benefit that promotes many truck drivers into becoming truck drivers. They get to control the truck, their routes and, if they deliver on-time, they get paid to drive. They also get to choose which radio station they prefer to listen to while they travel the countryside. It is important when choosing a trucker to ride with, that you choose someone with similar taste in music. This is very important.
Logged 10K Miles
I rode with one trucker for over two months and, according to his log, we logged over 10,000 miles in his semi-truck. I think I criss-crossed the United States five times during these two months. I enjoyed it.
I enjoyed it so much that I decided to apply for a job as a truck driver. However, after talking to several recruiters and truck-driving schools, I learned that there isn’t a high-demand for women; but they were willing to give me a chance. I applied to work for a motor carrier that is known to hire inexperienced drivers. I borrowed money from a friend, took a Greyhound bus to another state and, after one failed attempt, I got my permit to drive a semi-truck. Sadly, the school was not what I was expecting. After two days, I dropped-out, took a bus back home and started looking for jobs in my career field. I also went back to writing and decided to do what I planned all along – to write a short-story about my experience traveling cross-country in a semi-truck for two.