Desperate times require desperate actions. I desperately needed a job or a story to sell.
Basically, I needed money and something to do. I was still trying to find another career and running out of options.
It was a Sunday morning and I had a bus pass, but nowhere to go. I was hoping to”think outside the box” in hopes that I could find another career with the skills some human resource specialist always tells me are”transferrable,” but never knows any company that is hiring someone with more than 20 years’ experience in another industry.
I needed to do something, even though it was incorrect. I’d always done all of the right things during my life, but even a stupid person knows that you can’t keep doing the same things over and over and expect different results.
On the lookout for a job was not getting me a job. The odds were against me. There are too many unemployed people with great skills, education, and plenty of expertise and, still, too few jobs to spread around. I believed if I could ride in the second seat of a semi-truck, it’d give me an opportunity to actually 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 cover an over 40 year-old girl to push for them. I’d still need to pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) medical evaluation too. I worried that age might be a barrier too. With so much to worry about, I had been finding it hard to prioritize what to worry about most.
So, with this in mind, I went to a local truck stop to interview a few of the drivers. I was contemplating driving a semi-truck as a possible second career because my father 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 couple years later, he taught me some basic 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 back and watched. I watched as the truck drivers carried their bag and shower kit out of their semi-truck through the rear 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 personal shower.
I watched as the drivers fueled their trucks. I watched them drive through the parking lot and rear 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 observe the other drivers.
Mostly, I was surprised by how many female drivers I saw climb out of the truck. I was invited to see them climb from the driver’s seat. I spoke to a few of the women as they headed towards the back door.
Most of the women I talked 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; a lot of them traveled with a dog for companionship. Among the women traveled with a dog and two cats in her truck. She had been 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 many years and wouldn’t return to office work for love of money. That is pretty much what they all said.
As I stood and watched the truckers fuel their possessions, inspect their trailers and try to find a parking place 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 business where there might be a job available for an over 40 year-old, white lady, with no children and no need to return to a home base to go to family or friends.
Road to Employment
I thought I might have discovered a new road to employment. I was anticipating a new job which would allow me to work independently in the comforts of a semi-truck with a combination trailer complete with surround-sound stereo, a mobile 24-inch flat-screen satellite tv, a midsize fridge, a microwave and, of course, a full-size sleeper. What more could a woman want? There was even an onboard International Positioning System (GPS) to help me map my way across america. With a single 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 – particularly considering my current situation.
It was a job which would allow me to see the countryside without needing to pay for an airplane ticket or a Greyhound bus ticket. It was a job where I could eat, work and sleep in 1 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 family and friends because after being unemployed for so long – I did not have anything better to do. I could work day and night and package my savings account with money.
I shut my eyes as I tried to envision myself sitting in the driver’s seat, enjoying the scene, while listening to my favorite music as I traveled the countryside from one state to another. I had noticed some of the newer versions that one man called a”condo taxi.” He said they are called condo cabs because they’re large and have nearly as many amenities as a recreational vehicle. A few of the men told me that some of these interiors are custom designed and, of course, are really nice. I didn’t get to see the interior of one though. I did speak with one female motorist, however, who called her standard-size sleeper a”bedroom suite” because she enjoyed it so much. She admitted to having it”out-fitted” in pink with goose-down cushions, a goose-down comforter, floor rugs and curtains to match.
The thought of driving a semi-truck with the interior decorated in pink was attractive to me. I was beginning to get caught up in the decorating while trying to consider the actual job of driving. It was beginning to work for me. I could combine my desire for the comforts of home with the necessity to earn a paycheck and that I would not even have to give up my notebook computer.
The on-board email system shouldn’t pose any major problems either. Half of my problems were resolved. The notion 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 through the night. I thought this may be the best solution. I could solve two problems with one job. I could make a paycheck by day and use my computer at night to freelance my writing career. The secret is in the decorating.
Besides decorating my tractor-trailer mix vehicle in calm, soothing colors, I could have my name painted on the side and look very cool. Most of the tractors could be recognized by the writing on the driver’s door which identifies the owner or operator of every vehicle. Many drivers will have their name printed on the driver’s door. Other drivers paint a favourite expression or scripture which generally matches the custom paint job. All vehicles have to have custom numbers; nonetheless, these are supplied by DOT. These numbers are always printed in black. I guess this is a regulation or something. But, that’s okay, black goes with everything. Besides, it is going to make the large, black tires more noticeable and supply a more”grounded” look to the automobile.
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, thus, reduce wind drag and increase fuel mileage. I think they just did it because it looks cool and provides more head room in the cab.
More headroom allows the trucker to actually stand inside the cab. More headroom also provides a great open feeling to any space; that appealed to me and my awareness of the outdoors. The extra space also allows the trucker to more easily open and close the fridge door while he sees satellite television on his brand new, 24-inch flat screen tv, with a built-in DVD player.
Most truckers reported that they particularly like the remote control that enables them to change television channels while sitting on the sleeper. This enables them to stay seated and, thus, not need to stand or move to change the channel or insert a new disc.
The fridge is typically located next to the sleeper, which can be convenient. This permits the driver to open the refrigerator to grab a drink or a bite without getting up. Only a guy 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 tv 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’s responsible for making all of these appliances and comforts works so easily in a semi-truck. The APU provides power to the fridge, microwave, lights and other electrical type things that make living in a truck more pleasing. All of the truckers wanted an APU. The APU makes luxury occur.
The dashboard inside a semi-truck is cool too. It’s a gauge for everything. The interior of those 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 their weight gauges also. They especially like the weight gauges that they can monitor while sitting within the”shack” in the port of entry. The state patrol is now able to track a semi-truck’s front and rear axle weight”in-motion” since it moves the port-of-entry. The port-of-entry is automated these days. The highway department put scales under sections of the interstate that permits the state patrol to check the weight of the cargo as the semi-truck travels beyond the weight station. The truck drivers no longer have to stop at every port-of-entry when entering a new state; rather, they can just drive-by while the state patrol monitors the burden on a monitor screen. If the cargo weight is too thick, based on 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.
While riding in a semi-truck, I heard a lot about the trucking business. I learned so much that I decided to get my CDL license so that I, also, could haul cargo throughout the country. It’s a difficult task, but does have the main advantage of not having a boss inside the cab. Having a boss within the cab is comparable to getting a back-seat driver who wants to tell you how to drive. This is the benefit that encourages many truck drivers into getting truck drivers. They get to control the truck, their routes and, if they provide on-time, they get paid to drive. They also get to select which radio channel they prefer to listen to while they travel the countryside. It’s important when selecting a trucker to ride , 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 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 girls; but they were ready to give me a chance. I applied to work for a motor carrier that’s known to hire inexperienced drivers. I borrowed money from a friend, took a Greyhound bus to another state and, after one failed attempt, I received my permit to drive a semi-truck. Sadly, the school wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. After two weeks, I dropped-out, took a bus back home and began looking for jobs in my career field. I also went back to writing and decided to do what I intended all along – to write a short-story about my experience traveling cross-country in a semi-truck for 2.