When he hits the Big Slab, his heart is sad. The memory of little faces looking up at him begging for one more day at home. With a little luck, clear weather, and good traffic, he will see his family again in a week or so. He points his rig towards Shaky Town and its hammer down.
For the trucker there is no schedule that he can plan his life around to spend more time with his loved ones. He can’t promise them that he will be home for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or even holidays. He is prepared to leave on a Sunday and drive until his trailer is empty, then reload and head back. He is expected to arrive at his destination early, smile at the receiver at the warehouse window who never makes eye contact, and patiently wait to be unloaded or reloaded. He is expected to sit for hours and not complain, even though he knows the sooner he leaves, the more time he gets to spend with his family back home. He is often late to his next destination before he ever hits the highway, yet he pushes himself, drinks energy drinks, and plays music that makes the hair on his neck stand on edge just to stay awake. He drives all night to make up for the extra hours he sat waiting to be loaded. Because for the truck driver there is no greater sin than to miss an appointment.
The trucker spends 80% of his life in his truck. It is his home. Yet it is a home that is subject to being approached, at any hour of the day or night, by random strangers, from shippers, law enforcement, and strangers needing money, food, or companionship. The 3×7 cot he sleeps on is his man-cave and bedroom. It is where he wakes up in a cold sweat, with vivid nightmares of his truck plowing off the edge of a mountain, or crashing into a long line of vehicles stopped at a traffic light, or veering into a ditch and overturning because he grew weary and fell asleep at the wheel. The 2×3 space between his cot and driver’s seat is his kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. The driver’s seat is his living room. It gives him a front row seat with an HD view of the world that many people will never have a chance to experience. It is here that he takes pride in his job. It is here that he honks at the child who pumps his arm with jubilation just to hear the truck’s air horn. It is in this seat, while driving eleven hours a day, that the trucker has time to think about life. It is here that he forgives the shippers and receivers that treated him like a number. It is here that he forgives a thousand little cars that cut in front of him. And it is here that he makes peace with God and Man.
The trucker is aware that the career he chose has the reputation of being among the lowest and dirtiest of career choices. Most of his friends work during waking hours and can’t talk. Relationships he has spent years forming, dry up and wither away, with only a handful of the strongest surviving, and once it becomes apparent that he will spend all his free weekends with his family, at last there remains only his wife and children.
The trucker must inspect his equipment every morning before he starts his day. He must prepare his trip like a lawyer prepares for trial. Often his GPS gives false information, leaving him stranded on some dead-end street or gravel road, with no place to turn around, for an eighteen-wheeler cannot park randomly in the middle of the street so the driver can pull out his atlas.
The trucker is expected to drive in rain, snow, ice, fog, high winds, miles of road construction, traffic jams, large cities and small unfamiliar towns, while never once losing focus of his surroundings. He is driving a forty-ton machine, seventy-two feet long, and cannot afford to take his eyes off the road. He must at all times, regardless of fatigue or boredom, be prepared to come to a complete emergency stop without shifting his load of freight or losing control of his rig. He must be aware of drunk or reckless drivers, school zones, barely visible stop signs, low overpasses, no-truck streets, bridges, or even roads. A split-second decision can be the difference between his own life, or that of someone in his path. And most important of all, a trucker must know when it is unsafe to drive, and against the unwritten trucker code, shut it down.
Through his windshield the trucker sees corners of the world that most people only dream of visiting one day when they are retired. He drives his rig along routes that Mark Twain traveled while he was writing some of his greatest novels, and he sees the mountains and rivers with the same breath-taking view Mark Twain did centuries ago. He drives past Pony Express stations that have sat empty for one hundred and fifty years, past banks that were robbed by Jesse James and Butch Cassidy. He drives across the Great Plains and crosses the mountain passes of Cabbage Patch, Grapevine, Deadman, and Donner Pass in days instead of the weeks and months it took for the early settlers in their stagecoaches and covered wagons. He marvels at the beauty, bright lights, and sheer heights of the skylines of Windy City, The Big D, The Big Apple, Sin City, and Bean-Town.
The whole trip is spent thinking about how soon he can get home to the family who holds down the fort while he is gone. His only desire is to spend as much time as possible with them. It’s Georgia Overdrive all the way home, and home 20 comes into sight at last. One hot shower, his first warm meal and his first solid night of sleep in a week, and he is up and restless. It has hardly been twenty-four hours, but the highway begins to call again. The product must be delivered. The people must eat. It is time for eighteen wheels to whine, engines to roar, windshields to get splattered. And it’s goodbye to little sad faces and it’s hello to the open highway once again.
By Mose J Gingerich