It was a desperate act. I desperately wanted a job or a story to sell.
Basically, I wanted money and something to do. I was still trying to find another career and running out of options.
I was hoping to”think outside the box” in hopes that I could find another career with the abilities some human resource expert always tells me are”transferrable,” but never understands any company that’s hiring someone with more than 20 years’ experience in another industry.
I needed to do something, even though it was wrong. I had always done all of the right things throughout my life, but even a stupid person knows that you can not continue doing the same things over and over and expect different results.
Looking for a job wasn’t getting me a job. There are too many unemployed people with good skills, education, and tons of expertise and, still, too few jobs to spread around. I thought if I could ride in the second seat of a semi-truck, it’d give me an chance to actually learn what the job was about before I spent time and money into getting my Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and looking for a company willing to pay an over 40 year-old girl to drive for them. I’d still need to pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) medical test also. I worried that age may be a barrier too. With so much to be worried about, I had been finding it difficult to prioritize what to worry about most.
So, with this in mind, I went into a local truck stop to interview some of the drivers. I was considering driving a semi-truck as a potential second career because my father was an over-the-road truck driver when I was young.
Once, during summer break from high school, my father let me”ride along” with him when he was driving locally. Then, a few years after, he taught me a few 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 back and watched. I watched as the truck drivers carried their luggage 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 area or to buy a $12-ticket for a private shower.
I watched as the motorists fueled their trucks. I watched them drive through the parking lot and rear their big rig at a slot. A truck driver is judged, not by how fast he can drive on an interstate, but how easily he can back his trailer between two trucks. I saw that 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 from the driver’s seat. I spoke to some of the girls as they headed towards the back door.
The majority of the women I talked with were over-the-road (OTR) drivers that meant they drove long-distances, cross-country and, therefore, were not home often. All of them were single; a lot of them traveled with a dog for companionship. One of the girls 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 favored her animals to humans as companions. She’d been driving for years and would not 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 tractors, inspect their trailers and try to find a parking place for the night, I tried to imagine what it could be like being a professional semi-truck driver. I was hopeful that my limited understanding about the basics of semi-trucks and the trucking business might give me an insight into a new industry where there may 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 go to family or friends.
Road to Employment
I thought I may have found a new road to employment. I was anticipating a new job which would permit me to work independently in the conveniences of a semi-truck using a mix trailer complete with surround-sound stereo, a mobile 24-inch flat-screen satellite tv, a mid-sized refrigerator, a microwave and, obviously, a full-size sleeper. What more could a girl want? There was an onboard International 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 present situation.
It was a job that would let me see the countryside without having to pay for a plane 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 1 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 cash.
I shut my eyes as I tried to picture myself sitting in the driver’s seat, enjoying the scenery, while listening to my favourite music as I traveled the countryside from one state to the other. I had noticed some of the newer versions that one man called a”condo cab.” He said they are called condo cabs since they are large and have nearly as many conveniences as a recreational vehicle. A few of the men explained 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 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 notion of driving a semi-truck with the interior decorated in pink was appealing to me. I was beginning to get caught up in the decorating while trying to think about the actual task 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 notebook 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 should not 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 permit to do so. The notion of transporting about 80,000 pounds of cargo in an aluminum trailer during rain, hail, sleet and snow rarely happened to me. I could drive by day and write through the night. I thought this might be the best solution. I could solve two problems with one job. I could earn a paycheck daily 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. The majority of the tractors could 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 published on the driver’s door. Other drivers paint a favorite expression or scripture which generally complements the custom paint job. All vehicles have to get custom numbers; however, these are provided by DOT. These numbers are always printed in black. I guess that is a something or regulation. But, that’s okay, black goes with everything. Besides, it is going to make the large, black tires more noticeable and provide a more”grounded” appearance 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 within the tractor and trailer and, therefore, reduce wind drag and increase fuel mileage. I think they just did it because it looks cool and provides more head room inside the cab.
More headroom allows the trucker to really stand inside the cab. More headroom also gives a great open feeling to any space; which appealed to me and my awareness of the outdoors. The additional space also allows the trucker to easily open and close the fridge door while he watches satellite television on his brand new, 24-inch flat screen tv, with an integrated DVD player.
Many truckers reported that they especially like the remote control that allows them to change television channels while sitting on the sleeper. This enables them to stay seated and, therefore, not need to stand or move to change the channel or insert a new disk.
The refrigerator is typically located next to the sleeper, which is also convenient. This allows the driver to open the fridge to grab a drink or a snack 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 in the home; food in one hand and the television remote in the other.
The Automated Power Unit (APU) was also considered by the majority of truck drivers to be a popular feature. It’s responsible for making all of these appliances and conveniences works so readily in a semi-truck. The APU provides power to the fridge, microwave, lights and other electric type things that make living in a truck more pleasing. All the truckers wanted an APU. The APU makes luxury occur.
The dashboard inside a semi-truck is cool also. It’s a gauge for everything. The inside of those trucks look like the inside of an airplane. They have enough gauges to track almost everything on the truck or trailer. They’ve gauges to monitor fuel levels, oil levels, manifold pressure as well as the gross weight of the cargo in the trailer.
State patrol inspectors are also fond of their weight gauges also. They especially enjoy the burden gauges that they can track while sitting within the”shack” in the port of entry. The state patrol can now monitor a semi-truck’s front and rear axle weight”in-motion” since it passes the port-of-entry. The port-of-entry is automated nowadays. The highway department put scales underneath sections of the interstate which permits 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 each port-of-entry when entering a new state; rather, they can just drive-by while the state patrol monitors the weight on a monitor screen. If the cargo weight is too heavy, according to Federal regulations, the state patrol still has to get in their cars, turn on a siren and chase the truck driver to give him a ticket. Some things have not changed.
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, also, could haul cargo throughout the country. It’s a difficult job, but does have the primary advantage of not having a boss inside the cab. Having a boss within the cab is comparable to getting a back-seat driver who would like to tell you how you can drive. This is the advantage 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 station they prefer to listen to while they travel the countryside. It is important when selecting a trucker to ride , that you choose someone with similar taste in music. This is quite important.
Logged 10K Miles
I rode with a single trucker for more than two weeks and, according to his log, we logged over 10,000 miles in his semi-truck. I think that I criss-crossed the United States five times during these two months.
I liked it so much that I decided to apply for a job as a truck driver. However, after talking to many 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’s known to employ 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 wasn’t exactly 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 chose to do what I planned all along – to compose a short-story about my experience traveling cross-country in a semi-truck for two.