A Trucker’s Life

What do you want to be when you grow up?  A question often asked of me throughout my life.  A trucker was never the answer.  Careers often revered of course being the ongoing answer.  In particular, a biologist or scientist being my answer most of the time. What happens in that disconnect between childhood aspirations and real world expectations?  Life. Stories are told of many successful individuals that detail the set-backs and adversity faced in one’s life.  The strength to plow through the difficulty that ensues. The relevancy doesn’t seem to be of note when speaking of a truckers life, because, after all, there’s no entrenched course of study to become qualified to be a “Professional” in the trucking industry.  A few weeks of class and an ability to gauge depth perception (even if only limited) are deemed the only qualifiers.  Essentially, trucking could be deems the “lazy man’s profession.” Without the necessity of hours upon hours of class time, or semesters of instruction, anybody can become truck driver.  Well, that seems to be the notion in most people’s minds.  But break it down, and the four hundred pound fella you look up at as you’re passing has put in more dedication than the Doctorate student.  More than the researcher at the most prestigious lab.  More than the lawyer that panders to system that is almost impossible to navigate without his direction.

Four weeks, that’s the extent of the immediate education.  Maneuvering, logging, and navigating is the magnitude of what these classes cover.  The only necessity to pass such a rigorous course is the basic ability to operate the “over-sized” vehicle without running shit over.  The uneducated man’s dream of making more that minimum wage is finally obtainable.  Seems simple, right? Hell, most of the companies will even pay for the price of education with a simple signing of obligation for a determined time.  Where else can you go and make forty thousand dollars a year starting out with minimal education?  No where.  The allure has finally hooked the prospective professional.  Of course, as with anything you have to “pay your dues” and be the grunt of labor for a while, but look at the potential earnings.  Look at the life that can finally be afforded.  A new pickup truck.  A decent house.  The opportunity to have a savings account that doesn’t say 0.05 every week.  All the glorious accoutrements that come with making above a “living wage.” So with all the “glitter and glam” what could be the downside to this glorious industry?  Freedom, good pay, and a chance to see the country, it all sounds good to me!

Trucking is absolutely great! Provided you don’t need flexible time to spend with your family or friends.  Even in most local jobs, that fourteen hour clock starts running and the day is planned to fit as much as possible in those aforementioned hours.  No, not eight hours.  No, not 10 hours.  No, not 12 hours.  Fourteen.  Well, that’s still not too bad, there are doctors and EMTs that pull shifts like that and longer, whats the difference?  Well… as soon as you log off the company wants you back in ten hours to do it again.  An hour drive to work? Oh well.  Don’t worry though, you’ll get time off… in three days.    Wait, what are you talking about with 14 hours?  Ah yes, the regulations to the world of trucking.  By the way one of the most regulated industries in the country if you didn’t already know.  Fourteen hours is the amount of time a truck driver can be on duty in one period.  In other words, he or she starts the clock at midnight, they have until 2:00 pm to do whatever needs to be done for the day.  Within those fourteen hours said driver is only allowed to drive eleven hours. In order to reset this time restriction a driver must take a ten hour break (of course there are exceptions, but to go into that would be needlessly boring, even this description is probably boring most.  But the breakdown has relevance).  Why is this relevant you ask?  Say you are ten minutes away from the house when the two restrictions are up.  What would you do? Drive it on in? Sure.  That’s what many people would do.  It seems to make sense.  Being home would be more beneficial than being parked at a truck stop twelve miles down the road.  But say you come around a curve to stopped traffic and can’t stop quickly.  And for the sake of argument, the unspeakable happens and someone dies that you run into.  Depending on jurisdiction and how the DA decided to prosecute, you’re looking at the minimum a man-slaughter charge.  Wh-wh-what? As the law sees it, you were out of time and should have never been there in the first place, and a federal law has been broken.  Obviously these regulations are there to safe-guard the motoring public.  The problem is the regulations are often written by an emotionally driven lawmaker that’s never seen them in action.  Aside from all that it’s still a wonderful life fulfilling profession…. right?

According to a CDC Survey,  ” two-thirds of respondents were obese (69%), as defined by a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, and 17% were morbidly obese (BMI of 40 or higher). In comparison, only one-third of U.S. working adults were reported to be obese and 7% morbidly obese.” But that’s not all my friends, “more than half of long-haul truck drivers were current cigarette smokers —over twice the general working population (51% vs. 19%).” These are self reported statistics, folks.  One last tid bit that was really interesting to me was info on sleep. “Although most drivers averaged over 6 hours of sleep per 24-hr period, 27% of drivers averaged 6 hours or less of sleep compared to 30% of working adults.”  Aren’t there regulations to help that?  Yes.  However, the structuring is extremely flawed.  If you the reader is still with me at this point I applaud you, the squirrel head jerking culture nowadays doesn’t provide much aide in keeping attention.  I know that anyone can throw out statistics to supplement an argument, but these are really just to be informative.  The relevance to this statistics becomes clearer if the thought is put into it.  Truck stops provide a respite for long hard days, but offer little more than gluttony on the menu.  One can find almost every chain of fast food restaurant depending on the truck stop.  Another issue is just simply parking.  On any given day there is a shortage of three hundred thousand parking spaces for trucks.  Ever passed by a bunch of trucks lined up along the shoulder and wondered why?  Well now you know.  Have you ever lived on a busy street with loud cars zooming through at all hours of the night?  Did you lose sleep?  Now imagine being five feet away from that same scenario with only a couple inches of insulation and sheet metal to block out the noise. Again, when a little thought is put into it the statistics seem reasonable.

But trucking is still a commendable job!  Sure, if you consider being cut off, brake checked, and bullshitted by seventy five percent of the shippers and receivers you go to.  Well, what do you mean by that?  The motoring public sees a big truck as a nuisance,  a slow moving vehicle they must get around (even when the truck is running 70+ mph), or the asshole that turned in front of faster traffic.  Aside from that, cell-phones.  Doubtful that any explanation needs to be done here.  As for the customers you haul for, to most the driver is just another asshole coming in for the day that makes for more work. The aforementioned 14 hour rule is usually consumed during either pickup or delivery.  “Be home for dinner,” the driver may tell his wife.  Until the delivery takes six hours because appointments have been overbooked, or under-staffed to (un)load.  That’s assuming the staff actually takes pride in their work (which most do not).  So yea, no real choice on being home in time for dinner.

But Adam, YOU’RE a Truck Driver, why so negative?  Why are you doing it if it so unbearable?  Like many things we do in life, necessity.  Bills have to be paid and children have to be fed.  With that being said, I am attempting to hand over those keys.  Over the next two years I will be uprooting everything I’ve grown accustomed to in search of a better career to suit me.  Full time classes in the local college will hopefully result in doing something I will truly like that will give me salary I want with the time I need. The negativity comes from experience.  Dispatchers that have little regard to personal life. Shippers and receiving that have little empathy towards the people they are keeping from home time.  Weather that has no feeling either way to my safety or family time.  I’ve driven in the worst weather this country has to offer (excluding Alaska obviously), pushed when I was tired, and forewent sleep in efforts to spend just a few more hours at home.  What did it get me?  A medical issue that resulted in a wrecked truck, a broken leg, a lacerated liver, and a single home despite my attempts.  To the single guy or gal with no ties to home, it’s a stupendous career.  For the other 80 percent of us not so much.  And the roads and regulations are only getting worse.

While I know this was a mostly negative post, the incite it brings will hopefully illuminate the struggle of many drivers out there.  While the choices are always our own, often times they are rarely an easy one to make, and ultimately costs the driver and his family the most.  It’s easy to fixate on the bottom line paycheck, but all too often the repercussions to achieving the desired salary come at a cost that is never factored into any book-keeping program.