I found myself in a precarious situation. One in which I moved to a beautiful small town where I assumed that finding work would be no problem. Unfortunately after I moved to my little utopia on the sunrise side of Michigan, my windows overlooking Lake Huron, I quickly realized that finding the work to sustain my family was going to be near impossible. I did the only thing I thought I could do at the time. I became a Truck Driver. fast logistics corporation
You see us rumbling down the highways and passing through your towns. Backing into stores and warehouses. Sitting next to you like a great purring behemoth at intersections. The mighty Tractor/Trailer has become such a staple in todays world that people pay them little notice. More often than not, the big rigs are nothing more than a nuisance. Getting in your way when you want to drive faster, get there sooner, move farther, and change lanes. We are pests.
Pests that haul every single item you own, and every single item you own has passed through the domain of the truck driver. I call it such because it’s an entirely different world out there. It’s not a job, and It’s not a career. Some call it a lifestyle. I call it another world. A world that I left because it was destroying the very fiber of my being. I was slowly dying inside, just to make sure your gods arrived on time. Your rolls of paper, your food, your clothing, your car parts, your furniture, your medical supplies, your beer. Building supplies, school supplies, fashion goods, party supplies. Your entertainment, your media. Your games and toys. I hated you for it. For what I had to live through so you could go on with your daily life. Oblivious to what I had to live in, ungrateful for what you have and how it got there. Let me enlighten you.
A quick summary: 5 axles, 9+ gears, only 10 hours to rest, 11 hours of driving, 18 wheels, up to 31 pages of logs a month where I record every move I make, hundreds of dollars a month in expenses, thousands of pounds of freight, hundreds of thousands of little 4 wheelers (you) zipping around me… and I was encased in a box no bigger than most peoples bathroom. Doesn’t seem like much by itself, but there’s more. So much more to my nightmare.
I would wait patiently, oh so patiently for freight assignments to come. Sometimes 2 or 3 days at a time, waiting around with no pay because I’m paid by the mile. A freight assignment would finally cross my computer. I’d plan my route and take note that I was being shorted some miles. Ten or twenty. Not enough to raise a stink about individually but it adds up for the year. They stole from me to save some money because they map from zip code to zip code, not practical miles. Often the loads I received were last minute. That meant immediately had to hustle and go. No time to lose, and unfortunately rarely time to actually perform the full inspection of my vehicle that was required by law every time I wake up, and every time I change my load out. So I must decide. I do my full inspection and run late, to which I receive a service failure and lose money OR I just go, run the freight on time, and everyone is happy. No one gets angry, and I keep my job. Which option would you choose? Of course, that means I have to lie in my log book. A federal offense. Fraud. A lot of jail time if caught, loss of the commercial license, huge fines. But hey, that shirt you’re wearing got to the store on time so it could be put on the racks in time for the big Memorial Day sale. I get to keep my job this week.
I’m already stressed because of my time constraint from a late load. Every mile I travel now, I am surrounded by cars that pay me no heed. They ride my trailer where I can barely see them. They cut me off leaving less than a car length between my truck and their bumper unbeknownst of the fact that at speeds over 55mph it can take me as much as the full length of a football field to come to a complete stop depending on the condition of the road. Cars stop faster. Car vs truck. Guess who loses? The car. Guess who die? The driver of the car and probably the passengers. A two and a half ton car won’t stop a Tractor/Trailer with a gross vehicle weight of nearly 80,000lbs when loaded. Not right away anyhow. The truck usually crushes the car and pushes it for about a half a mile or more. Unless I travel at night, nearly every mile I travel someone performs a reckless action or maneuver around me. My trips averaged over 800 miles. Someone cuts you off once on the way to work and you’re pissed for 30 minutes. Imagine having it happen constantly for almost 11 hours.
When I can, I take breaks at travel centers that dot the interstate system of the U.S. Every time I stop, I have to take the time to carefully setup my Tractor/Trailer on a precise angle and bend so that I can back it between two other trucks. If my angle is off, I have to make pull-ups and adjustments sometimes taking as long as 20 minutes just to get my truck into a tight spot that happens all too often. All I wanted to do was stop for a break, use the bathroom, maybe get some coffee. It turns into a 45 minute ordeal more often than not. If I’m lucky, I land in a clean truck stop. Let me state here that I’ve played the lottery and I’ve played cards. I rarely win. Luck is rarely on my side. I kept a large bottle of sanitizer in my truck so I could hose myself down after trying to relax in some of the landfills they call “Travel centers” or “Truck Stops”.
Extreme racism still exists in America. A lot of people don’t speak it openly though. Truckers and other folks just like to write it on bathroom stalls because they are cowards. “Strong” enough to be a racist, but not strong enough to tell it to their faces. How calm and relaxed can you become when you’re forced to read racial slurs, stare at smut and look at swastikas carved into the door in front of you when using a toilet? Like “mike” is actually going to come back to check what he wrote and see that someone drew an arrow to his graffiti and called him a ‘faggot’. I’m not even going to go into detail about male truckers offering other male truckers oral sex…or the Lot Lizards. The designated title truckers have given to prostitutes who prowl the truck stops.
When I was driving, all I wanted to do was stop and get the hell out of that truck. When I finally stopped, all I wanted to do was get back to my truck.
When I finally reached the end of my legal work day, I would drag my curtains shut and be extremely happy that I was finished. I was practically giddy that it was time to call my fiance. That I could lay down on my cot, talk on the phone for a bit and entertain myself to try to relieve my stress. Entertainment was limited though. Some guys have satellite dishes on their trucks and $60 a month wireless cards to get online anywhere they wanted. I had a laptop with a dvd player, some games,and my books. My breaks were limited to ten hours. Ten hours and I could start my day again. Often I had to get moving right at the end of my break just to make sure I could hit my drop in time. So, do the math. End the day at a truck stop. Thirty minute average to find a parking spot and get parked, fifteen minutes to use the bathroom, thirty minutes average for dinner, call home for about an hour then wind down with a book, a game or maybe part of a movie for another hour or so. Gotta make sure I’m up before the end of my break so I’m ready to go and all my paperwork/log book is in order for the day. All in all, of my ten hour breaks, up to four hours was spent on actual down time and prep time. I was lucky if I got 6 hours sleep. On particularly bad days, sometimes it takes a while of staring at the roof of the cab to fall asleep. Then there’s the question of ‘good sleep’.
I cannot count the number of nightmares I had on a regular basis. I would often wake from dreams where I was involved in horrible collisions. Roll over accidents, deaths, fires, exploding cargo. Why? Not because I was paranoid or scared of my job. But because I saw these things regularly. Not a day passed by that I didn’t see these things as I drove. Mind you, before I became a Truck driver I worked EMS. I saw the very same thing over the many years I worked the ambulance in the Detroit area and not once did I have a nightmare. It’s a very different thing when you’re in the same vehicle thatsburning, and you’re just like those other overworked, fatigued drivers that caused most of those horrible incidents.
Each trip was often marked by stops in weigh stations with DOT officers. Where I would hope that my scale weight was accurate. Pleading with god that they didn’t pull me in to inspect my truck, cargo or log book. Constantly in fear that I’d get a ticket knowing that most fines start in the triple digits and could be as big as having several zeros fixed to the end. Is my company responsible for tickets if there is a weight or equipment issue? Not a chance. Those tickets come out of my pocket, even if that ticket soars over hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Did you know some states charges you a dollar for every pound you’re over weight? Imagine if a scale or invoice was incorrect, or you set you axles improperly and were 2,500lbs over weight? I had an electronic device fixed to my windshield called a Pre-Pass. Most states use these devices at weigh stations. If it flashed green I could bypass the weigh station. A red flash meant I had to stop. My stomach sank every time it flashed red, and it happened several times a week.
When I finally got my freight to its destination, be it a store warehouse, drop yard or distribution center I was often met by dock workers with sour attitudes. That’s putting it nicely. I was treated like a peasant serving nobility with his left hand. I was bringing these people the freight necessary to keep their business alive and put money in their pockets, food on their table, and I always tried to maintain a good demeanor and smile. It rarely made a difference. I was just another damn driver bringing them more work to do. Sometimes they liked to have fun and tell me to back my truck into the most difficult dock on their yard where it was partially blocked by cars, other trucks, dumpsters, etc. when there were plenty of shipping/receiving doors that would be much easier to slip into.
At the end of three weeks, my alloted time to be over the road, I got to go home. Each week I was out I earned one day at home. So I traveled home for a meager 3 days to kiss my family and try to forget it all. It never failed though. The day before I had to go back I couldn’t get the job off my mind. Everything I had gone through was going to happen all over again for another three weeks. It got to the point that I would become physically ill when it was time to go back. I couldn’t eat, and if I did I would vomit. It ruined my time at home with my family. The one time I could be happy and not have to be under stress. Truck Driving destroyed it.
Each day became the same. I lied to make the money I needed to survive. I ate poorly if I ate at all. I broke the law. I hated my life and my job. I was suicidal on several occasions. I wanted so badly sometimes to drive my truck into a bridge support. Just let it drift off the cliff on the next rise, it’ll all be over. It got to the point that nothing could entertain me. No food tasted the same. Nothing appeased me and depression took over. I lost 30lbs. Several weeks ago I decided enough was enough. They say truck drivers make such good money because of what they have to put up with. I say no amount of money could do it for me.
What did I come away from that job with? There’s a positive in everything. I was a paid tourist and got to see parts of the U.S. that most people will never see. I’m a safer driver in my car with a new respect for Trucks because of it. And I love my family more now than ever before and I will never leave them again. I’ll also never eat ramen noodles again in my life. Sorry Ramen, you lost my business.
I’m certain there are many truck drivers who would completely disagree with me. Tell me I’m soft, that I couldn’t hack it. That it’s a lifestyle and it isn’t for everyone. Before you question the steel of my will, consider that I work in EMS. I’ve been elbow deep in blood and death and brought people back to life who were considered dead. I’ve breathed life into people from infant to elderly. Now that I’m home, I am returning to that line of work.
Every truck driver you talk to will give you a different story. Every driver a different life on the road. This is my story. This is my confession. I’m sorry folks, you’ll have to find someone else to deliver your shirts. I’m a Fire Fighter again.