Manicure done and toes polished? Check.
Eyeliner straight and lip gloss shining? Check.
Flip-flops and matching purse ready to go? Check.
Silver hoop earrings in place? Check.
Cleavage gently heaving? Check Check.
Give or take a few items (but never the lip gloss), this is my daily checklist. It’s what I do to get ready for my work day. For some of you, this may be run of the mill. For others, it may be over the top. For me, it’s my oxygen. My atypical girlie checklist makes me an anomaly in my industry, because where I make my living takes place behind the wheel of a big rig.
Let me share a quick statistic with you: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over three million truck drivers in the United States. 4.5 percent of them are women.
I am one of those women.
And this is what I drive:
In addition to my personally imposed checklist, I am required by the Department of Transportation, adhering to a federal standard, to conduct a real pre-trip inspection. Before heading out on the road, I have to check fluid levels, belts, hoses, tire pressure, brakes, air pressure, lights, exhaust system, trailer integrity, etc. I have to make sure everything is in excellent working order before taking to the highway.
In my blog, The Daily Rant, I have documented my lifestyle by keeping a daily account of where I’ve been, what I do and what I think. The latter can range from my praise of all things Dunkin' to my biggest pet peeve, poor customer service. That’s where the rant part comes in.
I have written more than 1,500 blog posts, with over 800 of them including photographs. I have traveled in 49 U.S. states (I've also been to Hawaii, but obviously not in the truck!) and 11 of the 13 Canadian Provinces & Territories. I have been to every major city in America, most of the major cities in Canada and countless small towns in-between. I have traversed the peaks of the American and Canadian Rockies, had my feet in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, driven the ALCAN Highway to Alaska and snorkeled in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I have seen the majestic beauty of the Siskiyou Mountains in the Northwest and the indigo haze of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Southeast.
I knew before I even hit the road that I would love to drive, but my boyfriend Ed (of my blog's "Eddie Friday" posts) suggested I join him as a passenger first, since life on the road is not for everyone. He wanted to make sure I liked it before I spent the money and time to go to school for my license. So he gave me a job being his load dispatcher/secretary/bookkeeper/Girl Friday and I stayed out on the road with him for two years before I went to school to get my very own CDL (commercial driver’s license). I’ve had my CDL for over three years and now we drive as a team.
We are on the road over 300 days of the year, driving over 150,000 miles during that time and covering the United States and Canada extensively. I’ve learned a lot from Ed as he shares his knowledge and experience of over thirteen years and 1,500,000 miles behind the wheel. I know I have many years to go before I hit the million mile mark but by the time I get there, I’ll be an old pro with all the tips and tricks he’s passed on to me!
Upon hearing how many hours a day we drive, one of the first things most people seem to want to know is, “How can you sit for that long??” Valid question, I suppose, but what they don’t realize is that in this job, I get up and move more than I did at the desk job I had the year before I went on the road. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the sitting around part, as I am the Queen of doing nothing; which the size of my ass confirms every time I buy a new pair of Capri pants.
In case you’re wondering, and even if you’re not, being a truck driver is not responsible for my generous proportions. I’ve always been what my grandfather would call “a big girl”. That said, I would not be seen out in public wearing big 'ol prairie skirts and baggy clothing ala Kirstie Alley in her pre-Jenny Craig days. I assure you I have not fallen into the sweat pants and wrinkled t-shirt trap you see a lot of the women out here dressed in, and I most certainly do not subscribe to the “I’ll never see these people again, who cares what I’m wearing” philosophy.
From those previously mentioned manicures and pedicures to the lip gloss and trademark silver hoops, I have maintained every aspect of my femininity, and the best compliment I can ever receive after telling someone what I do for a living, is for them to say “You don’t look like a truck driver.”
For those of you wondering what I do look like, here is a little collage representing several versions of me on the road (and no, there are not any that depict the actual size of my ass, but you can see a full length picture of me here and I won’t even make you read through all of my archives to find it!):In this job, the stops are so numerous, I often feel as if I’m on a tour of all the bathrooms and bookstores in North America. We stop so many times for me to take a pee break, I fear Ed is going to make me start wearing a diaper just so we can get some work done. We generally stop (and get out of the truck) for breakfast, lunch and dinner, in addition to taking breaks for a frosty beverage, a hot latte or an afternoon in Barnes and Noble. I've even been known to be persuaded (and by that, I mean dragged kicking and screaming) to go on a walk with Ed. I have been to malls in every state and several Canadian Provinces, including the largest mall in the United States; the Mall of America in Minneapolis, MN and the largest mall in North America; the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
The type of freight we haul varies daily and we never know what we’re going to get. Some days it’s lumber, steel and pipe; other days it might be military equipment for our troops at home and abroad. More specifically, some of the items we have hauled are: nuclear submarine parts, spy plane components, million dollar jet engines (one was worth $4.7 million dollars and went up to Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada for their Maple Flag 40 exercise), radioactive medical machinery, steel plating for armoring military vehicles and the actual armored vehicles, gardening supplies such as mulch and peat moss, commercial air conditioning units (to Newfoundland, Canada of all places!), auto parts out of Detroit, assembly line equipment for an evaporated milk factory, submarines from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, satellite components for NASA, shipping containers filled with various items (like thousands of pencils from China), mobile office units, accessories for military housing in Alaska, aluminum fabricating machinery, equipment to measure underwater earthquakes, construction equipment like Bobcats and scissor lifts, fencing for the Mexican border, and provisions for major disaster relief efforts like Hurricane Katrina and the Minneapolis bridge collapse. We’ve even hauled live honey bees used to pollinate our crops, from California to Florida!
I’ve done a lot of jobs in my life, from my first one bussing and waiting tables in my family restaurant, to managing a movie theater, being an operator for the deaf, working at a four star resort, masquerading as an "admin assistant" in an office, making people beautiful selling Estee Lauder cosmetics and hawking Sabrett's from my very own hot dog cart; but driving a truck has been by far the best job I’ve ever had, for a variety of reasons.
The very first thing that struck me about this job was the absolute freedom of it. I don’t punch a time clock, I don’t have to be at a job on any specific day at any specific time for any specific set of hours. That’s not to say I don’t have a responsibilities to be somewhere, but from the time I leave the shipper to the time I arrive at the receiver is up to me, as is the in-between time. I sleep when I want, drive when I want, eat when I want, dawdle for as long as I want and do pretty much everything else on my very own schedule. No one looking over my shoulder or breathing down my neck. Although, I do sometimes feel Ed’s eye wandering in my direction now and again, but the freedom of being self-employed is like nothing I’ve ever known. I’ve always worked for someone else and had to play by their rules, which is so not my style.
The second noticeable difference from any other job I’ve held, is the money. As self-employed owner-operators, we make more in one month than I used to make in one year. And it’s not even hard. At first, I was shocked it was even possible, but now I challenge myself to find loads that will maximize our revenue and minimize our work. I will load our trailer from end to end, using every inch of it, to get the most pay for the least amount of effort. It’s sort of like that old Marine Corps adage, “Work smarter, not harder.”
I mention the money to illustrate how this profession provides more than just the freedom of an unstructured work day. There are many reasons to choose a particular career, but in this one, the money isn’t the only goal for me. It’s not about the money itself but what the money represents, which is far more valuable to me. And what I value at this point in my life is time; the more money I make, the more time I have. And with that time comes my third and perhaps favorite reason for loving this job. The travel.
Even after being on the road for five years, I am still amazed at how much this country has to offer. The people, although the same in their humanness, vary widely in their personalities, characteristics and even appearance based on where you are in the country. It’s amazing to me when I can look at someone and say, “You look like you’re from Minnesota,” and not only be close, but sometimes, right on the money.
Being a native New Yorker, my accent, although not strong, is very recognizable in many of the places I travel. I stand out like a sore thumb in the South, but I get just as many people from other areas of the country asking me where I’m from. I love seeing how and where people live. I enjoy talking to the locals and many times, have exchanged e-mail addresses or phone numbers with people I meet on the road. Ed doesn’t understand it, but I’ve had complete strangers hand me their telephone numbers and say, “You must call me next time you’re in the area!”
I most enjoy traveling the rural roads, which we don’t do very often as it’s not as expedient or as safe as the interstates, but there are so many gorgeous little places off the beaten path that sometimes I resort to begging so Ed will acquiesce. In these places, I’ve found sights that range from the smallest church in America and the largest cow in the country, to the ice cream capital of the world.
Instead of just talking about places I want to go, I visit them. I don't have to save money for an annual vacation, put in my request to get the time off and keep my fingers crossed hoping that no one else in my office asked for the same block of time. I go where I want, when I want. I don't have to wonder what the people of North Dakota are like, I get to meet them. And when I'm itching to get a little grease on my fingers because I'm yearning for the taste of a real Philly Cheese steak sandwich, I can go to Pat’s.
Instead of watching the History Channel to experience historical sites, I am able to immerse myself in them. I’ve walked the halls of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate on the Potomac River, seen the faces of our Presidents carved into Mount Rushmore, strolled in the garden of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home perched on the banks of New York's Hudson River, stood on the grounds of countless military forts, and wandered the streets of numerous Civil War cities; and as with most of the places I go, I take pictures.
Here is a sampling:You can see all of the pictures I have taken by delving into my blog archives, or you can see a collection of my favorites on my Flickr site. Just click here.
This job is more to me than just supporting the infrastructure of a nation; that’s the bigger part of what I do. I’m a small cog in the wheel of getting goods delivered. The American Trucking Association has a slogan: Good Stuff. Trucks Brings It. I am one of those three million drivers that bring the good stuff. And that makes me proud.
It’s that pride that makes me thrilled to talk about what I do, and this post has allowed me to do just that. If you read my blog, you will gain some insight into the days when Ed is making me laugh or driving me crazy, when I want to strangle the cashier in Target or how I’m plotting to disable the sun because I can't stand the heat it projects, but for the most part, the good outweighs the bad and I hope that comes across in this post.
I thank Michelle for allowing me to share my world with some of the people in hers. Reading her blog and many of the ones she’s turned me on to has opened my eyes to the world of people living their dreams. Whether it be in the hills of Calabria or the cab of an 18-wheeler, I think the best thing you can do is pursue the things that make you feel alive and give you joy. Be open to new adventures, mingle with different people, date someone who isn’t your type, try a new food, and listen as Michelle has said in one of her posts, to your core.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you have to be all woo-woo and Zen-like, but it is important to balance the have-to’s with the want-to’s.
** This post was originally written on August 15, 2008 when Michelle of Bleeding Espresso.com asked me to be a guest blogger. Some dates have been updated since it was written. You can see the original version on her site by clicking here.