A few years ago, a reader from Kansas City, Missouri sent me this email:
How long have you driven? I found your link through another website and your blog looks very interesting.
I drove but it has been 16 years really thinking hard about getting back into it.
Right now I have an excellent job, pay and benefits but I am still not happy.
What do you feel are the benefits and down falls of driving?
Thank you for any input.
This is essentially what I told him:
On one hand, I think it's great that he has an excellent job, pay and benefits, but on the other hand, I hate to hear that he's unhappy. Not the "I hate to hear it" like I'm his best friend and I'm upset when he's upset kind of unhappy, but I think people really need to consider their DAILY happiness or feelings of content in their lives. And since a big part of people's lives is their job, it makes sense that to be happier, it would be best to be happy doing something you love (or at least like).
Some people need the security a "good job" offers them. I guess I'm just not one of those people. My cousin works for AT&T and has been with them almost 23 years. She hates every day of her life at work. Her boyfriend works for the city for about the same amount of time and isn't happy there either. But they're waiting until they can "have enough years in" to retire or whatever it is you do when you give your life to a corporation. Me? I've quit jobs on the second day because I didn't like the color of the walls in the office.
That's not to say I'm flighty or irresponsible - I'm not. I've been working since thirteen, when I was the "water girl" at our family restaurant. I am reliable, on-time and competent; exceedingly better than average. But I absolutely cannot spend my days in a place I hate. Or sit in an office and look at a pukey-green wall for eight hours a day. So if I'm in a job I don't like, I quit. Simple. In my opinion, there will always be jobs. There is always something I can do. And if trucking didn't work out, I know I'd find a job tomorrow.
I don't think it's hard to determine I think this is a pretty great career choice. I make great money, I get to travel and see places I've never been before and that some people don't see in a lifetime, every day is different enough that I don't feel like I'm in a daily "grind" and I actually like it. Liking it might have a lot to do with the fact that I'm part of a team, because I don't know if I'd want to do this particular job (flat-bedding especially) by myself. If I didn't have Ed to do the heavy lifting and dirty work, I'd probably be pulling a van trailer if I stayed in trucking at all, but since we split our duties in a way that works for us, it works overall.
OK...so on to the pros and cons I see. Not all of them apply to me and right off the bat I see more benefits, but I've put some thought into it to see if I could come up with something that would be a down side. I also asked Ed, since he's been doing this for over seventeen years, much of it as a solo driver. Here we go...
An Unstructured Workday
This is not a nine-to-five gig. You might work days, nights or a combination. You may work six days straight and then have four days off. You might work around the clock and then do nothing for the next twenty-four hours. It's unpredictable and ever-changing. And I love that.
An Unstructured Work Environment
With this job, you have the best office window in the world. At daybreak, you might pick up a load in Louisville, KY and be in Pensacola, FL to see the sunset. You may deliver a load wearing jeans, boots and a parka one day and the next, be somewhere that requires changing into shorts and flip-flops. There is always something to see as the hours pass. The cornfields, farms and cows of Iowa. The cactus, sand dunes and sunshine of the Southwest. The pine trees, rocky coastline and moose in Maine. It's always different. And if you go to Canada, look out - a whole new set of things to look at.
This is not entirely true if you're working for a company, because you will have a dispatcher. I never worked for a company, so I can't tell you from experience what this is like, but Ed has. And he says that sometimes, they are real assholes. BUT....even though they're calling you to find out where you are every second of the day or making your delivery appointments, they're still not looking over your shoulder as you work on your computer. They still don't see you walk in the door ten minutes late because you stopped for Starbucks. In a sense, it's like when your boss is out of the office for the day - you still do your work, but it's a bit more enjoyable. As an owner-operator, your freedom increases exponentially. You are leased to a company, but you're essentially independent. You can take the loads you want and decline the ones you don't. You pick where you want to go and you have control over the amount of revenue you make. If you are a person who can be a self-starter and you think you're competent to go this route, it's something to work towards.
This is sort of mentioned in the last point, but there really is a sense of freedom out here. There is a lot of time to think, to read, to write, to play video games, to jog, to shop, to eat, to watch movies, to talk on the phone, to catch the game on TV, whatever. Your time is your time. Yes, you’re going to be pushed to get your loads delivered and if you’re reliable and conscientious, that shouldn’t be a problem, but you will have down time and you can use it however you’d like. In addition to the freedom, my favorite part of the job is…
This job offers travel opportunities that the majority of other jobs do not. Unless you’re a traveling rep for a company, an airline industry employee (pilot/steward/etc.), or a tour bus driver, I can’t imagine a job that allows you to see so many places in such a short amount of time. In the first year I was on the road, I went to 49 states. Of course, you can’t drive to Hawaii, but we did drive to Alaska. I’ve also been to 11 of the 13 Canadian Provinces and Territories – including Newfoundland, which required an 8-hour ferry ride across the North Atlantic. It was more than awesome. If you have an interest and you want to see these places, there are ways to make it happen.
I have an interest in travel, photography, writing and eating…and I do it everywhere I go. I love to try new restaurants (especially if I’ve read about them in magazines or seen them on TV) and I love to take pictures of places I’ve been. I can do that abundantly out here. Ed and I are not your regular truck drivers. We aren’t content sitting in a shipper’s parking lot all day. We don’t sit around the driver’s lounge smoking cigarettes and watching re-runs of movies on TNT while waiting on our next load. We find ways to explore. We’ve gotten our truck into more tight spaces (thanks to Ed’s superb driving skill) than I can count. We’ve done everything from windsurfing in South Padre Island, Texas to eating ice cream at the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters in Waterbury, Vermont. This job is what you make it.
This job provides us, as a team, with a great deal of money. Solos make good money too, especially once they learn the ropes. And although money is the reason most of us work, what’s even more important than money, in terms of compensation, is what else you get with the job. Which are of the things I outlined above, and more. It’s not just a way to put money in your pocket. It’s not just a way to pay the bills. It’s the experiences that are the payment. The memories you make and the knowledge you gain. I feel the overall compensation is worth any downfalls I may encounter.
Which brings me to the other side of the coin…
Being away from family
Although this is not an issue for me since I don’t have kids, pets or houseplants and I travel with my boyfriend, I do hear that this is a bit of a problem for other drivers. Long haul will take you away from home sometimes for weeks at a time. You might be able to do something local or regional to stay closer to home, but you’d have to look into the options in your area. I can’t give you any input on how people handle this because I don’t really know anyone’s intimate details about how this job can cause family issues. If you have to juggle family life and work life, you need to talk to everyone involved to make sure they'll be comfortable with what the job requirements are.
Being The Newbie
Often, as you’re learning, companies can take advantage of you. They make you sit in a dock all day and then expect you to drive, with no consideration for your Hours of Service. They send you all over the place, jerk you around, etc. They push your limits and your buttons. It does and will happen. But if you're prepared for it, perhaps you'll be able to handle it a little better than most.
Unethical Business Practices
This goes along with the newbie thing too. Just like those buzzards in the photo above, these people will eat you alive if they can. Many agents and dispatchers will try to pull stuff on new drivers. Hell, they do it to drivers who have been out here for years. Time served doesn't mean you don't get taken advantage of. But if you make an effort to learn, talk to other drivers, read publications that advocate for the driver, and realize what your worth is (time and money), there is less of a chance they can screw you.
It probably goes without saying that if you drive 150,000 miles a year, the chances of being in danger increase. Accidents, natural disasters, unfortunate situations that wouldn’t happen at home. You really do put your life on the line everyday on the highway. People are idiots and driving is dangerous. You can only do your best to stay safe; run safe and up-to-date equipment and be extremely conscious of what you’re doing while behind the wheel.
The life expectancy of a truck driver is 61 years old. That number is eye-opening. The stress out here can be high, heart attacks are definitely a concern and forget about eating habits – they usually go down the drain. I’ve always been overweight - plus-sized, on the big side, plump - my entire life, but since I’ve been on the road, I've put on more weight and now I’m just flat out fat. BUT, I did recently lose weight and Ed and I have been eating better, so maybe both of us can lose some. Even though we have a kitchen in the truck, it's very easy to fall into the fast food and snack trap. It is possible to eat well and even get some exercise in, but you have to be diligent about it.
This is by no means a complete list, and the guy I sent the email to had driven before, so he did have some idea of what he'd be getting back into, but things have changed quite a bit in sixteen years. The internet is available everywhere which makes it easier for people to stay in touch, pay bills on line, read the news, watch movies, and do so many other things. Trucks and trailers are built with comfort of the driver in mind, the truckstops are more on the “travel center” side, and many locations are lot-lizard free….or at least less infested.
From several things I've read online lately, it seems I'm in the minority not only by loving this job, but by thinking it's a good opportunity for someone to have an interesting work life. A friend of mine said this job is a great semi-retirement plan. I agree. But you don't have to be pre-retirement age to do it. You can be young and get a lot out of it. If you don't believe me, take some time to look through the 2,875 blog posts I've done.
Or go to school, get a CDL, and start having your own over-the-road experiences. It may just be the most bang you've ever gotten for your buck.
It was for me.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
2012: Hip In Texas
2011: My Beaver, My Rules
2010: Don’t Forget The Alamo!
2009: Straight Out Of The Box
2008: Unreal Ideal
2007: Stealing Isn’t Always A Bad Thing
2006: 04 05 06
2005: Sorry, no post on this day. The blog didn’t start until May 2005!