R.S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Snapshot from a Truck Driver’s Life

OTR (over-the-road, also called “long haul” or “nationwide”) truck drivers are expert travel planners. They can figure out the fastest, most direct way to get from Point A to Point B—and sometimes Point C to Point D and back again to Point A. They also know how long each leg of the trip will take, and whether they have enough hours left in their daily driving allowance to make the delivery on time, safely, and legally.

OTR truck drivers also know what kind of construction delays, confusing detours, rest stations, burger joints, and truck stops lie along their routes. This is thanks to the humble CB radio. In spite of its practical origins and relatively low-tech equipment, the CB remains important for truck drivers. In some ways, it is the trucker’s internet.

After all, you can’t simultaneously check Facebook and downshift through 15 gears coming into the I-10/I-610 interchange in Houston. (Not if you want to live, anyway.) The CB radio was social networking long before Mark Zuckerberg arrived. And where else can you find a real-time, almost-in-person restaurant recommendation? “Y’all, there’s this country buffet on US 431, south of Roanoke, Alabama. If you come through there, pull over. I like to have split my damn pants, I ate so much.”

Generally, truck drivers also know how long they’ll be away from home. As a result, they tend to be masters of strategic suitcase packing. They know just how many pairs of clean underwear and socks to bring along, and how many changes of clothes they’ll need. Just like many tourist guides suggest for civilians, OTR truckers will “recycle” an outfit or a pair of jeans if the items aren’t yet so dirty they can stand up and walk all by themselves. And they make great use of those month-at-a-glance medication containers, too. When you know you’ll be away from home for at least three weeks, you make sure to take a full supply of pills with you.

Sometimes, though, drivers’ schedules get screwed up, and they end up staying out longer than either their stash of clean clothes or their medications will last. In the case of the former, many truck stops and company depots have laundry facilities, with detergent packets in wall-mounted vending machines just like you see at the laundromat. In the case of the latter, drivers have several options:

1) Stay out a couple more days and do their best to cope without it until they can get home;
2) Find a CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, or other pharmacy and stop in for an emergency refill; or
3) Ask the company dispatcher to route them close to home so a family member can meet them somewhere with the medication.

My stepfather, Steve, generally chooses the third option when he has more days than pills left in his Pill Minder. He had the good fortune to get a West Coast run, loaded both ways; truckers are generally paid only for “loaded miles,” or miles driven with something loaded into the trailer at Point A that will be delivered at Point B. That’s a juicy paycheck, once you add regular short runs to 5,600 loaded miles. Although it would mean his being out for several more days, Steve said “hell yes” and pointed the truck westward. Never look a gift dispatcher in the mouth, the old saying goes. Or something like that.

So he delivered car parts near San Diego, and then hauled a load of electronics to Minneapolis, making his way back Southeast once he realized he was nearly out of meds with four more days to go on this trip. Mom and I met him at a Waffle House north of Atlanta. We had breakfast, and brought Steve enough medication for the Florida-Louisiana-Texas-Tennessee jaunt he had to make before returning home for a week off.

While we ate breakfast, Steve asked me to give readers some advice: Buy a quality headlamp. Even if you don’t drive for a living, it’s still great in case of nighttime car trouble. Steve bought his super-bright LED setup at a truck stop years ago: “Ain’t like I got three hands, you know.” He says it paid for itself several days later, when he was looking for a map he had misplaced somewhere under the bunk. It paid for itself again when he had to crawl under the truck at 3:30am to investigate a clicking noise.

Seriously: AAA should employ retired OTR truckers as travel advisors.

Photo: “Mom and Steve at the Marietta Waffle House” (Marietta, Georgia – 15 July 2017)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

1 Comment

  1. As a kid I wanted to be a trucker. For a lot of reasons. When I was about 13 my dad had a friend who was a long haul driver take my little brother me out in a semi. Dad and I both thought it would be about 10 minutes around the town and back to the lot. Nope. He took us a couple hundred miles and told us a lot about the life, good and bad. Colin rode shotgun and I hung in the sleeper. It was an unexpected adventure, a good chunk of learning and a powerfully gracious gesture for a man who had a hell of a lot better things to do with his day. I won’t ever forget it.

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