Many of you have asked me to give you an idea about what goes on while on the road as a trucker in America. So, in honor of National Truck Driving Week, the following story is an account of my last trip from Plainwell, Michigan to Louisville, Kentucky and Salisbury, North Carolina. While this type of trip doesn’t happen every day, it certainly is an accurate portrayal of the normal life of a truck driver, where nothing ever goes as planned.
My communication system chimed signaling an incoming message with a preplan for a new trip. I rejoiced when I saw it terminated in North Carolina, the heart of Dixie. My exuberance was short lived when I realized I would have to run overnight not one, but two nights in a row. To make matters worse, they still had not unloaded my truck at my last delivery point where I’d arrived eleven hours earlier.
Finally empty at 10:45pm, I zoomed down the dark interstate and pulled into the nearest truck stop. Since I would be dropping my empty trailer and picking up a preloaded trailer of meat, I had to fill the fuel tank on my refrigerated trailer. Because I’d been awake since 4am, I also grabbed a cup of java and off I sped into the darkness again.
I wound my way up narrow country roads. The only light came from my headlights and fog lights. Finally the meat packing plant came into view and I wheeled in, pulled to a stop at the guard house and put on my most cheerful face. The young security officer, AKA “When I grow up I want to be a cop”, demanded to see my receipt from getting my trailer washed out. Of course, my trailer was very clean but not washed out. He refused to allow me entrance until/unless I got the trailer washed out.
At one in the morning.
In the middle of nowhere in Michigan.
He handed me a flyer with the name and number of a washout facility. I called once but got no answer. The second call produced a very angry man on the other end who cursed at me profusely, then reluctantly gave me directions to his… uhh… farm. Why was I suddenly hearing dueling bangos in my head?!
I navigated through pitch black darkness and finally found “the farm”. I turned into the narrow dirt driveway, narrowly missing the deep ditches on both sides, and shut my truck off. Then I sat in complete blackness. And I sat. And sat.
After 45 minutes, I called back, only to be met again by cursing. In the most pleasant voice I could muster, I identified myself again and said I’d neglected to ask him one question when I spoke to him before: When could I expect him to arrive?
He did not even remember the conversation. He finally came out and washed out my trailer at a pace that would make a snail think he was Flash Gordon. I raced back down the narrow country roads back to the meat packing plant. This time the security officer did not ask for a receipt. Nor did he even look in the back of the trailer. He just gave me paperwork and told me where to drop my empty and where to pick up my preloaded trailer. Utterly unfair, wouldn’t you say?!
I wound through the slush and mess of the meat packing plant lot, trying not to think of the irony of needing a washed out trailer. “They’re really picky about cleanliness”, the guard had said. I chuckled as I inhaled the grotesque smell of rotting animal parts that had been exposed to the air too long.
I found my trailer in the most remote corner of their facility and when I hooked to it and began a pre-trip inspection, I discovered it had a flat tire.
In the middle of nowhere.
I hooked up the air hoses hoping our closed air system would re-inflate the tire. It did! I was beyond excited. Not to mention a tad bit cocky that Mizz Super Trucker had thought of that before calling for road service.
My cockiness was immediately deflated when I could not slide my trailer wheels. They are called tandems and we slide them forward and back to distribute the weight. That way we can legally drive on the highways of America. But mine wouldn’t slide. ON A BRAND NEW TRAILER!!
But you see, God don’t like ugly and apparently cocky doesn’t suit me so I was humbled right where I sat. Again I exited my truck with flashlight in hand and discovered the tandem slide was bent. A million hammer strikes later, I was able to slide them and off I went into the darkness once again.
It was now 3am and I had six hours to drive 386 miles, impossible in a truck that is governed at 65mph. It’s also impossible when you come to a complete stop not once, not twice but three times on three different interstate highways because of road construction. Obviously they didn’t know I was on a deadline.
Of course my delivery had to be during rush hour traffic.
In DOWTOWN Louisville, Kentucky.
I maneuvered my 73 foot vehicle down narrow streets with cars on both sides, and finally came to my first of two delivery stops. I shook my head in disbelief when I realized I’d have to back into a narrow dock between parked cars with no room to spare.
All for five pallets of beef.
Later rather than sooner, I was on my way back down narrow streets, sometimes with less than an inch between me and the parked cars. I had two hours left that I could legally drive and I wanted to get as far down the road as possible.
Finally pulling into a truck stop at 1pm, I figured I’d be able to sleep ten hours. After all, I’d been awake since 4am… yesterday. Imagine my alarm when I was wide awake two hours later, unable to sleep. I was able to nap another hour later in the evening before pulling out at midnight.
It was to be an easy ride through West Virginia, Virginia and then on into North Carolina. And it was… except for the mountains… and the very dense fog, making traveling the curvy and steep mountain roads treacherous. I inched onward, praying as I drove.
At long last I entered the gate of my last delivery point. Workers removed the remaining pallets of beef from my truck and I completed my load assignment. In the end, the hamburger got delivered and folks will go into grocery stores in Kentucky and North Carolina, grab up a pound of ground round without a thought of what I had to go through to make their cookout a success.
As I drove through the darkness, my mind wandered back to the decades I spent in Corporate America. Nice paycheck. Great perks. No working all night. I asked myself if driving a truck while others slept was worth it. I rolled down my window, stared up at a perfectly clear night with a bazillion stars shining brightly and simply said, “yes.”