There are remarkable stories in every crevice and chasm. My mission is to find them and capture their essence, with clarity, creativity and compassion. Digital and social media help me convey the tales in interesting and interactive ways. I am a broadcast media veteran with nearly 15 years of professional experience, much of that with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Citytv, both in Toronto. I am also a novelist who relishes the challenge of the blank page and injecting grandiosity into common life.
Just a sample of a random car cutting off a random big truck. Image from livetrucking.com
We’re Big and Slow; You’re Small and Fast – We Get It
Let’s pretend I understand. You’re the driver of a small, fast vehicle. You’re in your sedan / hatchback / SUV / pickup truck –or on your motorcycle – and you want to get where you’re going as fast as possible. You’re willing to put up with some traffic, stop signs and lights and even a bit of bad weather. You’re even prepared to cope with smaller delivery trucks, garbage trucks and the like.
But evidently, from my experience, you’re not much ready to deal with the big boys of the road: the space-hogging tractor-trailers — the very same vehicles that bring all the things you love including food, clothes and cars themselves, to the places where you flock to buy them.
I appreciate that you don’t want to be behind, or even beside or near, one of these monsters. They’re huge, they move slowly (especially when gearing up), they need extra space to make wide turns and they’re scary to be nearby because they will crunch you in a collision.
Maybe most annoyingly, they often block you out even when they don’t intend to. Continue reading →
Steve Duffer III died on I-79 in West Virginia, just north of Meadowdale. A homemade memorial dedicated to his memory is perched on the hill beside the highway. It’s legible even from a passing trucker’s vantage point.
Each time I drive by the memorial, I quickly read the name and return my eyes to the road. For some reason I can’t recall much else about the memorial besides the dedication. I think it’s a white wooden cross that’s been hammered into the ground.
Research on Mr. Duffer’s death reveals a tragedy. He died in February 2007 when his southbound red Nissan Frontier pickup crossed the meridian on Jennings Randolph Expressway (what I-79 is named in West Virginia) and hit a tractor trailer.
The 2001 Mack tractor trailer in the northbound lanes was running out of Hickory, North Carolina – where I have picked up and delivered numerous times in my nine months as a truck driver. Continue reading →
Somewhere on a mountain highway in Virginia or West Virginia
Driving along I-77 in West Virginia and Virginia can be riveting. The green mountain scenery is astonishing, the air is fresh and cool, the highway curves are long and well-marked and there are several well-maintained roadside rest areas. As a rookie truck driver, I can see that stretches like this are what driving a tractor-trailer is all about.
While many friends and former coworkers are nestled in restrictive office cubicles, I’m out on the open road, enjoying the vistas while maintaining good speed and keeping a cautious watch for bad or distracted drivers … in cars, small trucks, motorcycles and even other tractor-trailers.
Eager for Enjoyment
I’ve been driving on my own for over six months now. Each week I head to North and South Carolina to drop off and pick up an interesting array of goods, including machinery, auto parts, clothes and toys. In this time, I’ve found there’s one thing that sticks with me and comes second only to safety: the desire to enjoy this career and all its trappings. Continue reading →
This is a reminder to me, to make everyone feel safe when I’m driving.
A Test of Patience
Damn all of the tests and exams I did in high school, university and college. Yes, I graduated from all three institutions. In doing so, I succumbed to the opinions and whims of many teachers, professors and instructors.
You want to know what’s the most damning? Look where all that learning and eternal quizzing got me: a career path that’s disheveled and endlessly discouraging. Sometimes I long to live out the rest of my years on an Nepalese mountainside, actively practicing Buddhism. This past summer, I decided on a career path that’s designed to rescue me from visions of eternal career failure. Guess what I unwittingly pitted myself against? That’s right: more tests and exams.
In the truck driving business, you get trained to get tested. Yeah, I realize life in general is like that. But for the longest time I was evaluated on the type of work I was very good at: writing and relating. Continue reading →
Where will the road take me now that I have my truck driver’s license?
Driving Beyond Fear
A few months ago, I hastily vowed to do something every day that scares the stuffing out of me. I was thinking along the lines of ordering a drink at Starbucks that I’d never tried before. I figured I’d work my way up from there. Eventually, I would try something like parasailing. Then along came this goofy idea to become a truck driver. It was my vision for salvaging my career, post journalism.
It’s a good thing I’m a little fearless. Otherwise, the last two months might have overwhelmed me. Driving an 18-wheeler is not for the faint of spirit. I learned to do it through many hours on the road and in the trucking yard. Recently, I learned that as scary as it is to drive the giant truck with an instructor beside you, it’s even more daunting to take a driver’s test with an examiner next to you, critiquing your every move.
If that’s not scary enough, how about driving a big rig with manual transmission, when you’ve never learned stick shifting in a car? Upshifting and downshifting is tough enough, but try doing it while still paying complete attention to all 70-plus feet of your tractor-trailer. That’s my current challenge. Judging by the buildup of tightness in my neck muscles, it’s been arduous. Continue reading →
In my experience of regular – non-truck – driving, there’s two things people don’t do very well: parallel parking and backing up. Then there’s all the stuff they simply fail to do, like looking both ways at an intersection and always signalling before a turn or lane chance. But I’m not here to rant.
In the business of operating a tractor-trailer, parallel parking is something you’ll do once in a while, I’m told. But backing up is a daily occurrence. You have to reverse into a loading dock every time you deliver goods to your destination. Being proficient at it isn’t just a good thing; it’s essential.
And it’s hard to do. Consider how long a tractor-trailer is: a combined @ 65-71 feet. Bear in mind that you have two separate units joined only by a steel pin and a coupling device. Obviously, you’ll never master this on your first day of trying. I definitely didn’t.
I don’t think I was horrible at backing up, although my more experienced co-trainee Eric might disagree. As might the two instructors who were looking on. The purpose of training is to work together to make everyone a good driver. So, they may have decided to encourage me and not tell the truth: ‘You suck at backing up.’
They didn’t have to tell me anything. I did suck at it. But it was day one of reversing for me. I’d never backed up anything bigger than a small U-Haul truck and that was many years ago. Continue reading →
These are key measuring points in the circle check, the round-the-truck pre-trip inspection that every driver needs to complete each day before hitting the road. This is what I have spent the majority of my first week of truck driver training on, trying to memorize.
Most people don’t spend a lot of time walking around their car or truck and carefully examining it for possible defects – namely that everything in view or under the hood is secure and damage free, working properly, and free of obstructions. In the trucking industry, it’s a whole different story. You spend a lot of time doing exactly that, in the name of safety. Safety matters most in this business. Nothing else is even close. Continue reading →
How do you go from digital journalism to long distance truck driving? This isn’t a riddle; for me it’s my disjointed career path in progress.
In 2011 I was content in my work at CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I was part of a great team producing a fantastic project, the CBC Digital Archives website. The site is a treasure trove of Canadian historical content through the eyes of the national broadcaster. I’ve never had a better job or worked with better people. Then cuts to the team hit me and I got moved to the post production department. I did well but was never a good fit. Then in late 2012 the entire department was eliminated. That was that for my CBC years.
What came next started with hope and optimism. I applied crazily for jobs and started to build an online presence with a simple LinkedIn profile. Then slowly, throughout long weeks and months, I was hit with brutal reality. The world of journalism – and digital communications – was in a perpetual state of chaos. There was little room for an experienced and skilled worker who demanded reasonable pay and benefits.
The four years that followed would lead us to about now. I can’t easily condense the heartache and disappointment that I’ve endured into one short blog article, so I’ll try to summarize. You might be amazed if I told you the combined number of jobs I applied for, interviews I had for jobs that didn’t fit my skills and experience, networking meetings I attended, emails and letters I sent and responded to, resume and LinkedIn profile revisions I did, former colleagues I spoke with about my plight, politicians I contacted about said plight, job search programs I completed, counselors and therapists and doctors I consulted about losing hope in my life, freelance projects that I did and hated, freelance projects that I tried in vain to get and wasted a lot of time trying, one four-month contract that proved slightly fruitful and not too painful, and (whew!) number of hours I spent running and working out just trying to keep my sanity intact. Continue reading →
When I was 22, I was still a confused and directionless kid when I plucked myself out of my comfort zone and moved from Hamilton to Montreal, to begin school at Concordia University as a mature student. I attended classes on a part-time basis because I wasn’t yet accepted for full-time studies. There were so many reasons that I shouldn’t have gone – it’s far away from home, it’s expensive, I wouldn’t be studying full-time right away, I might get lonely and homesick, I don’t know what the hell I’m getting into – but I went anyway. Looking back – years after graduating with my degree in Political Science, which preceded my career in digital journalism – I can think of only one reason why I made the leap of faith: my intuition led me to it.
I’ve been guided by my intuition many times since, and almost every time I’ve given in to the inner voice that instructs me to take a certain road even though another road might be easier and may bring results sooner. Often I don’t understand my intuition but I’ve gotten so used to deferring to it, unquestioned. I sometimes believe there’s no longer much point of giving in to my oft-ignored rational thoughts, even in light of repeated upheaval in my professional life. Continue reading →
In four months of working in the realm of taxes and tax returns, I learned one startling certainty about myself: I can be curious about anything.
If my curiosity can be piqued or even subtly provoked by matters of RRSPs, investments, capital gains, tax deductions, the Canada Revenue Agency and the electronic filing of tax returns, it’s possible that I could be curious about an astoundingly wide range of subjects: perhaps denture adhesives, nail polish removal tactics, residential rodent removal and practical uses for dryer lint.
If I can turn a day of research into an informative article on how to claim your dependents on your tax return, I may have to search deeper inside myself for other hidden talents, such as latent aptitudes for soft tissue massage or lathe operation.
If I can elevate my mind and spirit into a singular force that can teach you about completing your tax return – once you summon the patience to absorb the information – I might be able to lead an unruly group of underachieving teenagers to excel on their EQAO exams. Forget that I never even fleetingly considered going into teaching. This revelation has opened up new fields of consideration. Continue reading →