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.
Experience, Of Course
Then there’s the biggest challenge. I have my AZ license but I don’t have any experience. I feel like a 24-year-old fresh out of university. The reality is, I may have done a lot of things in my life but I haven’t driven a loaded tractor-trailer across long stretches of highway and through countless city streets. So, I have to accrue “seat time.” That means getting a job as soon as possible and driving, driving driving … until all aspects of the job become second nature to me.
Fortunately, the trucking industry is in dire need of drivers. I’ve been told that I come across as professional and dedicated, so that will hopefully help me.
Still, everyone wants experience: “Jeez, if only you had at least six months under your belt.”
“Yeah, well, that’s why I’m here buddy.”
Test and Retest
Safety is the name of the game in trucking, more so than nearly anywhere else and as much as in construction. The first way to ensure safety is doing your pre-trip inspection daily. You have to ensure all components of your rig are in working order – for example, your truck and trailer are securely attached (coupled), your air brakes are working properly, the fluids under your hood are topped up, all lights are working and there are no oil leaks.
When you go to see about a job, the company will want to know that you an drive well, and they will test you on your driving ability. But just as importantly, they’ll test you on your ability to conduct that pre-trip inspection. If you don’t know what you’re doing, they’ll know. They’ll know right away.
If they decide you’re inept, they might not even let you in the cab. Why would they take the chance?
The Next Curve Could Be My Undoing
It will be years before I start believing that I know enough about trucking to let down my guard a little. Even then, I have to bear in mind a fact that I don’t want to learn the hard way: trucks can fail at a moment’s notice and you’d better beware when they do.
Even if a truck never fails me, the weather, the land or the road might. It’s entirely possible that the next curve on the open road may be one that I’ve never seen before. It may be a beauty. And I’m not talking about nice to look at. I’m talking about trouble like I’ve never experienced behind the wheel and don’t have the skills to handle adeptly. I need to be ready. I need to maneuver it slowly and safely.
God forbid my ride and life should end like this fatal rollover on California’s Donner Pass. (Warning: the footage may be alarming to some.)
After each and every trip, and until the end of my trucking life, I need to get home to my family. That’s my plan and I’m sticking to it.