Originally Published 2017.11.20 on G+
So, in 1987, I decided I wanted to be a truck driver. Well, I didn’t really decide, my marriage had fallen apart and I was jobless in Las Vegas, city of Compassion and Generosity. The state had a ‘let us train you to get the hell out of Nevada’ program, and one of the courses was Long Haul Trucking. Now, I love to drive. I started driving when I was just a little kid, sitting on my Grandfathers lap at age 4, steering while he worked the pedals. I was enchanted by it, and continue to have that love of driving to this day. Little did either of us know, but just a few years later, at age 14, I would steal his car and drive over 300 miles across three state lines, but that’s another story….
I completed my truck driving training through the winter of 86/87, in Sun Prairie Wisconsin, Ground Hog Capitol of the World. My classmates were mostly other rejects, failures, and degenerates from Vegas, with a few normal people thrown in for leavening. There were about 20 of us, all told, from all walks of life and backgrounds, and we studied, drove, lived, ate, and partied together for 16 long weeks.
I graduated and got my first truck driving job. It lasted for about 8 months. I didn’t really mind, I didn’t see anyplace even remotely resembling home in that entire 8 months. It was drive, truck stop, dinner, tequila, pass out, lather, rinse, repeat, for eight long, lonely, months. Then I got called back the home depot.
I had had a joint in my bag for a special occasion. Another driver had thought I was a prick – and to be fair I probably was – and he sent a note to the company telling them so. So much for that job. So, I went down to South Florida, God’s waiting room and everyone else’s parole violation. My mum lived there, and sure, why not, family is where they have to take ya right? And that’s what people with no options /do/ – move to South Florida and try to start over…
I got a job as a contract driver for a guy in West Palm Beach. My first load was 80,000 pounds of Prime Argentinian Beef, going from Miami to The Middle Of Bum Fuck, Tennessee. Not a bad trip, really. An easy 8 hour drive out of Florida, a night’s sleep, another 8 hours to get to the delivery site. Just drive up to Atlanta, turn leftish, and follow the directions. Simple, right? 16 hours of driving, 8 hours sleep. A total of 24 hours of driving and rest, and I had 36 hours to do it in.
Well, no. The depot I was to load at took a solid 8 hours to just get me loaded. Instead of being fresh and ready for a full day of driving, I was exhausted. Sitting in a truck cab in Miami for 8 hours is not the most comfortable or restful of experiences, it turns out. But, I still had 28 hours, and only 24 hours of work to do. Still doable, right?
Well, no. That delay put me in the middle of rush hour traffic for the entire trip up I-95. Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce. I’d break free of one city, just start getting some time back and POW another rush hour traffic jam. By the time I got about 4 hours up the road (normally a simple 2 hour drive) I. Was. /Exhausted/. I was genuinely unsafe on the road. They say that each hour of missing sleep is like a beer when you are driving, and I felt like I’d drunk a case. I pulled in to a roadside rest-stop, crawled in the back and did some math..
Less 8 hours spent loading
Less 4 hours ‘spent driving’
24 hours left.
I had 9 hours of driving to get to my drop off location.
So, 15 hours left, 9 hours to go, I can sleep for four hours. By law, I should have had 8 hours, but, real life. I set my alarm and passed out.
6 hours later, I woke up. Shit. OK, I can just make this. I feel pretty refreshed, the drive now is a pretty easy one. I can do this! 9 hours to go, 9 hours to do it in.
I get to Atlanta 4 hours later, am on the beltway and the truck just dies. Now, I do not know if you have ever had a car with power steering die on you at 60 miles an hour, but it is a… brisk experience. The steering wheel you could turn with one finger a moment ago now requires both hands and some real strength to turn. Your brakes go from being these kind and benevolent things, there to save your life at the slightest touch, and now actively push back against your foot, as if to say, no, actually, we’d prefer it if you die now. You feel as though you have unlocked a life achievement when you get your car stopped safely by the side of the road.
Now, imagine that happening in a big rig. 80000 pounds of truck and Prime Argentinian Beef hurtling around the crowded Atlanta beltway, almost unsteerable and only able to brake as long as the compressed air still in the tanks remains. Brake too much before I get to the side of the road and all my brakes will lock up solid when those tanks run dry.
Well, it seemed like forever but was only moment, and I was safely stopped by the side of the road. I hadn’t killed anyone and my 80000 pounds of Prime Argentinian Beef was safe. Now, remember that this is the mid 80’s. Cell-phones are barely on the market and Sat Nav isn’t even a thing yet.
I had my CB radio, and a paper road atlas. That was the extent of our ‘assistive technology’ back then.
Long story shorter, hours pass and I finally get towed to a shop and crash at the motel next door while they fix my truck. 10 hours later, waiting for parts, waiting, waiting, waiting, I finally get back on the road. At this point, I am 5 hours past my deadline.
Well, remember I said sat nav wasn’t around yet? I spent hours looking for this place. I would stop for directions and the people I asked would be really helpful…. “OK, drive down this road till you get to where the old oak used to be, then drive until you get to what was the Johansen place before it all burned down, its just some trees now, can’t hardly tell it was ever the Johansen place anymore, and turn left…”
OK, so I finally find the place and drop off my 80,000 pounds of Prime Argentinian Beef. I call my boss and he is PISSED. I was late, he didn’t believe that the truck had broken down, and he wanted me back in Miami NOW.
I am exhausted, stressed, sleep deprived and pissed off at this douche nozzle of a boss, but I start the drive back home.
An hour in, I realise I am way too tired to continue. I park at a truck stop, get out of the truck, and start zombie shuffling into the restaurant. A meal, some truck stop coffee, maybe a complete change of blood, and hah, I’m good.
Two 20 somethings intercept me before I reach the door.
“I see you have Florida plates, are you going back there?”
“Could we maybe get a ride? We are going to West Palm Beach.”
“Well, I dunno. Come join me over breakfast and we’ll talk”
They did, and we did, and I felt comfortable enough with them to say yes.
We all pile into the truck and start driving south.
A couple hours later I realise I /have/ to sleep.
I pull into a busy rest stop, tell the guys I’m really sorry, but I was going have to sleep, and they were going to have to find another ride the rest of the way.
“Well, I do know how to drive tractor-trailer”, one said, “I could drive some until you are rested.”
Well, I was young and stupid. I put him behind the wheel, stayed in the cab long enough to see that he really did know how to drive a big rig, told him my address in West Palm, and CRAWLED IN THE BACK AND WENT TO SLEEP.
Let that register. I gave control of a $250,000 truck to two hitchhikers, and went to sleep in the back.
What does your experience tells you comes next? I wake up dead right? Or some redneck pervert’s sex toy? Bring Out the Gimp!
8 hours later, I feel a shake of my shoulder and a voice saying “Hey man, we’re here. Thanks!”
By the time I had got up and got in the front seat, they were already walking away down the road, waving goodbye.
Me and my truck? We were parked in front of my house, safe and sound.
So yes, the world is a dangerous place full of people who only want to do you harm. But that’s not the only kind of people in the world.
I should have died that day.
Instead, I am here to tell you the story.
Because /good/ people.