Wow, it's hard to believe, but I've been at my current employer for 1 year as of today. I began Truck Driving School in January of 2009, completed that in February of 2009, and was hired on in March of 2009. This post will simply serve as some observations that I've made as my first year of a truck driver.
One of the main reasons I got into truck driving was to see as much of this country as possible. I'm pleased to say, I have been to all of the lower 48 states except for North Dakota. Some states I've only been through small sections, and others I've covered extensively. But the main thing is, I've seen a lot. From the most congested areas in New York, to the most remote areas of Montana. From the Pacific to the Atlantic (and the Gulf of Mexico too!). From sea level to over 11,000ft above sea level. From desert sand to several feet of snow. From slums to the Vegas strip. I've seen it. In just one year, I've seen more of this country than most people see in their entire lifetime. I still become awe struck at the sights. Very few careers give people the opportunity to see so much.
Another reason I got into truck driving was for the independence. This has been a mixed bag of results. On one hand, truck driving is not as independent as it used to be. We are constantly tracked by GPS and our every move is recorded. I am now on electronic logs so I can't simply drive when I want and fill in the details later. My dispatcher always knows where I am, where I'm going, what I'm doing, how many hours are left on my logs, how long I've been in the sleeper, etc. I'm told where to fuel, what route to drive, how fast I can go, how many RPM's I can use climbing hills, and many more endless rules I must follow, let alone what the Department of Transportation says I can and can't do! So the freedom from that point of view is not like it used to be.
However, unlike my last job, I am usually 1,000 miles or more away from my dispatcher. I really don't know who my "boss" is. My dispatcher (or Fleet Manager) isn't my boss, he's simply a co-worker. I honestly cannot tell you who my boss is. I've never spoken to my boss. My dispatcher also doesn't really care when I drive, as long as I make it to my customer on time. Some loads require that I drive all the hours I have available to me. Others allow me to sort of take my time and wake up without an alarm clock. There are times I work when I don't want to, but there are other times when I totally set my own schedule. So the freedom is there. More than any other job I've had. But it's not as free as it once was.
The driving still hasn't gotten old. I love to drive. I don't know what it is, but I just love to drive, especially in the least congested areas of the country. Cruisin' down the open road with the classic rock blasting has become a pure addiction. If I sit more than a day or two I start getting stir crazy. I gotta get back on the road! It's hard to explain this feeling. But it's safe to say trucking is in my blood, and I'm now an addict. I don't know if I'll ever be able to kick this addiction.
The solitude is also something I still enjoy. This is something most people have a lot of trouble adjusting to. But I love it. I sort of jokingly say that I'm my own best friend. Truckers have a way of keeping themselves entertained. If you hid microphones in my truck, you'd probably think I was going crazy. But I much prefer being alone for 23 hours out of everyday than having to work with others all day long. My last job was nothing but dealing with co-workers and talking on the phone to customers all day everyday. I never have a desire to go back to that again.
I still can't get over some of the locations I am forced to navigate and the docks I have to back into. Many of the customer locations I go to were not built for trucks with 53ft trailers. At first, I was extremely nervous during difficult backing situations. But now, I actually enjoy the challenge. I sometimes surprise myself after backing into a certain area. It's amazing how much my skills have improved already. And it's also amazing that the government considers this an "unskilled trade." If they only knew.
All in all, truck driving is about what I expected it to be, but only because I researched the heck out of it before I jumped in. I do wish some things were different. For example, I wish I had time to actually enjoy some of the places I visit. I was in Vegas last week, but only had 10hrs to sleep before I had to hit the road again. No time to go enjoy the sights. I also wish some shippers and receivers would be a bit more forgiving to truck drivers. Just last week it took me 13 hours to get loaded at a certain shipper in Yuma, Arizona. This is totally uncalled for. Right now, as I type this, I've been waiting for 18 hours to get loaded. This customer does not pay detention time, so I am sitting here for free. Many customers, because of their poor practices, end up indirectly making me stay awake for 24 hours or more. I never expected to have so many 24hr days. There are a lot of things that are unfair in this industry.
Which brings me to my last point. To make it in truck driving, you have let things go. You have to be aloof. You can't let things get to you. Just take things as they come. This is just part of the lifestyle, and it actually feels great to simply not care sometimes. Somebody cuts me off? Whatever. Customer makes me wait 13 hours to get loaded? Great, I'll get some sleep and write a blog! Truck breaks down? Excellent, I'll order myself a pizza at the hotel room my company is paying for! Lock yourself out of your truck on your first solo run? Ok, well, that sucked. But I got through it, didn't I? The point is, there are two kinds of truck drivers out here. The kind that say "that isn't fair" over and over and over again, and the kind that make the best of situations and let things go. I've learned that this industry isn't fair. Not even close. The driver always gets the short end of the stick. That's just the way it is. Either whine about it, or deal with it. I choose to deal with it.
I still say this career is not for most people. It is not a glamorous life and we are vastly underpaid for what we do. As an OTR truck driver, I am away from home 4 to 6 weeks or more at a time. I then go home for 4 days before I get back on the road for another 4 to 6 weeks. It's a tough life, both mentally and physically. The standard of living we have is much lower than most Americans. But this is a job I love. It's a passion. One year later, and I'm still going strong.
Until next time, drive safely.
I thought I'd share a few of my initial impressions of my early truck driving career, having experienced it for 6 months now. It's been incredible!
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