So There's A Truck Driver Shortage. 

What's In It For You?  (A Lot)

 

            For young people who don't have families yet, long haul trucking offers many benefits if you're up for roughing it a little.  The median pay is $37,000 - 43,000 a year to start. That's a sizeable down payment on a house, a future college degree, or quite an extended vacation.   And with a shift in perspective, long haul truck driving could be one of the more rewarding experiences in your life.  It certainly was for me.

Forty years ago, I left my rural Humboldt County home after receiving my training and CDL (Commercial Driver's License) from College of the Redwoods.  In my twenties, I was the only woman in the class.  My plan was to save money, see America, have some fun, and write a book about my experiences. 

Hired into the lowest paying entry-level long haul job, I saved money because I had no expenses.  I bought food in grocery stores and ate in rest stops.  I washed my clothes at the company's laundry facilities. I unloaded my own truck and never paid a worker to back my truck up to the dock.  I slept in the truck and used public swimming not only to shower, but to get plenty of exercise.  Today, with the wages and paid training companies are offering, you can bring home quite a nest egg if you're a good fit for the job. 

First, ask yourself, do you like to drive?  If your answer is an unequivocal yes, the next question is:  Are you the right person for a long haul driving job?   Consider carefully, because once you're out there, you can't fake it. 

Driving for days on end can get pretty lonely.  Today, drivers have cell phones, video chats, and social media to keep in touch with friends and family.  Back in 1980, an afternoon enjoyed with a stranger was the best I could hope for.  I read letters from home several weeks after they were mailed, because I had to be driving through Oklahoma City to receive them.  If you can befriend your driving partner, well, that's gold.  Out of eleven driving partners, I only struck gold once.

But if there's a bit of adventure in your spirit, you might love the variety of people you'll meet and the different parts of yourself you'll discover that only a transient life-style can offer.  I watched the different ways in which people lived all over the country, from strangers, to dock workers, to my driving partners.  I met sidewalk fruit venders, museum visitors, zoo patrons, college students, and dance partners.  I met them in San Jose, Indianapolis, Memphis, Pendleton, Ellensburg, and Los Angeles.  All so different from my rural, Humboldt County upbringing, I learned so much about myself in comparison.  With few exceptions, most people were actually more kind-hearted and generous than I was.  If I had it to do over again, I'd take a good camera.  Man-oh-man, I'd call my book "Portraits of America."  We are interesting people.

Long haul can get pretty boring, it's true. The I-40 and I-80 go on forever. Having a "plot" to go along with my job gave me the creative outlet that long haul by itself, lacks.  In the 80's, driving was only half the equation for me.  The other half was writing a book about my travels, which ended up including much of what I'd learned about myself.

The other half of your driving life might be photography, or sketching, or blogging.  Bring your guitar along and play open-mic-nights all over the country.  Bird watching or hiking in nature probably won't be possible, so make a note of where you want to return some day.  New Mexico and Arizona went on my bucket list.

 

Women, does your preferred environment include an overstuffed couch, music, and a dog in your lap? (Me too.)  Do you like to take a bath more than a shower? (Me too.)  But, I'd also rather mow the lawn, stack wood, or build a fire than cook, clean, or sew.  I'm a Tomboy, and have always preferred wearing work boots and baggy pants to dresses and heels.  As a kid, I wanted to play football with my brothers. If there's a Tomboy in you, you're going to love driving that big truck.

One question people often asked was "Weren't you afraid to be out there all by yourself?"  No.  I wasn't.   I think I felt no fear because I wasn't a part of anyone else's life.  Later, when I had a partner at home, I did feel fear.  For me, fear was tied up with leaving the people I loved.

But fear for you might mean getting physically hurt.  And what I've learned recently, is that most crime reported in the trucking industry is prostitution and drug dealing.  Pretty easy to avoid.  There's actually more violent crime on college campuses than there is out on the road.  Breakdowns?  Don't worry.  Truck drivers help each other out there.  Accidents?  Get enough sleep.  Drive carefully.  You'll be fine.  But just in case, be forthright about your expectations for safety when you're hired.  Have a plan to defend yourself.

The top five CDL training companies recommended by the R & J Truckers' blog will pay for your training.  Roehl Trucking  is one of the five.  They pay $500 a week while you're learning to drive and require a 15-month commitment upon hiring.  They have programs allowing you to bring a pet along as well as a Passenger Program. 

.  For women, the non-profit organization Women In Trucking (WIT) offers mentoring and career guidance.  In January 2017, WIT reported that women comprise over 7% of female over-the-road drivers and 23% of management.  That's up from the 5.8% women truckers reported in 2015 according to the National Truckers Association.

Two years in, I still loved driving but missed home and that man I'd met.  Upon returning, a local health food store and distributorship hired me to drive the Eugene, Oregon, run.  For three days each week I delivered groceries to regular customers and then picked up wholesale goods for the return trip. The pay was decent, I got four days off, and they paid me a per diem to stay in motels.  Long haul might be a perfect career for you, but if not, it's great training to get that home-based driving job.

Today's trucks boggle the mind with all their technological push-button miracles, their plush interiors, and safety regulations.   In the 80's, I bounced around in a coffin-sized sleeper while my partner drove. And when I was driving alone, I juggled three log books in order to deliver my load on time and still appear legal.  But even with the difficulties of long haul in the 80s, the memory of my time in the cab is a memory of my Tomboy spirit at her finest hour.  Those few years shaped my character, defined my independence, and steered me into adulthood with a confidence I didn't know I had. 

Back then, I was young, single, and itching for an adventure.  You too?  Give long haul a shot.  And pay attention.  America will reflect back to you who you are.

 

P.S.  Hospitals and Libraries have the best bathrooms. 

Margot Genger is the Author of Shift Happens, Breakdowns During Life's Long Hauls

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