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Drive a mile in their shoes

An appreciation for truckers after getting behind the wheel(s)

Not so very long ago, the only tucks that moved my needle were ones delivering Amazon packages to my door. Bring me an iPod, sneakers, DVDs or a lawn mower advertised as easy to assemble (it was!) and I saluted the vehicle and its driver. Any and all other trucks were merely road nuisances.

Not anymore. Now, as an American Trucker staffer, trucks, or the trucking industry to be more precise, basically provide me the wherewithal to buy the iPods, sneakers, DVDs and lawn mower. Well, not the mower. That I tried to return because it was hard to start, but since I’d gassed it up Amazon didn’t want it sent back over safety concerns. They voided the credit card charge and told me I could dispose of or donate it. And I had every intention of doing so after the grass stopped growing that year, but forgot. And would you believe it—six years later it’s still hard to start. I love Amazon.

Where was I? Oh yes, trucks and truckers. I had the unique pleasure of visiting the huge proving grounds for one of the major OEMs. New and upgraded trucks of all sizes were being showcased for the media, and we were encouraged to test drive them on a three-mile oval as well as a durability track with potholed roads, dangerous obstacles and severely uneven surfaces designed to devastate axles, grind gears and otherwise lay waste to any unworthy vehicle.

I could have saved them the trouble and expense of building the proving grounds by providing advice on which Brooklyn and Bronx, NY streets would serve the same purposes, but that’s another story.

My first impression at the proving grounds was that the owner was missing a great opportunity for ancillary income. It would make a cool theme park. Would not nine out of 10 men pay around $25 once in their lives to guide an 18-wheeler around banked curves, or a dump truck on cobblestones, or try backing a long trailer into a bay? And what kid wouldn’t love to sit up high in truck after truck, blasting the air horns?

I’ve veered off course again. Trucks were the main attraction, yes, but after it was over I was more in awe of the truckers who drive them full-time.

Comfort shmumfort; truck seats may look like easy chairs but when the machine is in motion you feel that road. I drive a 2002 Saturn wagon my editor calls ‘the beast,’ but it rides and handles like a Mercedes-Maybach in comparison to most of the trucks I tested. Not a surprise, since they’re built for work, not play. And no doubt they just take some getting used to.

Then there is the concentration required to drive trucks endlessly. Those big boys take up a lot of space on the road. I used to think they held sway, but that’s not really the case. Most of us are wary of their rigs, but truckers have a lot to lose as driving is their livelihood. And with cameras becoming more and more prevalent in cabs, the stakes have been raised regarding accident avoidance.

Patience is a must virtue for a trucker. Whenever there’s heavy traffic it’s the trucks who bare the brunt. Their lack of quick acceleration when stopped or slowed means car drivers think nothing of jumping in front of them.

Many truckers avoid the crowds by traveling on off hours, meaning nights. That’s another challenge, being constantly in action with little or no daylight.

And about that mileage. I understand that the average trucker drives 2,500 miles a week, or about 500 miles a day. My son’s a sophomore at UConn, 90 miles from our Westport,  CT home. My wife is used to me collapsing on the couch after driving him to school, then returning later that day.

So just one day’s trucker workload would equate to my going there and back, there and back and there, with 50-plus miles left over. A CDL is not in my future.

It was fun and educational to see the newest truck cabs, with their sleek TVs, good-size mattresses and other amenities. What was unsaid is that long-haul drivers don’t work 9-to-5 and go home. The truck is their home.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Truckers earn a decent buck, and most of them love the freedom of the road. It’s a lifestyle that works for them. Truckers are tough. Going forward I think I’ll still give them plenty of room. 

TAGS: News Business
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