The phone rang out of the blue. Normally it’s a robocall or some investor who wants to pressure me to sell my house.
“Hello, this is Sedrick from Commercial Driving School. Is Chito there?”
A long pause, then I remembered I was checking out their website a few days ago – I must have inadvertently made an inquiry. It didn’t take long for them to follow up.
“How would you like to get your CDL?” Sedrick, the recruiter, asked eagerly.
“Not a bad idea, but I don’t think I can commit to attending class full time right now,” I swiftly explained.
“Totally understand. That’s why we have part-time training on weekends 8 am-5 pm for 10 weeks,” Sedrick suggested.
I was just checking out their site – I couldn’t possibly be serious. After all, I’m busy running a FoodTech startup in Washington D.C. and wouldn’t have the time to start a new career in trucking.
Next thing I know, I find myself visiting the school in Middletown, VA, not too far from Front Royal or Fro Ro, the “canoe capital of Virginia.” “So why do you wanna become a trucker?” Sedrick asked as he gripped my hand firmly letting out a burst of stifled laughter.
“Don’t know if I can’t answer that question yet – don’t even know if life on the road is for me. Heck, I’m still wondering why I’m here in the first place.”
“Well, I know you live in the District. So do you wanna go over the road for weeks on end or do you wanna run local and get loads of home time.”
“Yeah, that’s the million dollar question Sedrick. Opportunities to make money in trucking are very limited in D.C. Heck, they don’t even want you to drive anything larger than a box truck within the city proper. And since I served 20 years as a Navy squid, I’m sure I could handle being gone for weeks on the road. And by the way, I’m divorced and no longer tied down to anyone, except maybe my tenants.”
* * *
“You’re doing what?” My housemate Kanita Williams asked. “Makes no sense to me.”
“Well, I’m used to living on the road. I was raised on a sailboat in SE Asia until age 12,” I replied. I’m accustomed to harsh conditions.”
“But you got an MBA. You need to be sitting in an office somewhere making wise decisions.”
“I did that for a few years for RUNINOut. Now it’s time to take the site on the road.”
“It’s a dangerous job. Some truckers drive through the night.”
“Don’t forget I was a Surface Warfare Officer in the Navy. So I’m used to standing watch during the wee hours of the morning on the bridge.”
The school was located on the campus of Lord Fairfax Community College. There would be 8 days of classroom training spread out over the first month then 100 hours of training in the driving range and on the road. The range was located 15 miles away in Front Royal, VA, which was inconvenient since some days started with a class in the mornings and range in the afternoons. Also, we frequently had to return to the school house to meet with recruiters.
The advantage of having the classroom in a college environment was the use of the recreation and fitness center which was modern and clean and never overcrowded. From the elliptical machines, patrons were provided with expansive mountain views. That feature got me over the top in my decision, so I signed up for the class begrudgingly.
On the weekends, I would be leaving the comfy confines of Washington, D.C., and spend 48 hours in a little mountain town nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah National Park. I had never considered getting behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler. Trucks were dangerous and loud. Don’t even like the game The American Trucking Simulator.
Truckers were foul-mouthed and dirty and the work was tiring and grueling. I had an MBA and I was supposed to be dressed in a suit and tie not draped in a tarp with bungee cords. I was supposed to sit behind a desk with an 18-inch screen, not an 18-inch steering wheel. But hosting events and happy hours for RUNINOut was wearing me out and there was no money in it. It wasn’t our business model after all. Adding restaurants throughout the country was our true intent, and trucking provided the opportunity to spread our reach. Trucking also provided the allure of miles upon miles of driving bliss and easy money if you can handle all the bullshit.
When we met our instructor, stereotypes of an overweight trucker in jeans and cowboy boots rolled out the window. Jimmy was every bit 5 foot 8, lean and scrawny. He sported a goatee so thick that he could easily lose his keys in it. He wore no mustache and neither did he sport any hair on top. His bald dome was so shiny, that I had to don Ray Bans to reduce the glare.
“My name is Jimmy – I’ve been on the road since it was sexy to be a trucker when you were just a twinkle in your father’s eye.
“Convoy, Smokey and the Bandit – I’m not too young to remember when the urban cowboy was idolized and when trucking was trendy,” I replied in jest.
“Dry vans, reefers, flat beds, owner operator – you name it, I’ve done it.” Wow – impressive – even flatbed, I thought to myself…that skinny guy couldn’t even lift a winch bar.
“Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I’m too small to chain down an oversized load and manhandle a damn tarp – and yes it kicked my ass a few times. But it sure as hell paid a couple of bucks or more per mile.” There was a collective laugh in affirmation.
“That’s good that you guys have a sense of humor. One word of advice – you’re gonna hear a lot of crap from me, Jd, and even Sherry. So don’t take anything personally.” Jd was an assistant instructor who spent most of his time on the range while Jimmy stayed mostly in the school house.
“We gotta mind our p’s and q’s here, we have a female in our class,” Sedrick added.
“I know why you guys wanna get into trucking,” Jimmy said to our class of seven guys and one gal.
We all looked bewildered – was he going to mesmerize us with the fun, adventuresome life on the road tales, rollin’ in the dough?
“It’s to get out of the house – escape your spouse who’s tired of seeing your batty ass day in and day out. And for you, Chito, get out of that damn Beltway that’s gotta’s drive any driver bat crazy.”
“Oh my goodness, if you only know my tenants,” I added. They put me through the wringer day in and out, then kick me in the butt on the way out.”
It’s to escape my kids,” said Martha sarcastically.
“Yeah, I’ve got three myself,” said Jimmy.
“That’s rad. How many do you have?” I asked Martha.
“Eight and one on the way,” she answered proudly.
We all looked astounded. How would she do her pre-trip if she had to worry ’bout her prenatal? This would promise to be an exciting and eventful truck driving school class if we made it out in one piece.
“So when we start trucking, will we be able to sleep in our own beds during the week?” a wet behind the ears student asked.
“H*ll no!” Jd responded with a chuckle. “Do you know what life on the road is like?” It’s shippers and receivers being rude and disrespectful and not allowing you to use the bathroom while they hold you up for hours on end. It’s using truck stop showers that still have pubes on the floor. It’s eating food you wouldn’t feed to your dog but you eat it anyway because you’re famished. It’s trying to find a safe place to park after driving for 11 hours straight. It’s trying to make an honest living while having to deal with ridiculous rules and regulations. It’s been away from your family and friends for weeks and months at a time so the rest of the country has what it needs. It’s delivering goods to the same people that cut you off in traffic and then give you the finger because you inconvenienced them for being on our roads. It’s having the heart of a lion and the soul of an angel. Being a trucker is in our blood. It’s our lifestyle. We bitch and moan, but we love what we do. We just wished that others would give us a little respect for the sacrifices we make.”
* * *