FORT WORTH, Texas June 23, 2014 — We took off in Jan’s Kenworth T2000, affectionately referred to as “Pretty Boy” or “Big Blue Truck.”
Our first stop was the Swift terminal just south of Dallas. Jan drives as an owner/operator for Swift and had hoped to get another load immediately so we could leave first thing in the morning.
The terminal consists of a large building, parking for employees, truck parking, gas pumps, and a weigh station. The parking area was filled with empty and full trailers in neat rows, waiting to be hooked up to a bobtail truck, which is a truck that doesn’t have a long trailer attached — just that abbreviated nub connected to the cab and engine area.
The main structure contains offices, a driver’s lounge with TV, vending machines, tables and chairs, recliners, internet access carrels, washers and dryers, and bathrooms including showers. Drivers filled the lounge. Almost all were men, with only a woman or two.
Unlike other male dominated occupations, the Women’s Movement has yet to make a dent in the trucking industry. It is not surprising that all the female drivers there, including Jan, are independent, confident, assertive women and living life on their own terms.
We sat outside that evening as Jan introduced me to the people she knew. There were chuckles when they found out I was not a driver but a passenger who had never traveled by big rig before.
The long-haul truck-driving fraternity is a pretty exclusive club; sleeping in the bunk of a truck and showering on the road doesn’t appeal to a lot of people. That’s not to mention the disparagement truck drivers get from society as well. It wouldn’t make the list of America’s most admired occupations. “My son the truck driver” won’t impress like “my son the doctor” or “my son the electrical engineer” will.
The funny thing is that if all truck drivers stopped for one day, our country would be in chaos. These folks keep America moving. From bottled water to clothes, food to building supplies, cars, and home furnishings — a truck driver delivered virtually everything within sight of you as you read this.
And it is not just a job; it’s a way of life. Most people wouldn’t truly be happy doing it unless they had a knack for or were born into it. Wanderlust has to be part of one’s being.
In our group was a variegated crew of married and single guys, all trying to make a living and to care for their families. They were from many different states, from all walks of life, and were a great bunch of people.
Jan began to worry that I might regret being there because we were going nowhere fast. (Not true!) The loads she was offered were of the short distance variety. A long-haul driver won’t earn money unless the short haul takes them to freight going cross-country. If there is not a payoff at the end of the short hall, the trip can even cost the driver money.
We retired to the bobtail.
After a comfortable sleep on the top bunk of the cab, the new day offered more of the same. Jan’s cell phone alert sounded many times, but all offers were short-haul loads. The odds of leaving anytime soon seemed bleak at best.
That evening we gathered outside once again with other drivers. Unusual for July in Texas, a cool breeze washed over us. Some in the group laughed at the perfectly timed banter from comedians’ voices that flowed from someone’s laptop while others talked.
In the morning we lounged in our pajamas and drank coffee in the truck. Jan has a portable coffee maker that she fills with hot water made in a thermos-looking device that plugs into an outlet in the cab. The on board computer displayed a couple of loads that looked promising but didn’t work out.
We had met up on Sunday and it was now Tuesday. Jan was flabbergasted. At some of Swift’s establishments it is not unusual to get stuck for a length of time, but not at this one. The likelihood of getting out of there that day began to fade. It was early afternoon now and Jan went to the office window to speak with one of the office guys named Tony. He dug around and found one that had goods going to Denver.
I organized the bobtail interior for the journey while Jan did her pre-trip paperwork. She called her supervisor Steve in Albuquerque to give him the good news. The load didn’t have to be in Denver until Friday so Jan asked him if she could drop it off there and have someone else deliver it (“Tcall” is the term for this.) He said he’d get back with her.
She asked me if I wanted to go to Albuquerque and possibly Phoenix. Heck yes! I had only been through one corner of New Mexico the year before but never Arizona. Steve called her back with the go-ahead.
On the road at last! The direction and route took us right past my neighborhood in Fort Worth, waving as we went by. Later that night we stopped at a brand new rest area off of US Highway 287 just south of Amarillo. It had been a long day and we were tired. After cleaning up in the quiet rest area building Jan and I went back to the truck and straight to sleep.
Our first full day of travel was just a few hours away and I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.