Taking it on the road: Two girls and the dream of driving the big-rig

Claire and Jan waving good-bye (C.Hickey)

FORT WORTH, Texas June 17, 2014 — I recently experienced the trip of a lifetime; a journey that has been thirty years in the making. My childhood friend Jan and I began making plans for it while hanging out in the garage at the cartage company owned by her dad in our hometown, Dolton, Illinois.

We lived in the same neighborhood and met in 1969 but didn’t get close until our freshman year at Thornridge High School.  Jan sat behind me in biology class. Our conversation started when, having a crush on her neighbor, I began pumping her for information about him.

It didn’t take long to realize we were kindred spirits. On the outside our interests varied a lot, but inside we were and still are much alike.

Jan’s biggest interest at the time (besides boys) was trucks.

Our ride: Jan's Freightliner she affectionately refers to as "Pretty Boy" or "Big Blue Truck" (C.Hickey)
Our ride: Jan’s Freightliner she affectionately refers to as “Pretty Boy” or “Big Blue Truck” (C.Hickey)

I’m talking big rigs. Other teens collected posters of rock bands but Jan had posters of Peterbuilt and Freightliner trucks adorning the walls of her bedroom. At fourteen years old she knew she wanted to drive trucks when she grew up.

Jan learned to operate the thirteen-gear rigs in the company parking lot, dad sitting beside her, at the age of twelve.

It was the late seventies and driving a truck was cool thanks to the movie Smokey and the Bandit and the top forty hit Convoy. It didn’t take long for me to catch the urge to drive a truck too.

Jan and I had it all planned out.  We were going to team as drivers until I fell in love and got married. Then I would stay home and have babies and re-join Jan on the road when they were old enough for me to do so.

Jan on the other hand never wanted to get married or have kids. She fully expected a man to be in her life, but he was going to have to be okay with her being on the road.

Yep, as far as we were concerned it was set in stone. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans.

The first crack came in 1979 when I moved with my family across the country to Texas.  We were undeterred. One thousand miles and a whole new culture didn’t weaken our friendship. Teen-age intentions went to the backburner, however, when Jan got married and had her first baby at seventeen. She now has four kids in all and was married for twenty-five years.

I on the other hand didn’t marry until I was thirty-one, despite the incessant nagging from my family. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to get married; it just didn’t happen until then. In fact, my kids learned to walk and read while Jan’s children were navigating high school.

Eventually those best-laid plans got lost in the file within us labeled Forgotten Hopes and Dreams.

Life happened many times over since then.

After her divorce and dealing with mental and emotional effects that go with it, Jan suddenly realized that she was now free. But not just in terms of the divorce. Her kids were on their own now and the only person she had a responsibility to was herself.

Jan’s desire came rushing back: she could now learn to drive cross country. The future was looking brighter by the minute.

After checking several companies she chose one that had a school and hired new drivers. She applied and went to Phoenix for classes. To make a long story short in no time at all she was living her passion and loves it as much as she thought she would.

One day I got a call out of the blue and she said, “Guess what I’m doing now? Guess what kind of job I have?” It had been so long since we talked about it that I couldn’t fathom what it could be. Boy did I feel silly when she blurted out that she was living up to the nickname given her by my dad, Trucker.

Jan plots our road trip (C.Hickey)
Jan plots our road trip (C.Hickey)

What an unexpected joy to hear your friend is living her passion!! I know just what it means for her to do this. Not only is she living her dream, she’s finally living life on her own terms.

Jan went from her dad’s house, to marriage. She had never lived on her own without someone else whether it was her parents, husband, or kids. Now all she has to do is take care of herself.

It wasn’t long before she asked me to come out on the road with her. The wheels in my mind started turning. I treasure any kind of travel, especially cross country road trips. I love to go new places, see new things and meet new people.

One thing or another kept me from going over the last couple of years though. But thankfully her travels have brought her to my home in Fort Worth on several occasions. Over the years any time we spent together was when I’d visit Chicago and had to put her on the “to see” list along with a couple other friends and an abundance of family.

It was an extremely eventful year for me but one day I realized everything was in place for me to make a trip with her. All I had to do was call and say, “Come get me.” And she did.

On July 25 my husband drove me to where she was dropping off a load in Arlington, Texas. As we buckled into our very comfortable seats way up in the big rig Jan and I looked at each other and realized just how long this trip was in the making.

When we sat at Rose’s Cartage Company way back in the 1970’s planning this trip  neither of us could have imagined how long it would take or where we’d be in life when it would actually happen. It took one thousand miles, thirty-two years, and a partridge in a pear tree but we finally made it.

And what a ride it was. Stay tuned for upcoming columns about the actual trip.



Read more of Claire’s work at Feed the Mind, Nourish the Soulin the Communities Digital News and Greater Fort Worth Writers.

Join her on Twitter;Facebook;Feed the Mind, Nourish the Soul FB Page;Greater Fort Worth Writers Group FB Page


It’s vacation time in the US which means cross-country travel for many. The following article is the first of several that chronicles my adventure with Jan Pawlak in the summer of 2010. 

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