Saturday, November 14, 2009

Long-Haul Trucking

I was wondering what it must be like to work as a long-hauler. Driving a big rig 18-wheeler across country all the time.

First, how do you even start the process?  I guess you go to trucking school and then learn about all of the laws of driving a big rig in various states minus Alaska and Hawaii, I am supposing.  You find out when and where you can pass other trucks, how long you can drive a load before you have to hang it up for the night.  Maybe how to manage the driving logs you have to maintain for the scales you pass through.

Here in California, I see those white CHP cars all the time that pretty much focus on trucks.  They are not unmarked CHP units, but then not far from it either.  They usually have the CHP logo on the side doors and on the back truck, and from your rear-view mirror, you can usually spot them by that huge bumper guard on the front of their vehicle, and then also the huge radio antenna sticking up like a ship’s mast. 

OK, so that means truckers have to keep it under a certain speed at all times and under certain conditions, and maybe they have to have the state’s sticker on their door showing that they are allowed to haul through whatever area they are in.  Those all seem pretty obvious.

But how does the trucker learn all of the nuances such as picking the right route.  It seems that it would be only through experience that one would start to learn the best ways through various parts of the country during certain times of the year.  Like, how to avoid having to put on snow chains when heading to points North East.  Or how to get as few scales in a route so that you can keep rolling as much as possible.

Do you start with a day-hauling job, say from LA to San Bernardino for a while until you understand trucking better, or can you just start right away on long-hauling jobs?  I think if I were starting, I’d prefer the latter; more scenery. 

How do you even get a big rig?  Is it like taxis where at first, you lease a rig and then maybe later when you can scrounge up enough money, then you buy your own Peterbuilt with a sleeper cab?  Something about that seems neat.  Everything you need enclosed in your little sleeper cab; your DVD player, your XM Radio, shower, little wet bar, microwave.

Do some truckers have girlfriends (or boyfriends) tucked away in different cities and states they go to that they see now and then?  And we all know from the Citizen’s Band craze in the 70’s that there is a whole subculture of lingo that is used in the trucking world., although I wonder how much of it is actually done on CB anymore.

It seems like it would be cool to see so many parts of the country in just a short number of days.  But does it all get monotonous after a while, and you just wish you were in your own bed again?  Those truck stops look so busy, full of bad food and gadgets and a whole lot of people waiting for their shower number to be called.  But again, it’s a world to itself.

But then what about the long hours on the road?  I mean you must be at the mercy of some shipping coordinator who wants you at the drop off two days ago, and so you’re logging in too many hours.  Can you enjoy a movie in your cab, or eating at that greasy spoon off of the main route?  Or, given how the economy is especially today, are truckers massively competing with one-another and working too many hours and driving with anxiety to make their drop off for fear of being fired from future jobs?

One thing I know from the miles I drive (I drive literally more than anyone I know) is that wherever I am on various routes, there are big rig long-hauler truckers all around all the time.  There must be some interesting stories behind all of that.