Monday, June 24, 2019

The Lamenting Long-Hauler

I had to take an Uber or Lyft back from the auto repair shop not long ago, and an older gentlemen picked me up.  He was exacting in getting my name checked as I got in and going over where I was headed.  I sensed that he was a retired man, yet wanted to make a little extra money and maybe even stay out of his wife’s hair for a few hours a day. 

He was slim, probably just about seventy years old, white, and dressed in denim pants and a white dress shirt.

When I was buckled up and ready for take off, we immediately started chatting, and somehow got onto the subject of driving long distances.  Knowing what I know about myself, and what I found out about him, the subject was inevitable.

He told me that he was a former long-haul truck driver.  He had worked for many companies and had driven long routes regularly, taking him from Southern California to Arizona, back to So Cal, then up to Oregon, and then down to LA.  The final portion of the route was from LA to Florida, then up a few states on the east coast (I don’t recall where), then back to Southern California. 

All of this together was one cycle if you want to put it that way.  A bit of zigzagging around the west, then out east, which took him a couple of weeks.  He said that it could be grueling because of the time-clock on getting things where they needed to be delivered, and because weather often interfered with smooth hauling. 

He then went into a sort of lamenting mood as we were about half way to my house.  He said that by the time that he was retiring, the truck driving industry had changed a lot, and for the worse.  Specifically, he pointed out how truck drivers were respected drivers of the road. They drove carefully and prudently on the balance. 

He also said that they all (including he) used to wear what would have been considered a truck uniform, if not an actual one representing the company. If no uniform were issued to a truck driver, he would wear pressed pants, an undershirt with a dress shirt over it, be clean cut and shaven, and in all, look professional. 

He told me a story of how recently he had pulled into a Flying J’s Truck Stop, now as a citizen and no longer as a long-haul truck driver.  He had stopped to talk with his wife on his cell phone when an eighteen wheeler pulled up near him.  The passenger door opened, which because of how his car was positioned, allowed him to see up into the driver’s compartment (the cab). 

This driver had long, scraggly dark hair, was wearing an extra, extra large sized pair of beach shorts and had a tank-top on that allowed the bulbous fat that comprised his belly to push out to the steering wheel.  What he saw was a very obese middle-aged man in the driver’s seat telling his girlfriend to go get him pizza.

In short order, she returned with two full sized pizzas and climbed back into the cab.  She gave the driver the two pizzas and he began to devour them.

This, my ride-share driver told me, was an exact symptom of the truck-driver mentality these days.  Don’t care what you look like, how you act, or what you do, as long as you get the deliverables delivered diligently.  That’s not how it was when he was in the business.

As my ride share driver left me off at my house he also left me with the urge, each time I’m driving through the Grapevine, to glance over at the drivers of those giant, long wheel-based Peterbilt 389’s, trying to spy if I can see some of the grotesque sloppiness for myself.  Usually, most of the truckers I inventory look pretty normal, and in my opinion most of the long haulers are very good drivers. 

Just as an adjunct to this blog, let me give you one of many helpful tips regarding driving near big rigs.  In many states, there are laws that all drivers of all vehicles need to shift away from the rightmost lane if any vehicle is stopped on the right shoulder.  This is for the safety of those who are stopped, including officers.

California is not one of those states.  However, most big rig drivers will still heed this rule of driving.  So for you, when you are driving in say, the third lane of a four lane highway (the Grapevine is a great example of this), keep your eyes out for vehicles up a ways on the right shoulder.  Because when there is one parked, sure enough, as long as a trucker has room to do it, the trucker will move from the fourth lane to the third lane. 

So if you can anticipate this ahead of time, you can be out of the eighteen wheeler’s way when he makes this shift.  This is also why is generally better, if you are driving a car or an SUV, to drive as much as you can in the number one and two lanes if you are going through areas with lots of trucks.  They can only drive in the right most two lanes, so you’ll be clear of them as they shift back and fourth. 

Happy Driving!