Career Truck Drivers: Real American Heroes
It’s all a Matter of Perspective
When our son, Sean, returned from his first of two deployments to the war in Iraq, countless people went out of their way to tell him, “Thank you for your service.”
That young U.S. Marine was uncomfortable with all the attention. He really didn’t know how to react. He’d say, “All this attention doesn’t feel right. I’m just a guy in uniform who carries a machine gun to work.”
Tracey and I were taking our daily neighborhood walk with our dog, Chica, late yesterday afternoon. The little oasis where we live has a few more than one hundred homes. A majority of the homes in this safe stable subdivision are occupied by retirees, and most of us know each other by name or sight. After 16 years in this amazing neighborhood, our neighbors have become like family. Daily walks provide an opportunity for us to catch up with our friends and their families. Lately, there is more to discuss, given the pandemic sweeping the planet.
Back to yesterday’s walk…
It came to my attention that Steve Fowler’s recent activities in faraway places have been part of many curbside discussions. We encountered four different souls as we quickly took “The Beast” on a very short walk yesterday afternoon. Each of them approached us and told me, “Thank you for your service!”
This neighbor was uncomfortable with the attention. I really didn’t know how to react. All the attention doesn’t feel right. After all, I’m just a guy who’s been driving a truck.
That’s right. I’m transporting merchandise in a seventy-three foot tractor/trailer across America for Tucson-based Eagle KMC Transportation; an affiliate of Werner Enterprises, Inc.
A few months ago I was trying to find a way to clear my head, so I could concentrate better on two more books I’m writing. Tracey suggested I become a long haul trucker. She knows I love driving and can relax well on the open road. Tracey also knows handling heavy equipment and driving large vehicles is second nature for me. I would prefer a cabin in the mountains for writing, but Tracey’s formula makes more sense. After all, driving a truck can provide income while writing a book.
I decided to give it a go. I couldn’t know my timing would dovetail with that of a panicky nation needing toilet paper, hand sanitizer, medical equipment, and more.
On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a National Emergency. That same day the 50th U.S. death was reported. Three days later I was behind the wheel of a Freightliner Cascadia, pulling a 53’ trailer filled with freight.
Over the next 33 days I would travel into 25 different states and Washington D.C.; crossing state lines 74 times. Seventy-three feet of tractor and trailer, weighing nearly 80,000 pounds at times, easily drove through abnormally quiet city thoroughfares that included Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Louisville, Little Rock, New Orleans, Houston, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, Cincinnati (I think), Austin, Denver, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Memphis, Phoenix, Knoxville, Omaha, Milwaukee, Nashville, and Washington D.C.’s Beltway. That was fun, interesting, and weird. Weird? Yep. There were few automobiles on the road.
That’s where the fun ended…
I didn’t enjoy a single sit down meal during all those weeks I was on the road. Every meal was consumed in the cab of the truck. As you know, restaurants everywhere are either closed or strictly takeout. Truckers have few choices beyond processed food collected at truck stops. Grab ‘n go. Fast food restaurants, marginally better than truck stop fare, were relatively rare. Drive-thru lines are always long and truckers have tight schedules to keep. After all, you want your toilet paper, right? I digress…
Anyway, most drive-thru’s frown on walkup orders and will refuse service to those not in an automobile. “No walkup orders” is a common refrain. Driving around the building and pulling up to a drive-thru window isn’t an option for big rigs.
Rest stops are closed across many states. Fortunately, some are open to truckers only. Thank you! Truck stops are generally filled to capacity. Truckers have few resting and restroom options.
A few bright spots…
I believe I was in the midwest somewhere and heard news accounts about a group of citizens in Tucson that decided to honor truckers and provide them with free home-cooked meals. Using GoFundMe and other seed money, they set up at Tucson’s Triple “T” Truck Stop. They also worked with Arizona’s Department of Transportation to alert truckers about the project; via the electronic signs hanging over Interstate 10. I spoke with Tracey about it and discovered an old friend, Kent Bauman, was one of the ringleaders in that conspiracy. Kent told me they’ve expanded to a nearby Pilot Truck Stop. I believe they have now provided many hundreds of meals to appreciative truck drivers. Thanks so much to Kent, his wife Stephanie, and all those other thoughtful volunteers and donors. You are very much appreciated! You’re heroes!
Two days later while passing through New Mexico, a nice elderly lady approached the truck and said she wanted to buy a trucker his lunch, because she appreciates truck drivers and their sacrifices on behalf of Americans everywhere. Her $20 bill was awkwardly accepted and appreciated. What a sweetheart! She drove away with the words of an appreciative trucker in her ear. “God Bless You, Dear Lady.”
Last night Tucker Carlson used a segment on his television show and referred to truckers as heroes. To be totally honest, that was nice of him, but I really don’t feel like a hero. I’m simply driving a truck, relocating merchandise. It’s interesting and fun, but heroic isn’t a word I can comfortably associate with my activities. I’m simply moving products from one place to another.
For example, I hauled a trailer filled with a papery cloth to a manufacturing facility so it could be turned into baby wipes and disinfecting wipes. I’ve delivered hundreds of thousands of pounds of dog food, toilet paper, baby and adult diapers, tampons, detergent, fabric softener, whiskey bottles, clothing, packaging materials, building materials, paint, beer, agricultural products and much more; from suppliers and manufacturers, to distribution facilities across our nation. Our accounts include major online retailers needing us to reposition online orders to regional distribution centers. I have also delivered entire loads to waiting staff members at the occasional big-box store.
Moving those items on the highways has been interesting. As I mentioned previously, I’ve driven through major American cities, without much traffic. However, traffic on the Interstate highways, or a lack thereof, is what actually amazes me. On long straight roads, I can drive miles without seeing another vehicle in either direction. I first noticed this in eastern Colorado and across Kansas. I was amazed. When I did see another vehicle, it was usually another 18 wheeler. I went nearly 3 weeks without seeing any RV’s traveling on Interstate highways.
Those peaceful miles on nearly empty fields of asphalt have given me the peace and solitude I wanted in a mountain hideaway; allowing me to work on my third and fourth books. No, I’m not typing as I drive. I’m simply working out characters, plots, timelines, and storylines in my head when behind the wheel. That permits me to stop for the night and type my thoughts into a laptop computer.
No heroism here. However, I do appreciate the kind words. Although driving a truck is, in many ways, easy – the life of a truck driver is not. I’m a relative neophyte in the trucker universe. It is seasoned truckers who draw my appreciation.
Over-the-Road career truck drivers are away from loved ones for many weeks at a time and often go 6 or 7 weeks between opportunities for home time. Truckstop food is generally of low quality, the taste is at best questionable, and it’s unquestionably unhealthy. They share restrooms and shower facilities with complete strangers. Truckers often go years without seeing anyone they know on the road. It’s a life of sacrifice and solitude; with little recognition. Now they are working on behalf of Americans everywhere, braving the invisible Coronavirus enemy as they visit truck stops, loading docks, distribution facilities, weigh stations (the few that are open), and guard gates.
Most people don’t realize just how vital truckers are to them in their everyday lives. We get frustrated with truck drivers on the highways. They irritate us in our communities when they’re blocking the road (city streets and intersections are designed for cars and small trucks, not tractor/trailer rigs). People generally consider them a nuisance. Consider this…
With very few exceptions, just about everything in your home and at your workplace came in a trailer, pulled by a tractor. A semi.
A big rig probably delivered your car to the dealer. Your furnishings, the paint on your walls, the underlying sheetrock, wiring, insulation, wood and metal studs and other structural components, plumbing, flooring, lighting, cookware, appliances, clothing, foodstuffs, linens, paper products, windows, electronics, etc… all came on a truck. The same could be said for school houses, shopping centers, hospitals, and movie theaters. Yep, all made possible by the dedicated, largely invisible, under appreciated truck driver. After walking in their shoes for a short time and traveling their roads, I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for truckers. They’ve earned my respect and appreciation.
Recognition and words of appreciation are, for many, like unexpected gifts. They can be difficult to accept with grace and comfort. Although I haven’t done anything while truck driving worthy of association with “heroism,” I am thankful that I now understand my son’s discomfort when he returned from combat in Iraq.
If nothing else, kind words of appreciation shared with me, go far to strengthen the bonds with my son. I already, thankfully, enjoy a wonderful relationship with him. It makes it that much better.
If someone chooses to say thank you to this trucker, great! Going forward I’ll warmly acknowledge their words while thinking of both my son, Sean, and career truckers, like my friend and mentor Leonard Ramsey (Eagle/Werner Training Professional). They are the real heroes.
Steve Fowler is an author, long haul truck driver, blogger, safety and security professional, biographer, and professional ghostwriter. Steve is the author of “SPY GAMES: Inside the Murky World of Corporate Espionage.” He collaborated with Dr. Harry L. Green, retired physician and former publisher of the New England Journal of Medicine in the development of a weight maintenance/diet plan called, “THE 1 SYSTEM, A Lifestyle Diet that Really Works.” His Author Page, printed books, audiobooks, and Kindle Editions can be found on Amazon.com and Audible.com. Fowler has also written about a real American Hero Chance Phelps. Steve Fowler’s widely acclaimed piece “I Killed a Little Boy” was written in response to the growing distracted driving epidemic. Steve has written a myriad of business-related articles. Steve and his wife, Tracey, reside in Oro Valley, Arizona.
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