Here's a 2-min audio clip from my interview with Jimmy wherein he answers "What's the weirdest thing you've seen on the road?" and makes me feel super uncomfortable in the process. Can you tell?
This is meant to be a preview of a larger project to come. I appreciate any feedback, tips, and leads! If you know a long-haul truck driver, or anyone associated with the industry, who might be willing to talk to me, please let me know. Read on for more details, and thank you.
My burning curiosity
I've been curious about truck drivers and their lives on the road for years now. Who are these men? Driving for 340 days out of the year traveling great distances, millions of miles, across all 48 continental states, living out of their trucks, taking uppers, sleeping with prostitutes (i.e. "lot lizards"), seeing parts of the country we never see, feeling isolated, sleepy, amped, lonely, tremendous.
I wanted to know does it take a certain type of person to be on the road like that? How do they keep it interesting? Do most of them love it? Hate it? Does it tear families apart? What kind of jobs pay better? What have they seen? What kind of regular drivers on the road do they hate? Do they still use CB radios? What's their favorite rest stop? Favorite music to drive to through which state? Do they care about what they're transporting? Can knowing what's being moved, and to where, tell us something about the economy, predict that state of markets? Just how integral is the industry to all logistics? To how we get all the materials and products we see, use, and desire every day?
I wanted to know it all, but I never tried hard enough to find a way to meet one. The idea of flagging one down, getting into their truck, hitting the road with them, or even at the very least, initiating conversation at a rest stop, did not seem particularly easy or safe. So these questions remained unanswered, until...
One fateful Lyft ride
Right away, Paul, my driver, was chatty. "Me and this Google Maps lady, we don't get along," he told me just before we hit unexpected traffic. We got to talking. He mentioned he used to drive a limo and once tried to drive a truck, but it was difficult to maneuver so he gave that up. "I've always wanted to talk to a truck driver!!" "Oh yeah? I work with them now. I could hook you up!" He told me that as a forklift operator for conferences at the Moscone Center, he ran into a lot of truck drivers, and there was a designated time in which they parked and rested at the Marshalling Yard, a big lot at Pier 80. That would be prime time for me to chat one up. Paul and I exchanged e-mail addresses.
!!! I walked out of his car feeling ecstatic! In just a 15-minute car ride, I had gotten so much closer (than I ever imagined I could) to my dream of interviewing a truck driver. After a few e-mail exchanges, the date and time were set. Paul couldn't accompany me, nor could he promise any of them would be willing to chat, but he would give the foreman, who managed the lot, a heads up.
On a bright, cloud-less Saturday morning in April, I made my way to the Marshalling Yard, pretty nervous, but mostly excited for who I might meet and what I might learn. I went with my male friend, who was equally curious about the trucker life and who could, if need be, protect me.
I talked to the foreman, an excitable 60 maybe 70-something-year-old man, who told me to knock on the few truck doors parked in the direction he was pointing to. One of the guys was bound to talk to me. Tell them I was a student working on a documentary, he suggested.
It took some time, and coercing, but I finally got one to agree to chat. His name was Jimmy and he said to hurry up, get in his truck, and he'd squeeze in an interview before he had to head off to his next destination, and so I did.
I was a little nervous being in that truck with him alone, though we were parked, and my friend was just outside chatting with another driver (short-haul, local). To be honest, Jimmy was crude. He made me feel uncomfortable a half dozen times, bringing up his dating life, how he is attracted to young women, not anyone his age, how old was I? etc. I powered through, laughing, brushing off the inappropriate comments, to get to the heart of things.
I learned that he's clocked at least a million miles on the road, driven through all 48 states, that the thought of hitting someone with his truck terrifies him. That his only non-work stop is his rural hometown in California where he visits his mother, but no where else. He is divorced, with three children he rarely sees. I learned that he's quit driving three times, but always came back, and that after 40 years, he can't imagine doing anything else.
The interview with Jimmy was brief and can't stand on its own. I want to talk to more truck drivers, young, old, retired, women, from big trucking companies like Swift, independent owner/operators, Union men, the brokers who get the small guys jobs, the lot lizards, the rest stop waitresses, anyone. I'm even considering going on the road with one via approval/guidance from a legit trucking company.
All this, with the hope of finding a story that sticks. I don't know if it'll be a portrait or a feature that incorporates multiple perspectives, or what. I want it to be somewhat timely given all the regulations that went into effect earlier this year, and the current shortage of drivers. There are things to talk about, and I want to talk about them. Come along for the ride!