Tuesday, March 24, 2015

View from the cab offers a new perspective on the job

“Hi, my name is Greg, and I have never ridden in a truck.”

This was the secret shame I carried for the better part of two years. How is somebody supposed to try and write about the issues affecting truckers, from the perspective of truckers, when the closest he's ever come to that perspective is binge-watching trucker flicks for a few weeks after getting hired for the gig? It’d be like someone who has never played football at any level suddenly landing an NFL beat, and preparing for that beat by watching “The Longest Yard” and “Brian’s Song.”

But I am finally free of it, thanks to Jon Osburn, OOIDA’s Spirit truck driver, and my editors, who were all gracious and encouraging enough to let me ride shotgun with Jon and Sassi on the way to Louisville for the 2015 edition of MATS. It's also my first trip to The Big Show. So I'm crossing two things off the Truck Writer bucket list.

It wasn’t fear that kept me out of the cab. Just a lack of experience and opportunity. My dad spent a couple of years driving a straight truck for Frito-Lay when I was a kid (he called it “The Chip Wagon”) and did a stint as a shuttle van driver for a railroad, but nobody in my family has done any OTR trucking.

There’s also the problem of my lack of skill at maneuvering large vehicles. After watching Jon back up and thread the trailer into a parking space between two rigs at the TA in Mt. Vernon, Ill., I told him that was why I could never be a trucker.

“You should see me try to put a boat trailer in the water,” I said. “Ain't pretty.”

He just laughed and said it “wasn't the same thing,” but seriously gang, it doesn't matter how much room there is at the boat launch, the odds are better than even I’ll put the truck in the lake instead of the vessel.

There’s no way putting a 53-foot trailer behind me could result in anything other than calamity.

Hauling a full-size trailer is just one of many things that took some getting used to. The most obvious difference is the literal climb into the cab itself (and the dismount, which can be treacherous. Jon recommended keeping “at least three limbs” firmly affixed to the hand-holds or steps at all times. It’s worked so far.) The difference in height between the cab and the passenger vehicles was never more pronounced than when we passed a Nissan Xterra, and I felt sure that had we both been at a standstill, I could open the passenger door and step down from my perch onto the roof of the SUV.

From that vantage point, we were able to observe our fair share of “creative motoring” from all sorts of vehicles, like the Cadillac sedan with West Virginia plates that used the shoulder on one exit ramp for its own personal turn lane. The shenanigans weren’t limited to four-wheelers either. At our fuel stop we watched a black Freightliner rumble right through the fuel islands at about 20 mph, which is one of Jon’s pet peeves (another is making lane changes without using a signal, which happened a bunch).

After fueling up the rig, we headed into the TA for a late afternoon lunch.

Of course, there were a couple of OOIDA members in the truck stop that Jon knew, so we shared some hellos and conversations along with our 99-cent tacos.

One of those members was Candy Garner, of Flint, Mich. An owner-operator with her own authority, Candy and her travel companion, a brindle-and-white Basenji named Tera, were still trying to decide whether they’re going to make it to Louisville. They’ve got their tickets, but she said the deciding factor would probably be if she could get a load coming out once the show is over. She’s going on a vacation with her octogenarian father to see a brother in Guatemala soon, and while she says the time off will be nice she’s got to make some money beforehand.
Candy Garner and Tera do some
catching up with Jon O. and Sassi.

Candy’s been trucking since 1980, an OOIDA member since 1992, and had her own authority since 2000. She’s kept trucking despite her husband and team driver Steven’s death in 2006. They were a team for 23 years. She runs a 2008 Volvo and a dry-van trailer, hauling “whatever is paying.” She’s run coast-to-coast in the past, but these days she sticks to the Midwest.

“There's not enough truck stops and parking out east ...” she said. “Out west, California can just fall off the map, and I can’t get any rates out of the south.”

When she found out it was going to be my first show, she offered the two bits of advice everybody gives to noobs: Try the pork chop sandwich, and Bring. Comfortable. Shoes. She also shared a third piece of wisdom I haven’t heard as often: Have a plan ahead of time to make sure you get to see the exhibits and workshops that are most important to you.

“When I went the first time, I couldn’t find it all,” she said. “I never even made it outside (the Expo Center) to look at trucks.”

I was a little bit embarrassed to admit to her that it was my first time even riding in a truck, but she didn't seem fazed by it at all.

“I think everybody should do it,” she said. “Especially when the truck is loading or unloading at a dock or warehouse.”

I feel the same way, and while there is no way a veritable milk run like “Kansas City to Louisville, with an overnight in Indiana” compares to the challenges drivers out there face every day, it definitely has given me a bigger perspective beyond just a bird’s-eye view of the luggage rack of an Xterra.


  1. You need to go out for a few days. a run to the east coast and back. Doug.
    member # 865

  2. So glad you were able to take the opportunity Greg and the perspective that you gained. Nice that you met Candy along the way and that she shared advice. You also were a passenger in the coolest truck driven by an awesome driver. Look forward to hearing more on the event and your perspective on M.A.T.S. All the best!