I am discovering America, riding as a guest passenger (ID’d, permitted, photographed, and insured) in a company-owned big rig driven by my newly-CDL-certified husband. He used to work in heating and air conditioning, but driving the truck pays better, and has better benefits, while costing him less as he lives out of the truck.
I am also discovering what it is like actually to be a long-distance truck driver. There are roads where big trucks are not allowed to drive (unless they are actually delivering to a business on that road), there are bridges too low (or too weak) to allow a big truck to pass (and not all are so marked), and big trucks are not allowed to park just anywhere when the driver’s allotted driving hours are up for the day.
I did not know it was so complicated. There are new federal laws (thanks, Barack Obama) that specify how many hours a day a driver can drive, how many breaks are required, how many hours they can drive in a week, and how many mandatory rest hours they must take. And these mandatory hours do not take into consideration where in the USA on the road the driver might happen to be when the time is up, either. There are reference books that list truck stops and rest areas where big trucks can stop legally for their required rest times, so that drivers can plan in advance (mostly) where they can stop – assuming that there are no traffic jams, accidents, or mechanical difficulties that occur to delay them from reaching the “safe” place before their minutes are up.
Plus, drivers pick up already-loaded trailers to haul to their destinations, or, they sit and wait while the shipper loads their trailer “live.” The DRIVER is responsible for the weight of the load that the shipper has already loaded for pick up. Or is loading while they wait. There are strict limits on the load they can haul, and the DRIVER is fined if the load is too heavy as weighed at various weigh stations located all over the country on nearly every big truck-drivable road. The trailer’s rear set of wheels (called the tandems) can be adjusted forward or backwards on the trailer to help distribute the load’s weight as measured by these weigh scales. So, often, the driver has to find a certified scale and check (and pay for the use of the scale) that the shipper has not overloaded the trailer they are hauling, or the driver has to pay the fines when they get caught at the Department of Transportation weigh scale on the road – and the violation goes against the driver’s license.
Well. I said I was learning a lot. Drivers do get paid pretty well, but they are responsible for, and put up with a lot, for that pay.
One thing I am seriously learning to appreciate is WalMart. That chain has a store in nearly every reasonably-sized town in America. They have HUGE parking lots, and usually, there is space for a big truck to park and wait out their rest hours somewhere to the back or side of the lot, out of the way of shoppers. And WalMart is reasonably priced for the inevitable things that drivers and their certified guest passengers (like me) need for the road. Truck stops also have stuff drivers need, they just charge handsomely for it. What the truck stop has that the WalMart does not have is a shower and laundry machines. Otherwise, WalMart beats the truck stop hands-down. The food is better, less expensive, and there are healthier, lower-calorie choices. Plus, WalMart has personal care items (tweezers, pharmacy, over-the-counter medications, baby wipes, paper towels, gallon jugs of water, etc.), a deli (yum), a bakery (ditto), restrooms, hardware for minor repairs, an automotive department, clothing (new socks, anyone?) and lots of other stuff, like greeting cards for everyone’s birthdays.
Being on the road is not all bad – if you can keep the snacking to a minimum!