Somewhere out there is a perfect truck, a perfect job and a perfect road – or so the idealists among us believe. Our high expectations, having been bred in our bones by the mistaken notion that perfection is attainable, lead us down a path strewn with rosebuds, million-mile engines, iceless pavement and 18 bucks for every hour we work. It is a world in which accidents don’t happen and people don’t die. They don’t even get sick. It is a world that does not exist.
It is hard to live in a world that does not exist. I meet a lot of drivers who have given up on themselves because they feel beaten by the conditions of their work lives. There are also those who never expected much from the start. They are defeated, too, because their view of this admittedly hard world has no room in it for hope.
Then there are those who weather the storms and whose outlook is positive. They are probably safer, more productive drivers than those who have allowed the hazards of their occupation to infect their brains like a virus set loose by the mad scientists in charge of paychecks and home time. Drivers who accentuate the positive have doctored themselves into mental health. They see the negative but do not accept it as gospel. Their gospel, their medicine, is a strong belief in the power of the individual to love his chosen work and make an honest wage despite industry conditions few with the power really want to change.
So it is that most of us learn to accept our lot in life. We are truck drivers and come to expect being treated with contempt. We expect to earn a living caught among economic forces we do not control. We expect to be the scapegoat. We begin to believe that we deserve to be treated this way, and we accept the unacceptable as the price to be paid for having chosen this work.
Some who are not truck drivers might suggest that if we don’t like it, we ought to find other jobs. That would be nice but it is not always possible. Nor do those of us who love the industry want to throw away what it took years to attain. For many driving is a way of life, and one does not simply throw out a way a life. No matter what the occupational hazards, it is more likely we will choose to suffer with them than start again, doing something that is not in the blood.
A guy named Thoreau said, “Men live lives of quiet desperation.” There were no truck drivers in his day, but there must have been men caught in the same bind. It is perhaps by virtue of being on one of the bottom rungs of the economic ladder that men get to feeling this way. Your paycheck may look pretty good to you until it’s broken down into hours worked rather than miles driven, for example. Seen this way, the fact that truck drivers are grossly underpaid becomes obvious. And there is something to the notion that being paid by the mile contributes to unsafe conditions. Certainly if we were all paid by the hour, freight would leave the dock more quickly and delivery schedules would look more realistic.
The highway is the most dangerous place in America. New safety technology may save a few lives, new regulations may save a few lives, your companies’ safety efforts may save a few lives, but you remain the primary source of safety. Only by the strength of your will and continued vigilance will you stay alive and healthy into old age. Your driving skills, your diet, your sleep habits, whether you smoke – hundreds of personal choices you make every day are the only thing between you and an early grave. In this less-than-perfect world, you’ve got to take care of yourself. No one is going to do it for you.