Rockin’ and rollin’

| December 12, 2008

FAMILY: Fiancee, Sandie Abernathy; children, Dereck, 23, Deeann, 26; two grandchildren
RIG: 1997 Freightliner FLD
DRIVING CAREER: 20 years as a trucker, 10 years owner-operator
FREIGHT: General, but lots of cars for GM and Ford
ACCIDENT-FREE: 20 years
INCOME: $35,000
LEASED TO: Triple Crown Services

A young Elvis Presley was once advised, “Stick to driving a truck, because you’ll never make it as a singer.”

Maybe James Buckner was told the same thing. Thing is, Buckner one-upped the King. He made it as both.

Buckner, 45, of Douglasville, Ga., got into the music business well before he jumped into trucking in 1985.

“I played drums in a band from 1973 until the late ’80s,” Buckner says. “We were called Atlanta’s Choice. We played a variety of music.”

Buckner’s been hitting the skins since he was 13. He had just bought a new drum set to learn on, and after lending a cymbal one night to a friend’s father’s band mate, he began hanging around the band more and more.

“I started messing around playing, and next thing I knew I was in the band,” Buckner says. “I wasn’t old enough to be in the bar, so my mom had to come with me to the shows.”

That band frequented an Atlanta bar called Southern Comfort. It’s still there, and Buckner often visits.

But he didn’t learn just his musical chops at that bar. The Southern Comfort clientele usually included a fair share of truckers, thanks to the ample big-rig parking in the back.

“That was before I knew what a truck was, but I’m still hanging around the trucks,” Buckner says.

Leased to Triple Crown Services, he makes day trips around the Southeast from the Atlanta terminal and is home every night. “I don’t go any further out than I can come back from,” Buckner says.

“He’s a good guy,” says one of Buckner’s former bosses, Chris Gribble of Gribble Contracting. “He takes care of business, takes care of equipment.”

Taking care of business includes driving slowly and choosing a truck suited to his application. “I don’t have a big-motor truck,” Buckner says. “I get 7.13 miles per gallon.”

Owner-operator Kyle Ring, who’s leased to Triple Crown, has known Buckner 14 years. “He basically never gets in a hurry going anywhere,” Ring says. “He takes care of his equipment and doesn’t want to get in an accident.”

Truckers need to learn to watch out for four-wheelers and the crazy things they do, Buckner says.

“There are a lot of people that don’t have respect for the truck,” he says. “They don’t realize a fully loaded 80,000-pound truck, if it hits you, will tear you all to pieces.”

Four-wheelers should be forced to learn something about big rigs before they get their licenses, Buckner says. “A lot of them don’t know if they are behind you and they can’t see your mirrors, then you can’t see them.”

Though he isn’t now giving a band its backbeat, Buckner still has a hand in the music business, working sound and lights for Jody Chosewood, a trucker who’s also an Elvis impersonator. “That guy sounds exactly like Elvis,” Buckner says.

Chosewood, in turn, compliments Buckner. “He knows sound, and he’s good,” Chosewood says.

Buckner likes what he’s doing now, both behind the wheel and behind the music scene. “I have a strange life going on, between playing and trucking,” he says.

FIRST TRUCK: 1993 Freightliner.

HOW I GOT STARTED: I worked at a warehouse. I’d load trucks and got to talking to a guy and wound up going to [driving] school and going to work for his dad’s company.

FAVORITE LOAD: The kind I don’t have to touch.

MOST UNUSUAL LOAD: An office closed down, and they shipped the furniture. The trash was still in the cans. I couldn’t believe it. I was literally hauling trash.

UNUSUAL PLACES I HAVE HAULED: Down in Miami, I backed up to the door, and because crime was bad, they put pallets up to keep people from crawling up into the doors.

FAVORITE STATE TO DRIVE IN: Georgia.

WORST STATE TO DRIVE IN: Louisiana, because of the roads.

BEST THING ABOUT BEING A TRUCKER: The freedom of being able to visit different places.

BEST VACATION: Deep-sea fishing off Daytona, Fla.

FAVORITE MUSIC: Everything but opera.

BEST MEMORY: When I was 13, I had a lady flash me at Southern Comfort. I was thinking, “Bring me back next week.”

FAVORITE MOVIE: Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.

FAVORITE TV SHOW: The King of Queens.

FAVORITE FOOD: Black walnut ice cream.

LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: Anything white like sour cream or ranch dressing.

PET PEEVE: People not respecting truckers on the road.

GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Just being where I am in life.

IF I HADN’T BEEN A TRUCKER, I WOULD BE, I would be: A musician.

DREAM JOB: To just drive whenever I get ready to drive. There are days I wish I wasn’t in this truck, but I go three days without being in it, and I want to get back in it.

HOPES: To see my grandkids grow up, and maybe have a kid with my fiancée. I would like to do more in the music business, either on stage or behind-the-scenes stuff, like hauling the equipment.

MOTTO: If you’re nice to everybody and do the best you can do, good things will come to you.

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