When the road is home

| April 02, 2008

Company driver T.J. Graff says most truckers could translate that love for the solitary lifestyle to a full-time life on the road, and he highly recommends it. “Anyone can adjust if they have the right mind-set,” says the 49-year-old driver for Freymiller.

Graff, who spent a year in Iraq before a stint in Afghanistan and recently returned from another eight months in Iraq, driving for KBR, says the truck feels like luxury in comparison to conditions in the theater of war. “After dealing with Iraq, everything is easy. I have a sleeper with portable refrigerator, shelves, closets – everything I need,” he says. “It’s about the same amount of room I had in Afghanistan – actually more room. In Afghanistan, we slept on Army cots in basically wooden tents, so this is great.”

Graff not only lives in the truck but runs his second business, www.gotruckstop.com, from the cab. He keeps his company truck – a Peterbilt 379 at the moment, though he says the type of truck doesn’t matter – stocked with the latest technological gear, including a laptop computer and an iWear video visor that gives the effect of watching a 62-inch television screen.

“Technology makes this lifestyle possible,” he says. “For myself, it’s not only the website but audiobooks, the Internet in reference to news, the Drudge Report, eTrucker.com, DVDs. I’m wired with GPS with Bluetooth capabilities and Internet capabilities in the truck. Banking is done online. All my vendors for gotruckstop.com are paid online.”

For Graff, living in the truck is about freedom – freedom from worry, from car and house payments, even from cleaning toilets. “For what I would pay in rent for an apartment, I could stay in a three- to four-star hotel for several days and have all the amenities and not have to worry about anything,” he says. “If I need a vehicle, I rent a car. I get a brand-new vehicle every day.”

The money he saves also allows him to take a week-long vacation every four or five weeks in whatever destination he fancies. “It allows you to take time off anywhere in the country, and the company pays you to get there,” Graff says. When he was driving for Marten, he says, he’d put the truck in for service at the Atlanta terminal and head to the airport. He’d “fly down to Jamaica, and when I got back, the truck was fully serviced and ready to go.”

The Caribbean island is one of his favorite destinations; it’s where he married his ex-wife on the beach and hopes to retire in the next few years on a 43-foot catamaran.

Even Graff’s home base, Mesa, Ariz. – where he spends maybe six weeks out of a year – was chosen for its sunshine. “People spend vacations where I live,” he says. “It’s a permanent vacation.”

While a full-time life on the road is not perfect, it is the closest thing to a dream working situation he can imagine.

“The trucking industry offers you some incredible things,” Graff says. “I pinch myself every morning when I wake up.”

Twists and turns
Not everyone sets out to live in their truck. For Joyce Nolte, a company driver for Celadon Trucking, from Texarkana, Texas, living on the road was not a choice in the beginning. After her divorce from a Texas rancher more than a dozen years ago, she had very few options available for supporting herself. Wiped out financially, she turned to trucking so she could earn money and not have to pay living expenses.

What started out as a desperate decision turned into a life she didn’t want to give up – even after getting on her feet. The mother of four found she appreciated the solitude of her lifestyle. Other than the ordeal of doing laundry and taking showers at truckstops, she adjusted to the rigors and began to enjoy herself. “I never yearned to go back home to an empty house and mow the grass. Not having the upkeep of a place suited me just fine,” she says. It was fun to spread out holidays and downtime visiting her grown children and still good to leave when it was time to hit the road. A recent back injury forced her off the road, and she’s getting restless being grounded. “I really hope to get back out there when I can,” Nolte says.

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