You want to be a trucker? That was the response I received from almost everyone when I told them my decision to attend truck-driving school. Consequently, the first thing I learned about trucking is that there is a powerful stereotype of the “typical trucker.”
Obviously a quiet, skinny, not-too-healthy homemaker with a college degree in English did not fit the trucker image. People who knew something about trucking told me I would not like it because it was such a hard, miserable life, implying that I was not strong enough physically or tough enough mentally to handle it. My friends simply wished me luck. But I had other things to consider besides people’s opinions.
Following my divorce in January and my mother’s death in March of 2002, I was left very much on my own and in need of a job. When I looked at the want ads, jobs for CDL drivers were everywhere, and when I looked in my local, small-town paper, they were almost the only jobs I saw. I live in Haviland, Kan., and the U.S. Highway 54 artery runs through the south edge of town, so big trucks are as common a sight as cows. However, I had never been inside a big rig, I didn’t know any truckers who liked their jobs and I was fearful about driving even a stick-shift pickup in traffic. The only things I had going for me were a love to travel, a desperate need for a good paying job, and the bliss of ignorance.
After visiting the Southwest Kansas Technical School Truck Driving Program in Liberal, I had my first hard reason to believe that trucking was for me. The assistant instructor, Mike McClure, gave me the grand tour and answered my questions. Then he said, “If you come to school, I’ll get you through the course.” Here was a veteran trucker, saying that he believed in me! I marched back to the office, paid the enrollment fees and drove home feeling excited, instead of apprehensive, for the first time.
On April 29 I arrived early for my first day of class and sat next to the only other woman enrolled in the class. But I was quickly blown away by her technical chatter. She had been riding with her fiancé for five months and knew more about trucking than I could ever suspect. Desperately I began searching the class for someone with whom I hoped I could have an intelligent, unsexist, unintimidating conversation. Half the class was Hispanic and spoke English with thick accents, and most of the class was about 10 years my junior. But just before class began, an older, unassuming-looking man slipped in. He was the most ordinary-looking person in that rather unordinary-looking group, and I felt a glimmer of hope.
One of the first things our instructor, Bob Beemer, did was to move all the Spanish-speaking fellows together, so that they could help each other with any language problems they might have. This meant that the Hispanic guy next to me had to move to the other side of the room, and the ordinary-looking man, with the ordinary name of Joe, came to sit next to me.
That first day was terrible! When class ended, I hurried back to my motel room with a splitting headache, a frightened brain and a very discouraged heart. It looked like trucking was not for me after all. I was almost ready to burst into tears when the phone rang.
“Hi, how are you?” the voice on the other end said.