Fellowship of the Road

Susan Dyer, a freelance writer for more than 20 years, has been sharing the cab and the open road for upwards of a year with her partner Wes Schilling – an owner-operator for more than 25 years.

Over spring break, my son Ian spent the week in Brooklyn with his father while I enjoyed nine days on the road. Whenever I am on the road, Wes makes more stops, which allows us time to socialize. During the week, we met two couples making a living on the road.

The conversations came easy. As it turned out, each of us had childhood experiences of traveling America’s highways. Now adults, we confessed we’d rather spend our time in an 18-wheeler than almost anywhere else. I do it as a passenger; they drive team.

We met Abby and her husband Nick first. Wes had just had the truck washed at the TravelCenters of America in Maybrook, N.Y., and decided we had time for a plate of eggs. Just after our breakfast was served, I noticed another couple talking about their trip log. I casually stopped at their table and asked who the driver was. “Both,” they said.

Abby had been a trainer for Schneider. Nick was in one of her classes. A month after he got his CDL, they were wearing wedding bands. Next, they put everything they had into buying their own truck, their first home.

We talked for almost an hour and laughed for about the same. We shared secrets for success sharing a cab 24/7 with the one you love. For Abby and Nick the key to their on-the-road happiness is organization. “There is a place where everything goes, and making sure it goes there keeps everyone happy,” Nick said. Wes looked at me with an “I told you so” grin. We have had many conversations about what goes where and how less is more.

A few days later, we met Joanna and Steve. Wes and I had pulled into Bordentown, N.J., for a hot meal. Twenty minutes later, we found ourselves sharing a booth with another couple. They’d run out of patience and things to say to each other, so they’d stopped to catch their breath and a shower. It was pretty obvious they were grateful to have another couple to talk to.

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They missed their family. As owner-operators, they were torn between taking the next load or heading home. Joanna’s sister stays with the kids when they’re on the road.

The best way to keep the peace for Joanna and Steve is being equal partners on and off the road. “It seems whenever we are home, one of us starts telling the other what to do,” Joanna said. “It’s hard to admit, but it’s easier being on the road than being home. But try explaining that to your family.”

“It all comes down to balance,” Wes said. “It can be difficult to maintain, but if you don’t, everything suffers – the kids, your spouse, you. If it isn’t working, you don’t want to go home and you don’t want to get in the cab. It’s hard to find a good partner, and it’s even harder to find a good partner that also loves the road.”

The four of us smiled, lifted our water glasses and made a toast to happy hearts and safe roads.

When it was time to say good-bye, we all walked away knowing we were happy with this life of ours. Climbing into the cab, I noticed my notebook waiting for me and the Qualcomm for Wes. I had a story to write, and he had a load to deliver. The road is always anxious for us to return.

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