“Are you sure this is what you want?” my father asked, tears in his eyes.
“Yes, I’m sure.” I said, trying not to cry myself. “I don’t know what else to do, and I believe someone out there can help.”
It was January 2001, and I was sitting in the parking lot of the Petro truckstop in Bucksville, Alabama. I begged my father to drop me off in hopes of finding someone to teach me to drive a truck. I had tried to go to school, but after being divorced and having a child to support, my credit was poor and time was running out.
I stood in that parking lot with a bag over my shoulder and $30 in my pocket, the only money my father could spare, and watched him drive away. I remember that it was cold, and I was scared, because I knew I was putting my life in someone else’s hands. But I knew I would be fine. I knew in my heart there was someone great watching over me that night.
I was pretending that I belonged there, or at least I thought I was. I placed my bag in the cubbyhole where the drivers put theirs after taking a shower so that no one would think I was a hitchhiker and make me leave. I walked around, and even though I was hungry, I wouldn’t spend any of the money my father had given me. I went into the game room and sat at one of the games pretending to play, praying that God would send me some help soon.
I closed my eyes and dreamed of driving a truck, the only thing I dreamed of doing since I was nine years old. What would it be like driving my own truck and supporting my family? I thought of my father and all he was doing for my mother and my daughter on a maintenance man’s pay.
My mother had been diagnosed with a brain tumor several years earlier, and after being in a coma for almost a month, she came out partially paralyzed. She also had a lot of damage to her brain and was no longer the strong-willed woman that ran her family with a hard hand.
She could no longer do the things she had once done for us. She now had the mind of an eight-year-old and had to relearn simple things. All I wanted now was to help my father. I wanted to give him back the home he had lost to the high medical bills. I wanted to give my daughter the stable home that I had never been able to give her. I guess you could say I was lost in thought.
“OK, what’s your story, little girl?”
It took me a moment to realize someone was speaking to me.
“Excuse me?” I said to the man sitting across from me, playing a cherry master.
“What is your story? I’ve been watching you, and I don’t think you are a driver and you don’t look like a lot lizard. What’s going on with you?” he asked.
I took a long look at him. He looked like a nice enough person, maybe in his late 40s or early 50s, with graying hair and a weather-beaten face that had seen many miles. He had the kindest eyes I had ever seen.
“I don’t have a story.”
“Yes you do. Everyone has a story. Why don’t we grab dinner and you tell me about it?”
All I could think was, Here is my shot. Be honest, you are only going to get this one shot. Don’t blow it.
“OK, I’m hungry, and you might just be the one I’m looking for.”
We sat at a table, ordered our food, and I told him what I was doing at that truckstop. I told him I was looking for an owner-operator who would hire me to do his paperwork and laundry and clean his truck while he taught me to drive. I wasn’t looking for romance or anything like that. All I wanted was my CDL.
He listened to me with no emotion on his face, and I thought, He thinks you’re crazy.
Maybe I was. Who puts a perfect stranger in their truck and pays for a job they can do by themselves, anyway? He sat there without saying anything for what seemed like forever.
“Let me tell you what I will do,” he said, breaking the silence. “I will hire you and pay you $400 a week. You will have to do all the loading and unloading, plus all of the paperwork. I’ll train you, and then you can use my truck and trailer to take the driving test.”
When he finished speaking, tears fell from my eyes. Could it be this easy, that the first person I spoke to was the answer to my prayers? We talked a few more hours, and after a few cups of coffee he said, “Let me show you the truck.” We got up. “By the way, my name is Bill Simpkins,” he said.
I couldn’t believe I never asked his name.
He walked me over to his truck, and that’s when I got scared again. His truck was an old flat-top Freightliner with just one bed. I guess he read my thoughts because he touched my shoulder and said, “You sleep at one end, and I’ll sleep at the other”.
I climbed into the cab and, for the first time, I felt like I was home. I felt at peace, and I knew I was doing what I was supposed to do with my life.
My training began the next morning when he drove me to the CDL testing site to pick up the books to take the test. Later, Bill pulled over into a rest area and said, “OK, let’s see what you can do.”
I sat in the driver’s seat and followed his direction. I pushed in the clutch, let it slip into gear and took off. I shifted gears like I was made just for that purpose. I could feel the power of the engine with each shift of the gears. It gave me a rush no drug could ever duplicate. And, to this day, it still gives me the same feeling.
That was six years ago. Bill did exactly what he said he would do. I drove with him for five months. He paid for my CDL, and along with paying me $400 a week, he paid for my meals. He had me save the money he paid me for my family.
I left Bill in June 2001 and went to work for Dick Simon Trucking until they were bought out. I then went to work for a small company out of Perry, Mich., where I met my husband of three years. We are driving our dream truck – a 2006 Kenworth W900L with a 120-inch sleeper.
And remember that dream of mine to give my father back the home he lost? On August 31, 2007, we closed on the home we will share with my father and mother until the day they die.
About the Author
Vesta Kopp of Ozark, Ala., drives team with her husband Ric. They drive a “big Kenworth with a 120-inch sleeper” for an owner-operator leased with Roadrunner. They travel with six dachshund dogs. Kopp says she enjoys writing during breaks on the road. “Sometimes in the sleeper, laid over, it gets kind of boring. So I write for myself,” she says. She has a daughter and three grandchildren. Kopp says her essay is a true story of what has happened in her life. “Things have changed since then, but yeah, that’s my story,” she says.