About the authorMy name is Todd McCann was sitting in a driving school just like you are now in the summer of 1997. I’ve been a company driver the entire time, meaning I have never, nor have I desired to, own my own truck. My wife of over 20 years, who my listeners fondly know as The Evil Overlord, was my co-driver for nine years, but I have been doing the solo thing ever since. For the record, not only does she know I call her The Evil Overlord, but she highly approves, largely because she knows it’s true. For just a small sample of how she’s earned that nickname, check out TD 100: What Makes The Evil Overlord Evil? I’m also the author of two ebooks; How To Find a Great Truck Driving Job and Trucking Life: An Entertaining, Yet Informative Guide To Becoming And Being A Truck Driver, which I’m well aware probably sets a new Guiness World’s record for “longest tagline used in the title of a book.” I’ve also been blogging and podcasting since 2009.
Thank you for becoming a truckerFirst off, let me just say thank you for entering the trucking industry. The job can be as frustrating as a getting behind an old lady in the Walmart checkout line who is writing a check for $7 worth of cat food, but it can also be as rewarding as the feeling you get when you punch that old lady in the face. Okay, seriously. Punching old ladies is uncool. An old man, however, is fair game. What? 😉
Take a look around you right now and think about this. Every product in this room has likely been hauled on a truck at one point or another. It’s an important job that largely goes unthanked. So let me be among the first to thank you for becoming a key part in America’s economy. Now don’t you feel proud? Tell you what; after class today, head to your nearest Dairy Queen and treat yourself to a Banana Split Blizzard, which, I might add, is only made possible by a trucker who delivered fresh fruit and delicious ice cream. And by the way, that “turning it upside down” thing they do with the Blizzard is complete magic. We truckers have nothing to do with that. Although I can’t count how many times I wish I could Expelliarmus the steering wheel out of some annoying soccer mom’s hands. Grrr. Anywho…
New Trucker Concerns
Let me first address a few concerns I know I had as a rookie trucker.
Quit sweating the road test at your first company
Trust me here; any trucking company that is willing to hire you straight out of school, doesn’t expect you to be perfect. In fact, they’d be outright shocked if you didn’t hunt for and grind few gears. And you’ll have to pick their jaw up off the floor if you nail the backing test with only one pull-up.
And if it makes you feel any better, I’ve been driving for over 20 years and I still grind a few gears here and there and I often have to pull up more than once to back straight into a dock. Let’s keep that between us. My company things I’m perfect. Pssssshhhhht!!!
Weirded out about the training process at your first company
Stand up for yourself
No matter how confident of a person you normally are, that all seems to go out the window when you get in the truck with your trainer at your first company. I know from my own personal experience that I felt I was going to let down my trainer if I didn’t do exactly as he said. I also felt I had no input in how things were done. I was wrong. Again, this can lead even the most confident person to humble themselves and get walked all over.For example, I talked to one young man who had recently finished training, who said that his trainer would tell him to pull over on an exit ramp where he would proceed to go into the bunk area and make himself a sandwich or a bowl of soup or something. Never once did the trainer offer him any space in his cooler or suggest where there might be a truck stop with food nearby. Basically, this rookie would go entire days without eating, all because he thought he would look weak for speaking up. Uncool. In another case, a female driver told me that her trainer only allowed her to take one shower during her three-week training period. Ewwww. I asked her why she tolerated that and she said she just thought that’s how it was done and she didn’t want to disappoint him. I should point out that things like these won’t happen all the time with every trainer. My trainer was awesome, while The Evil Overlord nicknamed her trainer, “She-Devil.” So you can imagine how well that went. For full details on that story, check out the Training chapter of Trucking Life. It’s really all luck-of-the-draw.
There’s just no getting around it. Being stuck in a truck with a complete stranger for a few weeks sucks harder than a kid with a milkshake and one of those Krazy Straws. Just remember, it’s only a few weeks.
Avoid being used as a money-making machine
There is one thing that happens in training way more often than it should. Trainers often get paid by the mile for all miles run, so quite often they’ll use their trainee as a team driver instead of teaching them how to drive, which, of course they are supposed to be doing. Again, the trainee feels like they are not getting trained properly, yet they are afraid to say anything to the trainer or the company about it.
I should point out that it is standard practice to eventually work into a team-operation during the training process. The problem is when you start out that way. In the beginning, your trainer should be in the front seat next you, talking you through rough situations, and just generally being a second pair of eyes. As each day goes by, you should be driving a bit more until eventually you’re driving while your trainer is sleeping (and vice versa). It’s a good way to build up your driving stamina.
Lady drivers beware
Here’s something to be aware of, ladies. There have been documented cases where male trainers have convinced female trainees that they are not going to give them a passing grade unless they sleep with them. And it has worked! Yes, I know that sounds totally bizarre in this day and age of lady power and all, but there was a highly-publicized story about this atrocity a few years back when this was happening regularly at a particular trucking company. Someone eventually had the hutzpah (hoot-spuh) to report them, thank God. Once again, there’s just something about the intimacy of sharing truck space with someone that leads trainees to accept conditions they shouldn’t.
Address the issuesSo here’s my advice to all of you. Overcome your fears of looking weak and stand up for yourself. As my 8-year old nephew once boldy proclaimed as he smacked his tiny little chest, “I’m a MAN, baby!” The company is not going to fire you for requesting the things you need. If you’re hungry, ask your trainer where you can stop to eat. You may not get a shower every day (welcome to trucking), but there have honestly only been a handful of times in my 20+ year career that I haven’t been able to manage a shower at least every other day.
Basically, if you have any problem with the way you are being trained, tell your trainer. If you want them to sit in front to help you more, tell them. And for Pete’s sake ladies, if your male trainer barrages you with sexual innuendo, outright flirting, or worse, tell them you don’t appreciate it and not to do it again. If any problems persist, call your company’s training department and tell them what’s going on. If they don’t do anything about it, call your recruiter back and tell them to put you in touch with someone who will. Either that or quit and find a new job. Seriously, if they don’t respond to your concerns, you don’t want to work for these sphincter-holes anyway.
Health and fitness
Get some exercise
The trucking lifestyle is not a healthy one. You’re sitting on your keister most of the day and are often working wonky schedules that don’t always allow a lot of time for exercising. Not to mention that after driving 11 hours, the last thing you’re thinking is, “Hmmm, what strenuous activity can I do that will lift my heart rate and wear me out?” I don’t know about you, but my thoughts in that situation lean more towards wanting to curl up next to a chicken fried steak and passing out with some of that yummy dried gravy still stuck to my cheek.Do yourself a favor and instead of squeezing into those skinny jeans that clearly don’t fit, try squeezing in a few minutes of exercise at least three times a week. I don’t always manage it either, but at least I have the consciousness to feel guilty about it when I fail. And make sure you do this from the very beginnning, or else you’ll never get started.
Eat healthy and save moneySpeaking of chicken fried steak, your eating habits are the other half of this health issue. My advice to you is to stock up on food at a grocery store and eat in your truck as much as possible. This will help in two ways: you can eat healthier and you can save a lot of money. In my ever-so-humble (but always correct) opinion, one of the best things you can do early in your career is buy an ice chest, a thermocooler, or if you can afford one, a refrigerator/freezer unit for your truck. Sure, you can find healthy options at most any restaurant, but let’s be honest; the unhealthy options almost always look more appealing than a chicken breast or a salad. Why tempt yourself? Go to the grocery store, stock up on healthier options, and stay out of the restaurants. The other aspect I mentioned is that doing this will save you a lot of money, which should make you and the rest of your family happy. Lots of truckers eat at restaurants for every meal. With the average meal (including tip) being $12-15, these drivers are spending up to $300 on food each week! I simply don’t know how these truckers do that and still have any money left to send home. Hmmmm… maybe that’s why the divorce rate is so high among truckers? Now let’s compare that to eating in the truck. For breakfast, I typically have instant oatmeal or a frozen burrito. Well, it’s not frozen after I microwave it. Lunch might consist of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some Cheetos, and dinner involves a can of soup or a frozen dinner. Total cost? Probably about $10 per day. That’s less than a third of the cost of eating in restaurants! Sure you might spend a bit less if you eat fast food instead of sit-down restaurants for every meal, but I’m still always shocked how easy it is to drop $9-10 at Arby’s. What’s that? I can hear what you thinking, “Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute! Since when are Cheetos healthy?!” You’re right, but at least I can control my portion size this way. If I order a big meal in a restaurant I know I’m going to eat it all (and possibly lick the plate clean), mostly because I’m the world’s biggest cheapskate and I’m bound and determined to enjoy last calorie of the money I just spent.
One last thing about eating right. Do not, I repeat DO NOT keep unhealthy foods in your truck! And if you do, definitely don’t keep them in reach of the driver’s seat. I keep fresh fruit, raisins, yogurt, or cheese sticks at hand for the road munchies. I admit it, I’m weaker than Popeye the Sailor Man before he eats his spinach. If I look in the passenger seat and see an apple and my beloved bag of Cheetos, I’m going to have those yummy, cheesy, suckable fingertips every time.
To be continued…
This article was well over 5000 words so I decided to split it into two parts. Lord knows we all have the attention span of a meth addict nowadays. Part two takes a more “hands on trucking” approach, so check it out if you’ve got some more time to kill.
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