Would you guess that there are as many mechanics in the U.S. as over-the-road truck drivers? Over 1.5 million folks get down and dirty on a daily basis to keep our humble modes of transportation on-the-go, and they earn about as much as truckers on the average. They’re also about as equally forgotten about.

Just the other day, about an hour after going to sleep, my co-driver and also my father, woke me up and said, “Umm…sorry to wake you. We’ve got a serious problem.” Now, I own our business, and I’ve invested a lot of money into our operation. So when I hear the words “serious” and “problem” together, it’s regrettably easy to get worried. But before I let my mind run rampant, I let my father explain what happened. Our fully electronic, automatic transmission got somehow stuck in gear, and the error message came through clear as mud: “Check Transmission CPU.” Trust me, it made as little sense to me then as it probably does to you now, but I knew one thing for certain: I’m no mechanic.

When you own your equipment, you inevitably face the need to do some fixing yourself to keep profits up. So ever since buying this truck, I’ve been on a mechanic’s crash course learning as much as possible about all the intricacies of engine components, electrical, drivetrain, and etc. There’s a lot to learn! And there’s also a lot that can go wrong. But it’s worth it to learn as much as possible because working on your own truck can save thousands of dollars a year.

As the story goes, I eventually discovered that the wires connecting the shifter box to the rest of the truck had disconnected during the trip, which explained why the gear jam occurred after my father hit a rather large bump in the road. Instead of assuming I couldn’t fix the issue, I kept looking for a solution. Eventually, I found the loose wires, reconnected them, and solved the problem. But if I hadn’t taken the time to think rationally about the scenario, I could have lost thousands of dollars in forfeited load revenue and tow/repair costs. In addition, I could have put both the customer and my contracting company in a precarious situation. The last thing I needed was a major mechanical problem, but luckily, in all of five minutes, I re-connected the wires and saved myself half a month’s worth of work and a trip to the shop.

And that gets to my point today. We avoid mechanic shops as a cultural rule-of-thumb. Ever thought much about that? As a cultural practice, we dodge mechanics like bullets, hoping that when the “CHECK ENGINE” light comes on in our vehicles we can somehow handle it ourselves to keep from wasting money on expensive shop time. But imagine for a moment what it must feel like to work a job that literally everyone tries to avoid. Mechanics are a great example of an occupational group that keeps our cultural life-blood flowing, since without them our cars and trucks wouldn’t stay on the road. We’d have a hard time getting to our offices on time, joining those fun and always slightly flirtatious after-work happy hours, and attending our kids’ weekend sports games.

Even more, when our cars or trucks do break down, we give the mechanics (and their shops) a hard time for inconveniencing us with the amount of time it takes to fix our vehicles. We whittle shops down on price as much as possible, often throwing fits of rage at what we perceive are far too overpriced bills. I’m guilty, too. But listen, it’s hard work and things don’t always fix up the way we plan. Mechanics have hard jobs, and they don’t earn enough for what they do. They make about as much as truckers, a measly $37k a year. Hardly enough to make ends meet in our modern world. Yet they keep on working their highly denigrated jobs to keep the rest of our lives moving (yes, “they” was meant to be vague).

By now, you can surely see the parallel I’m making between mechanics and truckers. At least it seems clear to me, the jobs that do the most to keep our lives in motion are the most undervalued. Hard hand-work like that of mechanics and truckers doesn’t pay as well or build as much culture capital as knowledge-heavy jobs like management consulting or lawyering. And underneath it all lies a silly assumption that hard-laborers can’t do the complex work of knowledge-workers because they’re not smart enough. How sad.

I can tell you, having performed both types of work, most mechanics and truckers employ the same highly-valued critical thinking skills that everyone else (supposedly) does. Take my little electrical problem as an example of the critical intellectual steps it takes to solve a mechanical issue: 1) I listened carefully to my father’s story about how the truck broke down; 2) I analyzed various components of the story to determine possible causes; 3) I identified the electrical components potentially involved; and, 4) I tracked the convoluted interwoven electrical wires until the issue was clearly diagnosed and fixed. Listen. Analyze. Identify. Diagnose. Fix. After just a little thought, it became obvious to me that good mechanics are master logicians of cause-and-effect relationships. While the rest of us are lucky to simply understand that concept at all, mechanics jump through the hoops of critical thought as a matter of everyday practice. And there’s something deeply horrifying about this.

Our culture claims to value critical thinking skills, but we know deep down that most people don’t actually operate at that intellectual level. The vast majority of our highly compensated knowledge workers are, in fact, barely above average in this respect. And this really is true based on some of my own corporate experiences. Rather unsurprisingly, the people who make the most money simply build strong relationships that skyrocket them to the top. Wouldn’t it be an interesting and probably more fair world if that wasn’t the case? But getting back to our sad reality, the folks who actually deploy the skills our culture supposedly values the most are the people it values the least, like mechanics and truckers.

I know that’s a big claim. And it’s not to say that our knowledge-workers are stupid. Of course, that’s not true. This is a complex issue I’m bring up, the matter of what kinds of jobs we should value the most, but there’s something significant to this line of thought that’s structurally, politically, economically, socially, and culturally problematic. In future posts, I’ll spend more time getting to the root of the problem. After all, cracking the code and explaining why our corporate world is quite literally the bane of our modern American experience is a very tricky business and filled with ambiguities and risks. But don’t worry, I’ll get there.

For now, be excited! The Preppy Trucker is about to get a new look and feel for 2018. I’ve upped my game and recruited some design help. We’ll be issuing a new site around New Years, and along with it I’ll be increasing my posting cadence to twice a week. Every week moving forward, I’ll issue one post that is quite broad and attune to general interests. I’ll even at some point ask you, my readers, to suggest topics you’d like to hear more about. And the other weekly post will be more strictly related to my trucking thesis. So stay in the cab with me, we’re just getting into gear!

Keep on preppy truckin’.

-TPT

Image Credit: Evan Kirby

T.C. Dankers

T.C. Dankers

Sociologist, management consultant, entrepreneur, and blogger, Tom is the original “preppy trucker.” He sees things differently. Living the odd double life of both trucker and social theorist, he offers a unique perspective on a wide range of American business, culture, and social justice issues.

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