About a week ago, I was crossing the border and an agent (of which country I won’t say) needed to inspect my truck. Probably looking for drugs or smuggled goods, he pummeled through my personals without any respect for their condition and came back to the place where I was standing and demanded, “Hey you, follow me.” With an intensely inquisitive look on his face, he led me to my now-messy truck to find golf balls and tees strewn about the pavement, my Stetson cowboy hat crushed by a briefcase, and many of my clothes thrown haphazardly all over the place inside the cab. He accusingly asked, “Where did you get all these things?” Still in shock from the mess, I tried to explain that these were, in fact, my own things and that I use them on the road all the time. He didn’t believe me. Titleist golf clubs, a soprano saxophone, 60+ books on social theory, one cedar and rosewood Taylor guitar, exclusively Apple electronics, 5 keys worth of German harmonicas, Ralph Lauren clothes appropriate for various seasons of the year, all-natural and organic food stuffs in the fridge, and a couple pair of not-so-recently polished cowboy boots. No drugs. What was so unbelievable about that?
Well, belief is a powerful thing. Despite all the cultural artifacts and scattered evidence right in front of him, he just couldn’t believe me. I’m sure it looked a little suspicious, it being amazing that I could even fit all that in there. But honestly, I didn’t know what else to say to the guy. What was I supposed to say? There was no untruth to be told. After the initial shock wore off, I reluctantly responded by saying that I simply wasn’t like most truckers out there and came from an entirely different cultural world, which luckily for me seemed to satisfy his choleric curiosity enough to let me through customs. I’m sure I left an indelible mark on his memory.
And so did he on mine. I’ll never forget what it felt like to be completely disrespected by that border officer. The other agents on duty seemed somewhat respectful and nice, maybe they even felt a bit awkward watching their colleague rummage and tear through my things with complete disregard, but they did absolutely nothing about it. They just stood there in silence. And why? They, like their colleague, just couldn’t believe that a trucker could have sophisticated hobbies and tastes. After all, they’re not used to seeing drivers with Titleist golf clubs stuffed in the storage compartment or copies of Anthony Giddens’ The Constitution of Society neatly stowed on the dash. That just doesn’t exist out there on the road. But I am a trucker, and I do have sophisticated hobbies and tastes. Much to their surprise, instead of finding dope on their “random” little scavenger hunt, those officers discovered a cultured creature emerging from the ass-crack of society with a library, wardrobe, and a small music studio. Add “cultural archeology” to their job description.
I can’t fully blame the officers for how they treated me, though. What’s really going on here goes far beyond the discriminatory attitudes and behavior of just a few people. It’s true, they were completely blind to the fact that truckers have a right to quality lives like everyone else. But it’s really institutionalized discrimination and stigmatization that keeps truckers from doing many of the things that most people enjoy on a daily basis.
In effect, this basically means that you get one set of life options if you drive a Subaru and an entirely different set if you drive a semi. Here’s an example. Let’s say you’d like to go to the grocery store to pick up some meat and vegetables for dinner. All you have to do is hop in the car, drive a few miles, grab what you need, and return home. Not a big deal. But if you’re a trucker, get this: you’ll need to plan out your route up to several hundred miles in advance, hope for a spare 30-45 minutes (which you usually don’t have because the logistics industry is wound so tight), get lucky enough to find a truck stop on your route, spend 5-10 minutes parking upon arrival, take 5 minutes walking-in because the lots are so huge, scour a few racks of cheap Kraft dry foods, stand in line for 5-10 minutes waiting to pay, race back to your truck, dig out a paper plate and plastic utensils you bought at your Walmart stop a few trips back, eat your less-than-TV-dinner-quality meal in 5 minutes or less, and then get back on the road. In case you didn’t notice, there’s no grocery store in that last description.
Of course, not every American has a car, and not every American can afford whole foods (all puns definitely intended here). But the difference is a matter of average convenience. The trucker is at a serious disadvantage compared to everyone else when it comes to carrying out even such a basic life activity as buying food from a grocery store. Most of the time it’s simply impossible.
Speaking of Walmart, they’re about the only truck-friendly grocery chain in the entire country. Some of their locations offer semi-truck parking, but of those that do, most either force you to wedge-in between all the cars, medians, and light posts or they let you park in the back by the loading docks, forcing you to walk half a mile just to get in through the customer door. Sadly, most of their locations do not allow trucks at all. At those locations big signs say, “NO TRUCKS ALLOWED.” Some truckers will disobey the signs and park there anyway, but it’s clear they’re not supposed to be there and could be ticketed and towed for trespassing. Walmart doesn’t sound so truck-friendly anymore, does it? The signs might as well read, “NO TRUCKERS ALLOWED.”
In the United States, trucks aren’t allowed in most areas. Laws governing both residential and commercial areas, which include state, county, municipal, and even some federal regulations, keep trucks away from just about everything. You’ll find truck stops on the outskirts of town, distribution centers far from residential neighborhoods, and truck repair shops in non-paved areas that look a lot like junk yards. Sure, trucks are noisy, they’re not the best for the environment, and they’re big, but we get more than 75% of our daily goods from them. Still, we see them as a general problem and push them literally aside.
This segregation of trucks and the people that drive them is similar to gentrification, an approach by urban planners that updates the quality and aesthetics of buildings and houses with appeal to middle- and upper-class tastes. Though the economic benefits to a community can be significant in some cases, gentrification is often a mechanism that redistributes immigrants and the poor to other areas, thus divesting them of any chance at having the modern luxuries that most people get to enjoy like fine restaurants and shopping malls. We do the same indecent deed to truckers by keeping trucks out of our pretty neighborhoods. For the most part, Canada doesn’t do that (and they have better landscaping). So why should we?
I never thought I’d say this, but Walmart’s doing a great thing compared to virtually everyone else. In a world where truckers are segregated from all common life, Walmart at least actively tries to give them a fighting chance. Ironically, Walmart is a savior for the trucker. But it’s hardly a start to the change that’s needed to give truckers what they deserve. We have to do something. Actually a lot of things.
Perhaps one great way to help truckers live normal lives is to provide them access to cars. That doesn’t sound all too brilliant, right? But remember, Uber isn’t everywhere. The fact is, not one single truck stop, out of several thousand that exist, offers a car-share program. Companies like ZipCar, HourCar, and Car2Go heavily populate urban centers and university campuses, helping people without cars go wherever they need to whenever they need to. I’ve personally used these services, and they work well. Imagine the quality of life improvement for truckers if car shares were offered at truck stops. Truckers could get to those hard-to-reach grocery stores and start eating higher quality food. They could attend baseball and football games, visit museums, go to the movies, and shop for new clothes at decent shopping malls. And this is an example of a “low-hanging fruit.” With these companies doing well in many markets, the infrastructure is already in place to easily expand the service to truckers. All that needs to happen is to get the right people talking. Let’s get to it.
You see, change is in reach, but we’re just scratching the surface. Making a better life for the trucker is a much taller order than simply providing a Prius at Pilot truck stops. We’ll need to go deeper. So stay tuned for my upcoming series, 4 Issues Truckers Face.
Keep on preppy truckin’.