As I have previously mentioned, earlier this year I started the process of becoming a truck driver. Big rigs, eighteen wheels, the whole nine yards.
It’s taken me somewhat longer than I expected it to take. But I’m doing it.
There are several stages of training for getting a commercial driver’s license; there’s also many in-depth posts about it on trucking oriented sites if you’re so curious. This is not one of those in-depth posts. There’s studying the handbook to take the tests to get the permit in the first place, followed by three or so weeks of training at school to learn the driving portion, the test to get the license, and several weeks out on the road with a trainer to learn all the things that you don’t learn at school so that you’re ready to go solo. I’m in the last stage of that training right now.
What this is about is different worlds, and somewhat less directly, about culture shock and culture clash. Over the summer I worked in a liberal and progressive campaign office in pretty much the heart of Los Angeles doing fundraising. It was great. I was surrounded by people that I got along with (at least ninety percent of the time, which is about as much as you can ask for in a work environment, to be fair), people whom I shared views and background with, people whom I felt comfortable around. Similarly those are the people I have surrounded myself with for most of my life. I’ll even go so far as to put it out there that I come from the liberal bubble that so many accuse the coasts of being.
And trucking is a whole different world. Trucking, by and large, is middle America; and for the most part it’s not as different as I thought it would be, but at the same time if I had to pinpoint what’s different out here, I’d be hard-pressed not to answer, everything.
I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks with how to write about this all. On the one hand it’s a tremendous experience and I am enjoying myself. And this is my intended career at least for the foreseeable future. Along the way to this we (the definition of which is a subject for an entirely different post) bought a house in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and life is moving right along.
On the other hand there have been many times where I have felt like I should put part of myself in a closet; where I have outright been told that something about who I am that I have held important for all of my adult life is something that nobody is going to understand anyway; where instead of being able to critique behaviours that in most places would be socially unacceptable I have been told that this is a chance to practise “growing a thicker skin”. It’s a balancing act, and one that I’m still figuring out as I go. One that the next several posts will most likely be about as I get there.
How do I be a trucker and still be non-binary and genderqueer? Every time that I have mentioned it to anyone within trucking, even in passing, I’ve been told that my gender identity isn’t a big deal because “there are both men and women out there”. And when I overhear conversations between other truckers, it turns out that offensive slurs to refer to people outside the heteronormative ideal are far from uncommon. I’ve heard drivers from the company that I’m working for remark upon it being “ridiculous” that people who are born one gender could ever think to change it. Or, or… I could by now think of a thousand examples.
Moreover, how do I be a trucker and still hold my disability as a part of my identity when this is an industry with so many preconceived notions of who should and shouldn’t drive a truck? I couldn’t tell you whether I do or don’t get looks from other drivers when I pull through the fuel island and get out of the driver’s side of the rig. I’d like to be able to tell you that those looks, if they exist, didn’t matter. And they don’t, but at the same time even with an automatic transmission now available I’ve had to work twice as much and twice as hard to get where I am, to be able to convince person after person of my ability to do this job and the physical aspects thereof.
What I do know is that for now if it’s a choice between climbing a flight of stairs and taking a shower, taking a shower can wait. It often seems like the accessibility of facilities on the road is an afterthought. But not always. For every truck stop where the shower is on the upper floor and they don’t have an elevator, or every truck stop where there’s two flights of stairs just to get down the hill from where they have the trucks park in the first place there are ones like the one we stopped at tonight, where they saw that I use a crutch to walk and they made sure I had the accessible shower without my even having to ask for it. And at the same time there was no big deal or big fuss.
And those are the truck stops I’ll be making a point of returning to.