I don’t really consider myself a real truck driver.
As a household mover I drive a tractor trailer long distance, sleep in my bunk at truck stops (I use a Level 3 down comforter in the winter, a Christmas gift from my mom), shower in a truck stop bathroom made for one (the bathrooms are usually 2 or 3 times the size of a typical hotel bathroom, surprisingly clean and, best of all, you get free use with a fill-up of 50 gallons or more ), and eat meals prepared from a pile of food stuffed into a two-foot-tall built-in refrigerator right behind the passenger seat. In part I don’t feel like a real truck driver because Billy and I taught ourselves to drive and I just drive our trucks — I don’t know what it’s like to be a truck driver in the trucking industry, don’t know anything about those satellite touch screen communication devices they have, don’t really even have a good handle on what papers I’m supposed to show the DOT officials when I get pulled into weigh stations.
Maybe more importantly, I don’t feel like a real truck driver because, as a mover, driving the truck feels like a necessary but secondary part of the job. An analogy might be this: a caterer prepares delicious food and then transports the food in his or her van, sometimes even over great distances, to a banquet hall. Driving the van to the banquet hall is part of the job of being a caterer, but it’s definitely not the first thing you think about when you have occasion to think about a caterer’s work. (“Yes, dear, I agree his chicken cordon bleu is delicious, but how does he handle his van?”)
But oddly enough, driving the tractor trailer — a 70-foot-long behemoth comprised of a maroon Kenworth T-600 tractor and a 53-foot black Kentucky mover’s trailer with over 120 lights on it — is one of my favorite parts of the job. Why? Because driving a tractor trailer is a real and constant challenge for me (and has been for the entire 6 years I’ve been doing it), but not so challenging that I’m more than just the right amount of anxious. It gives me pleasure because I can keep getting better without being too scared (except every once in a while) or overwhelmed or feeling like I just plain suck.
For me, driving a truck is one of the longest and most consistent sweet spots of challenge I’ve known in my life — not too hard, but definitely not too easy, with feedback that’s nearly constant: every shift through its 13-gears can be grinding, smoother, or even smoother still and on into infinity where the coffee in a cup left on the dash wouldn’t even sway. Every time I back the truck up at night into one of the last remaining parking spaces at the truck stop, with mere inches between my trailer and the two trailers on either side, I can either do it smoothly on the first try, on the third try, or I might just have to abandon the attempt. Every time I negotiate downtown Chicago traffic, every time I drive through mountains in snow and high wind, every time I just barely make a really tight turn in some neighborhood where I’m probably not supposed to be (like two weeks ago in downtown Philadelphia), I can measure how well I’m doing, how much more skillful I’ve become when compared to last year, or the year before.
And not much of it is knowledge I could articulate: I just know, without thinking, where the end of my trailer is; just know beyond consciousness really, how much room I need at a corner to make a turn, just know, without needing the bridge height sign, if I need to be really careful about going under that low railroad bridge. What a pleasure really, to feel more capable than you used to be at a challenging and dangerous task. And the only three ingredients for that joy? Effort and time and customers.
I listen to Krista Tippetts’ “On Being” and she had a great show about the intelligence embodied (and the embodied intelligence) in all kinds of work. If you’d like to check it out, it’s here. Here’s to hoping we all find a new sweet spot in 2013.