Teenagers And Trucking

Roger Clark
March 2021

 A lifetime member of OOIDA, I’m eligible for parole after serving a third of my sentence. That means twenty more years of listening to the controversy regarding teenage truck drivers. Personally, I don’t see a problem with it. After all, we already have teenage gang bangers, carjackers, and mass murderers. What’s a few more trucking stories starting with the phrase, “Alcohol may have been involved.”?

Barely thirty years old myself, back in the day, I taught three teenagers how to turn, stop, pass, and park. What they learned was who to cuss, how to rage, and when to flip off other drivers. Each one avoided an accident for several weeks. Anna backed a Honda into her mother’s Cadillac, hard enough to total mom’s car. Olaf toppled a light pole, knocking out power in the neighborhood, and Elsa made the garage entry wider. Believe me, I was quickly running out of Participation Awards.

 I took the boy trucking with me, when I could, and it made for some interesting trips. It was a window into the teenage mind, and lessons in how to lose mine. I wouldn’t have traded those hours for anything in the world. Well, except a pack of smokes. Or quiet breakfast. Or a dollar in loose change.

Parked between bull racks one night, I insisted Olaf hang his socks on the mirror brackets. When he did, both bull haulers pulled away. On another day, as we washed our truck, he polished the vinyl seats and steam-cleaned the fifth wheel. 

All three teens exhibited levels of maturity, including unplanned pregnancies, recreational drug abuse, attacks of personal destruction, and the rare Molotov cocktail. You know, just the garden variety adolescent behavior. What could possibly happen between that, and learning to drive a fully loaded 18-wheeler down Cabbage Pass, or bringing a load of California grapes into Hunt’s Point, New York? 

 Oh sure, they’d have to put the phone down, long enough to weave through the east coast toll roads, but they’re usually awake during those hours anyway. I know I was! But then too, they have automatic transmissions these days, backed up by autonomous braking. What I had was the original plunger/splitter 13-speed, with a right foot shaking so bad we inadvertently invented ABS.

Today there’s a YouTube video teaching everything from shifting and turning, to booking and backing. Now you too, on YouTube, can learn about chaining, blocking, strapping, and tarping, all without breaking a sweat or busting your uh, back. There may even be an app available now, that includes the smell of smoking brakes, freezing rain, blown injectors, and dispatchers just recently divorced. Now anyone can talk like a real, authentic trucker, just from watching selfie videos that all begin with, “What’s up, guys…?”

 Olaf never did get that merit badge, but he was something of a hustler. It came to light with a load of paper towels.

“Here’s the deal”, I said. “Since I’m paying for your meals and shower, young man, you’re going to unload the trailer, saving me $150 lumper fee.”

As you guys know, if you drove for Schneider, Swift, or Dart, 600 cases should be palletized on the floor in about 90 minutes. Yet three hours in, I awakened from a nap realizing something wasn’t right. Stepping onto the loading dock, the reason for delay was readily apparent.  My kid was unloading two other trucks as he also took care of ours. I didn’t know if I should give him an award, or a beating. What I did do was make him buy dinner that night!