Have you ever wondered what it’s like to leave the path your crowd is traveling to follow an unusual dream? Ann, 54, did just that about a year and a half ago when she left a job in the corporate world to become a truck driver. I spoke with Ann about what it’s like to be a female tractor trailer driver and the surprising joy she’s found on the road.
Jeanette Flood: Let’s start with a brief work history.
Ann: After college, I started out in social work. Then I held sales jobs for a while, and then spent 10 years in a corporate setting as an executive assistant. I suffered severe chronic fatigue syndrome (adrenal fatigue) for five years after I completed my MBA. That’s how I ended up in administrative work.
JF: What made you want to move into trucking?
Ann: The idea just kept popping up after I got laid off from my corporate job. I did some international travel, and when I came back, I wanted to do something different. I ended up moving to Tennessee, but the jobs there don’t pay half of what they paid in Texas, where I had been living. I was really disillusioned, and I just didn’t want to work in an office environment anymore. Meanwhile, trucking kept coming up as an idea to me from several different people.
I've always loved driving and have always made a joke that if things didn’t work out in the white-collar world, I could always try trucking. Then I guess it all came together because a lot of people were encouraging me to do it. I talked to a truck driver in a real estate class I was taking. He really thought I’d be great for it. Then I met a lady truck driver, and she was raving about it. It was after talking to her that I decided to try it.
JF: And now that you’re doing it, how do you like it?
Ann: I love it! I love working outside, I love being out under the sky, and the sunshine—really, any kind of weather. I worked many years in windowless offices: going to work in the dark and going home in the dark. The corporate work environment just kept getting worse over the years. You didn’t even have your own desk anymore at my company. Literally.
I felt like such a lab rat in a cage. And the cage just kept getting smaller and smaller, and I just couldn’t stand it anymore. So I love being outside all day under the sky. Seeing the sunrises and sunsets and the incredible beauty across the country is amazing. I really don’t even feel like I’m working. But the pay is really good, more than I’ve ever earned in my life. It’s really a good deal!
JF: So what’s a typical day like for you?
Ann: Get up whenever I want—which I love. Then get some coffee and start driving. I might stop at a warehouse, pick up a load, and then drive it to the destination. So maybe like once a day at the most, I’m at a warehouse. But the rest of the day I’m out on the road. And I get to follow my own body rhythms: stop when I want to stop, go to sleep early, wake up with no alarm clock. It’s totally different than the 9-to-5 grind in an office, a lot more relaxed. I also love the solitude. And because I get to listen to anything I want to on the Internet or radio, I don’t really feel like I’m working. I feel like I’m retired . . . while making more money than I’ve ever made.
JF: Tell us more about the details—do you have to do the loading at the warehouse? How many hours a day do you usually drive? And do you do any city driving?
Ann: No, they do all the loading and unloading. Generally, I drive 8 or 9 hours a day. And no, I don’t drive much in the city. What I do is called over-the-road (OTR) driving. You’re not home every night. You’re either driving within a specific region, or you might be driving the whole lower 48 states, depending on what your job is.
JF: So how often are you home?
Ann: Actually, I got rid of my apartment. There was no point in having an apartment when I was never there. Everything I own is in the truck. I feel really free in what I call my mobile tiny house. I’m never stuck in one place and the scenery is always changing. It’s amazing. I love it. I think of my truck as a “mobile monastery” and myself as a “road nun.”
JF: “Mobile monastery” and “road nun”—I love it. Can you elaborate more on that?
Ann: I call it a monastery because when you’re driving a rig, you're in a sense separated from the rest of the world. There are lots of places you can't go. You can drive by and see it, but you can’t stop. So in a way, I’m in the world but not of it. I can travel through it, but I can’t really participate. I don’t mind not participating. I’m grateful for my “previous” life too because I know I’m not really missing out on anything being on the road.
I call myself a “road nun” because in these conditions—feeling at peace, beholding and contemplating God’s creation as I drive—I feel like I’m on a “permanent” retreat. Social life is curtailed, but I can pray for the world as I drive by. And randomly going wherever I’m sent kind of reminds me of the early evangelists. I’m not overtly evangelizing, but at least I’m covering the land in prayer, blessings, and gratitude.
JF: And what’s it like to be a female driver? How are you treated by the other truckers?
Ann: That’s a really cool part: I get treated like a queen! Everybody loves it; they don’t see a lot of women drivers, so I get a lot of positive feedback. They’re encouraging and impressed and excited to see a lady driving a semi-truck. It’s great; I feel a bit like a rock star. I’m pretty much ignored in normal society, so it’s been really fun.
JF: What about safety?
Ann: I don’t feel unsafe at all really. Maybe once at a small warehouse at night. I just didn’t feel right there because the warehouse was in a residential area, and I saw some sketchy pedestrians that could just walk in. It was a little mom-and-pop-owned warehouse, and it was just very deserted at night. But normally the warehouses are well lit. And that was only one time in the 500-plus days I’ve been driving.
So, I would say I feel very safe. I never have to leave the truck after dark. I use common-sense measures: Always lock my doors. Pull my curtains as soon as I park so nobody knows there’s a female inside that truck. So I’ve never had any issues, and I don’t feel unsafe, but I don’t get out of the truck after dark either.
I definitely feel much safer than I thought I would. I’ve never met a trucker who made me feel uncomfortable. I've never had a single interaction where a trucker was disrespectful to me. It’s not what you’d expect out here. Most truckers . . . they’re all very respectful. As far as safety, I’m surprised at how safe I’ve felt. Like I said, I’m really treated like a queen; I’m treated better than I am in regular society.
JF: And you don’t get lonely, you don’t miss your house or anything like that?
Ann: No, I don’t get lonely because I still talk with my friends as much as when I was at home—with cell phones and text messaging. No, I can’t go out to coffee with them, but I stay as much in touch with them as I did at home. Probably the only thing I miss is a kitchen and cooking my own food. A lot of people have equipment and do cook in their trucks, but I just haven’t gotten there yet. But it is possible to eat healthy out here.
JF: I know you have a bed and lots of storage space in the back of your truck, but where do you take a shower?
Ann: At truck stops. The single bathrooms with showers are great. They are spacious and cleaned after every single use. They’re probably better than most home bathrooms! It’s like a hotel bathroom every time.
The showers are really safe. They have this whole system. You go to the cashier to get a ticket which gives you a customer number. Then the customer number goes up on a screen. It’s not like, “Ann is going to shower number 3.” It’s “Customer #81 should go to shower #3.” Then there’s an electronic code on your ticket to unlock that door. Then when you get in there, you lock it with a deadbolt. I wear flip flops in the shower, but that’s the only difference. It’s no big deal at all.
JF: Would you recommend this career to other women?
Ann: It depends on someone’s personality. Yes—as long as they’re very independent and don’t mind solitude and quiet. It’s very peaceful out here; I’m really insulated from the world. As long as they can take a lot of solitude, they’d probably be pleasantly surprised.
And it works well for saving for retirement (especially at my age). I don’t have any expenses except food and my cell phone bill. A lot of the women drivers I meet are empty-nesters. A lot of couples are doing it too.
JF: At Verily, we love our “Daily Doses”—quotes or phrases that motivate or inspire us. Do you have a mantra or phrase that you love or live by?
Ann: My favorite phrase is “Love is our soul purpose.” It’s a pithy summary of 1 Corinthians 13.