Scenario of the story: I’m a long haul truck driver. It’s currently around noon and I’m parked at a truckstop in Laredo, Texas, taking a nap while I wait for my load to be ready for pick up later that afternoon.
A gentle but persistent pressure in my bladder forces my brain to wake up and focus on the inevitable. My groggy eyes struggle to see in the enclosed darkness of the sleeper cab where I’ve been napping. I know I can’t put it off any longer, and so I make the decision to get dressed and start the trek across the truckstop yard to the restroom inside. No time to waste; my bladder has power of control over me and knows it. I better listen, or else.
I get up and open the truck door. A puff of hot and stale air blasts into my face. I carefully jump down the steps of the truck, slam the door shut and turn around.
Urine. A foul odour of hot urine mixed with stale air rises from the hot asphalt in the narrow space between my truck and the next one. But its okay. At this point my nose has acquired an automatic shutting down system to avoid inhaling putrid air like this. Some say the urine odour on hot asphalt isn’t actually human waste, but more likely just DEF emissions. Maybe some fuel spills and engine oils and transmission fluids. I beg to differ. I know for a fact that a lot of truckers don’t care about making it to the restroom in the middle of their sleep hours, like I do. Some of them make it outside of their door for relief. As disturbing as it is to think about, I know I have inhaled a lot of strangers’ excretory products by now.
As I make my way across the truckstop, the air clears a little and I can finally take a full breath. The oxygen is far from fresh though; after all, I am on a yard where there’s more than a 100 trucks parked and idling their engine emissions into the atmosphere.
I have now reached the door to the driver’s side entrance; yes, truck drivers do get their own entrance at truckstops, usually leading straight into a small store where oils, tires, and other truck maintenance things are sold. As I open the door and step into the store, I’m hit by even more uncomfortable smells; this time it’s a mixture of tires and soap fumes from the nearby drivers’ showers and, well, people. As I make my way through the shelves the smell intensifies but with added fumes of fried food and old coffee and restrooms.
Instinct makes you want to hold your nose into your shoulder so you don’t need to inhale all of those nasty smell particles.
This particular store in unusually busy and full. This is a place where people from 3 different countries wind up: Americans, Mexicans, and Canadians. I see people from all walks of life. Some are wearing beautiful shirts tucked into dark, fitted jeans, polished boots, and neat haircuts. I see others with baggy, oversized pants that threaten to slip down and are already giving me an undesired view of the colour of their underwear. I also see others who have yet to change out of their pj’s into day clothes, and shuffling about in shabby sandals where long, jagged and yellowed toenails point over the front edge of the soles. I always think that it’s precisely the latter that are to blame for the putrid smells dissipating between the trucks outside.
Do you realize I have now already used up 5 paragraphs describing unpleasant doors on the way to the restroom and I haven’t even made it into the actual restroom yet? I always suspect my sense of smell is extra sensitive; like that of a pregnant woman’s, but on steroids, because other people never seem to notice smells as much as I do.
So all things considered, I best not get into exactly what my restroom experience is like at this point. The good thing is that the ladies’ room is usually almost empty and if I run into someone, their toenails are usually in better shape. I proceed to find the cleanest stall with the whitest throne. Then I find the cleanest sink with the least black hair clumps and tooth paste spit. It can be a challenge, sometimes, to find clean amenities in this particular store. Especially during summer, the busy tourist months.
On my way back outside, I make sure to avoid accidental bumping into someone. Another trucker holds the store door for me and I scurry hurry past with a polite thank you. Outside, I spy a man wearing a button shirt completely unbuttoned, his shiny white belly protruding into the sunshine. With an experienced manner, I cleverly change direction and slip between two parked trucks to escape. Not that I’m scared or feel unsafe; I just have no desire to meet someone who’s in the process of airing out his armpits.
Once back in the comfort of my own truck, I realize that this comfort doesn’t come without a price. When you’re using such a small, confined space as your bedroom, kitchen, office, and vehicle all at once, it’s quite hard to keep that small space clean and good smelling. Air fresheners mask it, but aren’t really the answer I’m looking for.
As you can hear, truck life has its challenges, especially for someone as fastidious about cleanliness as I. On the road, rarely a day goes by where everything goes as planned.
Being a truck driver, you have to be okay with getting up in the morning and doing your morning routine in a public restroom. You have to be okay with doing your hair, washing your face and brushing your teeth at a sink where strangers have gone through their routine before you. You have to be okay with twisting your unwashed bed hair into a bun on top of a bare face, wearing second day clothes while gorgeous, good smelling girls with perfect makeup and blown out curls come into the restroom to touch up their lipstick.
You have to be okay with not getting to shower every single day. Every once in a while you even have to be okay with having to do your laundry in a truckstop laundromat. I’ve heard people say that they’d rather turn their underwear inside out and reuse it and it’d still be cleaner that way than if they’d wash it in a truckstop washer. That’s a joke, obviously, but most truck stop washers aren’t very appealing.
By now you’re thinking “ew I could never be a truck driver” and if you’re the type that has to shower every day and can’t let other people see you without a perfect face of makeup and has to wear a perfectly styled outfit complete with shoes and accessories every day, I agree. You wouldn’t last an hour on the truck, much less a week and a half. But what I described up there is a very teeny tiny part of what truck life is about.
Imagine a 6-lane interstate winding through gorgeous, towering mountains. Snow caps on top and deep, luscious greenery all the way down. You roll the window down and feel the pleasant mountain breeze blowing past the windshield as it’s speeding on through. The curves and steep mountain sides don’t even look dangerous when there’s such a wide, smooth road all the way through.
Then you drive over the top of the last mountain pass and suddenly you’re looking down on a big city whose lights are just beginning to twinkle in the last rays of the setting sun. Another half hour and you have left the mountains behind and find yourself amidst hundreds and hundreds of other trucks and cars through the bustling evening rush. Skyscrapers, billboards, and thousands of buildings are twinkling with lights, and no matter how many times you’ve been here, you still have stars in your eyes every time you see this.
Then you arrive at the truck stop on the outskirts of the city. The yard boasts room for 400 trucks. You find a parking spot, then open an app on your phone and reserve a shower for inside. You grab your bag with clean clothes and toiletries and make your way inside. The foyer is huge; in the center it has a tall water fountain with green plants and benches all around, resembling a tiny park. Off to one side of the foyer is a huge convenience and gift store; the other side has a whole handful of different restaurants. You walk towards the third side, which is the shower side. You find the shower you reserved and punch in the pin number from your app on the keypad on the door. You enter, and see a double sink with a mirror covering the whole wall, a tv and a rainforest shower. It’s clean and good smelling and beautiful. It’s fancy, like you have your very own mini spa, completely free with no time limit.
After a relaxing and refreshing hour in the “spa” you walk towards the good smelling restaurant area and sit down for a delicious dinner. After dinner you grab a huge cup of fresh coffee from the extensive coffee bar in the store and get back on the truck. You leave the twinkling city behind and drive off into the night, sipping coffee and listening to music. The road is almost empty now, and ahead you can see the black silhouette of another mountain.
After another few hours, long after your coffee is gone, you reach the top of the mountain pass. There’s a beautiful rest area carved into the mountain side with room for about 30 trucks and you decide to stop and sleep for the night.
You open the window of the sleeper, and through the window screen you can feel the mountain breeze softly blowing over your blanket as you snuggle in and drift off to sleep.
In the morning, you wake up and the mountain air seems to vitalize every cell in your brain and body. You get up, get dressed and step outside. The air is a little foggy but the perfect temperature for a quick morning walk. You walk along a cemented path through a small wooded area towards the edge of the rest area and look down into a deep valley. There’s a lake at the bottom with water so clear you could drink from it. You can see down the valley, over the lake, and across the mountains for miles and it hits you: there truly is no other job that has perks this spectacular.
I started writing this post in March. This week after watching my husband leave in his big rig (above photo) I decided to finish and publish it. All photos are my own.