A week ago, I staggered out of the South Hall at the Kentucky Convention Center in Louisville leaving the turmoil of the 2015 Mid-America Truck Show in my wake.
Two solid days of unrelenting press conferences were behind me. I had only one dinner engagement with friends at Isuzu left. Then, I’d get some much-needed sleep and hop on a Delta jet home the next morning.
The yellow cab I climbed into for the ride to dinner was driven by an affable, burly guy from somewhere in the Middle East. Sometimes I ask. This time I didn’t. But Afghanistan, if I had to guess.
As soon as I was settled, my cabbie started shooting questions at me about the truck show: What was going on there? How crowded was it? Were there new trucks? Were any fleets present? And so on? What was I doing there?
I answered his questions. And the more I told him, the more excited he became.
“I just got my CDL!” He told me proudly. “Got it today, in fact! Here it is!”
He reached across the front seat and handed me a manila envelope. Sure enough, inside was a brand-new diploma from a Louisville truck driving school. “I’ve had enough of driving cabs,” he said. “I want to be a long-haul truck driver! See the country! Make some real money!”
So we started talking: I told him there was a driver shortage and fleets needed good, safe, reliable drivers who could get a load to its destination safely and consistently. “I’ve been driving this cab for 15 years,” he told me. “I’ve never had an accident!”
“It’s not an easy life,” I cautioned him. “Long hours away from home.”
“I’m in this cab 15 hours a day looking at the same streets and buildings all day long,” he scoffed. “It can’t be any worse than that.”
“Well, the trick is to get on with a good fleet, get some experience and start building your accident-free miles. That’s the marker that shows your worth to the industry,” I said.
He told me he wanted to drive flatbeds, so I suggested he talk to my friends at Maverick Transport. “They’re a good fleet,” I told him. “They value their drivers and take pride in running new equipment.”
“I know them,” he said. “The came to my driving school and talked to us.”
We talked a little about equipment: He’d trained on a Volvo VNL and liked the truck a lot. He hadn’t driven an AMT yet, but was skeptical: he took pride in his new ability to run a manual gearbox.
By this point we were at the restaurant. I gave him a ChampTruck racing cap I’d just picked up at the Meritor reception before getting in the cab line. And then – in a move sure to be unpopular with MATS management — I handed him my now-unneeded show badge. “Go walk the floor tomorrow courtesy of me,” I told him. “Climb into some new trucks. Check out some fleets. Talk to some drivers. Get a feel for the industry and enjoy yourself.”
If I hadn’t been so brain-dead by this point (and late for dinner, to boot) I’d have made a point to get my cabbie’s name and check in with him in a few months to see how things where going. But, at any rate, I did a small part to engage the guy and hopefully steer him onto a viable career path in an industry that desperately needs guys like him.
Here’s hoping it works out for him.