Talk about the ultimate role reversal. Finally, after a lifetime playing the fly, I was going to be a spider, assigned to partake in a ride and drive where I'd handle big rigs. Having come aboard Fleet Owner just a few months earlier, I was excited. My only previous truck-themed event of note was seeing Smokey and the Bandit in 1977 on the night it premiered in Peoria, IL. I still dig Eastbound & Down, co-star Jerry Reed's hit song from the film.
My view of truck drivers has always been to fear and respect them. They can pancake you in two seconds. The rogue trucker in Duel (Google it) never left my subconsciousness, but decades of on-the-road observation have led me to believe that they're the safest and best drivers on the road. Though they do occur, I've yet to see an accident involving a truck and a car. But I've seen dozens involving just cars.
Truckers know the power they have and don't abuse it. I've never encountered a truck on a highway using the far-left passing lane.
Even so, encountering them, especially the Class 8s, a few feet away at 70-plus miles an hour never ceases to make me nervous. You look over and all you see are tires practically at eye level. And so many of them. Blow a tire in a car and it's bad news. But big riggers could stop, sell four of theirs, and likely just keep on rolling.
Once every so often when an 18-wheeler comes close, I have the same wide-awake nightmare—what if four rigs box me in and decide to toy with me, where I couldn't slow down, speed up, or change lanes? Duel: The Sequel?
Taking a highway curve alongside a big truck at high speed is the worst. You're half looking at the road and half looking at Gigantor, praying he doesn't come too close. He never does.
Then there's the mysterious truck driver. You hardly ever actually see his face; he's too high up there. Ever notice that car drivers look at each other for no particular reason when one passes the other, or if one driver is annoyed by something? What's to be gained by viewing a stranger's face? But I digress . . .
Maybe it's poetic justice that the omnipotent trucker towers over all, like one seated on a throne. Who you are, what you drive, what you own, and what you think mean nothing. On the road he is king and you are pawn.
The ride and drive day arrived and there I was, face to cab with a shiny, white-as-new-snow Class 6. Truth be told, I was a bit disappointed. I had hoped for a Class 8, king of the highway jungle, but no matter. It was still something I'd never driven. I'd only occasionally been in pickup trucks, and never actually handled one.
The door was pushed open from the inside and I was invited up and in. I have a balky knee, so I had to figure out how to make the climb safely. It took athleticism, along with leg and arm strength. At the top I had to sort of swivel to finally land in the driver's seat. My respect for haulers rose another solid notch. I could never go up and down several times a day on a regular basis.
There was a short, easy course to navigate, with orange traffic cones marking the way. Thankfully, they were not alive because several would have died. The patient company exec in the passenger seat encouraged me like a kindergarten teacher would a clueless child. I was still thankful.
After a few minutes of awkward acceleration, clumsy maneuvering, and an inability to figure out the emergency brake, I was happy to de-board and passed on the opportunity to try a speed run. They did not ask twice.
While it was never on my lifetime bucket list, I can now say that I once drove a truck, ‘once' being the operative word. The experience gave me a newfound appreciation for what truckers do daily, and it piqued my interest to learn much more about the industry.
Not long after, I was dispatched to cover the grand opening of a truck dealership/repair operation. Arriving at the massive facility, I encountered row upon row of glittering Class 8s. Walking among them before the presentation began, I approached the cabs and tried the doors. They were locked. There would be no test drives. I was relieved.