By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
A couple of years ago I was the victim of a photo radar camera. I say “victim” because I was only going eight miles over the speed limit and besides, I was busy making my grocery list in my head. Obviously I didn’t have time to read that pesky speed limit sign. A few days after I was “flashed” I got a ticket in the mail along with a photo of me speeding. I was certain that they had the wrong person; I would never leave the house with that slap-dash make-up job and my hair in such disarray. But the car was definitely mine so I had to face the fact that the slovenly person speeding down the road was me.
My choice was to pay the fine, which would result in a car insurance premium resembling the national debt, or attend an all-day traffic school. My friends encouraged me to do nothing and wait until the process-server found me. Perhaps I’ve watched one too many episodes of “Locked Up” but I didn’t want any part of evading the law; I signed up for traffic school. Traffic school, for those of you goody two shoes who have never been to one, consists of 8 hours of sitting in a cheap hotel room listening to someone drone on about arcane traffic laws, while sitting next to people who have committed God knows what crime.
Okay, that might be a bit overly dramatic. Turns out, 95% of my class was there due to photo radar cameras. Our instructor, Rosie, was a woman who had spent the better part of her working years as a truck driver. As in an 18 wheeler, big semi truck. She was married and had raised her children while on the road. Rosie referred to herself as “the Mother Trucker”. She made the class as interesting as possible, which is quite a feat when you’re discussing curb colors and stopping distances. In short, Rosie was just the kind of person you’d love to meet at that greasy spoon truck stop because you know she’d offer you some Tums.
During a portion of her instruction (I believe it was concerning merges or something – the whole day was sort of lost on me) Rosie extolled the virtues of truck drivers. At this point a few people in class felt it necessary to prolong our agony by relating their recent encounters with deranged truckers. On and on they babbled, each one trying to better the last, completely unaware that no one cared one whit about their stories. Imagine a cocktail party where you’re cornered by the biggest bore in the room, only you don’t have a cocktail. Rosie finally took charge, telling us that everything we eat, wear or touch was at some point on a truck, and that we should be forever grateful for truckers.
In my overwhelming desire to get home I did not share my opinion then, but I’m going to share it now: truck drivers are the biggest menace on the road today. Period. This was not always so. In fact, when I learned to drive truckers were considered to be the safest drivers. And nice – who among us didn’t do an arm pump as a kid when passing a trucker, only to have him blast his horn and smile? When I was in my early twenties a friend and I were driving up to Squaw Valley on a Friday night and were so engrossed in our discussion about skiing (okay, it was probably about ski patrol guys) that we didn’t notice that the gas tank was emptying. As we ascended Highway 80, just shy of the summit and in complete darkness, our car gradually lost power and stopped on the side of the road. A few minutes later a truck driver pulled over to see if he could help. He quickly diagnosed the problem (we were idiots) and offered to take us up to Norden to the gas station. We merrily – and unthinkingly – hopped in his truck to go get gas. I shudder when I remember this – we were lucky we didn’t end up in some sex slave harem in Indonesia. But such were the times – truck drivers were the good Samaritans of the road.
Nowadays, as I have previously related, my husband and I do a lot of driving trips. So as other people know airports, we know roads. I cannot even begin to count the number of times over the past several years that we have been cut off by a speeding truck. On a trip last week we noticed a truck veering from one lane to the other. We cautiously approached him and as I peered in his window, he was eating a sandwich with one hand and holding a coke in the other. He was obviously under the mistaken impression that he could drive with his knees. I have seen truckers reading, texting, talking on the phone, rifling through paperwork, and snuggling up with their girlfriends (to put it delicately). Imagine – we used to think catching someone picking their nose was a noteworthy event!
I know that nowadays truckers are often freelancers and paid by the job; the faster they can complete their “run” the more money they make. I just wish they all had the same sensibilities as Rosie. In other words, we need more mother truckers on the road.