Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Woman on the road

Turns out my classroom instructor (the person teaching my class all we need to know about getting a learners permit, not the actual driving instructor) was the first woman to drive trailers full of rocket launchers for NASA.

Here's her story: she was studying photography in college in San Francisco 30 years ago, then decided to take some time off school to earn some tuition money. Landed a job driving a van for a company that also had some trucks hauling hazmats. Got into the cab on a dare from one of the truck drivers who said something about women not being able to drive trucks, and ended up driving for the next 15 years, hauling things like tanks and explosives, sometimes gone from home for more than a year straight.

One day, she and three others drivers showed up in Cape Canaveral as a convoy to pick up some NASA rocket launchers. The dispatcher told them women were not allowed to drive. Several hours and a lot of hell-raising later, she broke that rule once and for all.

The one other woman in my class (who works for a local construction company and wants a CDL in order to haul rock and cement) was enraged by this story. "Man, I would have clocked him right then and there," she said. "Well," the instructor replied, "it's because I didn't react that way and instead just got the job done back then, that you can have that reaction and you can work in construction with no problems now."

After class, I tell her my reasons for being in truck school, and she tells me some of her own story, about taking her cameras on year-long jaunts around the country and about being one of the only women on the road all those years ago, and confirms for me that this is absolutely the perfect place for me right now in my life. She says the road will show me better than anything else just what it is that I am meant to write.

I had assumed most of my class would be there to learn about long-hauling it, but instead most of them have families they can't leave and are dead-set on doing local work. I express my surprise at this, and she sighs and talks about how the wives of many new truckers have never left their hometowns and are afraid of their men doing so and generally being terrified of being on their own, as a result calling their faraway husbands when a pipe breaks in the house instead of just calling a plumber. "I want to start a class just for these women, to teach them how to take care of their own lives," she says.

The rain has cleared by the time I walk out of the classroom, an hour after everyone else had left. The yard is quiet; it smells like mud and grease and possibility. I can feel my life, full of highs and lows and twists and turns, stretch out before me like a mighty interstate highway.

1 comment:

the ineffable b said...

that is such an awesome story. I love how it really shows how you're doing this for all the right reasons. It's like you are being shown that you are on the right path, exactly where you're supposed to be.