LAKELAND, FL - I was really surprised to hear from my new trainer less than 24 hours after my last one dropped me in Ohio, and even more surprised that it was a woman. Melissa came in all tight jeans and feathered bangs, straight out of the 80s. I got on the truck that evening, we picked up a load in Toledo and rushed down to Miami, where it had to be on Friday morning. In the course of that rushed 30-hour stretch during which the truck never really stopped moving, I learned a lot of things about my new trainer. For instance, the man she calls her "husband" is really her long-distance boyfriend, even though she's still married to someone else and so is he. Also, that her stalker ex-boyfriend likes to text message her with marriage proposals. That she will curse out other truck drivers, then get on the CB and be sweet as pie to them. Also, that she has no teeth, which is helpful to her anorexia.
Just when I was starting to adore her trashy awesomeness (or maybe her awesome trashiness), we arrived in Miami. I'd never been to Florida before, and the rest of the state really did not impress me, but there was something about Miami that enchanted me instantly - something about the security guards with Haitian accents, and the fresh fruit and Cuban desserts on the roach coach that pulled up to the dock where we were waiting to unload the trailer, the brightness and glitter of early morning shining with this delicious cultural twist. After too much time in the monotone of the Midwest, it was the perfect city flavor to land on my tongue.
And just as I was relishing the taste of Miami morning, Melissa set in with a long and involved tirade about how this part of her home state is now full of black and Hispanic people, and how much she hates both, complete with long and bone-chillingly racist reasons why. It was then that I noticed the small confederate flag sticker on her CB radio. Oy.
I've kept my mouth shut so far. Except for the awful, blatant racism, I like her a lot. We get along. She's a good driver, and a good teacher - at least for me, it seems. My last trainer was a good driver too, as well as a licensed mechanic, and he was constantly appalled at all the things I didn't know about how trucks and other vehicles function, and tried to make me feel bad for not knowing things I don't know, which is bullshit. Melissa, on the other hand, breaks things down into terms I understand. And her truck is a lot easier to handle and shift than the last one I was on, though technically it's a lot older and crappier. I'm going to chalk that one up to female energy.
I asked me why she became a truck driver, and she told me the story of how she went to visit her grandfather in Wisconsin at the age of 8. He was a driver, and had an ancient cab-over truck. She sat in a lawn chair in the space generally reserved for a passenger seat and looked at the countryside they were passing through, so high up above everything, moving so fast. It was one of the big defining moments of her life. She told him then, "One day, Grandpa, I'm going to drive a truck just like you." He replied, "Over my dead body, you will." But he changed his mind once he saw her behind the wheel, she said.
One thing I really like is the difference I feel between walking into a truck stop or shipper's office with another woman rather than a man. With my last trainer, everyone assumed I was his wife or girlfriend, and always addressed him first, assuming he was in charge of the truck - which was true, obviously, but not for those reasons. I always felt self-conscious during those moments, and angry at the assumptions, but powerless against them since I am "just a student." With Melissa, it feels more like equal footing. Other drivers and the company's customers don't know which one of us to address first, and they get confused, and it's fantastic to see the looks on people's faces as they slowly realize that no, there are no men on that truck. Right now, I am spending my energy trying to somehow get past the racism so I can mine this woman for writing material.
She is taking home time this weekend, and I get to stay in a hotel. Unlike my last trainer, she will actually pick me back up after the weekend is over. The hotel is near our company terminal in the Tampa area. I considered renting a car or something and going exploring, but I've been on the road for nearly a month and nothing seems as wonderful as indulging as sleeping in a hotel bed and lounging by the pool for a couple days. Especially since my birthday is tomorrow.
Also, just as a note about how I've been living - I haven't had a shower, proper meal, or a chance to sleep longer than two hours at a stretch since Ohio. I am a dirty, hungry, and tired girl, yet what do I do first upon checking into my hotel room? I check my email and update my blog. Priorities are priorities, after all.