One day as I was driving through New Mexico, the scenery slid by my windows in pastel colours of red and ochre. I was on my way to Los Angeles, opting to take the southern route to avoid a winter storm up north.
As I drove, I started thinking about friends with the typical nine-to-five day job. What did they see out their office windows? Certainly nothing as visually stunning as the New Mexico desert.
They got up at the same time every weekday, left the house at about the same time each morning and drove the same way to work. They took their lunch at the same time each day and every night they drove the same route home again.
To me, it seemed an inconceivable lifestyle. A lifestyle I would have to adapt to sooner than I could ever have imagined.
When I was a boy of seven or eight, my neighbour’s father owned a moving company. On weekends he would take us to the office and we would play in the warehouse, chase each other on pallet jacks or have a blast raising and lowering the forks on the forklift.
Occasionally one of the really big trucks would come in from the US. One of the drivers always let us climb into his cab, wide-eyed and marveling at all the chrome, the switches and the chairs that raised up and down on air.
For two small boys, it didn’t get any better than this.
Fast-forward 25 years. I was picking up a load in a small town outside Albany, N.Y. The forklift driver was new and having trouble loading the 750-lb crates. Fate came crashing down and changed my life when a crate was knocked over onto me. At first, typical guy, I shook off my sore arm, shoulder and back.
I took a couple days off, thinking I had pulled a muscle or two, then grabbed a load to Kansas City, Kansas. For the first time in my life I almost turned the truck around halfway there. The pain in my back was atrocious. But I kept it together and got the load delivered and returned home.
After a battery of tests including cat scans and MRIs, I was told I had a couple herniated discs, one with a tear in it. That crate did far more damage than I realized.
I would never be a trucker again.
Luckily we have the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) for times like this when we need their help the most. I needed a new plan. What was I going to do? What could I do? I finished high school with my Grade 12, but the only jobs I was qualified for required physical work I could no longer handle.
I had to go back to school and learn a new profession. At 35 years old, it was a terrifying prospect to start again.
I was leaving everything I knew and loved behind and was venturing into a world I knew nothing about.
The WSIB gave me some tests to see what professions I could potentially excel at and one of them was journalism. So I was going to college.
For me, being out of work brought a certain amount of shame. I was embarrassed that I didn’t have a job. At parties and the like the inevitable question arose, “What do you do?”
And although most people thought returning to school was admirable, to me it meant being unemployed. Questions and worries raced through my mind constantly. Would I fit in? Could I do it? What would the other students think of this broken down old trucker? My classmates would be almost 20 years my junior. I was going to stick out like a sore thumb.
The first day of classes wasn’t easy. I walked fast and kept my head down, hoping not to get lost on my way to the lecture hall. But somehow I got through it, despite missing trucking the entire time.
I would have given anything to take a load to Vancouver.
To this day, whenever I see a large car on the highway I always imagine driving it, wondering where it’s off to, and the things the driver will see along the way.
Now, at the end of my courses I can look back and see the learning curve I’ve travelled over the past four years.
The kids in my classes were alright to work with after all and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. Finances have been a struggle but I’ll soon be gainfully employed once more.
However, a new challenge is on the horizon. Returning to the working world. I will have to wear a shirt and tie.
The view out of my office window will never change and I’ll be one of those people driving the same way to work every morning. Another scary change. But believe me, if I can do it, anyone can.
So I’ve gone from trucker to writer. And although I may not be in a truck, I’ve been changing gears all the while.
-Alistair Lowe is embarking on a new career in the field of corporate communications. He wrote this column exclusively for Truck News to share his experience of adapting to life after trucking.
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