My day as a trucker

Photo by Maxim Tolchinskiy

There has been a lot of news lately about cargo ships being stranded in Vancouver harbour. They call it a “grid-lock” of merchandise. 

Strange to see ships sitting motionless, each loaded with hundreds of containers, waiting for their turn to be unloaded. The problem is, there is no place to unload them. This becomes clear when the cameras turn towards the docks to show hundreds of containers already there. 

Those containers are also static. Nothing is moving. 

The news said that it was the lack of trucks causing the problem. Then the news said trucks were available, but it was a shortage of drivers that was causing the problem. 

What a conundrum! Stores with empty shelves, goods sitting on the docks, and ships waiting to be unloaded.

One more thing to blame on the pandemic. Perhaps I should offer my services as a truck driver, after all, I did drive a truck once in my life.

It was a very unassuming question the day my friend asked, “Could you help us move?” 

She went on to explain that no one in her family had a driver’s license and she was going to rent a van but had no one to drive it. “Sure,” I said, “I can drive a van”.

The plan was simple. After work, we would walk to the car-rental lot; pick up the van; drive it to her place; loaded it; drive it to her new home; unloaded and repeat it until the move was finished. Sounded simple enough and a great way to spend the weekend, helping out a friend. 

So, on Friday morning, I drove to her place and we took the bus downtown to work. After work, as planned, we walked the six blocks to the car-rental place. 

As we approached the lot, my eyes began searching for the van I was to drive. All I could see were large trucks. Guess the van is around the back, I told myself. While Pat went into the office to do the paperwork, I walked around the lot looking for that elusive van.

As my friend and the manager were walking towards me, I heard him say, “Well, there it is”. “Where what is?”, I asked, all I could see were trucks. “This one,” he said and pointed at the monster truck I was standing in front of.

“But that can’t be, I was supposed to drive a van, a utility van and this is a truck!”, I protested.

“No, this is it,” he said, “You’ll do fine.”

“I can only drive automatic vehicles and this is probably a standard”, I stammered hopefully.

“No, it’s automatic, you won’t have any problem, it is easy to drive”, he said in an overly cheery voice. To say I was terrified would have been an understatement. It was going to be a weekend I would not soon forget.

The first problem was getting into the truck. I obviously had worn the wrong outfit, great for the office, but not for truck driving. I had on a pencil skirt that did not have a large enough slit at the back for me to step up onto the running board. I was trying to figure out how high I would have to pull up my skirt when strong hands picked me up and hoisted me upwards and planted me on the running board.  

Surprised and a little shaken, I took hold of the side mirror to steady myself. Fine, now how to open the door? While Pat and the manager were laughing at me, I squeezed myself as far to the right as I could, and gingerly open the door.

The next problem was immediately obvious when I sat down. I could not reach the pedals. He moved the seat as far forward as possible, but in order for me to drive that thing, I would have to sit on the edge of the seat. 

Thankfully the truck was facing the road which meant I did not have to back it up. 

Backing up a vehicle is not one of my favourite things to do. I have backed into road signs; snowbanks; a fence or two, just to mention a few of my mishaps. 

Okay, I was ready to roll! 

I told my friend that I would drive straight up 17th Avenue and once we got to the top of the hill, I would decide what to do next.

I turned on the engine, put the thing in drive and slowly we began to move. God help me, I implored under my breath, because if I ever needed divine intervention, it was then. Gingerly, I drove off the lot and onto the avenue and when I saw where I was headed, I realized just how narrow and busy that avenue was. 

A change of plan was in order. As soon as I got to the first intersection, I wheeled that sucker to the right making a much wider loop than necessary, but hey, these were my first baby steps. 

The turn took my friend by surprise and she yelled out a loud, “Hey! What the Hay?”.  

“Sorry, I decided to take 12th instead. It’s one-way and will take us right onto Crowchild.”

Slowly, very slowly, I drove north and turned left onto 12th Avenue, this time, making a much narrower loop as I merged into the flow of traffic. From the two side mirrors, I could tell that the drivers behind me did not appreciate my slow progress. I did feel sorry for them, but I had to concentrate hard on staying in my lane. 

My cautious driving angered those in a hurry to get home. They demonstrated their displeasure with loud horn blasts and raised fingers when they drove around me. From 12th Avenue, I managed to get onto Crowchild and then inch my way into the curb lane. 

From Crowchild onto Richmond Road and then just a few more miles and we would be at her place. When her apartment complex came into view, I felt a sense of accomplishment and relief that my troubles for the day were almost over. 

“We made it”, I said happily as I pulled the truck next to her fence. My feeling of happiness quickly vanished when she asked, “Aren’t you going to back it in?”. Luckily, her apartment sat at the end of the complex which gave me a small amount of wiggle room. I drove the truck as close to her neighbour’s fence as I could, put it in reverse, mumbled a prayer, and began backing up. By this time her family had come out to greet us and were all busy telling me how and where to back the truck up. 

When the truck was finally maneuvered to everyone’s satisfaction, it was time for me to call it a day. I stumbled out of the truck and walked wearily to my car. 

“See you in the morning,” I said as I drove away. 

Once I arrived home, all I wanted to do was relax in a warm tub. I did not sleep well that night, tossing and turning, re-living the drive in all that traffic. 

Surely the next two days were going to be a challenge.

The following morning, I arrived bright and early at her apartment. They had been busy after I left because the truck was fully loaded and ready to roll. Well. Okay, here we go again. Now, wearing slacks, I had no problems getting into the truck, and, I brought a big cushion to support my back. 

Again, we headed for Crowchild, then onto 14th Street and all the way south to Anderson. After a few more turns and we arrived at her new home. It was early and the Saturday morning traffic was easy to manage but I knew that it would all change as the day wore on.  

Amazingly, the two days went by without a hitch. I managed not to hit anything and what is more, I felt almost at ease driving that truck. I say almost because I was not entirely at ease until the truck was back on the lot and we returned the keys to the manager. 

Now, some 30-plus years later, I can hardly believe that I actually did that! 

True, I was much younger then and Calgary drivers were a little more forgiving, but still, would I do it again? Not in a million years.