It's hot, dry and dusty on a spring day at the Port of Los Angeles, but driver Hugo Salcedo is getting his feet wet as he hoses down the hood of his 80,000 lb truck. It's routine maintenance and just one of the tasks Salcedo, 37, has done every week of the seven years he's been driving. Being a truck driver may seem an unforgiving career to some, but to Salcedo it gives him the freedom of the road and a lifetime of travel.
Best time is baseball season, he says. Though today he sports a USC Trojans hat, the profession that takes him across 48 states allows him to catch the Red Sox in Boston, the Marlins in Miami and his hometown Dodgers in Los Angeles. Over the course of several months his job will take him from "Long Beach to Kentucky, Kentucky to New York, New York to Florida, Florida all the way across the country to Hayward, California."
Jealous yet? I was when he told me the other reason he finds trucking a rewarding profession: Money. He gets $1.55 for every mile he drives, even after the fuel surcharge. "You do the math," he says. That adds up pretty lucratively when you consider he can drive 4-5,000 miles in an average week, though he says a trucker's returns can be slim once they've paid between $60,000 and $120,000 for a new big rig.
I wonder if he suffers from loneliness on the road, but he says no. He has Internet and TV in his cab to keep him company. The most serious issue he faces on a daily basis is safety. "No. 1 you have to be safe, period,"he says. "For you and everyone around you. With an 80,000 lb truck, you gonna hit somebody you're gonna kill somebody. "It's something you're supposed to do whether you drive a car or big rig, to be safe on the road, to have the knowledge of the road, the highways and how to control a truck in an emergency situation."
As a profession, truckers are perhaps most at mercy of weather conditions and occasionally it is a tough, but vital, choice as to whether to bed down for the night, or carefully navigate a serious storm. "You gotta make changes, slow down, or don't drive at all. It's a choice you make, during the wintertime, you either gotta stop and put chains or keep going, or say, do I stop and wait til it's over?"
Sometimes, the choices Salcedo makes can put him in danger. One time, late at night, he found himself "head-on" with a car coming the opposite director, Salcedo chose to take evasive action and ended up in a ditch. He rolled, his truck traveled "150 feet" on its side. Fortunately he escaped injury but his freight – he usually carries paper in bulk for Kimberly Clarke or Wal-Mart – was ruined after it scattered along the highway.
A harrowing tale indeed, but Salcedo laughs as he tells it. He shakes his head at the thought and, as he pushes up the hood of his truck, says he's got to hit the road. Before he goes, he leaves me with a lesson trucking has taught him that perhaps applies across the career spectrum. Every time he's finds himself in a tight or challenging spot, he says, he goes with "Experience. You're not taught that. If you were taught that, everything (would) be a lot easier."
And one more lesson for working life? "Hold on to your seatbelts," he says.
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