Alone on the Open Road: Truckers Feel Like ‘Throwaway People’

Alone on the Open Road: Truckers Feel Like ‘Throwaway People’

- in Automotive

‘I Told Her That I Would Do Whatever It Took’

Ayisha Gomez, 39, Riverside County, Calif. Driving three years.

There were a lot of women in my training class. There were a lot of younger, I would say girls, going through. I think it’s women trying to prove themselves. And there are so many of us who are single mothers and the work that’s out there, we just can’t support our families.

Ms. Gomez said she worked for AutoZone for about eight years before becoming a truck driver. Women make up 5 percent of truckers.

My daughter got accepted to U.C.-Davis, and she wasn’t going to go because we couldn’t afford it. I told her that I would do whatever it took.

It is very stressful being away from home, being out of contact with people.

I was driving cross-country and stopped in Texas to pick up a cousin of mine. Her sister was having a baby. I said, “I’ll take you home to California.” We hardly talked at all on the trip. You forget how to communicate with people. You’re by yourself constantly. There’s nobody to talk to except when you’re picking up or dropping off a load.

Long-Haul Truckers, Share Your Stories With Us

The Times recently talked to truckers at a stop in Effingham, Ill. Now we want to hear what you wish car drivers knew and see what it is like in your cab.

Are you in a romantic relationship at home?

Yes. He is my high school sweetheart. We got back in touch with each other and things are falling in place. But it’s hard on him because he doesn’t understand what goes on out here. He’s always watching the weather and the news, and calling to tell me there’s a storm coming up, please be careful. He’s worried about me being at truck stops and rest areas at night. He doesn’t want me coming in in the evenings to take showers.

Do you feel in danger as a woman?

In the beginning, I noticed I got a lot of dirty looks from men. You hear remarks under their breath when you’re coming through the truck stops. I don’t hear it anymore. I’ve learned to tune everybody out. I don’t pay attention to anybody around me. I’m always aware of my surroundings, I notice what people are wearing, what they’re looking at, but if you are passing me, it looks like I’m always looking down at the ground.

Ms. Gomez explained that her first year was the hardest because she was required to drive for the large freight company that trained her, which paid a low mileage rate. Since the trucking industry was deregulated a generation ago, drivers’ pay has fallen. Truckers earn on average $43,600 a year, less than in 1980 when adjusted for inflation. Many work the equivalent of two full-time jobs. Now Ms. Gomez drives for a small mom-and-pop company, which pays better than the industry average.

Did you think of quitting that first year?

No. I’m not a quitter. It was very hard. My daughter kept me going. She wants to be a social worker. My oldest son has been in trouble since he was about 15. He’s currently in prison. He got sentenced to 21 years for attempted murder. Now, he is part of a gang. He’s got tattoos all over him. I’m so disappointed.

When all of this happened, my daughter went through a really hard time. I sat down and had a long talk with her. She decided she wanted to work with youth and try to help before they end up like her brother.

Trucking is not a career for me. I’m only doing this as long as I have to in order to get all of my daughter’s student loans taken care of. She’s on her third year. I’ll be doing it for a few more years.

George Etheredge for The New York Times

George Etheredge for The New York Times

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