Confessions of a Truck Driver
The long-haul trucker has been immortalized in song and lore as both a romantic free spirit and a weary gypsy. The truth, one might assume, lies somewhere between those extremes. But why assume when you can get the real story straight from the source?
We recently talked with Brett Aquila, 39, who piloted a big rig for 15 years and now runs the website TruckingTruth.com from his home in Attica, NY.
TC: What are some of the craziest things you’ve seen while driving?
Aquila: I've seen gigantic wrecks -- trucks barrel-rolling in front of me, a truck on fire under a bridge with flames engulfing the entire truck and bridge, I've driven through the edge of a forest fire that covered thousands of acres with small flames on either side of the Interstate. Very creepy.
TC: What techniques do you use to stay awake and alert while driving?
Aquila: Unfortunately there are no real secrets to this. What I do is similar to what everyone else does: Drink a ton of coffee or energy drinks, roll down the window in the winter to make it freezing cold in there, blast the radio and sing at the top of your lungs or slap yourself repeatedly in the face. Seriously.
TC: What is the oddest road sign you’ve seen?
Aquila: I saw one near the rock cliffs in New Mexico, which simply had a small figure of a person with a gigantic boulder about 10 times his size about to land on his head. No words, just a boulder over a person's head. 'Nuff said.
TC: What is the most annoying thing non-truck drivers do on the highway?
Aquila: Trying to "beat you to the spot" when you put on your signal to change lanes. If you're going to move in front of another car they'll speed up to get alongside you and block you in. It's annoying and incredibly dangerous.
TC: What are your favorite places to stop on the road that are not truck stops?
Aquila: I love the casinos in and around Vegas and Reno. I'm not even a gambler but I love the food and the atmosphere. Also love hitting Bourbon Street in New Orleans -- a crazy party all the time.
TC: What are some of the more colorful examples of truckers’ lingo?
Aquila: The funniest are the ones regarding cops and weigh stations: "chicken coop," -- weigh station; "countin’ your chickens" or "weighing your wagon" means the weigh stations are rolling you across the scales; "Evel Knievel" -- cop on a motorcycle; "shootin’ ya in the face" -- cop with radar hitting you in front as you come into view.
TC: Do truckers still communicate via CB radio like in the old days?
Aquila: There will always be CBs, but without them truckers would go to cellphones somehow. People would build proximity apps that would allow you to talk to nearby phones. Email, Facebook and Twitter would become the most popular for awhile. (Truckers also use cellphones and in-cab computers that receive text messages and are to be checked only at truck stops).
TC: Tell us about some of your favorite truck stops.
Aquila: My favorite was always the truck stop in Holbrook, AZ -- Interstate 40, exit 292 -- now called the Hopi Travel Plaza. They had gigantic, beautiful spa suites with wonderful hot tubs -- private rooms, of course. I used to LOVE going through there. It made you feel like you're living like a king for a short time.
TC: We’ve heard there are husband-wife trucker teams out there. Any stories about them?
Aquila: There are tons of 'em. One time I was traveling with my girlfriend and we were walking through a parking lot and a husband-wife team asked us if we'd like to "join them" in their truck for the night. I deferred to my girlfriend, who politely declined, and we had a great laugh about that.
TC: What is your attitude towards hitchhikers?
Aquila: I would love to pick people up for a short time and give them a ride. I think most drivers would; we'd love the company. But it's just too dangerous. You can't trust people like that anymore, and most companies prohibit it now anyway. So you can't really pick them up anywhere, but most of us wish we could.
TC: What was your longest truck trip ever?
Aquila: San Francisco to Jacksonville, FL -- 2,800 miles.
TC: Do you ever just go out for a drive for pleasure during your off time?
Aquila: I always loved driving and still do to this day. I always take the scenic route going places and definitely just go for a drive sometimes for fun.
Travel writer John Briley tries to never cut off truckers on the highway.