You think you know someone.
And then one Friday night you’re eating Chinese take-out and truck drivers come up.
You realize the person you thought you knew knows more about truck drivers than you’d ever imagined, including exactly what it takes to earn a truck driver’s trust.
You never really thought about that, but it makes sense.
And now you’re curious. How do you earn a trucker’s trust?
You’ve always wanted to be Margaret Mead or Ira Glass or Terry Gross. To dive into another culture, to ask probing questions, to better understand yourself in the process of studying someone else.
Now that you’ve got an iPhone voice recorder, this is your chance. This is definitely going in your book. Or blog. Whatever.
Plus, marketing is really about building trust, and truckers are a tough crowd.
If we can get a truck driver to trust us, we can get anyone to trust us.
Following is a transcript of an interview with artist-scientist Alan Rorie, an irregular guest of this blog whose discomfort around puppets is matched only by his surprisingly deep knowledge of truck drivers.
Me: So, how do you earn a trucker’s trust?
Him: You need to be into how things are strapped down. Ask about what he hauls and show an interest. Ask him, ‘So, what kind of stuff do you haul?’ Because to just assume that all truckers are the same, that they all haul stuff and it doesn’t matter what he’s hauling, that he’s just a truck driver…
Him: And you have to hustle and do work, and not make them do anything. You have to let them just stand there. You can’t bother them too much. Also, you need to have your own ratchets.
If they’ve got strapping, of course you would use their strapping.
Me: Of course.
Him: Just be respectful of them, and don’t expect anything. Load the truck quickly and efficiently, because they’re waiting for you.
Me: Are they really interested in talking about what they haul?
Him: Sure. Are you interested in talking about what you write about?
Me: Yes, but that’s because I think about it all the time.
Him: Well, that’s what they think about all the time.
Me: Why do they think about it? They can’t just drive the truck and drop it off?
Him: If you’re hauling big, steel sculptures, the truck will act very differently than if you’re hauling really light loads. If you do a lot of wide-load stuff, that’s more work, and you’ve got to know. There’s a whole world of truckin’ out there.
Me: What kinds of things do they haul?
Him: Everything. Furniture. Dead bodies. Everything that needs to get moved. How do you think things move around in this country? They either go on an airplane, on a train, or on a truck.
Me: What’s the dead body story?
Him: The trucker we met today used to own his own truck, and he did a lot of military contracting for a while. One time he had to haul a bunch of frozen bodies.
Me: Why did the military have frozen bodies?
Him: I don’t question why the military has frozen bodies. I assume they have frozen bodies.
Me: How do you know when a trucker trusts you?
Him: I don’t think you can ever really know for certain. I imagine a good trucker would always remain a little suspicious.
Me: Then how do you know when he kind of likes you, and doesn’t think you’re a douchebag?
Him: When he starts helping and asking you a lot of questions about what it is you’re loading into his truck.
Me: I still don’t understand. How does that affect him? Does what he’s hauling affect his route or the way he drives?
Him: I think on some level they’re curious. Especially with us. A lot of people they have to deal with are other truckers and construction people. They get really into working with us because they usually have to do the same thing every day. This guy mainly hauls furniture these days. So, when you get to do something different, like strapping down a giant steel sculpture that’s irregular and is shaped much differently than your average load, and if you’re a trucker who’s into strapping stuff down, that’s fun because it’s different.
Me: Do they like being truckers?
Him: I never ask. I just kind of assume they do.
Me: Do they seem like they like it?
Him: Some of them seem to like it more than others. They’re all different.
Me: Tell me about the different kinds of truckers.
Him: Most of them are the same in a lot of ways. They’re white and they’re round. They usually have some kind of facial hair.
Facial hair and/or jowl.
They all like to start early in the morning. There’s never a trucker who’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ll pull in around 4pm.’ They always like to start early—6am, 7am.
Me: Why do they like to start so early in the morning?
Him: I do not know.
Me: Is that so they can drive all day and sleep at night?
Him: Probably. I know there are a lot of rules about how long they can be on the road. They probably prefer to drive during the day.
Me: It’s safer.
Him: So they’re all morning people.
Those are the good truckers.
Me: The good truckers?
Him: The bad truckers are the ones who are tweakers.
Me: They’re skinny?
Him: They could be fat. They just don’t have teeth. From our point of view, bad truckers are ones who don’t show up on time. I mean, if you say you’re going to be there at 6am, be there at 6am. If you say you’re going to be there at 4am—fine, we’ll do what it takes, but be there at 4am.
Him: A lot of truckers who give discounted rates also give discounted service. Or, they end up being late.
Me: That’s frustrating.
Him: Or, they don’t show up at all.
Me: So, are those the ones that usually turn out to be tweakers?
Him: Usually there’s something up.
Me: So, the way you tell a good trucker from a bad trucker is by looking at his teeth?
Him: That helps, but it’s hard to tell. Not everyone who’s missing their front teeth does meth.
Some of them are just missing their front teeth.
Me: I thought you were going to say, ‘Not everyone who is late is a tweaker.’
Him: That’s true, too.
Me: Are the bad truckers nice once they get there, or are they bad all around?
Him: They’re not mean. It’s usually about being late, and they don’t really care, because, ‘What are you going to do? I’m here now. You want to not load your truck because I’m late?’
Me: Are all the good truckers friends with each other? Do they hang out?
Him: I don’t know. I imagine they know each other. I imagine there are little trucker clubs.
Me: Or do you think when someone becomes a trucker, it’s because they don’t want to hang out with other people a lot? They like to be by themselves?
Him: No, I think a lot of the truckers know each other. A lot of them work together. Not everyone owns their own truck.
Me: Is that a kind of hierarchy? Whether or not you own your truck?
Him: I don’t know. I should ask about that.
Me: Why did the guy who owned his own truck go back to not owning his own truck?
Him: I don’t know. Maybe he went out of business.
Me: How does a trucker get people to hire him to drive stuff?
Him: Most of the truckers we work with work with someone else. Trucking company. Usually a guy who’s the boss, who owns a couple of the rigs.
Me: Like a truck pimp.
Him: Yeah. And then he hires the drivers to drive the rigs.
Me: Do truckers ever burn out? What do you do if you burn out?
Him: Senate? Fund your own senate race? I don’t know, I think we’ve explored the full realm of my trucker knowledge.
Me: What were they wearing?
Him: The guy today was wearing white sneakers, white socks, denim shorts. He was a very large man.
Me: How short were the denim shorts?
Him: Knee length. And he had a plain belt and a black, big-dog shirt that had something about the United States of America on the back.
And he had a little leather holster on his belt that held two pens.
Me: I knew we hadn’t exhausted everything.
Him: And he had big jowls and a bruise on part of his face. He smelled. And he checked his cell phone constantly.
Me: He had a cell phone, too? But he didn’t keep that in the holster?
Him: No. Just the pens.
Me: Was he the only trucker you had today?
Him: No, but he was the one I spent the most time with.
The other guy I met only briefly this morning.
He was hunched, with a potbelly.
He was wearing a grey t-shirt with a collar that was all stretched out because he’d been sleeping in it for days. And he had a pair of jeans, a big, hooded jacket, and a trucker hat.
He was all scruffy. He had a cup of coffee and a cigarette in his hand at all times, and kept asking people if they had tokes.
Apparently, yesterday afternoon he parked the truck, and it wasn’t going to depart until yesterday morning, so he was done for the night. While everyone was loading the truck, he walked three blocks to the corner store and bought a bunch of beer, and sat there in his truck, where he had a TV, and watched a baseball game and drank all his beer. He slept in his truck, and was up at 5:30 this morning to finish strapping it down and to take it away.
Me: They’re kind of like cowboys.
Him: Kind of, yeah.
Me: Like Lonesome Dove.
Him: Yeah, a little bit of that. That’s true. Except they’re bigger.
Me: Do they ever go, ‘Hi! I’m Doug?’
Him: If their name was Doug. I don’t think we’ve had a truck driver named Doug yet. Our regular truck driver’s name is Diki.
Him: Mm-hmm. He’s a redhead. He’s got kind of a rockabilly look, with a red goatee. His hair’s all slicked. He’s really into hauling the rocket around and watching us pick it up off the truck.
By the way, what are you going to do with all this?