A blue mini-van pulls up in front of the parking space where I’m standing, my bike leaning against the meter.
We’re waiting on an outside table at the Gingerbread Man Bar and Restaurant, a popular local hangout known as the G-Man, in downtown Carlisle. It’s a warm, balmy evening, golden light in the sky. We’re having a real people evening, dinner among the historic buildings of this Norman Rockwell-style college town.
Takes the driver three attempts to put his vehicle into the rather large spot, using two pull ups — trucker talk for pulling forward to get more space to realign the trailer for backing up because in a big truck, the wheel turns opposite to the direction required — but that’s typical. Most people can’t parallel park anymore thanks to all those big pull in spots at shopping malls. I wasn’t really paying attention anyway.
Out climbs a man, a little older than me, graying, blond hair, a deeply-lined, sun-weathered face, tall and lanky. Handsome in a Clint Eastwood way.
“I drive tractor-trailer,” he says. “You’d think I can park this little thing, but they ain’t the same.”
Looking every inch the CityMouse — our CB handle — with my pristine, white bike helmet, tortoise-shell RayBans, gray Columbia, titanium clam diggers, city flats and a cotton blouse, MacGyver, behind me, dressed in his signature Columbia, foreign correspondent gear, with our stylish, engineering- and design-marvel Brompton folding bikes, I replied: “We drive tractor-trailer too. We don’t like cars much anymore, feels like our ass is dragging on the roadway.”
That was not what Mr. Mini-Van Driver expected. He took in the information physically, rocking back on his heels. He didn’t miss a beat. He didn’t believe me.
“Who do you drive for?” he quickly asked.
FedEx Custom Critical, I replied.
“I’m your competition,” he said. “YRC. I been driving 39 years, four million safe miles. No tickets, not even a parking ticket.”
“That’s fantastic,” I told him. “Congratulations.”
He is rightfully proud because it ain’t easy.
Every profession has its pecking order. It’s “bon-na fi-dees”. Doctors ask each other if and where they are “board-certified”, lawyers tell people how many “bars” they have been called to. In trucking it’s all about safe miles. It’s that first million everyone wants.
A year or so ago in the ladies shower room at Forward Air, a woman about my age was drying her hair at the sink, another woman walked in, a little older than us. They vaguely recognized each other, sizing each other up.
“How long you been driving,” asked the younger woman. Thirteen years, came the reply, “I have my million safe miles,” the older woman said. “I do too, eleven years and a million safe.”
I told my real trucker our goal was not only all safe miles, but no citations and no tickets, as well.
Where are we on the pecking order at three years? We’re slackers. Together, we have been driving about 45,000 paid miles a quarter, low mileage for a team, a productive team aims to run 60,000 miles a quarter. We have about 550,000 team miles, split evenly between the two of us. But at our pace it will take more than 12 years to get to a million safe, but we intend to arrive.