I regarded the Willie Nelson-like trucker in the Jubitz laundry room in Portland, Oregon, salt-and-pepper beard, faded jeans and plaid shirt, as a typical driver. Until he thrust his white socks under my nose.
“They look a little dingy,” he said. It must be the breasts that make men think women are not only interested in everything they have to say, but also experts at everything that can be done barefoot, like laundry and dishes.
“What do you suggest?” he asked earnestly.
Startled, I blurted out: “Me.”
“I don’t know,” I told him. “I wash everything together. Colors and whites and replace everything every year or so.”
He turned away, lips turned down, disgust barely hidden by the tobacco-tinged beard.
Contrary to popular myth, all truckers are NOT dirty. Some are fastidious — one driver arrived in the shower room at the Ontario TA last week carrying freshly pressed khaki cargo shorts on a hanger, the front crease sharp enough to cut meat and a cotton and silk blend cobalt blue shirt — many are domesticated and prefer their laundry techniques over their wives.
I am a lousy laundry person. My two domestic skills are making dinner when you think you have nothing in the cupboard and squeezing 12 cents from a dime. My mother can squeeze 14 cents. MacGyver gives good laundry. But he takes forever — he is also a good cook, but make sure you eat before you arrive, you’ll be waiting a few hours — part of his consistently maddening everything-can-and-should-be-done-well approach. I prefer stuffing all the laundry into the wash tub and getting on with the day. If I ruin something, and I have ruined many of my favorite clothes, I replace it. It’s a good way to get something new when I can wear the same t-shirt for ten years and it still won’t wear out.
Here is what I have learned about laundry from truck drivers in the past five years on the road.
A 20-something driver in the Schneider Operating Center in Indianapolis, Indiana showed me how to fold a fitted sheet. The “way my mamma taught me,”, he said. He folds the sheet in half, so that one side of the fitted part tucks into the other and the underside is on the outside. This allows the sheet to be laid on the bed and tucked over the top of the bed and pulled back to fit over the opposite end. Once the sheet is folded in half, it can be shaped into a square and folded neatly for storage.
A fellow driver trainee at Schneider Carlyle told us about Dawn dish detergent. Because I had no experience of working around trucks, greasy trucks or really working at anything dirty, although I have snaked a toilet — before trucking my work clothes fell under a designer label — I was covered head-to-toe at the end of every class day in grease. My trucker-designer jacket, a Carhartt, was grease-dotted. Rub the grease spots with Dawn, Scotty said, let it sit overnight and wash as usual. Amazing. Grease gone. Dawn is a truck staple today.
The jury is still out on the tip from the flatbed driver at the TA in Ontario, California because I doubt I will ever try it. He sprayed Formula 409, the household cleaner with toxic fumes, on his rust-stained jeans. He swore by it. Another flatbed driver recommended Engine Starter Fluid for removing grease spots. So far MacGyver manages to keep himself relatively clean while loading. I am thinking we might follow Truckin Ed’s lead and get him loading coveralls.
The best trucker-launderer was at TEC Volvo in Portland, Oregon. Mid-50s, shoulder length gray hair, wearing black jean shorts, t-shirt, quilted vest and the crunchy-granola sets’ favorite Merrell suede moccasins, he was using the free washer and dryer — we did as well AND had a shower, all provided in the driver’s lounge — we traded laundry tips.
Bleach is his favorite sanitizing agent. Remember, he said, hot water destroys the enzymes. Bleach with COLD water. I didn’t know that. I am grateful that Tide invented Pods, the all-in-one cleaning agent.
“I definitely love bleach,” he said. “You can use it on a little chicken when it starts to smell a bit, it cleans it right up.”
Married for 26 years with grown children, he said he domesticated his wife because he was better at cooking and cleaning. His mamma had him washing dishes when he was toddler.
A warning, he said, bleach and Dawn do not go together. Trucker guy says a gas is created when the phosphates in the Dawn react with the bleach.
“Not good,” he told me. “I learned by trial and error.”
Now if I can just stop losing my socks.