When Desiree Wood started training to become a professional truck driver, her goal was simple: The single mom of two grown kids (and grandma to six) wanted to work hard and make a solid, dependable living. Desiree was homeless when she set out to earn her Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), and she was more than willing to spend both her days and her nights inside an 18-wheeler.
Imagine her dismay, then, when she discovered her chosen industry was rife with problems. Deeply concerned about everything from unsafe training standards, anti-trucker legislation and widespread hostility toward female drivers, Desiree turned her anger into action. Since 2007, she has launched Real Women in Trucking to give information and support to female truckers, created a series of video tutorials for beginning and seasoned women drivers and has built a strong Twitter following, too. Desiree’s personal story and professional insights even sparked a four-part news report by Dan Rather about national trucking safety practices. We spoke with Desiree about her role as a determined advocate and as a dedicated “mother trucker.”
Desiree, what’s it like to spend so much time on the road?
When I started as a driver ten years ago, I’d be out for three months at a time. My truck really was my home. For the first year, I had a route that wouldn’t let me go further west than Texas, so I hardly saw my kids in California. It was tough.
Now that I own and operate my own truck, I’ve got a lot more freedom. I like to stay out for about ten days at a time to make sure I’m earning enough to take care of my truck and still make a profit. Then I like to get home to Lake Worth, Florida. By that time, I’m ready to sleep in my own bed, ride my bike, maybe put on a dress.
Trucking suits me because I’m very independent. I like working by myself, and I’ve always thrived in that kind of environment.
Tell us about living in a truck.
I’ve got bunk beds, a small fridge, a closet and a miniature crockpot. I have a desk that folds out and a computer, plus an auxiliary power unit so I can have air conditioning or heat without idling the engine.
And the bathroom is …
A big plastic pitcher! I’ve also got plenty of trash liners – I need to have emergency supplies of everything in case I get sick or stuck in a snowstorm.
You know, lots of places with public restrooms won’t let truck drivers use the bathroom. That was an eye-opener. Here we are, working hard, practically living like animals so we can deliver all the things people want and use every day – phones, computers, paper towels, you name it – and we can’t use a public toilet. It’s unbelievable.
Is that one of the things you’re trying to change through your advocacy efforts?
The issue certainly comes up. For me, the main priorities are the unsafe training practices and the sexual misconduct in truck carriers. I’m also concerned about the lack of unity in our industry when it comes to female drivers. My goal is to encourage women to stick together and help each other out.
A lot of women truckers get into the business because of their husband or their dad. If you’re a single woman like me, there’s no one to take you through the learning process. Wandering around a truck stop alone at night, looking for help getting your tandem wheels unstuck? Not a good plan. It’s so important to have someone you can trust.
When I first started driving, I thought other female drivers would say, “Right on, sister!” Instead, I was attacked for asking questions and sharing my concerns. I was stalked online. I even got death threats. Now I’ve got a reputation for giving it right back, so that kind of stuff doesn’t happen as much anymore.
Have you always thought of yourself as an advocate?
Honestly, I never intended to be doing this on top of driving. I just wanted to work hard and make decent money. But when I saw how big the problems were in this industry, I realized I had nothing to lose by putting myself out there.
I want to encourage other women to advocate for themselves, because that’s what I ended up doing. I hope people will start trying to fix a problem, not just sit back and let things be done to them.
One more question: Is parking an 18-wheeler the hardest part of your job?
It’s one of them! I’ve been parking a 75-foot truck for ten years, and it’s still a struggle from time to time. The biggest challenge is staying calm. Believe me, when a woman pulls up to a warehouse, everyone has to pull out their lawn chair and watch you park. You can’t ask anyone to do it for you – and you definitely can’t give up.
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