Thirty-nine years ago I took a cold shower in the middle of winter in a men's restroom in North Dakota. I dried myself with a dirty shirt while standing in grayish water that had backed up from the drain. My long mousy hair covered my skinny frame, and my bare freckled face made me look rather slight and timid. I drove a Peterbilt truck cross- country, hauling steel from the port in Houston and illegal, overweight, loads of grain back. And I treasured my life on the road. Like most young women, I owned a long list of feminine accoutrements, things I adored: a lacy ribbon of asphalt; an emerald shimmering along the northern sky, a collection of twinkling diamonds, and flowers and birds of every color and every song. The lace unfurled its amazing patterns along the fringes of my hood, and sometimes the emeralds would want to be worn with the sapphires, especially on dark, frigid nights, their colors shimmering in the northern sky. The diamonds bedazzled me by making celestial shapes: virgo, scorpio, and Orion. And a small yellow flower would always wave to me from the crack in the road on that two lane highway near Bozeman, Montana, the highway that runs along the Yellowstone River in a race to Wyoming.
My ten-year old self stood toe to toe with my middle-aged stepfather and argued.
"But I want to go on the truck this holiday. I don't have anything to do here!"
In typical stormy fashion, my impatient and unprepared stepdad shot back, " You don't have a single A this semester!"
I remembered our deal, and I felt some small measure of guilt blush across my freckles. It's true; to go on the road, I had to make straight A's.
"But I meet smart people on the road, and I learn a lot just by riding along with you!"
"Well, what exactly do you learn out there, Ms. Astor?"
"I learn about math for one thing because our load is always overweight. I also learn about people and geography, and while we are waiting on the scale to close and the cops to get lost, I get to read!"
Wiping his brow with a shop rag, my step-dad stammered, "I'll talk to your mom."
These little battles about going on the truck became bigger battles in my adult life. But eventually I no longer needed the support of my male relatives.
I became independent. I could make as much money as the men did!
Grinding away at the gears, backing over the curbs, tearing up mudflaps and chrome bumpers, I eventually soloed my way into a long series of good paying trucking jobs. You could find me in a cafe for my one daily stop, not alone, but with a local paper or best selling book. Problem solving and calculating routes, calculating weight and floor space, and practicing safe driving in all kinds of weather and traffic conditions in any kind of geography, all of this became a way of life for me.
Now I teach high school with a Masters of English, but I only recently started making more money teaching than driving, even though my new career spans eleven years of my life. This is a sad statement on the affairs of teaching, the low pay, the lack of appreciation, and the hard work all teachers must do to become successful.
I am a product of two vastly different worlds, but I am not alone. I met many drivers that had spent years in colleges working on degrees but preferred life on the road.
I love my worlds, both of them.