Growing up in Eastern Kentucky, truck driving culture was deeply engrained in my life from a young age.
My grandfather, a coal miner by trade, drove 18-wheelers across the country when times were hard at home. My lullabies consisted of classic truck driving standards like "Phantom 309" and "Teddy Bear" by Red Sovine. Our closest neighbors growing up had a long family history of trucking, and unsurprisingly, their next generations have chosen to take up life behind the wheel.
Truck driving is the most prominent working-class profession in the United States today, and yet is almost entirely ignored by press, politics, and economists alike. It is one of the last remaining ways to carve out a decent middle-class living without a college education, and, to wit, has become an increasingly diverse and complex profession over the past decade.
Of course, this half-way decent wage doesn't come without its fair share of difficulties. Truck drivers are plagued by depression, physical health issues, drug problems, and relationship woes. On average, they don't live as long as the average American. And still, the majority are some of the proudest, kindest people you'll ever encounter.
Within the Keep on Truckin' package, which will be rolling out over the course of this entire week, we've attempted to create a full-on sensory experience representative of truck driving life in America. This is not only accomplished through nuanced narrative storytelling (like you'll encounter in Will Stephenson's vivid portrayal of 24 hours spent inside a rural Arkansas truck stop) but through the use of sound, film, photography, and illustrations. If it were possible, I'd create a Smell-O-Vision way for readers to inhale what it's like to be around trucks (the exhaust, the cigarette smoke, the stale air of a truck cab) and a way to taste a glistening, half-cold hot dog that's been sitting out in a truck stop for half-a-day. Alas, the limits of technology.
There are macro-level stories which seek to paint a portrait of where we are now and where we're going as related to discrimination within the trucking industry and environmental concerns. Then, there are more nuanced, but no less significant, pieces examining the social and cultural influence of truck driving, from the mythology of the cowboy trucker to American trucking's influence on the Japanese art of dekotora. There's even a soundscape of life on the open road fine-tuned by celebrated electronic musician Quintron. (His CB handle? Blackcat.)
Most of all, calling attention to both truck drivers and crucial periphery players (families, truck stop workers) will, hopefully, raise awareness and give a voice to the people who steer America's most pivotal, and overlooked, economic engine.
Without truck driving, the lives of Americans would all but grind to a halt. As the industry continues to take steps toward self-improvement, it's time the people who work tirelessly to ensure Americans have the provisions they need finally get the recognition, respect, and—most importantly—help they deserve.
The Keep on Truckin' project is an effort to shine a light on the past, present, and future of the truck-driving industry in America, exploring all facets of our most pivotal, and overlooked, economic engine.