“Technology is kind of a double-edged sword,” my buddy says to me via the CB radio.
“How’s that?” I respond, after pulling the mike to my mouth, stretching the mini bungy chord that kept the microphone in easy reach.
“That’s obvious,” Steve says. What he does not say, but I feel he might be thinking it is, you big dummy. “It makes our life easier, adds to an all-ready long list of conveniences, but it can also take away your job.”
“You mean like those autono…auto…automon…those self-driving trucks?”
“That is a fine example. We sit here, having a conversation, me I have both feet up on the dash. One hand on the mic, and the other flicking ashes out the window as we talk. The truck does all the driving. An easy job gets way easier. Aaaannnnd way more boring.”
“It’s only boring if there isn’t someone to talk to. I like this job. Like you said, its easy, we get to listen to rock and roll all day long, and once in a while, talk to your fellow driver without getting in trouble.”
“It is always boring. That is why when I am not talking to you, or the couple of other drivers I like out here, I am studying.”
“That coding thing you’ve mentioned?” I respond, my voice thick with skepticism. Steve is smart. One of the smartest guys I know. I could never figure out why he was a truck driver. He said he wasn’t sure what he wanted to be when he grew up, and truck driving paid decent. Now he is learning some computer stuff via online learning.
“Yes, DevOps. It is the future my old friend. You might want to find something yourself; this job might not be here in a few years.”
I never wondered what I would do if this job went away. I tried college after high school, but it wasn’t for me. Like Steve said, some sort of technology job is the safe bet. But I can’t get my head around that stuff. Aside from tapping icons on my smartphone, or streaming movies on my smart TV, I was clueless. Hell, as I think about it, Steve helped me setup the smart TV.
“It’s the big companies that are replacing their old rigs with those fancy aut…self-driving rigs. You know I work for a small company. Jarred, the owner says he is waiting until he has to before he purchases any those fancy rigs. Hell, they are a third more than dumb rigs like ours.”
“I wouldn’t call these dumb. When was the last time you touched the steering wheel? My grandfather had to shift through ten speeds. We put it in drive and call it good.”
“Yeah, well they cannot back themselves up or park themselves,” it was a lame response, but it was the best I had to offer. Steve was making me nervous. Driving a truck cross country gave you all the time in the world to think, but the one thing I never thought about was, what would I do if not this? I liked driving truck…it was easy.
“Not yet, but the next one might,” Steve replied. Several minutes of silence followed as we both focused on our own thoughts.
Finally, after thinking about it, “I just never thought we would be replaced.”
“Why not?” Steve asked, sounding genuinely curious.
“They still have pilots in the big jets. Those have been able to take off and land for decades by themselves according to a pilot friend of mine. He says the pilots are just there in the ‘unlikely event something happens.’ And yes, I did air quotes for that last part.”
“These are not airplanes Mike. If something goes wrong up there, the only way is down. With these, and this is what actually happens, if the computer loses its mind, it just hits the shoulder. In the worse case scenario, it stops dead, and the hazard flashers light up.”
“How safe is that?”
“Accident rates among big rigs has been going down since big orange, and other big carriers started replacing us with autonomous rigs.”
“You say that word so easily…I can’t spit it out to save my life.”
“Maybe it’s a yip?”
“A quirk. Listen Mike, you are a smart guy. Start looking for a plan B. If the government doesn’t mandate autonomous big rigs, the insurance companies might.”
Another moment of silence followed as I thought about what Steve was saying.
“This is my exit buddy, think about it. I don’t want to see you out of a job, collecting a government minimum stipend.”
“I will,” I responded, “be safe. I’ll catch ya later.”
“Back at you buddy, keep the dirty side down.”
I hung up the CB mic on its hook and tried to focus on what I would or could do if I didn’t drive truck. Before I saw an ad for truck driving school, I was sitting on the couch asking myself the very same question. Well aside from the truck driving part. I was floundering about, looking for a decent paying job, and there was the TV commercial. A few months later, shiny new certificate in my hand, my current boss called me at home, asking if I found a job yet. I had not. He gave me a road test and offered me the job.
God, that was over twelve years ago. I thought back, wondering if in that twelve years I ever thought about doing anything else. The answer was a solid no. This job is easy. I chuckle as I realize it got easier with each new rig my boss set me up with. Steve was right, I need to give it some serious thought. The writing was on the wall.
As the rig slowed to make the turn into the yard, I stabbed an icon turning off auto-driver and manually turned the rig into the yard. I enjoyed the process of maneuvering and backing. I saw the shiny new rig before the trailer was straight. It sat, glinting in the sun, its lines sleek, wheels hidden behind aerodynamic skirts. I notice the lack of a drivers cab telling me without a doubt that that thing could do my job…without me.
My truck was the oldest in the fleet of ten. No longer was the writing on the wall, it, along with my job was erased by the fancy new rig parked in my old spot.