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Romance on the Tradeshow Road – Valentine Special

J-S-truckFor the Love of Trucking, Tradeshows and Each Other

By Arthur Bloberger

Shaunda Peck and Johnny Bates met in 2008 when they were both working for a refrigerator carrier out of Springfield, Missouri. But, having recently created a bookkeeping program for owner/operators, Shaunda decided to quit her truck driving job to market it. She didn’t have to look far, though. One day soon after, Johnny purchased the program and asked her out.

“Wanna go get something to eat? I know a Thai restaurant – we’ll go down and have some Thai food,” said Johnny.

Only a few months later, they became husband and wife, partners in life. In fact, they even had their wedding at that Thai restaurant. How romantic! But as it turns out, they were also destined to become partners on the road.

Before long, they began driving for a different refrigerator carrier, averaging about 7,000 miles a week for a half year. During that time, they hardly ever stopped to do anything except for a quick run of laundry, a quick meal and a quick shower. But Johnny, the more experienced of the two, was longing to get back into driving in the tradeshow industry, something that he used to really enjoy, where the pace was a little bit slower. Up until deadline times, of course. So, when he got the call to return to Tantara Transportation Group to do just that, he jumped at it.

Two weeks later, they’re in Canton, Michigan, and driving for Tantara together. A dream come true, they drove for them for a year while Shaunda learned the tradeshow ropes until the owner said, “Shaunda, do you want to go out to Las Vegas and run the warehouse there and Johnny can keep working on the truck?” Next stop: Sin City!

As a team, they learned that one of them could be inside doing the work on the tradeshow floor – inventorying and securing the load along with sometimes long hours waiting, maybe all day – while the other one was sleeping. And that one could get up and drive as soon as the loading process was completed.

“Together as a team, we could do almost anything that was required of us.” says Shaunda. “One can be sleeping, the other can be driving, and they can switch and just basically meet between the seats. One says, ‘Goodnight, I love you,’ and the other says, ‘Good day, I’m going to work.’ But it took synchronizing our driving and sleeping and sometimes that can be tricky for people who are brand new to the industry – figuring out that schedule, figuring out how to actually sleep while the truck is bouncing down the road – and that can be the most challenging part for people who are used to a good night’s sleep in a dark bedroom that’s not moving.

“Another thing we find that new people coming into the industry don’t really comprehend and understand,” she adds, “is that, yes, you go to the marshaling yard and you check in in the morning, but they may not get you up to the dock until 6, 8, 9 p.m. that night. What they don’t understand is there’s a lot of waiting time because literally when you do a tradeshow, they’re building a small city in the space of two or three days. Whoever is on the back end of the hallway gets to go in first and the person who’s freight it is at the door goes in last and wherever you are in that line, that’s when you are going to be sent up to the hallway. So, there’s a lot of sitting around and waiting at the front end or the back end of the tradeshow – and that’s a difficult thing for a lot of people to absorb and comprehend.”

One of the things they learned along the way together is that it’s absolutely necessary to have a high-quality memory foam mattress in the bunk. Trucks already come with something they call a mattress, but it’s more like sleeping on a pallet—not at all comfortable. Another is that having a little refrigerator, a coffeemaker and even a microwave oven or small stovetop in the truck is always a bonus because truck stop food, while once reputed to be good, gets old very fast. It’s all like fast food, pre-packaged and frozen, not the healthiest of choices.

“We got along good,” boasts Johnny. “That was the key thing, right there – I mean, although a lot of people look at these trucks and think it’s a big truck, I’ll tell you what – a big truck can get really small when you’re inside with people and getting on each other’s nerves a little bit. But we got along with each other. She drove her time, I drove my time and when we stopped, we didn’t sit in the truck, we’d probably go get a hotel room. We made the best of it. There’s quite a few couples out there that are like that, but at the same time on any given day, Shaunda can tell you this, you’ll see people on the road that just shouldn’t be together – married or not! They’re just at each other’s throats all the time; we got along good.”

”Driving down the road together is like having a business.” adds Shaunda, “You’re sharing the business, you’re sharing your life – sometimes you feel like you’re on vacation – not always – but sometimes you feel like you’re on vacation together because you get to see some fun scenery, you get to go to some fun places. It’s a great adventure.”

But it’s not all fun and games. One time when they were in Los Angeles, Calif., loading and double decking the freight, Johnny was up on the top deck. He had climbed a ladder up to the second deck that they built on the truck when he fell and hurt his shoulder. At the emergency room, they said, “Well, it’s torn and you need surgery.” But, far from home and in the middle of a job, they immobilized his arm, gave him some painkillers, and the pair not only finished loading the truck, they returned to Oklahoma, their destination of origin, with Shaunda driving, to unload the truck. Then it was off to Missouri for the surgery and a three-month recovery, which left Shaunda alone doing the work.

Another time, when Shaunda was driving a delivery by herself into Denver, Colorado, she stopped at one of her favorite places to sleep at the top of a mountain. It was 60 degrees outside and the stars were shining – perfect camping weather. But when she woke up freezing, she found there was snow everywhere and that she had been plowed in. It was then when she taught herself to put snow chains on a big rig.

These days, she works as a representative with an essential oil company, helping people with their health and wellness. But every once in a while, she would still go with him for a rush shipment or the like.

“My dad drove a truck all of his life,” says Johnny, the oldest of eight kids. “I literally, not jokingly or not saying this to make it sound sensationalized, but I literally grew up in a truck. My mom and dad were together, it’s just that I’m the oldest and being the first boy, my dad says, ‘I’ll teach you what you need to know.’ You can put one hand in the air and count how many fingers are in your hand, that’s how many days I spent in school in my life. I literally grew up in a truck. I was eight years old when I first drove my truck any distance and that was down at a farm in Rhode Island. We needed to take a truck and trailer to a field – it was like six or seven miles away – and we needed some help and my dad says, ‘Johnny can do it.’ So, I got in the truck and drove it six or seven miles down the road – that was my first experience driving a truck. It was an old B Model Mack two-stick. So that was my first experience of driving and, of course, growing up on the farm, it was a family type place – and then I got drafted in the service. When I got out of the service it was June 19, 1979. June 20th, I was back on the road and have been doing it ever since, 38 years.”

And a good portion of that has been for the tradeshow industry. “What I liked about the tradeshow business is – though it’s not so much this way anymore – there’s a lot of independence as a driver,” adds Johnny. “Even though you may work for the company, you pull for the company, I lease from the company, but I’m basically considered an owner/operator. You have more independence in this industry than you do at hauling cargo.”

Still, 38 years is a long time. “Shaunda has some things in the works that may get me off the road within the next year,” muses Johnny. “Things are kinda changing – I don’t look forward to the day when I have to put an electronic logbook in my truck. I’m not saying we run illegal, but I like the independence of setting my own time, not having to worry about a piece of electronic equipment telling me when I have to shut down. I know when I’m tired and I know how far I can go; I know how far I can get legal-wise but I can set my own time. If I want to stop and have a cup of coffee for an hour, I have that option, but with an electronic log that kinda limits you from doing things like that. With me and a lot of other guys that have been out here for a good while, we can get ten hours of sleep and sleep all night long, do whatever you need to do and then two or three hours down the road, maybe because of traffic or the way the day is going, you might want to take a nap for a couple of hours — well, nowadays with electronic logs that kinda limits drivers from doing those things. Or stop for a couple of hours, maybe they have a favorite place or truck stop to go and hang out somewhere – and that kind of limits drivers to be able to do that. When it comes down to saying, the electric logs are supposed to come into play, from what I understand, by the end of next year, I think it is, and by that time there, I’m looking forward to retirement. I don’t want to be like my dad – he retired at 77 and two years later passed away. I’d like to think I’m young enough to have something to do other than hang around trucks all my life.”

But these days still, when Johnny is out and about and is asked where he lives, he answers, “Well, my wife lives in Las Vegas and I visit her sometimes.” Some might call that the perfect marriage.

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