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What women truckers can tell us about living and working alone

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July 22, 20227:00 AM ET

Adelina Lancianese

ADELINA LANCIANESETwitterLISTEN· 7:11

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Brandie Diamond parks her FedEx Custom Critical Truck in a Walmart Supercenter Parking Lot for her day off in Columbus, Ohio.

Meg Vogel for NPR

This story is adapted from the latest episode of Rough Translation. Listen on Apple PodcastsSpotify or NPR One.

Jess Graham had a plan. And she was ready to put it in motion.

So she got behind the wheel of her new 18-wheeler and drove to the house she once shared with her ex-partner. It was 2010. In her wallet she had the tens and twenties in cash she’d squirreled away for years and a freshly issued commercial trucking license.

And in the cab of her truck, there was a vacant bunk reserved for someone special: her ten-year-old daughter Halima.

“I came in, packed her up, went to the school, told her that she is no longer enrolled, and we hit the road,” Graham says.

For the better part of a year, Graham and Halima lived in the truck.

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Graham had never considered trucking as a profession before, but she knew she had to put miles between herself and her daughter’s father, who Graham says was verbally and financially abusive to her throughout the course of their romantic relationship.

Graham says she tried to make life on the road exciting for her daughter, enriching even.

“[There were] certain things we did in survival mode that I turned into a game,” Graham remembers. Halima would roller skate around the truck stop parking lots where they took their breaks, and charm truckers in the driver’s lounge into handing over the TV remote so she could watch the Disney Channel.

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The daily responsibilities of a long-haul trucker became learning opportunities. Halima studied geography whenever the pair crossed state lines, or made pit stops at historical sites and practiced math by budgeting for their meals each day. In the absence of a chalkboard, Graham taught Halima long division using an unlikely scratch pad.

“We’ve had dry erase markers, where she’s just writing down the windshield a math problem that she’s struggling with. And so we’re walking through it together… as I’m driving down the road,” Graham says.

Jess Graham’s situation – home and school and work within the confines of an eight-square-foot truck cab – might have seemed extreme a decade ago.

But these days, many of us have become accustomed to our work selves, family selves and social selves coming together in a single space, like mother and daughter crammed into the tractor of an 18-wheeler. Or we’ve become familiar with spending entire days working from home, alone.

That’s especially true for women, whether in trucking or in many other male-dominated work environments, who often don’t enjoy the camaraderie of their counterparts and feel cut off from their family networks. “I think I was ahead of the curve on it,” Graham remarks with a laugh.

As part of the series @Work, the NPR podcast Rough Translation spoke with truck drivers about what it’s been like for them to experience life on the go in the small spaces they call home.

Their stories of loneliness and liberation, isolation and belonging, all playing out in the cab of a truck, tell us something about remote work in all our lives: how we can use alone time to figure out who we really are and what we really want.

Trucker Tip 1: Embrace the solitude

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