He's an OTR owner-operator with a sweet beard. She's a witty, sharp-tongued former nurse with a knack for the written word. Meet George and Wendy Parker, a very funny husband-wife team who chronicle their 18-wheeled journey across America on their blog, The George and Wendy Show.
Getloaded was lucky enough to catch up with them between loads to ask a few questions about their blog, life on the road with a spouse, and how to survive 17 years of marriage.
Getloaded: So George, how long have you been a driver?
George: I have been driving OTR for about two years. I took the plunge about three months ago and became an owner-operator.
How'd you get into trucking?
George: It was something that I'd always thought about doing, even as a kid. I've always been gifted with being able to drive anything – big or small – and driving it well, but I actually started driving OTR to take care of my family. It's kind of crazy if you think about it – to take care of my family, the most important thing in my life, I have to be away from them for extended periods of time.
What do you drive/haul?
George: Dry van. Anything that's not HAZMAT.
It seems that a lot of companies are offering more perks, specifically spouse ride-along programs, to help with driver retention. Tough/silly question: Is having your wife ride shotgun really a perk?
George: In my case, my trips out with my wife are my best trips by far. (I'm pretty sure she'll be reading this so that was the correct response.) But in all seriousness, it really does play a huge roll in my morale. My wife is my best friend and for the most part we really play quite well together. So to answer your question, yes, having your spouse ride shotgun is a perk in my book!
Do you think these types of perks work for retention or are these niceties simply a cheap way to get out of paying drivers higher rates?
George: As far as I know, having a rider does not affect the amount of pay you receive as far as mileage or a percentage of the load, but you do have to add rider insurance. But I would think that someone would move on to another company if they wanted to have a rider and weren't allowed to at their current company.
What's the scariest thing you've seen on the road? Can be person, place, thing, or event.
George: Now, this is a tough one to answer. You see so many crazy and terrifying things out here, it would be hard to narrow it down to just one thing or event. So I'll give you a few in no particular order:
- Being on a four-lane divided highway and seeing head lights coming at you in your lane.
- Walking into a truck stop and seeing a dude making no attempt at all to look like a woman other than wearing a short, skintight lace dress. To each his own, but really? He could have at least shaved his legs.
- Then there was that one night in the high desert, when out of nowhere came this super bright light. The next thing I remembered was waking up with a sore a-- and a bloody nose. It was either a UFO or that dude in the lace dress slipped me a Roofie.
Okay the last one might be a lie, but you really do see some crazy things out here.
So you've been married for 17 years. Then you decide to go on the road together. How many miles passed on your first trip before you had second thoughts? Do you keep a shovel in your truck just in case it really doesn’t work out?
George: I never get tired of her company, and it's an added bonus having my best friend with me.
Wendy: Awwww. It took me about 300 miles to decide it wasn't so bad. I was surprised at how much I really enjoy it.
George: I keep the shovel right beside the two eighty pound bags of lye though, just in case she gets too hateful.
Wendy: Pfft. Whatever.
How long have you been riding together/how many miles have you traveled together so far for The Show?
Wendy: 20,000 or so miles. He writes his mileage down every single day in a little pocket notebook. He's a nut for paperwork, very meticulous.
George: 18,753 miles.
Wendy: Thank you, Rain Man.
How did the decision to ride together come about?
Wendy: I tore a ligament in my right hand and had to have it repaired in April 2012. Since I wasn't able to work, I decided to go out with him while I recuperated.
George: I still can't believe she came out at all.
Tell us about your family and your non-road life.
George: We have a farm in Southern Ohio, about 145 acres. We don't farm the land. It's leased, but we have a nice private place we call The Parker Compound. It's not like I'm there a lot, but when I am I enjoy the privacy. We can shoot our guns and let our dogs run around free, it's nice like that. We have two kids, a daughter who is 26 and a son who is 15. They're both awesome kids, she's finishing up nursing school this fall and he's an honor roll student who wants to go to MIT.
Wendy: Both sets of parents live within five miles, and it's nice to be close to the grandparents, especially when we're both out of town. We also have animal children – two old dogs and three evil cats. We sometimes have a baby raccoon or two in the springtime, and whatever other orphaned or injured animal we may come upon, except for snakes. I'm absolutely terrified of snakes. Ohio is awesome when it comes to snakes, there aren't a whole lot, and very few are poisonous. I was raised in Southern Georgia, where there are snakes in every sunny spot on the ground, and they are all evil and will kill you. I spent a great deal of my childhood in a state of scared s--tlessness over snakes.
Why do truckers get such a bad rep? Is it media portrayal?
Wendy: From what I've seen, a lot of that rep is earned by the select few who choose to act like a--holes by doing things like throwing bags of trash and piss bottles in parking lots. You have to admit, there are a lot of people out there who don't think twice about dumping their shit wherever they happen to stop. I'm not saying there aren't a lot of people in four-wheelers who do that, but trucks are huge and noticeable, and it only takes a few people doing nasty things to make everyone look bad. Truck drivers are the professionals of the road. They should set the standard for everyone else using them. It also doesn't help that the media seems to be pretty biased against trucking in general.
George: There are a lot of people driving trucks who absolutely should not be out there. I'm sure the economy has driven a lot of people to get their CDL, because in a lot of places right now, those are the only jobs in the want ads. Hell, I went back on the road because of the economy. I was driving heavy equipment in the construction business and going home every night until it went bust and I couldn't find another decent job. Ohio was hit hard by the recession. It's getting better, and I have a lot of friends who have gone back to work in construction recently. But it's scary – not stable enough to count on for long term. I also have friends who have gone back on the road recently for the same reason. There's a market for professional drivers, and the puppy mill trucking companies are taking advantage of the situation by turning out anyone who can hold a steering wheel and not paying them crap, and they take it because they don't know any better, or they're so desperate they'd take anything.
You've said after 17 years of wedded bliss that you don't fight like you used to. Now that you are riding together, has that changed? How?
Wendy: I don't think it's changed much at all. We've worked together before. We had a landscaping business years ago and spent pretty much every waking moment together then. It's an adjustment getting used to not having a door to slam and a bedroom to sulk in, but I've learned to improvise –flinging myself into the top bunk is equivalent. We really do get along remarkably well. We have our moments when I'm sure he'd like to slap the piss out of me and there are times I'd like to do the same to him. It's human nature.
George: I would never slap you.
Wendy: I know you wouldn't actually do it, but I'm sure you've thought about it.
George: I can neither confirm nor deny that.
How has the blog changed your lives? George, you said something about getting autograph requests? Wendy, I hear the trucking media is fighting over you? Do you like the attention?
Wendy: Well, I don't have to work in a nursing home any more, and I get to do my job either riding around seeing the country with my husband, or from our home in my pajamas. It. Is. Awesome. I feel like I won the lottery. I've been writing for a long time, but I never thought I'd be doing it for a living. I really still can't believe it went down like it did, and I know I'm incredibly fortunate. I did recently have two very surprising offers from different trucking magazines. Both were extremely gracious to me and that made the decision very hard. No one else is kicking down the door, but I'm really excited to be a part of the industry and hope to help portray it in a positive, albeit weird, manner.
George: I get a lot of 'Do I know you from somewhere?' looks. I've been recognized by a few T/A employees and I've done a few autographs. It's weird. It's kind of cool to be asked for your autograph, but it's really weird.
Any groupies yet? Answer carefully, George.
Wendy: Oh my god. He had little girlfriends all over the country before he was on a magazine. It's the beard. He looks like he's going to be an a--hole, but then he's really nice and polite. The fuel desk ladies eat him up.
George: Babe, don't say that. It's not true. That sounds terrible. I don't have 'girlfriends' everywhere. I mean, I'm polite, but I'm polite to guys, too. I just try to treat people like I want to be treated.
Wendy: Oh, I know. You must have wanted those three girls in that truck stop in Arkansas to be really nice to you. They were all like, “Ooooh, you're baaaack! Tee hee hee hee!'
George: I don't even know what you're talking about. I don't remember that at all.
Wendy: Really? Because I totally remember it.
The next few questions are mainly for Wendy. What did you do for a living before taking this new journey? How long have you been writing?
Wendy: I was an LPN in an indigent long term care facility. I got my license five years ago, after working as a nurses' aide in long term care for several years before that. I spent a lot of time on the floor of a nursing home, mostly working the night shift. I've been writing for a long time, but I joined an online writing group about five years ago and really started getting serious about it. The site shut down a couple of years ago, but I was fortunate enough to stay in touch with a small group from it on Facebook, and we've all kept plugging away at it. The blog was actually started for the family and these friends to keep up with where we were. I had no intention of it going nutso.
Now that you are earning your road warrior stripes, what's been the biggest surprise about life on the road?
Wendy: That I actually enjoy it. No one thought I'd stay on the truck for more than a week, including me. I have an extremely short attention span and need to be busy and active. I was completely surprised how much there is to see and do at 65 m.p.h. I learned so much about what actually goes on out there. I got into to it. I submerged myself. During the last trip out to Dallas, I walked out of the convention center in a Chrome Shop Mafia hat and Diesel Life tee shirt. My husband looked at me and said, 'What happened to you? Six months ago I never saw you in anything but scrubs.'
You've written that George calls you “the Mother Jones of Truckers.” So are you/why are you the most dangerous woman in trucking in America?
Wendy: The only person I'm dangerous to is myself. Word. Cicero got it right. I'm very lucky to have a platform. I've got the benefit of having a place to write things where people actually read them. I think this profession deserves more respect, and I'm able to portray it in a positive manner to people who wouldn't see it that way otherwise. I can't tell you how many people who aren't in the business have told me they see things completely different now, and actually think about where their goods come from. That's amazing and exciting to me. I want people to know how damn hard this is, and give the drivers a break once in a while. They're getting hammered from all sides, all the time.
What's your guilty pleasure on the road?
Wendy: I'm disgusted with myself, but I love iced coffee. So hipster, I know. I also beg for Krystal hamburgers a lot, but rarely get them.
As a newbie to the road, after a long haul, when you get back home, have you noticed any changes in what "home" means to you? For example, do you appreciate being home more now that you travel more? Are there things you miss from the road once you are home? After a long trip, what's you favorite part of being home?
Wendy: My shower, my shower, and my shower. My clean, lovely shower. I love having my bathroom back. And of course, I miss our kids a lot. The dogs are always happy to see me, it's the familiarity and convenience of home. We're surrounded by family and friends, I realize how much I love and miss them then I'm not close.
I've already asked George. What's the scariest thing you've seen on the road? Can be person, place, thing, or event.
Wendy: We got out in the middle of nowhere in Texas and had to spend the night in an abandoned gas station. It was completely creepy and dark as hell. Looked exactly like something out of a Rob Zombie movie. It was terrible. And I'm pretty sure there were snakes.
To read more about George and Wendy Parker's entertaining life on the road, check 'em out on their blog The George and Wendy Show, Facebook, YouTube, or their new Overdrive Magazine column.