Tucson trucker is one cool lady and a rare breed

ladytBellingrath Gardens Theodore, AL

Lady Bellingrath Gardens in Theordore, Ala./Photo Salena Lettera

Tucson’s Salena Lettera is a minority – and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

The particular minority group to which she belongs lets her travel the country, constantly hang out with her boyfriend and makes her more money in a month than she used to make in an entire year.

The feisty female, 42, is a truck driver. Women make up a scant 4.5 percent of truckers that trek through the nation, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

You wouldn’t guess Lettera’s a trucker just by looking at her. While she said some of the trucker stereotypes are true, she won’t fall prey to them.

“There are tons of sloppily dressed, unshaven, infrequently bathed individuals out here,” she said. “They don’t always have manners and they aren’t always very socially adept. I think this job is a little too perfect for a person who likes to be alone and who doesn’t really socialize all that much with the general public. And for the guys who have been doing it for so long, I think they ‘forget’ how to act around others.”

Herring gull at Depoe Bay, Ore./Photo Salena Lettera

Herring gull at Depoe Bay, Ore./Photo Salena Lettera

Heck, Lettera won’t start the day without her lip gloss.

“My atypical girlie checklist makes me an anomaly in my industry,” Lettera says of the list that includes the lip gloss along with coiffed hair, spritzed perfume, silver hoop earrings and flip-flops with a matching purse.

“Although I’m no stick figure, I do try to work with my size – most women out here do not care about what they wear, they don’t do much to their hair, they rarely wear makeup and they don’t really ‘girly up’ their image,” Lettera said.

She travels with Ed, 35, her boyfriend of six years. He skips the perfume and silver hoop earrings – but has helped guide her in the profession.

No, they didn’t fall in love at a truck stop over corned beef hash. The two met online and have been a trucking team of owner-operators for the past three and one-half years.

Kayaks in Rockport, Mass./Photo Salena Lettera

Kayaks in Rockport, Mass./Photo Salena Lettera

“I guess it both makes us stronger AND makes me want to scream,” Lettera wrote in an e-mail. “Ed is very easygoing, while everything annoys me. You have to have a strong relationship to be able to be around each other 24/7 – most relationships are never put to this test.

“We do argue, but I guess for the most part you need to have tolerance (which Ed has in bucket loads over me) and have some similar interests. I think the real secret is that we love what we do.”

Lip gloss, good money and hanging out with Ed aside, Lettera’s favorite part of the job is the absolute freedom of it all. No time clock, no demanding boss, no windowless office.

“I have been to all 50 states, 11 Canadian provinces and three Mexican border towns. I love waking up every day in a new place and being able to visit family and friends at any time along the way,” she said.

South Padre Island, Texas/Photo Salena Lettera

South Padre Island, Texas/Photo Salena Lettera

She and Ed clock in an annual 150,000 miles and more than 300 days on the road.

Born in the Bronx and raised in the Catskills, Lettera’s current home base is Tucson, where she and Ed have their stuff in storage and stay with her mother while in town.

“It works out much better,” she said. “We’re still always on the lookout for a house, but we can’t agree as to where we really want to buy. So – we don’t have a house that collects the always present dust of Tucson and my Mom gets all our mail. What a deal.”

Another cool deal is the constant change of scenery – not to mention some of the kookier things she sees on the road.

She ranks the kookiest as the burly, mean-looking trucker dude they spied at a rest stop – whose toenails were painted a bright, glittery red.

If she had to pick a favorite state she’d go with Tennessee. She rates Texas the most rancid.

ladytGRL Tucson, AZ

Tucson's own Ghost Ranch Lodge/Photo Salena Lettera

“It’s big, ugly, hot, dusty and I’ve never been to any part of it (and I’ve traveled it east to west, north to south) that I find remotely likable,” she said.

But even the Lone Star State’s dust can’t blind her enthusiasm.

“I think it’s a great career, a fabulous way to see our country, a learning experience almost every day and something I wish I discovered earlier in life,” Lettera stressed. “I can’t think of any negatives that would make me NOT recommend doing this to someone looking for a great job. Of course, it’s not for everyone, but sometimes people (like me) just KNOW whether they’d like it or not.

“I think everyone who knows me knew that I had a bit of wanderlust and that this job fits my personality perfectly.”

Check out Salena’s adventures on her blog, The Daily Rant at SalenaLettera.com, that comes complete with artistic photos. She is also a blogging expert Big Truck TV and has a host of photos at Flickr.com

Keep on truckin’, Salena, you’re one cool lady!

Salena and Ed in White Sands, N.M./Photo Salena Lettera

Salena and Ed in White Sands, N.M./submitted photo

[tnipoll]

Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist, performer and TucsonCitizen.com Ryngmaster who would love to be a trucker if she could do it from home. Her column appears every Friday on Rynski’s Blogski. Her art, writing and more is at RynRules.com and Rynski.Etsy.com. E-mail rynski@tucsoncitizen.com.


logoWhat do you think?

Any other women or men you know have unconventional jobs?

What’s your dream job?

Would you want to be a truck driver?

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About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at ryngargulinski.com.
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12 Responses to Tucson trucker is one cool lady and a rare breed

  1. radmax says:

    Mornin’ Rynski! I thought about teaming up with a buddy of mine and trucking for a living. Pretty seriously too. Seemed like a great way to see the country and be your own boss. It never happened, but I still think about it sometimes, until I am reminded of what a nightmare it must be for a semi driver to get around the Old Pueblo. It’s bad enough in a normal sized vehicle. 😉

    • Rynski says:

      mornin’ radmax!
      trucking always seemed alluring to me, too – full of adventure, freedom…but then i thought of sitting for such long stretches and thought it would probably drive me mad. besides, where would sawyer sit? he hogged the driver’s seat in the U-haul i used to move to tucson – we finally got him crunched in the middle of the bench – but don’t think that would go over as well in a big rig – hahah.
      driving a semi IN tucson would be putrid!! trekking down the highway, though, still seems dreamy.
      salena and ed’s truck is like a mini-house – i did not have room to include all the amenities, but CLICK HERE for a pic and list of goodies that include microwave, porch light, shower, toilet and other cool stuff in their new truck…she says it feels like they bought a ‘McMansion’ hahahah
       

      • radmax says:

        Thanks for the link Rynski! Very nice. Some of the rigs I’ve seen are the Taj Mahal of transportation. 🙂 I’ve seen quite a few of these ‘guys’ with pets in the cab, though I believe you are correct in your assessment of the ‘twosomes’ long haul compatibility. 😉

      • Rynski says:

        taj mahal of transportation – hahahhaha!
        the twosome long haul might work…if i could teach sawyer to steer. phoebe could work the brakes and, since she already barks like a screaming mimi, she could also serve as the horn…hahhahah

      • radmax says:

        Haha! …all while you are working fastidiously at your keyboard. 😉 I think I see a movie in there somewhere… 🙂

  2. azmouse says:

    It’s great she finally found a job she’s passionate about, and it doesn’t hurt she can make a comfortable living while doing it.

    Growing up, my Dad owned a feed store here in town and he would pick up feed from different areas in Arizona. I’d ride along in the summer with him. I used to love to go…although it was mostly just day trips.

    I’d be curious to ask her if she’d be confortable driving all over on her own, without Ed. I’m pretty adventerous but I could foresee some situations women could find themselves in that might be a bit shaky.

    • Rynski says:

      i, too, love the enthusiasm and passion that salena has for her career. it’s so refreshing and, sadly, sometimes unusual. i wanted to run off and sign up for truck driving lessons after the interview as her enthusiasm is also quite contagious – haha.
      sounds like you got a mini-glimpse of trucking life with your feed pickups. very cool. only brush i have had with trucking was sitting in a cab or two – or making those pully gestures at truckers on the road to get them to pull the horn – hahahha.
      good question on the driving solo – i know i’d feel better with someone else with me – the good old buddy system. works to prevent many a disaster!

      • azmouse says:

        Yes, actually my Dad owned a semi for all my childhood, so it was the real thing! I loved it cuz it feels like you’re up so high.

        Unfortunately it is an unsafe world out there, and probably more so for women in that profession than men. Hopefully it’s like a brotherhood out there?? (or sisterhood..lol) Maybe the truckers all kind of keep an eye out for each other, and especially the women?

  3. leftfield says:

    Love the photos, Selena.

  4. RMP says:

    What a lovely couple!  They must have something special to be together 24/7.  The photos are terrific!

  5. Radmax:  You are so right about a great way to see the country.  And the being your own boss part is awesome too.  As for the nightmare of driving around the Old Pueblo….we haven’t tackled downtown Tucson yet, but I can tell you we’ve been in tighter spots in Chicago, Boston and OMG, New York City! Ryn:  There are loads of people out here with pets.  But the long stretches of sitting still IS enough to drive some people batty! AZMouse:  I don’t know if I’d do this alone, without Ed.  A) I really don’t think it would be as much fun without someone to share it with and B) I’d have to pump fuel!  As for being unsafe for a woman…I can say in the almost six years I’ve been on the road, I’ve never encountered any situation that made me feel uncomfortable.  I’ve never been harassed (well, if you don’t count the one time in Canada that I got a lewd hand gesture from another driver…and I don’t count that since it happened in motion, going down the highway) and I have never been spoken to rudely or approached in any negative way.  In fact, I’ve had quite a few really nice comments and compliments from other drivers and always seem to find myself chit-chatting at the truckstops and rest areas.  I suppose you just have to use your head and be aware of your surroundings – like you’d do anywhere. Ryn:  Just so you know, I always deliver a good ‘ol toot of the air horn when I see someone pumping their arm – ESPECIALLY if it’s a kid! Leftfield:  Thank you so much!  There’s more where those came from – I hope you had a chance to check out my Flickr page! RMP:  Oh, we’re something special alright….LOL…and thanks for the compliment on the photos!

  6. Fran says:

    Salena, A very nice article about you and Ed.  It was almost like being with you as you were being interviewed.  I love reading your blog, unfortunately don’t always have time or energy late at night.  My days are pretty full, but not by driving around the Country.  You certainly have the ideal position in life.  I think I could have done that, had I had the opportunity when I was a lot younger.  Keep on truckin’, girl!

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