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Eyes Wide Open

By on January 1, 2009
RoadKing Mag

Joanne Ortega, Driving for 26 Years

I was getting divorced and had two children to take care of. At the time I drove a school bus, and my soon-to-be-ex husband used to say that if I could drive a bus I could handle a truck.

So I called up a training academy to learn how to drive a truck. I even held myself back an extra week before graduating because I didn’t feel completely confident with my skills yet.

I met an owner-operator when I had just completed training, and hired on to share his runs between Maryland and Delaware three times a day. On the first day, we rode together and he hopped in back and went to sleep while I drove. He was either crazy or had no fear, I thought. The drive went fine, and I worked with him for 11 years.

Right from the start, I told him I didn’t just want to know how to drive the truck — I wanted to be able to get myself off the side of the road if need be. When I moved into a job as a company driver, if I saw a problem with the rig I was driving I would let them know, and they weren’t expecting that from a woman. I’d say that my truck had a bad u-joint and there would be some snickering. It took about four times of me being right before they got the idea that I knew what the heck I was talking about.

I’ve been driving for about 26 years now, and with the exception of a few rude remarks over the CB, I have found that the people you meet on the road will treat you with respect as long as you present yourself with pride and respect.

Recently, I went to Haiti to visit my church’s sister parish. We  toured schools, saw the houses and brought the students crayons, pencils, soap and shampoo — basic supplies they don’t have. The smiles on their faces were unbelievable. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and its government lacks resources to help the citizens. The people know that an education for their children is their hope for the future.

When we came back we began raising money to build them a school cafeteria. Poverty there is far more extreme than what we think of as poor here, but when I try to explain it to others it’s like trying to explain a sunrise to somebody who can’t see. But I keep spreading the word about Project Haiti at saintclare.org.

In America, we don’t realize how blessed we are. This is a beautiful land and I think that most of us take it for granted.  When I’m driving I do try to take the time to appreciate what I see out my window — the sunrise, the beautiful colors of the trees in the fall, the animals running around in fields. The scenery is never the same. It’s amazing.

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