When I was in college I drove tomato trucks during the summer to make money for the year. It’s one of those crazy jobs where you work sixteen-hour days, every day, for about 80 days.
At the time, I thought I was making good money – I wasn’t.
But the real hook was that you were working so much you just never had time to spend it – you ended up saving a big chunk of dough – even, if like me, you suck at saving money.
And that is huge for a college student.
It was just a miserable job.
I have always had a thing for jobs that pushed me beyond some limit.
In this case it was sleep.
Driving trucks gave me vast appreciation for the headspace of sleep deprivation. It’s still one of my favorite ways to alter my thinking. (I know, super unhealthy – have you met me?)
I chose to work the night shift – 6pm to 6am. If you have ever been in the Valley during the summer and experienced the multiple scorching days in a row – you get it.
I came on shift when the sun was starting to go down.
Anybody who sleeps during the day understands how difficult and important it is. You do everything in your power to get in a dark space before that sun comes up and wakes you up.
I had a number of vampire-style dashes to my light deprivation bedroom trying to beat the sun. Racing home in early dawn in my beat up VW.
So, most of my shift was in the dark. And that led to all kinds of fun adventures.
When you haul agriculture, you are taking your huge big rig down dark dirt roads. No cozy loading docks. It’s dirt and more dirt.
You are hauling double trailers – which means you have the ability to back up about fifteen feet before jack-knifing. You basically go forward or nothing.
So, you proceeded carefully. When you are heading into pitch dark and your headlights can only see about 100 feet ahead of you – you end up stopping a lot.
Putting your truck in a ditch was expensive and usually grounds for dismissal.
I would get out of my truck all the time and walk down dirt roads with my flashlight. Just making sure the road actually continued.
It was harrowing and the boss was a furious alcoholic of a man.
I was on the brink of falling asleep most of the time – while hauling 40 tons of tomato death at about 60 mph.
It was absurdly dangerous and stressful.
And, of course, I loved it.
That kind of lifestyle breeds nothing but bad habits. You basically do just about anything to stay awake.
I used to stop my truck when I was nodding off and run five laps around it. (it’s longer than you think)
I would empty my water bottle on my head and stick it out the window, so the freezing cold would shock me awake til I got to the plant.
Lots of push-ups on the side of the road.
And those are the things I am willing to admit in public.
But it did not kill me...although I do not think it made me any stronger.
And I have these super fun stories that come out after the second cocktail.
Even with my caution I fucked up a bunch.
Took a wrong turn and drove right into 3 feet of freshly tilled dirt – stopped dead cold. Had to have a tractor haul me out.
I took a turn on a bridge too tight and ended up having to essentially build my own bridge out of old tires from a ditch – just for the rear tire to cross. It sucked supreme.
I thought I was hooked to a trailer and pulled away and it dropped to the ground. 30 tons of tomatoes.
And I actually did pretty well….others have far worse tales. People got fired a lot.
But, I have actually had a ton of different jobs – from working for a Wall Street investment firm to bartending. I wear shorts to work now.
I get bored easily.
And I would never say that hauling tomatoes was my favorite job. Or even top ten.
But, it may have been one of the jobs that taught me the most about myself. And that is a whole different category for me.
I still chase careers that push my limits and make little or no sense from a budget perspective.
Work has never been about money for me – it has always been about what it can teach me and what I can learn.
In that sense, driving tomatoes is one of the best jobs I ever had.
Happy Friday everyone….hope you get a chance to reflect on some of the lessons life has brought you – regardless of how much sleep you had to skip to learn it. I bet they are great stories regardless.
Tom Owczarzak holds a Masters in Philosophy, a Bachelors in Religious Studies and works as a Licensed Contractor building houses and other things