In this terrific n+1 profile by Meg Bernhard, you’ll meet Jess, age 39, among a few other fascinating members of REAL Women in Trucking, an advocacy group for women truckers. Jess became a long-haul truck driver after escaping an abusive relationship. Her rig, dubbed “The Black Widow” is decorated with “handcrafted bead spiders and a sugar skull with blue feathers … to achieve the atmosphere of a regal Louisiana brothel” as an homage to New Orleans, her favorite city.
THAT YEAR, Jess’s daughter Halima turned 19, the same age Jess was when she had her. Halima was working that summer in Belize, where Jess’s mother lived and owned a cafe. Jess’s mother once had a publishing business near Detroit. Detroit is where Jess met her ex, Halima’s father, who she left after three years squirrelling away leftover grocery money, the only money her ex had ever allowed her for her independence. Jess kept a secret credit card, she told me, and left their home only with the clothes she was wearing. She went to her stepdad’s, applied for a trucking job, and was on a bus to a training facility in Indiana four days later. Halima spent fifth grade on the road. They solved math problems with dry erase markers on the truck’s windows and played catch in warehouse parking lots. On Halloween, Jess was picking up at a Hershey’s facility in Virginia. Normally security guards give truckers a chocolate bar or two, but when Halima said, “Trick or treat!” the guard dumped his whole basket of chocolates into her pillowcase. That was in 2012.
TWO MONTHS AFTER WE MET, Jess invited me to Las Vegas, where she and her friends from REAL Women in Trucking were gathering for the organization’s annual “Queen of the Road” ceremony. On a hot August night, we met up at a patio bar in the Flamingo Hotel and Casino, where actual Chilean flamingos lived in a marshy enclosure with catfish and koi. She was sitting, with Halima, at a long wooden table surrounded by women truckers. “This is Idella,” Jess said, introducing me to a silver-haired woman wearing a white button-down patterned with palm fronds. I recognized her name from admiring stories Jess had shared on the road. Idella told me she was based in Arkansas, where she moved high-value goods. “When I sit in the seat, there’s something in the diesel that turns into I’ve got to go,” she told me. “I’m good at what I do. The harder it is, the more challenging it is, the more I like it. Without a challenge, I have no purpose.”