Some folks might automatically hate to see Tucsonan Larry Gerhart on the street.
But only because of his vehicle.
Gerhart, 64, drives a tractor-trailer. He’s been a trucker ever since he couldn’t get a job in town when he retired in 1993 after 30 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Now, before anyone gets all hissy about how semis are big, wide, slow and clog up the road, just take a gander at his driving record.
He’s not had a single, preventable wreck in the past 15 years.
Gerhart, a married father of two adult daughters, was recently recognized by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) for his years of safe, accident-free driving of a commercial tractor-trailer.
How many folks can say that – even in their cars?
We caught up with Gerhart – via his Bluetooth – while he was trucking north out of San Diego to ask his safe driving secrets. No surprise, the guy had many.
One of the first he mentioned was to stay slow and steady – and let the bad drivers do their thing.
“You try to let people in a hurry get around you,” he said. “They are going to make a move, be dangerous. I say, ‘OK, go make a fool of yourself,’” just leave his truck out of it.
Some of those fools include a mom with a car full of kids who passed him on the shoulder, others who pass on the curves or his blindside, and still others who “gotta shoot behind me” when he’s backing into a space.
“You have to be aware,” said the driver who usually hauls furniture, dish network satellites and Caterpillar parts. “I know what I’m doing. My question is ‘What are they doing?’”
Highway onramps are a bad spot, he said, as many drivers today don’t realize anyone getting on the highway is supposed to speed up and merge, blending into traffic.
They expect highway traffic to stop and let them in.
“Miracle Mile and Interstate 10 is ideal for an accident to happen,” he noted of that onramp.
One driver, who was apparently upset that Gerhart’s truck ended up in front of him, zoomed around the semi, pulled in front of it – and slammed on the car’s brakes.
“I’m 85,000 pounds and you’re 2,500 pounds and you’re about to give me a brake test?”
While that incident didn’t end in disaster, another one did. Kind of.
During a New Mexico winter some years back, a car came barreling into Gerhart’s lane.
“I moved over and caught the slush. The truck hydroplaned and went sideways. I let go of the steering wheel and threw myself into the corner of the cab,” he said. “I knew if I tried to correct it, I would have laid that truck all over the highway. And who else could have been involved, I don’t know.”
So he chose instead to ride it out, which resulted in the tractor-trailer in a gulley, $17,000 worth of damage to his cab and about 150-feet of annihilated guardrail.
“The police didn’t cite me – they commended me.”
Ditch diving aside, some of the dashing tales of adventure of trucking life are true, Gerhart said. You get to travel. You get to see some awesome sunsets. You get to pull that loud horn.
But there are some drawbacks.
“I think a lot of people look at the economy and say, ‘I’ll go drive a truck.’ They don’t think it through. When you get out here you find out it’s not a bunch of peaches and cream. You got a commitment.”
The only holiday Gerhart spent in Tucson last year was Christmas, when he took a leisurely four days away from the road. Otherwise, he’s been driving two-month stretches, with a weekend at home in between, just to pay the bills.
“It’s hard on a family,” he said, “especially a young family.”
Gerhart’s wife, Ruth Ann, 64, is a teacher at Roadrunner Elementary School who initially didn’t want to move to Tucson but now is delighted they did. One daughter, Shannon Peck, lives in Queens Creek while the other, Dawn Gerhart, runs Gerhart’s two Tucson UPS stores. They also have four grandkids.
While Ruth Ann may be looking at retirement as soon as this summer, Gerhart’s not sure when – or if – it’s in the cards for him.
After all, one of his friends tried it before quickly heading back to work because of retirement’s consequences.
“He was getting fat. Eating a big breakfast then taking a nap. Eating a big lunch then taking a nap,” Gerhart said. “I don’t know if I’ll actually retire. I’ve always loved traveling. Trucking fits my needs.”
Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist, performer and TucsonCitizen.com Ryngmaster who has never driven a semi or ridden a unicycle. Her column appears every Friday on Rynski’s Blogski. Her art, writing and more is at RynRules.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.