The open road, a sense of freedom, a need to work for yourself rather than a boss — that’s all part of the lifestyle of an independent long-haul trucker.
It’s a way of life, photographer Joshua Simpson captured while on an assignment with VICE magazine to document the lives of America’s truck drivers. What his camera captured gave light to a demographic that often gets overlooked by the rest of America.
“I’m just naturally inquisitive,” Simpson said, describing his first visit to the chaos of the Vince Lombardi rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike. He found truckers somewhat reluctant to open up — perhaps, he thought, due to the proximity of New York City, which lies just across the river.
An hour west, in the more relaxed atmosphere of the Pilot Travel Center in Hampton, New Jersey, drivers were a bit more approachable. Between the two stops, Simpson shot photos of about a dozen different drivers and their vehicles.
As he clicked away, one observation that stood out was the array of technology that abounds inside today’s big-rig cabin.
“The dashboards looked very different than I expected,” Simpson said, describing the modern dashboard as “cyborged,” with iPhone holders, radio gear, GPS, and other electronic gadgets. Some of the devices, which have very specific functions mandated by regulators or trucking companies, seem to have changed the culture of the road.
“I got the sense that it takes a lot of freedom from the trucker,” he said.
Tight schedules enforced by GPS locators might prohibit drivers from taking creative shortcuts or arranging schedules in a way that better suits them personally, Simpson said. (That might be why many independent owner-operators are taking a stand against more involved monitoring with electronic logging devices, or ELDs.)
Yet because some of these innovations can improve safety, there has to be a balance, he said, as long as technology doesn’t regulate every facet of the industry.
In the course of his assignment, Simpson learned how truckers respond to the pressures of their jobs. He talked about watching a driver struggling to re-balance a load with faulty axles, and listened to others discuss their grueling treks.
He also mentioned the surprising diversity of the field. Some drivers travel the same routes week in and week out. Others find themselves heading to new destinations with each assignment.
“I was trying to get in as much of their world as possible and make it interesting,” the photographer said.
The result is a rare glance into the private lives of a resourceful and hard-working group of people who keep America’s economy moving forward.