Most writers come up against a knowledge gap eventually. A character takes an unexpected turn, develops an interest in something the writer doesn't have a clue about, or you put the people into occupations that suit the plot but are alien to you. I did that years ago. I wanted a male character who was gone from his girlfriend for long periods of time, and long-haul trucking made the most sense. He's a bit of a loner, smart but not interested in formal education. So he learned to drive a big rig as a teenager, a far-fetched idea, and makes a good living as an independent driver/owner. His name is Charlie. But for all the years that novel has sat on the shelf, I've been uneasy about my portrayal of his daily routine and the inside of that cab. The only things I knew about semi's was imagined or observed from highway travel, listening to the old CB. From time to time I mentioned to others my wish to see the inside of a cab and talk to a real pro, but insurance fears (Would I fall out of the truck, knock my head on some piece of crucial equipment, or cause a scratch in the finish?) and lack of opportunity stymied me. Until last evening.
A good friend who knew about this wish to explore a big rig made arrangements for me to visit a show truck, a 25-year-old Peterbilt, gorgeous, imposing, red with lots of chrome and lights, what as a child I called a Christmas tree, and a walk-through cab with a spacious bed and good stereo. I sat in the driver's seat, held that huge steering wheel and imagined dealing with 18 forward gears and four reverse gears. I admired the view from that high vantage and learned a bit about the way an independent driver/owner manages his load, his sleep, his log, and his life. I learned that the CB is obsolete, and the one in this truck is just a tip of the cap to authenticity and very occasional use. But here's the best part: the man showing off his show truck happens to be named Charlie, and he learned to drive the rig when he was thirteen! Isn't that delicious? What's more, he's invited me to go for a ride one day soon. I may give up writing and become an LTD, that's Lady Truck Driver!