The Atlantic Selects
The Double Life of a Truck Driver
Aug 09, 2019
On his way to work every day, Andrew Cohn passed a truck stop on the side of the road. One truck was always there: a long, white semi with the words Mobile Chapel painted on the side. Each time he drove past it, he’d imagine the conversations that were going on inside. Who was in there? What kind of stories were being told? “The whole idea of a mobile chapel dedicated to long-haul truckers seemed a bit out of the ordinary,” Cohn told me. “I mean, who opens a church in the back of a semi-truck?”
Cohn, a documentary filmmaker, had to quench his insatiable curiosity. One day, he stopped and went inside. That’s how he first met Chad Romera, a chaplain who has dedicated his life to lending an ear to interstate truck drivers.
“Chad had such a welcoming personality,” Cohn said. “He wasn't judgmental or preachy. He simply presented himself as a listener.” The two men connected over their shared interest in human stories, and Romera agreed to allow Cohn to make a film about the Mobile Chapel. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Chad,” Cohn said. “It takes incredible fortitude and sacrifice to sit in the back of a semi-truck and listen to wayward truckers day and night. That kind of isolation followed by intense moments of focus and empathy felt familiar to me as a documentary filmmaker.”
Destination Park, Cohn’s short documentary, premieres on The Atlantic today. It’s a meditative window into the lives of truck drivers, many of whom describe experiencing overwhelming solitude, alienation from their families, and an ongoing struggle to pay the bills amidst medical challenges and the widespread layoffs plaguing in the industry. Economists predict that the freight industry is on the brink of a major recession.
“If I had to do it over again, no, I wouldn’t be a trucker,” says one driver in the film. “The middle-class man struggles more and more every day. I got two sons, and I told them, ‘Don’t think about trucking.’”
While filming, Cohn said he was struck by the emotional toll that the job’s financial stresses and isolation take on many drivers.
One driver admits that he’s attempted suicide half a dozen times. “What scares me is not having financial security … uselessness, not knowing what you’re gonna do next.”
“You have absolutely no interaction with anybody,” says another trucker. “Solitude is all we know.”
The filmmaker also observed a “glowing sense of camaraderie” among the truckers he encountered. “They really view themselves as a dying breed—foot soldiers fighting for a way of life that may soon be replaced by automation.”
Ultimately, Cohn feels that films like Destination Park are necessary platforms for a community of Americans that often feel misunderstood.
“I think this demographic of America is looked at through the lens of politics,” he said. “They are simply [seen as] voters—not real, complex people with equally complex problems. We need more resources funneled to storytellers in these areas. We need to hear these folks from a humanistic point of view.”
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.
Author: Emily Buder
About This Series
A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.