Monica Tate is a businesswoman whose office happens to be rolling on 18 wheels. Dressed professionally, hair fixed, nails trimmed, painted and not a chance she’d be caught in flip-flops while on the job, Tate, 45, said she’s often mistaken for a new hire when picking up loads as an owner-operator.
“It’s about professionalism in running my business. I’m the first person they see, the owner, the boss; how do I represent myself? How do I see my business?” she said. “ … Do you want to be partners with somebody who looks like they’ve been dumpster diving?”
As a trucker for 23 years, Tate, who drives a 2009 International ProStar leased to Landstar, said lackadaisical grooming policies have changed the face of the industry for the worse.
“I want repeat business,” Tate said. “It’s important that you represent your vehicle, that you’re on time.”
However, she can only control her own destiny and has earned success. While attending college and working at Bank of America, Tate would watch her uncle travel from Minnesota to California in his truck, doing his taxes during the summer. She showed him how to be vigilant in calculating his fuel costs to maximize his profit.
She received an associate’s and technical degrees. In her early 20s, she was offered a job in her degree as a computer technician in New York, but after seeing the money her uncle was making, she decided to pursue trucking. Plus, she had some driving experience as a bus driver for two years in Los Angeles.
Before her interview at Schneider in Charlotte, North Carolina, she went to the DMV to pick up a CDL guide, studying for three days before her interview.
“I was the only person who had a résumé” out of about 30 drivers, despite being told to bring one. “Only three of us passed the test. I didn’t miss one question.”
Tate was quickly hired by Schneider and worked for three years as a company driver. Part of her desire to be so well-groomed is because early in her career, she saw the worst example of bad hygiene. A truck driver in the early ’90s pulled into a service shop where her truck was parked. Though wintertime, the driver had his air conditioning on full blast and when the mechanic asked the driver to turn the truck off and approached the now open truck, he fainted from the smell. The truck was loaded with trash and the driver had gangrene-like coloring on his leg, Tate said. About 400 pounds and stuck in his cab, EMTs came to cut the driver out.
“They torched” the truck, she said. “Drivers went out there and had a bonfire, I lie to you not.”
For 10 years, she owned Johnson Express, at one time managing five trucks.
“Freedom to choose, freedom to work and just freedom to just be my own boss” is what she has enjoyed about trucking, she said. “I never knew how beautiful America was. It still gets me after all this time. When the sun is going down to the sun rising.”
Tate said any driver without $10,000 set aside for maintenance costs and bad credit is not ready to be an owner-operator.
“Ninety percent of this job is mental, 10 percent physical. If you turn that around, you’re not making money,” she said.
In addition to trucking, Tate works hard to build relationships with companies she delivers to, which has led to profitable investments.
After two weeks at a time on the road, Tate devotes her home time in Mobile, Alabama, to her wife of a year, Kassidi, who she met 10 years ago.
“Basically I’m really girly, just getting my hair and nails done and makeup. I wear my sundresses,” she said, along with visiting the dentist about every three months to make sure her teeth are presentable. “We go to the movies, to the beach, I play Poker now and then … I cook the best homemade spaghetti and lasagna.”
In three years, she’ll retire and volunteer at the Southern Cancer Center. In October 2011, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a full mastectomy, plus eight rounds of chemotherapy, adding that “I wore that bald head well,” shaving it prior to losing her hair.
“I’m blessed; I didn’t suffer like a lot of my comrades did. I had the everyday nausea, but I had great family support; my mom really took care of me,” she said, getting through it by “praying to God and allowing him to minister to me … I never cried.”
Her fellow “comrades” in the fight against cancer have inspired her to volunteer.
“I want to give them that hope, that drive and that support,” Tate said. “Give them back the power to say, ‘Hey it’s OK … God has something better for me on the other side.’”