On the surface, Terrence Danns is the average company driver. But behind his jovial laugh and kind smile he has led a life that’s anything but ordinary.
Danns is a first generation American, a Marine veteran, a lover of the arts, has backpacked through Europe, is a married father of six and has big dreams of using his business savvy to become an owner-operator one day.
“That’s what’s so phenomenal about truck drivers,” Danns said, emphasizing that the profession is full of drivers that buck the stereotypical view of what it means to be an American trucker.
Danns became a company driver a year and a half ago and drives a 2017 Freightliner Cascadia for C.R. England throughout the lower 48. He’s out on the road typically two months at a time hauling mostly refrigerated freight.
Before hopping into a big rig, he worked as a retail manager, but realized quickly it was a “thankless profession.”
“You don’t have the freedom,” and are bound by “whatever square footage” a store is rather than the flexibility of a career in trucking, Danns said. “… It’s one of the only industries that can triple your income in a short amount of time.”
But a get-rich-quick mentality is not his driving force for pursuing a trucking career. Working hard to build a better life for his family is something that’s engrained in his soul thanks to his upbringing.
His family emigrated from Guyana, South America to New York City before he was born.
“I grew up in the hood,” he said, and at the risk he pointed out of sounding stereotypical, added, “there were a lot of difficulties — shootings, bullying. It made me a better person.”
“Growing up in a culture that’s different makes it challenging when you’re a kid, especially when you don’t have many friends. I was the low hanging fruit, easy to pick on. I’d say, ‘Yes sir, no ma’am,’” and was the “teacher’s pet,” he said.
His family’s culture fostered in him a love for education and he became an “A” student. He would watch political shows at 5 years old and “I’ve always liked to write.”
“My teachers loved me, adults appreciated the kind of kid I was. I was kind of a nerd and I liked to read and have discussions. I was very inquisitive,” Danns said, but living in the Southside Jamaica neighborhood in Queens when crack cocaine was rampant was not an environment that encouraged academics.
“I was solicited to sell drugs and I never did,” he said, and was able to overcome the sadness of his parents’ divorce — they later reconciled before their deaths in the early 2000s — at 6 years old.
“I’ve always loved entertainment since I was a kid … My way of coping was my imagination. Drawing, singing, anything that drew me to entertainment,” he said.
Though he never had a full-time career in the arts, he participated in singing recitals, enjoyed writing poetry and later in life, toured with an Off-Broadway production of “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” playing “a drunk and abusive husband,” about seven years ago.
“It was like a whirlwind. It was about eight of us in a Durango” he said, performing at colleges around the country along with his wife, who is a professional actress.
In the 1990s, he served three years in the Marines during Operation Desert Storm. Having that military discipline ultimately prepared him for a career in trucking.
“You know you have a job to do. You focus. You also have the desire to move up and do better and land in a spot much better than where you started,” he said of the Marines’ and trucking mentality.
Having leadership skills has aided him as a driver trainer and his artistic side has allowed him to incorporate some unique ways of teaching drivers.
“I have a song I play for all my students. It’s a Frank Sinatra song called, ‘Nice ‘n’ Easy,’” Danns said. It’s a metaphor for driving — trip planning, prepping the truck, monitoring the weather and “once you get all of that done, it’s nice and easy, no fast turns, no race.”
“I’m pretty laid back so it makes them ease up. Not too much because I need them to be on point,” he said. “I will sing along with it and kind of state the parts that are appropriate … The whole point of [the song] is he’s talking about loving a woman, but we’re talking about the road and the truck because the whole process of becoming a driver is basically loving the road.”
While he’s still new to the trucking industry, he plans on being an independent driver, putting enough money aside to make payments on a truck and get his broker’s license. He plans to help his sister, who just began a body butter company called “Simply Rich,” with distribution.
“The goal is to get my truck and to find some more experienced guys that want to drive,” if he adds other trucks to his company, he said. “I know I’d want to pay them well, let them drive the trucks. Build up my brand and the business. I don’t know if I want a fleet. I know there are several things I’d like to do.”
If he gets to that place, Danns said he wants to “give back.” Success and having empathy for others is something he’s always felt and passed along to his children, each successful in their own ways in grade school and college.
“The people I’m training, I’m able to give back [to] in a small way,” he said, adding that his mentality as the son of immigrants centers around, “One, you don’t quit; two you don’t keep your hand out asking for stuff. ‘Whatever your mind can conceive, if you believe you’ll achieve.’ I know that’s kind of corny, but the family mantra is ‘Do what you have to do so you can do what you want to do.’”
Danns said he enjoys being out on the road and photography is a passion.
“I see so much beauty in the world during a time that’s so chaotic. That’s what I’m about man — passion, showing a love for people,” he said. “It [photography] is almost like letting people have a little piece of your soul, the way I see things.”
When he’s at home in New Bern, North Carolina, he enjoys spending time with his children and will revel in his new title of “grandfather” to his new grandson, he said. While not as often as he’d like, he shows off Karaoke skills locally, loving tunes like Johnny Gill’s “My, My, My.”
No matter where his career takes him, Danns said he will do it with both passion and compassion.
“Human decency is important for me, just showing general compassion toward people. There’s always going to be people that suck. It sounds a little naïve, utopian” to believe things will ever be perfect, he said, but “I believe we can make things a hell of a lot better. That’s how I try to live my life.
By Aprille Hanson/Special to The Trucker