Lunch time is over and an unassuming man on an uncommon streak walks into the efficient hum of the Dot Transportation warehouse floor, Tuesday, passing the whir of forklifts, loaders punching in and clipboard-carrying supervisors checking everything going out.
The 51-year-old's work week has just begun and the long-haul driver is dressed accordingly. Black work boots and white socks are pulled past his ankles. Prescription lenses amplifying the squint of vigilant eyes. His shirt hangs loose, and the name David is stitched across his chest, a bright spot in the navy blue cotton stretching from collar to pasty knee.
For 10 years, long-haul truck driver David Jones has worn the Dot uniform with pride. And on each trip, snow or shine, for 12 months of the year, Jones wears shorts.
He’s a man of consistency. And he starts the next trip like any other, getting inside his 80,000 pound Volvo — a truck that will serve as both home and office for the next five days and 3,100 miles.
He sweeps up last week’s crumbs and gunk, shines up the polished chrome wheels, and inspects every nook, valve, bolt and cranny in between. It’s the first step of safety for Jones.
"It's where it all started," Jones said. "Attention to detail."
After a perimeter check, he returns to the cockpit of his Swedish-built' stead.
Inside, the truck is like a mullet. In the front seat, it’s all business. The wheel is surrounded by gauge clusters, big mirrors, three digital displays, and a cup holder filled with ballpoint pens valves and a toothbrush.
In the back, it’s a party, or luau to be more accurate. The drab grey becomes tropical. He sleeps on turquoise bedding — five nights a week — looking up at the medley of decorative toucans and parrots, surrounding his centerpiece, a sign that reads, "Tiki Bar."
"It's my little Buffet show back here," said Jones, a self proclaimed Parrot Head (the preferred nomenclature of Jimmy Buffet's fanbase). "Most nights, I'm here. It looks cramped, but it sleeps good. It's cozy and I have everything I need."
Though the tiki bar sleeping quarters and religious play of 'Margaritavile' don't scream safe driving, the true indicators of Jone's behind-the-wheel skill are etched by his eyes and on the paneling of his truck.
“1,000,000 consecutive safe miles," the badge reads, an accomplishment that was celebrated in late April after Jones logged his millionth unblemished mile for Dot Transportation.
After his inspection and securing his load of refrigerated CISCO products, Jones cranks his truck in drive, scans back and forth, and picks up where he left off, in the midst of a 10-year no-hitter — his perfect game — that's spanned the equivalent of 40 trips around the earth on 18 wheels.
“I’m on to the next one,” Jones said.
Like every week, he's Phoenix bound. It's the same trip, but each second is fresh, Jones said, surrounded by the constant chaos of drivers drifting into his lane, nodding off, stomping on their brakes and firing off duck-faced selfies on Snapchat
But his streak, a milestone that’s in the top-three to eight percentile of truck drivers nationwide, according to Dot Transportation’s Director of Transportation Jim Robertson, continues despite the chaos along the road.
“It’s not easy, and there’s a lot of pressure, sure,” Jones said. “But I’m a professional, I drive a truck. I love what I do and I’ve done it for 30 years. It’s my job to see everything, predict traffic and react.“A million things can and will go wrong, you’re going to get cut off, flipped off and some drivers, they get mad. But for me, I don’t take things personal. I wait. With a little Jimmy Buffett, I breathe in, breathe out and move on. Life is a breeze if you let it be.”
Jones’ hakuna-matata philosophy combined with his ardent focus, intuition and experience has paid dividends for both the public and the company he represents, Robertson said.
With demand for shipping on the rise due to imports and population growth, Robertson said having drivers like Jones has become hard to find.
“Drivers with skill like David are rare,” Robertson said. “These guys can back a double-load truck into a spot you’d be hard pressed to park a pick up truck. They have intuition and can feel the road. It’s special, it’s a knack and David’s got it. Driving 1,000,000 safe miles with no accidents, it’s a big deal and something we all take pride in here.”
Jones said truck drivers don’t get much recognition or love on the road, aside from the occasional kid asking for him to blare his horns. And while the recognition from Dot was special, the weight of his accomplishment truly began sinking in on the road, Jones said.
“Getting those nods from drivers, the handshakes at truck stops, it’s a cool deal,” Jones said. “Truck drivers don’t get a lot of love, it means a lot to me. If you've driven a truck, you know what that badge really means."
While safety is the utmost priority for shipping companies and especially Dot Transportation, which pushes training and safety with ongoing education and classes, it wasn’t the case when Jones first got behind the wheel in 1989, taking a gravel-hauling job in a suburb outside of Los Angeles.
The priorities were different then. Jones said didn’t have to go to school, he just took a driving test with his buddy and passed.
And all of the sudden he was behind the wheel of a behemoth, as a 22-year-old former armed security guard, with his training and experience consisting of a nudge out of the nest and onto the open road.
Though he proved he had what it took to be a driver early on, Jones said back then, without formal instruction, it was up to him to figure out what was and wasn't safe.
“It was dumb, and I’d never even consider it now, but I had trips in the 80s where I drove 24-30 hours straight,” Jones said. “It was dangerous, but at the time it was just something that drivers did. It was a $100 fine for not logging your hours. Back then I would rather take my licks, get the job done and get home early.”
Times have certainly changed in the shipping industry.
Instead of paper and pen, log books are tracked on a GPS device fastened to the dash. And regardless, Jones said he would never think of pushing his limits like that again.
After a decade of driving the west coast, Jones came to Ardmore about 20 years ago. He now lives close to his parents and eventually found a home at Dot Transportation, a job, Jones said, is ‘like family’ to him.
Then began his million-mile march. Something Jones attributes to skill, luck and a team that puts safety and drivers first. And through it all, Jones said despite sleeping in a bed that’s not on wheels two nights a week, he loves life on the road.
He’s seen America. It’s sunrises and sunsets, the bustle and the beauty he said.
He’s made friends, turning strangers into familiar faces on his weekly route. Whether it be truck stops, weigh stations or diners, Jones said he cherishes the community of people, making a life on the road.
Though Jones stays on high alert when driving, constantly calculating speed, stopping distance, weight load, road conditions, individual driving patterns, lane changes, construction, and a myriad of other factors required to safely navigate though a million miles of chaos without an accident, he said seeing and feeling the road is now instinct, second nature.
Instead of stress, Jones said the road has a soothing effect on him — like a centering force.
“I do a lot of thinking when I’m driving,” he said. "I’ve solved a lot of problems on the road."
"It's not for everyone," he added. "But I enjoy it. Sure rather be on the road then stuck in a cube."
Before his weekly trip to Phoenix, Jones informed Robertson of his next goal, a lofty one.
“Two million miles, that’s what I got my sights on,” Jones said. “Give me another 10-15 years, I think I can hit it.”