Mandeep Kaur Dhaliwal takes immense pride in the job she does — driving her big rig across states, transporting goods and merchandise from one corner of the country to the other.
Los Angeles-based Dhaliwal, who has been diving her truck as an independent operator for the last three years, is believed to be among fewer than a dozen Sikh Women truck drivers in the U.S. who sit behind the wheel regularly for a living.Dhaliwal, 29, says she “really loves” her job and feels thankful to herself for deciding to join the profession.“I feel better when I am behind the wheel and on the road rather than when I come back home in Ontario near Los Angeles after completing deliveries. People often say I am a man, and not a woman because of the tough job like truck driving that I do like other guys,” Dhaliwal said with a chuckle.
She takes merchandize from California to Arizona, Wyoming, and sometimes as far as New York which is roughly a 3,000-mile trip. Last week just before talking to India Abroad, she was readying to leave for New York with a merchandise of mix vegetables in her refrigerated trailer.Dhaliwal, who is not married, and lives with her two brothers, came to the U.S. in 2013 from Kapurthala in Punjab. She initially worked at restaurants and grocery stores for a year or so, but never liked the work environment, especially in restaurants because people misbehaved and often treated her like their personal servant.
That is when she decided to try her hand in truck driving and started familiarizing herself with truck driving by sitting behind the wheel next to her brothers, both of whom are truck drivers. She eventually got the CDL in 2015 and since then has been driving her truck. “Although my father used to drive trucks, I myself never learned truck-driving. I was happy driving a motorbike in Punjab! ” she says.Although women make up about 47 percent of all U.S. workers, they constitute about five to six percent of America’s 3.5 million truck drivers. The percentage of women truckers of Indian origin among them is even miniscule.
She admits initially the idea of a woman driving long distances interstate all by herself seemed tough and challenging but over time she has gradually adapted to the demands of the profession and overcome tension and anxiety before starting a long trip. She takes break on the long routes, stopping by truck stops for rest and refreshment.“But usually I avoid stopping at truck stops too many times because frequent breaks affect the timely delivery of merchandize at destinations and cuts into my profitability. Besides, one has to be selective about choosing truck stops because of my own personal safety and security, although all truck stops are generally safe,” she adds.While a lot of the drivers stop on the road for food, there are drivers who bring their own food like roti and rajma for the road and heat them in microwave or small gas stoves drivers usually carry with them. “I have a portable gas stove in my truck. I make tea a few times a day while on the road,” Dhaliwal says.
She also brings lot of Punjabi trucking song CDs to listen, turning on the music system.“I never listen with my headphone because you have to always alert about your surroundings and be prepared to communicate with fellow truckers though CB radio, a personal radio service that is carried by every driver on the road,” she says. “Overall, I am satisfied with my job because for one, people treat you with respect, especially because you are a woman and I must say in terms of behavior, the native-born white truckers treat you better than our own desi folks, some of whom still have reservations about a Sikh woman driving a truck and have stereotypical notion about a woman.”