A day with Mathijs, the car transporter driver

A day with Mathijs, the car transporter driver

ECG — 2022-10-25

News from ECG

The first time I ever got on a truck must have been when I was around 9 or 10 years old. Can I join you for your next trip?, I asked my father one day during my summer school holidays. 

I was a small kid spending most of the summer holidays alone at home while my parents were working. They had migrated from Romania to find a better future in Italy and me spending a lot of time alone was part of the new reality. 

I remember the first time I entered my dad’s truck cabin. It looked huge to my eyes as a kid. There were two beds, some space to place a portable fridge with food and other snacks for a few days prepared by my mom for what I thought of as the daddy-daughter adventure, and very comfortable jumpy seats! 

We started rolling and I remember feeling so privileged on the highways. I had the best view surely compared to people in tiny cars. We rode around the central part of Italy, passing the mountains and enjoying wonderful landscapes. I loved it. We would stop at the Italian “Autogrill”. My father would get his daily dose of caffeine which kept him going for hours of driving while I was being spoiled with treats. I was a little kid looking at all these grown ups driving big trucks, parked while having their regular breaks with a cigarette, a coffee and some chitchat with fellow colleagues. I also thought about their families. They were far away somewhere waiting for the daddies and husbands to come back. Just like me and my mom would do on a weekly basis for many years.

I don’t remember how long the daddy-daughter adventure lasted but I surely got to sleep in the “huge” cabin for one or two nights. I felt protected, I had loads of space to play and read while my daddy was taking us from one place to the other. It did feel like a great adventure and I thought my dad was so lucky to go around and see so many places. 

Today I was back on a truck again. As a part of my job and this time not with my dad. Mathijs was my ride partner or rather the kind human being who allowed me into his private space for a day. 

Our appointment was at 6 sharp in front of a car dealer in the outskirts of Brussels. There was no parking area for trucks at our meeting point. Therefore, we were both recommended not to be late. I arrive at 5:53 and Mathijs is ready there waiting for me. I learn later during the day that he likes to be punctual and he had arrived 10 minutes earlier than me. This is so small, I comment while enter the cabin through the door Mathijs kindly opened for me. I said that out of instinct. My dad’s cabin was my reference for cabin trucks! Mathijs smiled and agreed that it was not so big. 

Mathijs drives a brand new car transporter. It does not have side mirrors but cameras inside the cabin for side view. Wow, I thought. As I made the comment out loud, he said that they are a bit weird and the resolution is not great. Perhaps he prefers the traditional mirrors, I thought. 

We start our journey. We are going to a dealer one hour away from our starting point. After the plan was clear, I started with the questions quite directly since Mathijs seemed very nice and open. No time for hesitation, I was there to learn as much as possible about drivers in car transportation! Mathijs’s been a driver for 15 years and since 7 he’s been driving car transporters for the same company. He mostly works in Belgium but sometimes he gets to go abroad which I understand he enjoys. Although he would not spend many nights away, he has now a 1 year old girl! He smiles as he tells me about his job. I love it, he says. 

I ask him how many nights per week he sleeps in his cabin. He explains that he does it usually twice per week. When his job is done, he prefers stopping in areas where there are restaurants. His mornings start early, so in the evening he just wants to eat a warm meal, take a shower, send some messages to his family and friends. Morpheus does his job quite quickly and welcomes him in his arms in the evenings after a long day on the roads. 

It is still dark when we get to the car dealer. We stop at a light and Mathijs starts reversing into a dead end road. This will be the unloading place. We wear our high-visibility orange vests and get off the truck. I notice immediately that Mathijs had been there before, he moves confidently while taking out the keys of the cars and his gloves. It will take me about half an hour he said. This is a delivery before opening times. Skillfully and attentively Mathijs does his job. These cars are worth thousands of euros and he knows he is responsible for getting them delivered intact. He releases them from chocks and lashes and does all the tricks with the car transporter levers. It looks like magic to me. But in fact it is professionalism and experience. 9 cars, one after the other are unloaded and parked in the car dealer yard. His forehead is a bit sweaty when he finishes. It is not an easy job. I tell him a bit naively, well done. 

It is around 7:30 and the first person working at the car dealer arrived so the shop is now open. Mathijs looks at me and says, let’s go and take a coffee. 

We go inside the clean, perfectly arranged and full of shiny brand new cars shop. There are toilets and a coffee area for the customers purchasing cars. We ask the person if we can get a coffee and he says yes. It looks amazing, I think. And I feel that we are lucky to be able to enjoy a coffee. I say that to Mathijs and he says that in most places it is like that. What do you mean, I ask. He hesitates, and tells me that sometimes it is not always possible to use toilets and take coffee in some places. These services are reserved for customers who buy cars. They know me here, he adds. I understand, I have heard about this in other occasions. Drivers are not always treated in the same way as customers purchasing cars in dealers shops. It is part of the drivers life in car transportation to put up with this. I smile and I say, well we were lucky and it really felt like that. 

Our journey continues. After one more hour of driving, a bit of traffic - but nothing like the one I experienced sometimes while coming back from the seaside on Sundays in Italy - we arrive to the  main hub where Mathijs’ company is operational. I meet one of the managers. Mathijs knows that he has to go to load in another place close by. He received the instructions from the office on his screen in the truck. He will be back and pick me up and whenever I am ready we can go for the second unloading of the day. The manager says to Mathijs, you are lucky. Next you will unload only in one place. Mathijs smiles. He must be happy, he told me earlier that sometimes he has to unload in 4, 5, 6 places. Every time he has to take out the car transporter’s ramps to unload cars and his back hurts sometimes. It is not easy to always keep an ergonomic position and this can happen. 

I discuss with managers about the vehicle logistics situation. There is a capacity crisis, I already knew that - it is part of my job and found out thanks to members and meetings where this was discussed. I ask them about #drivershortage. They are doing fine. We are a good company and treat our drivers as our family. I can tell that from Mathijs’ smile during our morning together. Remember, he said he loved his job!

I meet again Mathijs when my tour is done. He has now 7 shiny cars on his car transporter. I get on the truck. He smiles, we are ready to go. We will unload close to Brussels. This dealer is also ok tells me Mathijs, we will be able to get coffee there too. 

When we arrive at the second dealer of the day, I do not even notice it. Mathijs says we are here. I look at him puzzled. He knows I am about to say that there is no reserved space for truck unloading. I will stop here on the right and will unload, he tells me. High-visibility vests on and we are literally in the middle of the road and midday traffic. This does not look very safe to me. Mathijs is confident. He does it often, unloading in places which do not have a reserved area for that. 

There is no other way or place like in most of the places. Unloading will happen there. I look at him doing again the magic and releasing carefully cars one by one. He drives them from the car transporter into the dealer’s courtyard - where a truck does not fit. After 30 minutes he is done. A bit sweaty again. The weather is unusual for this time of the year in Belgium. 18 degrees and bright sun. I thought better than freezing or raining. Nonetheless, I know that Mathijs would still have to do this job in whatever weather condition. 

My trip in the truck today this time was different compared to the one of almost two decades ago with my daddy. I feel respect for Mathijs, for my daddy and all their driver colleagues. Mathijs is 35 but the average driver’s age is 50-60 years. I feel respect for them keeping the things moving, sacrificing their time with families (while enjoying some breathtaking views). Sleeping in their cabins and eating while on the road, taking showers in places if and where these are available.

Sleeping in their cabins and eating while on the road, taking showers in places if and where these are available.

We drink our the last coffee of the day. I say thank you and I leave Mathijs with the hope that I did not offend him with my comment about his "small" cabin, feeling enriched by the experience and with a sleepy face. 

P.S. You can tell by the picture who is not used to getting up at 5 every morning. 

by Andreea Serbu