Long-Haul Women Truckers on Remote Work, Queer Identity and Self-Transformation : Rough Translation 726 miles in one day. Gas station sushi. Mysterious loading docks. We hit the road with two American women who found long-haul trucking as a means of escape and self-transformation.

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GREGORY WARNER, HOST:

You're listening to ROUGH TRANSLATION from NPR. It was the fall of 2010 when Jess Graham started to upend her life. She left her abusive partner, took her 10-year-old daughter and hit the road in her new tractor trailer.

JESS GRAHAM: I'm going to go somewhere else. And I'm going to reinvent myself. And I'm going to start over. And I'm going to make my life what I'm going to make it.

WARNER: It was only nine weeks earlier that Jess had signed up for trucking school.

GRAHAM: Trucking is one of those industries that in very little time you can actually change your station in life.

WARNER: In my mind - maybe it's a movie version, but you're pulling up in your truck. You're jumping out, and you're literally just bundling her up with some clothes and piling her in the truck. It probably wasn't like that, but...

GRAHAM: No, that was exactly what it was.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GRAHAM: I came in, packed her up and went to the school and told her that she is no longer enrolled and that she will be homeschooling. And we hit the road.

WARNER: The living space was 8 feet by 8 feet - two bunk beds.

GRAHAM: I have a picture. And she's got all of her stuff in her little cubbies and sitting on her bed smiling.

WARNER: She got her rollerblades and her Nintendo DS and a big backpack stuffed with schoolbooks. For now this was going to be home for them.

GRAHAM: It's similar to running away and joining the circus. It's about as close as I could come to that, kind of breaking free from a situation that was not healthy mentally and stretching my legs and seeing what I'm made of.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: This is ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner. As part of our series about taking on different work selves, we asked women truckers to send us audio diaries. Trucking companies are facing a nationwide shortage of drivers. They're expanding their recruitment to attract more women.

BRANDIE DIAMOND: Hello to everybody out there.

MICHELLE: Today is February 15 - Tuesday.

GRAHAM: Started my day at 3 a.m.

WARNER: President Biden has also made it part of his platform to increase the number of women in trucking.

MICHELLE: I delivered in California, in the Redlands area.

GRAHAM: Mobile, Ala.

DIAMOND: Andover, Mass.

MICHELLE: Seven hundred twenty-six miles today.

WARNER: But trucking is not just a job. It's a lifestyle.

GRAHAM: My dinner tonight is gas station sushi.

MICHELLE: And the dog that you hear barking is Caper.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

WARNER: And truckers will tell you about a trucker-civilian divide that they cross over. And that divide is particularly acute for women truckers.

MICHELLE: I can't stop 80,000 pounds because you decided to use the shoulder as a boy toilet.

WARNER: They told us the brotherhood of male truckers can push women to the margins.

GRAHAM: We tend to stick to ourselves and keep our heads down.

WARNER: You're far from family and friend networks.

GRAHAM: I can go days and days and days without calling anybody.

WARNER: Something a lot of us can recognize. So many of us have changed by being more solitary in the pandemic. But imagine 10, 20, 30 years of being mostly by yourself. Today, two stories of truckers transformed by that solitude in ways that neither expected.

DIAMOND: All right. It's time to get rolling.

WARNER: We're alone at work with ROUGH TRANSLATION. Back after this break.

We are back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner.

DIAMOND: Hi, I'm Brandie Diamond. I'm a transgender truck driver, slash chef, slash Jill-of-all-trades (laughter).

WARNER: Brandie hadn't yet come out as trans when her trucking story begins, 25 years before Jess hit the road with her daughter. It was the mid-'80s, kind of the end of one trucking era and the start of another. Brandie had recently lost her job in the kitchen of a restaurant near her home in Arizona. Then she heard someone mention they needed a truck driver.

DIAMOND: I said, hey, I can drive one of those. And I had no experience. I saw my older brother do it. But I fumbled through it.

WARNER: Back then, you didn't need two months of driving school. You didn't even need a special big rig license.

(SOUNDBITE OF CB RADIO)

DIAMOND: I just felt bigger and better than anyone else because I could drive a truck.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HIGH-BALLIN'")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I'm being shot at. That's what's happening.

DIAMOND: Truck drivers were, like, bandits of the road.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DIAMOND: "Smokey And The Bandit."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT")

JERRY REED: (As Cledus Snow) Welcome to the world's biggest game of chicken, boys.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIX DAYS ON THE ROAD")

DAVE DUDLEY: (Singing) Well, I pulled out of Pittsburgh rolling down that Eastern seaboard.

DIAMOND: Country music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIX DAYS ON THE ROAD")

DUDLEY: (Singing) I got my diesel wound up, and she's a running like never before.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONVOY")

CW MCCALL: (Singing) It was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June in a Kenworth pullin' logs.

DIAMOND: You know, C.W. McCall was, you know, on CB radios.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRUCK DRIVIN' MAN")

DUDLEY: (Singing) Pour me another cup of coffee.

WARNER: Would you have said then that trucking seemed manly?

DIAMOND: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It was definitely a man's industry (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRUCK DRIVIN' MAN")

DUDLEY: (Singing) Yeah, I'm just a truck drivin' man.

WARNER: Do you now feel like you might have been trying to deny your femininity by going into trucking?

DIAMOND: Absolutely. 'Cause I had this inside of me, who I really wanted to be, my whole life. I knew from 5 years old that I was in the wrong body. So you play football, and you hit people harder than you want to be hit. You become a super truck driver, tell dirtier jokes to people. You don't really mean them. But if you tell them, you're like, man, why'd I say that? But you're trying to cover it up and do your best so that your friends, your family - people don't see who you really are.

WARNER: That truck drivin' man persona, which was part of why Brandie had joined the industry - it felt more false the longer she wore it. While Jess, the single mom - she got a very different introduction to the trucking lifestyle when she and her daughter Halima would stroll together into the driver's lounge at the truck stop.

GRAHAM: The guys would always hand over the remote and...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS")

MILEY CYRUS: (Singing) You get the best of both worlds.

GRAHAM: So then there's Halima watching Hannah Montana with, like, four drivers, and they're just all just asking her questions.

CYRUS: (Singing) 'Cause you know you've got the best of both worlds.

GRAHAM: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Even then, Jess would tell herself this life on the road was only temporary. She was carefully budgeting to afford a real home where she and Halima could settle down.

GRAHAM: I tried to keep as much fun going - certain things we did in survival mode that I turned into a game. Like, OK, I'm driving. So you're in charge of what we eat. So here's your budget for the day. And so she would plan it out. OK, Mom, if we stop at Flying J, we can go to Denny's, and we can get this off of the 2, 4, 6, 8 menu. And that leaves us this much for the day.

WARNER: Halima was being home-schooled in the truck, which meant that crossing state lines - that was a geography lesson.

GRAHAM: She'd pull out the map, and then she'd start looking up, what is along those routes? Is there something we can pull off and see or drive by or something like that?

WARNER: Drive time - that was study time.

GRAHAM: You know, we've had dry erase markers, where she's just writing down the side of the window a math problem that she's struggling with. And so we're walking through it together.

WARNER: Wait. Wait. She's writing the math problem on the windshield? Like...

GRAHAM: She would lean forward in her seat and write on the windshield the math problem. And we could walk through it together as I'm driving down the road.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: And Jess' escape plan - it worked. Less than a year after they first pulled away from her ex's house, Jess was able to put all the money she'd saved trucking into a house. And she got a nanny, a friend of theirs.

GRAHAM: And so my friend stayed at the house and, you know, made sure that she did her schoolwork and did her chores. And, you know, I worked and paid all the bills.

WARNER: And Jess went back on the road without her daughter. And immediately, she noticed a change in the treatment that she got from some of the other drivers now that she did not have a 10 year old in tow.

GRAHAM: You tend to get a single woman out here, and you're like, why are you out here? Well, you should be home with your kids. You get that attitude from a lot of men out here. Having Halima with me softened the blow. When they saw Halima, they realized why I was out here and what I was doing. And it reminded them of their own family, so it almost made it easier.

WARNER: Halima's presence also shielded her in a different way. If her daughter had not been on the road with her and the company not made adjustments for that, then Jess might have been assigned a co-driver or trainee driver that first year.

GRAHAM: A lot of these companies - after you finish your training or even as part of your training, you have to run team freight, you know, with some stranger in an 8-by-8 box. It's hard.

WARNER: Almost always, that stranger's a man - sleeping in the other bunk bed. And Jess also found that without her daughter with her, she did not have much reason to linger in drivers lounges. She didn't feel comfortable hanging out in the parking lot if she wasn't there to watch Halima rollerblade while the sun went down. And Jess says that, gradually - and like a lot of women in trucking - her strategy to get through the days was just to keep her head down and keep moving.

GRAHAM: When you see another woman out here - we tend to stick to ourselves and keep our heads down and just self-isolate. And it's easier to just keep our head down than it is to interact or make waves, you know, just quietly go about our day.

WARNER: At first, that was OK. She'd spend her alone time FaceTiming her daughter.

GRAHAM: As she got older and started in high school and enlarging her circle and becoming more busy, I didn't have really anybody to talk to at that point.

WARNER: Did you feel like you could handle it?

GRAHAM: Absolutely not. But the thought of failing and giving up at that point in my life when I was doing this for survival meant that I would have been pushed back into that situation with her dad for survival. So I just powered through.

WARNER: Loneliness - it just seemed like the price that she'd pay for independence. Trucking had let her support her daughter on her own. But that also meant being alone. Around the time that Jess was just getting into trucking, Brandie first tried to get out of it.

DIAMOND: Cooking's my passion.

WARNER: Cooking had been her job before trucking, and she figured the skill set is actually rather similar.

DIAMOND: So you're driving. You know how much time it takes to get from point A to point B, where you need to make your fuel stops, how you need to fit in your breaks. And you compare those to cooking - like, I need a recipe to follow to get from point A to point B. I need, you know, these ingredients. I need to put them in at these certain times.

WARNER: So Brandie enrolled in culinary school.

DIAMOND: I tried to go to Le Cordon Bleu...

WARNER: She'd visioned a new career as a successful chef.

DIAMOND: ...And get out of trucking.

WARNER: But...

DIAMOND: Yeah. It just - it didn't work.

WARNER: Even with a student loan, she couldn't afford tuition and child support - she'd been married and divorced by then - and to stop driving a truck for long enough to be in one place to go to classes.

DIAMOND: Down a hundred miles, a hundred miles back, down a hundred miles, a hundred miles back.

WARNER: School was for fixed-location kind of people.

DIAMOND: So I had to withdraw from school and never did get to finish, which always bothered me.

WARNER: Neither Brandie nor Jess saw a clear way to change their situation. But trucking was quietly changing them.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: ROUGH TRANSLATION - back after this break.

We're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner. Trucking, as you might know, has its own vocabulary, its own lexicon of phrases - whoop n' ride, sailboat race, grabbin' gears, hammer down, dragging an anchor, four-wheeler. But there's one trucker term with special meaning to both Brandie and Jess - something called windshield time.

Are you familiar with that term windshield time?

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

WARNER: Can you explain to me what windshield time is?

DIAMOND: That's how much time that you're sitting behind the wheel, looking out that windshield and seeing what's out there in the world.

GRAHAM: The same way my daughter used the windshield to solve her problems in the math world - I'm not using a dry erase marker on the windshield, but I am using the windshield. I'm counting the miles. I'm counting the cars.

DIAMOND: Just giving you time to think and settle down and...

GRAHAM: Sort through our day and our thought process.

WARNER: Can you tell me what sorts of things you would think about in these long stretches of solitude?

DIAMOND: Oh, my gosh. I've built houses in my mind (laughter). I've cooked food.

GRAHAM: I've fixed everything from, like, world hunger to every problem in trucking.

DIAMOND: You know, pick apart a song. You know, listen to the chords of a song. How would I play it out on a guitar? You can accomplish quite a bit by just thinking about all those things.

WARNER: The book "Semi Queer," which inspired this episode, devotes a lot of analysis to windshield time. Its author, Anne Balay, introduced us to both Jess and Brandie. They're two of the dozens of women drivers she interviewed for the book, many of whom told her that windshield time is not just driving time. It's a space for self-contemplation and even inner change.

GRAHAM: Every mile we do helps to clear up whatever is running around in our minds.

WARNER: Jess felt this.

GRAHAM: So it gives you that time to decide, are you going to continue on this path, or are you going to pick a new path? Every mile out there is different from your last mile. So every time you see a new mile, that's a new opportunity.

WARNER: And Brandie says she noticed the change in her because she used to get really mad at cars.

DIAMOND: Man, this car's irritating me, or that car's irritating me or - blah, blah, blah.

WARNER: But now some four-wheeler would cut her off with no blinker - she found herself contemplating human nature instead of shouting.

DIAMOND: You have a guy cut in front of you, and you're like, OK, did I do something wrong? Or - you know, what can I do to change that? So you start to watch people, and you see their reactions, and then you learn their body movements and all these things. They just start to just all kind of fall into place.

WARNER: And Brandie also started to watch herself differently, notice her own pattern of reactions.

DIAMOND: Instead of having all these defensive shields up, I could let them down, you know? I could think the thoughts I wanted to think.

WARNER: She thought about her attitude toward other people.

DIAMOND: Oh, yeah, I was a jerk (laughter), you know? Even when I cooked, I was a jerk in the kitchen.

WARNER: She thought about her mother, a beautician, and the row of wigs in her mother's salon, how nice it might feel to wear a wig like that.

DIAMOND: I knew that I had a lot of femininity in my being my whole life, but I never really knew how to put it all together.

WARNER: And the thought, first pondered through the windshield of a truck, was then turned over and considered and formulated into the beginnings of a plan.

DIAMOND: I'd go home, and I'd get dressed. I'd stay behind in my apartment. And it's like, man, I gotta get out of here. I gotta step outside my door, and I want to go out into the world. And I was terrified to.

WARNER: According to Anne Balay, author "Semi Queer," the trucking cab is actually fairly well-situated for exploring one's gender identity - first, because you're spending so much time alone, not having to deal with people looking at you. The CB radio garbles voices, making assumptions about gender harder to pin down, and rest-stop bathrooms are often single occupancy.

DIAMOND: So this is the thought process that you can think of things when you're driving. I'd start thinking to myself, you know, how would I accomplish my mission?

WARNER: Her mission to step outside her door dressed up.

DIAMOND: So I (laughter) thought about it all week long and what I was going to do - I was like, OK, I'm going to get dressed up, and I'm going to go down to the convenience store. So I drove clear across town to go to the 7-Eleven.

WARNER: Buy a bottle of whiskey.

DIAMOND: And I didn't think I was going to get carded (laughter). So I pulled out my ID, and the guy looks at it, and he looks at me, and he looks at my ID. He goes, OK, and I get the bottle, and I - my whole trip home I was shaking so bad, you know? It was so cool, and it was so exciting.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DIAMOND: I opened that door, and it's like I stepped out into that vortex.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: The cab of a truck may be a place of gender exploration, but the trucking industry can be a harsh place for women - especially trans women.

DIAMOND: I would go home on the weekends and dress up, and people caught wind of it at work. My co-driver confronted me, you know, and he says, hey, I - you know, I know what you're doing on the weekends. So I said, well, OK, first of all, what I do on the weekends with my time is no business of yours. Well, he started telling people, you know, hey, my co-driver's dressing up, blah, blah, blah. So it was getting - it was starting to really rage through work that I was dressing up as a woman on the weekends and going out.

WARNER: Brandie had to wonder, could she be her true self, and at the same time, stay safely in this job? Jess, meanwhile, was doing her own self-examination and realizing how isolated she'd become.

GRAHAM: So I started to look around and try and meet, you know, other women.

WARNER: She wasn't just going to see other women truckers and nod and pass them by. She'd spent years doing that. Now, she became known as someone who would stop, offer advice.

GRAHAM: And I had gotten a reputation of, you know, if you have any issues here, go to her, and she can help point you in the right direction of who to talk to for what. And that was just so that I could get the interaction and the socialization that I think everybody requires not to be considered a hermit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRAHAM: Hey, everyone, it's Jess from the board of directors of Real Women in Trucking. And we are here at the Mid-America Truck Show in Louisville, Ky.

WARNER: In 2021, after more than a decade on the road, Jess became a board member of Real Women in Trucking. It's an activist group trying to make long-haul trucking safer and better for all women.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRAHAM: We've signed up some new members. Come out...

WARNER: Connecting with other women truckers has made her feel less lonely on the road, but it hasn't made it easier to adjust to life at home.

GRAHAM: Like, I - honestly, I have a hard time functioning when I'm not in my truck. I don't know how to grocery shop anymore. I can't handle that experience anymore, the - going into a big store like that. So...

WARNER: What about it can't you handle?

GRAHAM: I don't know if it's just the chaos of everything. We've learned over the years, you know, with - what we have access to is the truck stop. So you go in. You have your one choice. You know, I think having that many options is kind of overwhelming. I say that I'm now wild, feral and undomesticated because I've kind of lost all of those normal daily routines that most people do.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Jess had chosen trucking as a means of untethering herself from her old life, putting as many miles as possible between her and her ex. But trucking had also propelled her into a new solitary orbit.

GRAHAM: When I would go home on home time, I would - I really wouldn't tell people so that nobody would come over.

WARNER: And she did not know how she was going to make her reentry.

GRAHAM: The thought of going back to settle down - that actually gives me more anxiety than being out on the road all the time. One of my uncles would be like, well, you never stop when you're in town. And, you know, you can park at the McDonald's. I've seen a truck in there. Well, that's a McDonald's truck delivering product to McDonald's. I can't just pull in and park there. I think a lot of people don't understand living at your job or constantly being on the move. So you lose that common ground, you know?

WARNER: Yeah. I mean, I think the world really resonates right now - or many people in the world can resonate with what you're saying in a way that maybe they couldn't two years ago - catching up to the life that you've been exploring for a lot longer.

GRAHAM: Absolutely. I think I was ahead of the curve on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: When ROUGH TRANSLATION returns - how the view from the trucker's cab changes when the pandemic makes a lot of civilian jobs more remote.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: We're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner.

DIAMOND: OK. Here we go.

WARNER: It's a sunny day in spring.

DIAMOND: These look pretty good.

WARNER: Brandie is spending her day off at her favorite place, an Amish farmer's market. She's weighing each veggie, judging its freshness...

DIAMOND: All this is coming from California right now.

WARNER: ...Based on where it came from...

DIAMOND: Strawberries are fickle.

WARNER: ...How many miles it traveled.

DIAMOND: If you get them just one or two degrees off, they'll either turn on you, get bad or good. I'll buy a couple of them.

WARNER: Brandie is wearing a shoulder-length blonde wig with square glasses and sweats. She came out publicly as trans in 2015, actually shortly after her co-driver started outing her at work. Brandie did this with the encouragement and guidance of her wife, Stephanie, who's also trans. And so they could spend more time together as a couple, Stephanie trained as a truck driver as well. They sold their home and now live full time in the truck that they co-drive. Brandie's also pursuing another plan she cooked up behind the wheel of a cab.

DIAMOND: Beautiful salsa - I love Herdez.

WARNER: She's enrolled in culinary school online. And now when they stop for mandatory rest breaks, that's when Brandie is often cooking or describing the dishes for her instructors.

DIAMOND: We're having Brandie special tacos with a homemade pico de gallo, served with a beautiful cheese from the west coast called Tillamook (laughter).

WARNER: It's almost like Brandie has brought the things that she loves inside the truck with her, while Jess, for all her activism, still struggles with loneliness.

GRAHAM: Today is Tuesday, March 15. I am in - somewhere Tennessee between Nashville and Memphis.

WARNER: This is one of the audio diaries she recorded for us.

GRAHAM: Then they moved me to another dock, and then the shipping lady went home without telling me that I was done being loaded and giving me my paperwork.

WARNER: And in these recordings, she'll chew over these insults and injustices...

GRAHAM: Talk about being forgotten.

WARNER: ...That sort of spiral in her mind, amplified by solitude.

GRAHAM: It's crazy. I can go days and days and days without calling anybody, and my phone will be silent.

WARNER: And then that sadness would remind her of her own isolation.

GRAHAM: Because no one really even knows or cares I'm out here.

WARNER: And her isolation would feel like rejection.

GRAHAM: It's a lonely Sunday.

WARNER: And rejection triggers sadness.

GRAHAM: (Crying).

WARNER: And the cycle could continue day after lonely day all the way from Georgia to Texas.

GRAHAM: And it's always lonely out here.

WARNER: But then...

GRAHAM: I was talking with a friend of mine on the phone. Then all the sudden, he snuck up on me.

WARNER: ...A minor encounter with a friend might send her spiraling the opposite way.

GRAHAM: Sometimes a hug and a quick bite to eat with a friend is all you need to change your mood, change your day.

WARNER: And so Jess wants to be that kind of friend for others.

GRAHAM: I'm trying to reenter society.

WARNER: What made you want to reenter?

GRAHAM: Well, COVID actually brought me closer to my mom.

WARNER: Jess's mom became withdrawn and isolated in the pandemic. And so Jess started reaching out.

GRAHAM: And so I had to force myself out of my little isolated bubble of me just driving along, not talking to anybody, and really make sure that she had interaction.

WARNER: That's interesting. So the pandemic-related isolation of your mom forced you out of your own isolation and realized you had something to offer, basically.

GRAHAM: I did.

WARNER: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GRAHAM: I knew I had the coping skills to get through it, whereas I don't think that she or others around me did.

WARNER: Jess also helped her dispatcher when she was struggling with remote work.

GRAHAM: I think I'm able to talk to people now about what we're all experiencing internally, about our own self-doubts and the uncomfortable silences, because I've been able to really embrace them. And instead of letting them eat me alive, I've used them to discover who I am and what I want and how I want to be. In the beginning, it was about escape. It was about getting on a new path. And now it is about the freedom, getting out there and living my life, where that was for survival, but now it's just for who I am.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Brandie and Stephanie now have a kind of privileged job in the trucking industry. They drive for FedEx Custom Critical.

DIAMOND: We never know what to expect from a customer.

WARNER: They transport special materials that are either dangerous...

DIAMOND: We picked up some explosive blasting caps.

WARNER: ...Or high dollar...

DIAMOND: We hauled a Jackson Pollock painting.

WARNER: ...Or both, like the time a couple of years ago when they drove to a pickup address.

DIAMOND: And it's set up like a big military base where they have different buildings.

WARNER: They back up to the loading dock.

DIAMOND: There's a table there with a tablecloth and doughnuts and coffee and eight or nine people standing on the dock. We're like, wow, this is pretty cool.

WARNER: They want to take selfies with Brandie and Stephanie.

DIAMOND: We're like, absolutely. So they're taking pictures and pictures with us. And we're like, well, what are we getting? And they go, this is the Mars rover.

WARNER: Parts of the Mars rover.

DIAMOND: You know, we're like these great warriors that showed up to transport their prize baby, you know? And that's how they made us feel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Eighty-three meters per second at about 2.6 kilometers from the surface of Mars. I have confirmation...

DIAMOND: Every time I see a picture or a video come from the Mars rover, I kind of giggle and say, I had a little bit - little piece to do with that, you know, getting it there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Perseverance is continuing to descend on the parachute.

WARNER: After Brandie and Stephanie made that Mars rover delivery, before they left, though, the scientists offered to enter their names on a virtual boarding pass. It's put on a microchip and loaded onto the Mars rover.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Touchdown confirmed. Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking signs of past life.

(APPLAUSE)

WARNER: Brandie and Stephanie, the names they chose for themselves, are now up in space. What does it mean to you to be a part of that, like, to go and be able to say, I carried part of the Mars rover?

DIAMOND: Oh, yeah. Well, it's a whole different kind of, yeah, I'm bad, you know?

WARNER: Oh, it's a good type of, I'm the baddest one around, but...

DIAMOND: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It changed that whole narrative to where I was a jerk before, now it's like, I'm doing these really super cool things that are doing really super cool things for mankind.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: ROUGH TRANSLATION is turning 5 years old next month, and as my daughter told me, you only turn 5 once. So we want to celebrate this special day with you. Send us a voice memo telling us about a five-year milestone for you or the biggest changes in your life over the last five years. We'll choose a few of you at random and send a special thank you in the mail, and we may feature your voice in a future episode. Our email address is roughtranslation@npr.org, or we're on Twitter @Roughly. I'm @radiogrego. That's it for our season @Work.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: This episode was produced and reported by Adelina Lancianese, edited by our supervising senior producer, Bruce Auster. Our ROUGH TRANSLATION fleet includes Luis Trelles, Justine Yan, Tessa Paoli and Pablo Arguelles. Our interns are Nic M. Neves and Bhaskar Choudary. Emily Bogle is our visuals editor. Our supervising producer is the Liana Simstrom. Production help from Dan Girma and NPR member station WKYU in Bowling Green, Ky.

Big thanks to Anne Belay. We strongly recommend her book. It's called "Semi Queer: Inside The World Of Gay, Trans And Black Truck Drivers." And thanks to all the drivers who recorded their days for us and shared their stories.

Critical editorial feedback from Nesa Azimi, Tony Cavin, Ellen Horne, Robert Krulwich, Sam Leeds, Alyssa Russell, Niko Stratis and Sana Krasikov. John Ellis composed our theme music. Additional music by FirstCom Music and Blue Dot Sessions. Mastering by Josh Newell. Fact-checking by Justin Yan and Annie Iezzi. Legal guidance from Michah Ratner and Eduardo Miceli. NPR's senior vice president for programming is Anya Grundmann. I'm Gregory Warner, back next month with more ROUGH TRANSLATION.

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