February 19, 2024

Live on stage: The complex relationship between a trucking job and life


A truck driver’s life on the road has hit the stage with a drama by David Proctor, who gave up life behind the wheel to focus on being an actor and playwright.

“Grabbing the Hammer Lane:  a Trucker Narrative” is the end result of that transition by Proctor, and praise for the approximately one-hour, one-person play has been extensive.

The Orlando Performer, a website devoted to theater in Central Florida, said this of the play: “Patrons of this show should be prepared to feel a wide range of emotions. In the beginning, there is gentle humor and subtle light jokes scattered throughout. [Later], emotions soar between anger and sadness. It is genuinely moving. This show deals with addiction, forgiveness and loss and has a moral of ‘Tell the ones you are close to, that you love them.’”

The Roswell Cultural Arts Center outside Atlanta, which recently had Proctor perform the play, said he delivered a “spectacular performance that detoured life in the fast lane into the heart. This one-act play showcased rebellion, redemption, and the powerful roar of an 18-wheeler, captivating audiences with themes of rejection, regret, joy, and redemption.”

In the background to all of that is life behind the wheel, a job Proctor had for about 30 years.

Starting with FedEx, followed by many

In an interview with FreightWaves, Proctor said he began driving in 1996 with FedEx (NYSE: FDX). A long series of different employers followed — not unusual in the business — but Proctor retired in 2022 from Oakley Transport, based in Lake Worth, Florida. He said he had been a company driver his entire career.

Proctor said COVID killed both his parents within two months of each other. The end result, he said, is that “I took a long, hard look at what it cost me being on the road so long and the things I missed.”

His wife asked him if he wanted his children to be his only legacy, “or was it something else I wanted to leave behind as an artifact?”

The result was Proctor’s departure from the road and a change in focus, to writing “Grabbing the Hammer Lane.” He said he wrote the play in about three months and then “workshopped” it with a friend from the theater faculty at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University.

That work behind him, Proctor said the play was ready to be introduced. Its first performance was at the Orlando Fringe Festival last May.

Proctor said the festival is one that “showcases all the different genres, comedy, musicals, everything.” The dramatic nature of “Hammer Lane” meant that Proctor and his wife, who served as the producer, didn’t know what the reaction would be. Not to worry: It was named the best solo drama of the festival for 2023.

“We had folks coming out of the theater making comments like, ‘Man, I thought it was going to be about trucker stuff, but I was really surprised,’” Proctor said.

That performance was successful enough that Proctor was asked to repeat his performance in January at FestN4, which is produced by the Orlando Fringe Festival. It was that performance that led to the review by The Orlando Performer.

While the play may not be about trucking per se, the industry is never far from the action.

Proctor said when the theater goes dark, the audience can hear the sound of CB chatter, with the radio voice reaching out to “all my fellow road warriors.” The voice urges drivers to “grab the hammer lane,” but also cautions that if they are fortunate enough to have their parents still alive, “Give them a call today. Don’t put it off.”

Proctor is blunt about mental health challenges facing drivers. “It can be a very lonely existence,” he said. “There’s about 3.5 million truckers on the road today, and about 30% of them admit they suffer from some kind of depression because of the time spent away from family.”

Proctor said the play is “semi-autobiographical, because some of it does reflect my experiences on the road.”

As the actor, he plays two parts: a middle-aged truck driver named Matt, and Matt’s father. 

“Trucking is a direct rebellion by Matt against his father’s expectations,” Proctor said. “His father really wanted him to go in a different direction. And they have a falling out over it.”

Complicating matters is that Matt has an addiction: gambling. Other family secrets are revealed, and the various forces pulling at Matt eventually lead him to therapy, “to help him understand what decisions he has made that directed the course of his life, and the contentious relationship he has had with his father,” Proctor said.

Give my regards to close to Broadway

It may not be Broadway, but “Hammer Lane” is headed to New York. It will be one of a series of one-person performances produced during the spring season at United Solo on 42nd Street, one night only on April 11.

“Hammer Lane” is not likely to be the last play by Proctor with trucking as a theme. He said he is interested in “the crossroads between the theater and the trucking industry.”

“You normally don’t see the life and compelling stories of truckers reflected on stage,” Proctor said. “So this is a niche that I’m identifying, to develop a series of compelling plays that deal with life on the road.”

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