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American trucker Hwang Gil-jae

Posted July. 27, 2019 07:20,   

Updated July. 27, 2019 07:20


“American Trucker” Hwang Gil-jae, 50, was driving his 40-ton truck to Cleveland, Ohio from Michigan on Wednesday (local time). His American dream is like a movie full of hardships and battles rather than a still snapshot.

After majoring in theater and film at a collage in Seoul, Hwang decided to emigrate to the U.S. at the age of 38 in 2007. It was not easy from the beginning. Due to the 2008 global financial crisis, the company he joined in the U.S. went out of business. He became jobless overnight in a foreign country with a son, a daughter, and his wife to take care of. Fortunately, he got a job at a Korean news media and was able to weather the financial crisis.

In 2013, he started his career as a taxi driver in New York City. He earned a good income at first, but he was faced with another crisis. The rapid growth of Uber took a toll on his income. He earned only 700 dollars a week. It was far from enough for a four-person family to live even in New York because he had to pay a monthly rent of 1,500 dollars. “Customers chose Uber over taxi due to its convenience and cleanliness,” Hwang said. “There was no way I could hold out.”

He Eventually quit his job as a taxi driver last year, and he decided to become a “trucker” who travels across the huge American continent. He found a company that offers free-of-charge trucker education and training, which normally costs about 4,000 dollars. This is possible because there is not enough supply of truckers due to falling unemployment rate in the U.S.

Hwang and another trucker made a team and drove a total of 40,000 miles to get a commercial driver’s license for trucks and receive hands-on training. He travels 400-500 miles a day these days, sleeping in his truck. He is out on the road more than four weeks, comes back home to take four days of break, and goes out on the road again. It is not easy to be away from family and friends but his income almost doubled.

He knows well that he would one day have another crisis in his life as an “American trucker.” His fellow truckers complain about a decrease in freight volume caused by the U.S.-China trade war. There are rumors about Uber entering into the truck service market or introduction of autonomous driving trucks. “We’re just experiencing a change in the job market faster than others,” Hwang said. “The market will change even faster when my kids, who are now in high school, graduate and seek a job.”

Hwang has not given up his dream of becoming a film director. He said he wants to make a film that deals with the lift of American truckers.

Yong Park parky@donga.com