Jonathan Pennington

Interview by
Published on
October 19, 2022

In this episode...

It takes a lot to do this job well: quick decision-making, the ability to drive a highly sophisticated machine, the toughness to power through different weather conditions, and more. All these and more make a professional truck driver. Take it from Jonathan Pennington, a graduate of political science who somehow found his way to truck driving. At first, he was motivated by job security and the chance to see all states, but then he fell in love with everything else about truck driving. The sunrises and sunsets. The clear skies and pine trees. The people he met and befriended along the way. Funny conversations over shared dinners. Life stories that inspire and experiences that leave lasting lessons. The chance to do work that matters while exploring the country.

Jonathan Pennington

Jonathan Pennington is a Professional Truck Driver, Accounting Graduate Student.


I attended a public high school in Phillips County Georgia and no one ever said a word to us about truck driving you know and looking back you know that that probably could have been something that would have been effective in even getting me to consider doing it earlier than at age uh 33. when I uh when I considered it you know if I had if someone had told me at that at that point hey you know there's truck drivers Welcome to Night for the mile delivered by freightworks one of America's fastest growing podcasts actually produced by Trucking indicted to tell a story compelling driver's story I need to do something big insights like industry all here right now it's like by the mildly by great works I'm your host Butch malpe we are always always interested in you subscribing to our YouTube channel make sure you hit that get the notifications on new episodes we're gonna have an exciting one here in just a moment we're on podcast platforms everywhere you know the thing that we committed to do when we launched this a year ago and we just eclipsed our 100th episode was to bring you insightful interesting um inspiring stories about Trucking and Logistics and but Jonathan Pennington in October 2017 entered the logistics business as a company driver for U.S express since November of 2018 he's been servicing FedEx close for U.S Express as a dedicated route team driver he's got a weekly route uh with a team driving partner from Atlanta to Southern California then on to Portland and back to Atlanta the thing I love though is a former college professor I love the fact that you've had motivation to go to school so we're going to talk about all that so make sure you don't leave this episode I know you're going to find some nuggets so Jonathan welcome thanks for being here well I'm excited to be here thanks for having me are you in Atlanta right now I am you know I just have to say this real quickly the only business meetings I've ever missed on traveling around the world literally the only business meetings were because of traffic around Atlanta that's it's it's bad isn't it that's uh that's probably a accurate statement yeah there's there's a lot there's and it's interesting when we talk to drivers and ask about places where traffic is an issue they talk about Atlanta well let's let's start with the seminal question which is where did you grow up where did you start your journey in life well I was uh born in Montgomery Alabama and uh my father uh my father took a job in Douglasville Georgia when I was six years old and uh I grew up there uh up until uh I graduated from high school and uh then I went to college in the state of Alabama earned a bachelor's in political science and from there I've really just bounced around uh you know uh I uh I've tried my hand at a lot of different things and uh including a few semesters of law school when I was in my 20s but uh obviously I'm not a practicing lawyer now but nonetheless there were a lot of valuable things I learned from that experience and uh eventually you know after um you know being uh you know just bouncing around and just trying to figure what out what to do I uh came to uh I uh just uh decided that wow you know Trucking is something I could do and so you know that's why I decided to do and at the time it's funny because I was also um considering going to graduate school for Supply Chain management again so yeah and so that's uh you know and so I got into Trucking and then uh I was looking into some programs but then U.S Express launched their full ride program which uh is a scholarship benefit for all drivers to take advantage of for a bachelor's or Masters and they offered an MBA in Supply Chain management and that's uh University of Arizona Global Campus so I jumped on that opportunity and uh you know uh earned that uh MBA and graduated in 2021 and then decide you know I love accounting too so now I'm uh three quarters through with my uh Masters in accounting and uh through the same school and uh you know it's fulfilling and it's a great way for me to spend my home time I get each week that is so good Johnson and you know what I if we polled America I think people would probably want to ask the question do we need more drivers or more lawyers they would say more drivers absolutely yeah no no no no question well that that is that is so interesting now let me let me ask you this when you when you got into driving what what was it that motivated you initially when you made that decision to become a driver what what was it that prompted that because you know a lot of people have stereotypes about drivers they do you know and and the reality is uh here at freightworks we have a diverse pool of drivers men women solos teams old young vets rural urban I mean so what prompted you well uh you know I I would say it was uh two things number one um was uh just uh you know understanding the uh job opportunity and the job security um well you know uh negating uh automation of course but we're not there yet they go uh to that to the extent that uh it's going to affect that so yeah number one was a job opportunity with job security and I would say number two was just uh the opportunity to travel and to uh you know hopefully see most of the lower 48 states and uh right now I'm sitting at 42. for my 5K from my uh five plus year career so far what what are the six you haven't seen yet okay uh North Dakota South Dakota um Washington State um Rhode Island and uh okay what is that that's for um Vermont and Delaware okay okay you were quick I mean you didn't know I was going to give you a test on that yeah you did you did a good job now when when you when you look at the industry today and obviously you're a student but you're a driver so you you're like a focus group of what really is going on out there on the road but you also study the issues talk a little bit about what you see is some of the core supply chain issues in in the country today and and uh take off your driver hat for a minute and put on your analysis hat and just talk about what you've studied and what you've seen okay well I would say that uh you know really it's um the uh inability for uh the larger companies to uh you know fulfill their recruiting goals I would say it's that and uh because it goes without saying that everyone has to start somewhere before they become an owner operator and so nine times out of ten I think it's accurate to say that most uh company drivers uh eventually become owner operators if that's the route they choose to go in um and so you know with that being said you know I think that recruiting is a challenge that is uh you know substantially uh falling short and I don't know what the answers are in terms of how to fix that but nonetheless but I can say for me personally that it's a matter of just uh giving a person an opportunity and making them feel as though there really are no other no better options for them out there and uh you know I would uh I would venture to say that that's what uh US Express has done for me um and so they've uh you know they've given me the opportunity to uh you know make a uh respectable income while also doing what I said in terms of exploring the nation and so anyway that but all that aside though yeah I would say that it's really just uh you know recruiting of drivers and convincing people to want to um take part in this profession and uh I know there are a lot of drawbacks and it's an it's not an easy life and it's not for everyone but nonetheless you know there could be um potentially a lot more people out there that could be doing this that actually could enjoy it if they would just be a little more open-minded and considerate um like I eventually came to doing so uh yeah you know I would say though that that's the chief supply chain issue it's just uh the shortage of uh drivers and um you know because it goes while saying just about everything out there was that was at some point on a truck right right so and and uh and really in in a lot of respects I've wondered about a national public service campaign of some kind to really help reinforce and I know there have been some impulses to do this but I'm talking about something very focused very intentional to help America know that you know if if truck drivers in America professional drivers decided to have a bad week and just not work we'd feel it immediately right absolutely that is absolutely uh that's spot on and uh you know that being said you know uh yeah PSA that would uh encourage people to consider it and to actually look at the positives of uh taking part in this profession if they uh qualify in the various ways that uh you know um I would say that uh that could uh That Could Be an Effective uh an effective uh you know we we love the relationships that uh this podcast has helped us here at freightworks uh develop Ellen boy is a good friend at women in trucking and you look at some of the subsets of drivers lots of veterans that have gone into driving you know a lot of discussions about younger drivers and you know the opportunity to go into middle schools and high schools and and start to let people know look college is not for everybody this is a great opportunity for you to make us a step forward do you think there's hope for some of that I mean really trying to inculcate in younger people even the consideration of Professional Driving as a career that very much could be something that would be a positive investment I feel you know going into the high schools and uh just you know I I never I know that I grew up in a you know I I attended a public high school in uh Douglas County Georgia and no one ever said a word to us about truck driving you know and looking back you know that that probably could have been something that would have been effective in even getting me to consider doing it earlier than at age uh 33 when I uh when I considered it you know if I had if someone had told me at that at that point you know but no one ever did but if so at that point hey you know they're structurally you know that could have been so yeah you know I I think that would be a positive investment maybe from the larger companies for them to invest in and uh from what I understand though I I think that uh U.S Express right now is engaging in investing in that in uh in the state of Tennessee and uh you know but I think it's uh it's uh experimental at this point I don't think it's really a widespread campaign but if it were a widespread campaign I definitely uh you know it's uh it seems foreseeable that that could be a very effective measure to take it's interesting because uh we're in Rutherfordton North Carolina which is the western part North Carolina about 45 miles from Asheville about 40 miles or so from Greenville Spartanburg so we're in the extreme western part very strategic place when it comes to transportation and in our County you know we're talking about the possibility of taking we made a you know a fairly broad-sized company an asset-based carrier you know a a good sized purchase of new Peterbilt 579 Ultra Lofts and you know I've had a heart as the Director of communications to take one of these around to different schools and let people see them and you know let younger people sort of experience the reality that when you climb into one of these things it's almost like the avionics on an airplane I mean it's it's something that can be motivating it's not just some grimy forgive me some grimy truck going down the road I mean it's it's a piece of sophisticated equipment you think there's some opportunity there to help people to look up from their gaming and and say you know what I I could do something like that ocean yeah that's uh that definitely uh could be uh That Could Be an Effective measure you know show the kids uh you know uh hey you know this is uh this is what life is like you know and you see the sleeper area and you see that there are opportunities to uh you know make the most out of the sleeper area in terms of uh installing uh televisions um I've seen drivers do some crazy things as far as maximizing the livability of their sleeper areas uh me I'm a bit minimalist to that regard as is my team partner uh you know we could be happy without without all that but there are definitely uh things that can be done within a sleeper area to uh make it a uh you know not such a uh lonely um I guess uh detached experience you know as far as still having your television and options that are you know subscription options for you know television service in your in your truck I know an owner operator currently who has a uh satellite dish uh so that he doesn't miss uh his NFL Sundays so that being said you know um there are definitely uh you know that you know so that that could be you know one thing about uh one gentleman I met who told me he the one thing he told me he would he would he wouldn't be able to go into it due to is a lack of uh internet connectivity um which you know maybe says you know maybe he has a bit of a um you know uh maybe maybe he enjoys being online you know to an extra considerable extent but nonetheless uh you know that uh there there are options that are evolving and uh you know there are options that I didn't know what to tell them off the top of my head in terms of what options would be you know to uh solve that uh as a solution for that but nonetheless uh you know uh there's it's amazing what you can do with a sleeper area and that could definitely be something that you know maybe open their would maybe open their minds to considering this well it's interesting too you look at the trends in the marketplace towards many homes and and alike and small spaces and you know there are even some platforms that talk about people that live in uh 300 square feet 200 square feet in New York City and you know the whole notion of downsizing and being minimal is is currently in the culture at least something of consideration I'd like to talk a little bit about the difference between driving solo and team have you always driven as a team I've spent at least 95 percent of my career as a teen driver and uh you know that's and part of the reason is uh number one um generally speaking it's better pay and um you know you get more miles and so uh that said you know that's uh that's been the biggest draw for me but additionally to that you know um I've been blessed with some uh desirable people to have as team driver Partners you know great guys who uh I have always gotten along well with uh the gentleman I'm currently teaming with we've been teaming for going on three years and uh we've always gotten along great you know and so and so that being said you know there is a you know a benefit to having someone else uh in there you know who uh you know every now and then you can have a conversation with you know and uh you know and have that uh level of uh you know just uh Brotherhood to to an extent you know but uh nonetheless though that's uh you know I've uh my but as far as being a solo driver yeah the miles have not been as good and it's uh you know and so naturally the pay isn't nearly as good you know and that's uh you know there there may be a little bit more uh you know privacy uh as far as being a solo driver goes but um you know and some people may prefer that route you know and there definitely is a need out there for uh shorter routes and for people to fulfill uh solo driver opportunities but uh those are the reasons why I've always uh preferred to be a team driver and you know uh that said it's uh you know that's that's really uh this way I would summarize the difference between the two you know I I just remember being enamored with trucks when I was younger and I'm way down the age way along the age curve from you uh but I remember being in the back of our Ford Falcon Station Wagon looking out this is before he had seat belts looking out the back window and when a truck would come nearby you'd make you know a pumping sound a sign and and they would you know just blow the horn and I just remember being thrilled as a young person about about all of that and you know what I I think there's a lot of the story of American truck drivers professional drivers women and men that Still Remains to be shared and uh and and and frankly they're stereotypes and and you you break some of those I mean you obviously break some of those and uh what what do you what do you think about that I mean if you had to if you were on prime time in a in a setting where you had 60 000 people in a Coliseum and you were able to tell them this is what it's like to be a driver what would you say

well I would uh I would definitely say that uh there are those stereotypes that are out there are unfair and that the the negative one sounds I'm specifically referring to you know I uh you know just uh you know to keep it professional in this conversation that we're having I'm not going to go into any of those specifics yes please but nonetheless you know that's um you know there I think a lot of that is unfair you know it really is I've uh some of the guys that I've teamed with especially the guy that I'm with now have been some of the most intelligent uh people that uh I've ever had the privilege of uh getting to know and uh so that being said you know it's uh there's definitely uh you know and not only intelligence uh you know that I've seen uh in other drivers out there in conversations I've had with drivers at truck stops and conversations I've had with drivers at U.S Express hubs you know they're uh not only that but um you know they're they're also uh for the most part uh not only that but we have to be able to make quick decisions and so we have to be able to you know so for a driver to thrive and to make it um you know more than uh Beyond just a short time past training you know to to make it years into his career you know there are situations he's going to have to or he or she will have to uh make uh quick split-second decisions that are for the better or worse you know uh we'll uh you know minimize uh whatever uh negative thing could come about and so you know the ability to make really quick decisions and not only that but the intelligence level that I've seen and the drivers that I've spoken to has uh you know really just uh you know any any go any Impressions that I had that were negative going into the profession were uh quickly uh proven uh wrong and so that's uh that's what I would say you know is that uh you know all those negative stereotypes that you hear about are definitely a small sample and anyone any reasonable person knows that you cannot base an entire and a million plus people on such a small sample exactly and and it also disgusts me the way that Hollywood in some films and some TV shows depicts us as well when we're engaging in some of the most egregious things you know and they're I have not met I they've been good people you know my experience has been all the guys that I've gotten to know and all the men and women that that serve in this profession you know have been all in all good people you know and so absolutely that's also you know but I guess they have to do what they have to do to you know entice uh you know viewership and you know to keep their attention you know it's it's unfortunate that they have to you know point that at us in such a negative way but hey you know it is what it is but you know I would tell them not to listen to that either exactly well I still remember my grandfather you know my mom's the oldest of 11 I'm the oldest grandson of 44 grandchildren 129 great grandchildren and 37 great greats it was like a tribe up in Lancaster Pennsylvania area he used to tell me he used to tell me there's no right way to do the wrong thing and so I don't I don't even say a lot of times it is what it is if it's wrong you know we need to call it out and uh and what you're saying is I think I think extremely important now let me get to something that's uh doesn't have an easy sort of segue to it so I'm just going to jump into it if you have to stop at a truck stop and it's a national chain like apply a Pilot Flying J A loves or whatever do you have a favorite whoops okay now tell us why well uh you know when I initially went into uh you said that quickly by the way I uh you said that quickly right I have my reasons okay well I would say though when I initially went into the uh went into the profession you know I love the fact that there were Cinnabons that so many pilots and Flying J's and so and Denny's as well and so I thought that was really cool but what I've seen in loves is an improvement in a drastic in investment into making their locations more and more advanced more and more clean more and more of just a pleasant environment to walk around it you know that's you you can see it in so many locations you know and so that being said you know not only that but also just uh you know the the showers that they have available they've always they're usually on top of their game in terms of keeping the rotate keeping people getting in and out keeping the showers clean and you know being uh expeditious in terms of uh making it so that we can uh get our showers and not have to wait too long and uh even if there's a considerable long line ahead of us to use a shower you know and so that's that's our uh that's definitely uh yeah I would definitely go with loves just simply for that but I think that pilot and Flying J you know uh you know they could very well uh as they they could equate that you know I just think that love says surpassing them and their investment in that in those areas okay now I'm compelled to ask you this you're not on Love's payroll no I'm not not at all yeah okay so we're making the disclosure here because that was a unprompted he had no idea I was going to ask him that question by the way this is Jonathan Pennington he uh he has entered the logistics business as a company driver for U.S Express uh he's been on the road he's been in the classroom he's insightful and life of the mile delivered by freightworks we want you to subscribe to the YouTube channel engage share like go to the podcast platforms for trying to hit a benchmark of subscribers here by the end of November and you can help us do that now Jonathan let me let me also also ask you this do you ever lose the sense of just the Grandeur of our country uh does it ever get old when it's a sunrise and you look through the windshield and you see the Rockies or you look you look out you see an ocean do you ever does that ever become old to you well I wouldn't say that at all I would say that I still enjoy the beautiful sceneries that I see throughout Colorado and uh I'll tell you in a second uh the one state that's uh really captured uh all of that for me the most but um no I would say it does not um what it what I what I have the experience though is that I now see the country as a much smaller place than what I did before interesting and because and I think the reason is because you know my part my team driving partner and I you know we we really do keep it moving you know um we don't waste any time and so it generally takes us 38 hours to get to San Bernardino California from Atlanta and so that's that's not that long you know 38 hours right you know and so and so you know when you consider that you know and you can get to say Portland Oregon in two days or less from Atlanta and keeping it moving with your team Park driving partner without considerable delays you know it just makes the country feel like a smaller place but nonetheless though those uh beautiful sceneries I I will would you mind if I tell can I tell you the one place though that's really captured me absolutely you already you already teased that a few minutes ago absolutely tell us okay um I-84 between Portland Oregon and Boise tell us why you love it that's you know I've uh I've driven that um I've driven on that road multiple times I've seen Sun sunrises there I've uh I've seen just clear skies there with uh River and the mountains and all the in the pine trees and it's uh it's absolutely the most gorgeous uh place that I've seen thus far in my Trucking career that is so and you know what's you know what is so great is that every driver has incredible stories like little one of the questions we ask people is tell us about a little hole in the wall restaurant that nobody knows about and you'll see lots of trucks and whenever you see the trucks you know there's good food in there and we get incredible questions sir when I ask questions about like the one I've asked you about the beauty of the country it's not just these automatons it's not just people sitting behind the wheel that are unfeeling they see and experience the beauty of God's creation you know and and we're it's it's it's wonderful to hear right absolutely now well let me uh we're rounding the home stretch here the Mark I tell people often the mark of a good conversation is that they go quickly so we've got about five minutes left so I have one or two quick uh questions for you tell us a little bit about your life outside of driving you know because we we like to tell the stories of people so tell us about that well my life outside of driving I'm I'm honestly trying to figure out what my next move is going to be um right now I'm leaning toward uh getting my HVAC license and uh transitioning from driving into that after I paid off my student loans from the semesters of law school a long time ago and so that's uh that's what I'm leaning toward doing but you know I've actually been scoring considerably high on the law school admission test and you know I'm just you know I'm going to take even though you know hypothetic you know like uh comparatively speaking I mean this is like I'm like a second stream player on a college team hoping to get drafted in the first round by what I'm about to tell you that's a good comparison to what I'm about to tell you but you know what I've been scoring considerably high on the LSAT I would love it if Harvard made the investment in Me by by admitting me into the law school if that was to happen then that's you know even though it would cost more for me to go there in student loans and I will ever have in a retirement account that's what I want to do but you know what my goal would be for that it wouldn't be to get a high paying job at a firm it would not be to clerk for the United States Supreme Court it would be to be a guest on Joe Rogan's podcast to be able to have a clean professional conversation with them about politics about economics and about my story and you know what I've been through up to now you know and and up to then so if that were to happen that would be the goal and you know who knows what would happen after that but that's honestly it that is yeah that is so that is so interesting Jonathan that is so interesting and you know life is a journey I was mentioning to somebody recently that they estimate the average person has about 3 billion Heartbeats and uh you know we're we're a diverse company but we're people of Faith here at at freightworks the leadership is and you know we we believe that what we do our words our actions are a reflection of our faith commitments and we want to be good stewards of our lives and uh it sounds like you're in the middle of a Life Adventure and uh I'm just grateful that you took a few minutes to share some of that with us today now listen uh you may not have expected that uh but we're going to go ahead and and offer you something as a thank you for being with us today and this is going to seem like I'm doing a little infomercial I'm not I'm going to give you three options of something that we're going to send to you as a thank you for being on the program today this uh this first hat went over really well at the Mid-America truck show uh by the way I went to my first Mid-America truck show I by the way I have no background in trucking and Logistics and I tell our drivers that and they love to teach me they love to explain everything anyway it's got a patriotic theme it's got the light by the mile uh logo on the front

the next option that we have is of course this is freightworks one studio right around the corner from the driver's Lounge we've got our freightworks One logo hat that's option number two and then with the recognition that winter is around the corner Jonathan we actually have a light by the mile beanie that's a leather patch there it says life of the mile so those are our three options which one of those may we send to you number three looks amazing I very much appreciate that the beanie yeah okay all right well we'll make and you know what you learn a lot I I learn a lot I Believe by the choice of gift that we offer our guests that come on I think you may have been the like third or fourth person that's uh asked for that uh any any closing comments here uh are you as you look at the market right now uh what do you quickly what do you see for the days ahead I'm glad that you asked me that you know like and this is something that's really been on my heart because look uh if I can I hope I'm not going to take us too long you know because I know we don't have much time left but you know I've had experiences where for example I was a there would be a long line of uh slower moving trucks you know from companies like uh say uh you know uh Prime Inc you know who have a lower regulated uh speed on their trucks you know so out and so this happened in New Mexico I was trying to pass them going 68 and there was an owner operator behind me that was frustrated whose truck could obviously go a lot faster and so ultimately and so when I eventually got up enough he swung over into their Lane in front of them got next to me in the right lane and then he took out bean bags and threw them into my passenger side door you know and so that happened and then a few and then uh recently I was in Virginia you know and in Virginia the law is that the right-of-way is uh granted to uh the truck that it's already in the right lane if there's two lanes and there's a left lane and I had a whole line of Civilian drivers on my left and I was in the right lane and there was this owner operator that came speeding down the down the exit ramp try you know expecting me to slow down for him even though I had to ride away but I had you know I couldn't cut it to the left because of all those people to my left and so I didn't and uh you know he rolled his eyes I think he did I don't know I couldn't see him and he slowed down and eventually uh swung it in my lane and then uh eventually made its way into left lane and passed me and flicked me off as he passed me and then he almost ran as a final you know expletive towards me you know he made his way drifting into my lane a bit and forcing me to go a little bit into the shoulder you know as a final way to say I'm not happy about that and so ultimately though I understand you know it was a he maybe those were Heat of the Moment responses emotional responses and maybe those gentlemen had some things going on that uh you know made them uh you know uh you know for whatever reason want to do that but um ultimately though I'm concerned though that if we keep on doing things that make things harder for them and we keep concentrating and making things easier for their uh for their larger competitors that could result in more and more uh situations like that experienced by guys like me that are company drivers as well and so that's a uh concern that's well said and it's honest folks this is life of the mile delivered by freightworks I'm your host Butch malpe Jonathan Pennington works for U.S Express he's insightful he's got insights from the road he lives Life by the mile he's a student uh you know I've really appreciated our conversation hope we have you back at some point well it's been my pleasure and uh thanks for your time have a great day thanks for watching this episode you know like by the mile delivered by freightworks is one of the newest largest and fastest growing podcasts actually produced by a trucking company now we want you to like and share this episode if you'd like to see more episodes click here and make sure that you subscribe to this channel by clicking here we'll see you there

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