Economy

Enrollment at N.C. truck driving schools is rolling

Every student at Carolina Trucking Academy was either laid-off or fed-up, so they lined up to take nerve-racking turns driving an 18-wheeler in reverse — all betting that life as a trucker will make a sweet Plan B.

The idea of big-rig travel has pushed enrollment up 30 percent at some North Carolina trucking schools, even as driver jobs dwindle. The unemployed are clamoring for a chance at motoring through a desert sunrise for $40,000 a year, maybe whistling Jerry Reed's "East Bound And Down."

Check the students at Charlie Gray's academy in south Raleigh and there's not one stereotypical chaw-chomper in the bunch:

Michael Camacho, 42, used to work on skyscrapers in Manhattan for $44 an hour, only to find that framing crews around Wake County paid a paltry $8.50 an hour with no benefits or water breaks.

Jeff Freeman built Ford trucks in Norfolk, Va., until the plant closed in 2007. Then he got laid off from his car salesman job at age 52.

Wes Butler of Raleigh has a college degree and, at age 26, his first pink slip.

They all imagine a new life viewed through the windshield of a 75-foot rig.

"You got to do what you got to do, and you don't want to sit around collecting unemployment all your life," Freeman said. "We're going to get out of this. As soon as this economic stimulus money hits the market, things are going to start getting shipped."

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