Truck driver Bruce Perry is a veteran and a resident at Santos Place on Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus. He has lived in many different places – from the deep south, to California, to the Pacific Northwest – and he has worn many different career hats. From a young age, he has known exactly what he wanted to do with his life – several different things, to be exact – and one by one, he has achieved those goals.
Bruce says, “I’ve done pretty much all I wanted to do in life, career-wise. I knew when I was 10 years old that I wanted to go into the military. I’d see the convoys of military trucks and “I’d say, ‘Mom, that’s going to be me one day!’ ” And sure enough, he served in the US Army from 1975 to 1979, a Vietnam-era vet who was fortunate to enlist three months before the end of the active conflict, so he never saw combat. Also, he says, “I wanted to be a mailman – which I did for 19½ years – and at the age of 42, I retired, in the Bay Area.”
Finally, he says, “I wanted to be a truck driver.” He first got his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in 2005 and worked as a cross-country freight driver for several years. “I’ve been to 48 states, Mexico and Canada.” This last goal, though, had a serious hiccup: In 2009 in Louisiana, he received a ticket, which he paid with a check that didn’t go through. Unfortunately, the check was returned to an old address and he never received it, causing his license to be suspended for a year. “And each time you get a ticket,” he explains, “it’s another violation that counts for one year. Another violation, another year. So that’s how I had to do three years on suspension. That’s three years without driving at all.”
In 2011, with his final dream job on hiatus, his funds dwindling, and very few veterans resources available to him in the south, he decided to relocate to Washington state where he could get housing through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH). “That’s one reason I moved here; and another reason was I’d be close to my girlfriend,” he says with a shy smile. (She lives in Vancouver, BC, and thanks to Amtrak he gets to meet her in Bellingham a few times a month.)
After a stint in VASH temporary housing, Bruce was placed in transitional housing at Santos Place. A self-described loner and very independent man, he says, “This place is for people able to take care of themselves, ‘cause nobody gonna come knock on their door and say, ‘Hey, are you ok?’ You have to be able to take care of yourself here.”
During his stay, he says, “I kept myself busy.” So while living at Santos and waiting out his suspension, he worked at Whole Foods Market and received job training through AARP – and just as soon as his suspension was up, he went straight back and got recertified as a truck driver. In June 2014, he was back on the road, and he couldn’t be happier. He drives up and down the coast, from Kent, WA to southern California and back, with weekends at home. And come December 1st, five days before his birthday, Bruce will finally move out of Santos Place and into permanent housing.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
To others struggling to get back on their feet, he urges people to “ask for help. Solid Ground has people to help you with that! Depression, shame stops people from doing what they need to do. It’s scary. You get in this environment, it’s all you know. You stay here and you feel comfortable, and it’s hard to get up and walk out that door and go out there and get a job again, because a lot of people are scared of failure. But you got to start somewhere.”
He recommends that people “Go to training school while you’re on low income. Go to WorkSource. Go to the library. We got two brand new computers here and a whole computer room. Take advantage of that! Go to junior college. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do.”
Home for the holidays
This year, Bruce will be in his own home for Christmas for the first time in a long time. A devout Christian, he believes God played an important role in his success: “If you open your heart up to God, read your bible, pray – put your trust in God, not man – then it will start working. If you have the right attitude, things will work out for you. It may take a while, but it will happen.”
And while Bruce is technically of retirement age, he’s not at all retiring. “The only thing I want to do now is just continue working and, God willing, work to the age of 66 and collect my social security. I got a chance to retire; I know what it’s like to retire. I got a chance to be blessed to start back over again. So it’s like a big burden lifted off of your shoulders.” But, he says, when he finally does “retire” from truck driving, he still intends to drive a truck two or three days a week. “I’ve talked to older people,” he says, “and lots of people have told me, the worst thing you can do is just sit around all day and do nothing. Once you sit down and start doing nothing, your muscles and your mind, everything’s all fading away. You lose everything.”
And he has absolutely no regrets. “It’s hard to explain to people; very few people can look back and say they’ve done everything they wanted to do in life. I’m one of those few people. And how do you know that you’ve done everything in life? If the doctor said, ‘You only have two months to live?’ I’ve done everything I wanted to do!”