GARY | Octavia Holton is trying to learn Russian, at least a little, since she interacts with so many Russian semi-truck drivers at the Pilot Travel Center on Burr Street.
Truck drivers hailing from Russia and all over the world pull in, and Holton is there to greet them with a smile.
Holton works as a "Driver Service Champion" who assists drivers at the diesel fueling islands. It's a newly created position that Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Flying J is rolling out to a total of 129 of its 650 retail locations nationwide.
Her job entails directing traffic flow, helping with fueling and troubleshooting any issues at the diesel islands. She makes sure the islands are clean and stocked with squeegees, paper towels, and buckets. She fixes pumps when they're not working, and ensures transactions go through if the trucker's credit cards aren't processing.
She's called in locksmiths when drivers lock themselves out of their trucks.
"My job is to direct traffic, move transactions and provide in-store assistance," she said.
"I work with drivers, help them out and cheer them up on days when they need it, the whole nine yards. I get to work outside. Who wouldn't love to play outside?"
Holton works Monday through Friday, but her exact hours vary based on when the truck stop will be busiest. Her days vary, because it can get busy or really slow. She tries to move traffic through the islands swiftly and quickly.
Many truckers are immigrants who speak little English. Holton communicates with a bright smile to cheer them up and keep them coming back. She started giving out stickers, at first stars, but now countdown stickers to the weekend, which she said are appreciated after tough days on the road.
"It's silly random stuff," she said. "The drivers appreciate it. Nobody else is giving out stickers. I do see a lot of regulars. Some drivers come by once a month, or once every two months."
Occasionally, she has to calm down a "feisty" driver, but loves working with people.
"It's a really great job," Holton said. "I never expected to be in this position, where I care about what I do."
How she got the job
Octavia worked inside at the Pilot Travel Center in Gary before being recruited as a "Driver Service Champion" because of her outgoing nature.
"We actually started doing this because of my personality," she said. "I'm cheerful all the time. My drivers were calling corporate asking to keep me out there. This is the only job I can say I actually like what I do. I come in, get paid and meet new people."
Pilot Flying J is a privately owned company that does not disclose salary information, but has posted help-wanted ads saying the Driver Service Champion position has starting pay of $10 or $11 an hour. PayScale estimates that retail sales specialists at Pilot Flying J make between $15,551 and $44,953 a year.
The American Trucking Associations estimates 5.2 million people nationally work in the trucking industry, not counting drivers. The trade association also projects freight volumes should rise by 29 percent over the next 11 years, though the rise of self-driving trucks that wouldn't need to stop for rest or snacks has the potential to affect employment levels in the future.