SEASIDE – Risa Lock is more apt to remember your zodiac sign than your name.
She likes to find out, within minutes of meeting, when a colleague or customer was born.
Risa believes the answer explains everything.
The long-serving Graniterock mixer truck driver and trainer – a reliable and grounded Taurus – gives credence to how alignment of sun, moon and planet at the moment of birth defines your personality.
She knows her perspective is unique, but Risa's astrology beliefs have served as a guide in successfully managing relationships with the company’s concrete customers and the motley crew of drivers she’s trained to master the complex truck.
“I’ve been studying people for years,” she said. “Someone’s astrological sign says a lot about their predisposition, character traits and what kind of person they are. A lot of times I can guess based on how someone is acting.”
Risa, the company’s most senior mixer driver in Monterey County, was recruited to Graniterock in 1997 after someone spotted her expertly pouring concrete at a home construction site in Aptos.
Graniterock was looking to encourage more women to become professional drivers in the construction industry and willing to train the right candidates.
At the time, Risa was working for a small residential contractor and had just completed the certification process to become a commercial bus driver when Graniterock called. She readily accepted the invite to pivot to heavy civil construction, particularly driving the big orange mixer truck.
Working in a so-called man’s world seemed it would be Risa’s destination as she and her older brother Gary were tight growing up, riding bikes and playing baseball together.
She preferred to hang out with Gary, who died in Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and his friends over girls her age.
Still, Risa’s mother insisted she attend beauty school after graduating from Watsonville High School.
“I was definitely a fish out of water at beauty school,” she said. “I had wild hair and never wore makeup. I didn’t want to get dressed up and look like a girlie girl. I like to see stuff get made and work hard.”
The construction career is a perfect fit for Risa, who is most at ease in her signature hoodie, work boots and tucking her long brown braid under a hard hat.
As she backs the truck under the batch plant to get loaded for her next pour, Risa listens as the rock falls into the mixer drum. She can tell what kind of rock is being used by how it sounds. Pea gravel, half-inch – they each sound subtly different rolling around inside the drum.
She's an expert on rock types, slump values and truck transmissions.
She keeps her eyes on the gauges to ensure the material arrives according to the customer’s order. She can add water or cement to get the mix just right.
Arriving to the job site poses a range of challenges, starting with finding the spot where the load needs to be delivered. Getting the truck to the pour site can mean a lot of sharp, difficult turns and sliding the giant machine in narrow spots not ideal for a mixer truck.
There are some job sites in which mixer truck drivers drive for miles in reverse.
It’s the kind of work that truly requires nerves of steel.
“When they’re trying to get me into an impossible spot, I say I’ll go get the rubber truck,” Risa jokes. “I just turn on the music and focus on what I’m doing. I keep my eyes on the fenders the whole time.”
Risa has perfected the craft of a mixer truck driver with a hyper awareness of her surroundings and the truck that never relaxes.
She’s always looking ahead and anticipating her next move, her feet floating over the pedals, ready to respond safely to any sudden change on the road or job site.
Driving the mixer truck, which weighs 40 tons when loaded with nine yards of ready-mix, is a “whole body experience.”
The driver’s posture is critical to driving safely.
“When I’m training a new driver, I watch their body and the way their legs bend. I watch how they hold the wheel, the way their feet touch the pedals,” she explained. “It’s kind of like skiing. You have to get the whole body right so you get the performance of the truck right.”
Risa lives in Watsonville with her husband Marty, a retired underground laborer, and their three dogs. She has one daughter Emily and grandson River, who she most enjoys spending time with away from work.