The worry that I wasn’t worried about finally arrived. In fact, like Miley Cyrus, it came in like a wrecking ball. I’ve never experienced a proper anxiety attack, but I’m pretty sure I was close. Sitting at the table waiting to begin the written part of the test, it was everything I could do to keep from screaming. Or crying. Or both.
After the exam was handed out, I said I needed a drink of water. Got up, went to the restroom, splashed cold water on my face, took a hard look at myself in the mirror, then went back and got to work.
The written portion consisted of completing a trip plan, exactly what we’ve been learning all week. I was the 2nd person to finish. I half-heartedly checked my math, but it’s not calculus. Our classroom teacher checked my work, seemed happy, then passed me on to another instructor for the driving part of the test. He reminded me of Burt Reynolds, so that’s what I’ll call him.
Burt is one of those drivers who just looks like they were born to drive a truck. His salt and pepper Bandit mustache accentuated the upward curves of his mouth every time his smiled. The very first thing he noticed was how nervous I was. On the walk out to the truck he had to stop, look me straight in my eyes and said, “Relax.” And then smiled. It never felt like a rebuke, but just some good ol’ honest advice taken from experience.
First, I had to couple the truck to the trailer, then do a full pre-trip, including the complete air-brake test. Schneider calls that test the “pump-down”, as in, “Make sure you do a pump-down every morning before you set off.” I don’t know if that term is specific to Schneider or not.
Burt never hovered over me during any of it, he kept his distance and let me go about my business. He kept himself far enough away to see if I was completing all the tasks necessary without actually looking over my shoulder.
On the drive, before we set out, again he looked me in the eyes and said “Relax.” And then smiled. Again.
I mostly did OK on the driving portions. I went out in one of the older trucks, but ironically the clutch felt firmer than the newer ones. The shifter locked into gear with a steadfastness that I haven’t been used to. I mentioned it to Burt, and he mumbled something about how just because something is old, that doesn’t mean it’s not still good. It was tough not to see that he was talking about himself as much as that truck.
My big mistake came as I was coming off the freeway. At the stoplight I had a sweeping left that I turned into way too early. If there was another car on our left side I would have totally taken it out. Jesus, I screwed that up.
Burt hardly said a word. We continued, then I was told to turn left again. I did a textbook left turn, and Burt smiled that gruff smile and said, “See? You redeemed yourself.”
There were other hiccups, but nothing that bears mentioning here. Needless to say, I made it back to the yard intact. From there, I did a backing maneuver, uncoupled and suddenly we were done.
Burt handed my paperwork to the classroom instructor, I finished the remaining part of the classroom portion of the exam, and suddenly we were done. With everything.
Looking around, I saw there were still people who had not finished their trip plan.
I was handed my paperwork, given a big smile and handshake, then I was taken over to see my DBL. I’ll talk more about that meeting later.
All that anxiety for nothing.
I said I was the 2nd person finished. When I saw my other classmate outside after we had both completed everything, I jokingly said, “What’s up, driver?”
That’s what trucker’s call each other. Driver. It’s basically said the same way, too, the first syllable, “dri” is said with an ascending inflection, then the “ver” is said either as a level tone, as if you’re going to drop some wisdom on them, or continuing the ascending tone, as if you are wondering what in the hell they think they’re doing. Driver.
“What’s up, driver?” He laughed. But it’s true, I guess. We’re no longer students, we’re drivers now. Even though it doesn’t feel like we are.
I doubt I’ll see anyone from our little class again. I exchanged numbers with all my CDL classmates, but I’ve only heard back from two. As a kid, you are thrown into a shared experience, like a classroom, and you make life long friendships. But somehow we don’t make those same connections as adults. What’s that Stephen King quote, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” Doesn’t seem like it.
As of this writing, I’m back in Las Vegas. I’m here for the weekend, I’ll be assigned to a truck on Monday. Then it’s off to work. Proper work. The Real Work.
Then the adventure really begins.