Day Five and Day Six

Day Five (Saturday), was mostly spent in the classroom. Even more administration paperwork, some testing, and we were shown a video on how to operate the Qualcomm. Oops, I mean the MCP200. It was the single most boring training video ever made. I’ve spent most of my life doing office work for different corporations, I am a connoisseur of boring corporate videos. Trust me when I say that it was the most boring training video ever made. I don’t say that lightly.

We were outside for demonstrations on how to move the tandems and the 5th wheel. Then we went over to play video games. I mean, work on the simulator.

At the very end we were handed even more packets of paperwork, Benefits packets, our fuel card, a booklet about tires and tire repair centers, and the packets for our upcoming week with our trainer, oops, Training Engineer. I actually have had to get a backpack to carry all the paperwork Schneider has unloaded on us these past few days. As I mentioned, my TE had already called me. We chatted for a bit, he wanted to know if I’m a smoker (not any more), what kind of music I like, and let me know we already have our first load lined up. I’ll be meeting him Monday morning at the Schneider yard in Salt Lake City.

Saturday dragged on so long, all I wanted to go was to get on the road. Schneider had a hotel in SLC booked for me already, and had rented a car for the drive up. 10+ hours from Phoenix. But, because I’m from Vegas, I planned to just drive home Saturday night, spend the night in my own bed, then head up early Sunday morning.

Only a handful of us are heading out. Three guys are going to California, one all the way up to Stockton. That’s a drag. Everyone else is meeting up in and around the Phoenix area.

After being released (finally!) and driven back to the hotel, I rushed to pack everything, caught a cab to the rental place (don’t get me started on my adventures of calling a cab), breezed through check-in (thank you National!) and got to my car.

You know those National Rent-A-Car commercials where Patrick Warburton says, “Go ahead, choose any car on the lot”?

Oh yeah.

mustang blog

As I’m driving north on Interstate 17, with the sun setting on my left, watching the bright melding of a thousand desert colors dance over those ancient Arizona mesas, I thought, “What if I just took the safe route and stayed at my old job. Because it was safe. Because it was easy. Because it did provide me and my family with the basics, though not much more.”

Looking back, I know the best things in my life have come when I’ve stepped out and took chances. That may sound like just another self-help cliché, and it might be. Doesn’t mean it’s not true.

I got home after 10pm. After 5+ hours of driving. I was exhausted. That was when I got another taste of the trucking lifestyle; home time.

Which, for me, meant a quick chat with my wife, made sure everything was still OK at the house, and with her, and then I collapsed into bed.

I woke up early, got a chance to reorganize my stuff, then did some light, quiet work while everyone was sleeping. Soon, everyone was up, I said “Good morning”, then “Goodbye.” I was back on the road. Home time.

Today was all about Interstate 15 northbound. And me not trying to get a ticket. Maybe I shouldn’t confess this, but I have a bit of a lead foot. I only have two tickets on my record, both for exceeding the speed limit. Me driving that Mustang is like an alcoholic owning a liquor store.

It was by the very hand of God that I didn’t incur any infraction on this drive. And not for lack of trying either, I counted at least a half dozen vehicles pulled over by Utah troopers.

slc blog

Just a couple of quick thoughts from the drive. Utah is beautiful. I mean, I knew that, but I was constantly reminded on this day just how beautiful it is.

Second, I forgot how many steep hills and inclines Interstate 15 has. Fun in a car, it’s probably a drag in a big rig. We’ll see.

Lastly, my trip planning sucks. I thought I was doing great on time, until I remembered that SLC is on Mountain Time, and one hour ahead of Las Vegas. Better to make that mistake now, I guess.


Day Four: Coupling and Uncoupling, Backing, then Driving

Salt Lake City, baby!

SLC Temple

(not my photo, I don’t know whose it is, or I would give credit!)

The Crossroads Of The West. The Training Engineer I’ll be out with next week is based out of SCL. I have the furthest to go out of all of our class, most of the other students will have their TE’s pick them up in or around Phoenix. One is driving out to Los Angeles. It’s a drag to have to travel that far, but the upside is that if I’m nearer the north western states, I might have to drive through some actual weather.

We were told not to contact our TE’s, they would call us tomorrow or Sunday. However, my TE as already called me, and given me a heads up about what I’ll need. Sounds like this guy is on the ball, which I love. It means I’ll need to up my game, too.

Today was all about letting the other two guys in my truck do backing and driving. Arkansas said he already passed me based on yesterday’s performance. I did do backing again, and it’s been getting easier. The trick is to not turn the steer tires too much, a little goes a long way. For me, anyways, I’m sure it’s different for everyone.

I haven’t talked much about the other two guys in my truck because they are basically the same guys, Guy One and Guy Two, from my CDL school. One is timid. The other is European. I’m not even joking. The trials and tribulations they have been going through have mirrored the story I’ve already written about, so it hasn’t interested me to repeat it.

air ride equipped fb

Oh, and we finally did coupling and uncoupling today. Well, I didn’t do it, I stood around and watched as the other two did some of it. Now that I’ve seen it, though, and read the handy-dandy step-by-step brochure Schneider has given us, it doesn’t seem too hard.

But, like everything with trucking, nothing is overly difficult. But that’s not the point. It’s not that it’s easy, it’s just that there is so much at stake. All it takes is to forget one step when coupling a trailer, or miss one thing in a pre-trip, or lose focus for one brief moment when driving, and your life, and probably the lives of those around you, can be altered forever. It’s a heavy, daunting thought, and I meditate on it every day.

laundry fb

I got another taste of the trucking lifestyle today. I did laundry in an actual laundromat. I’ve got my mesh bag for my dirty clothes, got my $1.00 box of Tide from the vending machine and proceeded to do laundry. Which is preposterous phrase, by the way, nobody really “does” laundry anymore. At least, not like our grandparents and great-grandparents did it, with washboards, tin basins and lots of frontier muscle. I mean, I put the clothes into the big shiny tumbler, paid the money, watched it spin, moved the clothes to another big shiny tumbler, paid the money, then watched that spin. Ding, laundry’s done.

Nothing going to get ironed though. Who has time for that, honestly, I have blogs to write. And reading to catch up on.

Here’s a quick side note about the breakfast situation. Apparently the hotel where we are staying does serve the full breakfast; eggs, bacon, toast, and all the fixin’s. Starting at 6:00 AM. We are in the lobby by 5:20, out to the bus by 5:45 to be in class by 6:00. Oh well, the small Dannon Yogurts haven’t been too bad.

For my evening meals, I’ve been good. Reasonably good, I guess. There is a Port Of Subs within walking distance, and also an El Pollo Loco. I’ve passed up the McDonalds, Burger King, Carl’s Jr and Taco Bell every day. A small sandwich, or the toastada salad, has done me fine. Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s relatively cheap, and not overly unhealthy.

Tomorrow is more testing, I think, or more paperwork. Who knows, it’s Saturday, and I need to get to SLC. Kudo’s to Schneider, however, they have actually rented me a car to drive the 10 hours up there. Very excited. However, I don’t know how much blogging, if any, I’ll get done tomorrow.

Probably, the next time we meet will be Sunday. I’ll be in-between the majestic Wasatch Mountain Range and the buoyant waters of the Great Salt Lake.

Zion, here I come.

Day Three: Backing, then Driving

Me and Arkansas got into it today. It was a really clear window into how quickly relationships can go south.

It was over something petty, or least it started as something petty. The short story is that this morning we were in the yard doing backing practice until lunch. As lunch arrived, the rest of the class were walking back to the building, but I was walking to the truck where I had previously left my log book.

I wanted to just mark the change from Line 4 (On-Duty and Not Driving) to Line 1 (Off Duty)*. Arkansas said, “Just leave it in the truck.”

“But I want to just make a quick note about my change of status, the I’ll be there.” “No, just leave it in the truck.”

“It’s my log, and I would feel better if I just quickly marked this.” “Just. Leave. It. In. The. Truck.”

It went downhill from there.

It seems like such a petty point. Was the DOT going to spring a surprise inspection of the Log Books of Schneider students as they sat eating their lunch? Honestly, probably not. Should I have just let it go? Maybe. But, it’s my log book. It’s got my name on it. It’s my responsibility now.

Who is going to pay the fine if my Log Book is filled out incorrectly? Arkansas? Schneider? Nope and nope.

“Choose your battles” is a mantra that I live by. Constantly. Most of the time, I weight the damage of waging a fight, whether it’s an argument, or an actual fight, and I usually decide that backing down is better. While it can be seen as a sign of weakness, normally the damage of the fight isn’t worth what you would win. But, this time, I decided to stand my ground.

Mostly because, at this early stage, I want to start establishing good working habits, habits that will benefit me in the long run. Having an up to date log book, in any circumstance, seems to me to a good part of that goal. Also, standing up to people that want me to do something I’m not comfortable with, in any circumstance, would be another good part of that goal.

I don’t think he was used to students openly confronting him like that.

I talked to him about the “developing good habits early on” thing, and he seemed to understand a bit more. He backed down, and I then backed down too. By the afternoon, it had all blown over. But, again, it was a taster spoon of what can happen when two strong personalities confront each other.

And trucking is filled with strong personalities.

The other thing that happened today to sooth everything over was that I drove like a superstar. I’m not even joking. I’m skip shifting, I hardly ground any gears, I nailed my turns, and I mean I nailed them. My only problem is lane placement, I tend to hug the right part of the lane. It’s something I need to work on. Arkansas had that “All Is Forgiven” look on his face after my time at the wheel.

More importantly, it felt comfortable. I’m in a truck with two other guys, again, and they are still somewhat nervous, overly cautious, anxious. I was just going for a nice drive on a beautiful Phoenix afternoon.

Phoenix is part of the problem, though.

Where we are is big rig central. It looks like an actual 50/50 mix of cars to big rigs, I’ve never seen anything like it. I know a lot of the big carriers have their training facilities in Phoenix, plus there are a lot of distribution hubs around here. So, I imagine that the cars are somewhat used to having to navigate around big rigs.

Then there are the streets, mostly long, very straight, and all at 90 degree angles of each other. No pedestrians, either. Hell, not even sidewalks on a lot of the roads were running. It makes it all a bit easier. Not like dodging meth heads and crack addicts on the saturated streets of North Las Vegas.

I find out tomorrow who my trainer, oops, Training Engineer, is going to be for the next week. And, more importantly, where I’m going to be driving. It’s all going to start getting real very soon.

Stay tuned.

*For my non-driver friends who are following this blog, this might need a bit of explanation. Quoting from this Wikipedia article, “the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) govern the working hours of anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in the United States.”  Basically, yYou can only drive, or work, a certain amount of hours a day, and over a period of 7 or 8 days. Your work is recorded every day in your Log Book, which you have to carry with you at all times if you are driving, or on duty.

Day Two: Logbook , Driving, More Logbook, Simulator and Backing

I got new boots today.

boots FB

I’m excited. They got dirty fast. That’s probably a good thing, get them used to working.

Today was a weird day. Long, and mixed with many different elements. We had some class time where we talked about logbooks, how to fill them out, what the different lines meant, and spent a lot of time on the various restrictions on hours. Under “Remarks”, we were told to write “First day employed as driver.” This is it for me, then, the true Day One.

I was thinking about this all day, I’ve got a real log book now. Not something that I’m goofing around learning on in school, it’s the real deal, to be shown to real DOT officers. It can cause me to pay out real money if it’s filled out wrong. It also is the start of logging every hour of my life. From here out until I stop driving, every day, every hour, needs to be accounted for. What a thought.

After the logbook class, we got to drive. For some of us, it’s been weeks since we’ve been behind the wheel of a big rig, for others, it’s been longer. God, it felt good to be back on the road.

As I’ve said before, we are the very first class to go through Schneider’s new training facility here in Phoenix. They have brought out some other instructors from different parts of the country. I was in a truck with a trainer from Arkansas. My old boss was also from Arkansas, and she was overflowing with that sweet, uniquely Southern charm. I remember I could forward the angriest, ranting customers to her and after a few minutes she would have them laughing, like they were best friends. My driver reminded me of her. I actually did fine, mostly, but there were times when I missed gears, and I even killed the engine at one point, something I never did in CDL school. He just leaned over and looked at me and just overflowed with that calm and told me it’s fine, just restart the engine and we’ll go. I breathed deep, restarted the engine, and we went. It was fine.

He said, “You can’t be in control of the truck if you aren’t in control of yourself.”

training FB

The other thing that hit me today was that we were in actual working trucks now. They don’t have STUDENT DRIVER in big letters on the back and sides, the Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card for all your learning mistakes when out on the road. “What’s that idiot doing….Oh, wait, STUDENT DRIVER…I see….we’ll better just get around him.” Nope, now it’s just, “What’s that idiot doing…”

It was nice to have a clutch that actually had some tension to it. Any job is so much easier when you have properly working tools.

The class time continues to be disrupted by people not really knowing what we should be doing. “What are they doing this afternoon?” one instructor asks another. “I don’t know, ask _____.” “I haven’t seen _____, have you?” “No, I’ll look for him. ______ wasn’t around. So, we’ll just sit here then, yes?

It’s not like the clock is ticking. It’s Wednesday, we are supposed to be introduced to our Training Engineers on Friday. I still have never uncoupled or coupled a trailer. Ever. The other thing they kept saying today was “You’ll learn more about that in your third week.” Oh, right, pawn off everything we should know about our jobs and how to function properly as a driver until the last minute. Brilliant.

Listen, I get it, it’s a brand new facility and there are always going to be glitches. Frankly, I think they’ve done a pretty amazing job overall with what they do have. Well done, Schneider. It doesn’t change the fact that valuable learning time is being squandered every time we sit around waiting for people to come up with a plan for what we’re supposed to do next.

backing 02 FB

We ended the day with some groups going to the driving simulator (only one is in operation for now), and others going to do backing practice. Then switching. My CDL instructor, Military Guy, was amazing and taught me so many great lessons about driving, and I’m thankful to have learned from him for city driving. The caveat, however, is that I don’t think he taught us very well when it comes to backing. I never really got a hold of it, and I just thought it was me. Today, however, I was with another instructor (not Arkansas, another one) who just simply explained, “Do this, then that, look for this, then that.” Simple, basic. Refreshing. I didn’t do horribly. I actually did well.

By the time we had wrapped up, it had been almost 12 hours since we started. I’m exhausted. And really to hit it harder tomorrow.

My first day employed as a driver. Welcome to trucking.

Day One: On-Boarding Paperwork and Pre-Work Screen

Fun fact: Lynda Carter’s childhood home in Phoenix, AZ is now a truck driving school.  Yes, the house of TV’s Wonder Woman, that Lynda Carter, born and raised in Phoenix, is now being used as a home to train truck drivers.

I learned that riding from the hotel to the brand new Schneider training facility in Phoenix.  They picked us up in a bright orange bus.

Schneider bus 01

Back to school, indeed.

We assembled drowsily in the lobby of our nondescript hotel at around 5:00 this morning.  Some struck up conversations, others like me chose just to keep quiet and size each other up.  We were led to a conference room where we were promised breakfast, which turned out to be only small cups of Dannon yogurt, small blueberry muffins, a small basket of fruit and coffee.  Some classmates, who had visions of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes for breakfast, made snippy comments about that for the rest of the day.  Me, I’m always thankful for whatever I receive.  But, honestly, eggs would have been nice.

The training facility is Schneider’s brand new Phoenix training facility.  When I say brand new, I mean I think we’re the first class to run through it.  They haven’t even taken the plastic wrap off the freshly ordered Grainger trash bins yet. Or got power to one of the buildings. “Bare with us, it’s our first week here,” became a common theme throughout the day. Which is fine, it was mostly paperwork.  A lot of paperwork. Like, in all the jobs I’ve ever had, I don’t think I’ve ever filled out this much paperwork. It took all morning.  And there will be more paperwork later on in the week.

The only other event today was the Pre-Work Screen.  They took us outside one by one and ran us through some physical testing, just to make sure we are able to do the tasks expected of us.  Lifting, carrying, crouching, climbing in and out of the back of a trailer. Our heart rate and blood pressure were monitored throughout the screen.  This was the part I was most worried about.

When I got my very first DOT physical back in February, I found out I had high blood pressure.  Not dangerously high, but not good, either. The doctor didn’t advise any medication, only to loose weight and get more exercise.  You don’t have to tell me twice.  At 47, I’m dangerously close to the age my dad was when he had his heart attack.  Since that physical, I’ve made many life changes that, hopefully, will help me avoid the mistakes of my father.

Trucking just might have saved my life.

There are about 14 people in the class.  Two are women, one is with her son, they went through CDL school together and will be doing team driving.  Also, there are more younger guys than went through my CDL school.

Our Schneider guide for this day, I don’t want to say “teacher”, because he acknowledged that he won’t be training with us, did his best to let us know what the schedule will look like for the upcoming weeks.  He explained that what we were taught in CDL school might be completely different from what we’ll be taught here.

Our guide seemed flustered during most of the day, understandably so.  But, toward the end of the day, as we got away from administration and moved into talking about trucking, he became far more relaxed.  And knowledgeable.  It was good to hear him talk about the differences between what we’ve all just learned in CDL school, and what we’ll be doing in the real world.  Throughout the school I knew that we were using simple rote memorization to pass the tests only.  Now, it’s beginning to look like we’ll be learning to get real skills.

We will be in the trucks starting tomorrow.  We only have Wed-Fri, then we’ll break up to be with our trainers.  Oops, Training Engineers.  Sorry.

It does look like a short time.

We received the Schneider handbook, “Your Highway To Success”.  Our guide told us to read up on logbooks for tomorrow, and maybe even look at the chapters on shifting and defensive driving.  “But don’t read the chapter on backing. It’ll just mess you up.”

I guess some things can’t be taught in a book.




Check-in Day (or Thoughts From A Very Long Bus Ride)

Big Rig 01

I rode a Greyhound bus to Phoenix today. For 8 hours. On the bus was a sick guy who had absolutely no business being on public transportation. If the Zombie Apocalypse breaks out in Phoenix in the next few days, I’m not Patient Zero but I’ll have a pretty good idea who it was.

Saying goodbye to my wife at 6:00 AM was not easy, I’m not going to lie.  On the one hand, this will mark the longest time we’ve been apart for a while now.  We have become that old married couple that fit each other like a pair of comfy, well worn slippers.

On the other hand, that’s probably reason enough to do this.  We have lived our lives trying to avoid staying in a rut, and this is the change we probably both needed.  Also, it’s not like I’ve been abandoned on the moon.  I’m in Phoenix.  It’s, like, five hours away.

Or at least it would if you don’t take Greyhound.

And, lastly, this is the job.  Driving Over The Road means being away from home for long stretches of time.  “Truckin’…’s a lifestyle….”  I’ve heard that from several different people.  And they all say it the same, too.  It’s a phrase you say as you exhale a long, weary breath, like you are preparing your listener to receive some Yoda level wisdom you know their Luke Skywalker minds just can’t wrap their heads around.

I brought all the necessary items for a long bus journey, a book, my MP3 player, my phone and all it’s games, but I ended up just staring out the window for most of the trip.

I was watching the trucks drive past.  So many trucks on I-40.  All the names I’ve come to recognize; Swift, C.R. England, Werner, CRST, ABF hauling doubles, Fed-Ex hauling doubles.  Lots of tankers, flatbeds, intermodal loads.  And all the companies I didn’t recognize, Owner/Operators or small local companies just trying to get by.  There is so much variety in the business, I’m sure I haven’t even scratched the surface of the opportunities.

I was also thinking to about how different this highway looks from the mean, gritty and congested streets of North Las Vegas, where I just was.  So many different problems.  6% downhill grade, how would I handle that.  Strong crosswinds, how would I handle those?  I saw trucks stopped on the side of the road with their hoods up.  That will be me, someday.  How will I handle that.

One of the reasons I chose Schneider was that their training program was only 3 weeks long, as compared to being with a trainer 6 or 8 weeks, or longer.  Now, I’m not sure.

Or, maybe, that is the point. Maybe they know that you’ll never be able to cover all the problems that will crop up on the road.  Not in 6-8 weeks, not ever.  Best to just give you a good grounding, and set you out to learn for yourself.

Well, we’ll find out tomorrow what’s in store.  Goodnight, everyone.



Roll With The Changes

I should have called my blog Roll With The Changes.

Dammit. Oh well.

I leave for Phoenix tomorrow to start my three weeks of training.  I decided to go with Schneider, The Big Orange. Previously known from my blog as Big Blue Trucking. Get it, because blue is the complimentary color of orange.  They sit opposite on the color wheel.  Anyone else interested in color theory?  No?  Fine, whatever.

Training involves one week in the classroom, one week out driving with a trainer, then one more week in the classroom, ending with final testing.  If I pass all that, then somewhere around the middle of April I will be handed the keys to my very own truck. All of this has happened so fast.

Schneider calls their trainers “Training Engineers”. I’m not even joking. Early in my life, I had several jobs as a File Clerk. On my resume, I always changed that job title to Records Distribution Coordinator. That’s what Training Engineer feels like, like someone paid a marketing firm to conduct some focus groups on how people feel about the word “trainer”. Probably the same firm who got us to change from “used cars” to “pre-owned cars.”

Three weeks in Phoenix.  One full day to get there.  I’m going to be on a Greyhound bus almost 10 hours tomorrow, what would normally be a 4 or 5 hour drive.  I could fly from Vegas to London in that kind of time.

Full confession, I haven’t even packed yet. I have spent this last week ticking off boxes on the Schneider packing checklist they e-mailed to me, acquiring things like a flashlight, work gloves, and the like. I bought an old Acer laptop off craigslist for $80.00 and have spent a disproportionate amount of time this week installing photography software and making sure that will be up to the task for when I start taking my camera on the road. I won’t be taking my camera to training, however, I’m sure I’ll be too busy learning.  And sleeping.  And hopefully writing.

And missing my family.  I guess this is where it starts, the separation.  My wife put on a brave face for most of the lead up, but only just recently confessed how much she will miss me.  I had also mentioned that my wife lost her father recently. Now I’m going to be on the road for weeks at a time.  Our son is in the Marines and our daughter will be studying overseas after her graduation in June.  We will be empty nesters soon, and I think being separated from each other as well is going to amplify that to a distressing degree.

My God, our kids were just in diapers.  Only last month, it seems like.

All of this has happened so fast.

Roll with the changes.

Day Sixteen – Test day

I passed.

The pre-trip went good. Maybe even great, who knows. The skills test got dicey at times, but on some of the maneuvers I was allowed two pull ups and two GOAL’s* before I was docked any points, and you bet I took most of them. For the driving test, I screwed the pooch on a downshift almost at the very beginning of the test. But I remembered to breathe, and I remembered that I wasn’t doing anything I hadn’t done before. I nailed the very next downshift, and knew it was all going to be ok.

On a couple of turns, I watched my rear tandems come inches from the curb, but never hitting, and certainly never going over. My examiner gave me one or two “You got lucky there, son.” kind of looks after a turn, but I just smiled and kept running.

I feel like the weight of a fully loaded trailer just lifted from my shoulders.

I got the rest of the day off. I’m going to take a nap.

I want to thank Trucking Truth for all your resources and help, I definitely couldn’t have done this without this site. Thanks.

Now, on to actually finding a job.

*GOAL = Get Out And Look

Day Fifteen – 2 Hours of Pre-trip Inspection, then driving, then some skills at the end of the day

Guy One got it together today. He didn’t do great, but he did much better. And whenever he would make a mistake, he made a visible effort to shake it off. It worked. He wasn’t letting his mistakes get to him. He’ll be fine.

We had another recruiter today, from a company that I have no desire to work for. He was supposed to be here yesterday, but cancelled. As he was passing out his company’s pens and tri-fold pamphlets, he told us that he had been stricken with the stomach flu. He looked horrible. Just what I needed the day before my test. I didn’t touch his brochure and just left it on the table.

He made his presentation in the classroom, where this all started for us. For a four week CDL school, two weeks are in the classroom, and two weeks are out in the range, in the world. Walking into that classroom again after only a week and a half of being in a truck, it felt like years since we had been up there. So strange, like going back to your old high school for the 10 year reunion. You recognize the buildings, but you just feel out of place, like you’ve outgrown it. And moved on.

This month has ran past me at a ridiculous pace.

I only drove once today, but that was fine, it was a long ride, and it went well. Military Guy took me out of our normal routes into some virgin territory for real world experience. It was both nerve wracking and tedious at the same time. It was refreshing to start looking out for different signs, different intersections, different traffic patters. Different dangers. At the same time, I’m starting to see that a right turn is a right turn, a left turn is a left turn. Every intersection is different, but if you have enough tools in your toolbox, then new challenges can be easily bested with your old, well worn skills.

Ha, I’ll be an old salty trucker yet.

Speaking of that….

Towards the end of the day, most of the trucks were back into the yard early, and everyone was scrambling to get one final crack at skills before testing. A few trucks had been set up, and all the other students from the other trucks were now milling about and mixing, vying for a chance for one last try. While some of the instructors had taken it upon themselves to run these desperate students through their paces, most of the other instructors were shooting the shit in the smoking area. Myself, and other students, hovered around asking questions and waited for any of that ancient trucker wisdom to drop. They were talking about hazards like cars and pedestrians. I piped up and joked, “I bet you probably have to deal with old salty truckers, too, pressuring you to do things you don’t think you’re ready for…”

I meant it jokingly, and the other instructors laughed in agreement, but one looked me straight in the eye, and with a steely expression just said, “Fuck ’em.”

Not the jovial response like the other drivers, but straight, almost somber. Almost angry. “Fuck ’em.” Like he was saying that to a specific old salty trucker who had somewhere, somehow, wronged one of his students.

I like to think that in those two colorful words, he was saying, “Don’t do it, don’t let them push you around. You are responsible for you, and don’t let anyone interfere with that. Ever.”

It’s comforting to know that there are old salty truckers looking out for us young pups.

Test day tomorrow. 6:00 AM.

Good night, everyone.

Day Fourteen – 2 Hours of Pre-trip Inspection, then driving the rest of the day

No skills today. Dammit. After the disaster that was parallel parking yesterday, I was hoping to get more time on the range, but all the other trucks are fighting for that space now. Therefore, we went out driving most of the day.

I got the time for my test, this coming Thursday, 6:00 AM – 9:00 AM. Perfect, the exact slot I was hoping for. Get ‘er done before the traffic starts picking up.

The school is in a light industrial area, so normally traffic doesn’t really start picking up until after noon. By 4:00 it’s a nightmare to drive around that area. So, hopefully, I’ll hit the road around 8:00 AM(ish). Perfect. Still, if you are awake that early this Thursday, and want to throw some thoughts, prayers, and positive vibes my way, I would appreciate it.

I drove the most today. From light traffic in the morning to the heavy stuff in the late afternoon. Today was the first time I actually looked around when I was driving and thought, “Yeah, I think I can do this for a living.” It was a nice thought. My next thought was that if I do actually go OTR , then I probably won’t be driving in heavy city traffic all day, every day. Hopefully. We’ll see.

The tables have totally turned on fellow students Guy One and Guy Two. Guy Two, who started out as timid, unable to shift and was literally taken out of the drivers seat by our trainer Military Guy early on, has now grown into the best shifter, and probably the best driver, out of the three of us. Guy One, however, continues his downward spiral of grinding gears, missed shifts and terrifying stops. With each mistake he gets more frustrated with himself, and the more frustrated he gets, the more mistakes he makes. Military Guy, who I once said had the patience of a saint, is close to losing that divine virtue. He has cajoled, soothed, yelled, explained, taught, yelled again, and done almost everything in his teaching toolbox to turn this around, but it’s not working. Guy One is defeating himself. And sometimes that is the most terrifying and destructive enemy you can battle.

He’s got one day to turn it around.

I’m off to study for my Pre-trip.

Properly mounted and secured. No abrasions, bulges or cuts. All hardware present. I keep chanting those words like some ancient charm, a spell to drive away the spirit of breakdowns. Which it is, in a way.