By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/21/2020
Occurred: 7/22/2002
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 293
It did occur to me that I left data processing for truck driving, two careers in which backing up is a crucial component.

Monday, July 22, 2002

I'm starting this in class, Day 1, during one of our many breaks. (Apparently, most truck drivin' students don't have lengthy attention spans—or maybe it's just that our instructor doesn't.)

They changed the plan from me riding out on a Greyhound, to me riding with a guy I never met, in his truck. The trip here wasn't too bad. The guy did smoke, with the window cracked; and his first words of conversation were about how all the world's problems began when we stopped spanking our children. He was one of those people who talks to the other cars, as in, "You sorry sack o' shit, what lane do you want to be in?"; but other than that, he wasn't so bad and the trip went by quickly.

The hotel looks lovely from the outside but is actually pretty downscale…as in, the desk clerk sits behind bullet-proof glass and most of the light bulbs in my room didn't work. I sat on the edge of the mattress, and felt a metal edge! But it wasn't terribly uncomfortable in the middle and I did sleep all right, other than being kept awake by my roommate's sleep apnea.

I had flashbacks of my Navy career when they "served" breakfast: reconstituted powdered eggs. No juice, just coffee (which I don't drink) and cheap, plastic-wrapped covenience-store Danish. Also we had been told to be outside at 5:45 am, but the bus didn't actually show up until 6:15 am, which in the Navy we used to call "Hurry up and wait."

The group of would-be truckers waiting in front of the Days Inn was pretty terrifying. Guys covered with tattoos, one guy with a particularly bad wig (he'd look much better bald), tough-looking women who'd make Barbara Bush look like someone you'd want to meet in an alley at night. However, Days Inn hosts students from four or more trucking companies; and now that I'm in class, I find that all the Schneider people are much more upscale. More than half are former IT people who have been out of work for most of the past year.

Schneider has its own training center, but they start newcomers at a third party facility, the US Truck Driving School. We were driven from the motel to USTDS, to Schneider for lunch, and back to USTDS for afternoon lessons.

I was able to find a seat in the classroom near an electrical outlet, so I could plug in my laptop. The frequent breaks, plus electricity, allowed me to actually get some of my other work done. (I have been doing some freelance programming work while waiting for my date at the trucking school.)

After a morning of book work, the afternoon was spent actually driving a "bobtail" (no trailer) truck. We were two students to one trainer. I was paired with a guy named Carroll Wayne Wallace, who goes by his middle name. Knowing that practically every convicted or accused murderer has a middle name of "Wayne" (as frequently reported by News of the Weird), it's been all I can do not to ask if he knows that. But perhaps that's not a subject I should bring up.

Wayne admitted to being somewhat intimidated by the truck. I was relaxed, but neither state seemed to be an advantage as we did about equally well learning to shift, which we spent the afternoon doing. Basic shifting (up one gear), skip shifting (up two), downshifting (down one) and "bump-and-go" (down two or more) were all covered. We jolted the tractor a lot. And each other. And the trainer, poor guy.

The US Truck Driving School (USTDS) trains for many companies, not just Schneider. A young woman from Swift rode on the return bus with us this afternoon. She was asking advice of a woman from Schneider who sat across from her. "If I drive ten hours and sleep eight," she asked, trying to figure out a nuance of the trip logs we must keep, "that's—what—twelve hours? Fourteen? …" She was dead serious—and the arithmetic wasn't her question; she was trying to ask something else! No wonder Swift is such a laughing stock in the truckin' industry (according to the Schneider drivers).