By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/28/2020
Occurred: 8/19/2002
Posted: 8/23/2002
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 249
My trainer is a happy guy, which makes me a happy guy.

Monday, August 19, 2002

On Monday, I met Jack, my second TE. At this time, I was feeling a little chagrinned that I needed a second training week. I certainly didn't believe I knew everything about track driving! But I thought my shifting had improved enough to pass the commercial driver's license test.

My backing hadn't, though; primarily because Nelson and I had never worked on it. On the phone, my new TE told me we would take time Monday to do just that.

We met at the Phoenix drop yard. This is a small piece of property, fenced, owned by Schneider south of I-10, near the intersections of I-17 and Durango, filled with trailers, trucks and personal vehicles. Jack was a little older than me, maybe 55, balding with gray hair and of medium build. He actually got there after I did—I was early—and was immediately concerned that I had been waiting long. "Nope, just got here," I told him. He had driven his pickup truck to the yard, and began preparing it for a week's storage there, removing from it supplies for his tractor and getting me to help hang towels from inside of the side windows to act as shades from the relentless Phoenix sun.

I was happy to help lift a loaded cooler into the truck, and said so. Perhaps we weren't going to be eating all our meals in restaurants? "Good grief, no!" Jack responded. "Who can afford to do that?" I knew we were going to get along.

He read through my paperwork, including the comments Nelson had made. "Okay," Jack announced, "let's take this thing around the block and see how your turning and shifting is doing." So I got behind the wheel and we rode a little course through the south Phoenix streets that Jack had noted for this purpose. It included left turns, right turns, buttonhooks, and so on; with lots of stop lights and stop signs added for good measure. When we were done, Jack looked at me somewhat puzzled. "You're doing just fine," he said. "I don't see what the problem was."

I explained that what I really needed was backing. "Okay, let's try that," he said, and directed me to a deserted warehouse near West 99th Ave. There, I demonstrated my ability to do straight-line backing and a 45║ alley-dock. When I had completed it, he walked to the window—TE's are required to stand outside during backing maneuvers, to alert one if one is about to hit something—and said, "Are you sure you're really a student? You're really a spy, sent here to check out my training techniques, aren't you?"

I assured him I wasn't, and added that I was mainly here to learn how to do serpentine backing and blind-side parallel parking, both of which are on the Arizona CDL test and neither of which is taught at the Schneider school. So he set up his traffic cones for the serpentine backing exercise, demonstrated doing it a time or two, then got out and called directions to me while I did it.

In the serpentine, three cones are placed in a line alongside the truck: One at the front right, one at the rear, and one about an equal distance behind the truck. The object is to move the truck forward until the front cone is at the rear of the truck, with the other two far behind. The driver then backs up, twisting the trailer so that it passes the middle cone on the right, then returns to straight-line position with the rearmost cone at the front left corner of the cab.

Serpentine Backing

I did not get it Friday. Well, Jack thought I did; but I knew I didn't understand what I was doing and so could not perform the maneuver consistently.

I practiced until about one; then Jack let me use his cell phone to call home and get picked up. Michael was busy so Mary, my ex-wife, made the trip. Jack seemed to enjoy meeting her, and told me I was off for the day, and we should meet tomorrow about 3:30 pm, at a different location, the Checkers Auto distribution center. I was to bring clothes and supplies for four nights on the road.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Michael and Mom dropped me off at the Checkers Auto distribution center. Jack was waiting in the Schneider office there. It turns out that Schneider has a dedicated account with Checkers, and that's what Jack drives on. Except for Monday evenings, when he team drives to Utah and back, he makes the same Phoenix/California run every weeknight. It's boring, he says, but the pay is good and he gets to spend each weekend at home.

Because he is allowed to drive only ten hours before taking his eight-hour DOT break, and the round trip is about twelve, he stops in a different place each night. Tuesdays, he gets to Commerce City, his destination, fuels in Fontana, then gets to Quartzsite, AZ where he stays at the Pilot truck stop. Wednesdays, he can only get as far as the TA truckstop in Indio, CA. Thursdays he has to stay right in Fontana; Fridays he returns home (and someone else makes the weekend runs, I suppose).

He told me I would drive to the California border, then he would take over. "California's truck speed limit is 55 mph," he explained. "That'll take too long."

"I really prefer not to exceed the legal speed limit," I said.

"That's why I'm driving," Jack grinned.

Unlike my previous TE, Nelson, Jack didn't expect me to learn how to drive while watching him do it…especially in the dark. So he didn't mind that I crawled into the bunk after we crossed the border. In fact, he offered to let me use his bunk, the lower one, while he was driving. It is more comfortable, he said; but I wanted to get used to the upper bunk since that's where I'd be spending most of the night.

He woke me when we got to Fontana; I used the rest room and then he put me behind the wheel for the return. As we tooled along, he again complimented my driving. "I don't always feel entirely safe with a student driver," he said, "but you really seem to have the hang of this."

By now, I also felt very safe with Jack…and as if we were likely to be friends a long time. So, I took a chance and "came out". As I hoped, he was cool. "I had a gay roommate for years," he said. "It's just not a problem." He asked about Michael, and our relationship with my ex-wife (who had picked me up Monday), and thought the fact that we all got along so well was terrific. I shared some of the coffee cake Michael had given me for the trip with him.

Before you know it, we were in Quartzsite, where we parked for the remainder of the night.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

When we got up, it was around 10 in the morning. We went into the Pilot to shower. I was a little surprised, because we had not purchased any fuel (and probably never would purchase it here, since Jack fueled in Fontana each evening). But everyone in the store knew Jack by named, plying him (and me!) with free soft drinks and giving us shower coupons. This, apparently, is a benefit of having a dedicated run—people start to recognize you.

However, note that dedicated runs aren't normally offered to drivers with less than two years' experience.

Jack commented, as we pulled out, how much he liked the people at that truck stop. "I bet you like the folks at the truck stop in Indio, too," I smiled.

"I do," he admitted. "But the folks here are specially nice. They are always smiling, and they seem to really enjoy being where they are. It makes it such a pleasure to visit them."

Before we got back on the highway, Jack directed me to a motel across the street from the truck stop. "I have to check the prices here," he said, explaining that next week's student was a woman, and the Schneider rules insist that when mixed gender couples are training, someone must stay in a motel.

"Strictly speaking," I pointed out, "you could make a point for me being in a motel, then. After all, I'm gay and you're not…what's more mixed gender than that?"

"Schneider doesn't require mixed gender team drivers to stay in a motel," he clarified. "It's just students. Here we are, supposedly showing you what life on the road is really like, and they add this motel business that doesn't really happen. Besides," he added with a rueful grin, "after driving for ten hours, who has energy to even think about sex?!"

We got back to Phoenix in time to drop off the empty trailer and pick up our loaded one for the next trip. Then, it was back to California, again with me driving. I had been thinking about how much Jack enjoyed staying at the Pilot, and I thought I had a solution. "When you aren't driving, you're working," I pointed out. "But you can be on-duty-not-driving for fifteen hours, not just ten. With both of us driving to California, we can easily make Quartzsite tonight…every night, in fact. It wouldn't work when you're soloing, but when you have a student…why not?"

He thought about it, grinned, and said, "I knew there was a reason I liked you, Paul!" So, that was the plan, and that's what we did.

On our return, we went to Fontana first (I was sound asleep in the moving truck and didn't even notice); Jack woke me up when we were ready to leave Commerce City. Because of our location, it was more efficient to take US 60 to I-10, rather than get on I-10 directly. That had me driving through some fairly steep mountains in the dark; but I flipped on the cruise control and the engine ("jake") brakes and only occasionally had to shift down into ninth gear for particularly steep grades. When we pulled into Quartzsite, Jack thanked me for the "smooth ride."

Thursday, August 22, 2002

When we got to Fontana, Jack took me on a stroll to the great tractor repair bays. As late as it was, there was someone there; and, of course, he greeted Jack happily by name. "I got a question," Jack began, and mentioned a problem he had noted with the truck. The mechanic was immediately concerned, and offered to drop everything to give it a look. We drove the truck into a vacant bay, and Jack and I went into the OC cafeteria. Though the food service was closed, the room itself was available for hanging out.

"It pays to know people," Jack told me. "Normally, it would take days to make an appointment to get the tractor looked at. But, for me, JosÚ will fix it immediately."

Friday, August 23, 2002

On Friday, when we returned, Jack had me drive to the deserted warehouse where I practiced backing for a couple of hours; then Michael and Mom drove up to take me home. Michael had baked an orange cake for Jack in gratitude for all he'd done for me. Jack fussed over Mom, finding it hard to believe she was 90. "Do you think she likes me?" he asked, later.

"I'm sure she does," I assured him. "Everyone does!"