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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind


By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 5/27/2024
Occurred: 9/11/2003
Page Views: 266
Topics: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver
Yep, it's finally time to hit the brakes on this non-paying adventure.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

I awoke on the morning of September 11 to find the TV was re-hashing the same, tired footage about the attack of two years ago. Don't get me wrong; I feel for the families of the victims. Heck, I feel for myself; my clients were based in the World Trade Towers and that attack was the end of my previous life as instructor of Windows Programming.

But that's not what the broadcasts are about. They are about increasing ratings and, more importantly, maintaining the aura of fear the attacks engendered. Although more people die each month from the direct and indirect effects of cigarette smoking than died in the 9/11 attacks, the media maintains focus on those attacks, rather than on the real and avoidable dangers around us. Why? Because the media is supported by the military industrial complex, which includes the tobacco manufacturers, and not by the people, per se. So it broadcasts what's good for its benefactors, not what's good for us.

Clearly, I was not in the best mood. But I had earned it. Yesterday, I'd been told that the slightly bent fifth wheel release pin on the Richard Gear was a terminable offense. And my fate as a truck driver would be decided when I returned from the motel to the Operating Center.

I took a deep breath. I'd been saying for months, that Schneider wanted drivers to quit after one year. I'd done the math, and seen how they would lose millions of dollars a year in training subsidies if drivers didn't quit, thus leaving room for new drivers who needed training. I'd figured out that, if I didn't quit, Schneider would find a way to make me leave. So, why was I surprised?

Probably because, in spite of my deep-rooted cynicism, I wanted to be wrong. I wanted it to turn out that Schneider really did just want to train drivers and employ them forever, as they claimed.

The only thing to decide, really, was how I was to leave: Kicking and screaming, or on my own terms.

If I let myself be fired, which I'd been told was not a foregone conclusion but which I, logically, believed was, then I would have that mark on my record. If I complained about Schneider, later, for example in an expose like this one, they could always dismiss me by saying, Ah, he was fired and now he's pissed off. If, on the other hand, I resigned, I would at least be able to express my disappointment in a resignation letter that would be made part of my permanent record with the company.

I booted up my laptop and composed a letter:

Dear Yancy,

This letter informs you that I am turning in my notice of resignation, effective in two weeks, on September 25, 2003.

I knew, when I came to work for Schneider, that I would not be driving a truck the rest of my life. The possibility existed that I would love the job, but it was so different than anything else I had ever done that it seemed unlikely this would be my last job. Still, I was willing to give it a shot and I have done my best to embrace the lifestyle and Schneider policies in the time I've been here.

In return, I was hoping to find Schneider would honor the promises they made me. Unfortunately, they chose not to do so. Rather than 3000 mile weeks, I've averaged 1500 mile weeks. Rather than 85% drop-and-hook loads, it's been more like 40% drop-and-hook (which, of course, contributed to the low miles). In the past year, I have driven two 3000 mile weeks, proving I can do it; but the assignments for more have not been forthcoming. Consequently, most weeks I have been unable to make enough money to pay my own rent.

Further contributing to my decision to leave is the toll I have been expected to pay for the privilege of working for SNC. Not just the physical toll, which I paid in the form of a double hernia and subsequent surgery to repair, or the arthritis in my foot that my doctor says was exacerbated by the approved footwear I was required to wear. I was also forced to pay for a kingpin lock that Schneider required me to own; I am required each week to loan SNC money for tolls, lumpers, and scale tickets interest-free (though if I borrow money from SNC I am charged $5 - $10); and, just a few weeks ago, I was told by QualComm that the shipper would hire a lumper, and was later told (after the lumper was hired) that I would have to pay $5 of his salary out of my own pocket. Sure, these $5 and $10 expenses are small-time, but I believe they demonstrate Schneider's true concern for the driver associates without whom Schneider would not be in business.

So, my year's commitment is up; and I believe I have given this company as fair a shot as it's possible to make. I have enjoyed working with you, Yancy; and for every jerk or twit I've had to deal with, there have been a dozen truly intelligent, caring people like yourself, who've made this ride worthwhile.

Thanks for your efforts. Too bad you aren't running the company!

Yours truly,
Paul S. Cilwa

P.S. I still recommend Schneider as a good place to get one's first year of trucking experience to the 15,000+ visitors a month to my on-line journal on the Internet. But only if they plan to quit after a year!

The motel shuttle took me to the Operating Center without incident. It looked a little strange to me. Nothing had changed; I just knew it was the last time I would ever see this place that had become so familiar to me, a second home. (Well, a third home; my first had been the cab of the Richard Gear, with my real house the second.)

When I found Yancy in the office area, he waved me off. Everyone hasn't gotten together, yet, he said. They haven't made up their minds.

I've made up mine, Yancy, I said. I need to talk to you, now.

He led the way to one of the conference rooms and we sat down. I've decided it's time, I said, feeling the relief of knowing I was doing the right thing. My year is up, and though you said you'd try to get me more miles, it hasn't happened. I really can't afford this anymore. So, I'm resigning.

As of when? he asked, sharply.

As of two weeks from today, I said. He looked relieved.

This certainly puts a new twist on things, he said with a bemused expression.

I grinned. That's my hallmark, I announced.

I still have to talk to the others, he said. Can you wait in the cafeteria until I come and get you?

Sure, I said. My resignation isn't effective for two weeks. I'll do anything you ask…for the next two weeks.

So, I returned to the public area, plugged in my laptop, and did some writing. It was several hours later that Yancy appeared. Sorry it took so long, he said. Follow me. I did, and we re-entered the conference room and sat. Yancy spoke first. They are willing to accept your resignation, he said, simply. They were going to fire you, but they will give you that choice.

I nodded.

Yancy sighed. I wish I could have gotten to know you better, he said. I think you're a quality guy.

I'd like to work with you, again, someday, as well, I said, sincerely returning the compliment. But probably not at a trucking company! We shook hands; I gave him a floppy disk with my letter of resignation on it, and followed him to Radar, the office guy who makes arrangements for people coming and going. Radar handed me a sheet with my transportation information. I would be returning home on a Greyhound bus, leaving from a nearby Circle K.

Please don't go in your truck without supervision, Yancy cautioned. Not even to get your belongings. Radar will get someone to be with you.

Which he did. George, an older gentleman, was assigned to watch me unload and to drive me to the bus station. He waited patiently as I discovered, horrified, that I had more stuff with me than I had thought. I asked Tara at the fuel desk for boxes; all she could spare was three empty boxes that had previously held gallons of oil…without complete success; some corners of the boxes showed grease stains. But that was the best she could do, and I thanked her.

I also had a big, transparent plastic bag that I crammed all my clothes and bedding into. I used the boxes for my CB, two bottles of propane, books, and so on. Opening the jockey box at the side of the truck, I realized I had that stupid kingpin lock that Schneider had insisted I buy (for $45!) and I had never used. I ran in to check with Yancy.

Isn't there some way I can sell that kingpin lock back to you guys? I pleaded.

He shook his head and shrugged. You bought it, he replied.

But— I lowered my voice. Don't you realize, I mean, I wouldn't do it, but if there was a truly disgruntled employee, he could—

I'm really busy now, Yancy said, his eyes darting to his phone where, no doubt, two or three drivers waited while the number of miles they didn't drive increased. I smiled wryly and left. If Yancy didn't want to know what mischief a disgruntle ex-employee could do with a kingpin lock he'd been forced to buy and was unable to unload legitimately, I didn't have to tell him.

Still, unable to part with something I'd paid $45 dollars for, I placed the heavy kingpin lock into one of the boxes and continued packing. I realized very quickly that I couldn't possibly bring my bottled water, Gatorade, and canned spaghetti home. I put it into four plastic shopping bags I had saved for garbage and carried them in to Stella, the motherly lady who works with new trainees.

Stella, I said, I remember how hungry I was when I started training, and some of the other students were also really broke. I've just resigned, and I have these canned goods I can't bring home with me. I wonder if you could pass them on to any students you think could really make use of them.

Stella showed no surprise that one of her former students had resigned after a year. That's very generous of you, she said. Thank you.

Thank you, I corrected. I would hate to have to throw them away.

Finally, I got my life as a driver compressed into one enormous plastic bag, three oil boxes, my gym bag, computer backpack, and one cassette carrier. George helped me load it into the company van and I got in.

Been here a year, eh? he remarked as we drove.

Yeah, I admitted. Well, that and they were going to fire me, anyway.

That's the way they do it, he agreed.

The Greyhound Bus Terminal turned out to be a Circle K. I don't know why they call it a terminal, the girl behind the counter said, the light from outside glinting on her tongue ring. We're lithted ath a full-thervithe terminal, but all the buth doth ith drive up outthide.

I purchased a Diet Coke and some duct tape to seal the oil boxes. I mentally kicked myself for not bringing my own duct tape from the truck. I hadn't thought I would need it. I wondered how many more things I had forgotten.

Eventually, the bus arrived and I stowed my stuff in the baggage compartment and boarded. We only rode for an hour; then I had to get off at the San Bernardino terminal, which was not a Circle K. There, I was told I would have to use bags supplied by Greyhound, rather than my big plastic bag. They were $4 each, and clearly I would need two. Also, my passage only allowed two pieces of luggage; I would have to pay an additional $15 for my additional three.

Why was I not surprised that Schneider had found a way to send me home that would require me to pay part of it?

Oh, Yancy had offered me money instead of bus fare. That way, you can rent a car if you've got too much stuff to bring on the bus.

I don't have a credit card, Yancy, I pointed out. They won't let me rent a car with no notice, without one.

At least, the guy at Greyhound let me borrow his tape gun so I could more securely tape the oil boxes. And he allowed me to tape two of them together, to create one larger box.

Eventually, I boarded the bus that was to take me to the Greyhound terminal in downtown Phoenix. It would be a good, six-hour ride. I have no problem sleeping in a moving vehicle, but I do have a problem sleeping in a reclining seat.

As I rode, I tried to process my feelings about truck driving, Schneider, and the way I'd been treated. As I've said before, I like driving, but I do not love it. And, while I had met many people at Schneider I liked very much, the company itself seemed less than admirable.

At the moment, I found my darkest thoughts centered around Ed, the instructor who had found the bent fifth wheel pin. My hours with him had been two of the least pleasant in my life—and I'm including Navy Basic Training, the time I was stranded in Denver Airport for 18 hours, and Sunday dinners with my ex-dead-in-laws in that assessment. If I had gotten any other instructor for my remedial, I'm sure he or she wouldn't have been compelled to look for infractions simply out of spite.

And yet, Ed had really done me a favor. I had wanted to quit. I'd been thinking about it for weeks. I was underemployed, no matter that Schneider hadn't lived up to its promises; the job really hadn't worked out for me anyway. I, who believe the Universe gives us hints and, if we don't pay them heed, drops a house on us, had had a house dropped on me.

This part of my life was over, had been over weeks before. I hadn't made a move to start the next part, so the move was made for me.

I may as well be resigned to the fact: A new life lay ahead, beyond the illumination of the headlights of a Greyhound bus hurtling eastward across the Mohave Desert.

And it isn't completely lost on me that the original attack on 9/11, which led to my starting my truck drivin' career, has, on its second anniversary, marked its end.

Bus at night.