By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 1/17/2018
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 720
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Sunday, August 4, 2002

After a pleasant weekend home—which I felt would be my last in a long while (though this didn't turn out to be the case)—Kurtis showed up Sunday afternoon, late, and we returned to California. It was, again, a smoke-filled but not-otherwise-unpleasant ride. When we got to the Days Inn in Colton, however, it turned out that the smoke was not over.

"We have no non-smoking rooms remaining," the desk clerk told me. "We'll have to put you in a smoking room."

I shook my head. "I can't handle spending the night with a smoker," I said. But the clerk assured me the room was empty, and he would not put anyone else in it that night.

"Check tomorrow afternoon and we will move you to a non-smoking room," he promised.

Sure enough, the room reeked of past smokers' exhalations. Ironically, it was Kurtis' room from the previous week! —And the 'fridge was still stocked with his roommate's leftover food: a gallon of some kind of punch, a few add-water noodle soups, and so on. Since I was still broke, I found this unexpected largesse to be most welcome, and figured that that was why the Universe had put me there.

(Although, if the Universe can manage an amazing coincidence like putting me in Kurtis' old room at a motel, why can't It just give me a lottery win?)

Monday, August 5, 2002

Class this week is going to be structured very much like the first 11 days of training—the biggest difference is that Schneider, since they are now paying me, will not be paying for my lunch. Don Schneider giveth, and Don Schneider taketh away.

Our instructor, Bob, is a very cool guy with one of the deepest voices I've ever heard. Only the fact that he is very nice has kept him from being nicknamed "Darth", I'm sure. He divided the class into halves; my half will be training in the trucks in the morning while the other half has class time; in the afternoon we trade places.

Our "slow maneuvers" (backing up) instructor is Dan, who tested me at the end of the first 11 days. The morning half got further divided; a little fellow with an accent and I work with Dan while the remainder train on the road with another guy; then, again, we trade places. The idea is to spend time on the kind of things we actually spend a minority of time on in "real" life—and, therefore, are skills most truck drivers don't develop for years.

I had already impressed Dan, apparently, when I took my test; so he concentrated on helping the other guy, whose backing skills did need work. That meant I mostly just stood around, trying to find shade from the hot L.A. sun.

I had mixed feelings about the sun here. On the one hand, it is hot—the air gets hot, there's dust and sand everywhere, and little breeze. On the other hand, there's always a haze in the air which I know is reflecting a lot of ultra-violet rays back into space. So I was afraid I would lose my Phoenix tan, which one gets while walking from the house to the car.

Driving skills involved stopping the proper distance from an intersection for stop signs and traffic lights; and, especially, making turns at street corners without the clipping the curb (bad) or street signs (worse) or people (unforgivable). I had this nightmare that I would wind up on the six o'clock news for having run over a nun, so I was always very careful…but it's not just care; it's skill, and I didn't have that, yet—hence, the driving lessons.

Still, Jim, the driving instructor, always thanked me for a "good ride" when we returned to the OC (Operating Center), which made me feel like maybe I wasn't doing too badly. I tried not to entertain the thought that he said that to all his students…and, in truth, he didn't say it to the little guy I was paired with, who had not yet mastered shifting and so riding with him was less like a ride in a truck and more like a ride in an amusement park: a series of spine-wrenching lurches and frantic grabs for support.

Afternoons with Bob were easier for me, since I always have an easier time with bookwork. I don't think I've mentioned it before, but when I was in the 11-day training and we first encountered trip planning, I immediately wrote a couple of Excel spreadsheets to automate the task. In JumpStart, one of the prime areas of focus was trip planning; so, of course, I used my spreadsheets to get the exercises and homework done in minutes rather than hours.

I was a little nervous about doing this publicly. When I was a kid, I owned a book entitled Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine. In this story, a kid gets access to a computer his uncle has created, and gets it to do his homework. Now, in order to do this, he has to study like crazy so he can put the information into the computer, in order to get it out in the form of homework assignments—in other words, he's using it as a word processor (something that didn't actually exist in the fifties, when the book was published). Danny's teacher doesn't quite understand how Danny is using the computer, since she, herself, knows nothing about them; so she decides to give him more and more difficult assignments, to make up for his perceived "advantage" over the other students.

But, by God, computers are my area of expertise and I had every intention of using my laptop to assist in my career as a truck driver. So I brought it to class, and I wrote the spreadsheets, and I used them.

The pleasant surprise was that Bob (and Chuck, before him) liked the idea I was automating some tasks. As long as the results were correct, and I understood the process (which I had to do in order to write the spreadsheets), he not only had no problem with it—he thought it was cool, and wanted to see what I had done. Several people in the class asked for copies to use on their laptops, which they hadn't thought to bring to class but did intend to bring on their trucks.

I even got the idea that maybe I could package this, somehow, and sell it to other Schneider drivers.

When I returned to the hotel, I found they were still out of non-smoking rooms. So I bargained: I'll stay where I am, if I can have the room to myself for the remainder of the week. The desk clerk agreed, and I spent Monday night with the window wide open, and the subsequent nights, as well. Yeah, I was awakened regularly by the trains blowing their horns in the nearby yard (could this neighborhood be any more downscale?), but by Wednesday night the smell of stale tobacco had dissipated.

Thursday, August 8, 2002

The days of this week flowed together, and today, Thursday, seemed to me like any other. I knew there was to be a test at the end of JumpStart, by I thought that would be on Friday. So I went to Dan and the yard training as on any other day. Yeah, Dan wanted me to do a full "pre-trip inspection" (naming all the parts of the truck and what I would be looking for if the truck was in road-worthy shape, which it was not) and I did, without really thinking anything about it. And he did let me back the truck into a space wider than we'd been practicing in, which I did in a single move, not even needing to make a corrective pull-up. (Monday we backed into a 9-foot space, and Dan had said we would do 12-foot spaces the rest of the week. However, I requested that we continue to work with the 9-foot space, on the theory that if we could master that, the 12-foot spaces would be a piece of cake.) And then I got into the truck with Jim, and we drove around a little. By now I was relaxed enough to be able to joke and chat with Jim while we drove. As usual, he thanked me for a "good ride".

When I got back to the OC for lunch, one of the other guys in class asked me how I did, and confessed to having been "really nervous." I asked what we had to be nervous about, since I knew he was doing really well. "I always get nervous during tests," he said.

"What test?" I asked.

It turned out that I had spent the morning taking my JumpStart-end qualification tests! I had no idea. That afternoon was our written test, nearly seventy questions; I missed one.

When I got back to my room at the Days Inn, there was a message from Nelson, the man who was to be my Training Engineer for the next week or two. We met by the pool for a short conversation, and agreed to meet the next day at 1 pm, after class was officially over.

Friday, August 9, 2002

Even though the training part of JumpStart had ended the day before with our testing, the indoctrination part remained. We had a talk by Dwight, who urged us to run teams ("You'll get a newer truck sooner!") and another guy, who was very funny but whose name I've forgotten, gave a talk on safety and loss prevention. But the classroom training was over and we knew it. We said goodbye to Bob and each other; the guys who had not yet been assigned TEs made plans to go home for the weekend. I stepped into the cafeteria, where I knew Nelson and the next phase of my training were waiting.