Sunday, November 27, 2011

What is the true meaning of Christmas????

It's that time of the year again. Just when you finally got all the lights down off the house and the decorations from last year put away, it's time to start dragging them out again. Now is the time that all the fun begins....planning parties, mailing cards, drawing names, checking each and every bulb on 250 strands of lights, baking fruit cake that never gets ate, fighting a sea of violent shoppers for the best bargin......the list goes on and on. For all the effort that goes into the whole season, it seems to end in an almost anticlimactic event. The kids wake up Christmas morning and are soon lost in their new toys, the big dinner usually takes less than 20 minutes to consume. Before long, hordes of guests are leaving you to the largest kitchen mess of the year (besides Thanksgiving) that will take close to a week to clean up. When it's all over, you sit back in your easy chair and stare blindly off into space and ask yourself why anybody would want to go through all the hassle. 

Every year at this time I hear lots of comments about Christmas, some hate it while others love it. Amongst those that hate the holiday, it's not that they're Grinch's or Scrooge's, it's just that the previous paragraph perfectly describes their hectic and stressful holiday schedule. I hear comments from people that Christmas is overly commercialized, extremely stressful, depressing. For those of you that fit into that category, I offer this to you, the true meaning of Christmas is....whatever you want it to be.

Remember this, nobody can force you to do anything on Christmas. Nobody can force you to load your credit cards, spend hours in the kitchen, risk your life climbing on the roof. There are few things in life that are certain, but I can assure that the harder you try to make things perfect, the more you will be certainly disappointed at the outcome. You cannot put peace, joy and happiness on a schedule and you cannot create fond memories by trying too hard.

This year, I would encourage you to try something different. Question all of your holiday traditions. Is a tradition something you do because it brings joy to everybody (including yourself) or is it something you do because it's always been done that way? Time to throw out some of your old traditions and take a fresh look at how you approach the holiday season.

First off, ask yourself the simple question; What is the true meaning of Christmas?

I won't try to answer that for you, that is up to you to decide. Once you decide what the meaning of Christmas is, take a look at everything you do for the holidays and ask yourself if it really supports that idea. Do you really need the Fine China for Christmas dinner or will it work with paper plates and Dixie cups? Do you really need to stress over small details or can the idea of Christmas be supported by simply going with the flow and letting the season play out without your careful choreography?

Take this year and make things different. Throw out at least one long held tradition. Allow the Christmas season to one of enjoying family and friends and stop trying to create a memory making environment. Once you decide to kick back and relax and stop trying to control everything, only then will you discover the true meaning of Christmas.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all!!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

My hand in the hornets nest........

I am generally a fairly affable guy, not much to argue, would rather tell a joke. I'm neither democrat or republican, religious or non religious. I was never part of the debate team in school and I don't have a law degree. However, there comes a time in every persons life when they feel the need to present a different point of view to a situation. For me, that time has  come.

Anybody that has been anywhere near a TV or radio in the past few weeks has probably been overloaded with information about the Casey Anthony trial. Once the verdict was read, there was an emotional outcry across the nation. To say the least, people were livid with a capital L! A young mother took her own daughters life and the whole world just watched a corrupt justice system allow her to walk free.

My sentiments on the situation..... Well, lets just say this is where I stick my hand in the hornets nest!

I know that we live in a country that is not immune to corruption. In any situation where you have a group of people with a common agenda, you are going to have corruption. On the flip side of that, I also feel that a verdict handed down by 12 of your peers is the purest and safest form of justice that you could possibly have. 12 people, picked at random from a pool of candidates that encompasses your entire community. Yes, jurors can be dismissed and replaced, but this option is given to both the prosecution and the defense and it is not an unlimited power of veto. When those 12 people are presented with the evidence, arguments and testimony, they are tasked with the responsibility to make a decision from a neutral starting point. That starting point, they bear no affiliations with either the prosecution or the defense, nor do they bear any bias's.

There are many countries around the world that hand down justice from a single person that is appointed to do so. All too often, these people are tainted and swayed by either political or religious agenda's. the authority to convict and condemn trusted with one person or a board of provincial leaders will always lead to wrong convictions for the wrong reasons. Those people have careers to protect and a constituency to please. This is why having 12 people chosen at random from the community in which you live is the safest, purest and most unadulterated decision you could have. If you are ever in unfortunate position of having to sit in the defendants chair, you'll be most thankful that your fate does not rest in the hands of someone trying to win votes or defend their religious beliefs.

I support our jury system 100%. In doing so, I support the decision they make. whether I agree or not is irrelevant, I was not sitting on that jury and the decision did not rest in my hands. I will say that I am horrified that a young girl lost her life and I do wish we could hold somebody accountable for it. At the same time, I am also thankful that I did not have to sit on the jury.

I would like to encourage people to set down your gavel and slowly back away from it. It's all too easy to become enraged and jump on the bandwagon with all the other enraged people. When people get enraged they feel like they're crying out for change and making a difference. There is a different bandwagon rolling by and it's population is pretty sparse, this is the bandwagon of compassion, grace & mercy. The ride is much smoother if you give up your gavel before hoping on board.

Gavel free and loving it!!!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

From little girl to young lady

There are few things in this life that will grip a person's heart like the birth of their child. To have the privilege of witnessing the miracle of life being welcomed into this world and knowing you're responsible for helping create this life, just amazing. Almost 12 years after that life changing event, I still drift back to that moment and remember the first time I met my daughter face to face. This powerful moment from the past still has the ability to command my emotions in a way that most men would deny possible.

And life progresses...
Those of you that have kids all know that not every moment of their precious lives will evoke sweet emotions. There are times when being a parent made me very sad, angry, scared, apologetic, hurt, defensive...the list goes on. My daughter has somehow honed the fine art of bringing out the best and worst in me. Further, people that interact with my daughter will also cause these extreme peaks, depending on how they treat her. But, for every emotion that I feel from being a father, there is one that stands out above all other - LOVE!
I've always said that this photo makes me feel like a father
Bekah holdin her own

On Wednesday of this week Bekah attended her last day of Elementary School. It's hard to realize that time has gone by this quick and my little baby is now a Jr High Schooler. Long gone are the days when I would toss her up in the air and catch her while she's yelling "FLY DADDY FLY". The little girl that I once held in my arms has already started the natural gravitation towards friends. I'm alright with her growing up, it's my job as a parent to facilitate that. But, I can't help but think that those moments that you treasure go by just a little quicker than expected.
You mess with my girl, this is the least of your worries!

Bekah with her teacher on last day of Elementary School

A video that I made several years ago, it ends with her first day of Preschool

So, if you all were wondering what I might request for Fathers Day. The answer is simple; I already got it!


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tales from the archives

In an effort to entertain, I decided to post an old story that I wrote back in the 90's. Yes, the whole thing is 100% true.

This story is completely true; I’m not even going to change the names to protect the innocent.

Back in the year of 1997 on the opening day of trout season some friends and I were headed up to the Cascade Lakes to try our hand at relieving the over population of farm fresh fish that had been recently been planted in many strategic locations through out the region. To assist us in our efforts I had secured the use of my Dad’s boat. The boat had not been on the water in over two years and Dad was just happy to see that it was getting some use.

As we neared our destination we decided to stop and eyeball some of the smaller lakes. It was then suggested by Eric, Greg and Eddie that maybe would should forgo launching the boat and just try to do some shore fishing. To this suggestion I offered a great protest. I had just hauled a boat over a 100 miles and come hell or high water (preferably high water) I’m going to get this machine afloat.

We soon arrived at or intended location and were quite surprised to find that every other boat owner the great State of Oregon was also there. We got the boat in the water and I had to drive the truck about a half mile up a skinny one lane dirt road to find a place to park. While driving up this road I got to thinkin’ “ I wonder if I’ll ever find a place to turn around or will I have to back up all the way to the boat ramp”? Well, no need to worry about matters that currently hold such little relevancy, right now I have fish to catch.

Back at the boat, I got it fired up and tooled out just a few hundred feet from our point of entry. We threw out the anchor and threw out our lines and assumed we were just minutes away from landing the big one.

A few short moments after we started fishing I noticed that the live bait well was starting to float up out of the bottom of the boat. I found this a little odd since I had never seen the bait well behave in such a manner before so I decided to investigate. I pulled open the lid and lifted the plastic tub out which revealed about 3 inches of water underneath. I figured now would be a good time to further my investigation so I calmly walked to the back of the boat and lifted the cover off the inboard engine. It was at this point that a little panic had set in. To offer a little lesson in boat construction, when you have an inboard motor you also have a large hole in the back of the boat to connect the motor to the outdrive. In between the outdrive and boat is a large rubber seal. This is the main element that protects you from an unintended swim and in our case that element had failed.

In an effort to protect my friends from great alarm I calmly told them to real in their lines because we have a small leak. I could see that they were completely unresponsive to my concerns about their personal safety so the second time I yelled “pull in your lines, WE ARE SINKING”.

I then fired up the boat and started heading toward the shore. With 305 cubic inches of Chevy small block working hard at the back of the boat I figured we could be at the boat ramp in less than half a minute. However, the boat was barley moving. I took a guess at what was impeding our travels and I had to assume that it was because the boat weighted too much from taking on so much water. As my mind started to race with the ways I could explain this to my Dad I slammed the throttle to full and hoped for the best. We were still unable to break 5 mph but luckily the boat ramp was not far away. As we arrived at the ramp one of my mates made the discovery that we had dragged the anchor the whole way. Hmm, good thing we didn’t hit any serious snags. But no time to reflect on that error right now, I need to go get the truck and the faster the better at this point.

I took off running up the road huffing and puffing hoping that the heart attack I was about to have could wait until the boat was safely on land. I then got to thinkin’ “ I wonder if I’ll ever find a place to turn around or will I have to back up all the way to the boat ramp”?  I did not have the benefit of time right now so in haste I made the decision to drive up the road and find a place to turn around. Luck was on my side a few times that day and this was one of those times. I got the truck turned around and made my way back to the ramp. As we tried to winch the boat up on the trailer it soon became apparent that the boat was much heavier now and we were not going to get it onto the trailer without an alternative plan. It was at this time that somebody suggested that I back the trailer much deeper into the water. I knew this was a bad idea because the ramp was soft gravel and the truck was only 2 wheel drive. Lacking any better options I decided to give it a try and well you guessed it, we got the boat on the trailer and then proceeded to get the truck stuck on the ramp There happened to be a guy at the ramp that had a winch on his truck and he was able to help me get the truck out but because of the lack of space he was only able to pull me up about five feet. With the boat still positioned directly behind the hole that I dug with truck it was suggested to me that I need to come up out of there pretty quick or the boat will get suck in the same hole. I agreed with the analysis of the situation and headed up the ramp like I was being shot out of a cannon. When the tire on the boat trailer hit the hole I felt and heard a jerk and at that point I felt we had surely traumatized some piece of already abused equipment. After stopping several feet away from the drink, I got out to do a damage assessment. It was at that time that I noticed that the axel on the trailer had slid back about three inches on the right side.

Lacking tools we had no way to fix the trailer so we decided on the next best course of action. I’ll haul the boat to my parent’s cabin since we are only 40 miles away. All the way there the boat was riding on the shoulder while I drove the truck down the center of the highway.

After we got rid of the boat we went back to one of the smaller lakes that we had looked at earlier. We all caught our limit fishing from the shore.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Goonies never say die

My new job will start on Tuesday right after Memorial Day weekend. I remain very hopeful that this job will signal the end of my bouncing around trying to find myself. I can't honestly say I'm not any closer to finding myself now than I was a year ago. What I do know, I need a job. I can always look for myself when I have a regular paycheck and can afford the search. In the last weekend before going back to work, it seemed only prudent to spend the last two dimes I was rubbing together on a little fun. So, in the spirit of frivolous spending, we packed up the steel steed and headed out to Astoria for the day on Saturday.

We enjoyed this day with my Dad and his Wife and my step sister. For those of you that read my parent's blog, and are now trying to figure out my lineage, just sing to yourself the theme song from the Brady Bunch and will have the jest of the story. That said, the Dad portrayed in this post is not the same Dad you met in the Therapytravel blog. At any rate, we were also briefly joined on this adventure by my Sister, her Husband and my Niece.

For those of you that are not familiar with Pacific Northwest geography, Astoria is located far up in the Northwest point of Oregon where the Columbia river spills into the Pacific Ocean. It is area that is rich in history and wonderful sights. If you ever get the chance, it is a must visit destination where you can learn many things about Lewis and Clark, river transportation and military history. As for us, our fascination with the region always seems to lean a little more towards more recent movie history.

Kari re-enacting the jail break
 Back in 1984, Goonies was filmed in Astoria. in the 26 years since it was released, it has gained a cult following that keeps a steady stream of "Goonies" making a pilgrimage to all the filming locations in and around the city. The jail in the film was recently converted to a film museum that pays homage to the many films that used Oregon as a backdrop to their stories. We had to revisit some of our favorite sites and also make vain attempts at re-enacting some of the most memorable scenes.

We also had the pleasure of stumbling across a new restaurant, Cecil's Trolley Stop Grill that was on it's second day of being open. They were doing a soft opening and not yet doing any advertising. As you can imagine, We had most of the place and the staff to ourselves. They treated us like old friends and we were even paid a visit from the chef. Food was great at an affordable price with a view of the Columbia River that was just amazing. I look forward to visiting Cecil's again the next time I'm in town.

Bekah in front of the Goonie House. She refused to do the Truffle Shuffle!

The view from Cecil's Trolley Stop Grill
After visiting several other sights in Astoria, including a terrifying 144 step climb to the top of the Astoria Column, we decided to head south to Tillamook to visit the birth place of our favorite cheese. Yes, I'll admit, we are a strange crew. In an area that is so overly abundant with history and scenery, we seemed obsessed with our movies and our cheese.
Headin into the Cheese Factory

As luck would have it, Joni's Mom and Aunt were in Tillamook for the day from Eugene. We hooked up with them at the cheese factory and Joni got to spend some time visiting. We also loaded up on all our favorite cheeses and some ice cream.

Joni with her Mom and Aunt

Since my Dad, his Wife and my step Sister are all recent transplants from Southern California, we are hoping that we have many chances this summer to visit new places to show our recently inducted Oregonians all the beauty this place has to offer. In my opinion, you could spend a lifetime exploring the great Northwest and never take in all it has to offer. I am excited about starting my new job on Tuesday and hopefully having a little more money to spend on enjoying site seeing.

More soon

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Enjoying the ride

Last June when I was laid off from the Federal Reserve Bank, I had accepted the idea that my days of working in any bank were most likely over. Most of the experience that I had in banks all revolved around checks. With the onset of online bill pay and debit cards, checks have taken on the same status as typewriters and home phones. Just as kids these days would quizzically look at an IBM Selectric or wonder what that funny looking dial is on top of the old phone on great-grandma's desk, I figured that my career was also doomed to the archives of the way things used to be. No matter, I was OK with this, it was time for a change and now I had the power to choose the direction of my future. It was all in my hands and now I was going to have the chance to live life on my terms......yeah, right!

I started this blog with a quote from a favorite singer/song writer of mine. John Lennon in a song he wrote to his son said "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans". I don't think I could find a better quote to describe the past year of my life. The twists and turns, ups and downs that I've experienced in this past year would have most frequent flyers grabbing the little white bag conveniently provided in the seat pocket in front of them. Through it all, stayed on the ride mostly because I was curious about what may be around the next corner. Unpredictability in life isn't always fun but it certainly is entertaining. It's hard to lose interest when you're always saying "gosh, I wonder what will happen tomorrow".

So, I briefly owned a photo studio, went to truck driving school, briefly drove trucks, submitted hundreds of resumes to every company in town, crawled into pizza ovens, sent out a couple hundred more resumes, went fishing, rode my motorcycle, spent  time creating culinary masterpieces, decided to pursue being an electrician, studied get the picture. I also spent a lot of time in between each step being stressed out and worried about how I will pay the mortgage next month. All this time I never  did settle into a comfort zone that I felt would provide the stability that I was seeking. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I knew what I was seeking. I thought I wanted change but I had no idea about the trials that path would lead me down.

On Wednesday of last week I posted a comment on facebook about applying for a job with Staples. Underneath that, a former co-worker of mine told me to contact her for info about a staffing company that got her and several other former co-workers jobs at Wells Fargo. On Thursday I made a call to the staffing company and was set up for an interview on Friday. By the end of the 10 minute interview, the gal was offering me a job. She told me that she just fired somebody and needed to fill a position ASAP! As of right now, I have started the process for the background check. As soon as the background check reveals that I don't even know what handcuffs look like, I will be heading off to work for Wells Fargo. Which I must say, this is also in the best interest of Wells Fargo since they are the ones that hold my mortgage. All this seem like I'm going right back to where I started from, heading right back to the pit that I was so desperate to escape from a year ago. Well, I'm OK with that, it's a familiar pit and hopefully a stable one.

What happens next....not sure I should make any plans. I'm just along for ride and will allow life to happen.

Enjoy the ride!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Out of the frying pan and into the boiler

It's been almost a month since my last blog update, not that I have forgotten that my life bears slight interest to my adoring fans, I just felt there was nothing of any real interest happening in my life. I am happy to report that there have been some new developments that add great fodder to a blog writers repertoire.

As of the writing my last entry, I was attempting to teach myself algebra so I could qualify for an electrician apprenticeship. I made some great progress on the things I was able to learn but as things started to get more complicated, I came to some road blocks that I was not able to overcome. Since then, I have signed up with an online course offered through the National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee. Completion of this course will satisfy all math requirements for the apprenticeship program. I am currently working through that course and still hope to one day become a "sparky".
Not all ingredients shown, that is top secret

Meanwhile, I also started applying for as many jobs as I could locate and also spent some spare time experimenting with some new recipes. As much as I love to cook, I have never in my life attempted a potato salad. After looking at several recipes, I was able to develop my own ideas of what I wanted my salad to taste like and what I was going to put in it. I am happy to report that the potato salad was a major success and tasted the way I hoped it would. I also made an attempt at a broccoli salad and a pasta salad. Again, the results were favorable and will be rolling out of my kitchen for years to come.

The pasta creation, very tasty!!

In the midst of all my cooking, studying, job hunting I was able to hook up with an old friend, Matt on facebook that I hadn't seen in about 13 years. We met for breakfast one day and after talking a little about my situation, he started telling me about one of his part time jobs with a friend of his. He climbs into boilers in mills and power plants to do inspections. He logs data about things that he finds so that the boilermakers know where to go to make repairs. Most of these mills and power plants shut down for a few weeks a year to do maintenance and they always shut down on the spring and fall. Matt told me that he would pass on my name to his friend and see if he needed any help. Well, I ended up getting a call from Brian on the afternoon of Sunday, May 1st telling me he needed me in Chehalis WA (about 90 miles north of me) at 7am the next morning. I told him that I would be happy to show. I quickly washed some clothes, packed my bags and headed out for Chehalis that night, not at all sure what I was getting myself in to.

I was faced with an opportunity but I hadn't the slightest idea what I would be doing. I set out with a small crew at the power plant and we went up to the 10th floor of the boiler. As we approached the boiler I noticed these small doors that were about 2' X 2' that looked like something you would stick a pizza in, not a person. Starting to feel a little anxious, I asked if I would be going through one of those doors. I was told that some of the ingresses are smaller than that. It suddenly brings to mind all the time I might have complained about working in a boring, air conditioned office thinking that I needed to do some outside work. Turns out, those complaints were born from lack of other knowledge. I was now in line to receive a quick lesson about why you should not complain about your job. After climbing in and out of pizza ovens for several days, I found that I was able to overcome or at least learn to deal with my fears of claustrophobia. Maybe, it was just more overcome with the greater fear of homelessness or worse yet, not being able to afford internet connection!!!!
Me in front of one of the pizza ovens. Yes, I do fit in there.

After learning a little more about the job, I found that this could be a good deal for some people. Because of the limited shut down season, the work weeks are usually 60 plus hours. The upside to that, you make great money in a short amount of time. Most of the guys I worked with only do this 6 or 7 months a year. The rest of the year, they don't have other jobs. Are you kidding me???? 6 months of vacation time every year???? All the sudden, cramming myself into pizza ovens doesn't seem all that bad. I'm still not 100% convinced that this will be a long term choice for me. For now, it is decent money and helping me preserve my indoor living conditions just a little longer. Should I choose to stick with this, I will be spending long stretches away from home but I will also get even longer stretches at home.

Life is all about learning. Myself, I'm learning a lot about what I can or cannot do, what I can overcome and what I am willing to do. No matter what happens, these are valuable lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Education Week

As of my last update, I had decided to self teach myself algebra. My goal; attempt to test at a level of math skills that would allow me to qualify for an apprenticeship without the need for taking any college courses. I'm happy to report that my self educational experiment has been going quite well and I have covered over 300 pages of reading material in the last week. I have been learning all kinds of new things about math and have discovered many practical skills that I know I will apply in real world situations many times in the future.

I'm not one to spend time lamenting the past, I'm more concerned about what I can do today and then tomorrow. Every day is a new start and yesterday is set in stone, tomorrow isn't. However, I do look to my past as valuable life experience that I hope will be useful to help me through my tomorrow's. One of those lessons, never give up on learning new things. I wish I had taken this lesson more seriously in my high schools days but, now is as good time as any start.

With a week of brain exercise weighing on my sanity, we decided to take the day on Saturday and check out the Antique Powerland Museum in Brooks Oregon. The group of 8 included Me and my Wife, my Daughter and 3 of her friends, my Dad and his Wife.

Laurie at the entrance
I found the Museum to fascinating and much bigger than I expected. The whole thing sits on over 60 acres and houses several individual museums. Not all museums were open, but we were still able to spend about 4 hours there and took in a smorgasbord of cool oldies that were neat to see. I know, that sounds a lot like a trip to Dad and Mom's house and I won't deny the similarities. But, seeing as my parents don't have 60 acres, this served as a good supplement to looking through their garage.
Karli, Heather, Bekah,Jasmine

Being a photographer, I am amazed with shapes, angles, texture, rust, dirt and many of the other visual candy that I came across at the museum. I only took my point and shoot camera but really wished I would have taken my DSLR. I could probably spend several hours in the place just taking pictures of "stuff". For people that like old things or for people that like to take pictures of interesting things, this is a gem of a playground for both.

Me, checking out my camera
One of the more fascinating things that we got to see was an actual working sawmill. They use the mill to make many things that are used around the museum grounds. Most of the guys that ran mill looked as though they may have been using some of that equipment when it was brand new. It was all powered by an old steam boiler (yes, just like your parents old heat system) and really felt like a step back in time as you watched all the old millers turn trees into 2X4's.

My Dad and Wife waiting for the mill to fire up

Click on the link below to watch the mill in action

video of old mill in operation

After several hours of browsing, I gained a somewhat clear picture that this place was much more fascinating to me than it was to a group of 11 year old girls. We decided to head back to the homestead and topped off the day with some grilled burgers.

Must get back to studying, I plan on taking the placement test on the 18th of this month.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A shocking turn of events

I did it, I finally made it back to Oregon and handed over the keys to my truck with a smile on my face. I'm not prone to quitting a job on a whim, especially in light of the fact that I have a mortgage and other bills associated staying plump and warm. However, there were some things about life on the road that I was just not prepared to handle. I was so excited when I was assigned a trainer that was a local driver but I think I really missed an important factor of training, learning all about road life. First off, I must say that I have gained a whole new perspective on long haul trucking and a whole new respect for those that do it for most of their life. However, they also deal with a very unique lifestyle that is just not very easy for most people to adjust to. Living truck stop to truck stop with the only space that you can call your own amounts to about 60 square feet. If you need a shower, you pay for it. You need a restroom, use the public one. You want a meal, it's whatever you can scrounge up at the truck stop or store in the mini fridge in your truck. I've also heard other truckers tell me that they love the freedom of the open road and couldn't possibly sit in an office all day. I sat in that truck for longer hours than I ever sat in my cubicle in any office and also had more contact with my boss while in that truck than I've had at most any other job I've had.

However, all that said, I'm glad I gave it a shot and I have an experience that I can talk about for the rest of my life. I'm not bitter about the way things worked, just a little nervous about what to do next.
The shadow of my former and short lived career!
So, what to do next....?
Well, I got yet another idea. Since I lost my job in June of last year, I made it 3 months as a professional photographer and 12 days as a long haul trucker. So, what's one more bad idea to throw into the mix? So, here goes plan "C", an Electrician apprenticeship. I have a friend that is about my age that has been out of work for quite some time and just got into this program. He loves it and is very excited about the new opportunity. He also has a class B CDL and tells me that the company now uses him to drive their trucks around since many of the employees do not have a CDL. Since, I have a class A, maybe that will help my chances.

My tutor
This plan does have one small obstacle that I must overcome, my math skills. I need to have some knowledge of algebra, of which I currently posses none. Since the Spring term just started at the college and I don't want to wait 2 months for the next term, that is out of the question. So, I decided to go with a more unconventional route, I will teach myself. I went to Borders Books and invested in the material that I thought would bring my knowledge up to an acceptable level. I may be slightly crazy and maybe even delusional, but I'm figuring I will teach myself algebra in 2 weeks. After that, I will attempt to pass a placement test that puts me at the level necessary to to qualify without needing to take a college course in math. If I'm able to pull this off, you won't be the only one that's surprised.

If anybody out there is a qualified math tutor, I would love to hear from you.

Friday, April 1, 2011

heading north to Oregon (Home)

I last left you on Wednesday morning as I was waiting for word on my truck at the shop. I know it's only been 2 days but I could probably write volumes about what transpired in that time frame. Since I'm not a doctor and not qualified to cure your insomnia, I'll try to condense the last two days to something shorter than a celebrity marriage.

I was able to pick up my truck from the service center on Wednesday and immediately received a dispatch to pick up a trailer in the Phoenix drop yard and take it to customer in the heart of the metro LA area. Now, bearing in mind that I already quit my job, I really wanted to tell my DM (driver manager) that there were only two things I didn't want to do; 1, drive in LA / 2, drive at night. I just want to get home and they are wanting their truck back, lets get both there in one piece is my thinking. Keeping in mind that LA is kinda on the way home and the delivery was at 1:00pm, I figured I could avoid some rush hour traffic and wanted to get moving in the homeward direction. So, I sent back a message confirming the dispatch.

After making a wrong turn and finally locating the drop yard, I found my trailer and was Westward bound by about 2 on Wednesday afternoon. I was wanting to make it as far west as possible so I could start later the next day and hopefully miss rush hour traffic in the LA area.

While on the way to Cali, I received another dispatch to pick a loaded trailer in Van Nuys at 7pm on Thursday and deliver in Modesto at 9am on Friday. I called my dispatcher and told her that first of all, I wasn't driving all night. For me, not safe. She told me that it was a 6 hour trip and I could drive half on Thursday and sleep most of the night and drive the other half Friday morning. Then she went on to tell me, and I quote "hun, in trucking we don't get to pick our hours." I wanted to say; Carol, are you aware that I already quit, you do want your truck back, don't you?" We also went some rounds about available hours, she said I had plenty, I said I didn't. I caved and agreed to the load because I wanted to head north but assured her, when my hours run out, I'm stopping, no questions asked.

As I got further east, I started to recall some of the stories that I heard about the Banning Scales. Apparently, they are notoriously tough and I was headed right for them. Having a prepass in my window, you can weigh in motion on the freeway and if you receive a green light, you just keep going. As luck would have it, my sensor gave me a red light. I'm already sweating bullets and hope that I just roll through and keep going. once you pass the scales, if you get a green light, you head for the freeway, if you get an arrow pointing to the right, well, that ain't as good. Again, as luck would have it, I got an arrow. After 17 minutes of sweating bullets, I was told that my truck checked out. In my opinion, I should have gotten a free t-shirt for that experience.

I made it to Ontario and stopped at a huge TA truck stop there. As truck stops go, the place was awesome! A little of everything there. In the interest of saving time on allowable drive hours, I started as late as I could and headed out to make my delivery. While on my way, I received a message from dispatch telling me that my next pickup was already loaded and I could pick up early if I wanted to. I arrived at my delivery right at 1pm and was hoping if all went well, I could hot foot it to Van Nuys before rush hour. Well, God does have a since of humor! As I was backing into the dock I heard a rather loud KABOOM!!! I immediatly ruled out a terrorist attack but knew something went horribly wrong. After inspecting the truck, I found that one of the suspension air bags had exploded. I sent a breakdown message and called my DM to tell her that I wouldn't be able to make that Van Nuys/Modesto trip. I was able to get my truck back to the loading dock and breakdown sent out some mobile mechanics to replace the air bag. The mechanics did get the air bag replaced but it was now almost 4pm, the rush hour that I hoped to avoid was now in full swing. Since I never heard back from my DM, I decided to go after my next load.

25 miles took me an hour and a half but I finally made it to Van Nuys. My personal inexperience and lack of knowledge made the process of picking up a preloaded trailer an ordeal worth an hour and a half.

noticing that I now only have 4 hours of available drive time, I decided to make it over the Grapevine and stop on the other side. Keeping in mind that you can only 70 hours of on duty time in 8 days, I thought I would wake up the next morning and would have another 4 hours since the 4 hours that I was on duty 8 days ago would drop off. Turns out, I figured wrong. The 8 day rule doesn't count the current day as I thought, it was the previous 8 days. The day that dropped off was the day before I started my trip, zero hours on duty that day, zero hours dropped off this morning. Again, I called my DM and told her that I only had an hour of drive left and wasn't going to make Modesto. She got to looking at my logs on her end and asked; What's this 3 hours you spent in the parking lot at your delivery yesterday? I told her I was waiting for my truck to get fixed. She then asked; why didn't you log that as off duty? I told her; Well, I was waiting in a parking lot, that certainly wasn't MY time! She told me that it was my time and she was going to change that to off duty. After nit-picking about a couple of entries, she was able to gain me 4 1/2 hours and told me to get my butt headed north. I questioned the legality of this but I didn't care since I wanted to get home and out of the truck, ASAP.

I made it to my delivery with 39 minutes of available drive time left. Having learned my lesson, I logged off and sat in the parking lot for 2 hours while off duty. Somehow, the trailer even backed itself into the dock while I was off duty. Just before I hit the gate, I changed the log to on duty and headed out to find a truck stop, a very close one. I pulled into the parking lot of a Flying J with 1 minute to spare. Now that's cuttin' just a little to close for me.

About the time I got to the Flying J, I received a dispatch to pick up a trailer in Woodland tomorrow (Saturday) and drop it in the Brooks yard (home base). I will only have 4 hours of drive time tomorrow so I should have just enough time to make Woodland and maybe get a little north on I5. Come Sunday, I will gain over 10 hours, should be plenty enough to get me home.

As of now, I should be home on Sunday evening. I can't wait!!!!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I cut off my last entry with my arrival to Palm Springs on Sunday night. And now, the continuation;

Every night when you finish driving you are supposed to send in a vehicle inspection report on the qualcomm (satellite communication system.) On Sunday night I felt it was prudent to tell them that a check engine light was on and the splitter button on my shifter was leaking air. For those of you not familiar with big trucks, I have a 13 speed transmission and 2 different air actuated switches on the shift lever that you need to select the correct gear. Whenever you use one of those switches you will hear a quick burst of air as the switch does it's job. The splitter switch was letting out a steady stream of air until I wiggled it enough to make it seal. This is of particular concern since the brakes on the truck are operated by air and if you have enough of an air leak to cause loss of pressure, your brakes will lock up on you. Obviously, the brakes locking up when you're not wanting them to can be detrimental to the life and health of yourself and people around you.

When I heard back from breakdown, they wanted to know if the truck was movable. I told them yes and that I would like to make my delivery in Gila Bend the next day and then they could route me to service. That was agreed upon by all parties as a workable plan.

And so, I woke up early the next morning and made my way out to Gila Bend. Starting out before sunrise and heading east was awesome as the sun started to rise behind the mountains in the distance. As the the sun started to get a little brighter I was suddenly aware of all the little bugs that had committed suicide on my window the previous day. As it got more and more difficult to see, I made the huge mistake of smearing them around with the windshield wipers and washer fluid, now I was almost driving blind into a glaring, yet beautiful sunrise. As luck would have it, I came across a gas station with truck parking next to it. I washed my window there and also waited about 20 mintues for the sun to get just a higher in the sky so as not to be shinning directly into my eyes.

I arrived in Gila Bend ahead of schedule. Passing through the small town you felt like you just stepped way back in time. I was almost expecting a covered wagon to pass by or maybe see Wyatt Earp shoot it out with some bandits. I made my way through town and made it to the mill I was delivering at. As I was leaving the mill, I had to stop and take a picture of an old run down building that I thought was a photographic gem. I also had to take a picture of my truck. After this, I was on my way to Phoenix for service.

I made it to the Peterbilt dealer at about 2:30 Monday afternoon. After a couple of hours, they finally told my that they would not be able to look at my truck that day. I called my driver manger and told her this and she told me to stay there in my truck. Now, bear in mind that this is in the middle of an industrial area. Once they close the shop at night, there are no bathrooms, showers, laundry, food....anything! And, they close the gates with rolled barbed wire on top so you can't even get in or out. But, they told me I was welcome to spend the night in their parking lot. I asked the service writer what I was supposed to do if I got up in the middle of the night and had to pee, was I just supposed to pee in the middle of your parking lot? He just looked at me with a blank stare and shrugged. I contacted my driver manager again and she told that I could take the truck to a truck stop and stay there.

The next morning, I arrived at the shop at about 7:15. Once again, not knowing where I was or where I was supposed to go to get food. I ended up walking about a mile up the road and found a Junk in the Box and got some chicken strips and iced tea. There was also a Circle K right next to the shop where I could get some water, but I refused to eat anything in there. Feeling somewhat abandoned and completely lacking any control over my situation, I came to the end of my rope. I don't like the feeling of being trapped somewhere and lacking the ability to make basic decision for my self. I felt as though I was at the mercy of somebody that was making decision for me while sitting in an comfortable office a thousand miles away. Along with many other highly stressful factors that play into being an over the road trucker, I decided that I was in a career that I wasn't prepared to handle. I called up my driver manager at about 2 that afternoon and asked her to route me home when the truck got out of service, I needed to move on. She tried to talk me out of it and told that not every day would be a breakdown. I told that there were just way too many factors that I didn't calculate into this job and I just didn't think I was cut out for it. I then called my wife and told her what I just done. She was very supportive and told that we'll just have to see what happens next.

After I spent 11 hours hanging out in a parking lot at the service center, I decided to take matters into my own hands and called a shuttle to take me to a motel for the night. At least I had the comfort of knowing that I was in an environment that was designed to provide basic necessities.

It is now Wednesday morning and I will once again call the service center and see if my truck is done. I really feel the need to be home right now.

I don't know what's going to happen next for me, I'm not really sure if I just made the best or worst decision of my life. I will continue to do the best I can to make life wonderful for me and my family. I've had to reassess what I really feel is important many times in the last year since I was laid off from the Federal Reserve Bank. Once again, I am reassessing and will try to make the best decisions for my future.

I'll keep you updated.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The right stuff, Do I have it?

The phrase "the right stuff" is something generally used to describe Naval Aviators. It makes reference to the pilots that fly the combats jets and land them on aircraft carriers. In order to do that job, you must have "the right stuff." In my humble opinion, a long haul truck driver must also have "the right stuff."

I usually save my main point for the end of my blog but today I'm going to come right out and say it in the beginning, I lack the right stuff and quit my job today. As of this writing, I'm held up in Phoenix and will be routed home.

That being said, I'm glad I titled my blog "red's midlife crisis" and not "red's truck driving adventures." And so it seems, that I may really be heading into more of a mid life crisis than I originally bargained for. I do plan on keeping up this blog updated as I think it will only get more and more interesting as time passes. I don't know how else to say it except that I'm scared as hell right now and I don't know what's going to happen next.

That part out of the way, allow me to shift gears and share my latest adventures.........

I was dispatched from Salem Oregon on Friday to go to a mill in Halsey and drop off an empty trailer and then pick up a loaded trailer and take it to Gila Bend, Arizona. I arrived at the mill at around 2 in the afternoon convinced that this would be a way easy trip with time to spare since my load wasn't scheduled to deliver until 1pm on Monday. Once I got rid of my empty, I went to get the loaded and was told that I couldn't pick that up until 11 that night. My original plan was to get about 5 hours down the road Friday. Now, keep in mind that I am middle aged and do like to try and keep a regular sleeping schedule. I knew I would start getting very tired at about 9 or so and was not looking forward to picking up at 11. I went back to a truck stop on I5 and decided to hang out there for a while. Because of a facebook update, my Mom decided to come up and bring my daughter to me to visit with before I hit the road. Bekah (my daughter) was staying with Grandma and Grandpa for spring break and they were only about 40 miles away. This was a well needed moral boost!!!

Later that night, I went back to the mill and picked up my trailer and made it back to I5 and decided to try and head south. I quickly realized I was too tired and stopped at a rest stop just south of Halsey at just after midnight.

Since you have to log 10 hours in the sleeper before you can start driving again, I knew I couldn't start before 10:15 in the morning. My plan was to start driving right at 10:15 and stop no later than 10 that night so I could start at 8 the next morning, stop by 8 that night and start my last day at 6am, giving me 7 hours of leeway before I had to make my appointment. You are only allowed to drive for 11 hours a day but you have 14 hours in which to do it, to account for breaks and such.

I started out at 10:15 on Saturday morning and about mid day I tackled the Syskious, that great mountain divide between Oregon and California. I then made it to Sacramento at about 8 that night and decided to bed down in a truck stop. On Sunday I got back on the South bound 5 and headed for the Grapevine. The Grapevine is the well known mountain pass right before you hit LA. I stopped at a rest stop about an hour from the Grapevine and took a few moments to eat a sandwich and gather my nerve. I also decided that it was a good place to brush my teeth since being a trucker is all about taking advantage of opportunities when they arise. I set out for Grapevine but had no idea that I would not get the chance to stop again until I hit Palm Spring, a 4 1/2 stint. About the time you hit the base of the Grapevine you are also greeted with the worlds worse roads. These poor roads continued all the way over the mountain and East until about SanBernardino. 100 miles and 2 1/2 solid hours of  of having
your kidneys abused and fearing that all the noise you were hearing was the truck crumbling underneath you. I fully expected the truck to disintegrate and I would be left standing in the middle of the freeway holding a steering wheel.

Alas, I Did make it to Palm Springs........and then things got a little interesting.

Well, it's late and I'm going to bed, I'll fill you in when I get the chance.


Friday, March 25, 2011

understanding the costs

As I decided to pursue a new career it was easy to tell myself that I understood the costs or hardships of being a long haul trucker. Even when I was in truck driving school and once I started training with May Trucking I was home every night. I knew the time would come real soon when I would have to hit the road and I convinced myself that I was totally prepared to deal with it. Turns out, I was wrong.

The trip that I did this last weekend was just a truck recovery. They sent me to Idaho to pick up a truck that was there and bring it back to Salem Oregon. I knew it was going to be a quick trip and I would be back home very soon. I then waited at home anxiously awaiting them to get a truck assigned to me. I pretended to have the desire to hit the road as soon as possible but I don't think I was fooling anybody, including myself. When I got the call on Thursday that they had a truck for me, I was both excited and scared.

I got a dispatch this morning telling me that I would be hauling a load to Gila Bend Arizona, just southeast of Phoenix. Then, it hit me! My 11 year old daughter has been at Grandma and Grandpa's house since Friday for Spring Break. I haven't seen her in a week, which in and of itself, isn't that big of a deal. Ever since she was little she would go to the G-parents place for a week or two at a time. But now, about the time she is supposed to be retuning, I am leaving and will probably be gone for 3 weeks (give or take). Now, I'm really starting to struggle.

I named this blog "red's mid life crisis" because I knew I was getting ready to face some HUGE challenges in the coming months. However, I didn't count on it being such an emotional struggle so early in the game. It doesn't take kids long to grow up and you can never get that time back. My daughter is way too precious to me to take any moment for granted.

I have to stick with this for now because I have no other way to pay the bills. When I started this job I was telling everybody that I was going to commit to it for a year. Right now, I'm reassessing that commitment.

Keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I continue to work my way through this. Right now, I feel like I need a strength that I don't currently have.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Trial by Fire

I finally found a ride to Idaho to pick up the tractor in Payette. As usual, nothing went as planned. The driver picked me up at a truck stop about 5 miles from my house on Friday morning at 6am. He asked if I would mind driving. I was happy to oblige since I have not yet had the benefit of any mountain driving experience and I was more than happy to have somebody that's done it before in the passenger seat for my trial run. I think his main motive for wanting me to drive was so he could save on log hours and continue driving once we reached Payette. Just as well, the situation still worked in my favor since I was able to get just a little more free training out of it.

The drive to Payette was uneventful but yet informative. The guy I was with was also a company trainer and very friendly. He talked me through all the mountain driving and our 6 hour trip seemed to pass almost too quickly.

When I arrived and located the truck I was supposed to pick up, I realized that it was one of the older trucks that they wanted back at the main office so they could sell it off. Whoever this truck was assigned to last was a nasty slob! All I can say, glad that's not the truck they're assigning to me. Turns out, the bunk heater didn't even work (that's what keeps you warm in the middle of the night).

About the time I climbed in the truck I received a dispatch. I was to pick up a trailer full of beer and head back to Portland. Yes, I know! Sounds like a dream come true to have 43k lbs of beer behind you. But, alas, the doors are sealed and I'm not allowed in. I immedeatly started to hunt for my keg party on wheels and it was nowhere to be found. I called my driver manager and she told me that the trailer was about 7 hours out. Bearing in mind that I had not yet exhausted all available driving hours, I was hoping to leave Payette that night and try to get about 4 hours down the road.

Accepting my fate and knowing that I wouldn't be leaving till the next day, I decided to bed down in the nasty and cold truck for the night. Fortuitous as it was that I had the foresight to bring plenty of blankets, this offered no help to me when I actually had to get out of bed in the morning. I can describe it in 2 words brrrrrr rrrrrrr!!!

I was not at all surprised when I got up the next morning and found that my trailer still hasn't arrived. I kinda figured this guy would run short of hours and stop for the night. I sat in the drivers lounge (it has a heater) and watched with optimism and intent as ever truck pulled into the yard. Finally, at about 10am, I saw trailer 1166 go past the window. Hurray, now the fun can begin.

Heading west on hwy 84 from Idaho you encounter several climbs and drops. But the grandaddy, just before you reach Pendleton, is Cabbage Hill. Bear in mind that the westward journey is steeper than the eastward route we tackled the previous day. I was also 20k heavier and I was going down instead of up.

Right after you start on the downside of the pass, you come around corner and you see a long stretch of road that dips down like a scary carnival ride and almost disappears underneath you.Off in the distance, you can get side view of where you'll soon be should you survive the hairpin turn. The side view was equally intimidating because it appeared to be at the same angle as all those teeter totters that you see people fall off of in America's Funniest Videos. I didn't want my truck to fall off this teeter totter. I selected a low gear and turned on the jake and let that engine whine like a kid in a doctors office on shot day. 22 tons of beer at my back pushing with all it's might was not enough to overcome the mighty Peterbilt. We held steady at 30mph down in the entire 6% grade and I never even touched the brakes.

All said and done, I'm just glad I didn't spill any beer!


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

1st real job as a trucker

I finally got the call from May. Well, sorta. They don't have a truck for me yet but they want me to go to Idaho and pick up a truck for somebody else and bring it back to Oregon. I was curious as to why the the person that was getting this truck was not sent after it. But, what the hey, it's money in my pocket. The trip is worth about 125.00, that's better than waiting at home making nothing. I was told that they hope to have a truck for me by the time I get back from Idaho.

As far as I know, this is my itinerary;
Thursday - I will go to the May yard in Salem Oregon and hitch a ride with another driver to the Payette Idaho yard.

Friday - Drive back to Oregon.

After that - I hope they have a truck available for me so I can start making the big bucks.

In the interest of wanting to share photo's with all of my blog followers but not wanting to lug camera gear all over the country, I decided to compromise my principals today and purchased a point n shoot camera. It is very difficult to make the switch to a camera that does all the thinking for me and takes the creative decisions out of my hands. On the other hand, I really didn't want to pack one of the DSLR's just yet.

First road trip in the works and camera in hand. Hopefully, great photo's and stories are right around the corner.


Friday, March 11, 2011

my status has changed

The time had arrived, on Tuesday I was called into the office and asked to perform a series of test. My objective; to prove to my employer that I could be trusted with 80,000 lbs rolling down a public highway without a scared, screaming trainer sitting in passenger seat digging his fingernails into the dash. Their objective; to locate drivers that don't force their trainers (or anybody else) to take advantage of life insurance benefits at an early age.

The guy I was training with decided to stay out on the road for the day and make money. In most cases, the truck that you train in is the truck that is used to test the trainee. This provides an added benefit to the trainee because all trucks are a little different and it's nice to test in something that you're familiar with.  There was another trainer at the terminal that day and his trainee was also scheduled to test so he graciously agreed to let me use his truck to take my test in. The major difference, he had a brand new Kenworth with only 37,000 miles on. In truck speak, that's not even broke in yet. The truck that I was training on, a 4 year old Peterbilt with over 500k and scheduled to be traded off for a new truck. As I was touring around the Kenworth, I was told that the big difference is the shift pattern is much tighter. In the sloppy ole' Pete, I had to swing my right arm from here to Texas to navigate the shift lever from one gear to the next. Again, I was nervous about trying to get used to a new truck while I was being graded on my ability.

Once we go started on the road test, I soon realized that getting used to a newer truck was a lot like trying to adjust to a more comfy chair. It was in fact much easier than I thought and the transmission seemed to be much smoother. No coffee grinding with this trans, just smooth as butter shifts from one gear to the next. A quick trip up the freeway and then played around on a few side streets and back at the terminal without a problem. I drove the truck to the back of the yard where the tester kicked me out and then complimented me on my test.

Now, at the back of the yard I was faced with yet one more task. I now had to prove that I had the skills to safely negotiate a truck into a loading dock without ripping open trailers like a can of spam. The area is set up with lots of traffic cones to simulate the conditions that you might encounter in a customers yard. I felt somewhat confident about this part of the test because I did this course before I started training. We would have to perform a straight back, a 45 degree and a 90 degree alley dock. There was also a small go-cart track that I had to go around but I got to do that one forward. This course also had it's own equipment, a worn out ole' Pete. About the time I got started I soon realized there was one very significant difference from the first time I did this course. A stray cone was placed right smack in the middle of the backing lane for my straight and 45 degree. Now, they were both serpentine ~ backs.

That annoying and ill placed cone certainly put my backing skills to the test. I was able to handle it without too much trouble but that 45 degree caused me to sprout one or two more gray hairs. After I was done, I approached the examiner and he told me :congratulations, your status has changed, you're now solo."

After that, I talked to my driver manager and she told me that it would take about a week to a week an a half to find an available truck. So, I'm back at home and waiting for a truck and then I will be on my way.

Almost there!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Please, drive safe!

I usually make every attempt to be funny or somehow amusing when I write. I don't like to make myself a billboard for public service announcements but, sometimes you have to do what you have to do. On Friday, March 4th, I saw something that greatly disturbed me.

We (my trainer and myself) were headed east on HWY 30 in between Scappoose and Portland when we came across the scene of an accident. The vehicles involved were a Dodge Neon and a Dump Truck. The only reason that I know it was a Dodge Neon is because I found a news story on the incident. There was not enough left of the car to identify it after the accident. The damage on the dump truck was all underneath. The front axle was severely damaged and the fuel and air tanks that are right under the drivers cab were bent towards the rear of the truck. It was obvious to me that the dump truck went completely over the top of this small car. There was a large yellow blanket that was placed over the top of what one might perceive to be the drivers compartment of the car. The disturbing part, there were 4 or 5 of these blankets placed at random stops on the road. My guess; they weren't there to cover up car parts.

From what I could gather from news accounts, it seems the driver of the car may have suffered a medical condition that led to the accident.

I have been with my trainer for about 3 weeks now. On Tuesday, I will go back to the office to do a solo out test. If I am able to meet their requirements, they hand me the keys to a truck and send me on my way. What I saw on HWY 30 on Friday, just prior to my solo out test, is a grim reminder that our public highways can be a very dangerous place. I know I have several RV'ers that follow this blog and you spend a lot of time out there. But, be it for the purpose of recreating, making a living or just getting to work, the message is the same; PLEASE, DRIVE SAFE!

Hope to see you on the highway!


Sunday, February 27, 2011

The trucker's test of patience

I'm only 2 weeks into my training and I'm convinced that there are many things of interest that I have yet to experience. However, there seem to be some reoccurring themes in the trucking life that I am sure I wil l have to deal with for the duration of my career on the highway.

Allow me to walk you through an oft repeated scenario, consider yourself behind the wheel for the following event.

You're chugging down the 4 lane trying to be mindful of safety and legal speed limits as well productivity and deadlines. While maintaining a safe and sane rate of speed, you find yourself gaining on a small car in the distance. As you approach the car you can see that the driver is driving with one hand on the wheel and is constantly looking down and to the right. A check of your speedometer indicates that this road bozo is traveling at about 52mph in a 55 zone. Once again, mindful of what you must accomplish in an allotted time frame, you move over to the left hand lane to pass the bozo.Once you get alongside this distracted driver, he suddenly decides to speed up slightly and match your speed. Now, bearing in mind that it is illegal for a commercial vehicle to travel in the left hand lane (except when passing), you decide to push legal boundaries and bump it up to 58mph in order to safely make it past your new nemesis. Yes, of course, bozo speeds up too. On the side of your truck is a large sign at eye level to bozo's car that reads "YOU ARE DRIVING IN MY BLIND SPOT". Bozo must not have graduated 1st grade because he takes the next 5 miles to study this sign in very close proximity. About this time, he gets another call/text on his phone and goes back to being distracted and slows down to 52mph. Finally, you get past him and are able to move into the right hand lane. As soon as you reach the right hand lane, you also reach the base of a hill. As you succumb to the forces of gravity that place an undo and unfair burden on 80K lbs, the bozo in the little car passes you. Being a small hill, you quickly negotiate the ascent and descent and find level ground on the other side. About this time, you once again find yourself quickly approaching the same bozo that you just took 5 miles to pass on the other side of the hill. Now, go back to the beginning of this paragraph and read it again, 5 times!

So, I guess I'm learning patience. But, I've always said "patience is for people that don't have something important to do".


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The biggest hurdle to becoming a trucker has been overcome

There are many steps that one must take to become a long haul truck driver. Some are easy, some are down right scary. To me, the scariest step, the one that almost turned me away from trucking, has now become the best part of my journey into trucking so far.

After completing trucking school and passing the necessary State tests, you must then select a company that you deem worthy of your highly qualified services. Once this company is chosen, you attend an orientation that lasts anywhere from 3 to 5 days. During this orientation, you are not yet an employee, it's more like a job interview. If you pass their interview process, they then pair you with a trainer who will take you over the road and show you the ropes. This was the hurdle that I wasn't sure I could get over.

The training period that the different companies offered varied greatly. One company wanted me to train for 8 weeks, one for 6 weeks and 2 others told me that their training would last about 3 weeks. Now, bear in mind, the sleeper berths on modern trucks are quite roomy. At the same time, you must also consider what exactly you would call "roomy" when sharing quarters with a complete stranger. For this reason, I selected the company that had the shortest training period. I knew that if there was one thing that would prevent me from making it through training, bunking with another trucker would be it. However, I knew I had to cross this hurdle, as difficult as it was.

On Monday I received a call from a Driver Manager informing me that they had located a trainer for me. She said the trainer would give me call and tell me when and where to meet him. I started packing my bags to prepare for my dreaded and disgusting road trip when the call from my trainer came in. Much to my surprise, and elation, he told me that he only ran local routes and was home every night. I can't even begin to tell you excited I was to hear that!!!!

The local gig is awesome! We are running mostly shipping containers back and forth from a mill in St Helens to a Rail yard in Portland. The trainer I got is a good guy, close to my age and he rides a motorcycle. The thing that I like best about him, I have no idea if he snores or not, and I'm OK with keeping it that way.

Sooo thankful for this!!!

Monday, February 7, 2011

I May be orientated

It's been over a week since I updated my blog. If there was anything exciting about the last week, I must have slept through it. I finished the truck driving school on January 27th and didn't really have a lot to do in the week off. I did go back to the DMV and take a few more tests for endorsements. As of now, I am qualified to haul HazMat, tankers and doubles/triples. I've decided that I don't want a passenger endorsement because I have NO desire to drive a school bus full of kids. Nothing against the kido's, I just don't want to deal with ya.

This morning I started orientation with May Trucking Co. I'm not officially an employee of May until I complete their 3 day process of being orientated. The day started off with me having to fork over all paper work they required. I had to prove to them that I did in fact graduate from a trucking school and that I was an American citizen. Then, they took me out on a road test in a tractor. Bearing in mind that all tractors are a little different and all transmissions feel a little different, I was put in trucks that I was completely unfamiliar with and told my future with company depends on my performance. I'm happy to report that the road test went well.

After the road test, they treated all the new guys to a free lunch at Hometown Buffet. This was an unexpected benefit. Tomorrow, I'm wearing pants with large pockets. When you're unemployed, free groceries are like manna from heaven.

After lunch, I was taken to the back of the yard were lots of cones were placed way to close to each other. I was then tasked with trying to navigate a tractor with 53 foot of trailer behind it through the cones in both forward and reverse. The object of the exercise was to negotiate your way through tight spaces without killing any of the cones.

Since I was not the cause of an untimely demise of any traffic cones, I was invited back to join them for a second day of orientation. We shall see what tomorrow brings.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Phase one; complete, Phase two......recruiters

Four weeks of books, backing, grinding and inspecting has finally paid off, The State of Oregon now trusts me to operate rather large vehicles on the same roadways that you currently use. Out of a class of 5, 2 people asked to reschedule their test for next week and get in an extra week of practice. I was scheduled to go 3rd today but ended up testing first since others thought that would be the hardest slot. I was happy to go first as I was sure that it would be easier to get it out of the way rather than sweating it out watching my classmates embarrass themselves.

And now, onto looking for a job. I feel very lucky to have a skill (or, perceived skill) that is in high demand. It might be worthy of concern why this is such a high demand job, the retention problems of this profession should be seen as "red flags" rather than "opportunity's". When recruiters show up at your school in the first week that might serve as a good indicator that nobody really wants to do this job. All the same, it feels good to be wanted. I have applied to 4 different trucking companies and all 4 said they would be more than happy to have me operate their trucks. After looking at a sea of information, I think I have decided to grant my services to May Trucking.

Since I have been surviving on unemployment since June, I am very excited that I finally have a path to a paycheck. The job market out there is very tough and I know many people that have been without a job for over a year or two. So, with that in mind, 8 months doesn't seem so bad.

Onward and upward, we'll see what happens with May!


Saturday, January 22, 2011

My hat came off and a light bulb went on.....

One of the more difficult parts of learning to drive a tractor trailer is learning to shift the truck. It's not at all like shifting a car. When changing gears in a big rig, you need to match the speed of the truck with the speed of the motor and make sure your selecting the correct gear. If these elements do not match perfectly, you will only hear loud grinding sounds as you attempt to force the truck into gear. Some may even suggest that the transmissions in truck schools are filled with whole coffee beans. After a month or so of training the newbies, the fresh ground coffee is sold to truck stops and served to the same folks that ground it.

Some learn the coordination of shifting rather quickly while others take much longer and spend lots of time grinding coffee. One of my fellow classmates seemed destined to provide his skills to truck stop barista's. No matter what the instructor him, he just could not seem to master the art of getting the truck from one gear to the next. To protect his dignity, I'll just refer to him as Billy.

A dark knit cap always graced Billy's head and he spoke with a thick accent that paid homage to the African country he came from. I sometimes wondered if there was a language barrier that seemed to hinder the sharing of information. We would go out on the driving range 4 to a truck, 1 instructor and 3 students. 2 students would sit on a bench seat in the sleeper while another student drove the truck. I was out with Billy every day. The instructor would explain in complete detail to Billy what he needed to do to shift the truck. When Billy gave it try, he would start doing about 8 different things all at once, none of those 8 things were in any way related to the directions that he was just given by the instructor. He always seemed very tense and probably even scared of the truck. Whenever I had a chance, I would pull Billy aside and try to give him a pep talk. I would tell him to first off, just relax. Second, listen to the instructor and do what he tells you, not the 8 other things you were doing. After several pep talks and no progression in his skills, I was starting to think that Billy had chosen the wrong career.

On Thursday, I stayed in the yard to practice backing and Billy went out on the road with another group of students. When the tractor came back to the yard, I was surprised to see that Billy was driving. As the tractor came to a stop I could see Billy through the drivers side window and he was smiling from ear to ear. I also noticed that he was not wearing his signature dark knit cap. When he got out of the cab, the first thing he told me was; "My hat came off and a light bulb went on." He went on to tell me that he could now up shift and down shift with ease. He also let me know that my constant pep talks had paid off and were one of reasons he finally came through.

If there must be a moral to the story, I suppose that it would have to be something like this; Always believe in people and offer encouragement. If you think somebody is incapable of something, don't tell them that, tell them they CAN do it. And, most importantly, the next time you enjoy a cup of coffee at a truck stop, thank Billy!


Friday, January 14, 2011

my big secret....

It's happened to all of us, you're sitting in a classroom trying to learn something and without fail there is always one person in the class that thinks they already know everything. Usually, these people think they are teaching the class from the students seat. They will talk over the teacher and go into long explanations about their experiences. It's a major annoyance and only serves slows down the progression of the class. When I started truck driving school, I decided that I would NOT be one of those people.

When I was in the Air Force from 1990 to 1994, I drove tractor trailers. I learned how to double clutch and shift through a 13 speed pattern with ease. However, beyond the basics, I my training in the military was nothing close to what it takes to drive a commercial truck. Military owned vehicles are exempt from Federal regulations. When I was driving on public highways, I would drive right past weigh stations. Military training usually consists of somebody handing you the keys to a truck and telling you to drive it until you get it right. For these reasons, I decided to keep it a secret that I had previous experience. I wanted to walk into the class to learn as much as I could, not brag about my expertise.

However, I must say I am very thankful for my past experience! The first day that we went out and drove the trucks was a bit a nail biter. 3 students in the truck with one instructor and we were taken to a less traveled road to learn about double clutching. I opted to go last and watched my fellow students make vain attempts at shifting gears. The crunching and grinding that I heard was similar to what you would hear if you dropped a spoon in a garbage disposal and turned it on. I was just happy that my kidneys survived the constant truck bucking. Honestly, I had no idea that you could even make a truck buck that hard.

Finally, it was my turn in the hot seat. Bearing in mind that it has been 17 long years since I've double clutched anything, I was slightly apprehensive that my past experience would pay off today. Once I got the truck rolling and was told to change gears, my first truck shift in almost 2 decades went smooth as silk. Within the first hour, I was practicing up sifting and down shifting as well as gear recovery, a technique used to get the truck back into gear if you miss a gear. On my second day of driving, I was already driving on the freeway. I started to feel a little guilty when one of the instructors told me that I was above average and almost 'fessed up to my secret.

I'm learning a lot every day and having fun doing it. Maybe in the last week I will reveal my secret, but not yet. I'm wanting to be instructed as though I have never even seen a truck and not have any information omitted because they assumed I already new it.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lesson #1, listen to the instructor

I made it through the first week of truck driving school without any problems. Well, other than the DMV giving me a ration over my birth certificate. But, thanks to a wonderful grandma that lives within a convenient proximity to my birthplace, that has since been ironed out.

As we we're wrapping up last week, the instructor told us that come Monday, we would not be in the classroom but we wouldn't start driving the trucks until Tuesday. Knowing that driving commercial vehicles involves constant inspection of your equipment, I knew we were going to spend all day Monday outside, in the yard looking at what could go wrong on a truck. With this knowledge, I developed a simple mathematical equation; We're in Oregon + it's January + 10 hour training days / my tolerance for the cold  (my desire to be comfortable) = I'm coming prepared.  This equation resulted in my showing up on Monday with the following items; insulated coveralls / work gloves with cotton inserts / boots / a real cool "cousin eddie" style hat that covers my ears.

I assure you, the weather did not disappoint on Monday. We start class at 6am, long before sunrise and it was COLD. I bundled up prior to heading outside and was quite shocked to see my peers simply put on their coats and zip them up. Within the first of hour of inspecting vehicles, I was starting to see the teeth of all my fellow students start to chatter. Myself, I was warm and cozy and felt like I could spend all day outside. With the knowledge of how to treat hypothermia running through my head, I was starting to feel very uncomfortable. Sorry guys, but if comes down to watching you die a slow, painful death or me climbing into a sleeping bag with ya....well, it's been nice knowin' ya buddy!

So, the most valuable lesson to date, lesson to the instructor!!!



Friday, January 7, 2011

DMV = Diminished Mental Volume

Haven't updated in a while, need to let you know what's happening.....

I got through my first week of school with flying colors. We went through a text book that was over 400 pages and crammed with information that I never thought possible to absorb. By the end of the week, I took a 100 question quiz on the material and I'm happy to report, I only missed one.

So, my assignment for the weekend, go to the DMV, take the necessary test and obtain my Class A learners permit. Without this, I will not be able to drive the trucks at the school.

In the interest of completing my assignment in speedy and orderly fashion, I decide to show up at the DMV rather early. No stress, plenty of time, confident of my knowledge, this shouldn't take long at all. Little did I know, the Gresham office was tipped off that I would be coming in today and had already held a staff meeting to discuss new ways to test my emotional stability. I strolled in at about 8:45am, lobby was mostly empty, the office seemed to be oddly peaceful and serene. I took my number and waited only a few moments before one of the clerks called it out. I walked to the counter and laid out my well organized paper work. That's where it all began....

I told the smirking State worker why I was there and could barely get my sentence finished before he looked back at me and curtly replied as he slid my birth certificate back to my side of the window "unfortunately, I can't take this." My sudden change in mood and expression left him with the sense of obligation to answer the question that I was still trying to form on my lips. He said "see this" as he pointed to large red type on the face of the document. He was directing my attention to the words "FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY NOT TO BE USED TO ESTABLISH IDENTITY". Well, OK, I knew that was there but I wasn't overly concerned about it. I assumed that my drivers license established my identity and the Birth Certificate was only to establish where I was born. And, I received this document from the State of California and it had the raised, embossed seal on it. How much more valid does it need to be? After all, it does say that it is for informational purposes only and I handed it over to provide some information.

I offered a very short argument with the DMV clerk over this since my will power to suppress my desire to commit murder was growing weaker by the second. I figured it best to walk away before I earned myself a criminal record.

As I drove toward home, fumming, I decided to practice chapter 37 of the text I recently studdied.....Talking like a trucker.

I got home and decided that I will pick up all required documents in person and deliver them in person. I immediately started booking a flight for Southern California, to return to the place of my birth so I could retrieve valid documentation that attests to that fact. I then decided to make one other attempt before spending 500 bucks to hire out myself as my own delivery boy. I called my dear, sweet Grandma and asked if she could go to the hall of records (about 15 miles from her house) and overnight it to me. Thank God I have one of the best Grandma's on the planet. She graciously accepted her mission and told me that she would call me when completed. I'm still waiting for that call, hope all went well.

Meanwhile, I went back to the DMV and took the required test which I easily passed. As soon as my documentation arrives, they will give me my permit.

I also went by the school and explained this situation to them and they were more than understanding. It seems to me that I am not the first student there that has gone rounds with the DMV.

Better days ahead, I'm not going to worry about it. Thank God for my Grandma!!!