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!!!


Monday, January 3, 2011

Day one, completed

Lots of looking at books. Small class, just 4 right now but I was told that somebody else would be joining us tomorrow. Instructor seems pretty cool and he's interesting to listen to, that helps keep me awake. However, he did give us homework. Gotta run, have some reading to do!


Day one!

Today is the day that I start training at Western Pacific Truck School. This is the first day of the next chapter in my life. I'm a little nervous that I'm actually going to follow through with this decision. But, that's one of the reasons that I feel it's so important for me to do it, to prove to myself that I can follow through with difficult decisions.

Hopefully, I will have much more to say tonight.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

A new year, a new plan.

In the words of John Lennon in a song to his son "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans". I have new plans for 2011 but I'm also keenly aware that sometime life happens, in spite of our best laid plans.

In 2010, I was working full time and making a decent living, I got laid off, spent some time unemployed, bought a photo studio and quickly realized I couldn't make it float, went back to being unemployed and then signed up for a truck driving school. I knew my job was coming to an end and had planned on that. Everything else, it was just life happening. I can't control life so I will do the best I can to ride it out and enjoy it.

I have many concerns about my new chosen career path. But, I know that life happens and no matter how hard I try to plan things out, I will never know how it will turn out.

bring on 2011, I'll face it with bravery and excitement.