Trucking School Update

Sorry for not posting in so long! I had no idea that trucking school would be so tiring. To make up for my abscence, I’ll make this a longer post.

First: the school. When I first signed up for this program, I was told that they are trying to get students tested in 3-5 weeks. This is the beginning of my 4th week. I have progressed SO MUCH since I started. It was a long, slow, humbling road, but I finally feel fairly confident behind the wheel of the trucks here. I have gotten much better on my backing maneuvers (straight line, offset, and parallel). It has been VERY difficult to master the backing maneuvers. It wasn’t until yesterday that I was finally able to identify why I was getting such inconsistent results. I realize this is all rather vague, but it would take a long time to explain these maneuvers, especially without pictures.

Second: driving on the road. I have also gotten much better at managing the truck on the road. Double clutching was difficult, but I just needed to develop the necessary muscle memory. Now I barely think about up shifting. Down shifting is a bit more difficult, but it’s also just muscle memory and rhythm. I used to have a lot of trouble with maintaining my lane, but now I check my mirrors more and I’m able to stay in the lines easily. I even had trouble checking my mirrors because I would drift when I looked in them because I had to look longer to understand what I was seeing. Now, I’m able to glance and know what I’m seeing. At this point, it’s just down to hammering out the small details and getting more consistent results. I’m actually going out to the offsite range to practice backing, which means that I will be ready to test for my CDL soon!

Third: friends. I have made several friends and am friendly with pretty much everyone here. I met two married gay men who basically took me under their wing. We’ve had a ton of fun together and they helped me understand a lot of the mistakes I was making. They are 4 weeks ahead of me and will be leaving with trainers shortly. Their class was part of the group that was estimated to leave in 4-6 weeks, but there were delays for them. I also met a bi man who trained as an actor and is an intellectual. He was driven here for the same reason I was: money. We’ve gotten on very well and it’s been refreshing to use my full vocabulary without worrying that I’ll sound like an elitist douche. There are a few other people that I’m friendly with from my class and I’ve been very surprised at the variety of people I’ve met here. There are people here from all over the world with all kinds of different backgrounds and life stories. I’m pretty sure I’ve met people that I will be friends with for the rest of my life.

Finally: what’s to come. Because I’ve finally been put on the offsite range, I should be testing by the end of this week or the beginning of next week. Once I pass my CDL test, then I have to train for a few days to learn how to back into an alley dock. Once I learn that maneuver, I take a test on it and Celadon’s safety test, which is just basically the same road test as I took for my CDL. After I pass that test, I’ll get sent home to get my physical CDL. Then, I have to come back and go through orientation and get placed with a trainer. I will be out with the trainer for 10,000 miles. After that, I’ll be team driving for a minimum of 6 months. Then I could continue to team, go solo with Celadon, or switch to another company and only have to pay $2,300 to Celadon to buy out my contract. I’m planning to play it by ear for now.

I never expected to struggle as much as I have learning how to drive a truck, but I’m so glad I stuck it out and got to this point. I know I would have dropped out without my friends here cheering me on.

I also realize I’ve made an excessive amount of driving puns and I wish I could stop, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Hope to see you down the road

~Catherine

 

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Out on the range

Today was my third day here at the company-sponsored CDL training facility. Yesterday was similar to the first day, with lots of safety presentations and laying the groundwork for getting us out in trucks. Today, however, we spent some time on the simulators. We are lucky enough to be at a facility that has four drive simulators that look just like the driver’s seat of a truck, but have a digital screen where the windshielld would be. Instead of getting in a real truck to practice changing gears, we did it in a simulation. It’s not really good for  much else due to the limited graphics and physics of the sim, but practicing changing gears without ruining a truck is very valuable experience. Expecialy since I would definitely have shredded the gears of a real truck, as well as possibly run someone over and/or rolled the truck if I hadn’t been on the sim. It was hard to get the rhythm of double clutching down! Considering I’ve only ever successfully driven a manual car once, ten years ago, I didn’t do too badly, but it was another humbling experence for me.

In the afternoon, a group of us went out to an offsite range to start learning how to do the pre-trip inspection. For those who don’t know, a pre-trip inspection is a VERY thorough inspection of the inside and outside of a truck performed EVERY time a trucker is getting ready to head back out on the road. Doesn’t matter if you were just stopped for lunch or overnight, you must perform the pre-trip inspection before leaving. It has to do with safety and liability. If a trucker takes off without doing the pre-trip and a few hundred miles down the road, a tire blows, or the brakes fail, or something happens to the truck that requires repairs and/or a delay in delivery of product, the company has no way of saying that it wasn’t the trucker’s fault and the incident could have been prevented altogether just by doing the inspection. Therefore, the inspection is thorough and, thus, difficult to memorize. Truckers have to know the different parts of the engine and identify if they are in proper working order, parts of the brakes, parts on the tractor, parts on the trailer, as well as an inspection of inside the tractor cab and a brake test. It’s a lot of information to memorize, but fortunatley, it is just straight memorization. They are giving us all the information we need to pass the test, we just need to memorize it. I do know I will need the full three weeks to get it down, though. Also, we got caught in a torrential downpour while out there tooday… twice. Once with lightning. Fun fun.

It’s late and I have to get up at 7am (ugh) so I’ll end it here for now.

Hope to see you down the road.

~Catherine

Holy shit, I should have waited to write that last post

So, it will seem that I just posted this immediately after the last post, but I wrote the last one yesterday. I wrote it before I seriously fucked up.

So, because I had my headphones on watching anime, I managed to misunderstand the announcement for my connecting bus and I completely missed it. I started to have a small panic attack when I realized I missed it, but managed to recover by focusing on my options. I had to wait for the supervisor to get back from break to find out if I could get rescheduled to a later bus. While I waited, I called around to try to find out if I could rent a car and just drive myself the rest of the way there. Fun fact: if you are younger than 25 and do NOT have a major CREDIT card, no one will rent to you. Why it has to be a credit card, I do not understand. It may be that you need a credit card regardless of your age. I don’t know. At that point I was too irritated with myself to really try to find out.

Fortunately, when the supervisor came back, she was able to switch me to the bus leaving at 11 and getting there at 2:20 am. Not ideal in any way, but at least I didn’t have to wait until Monday to catch the next bus. Unfortunately, the bus didn’t arrive at the destination until about 3 am. At that point, if I had been able to go to bed right then, I would have only gotten 4 hours of sleep before class. So, I called the company to tell them I was there and they sent out a shuttle. So, I went out the front doors and waited… and waited…. and waited. After half an hour, I called back and the dude managing the phone said he would call the guy and call me back. Called me back and said he would be there in 10 minutes. 15 minutes later, I called back again. Dude calls shuttle again. Shuttle should be there in 10 minutes. TWENTY MINUTES LATER I called back and the dude seemed really pissed at the guy driving the shuttle. Calls back, says 10 minutes. At this point, it’s after 4am. Fortunately, the shuttle FINALLY shows up and I heaved my heavy ass bag into the back of his van. At this point, I had been sitting or standing in exceptionally uncomfortable positions for the last 16 hours. Had to carefully heave myself into the van without my legs giving out. Drive for ANOTHER HALF HOUR because the shuttle guy had a passenger with him that I suspect slowed him down. Dropped that guy off first, but fortunately he just had to drive to the opposite side of the building to drop me off. Get in out of the rain (because OF COURSE it was raining) and the guy signing me in is lovely. Got my bag upstairs because the main elevator is broken and my room is on the third floor. By the time I finally unwound, texted my parents, and was ready for bed, it was after 5am. I couldn’t sleep well because I was so sore from all the traveling and I got up at 7am to go eat breakfast.

I have been severely sleep deprived with excessive yawning, my fine motor skills are in the shitter, and I fell asleep several times during the intro stuff today. Even with all that, I am stoked to be here. I am so excited to eventually get out on the road and see the country. The process to get to that point is very long and complicated and I will explain it properly when I’m more coherent. Everyone seems very friendly and us students are already forming a comraderie. I have my own personal room with a bed, small desk, and closet/drawers. The facility is very clean and there is a really great relationship between staff, trainers, and students. I think this could be the start of someting amazing. And possibly the start of my legs turning into solid muscle from climbing up and down 3 flights of stairs 5-10 times a day.

Hope to have you along for the journey.

~Catherine

I’m on my way!

Sitting in the Columbus, Ohio bus station, I remember last night when it really hit me that I’m leaving home for a month or more. It really hit me that I won’t see my dog in a very long time. The last time I had to leave my dog, I had to leave her in a really bad situation and I still haven’t really forgiven myself for that. I started to feel the same things I did then: guilt, fear, despair. But then I remembered that I’m not leaving her in another bad situation. She will be properly loved and cared for even though I’m not there to do it. That realization helped more than I thought it would. Even though I’m going to miss Snickers more than anything, I’m not going to be worried for her safety. And that’s important.

Some people might think that my priorities are backward that I’m going to miss my dog the most, but I will be able to talk to my family. I can video chat with them. I can’t pet my dog. I can’t snuggle with her. She won’t be sleeping in my bed every night. And that’s how we communicate. I know some people skype with their dogs, but I know that she wouldn’t understand what was happening and it might make her more depressed. I know it will make me more depressed. So I’ll just love on her non-stop every time I get home time.

As for the bus, I’m currently on a layover. I’ve ridden Greyhound before and I will say that they continue to improve their travel experience. It’s not perfect. Nowhere near. But it’s better than the first time I took a bus in 2009. Unfortunately, they advertise the shit out of their free wifi at terminals, but I can’t connect at all. So this will be posted later, possibly tomorrow when I’m at the training center. The bus was the most crowded I have ever been on, but it’s likely that the Akron-Columbus route is more popular than Fort Wayne-Detroit. Hopefully my next bus will be less crowded. I’m a little worried about getting delayed. They already had to split a bus going to Cleveland into two trips and a 3 o’clock departure left at 4. I hope I’m not too delayed since I won’t be getting to the center until 10 pm at best.

In the mean time, I’ve got the copious amounts of anime that I downloaded last night, as well as music. I’m currently sitting in the food court and, I’ll be honest, this terminal is pretty disgusting. I’m only eating here because I don’t think I will get another chance to eat for the rest of the day. The Akron terminal, which is also the city bus station, was very nice. The cafe was closed, likely because it’s Sunday, but it was clean and aesthetically pleasing. The Columbus station is clearly quite old, smells like you think a bus station would, and is in slight disrepair. I hope they update the station soon. It is quite large and clearly heavily used, so it may not be efficient to combine it with the city bus station. It would need quite a bit of space, which is pretty limited in downtown Columbus. I’ve noticed quite a few cities combining their Greyhound stations with their main bus stations, which makes sense. Especially for smaller cities that don’t have as much traffic through their Greyhound terminal, it is much more cost effective to combine the two, instead of paying for electricity, plumbing, AC, etc. for just a handful of people a few hours a day. It also means they can potentially pool their resources to keep the station better cleaned and in good condition.

I’m just rambling because I’m bored. My layover is at least 4 hours, depending on when my next bus shows up and I still have at least another hour to go. Oh! I almost forgot! Our bus got pulled over on the way here by the cops. They boarded and said they were looking for someone, asked for ID’s from a few people who, I’m assuming, fit the profile of the guy they were looking for. It was very strange. We pulled over into a, currently, unused construction site with nothing but a shack and port-a-potty and we were like, “Shit, what you gonna do to us in that shed?” It was weird.

Anyway, I’ll try to update tomorrow and depending on wifi, I may post twice tomorrow. See you then!

~Catherine

I’m Off to See the Wizard!

Jesus, that’s a dated reference. *Ahem* I mean, I did it!! I FINALLY got my CDL permit and I’m scheduled to leave to start school to get my CDL on Sunday!

It took me three tries to pass the knowledge test and it made me feel like an ignoramus. I used to do pretty well in school, but this was hard for me. What I found most difficult was remembering exact stopping distances, air brake psi for different situations, and other numbers I needed to memorize. I’ve always had trouble integrating numbers into my memory banks. If it’s algebra, where all you need is the formula, I somehow have no trouble with that. But dates or any other specific numbers for specific situations are next to impossible for me to remember. That’s ok though because I know it is a limitation and have developed methods for coping.

I also had to pass a DOT physical, which has to be given by a specifically licensed physician and usually costs about $60, although I’m sure it varies by state, too. It’s also almost never covered by health insurance, but most schools will reimburse you for the cost. It wasn’t much more intense than a regular physical. Had to keep my blood pressure below 140/90 which usually is not even  remotely an issue, but when I first got it taken with a machine, it was 143/87 which is RIDICULOUSLY high for me.  Fortunately, the doctor took it manually later and it was 123/83, which is much more like my normal range. Had to do a urine test for different health factors, not drugs. It screens for kidney issues, diabetes, and other potential health problems. Had to do a VERY basic strength test which just about anyone could pass. Just push against his hands with your arms and legs while he exerts a very mild amount of pressure and make sure you are able to squat. No big deal. Then they go though and make sure you don’t have any disqualifying health problems like epilepsy or shcizophrenia or anything else that could interfere with your ability to drive a truck. In all the information I read about getting this physical, it talked about bringing vaccination records, medical records, verification of medications taken, but NOWHERE that I found did it say ANYTHING about getting a letter from your psychiatrist verifying that your mental health is stable and your meds are working. That ended up being the ONE thing he needed from me. And OF COURSE my psychiatrist is on vacation until next week. Fortunately, I was able to get in to see a psychaitrist who works with mine and he signed the letter. I’m very fortunate that my office was so willing to help me out, but MAN that was frustrating.

But now I finally got everything done, called my recruiter, emailed her pictures of my DOT physical card and CDL permit, and now I’m scheduled to leave! I’m SO excited!! Also, I found out that instead of having classes M-F 8-5, classes are now 7 days a week at the same times, so that will shave off about a week of training. Now I’m expected to be on the road with a trainer in 3-5 weeks instead of 4-6, which is great because that means I will get a paycheck sooner. I don’t get paid while I’m doing the classroom learning and practicing on the lots. I only get paid when I start hauling merchandise.

I’ll update again soon when I have more information on what to pack and such.

~Catherine

How do you become a truck driver?

Excellent question, title that I just wrote. I can’t speak for all companies or even for all types of trucking because I don’t haven the experience yet. Since I’m going to be an over-the-road (OTR) trucker, that’s what I can tell you about. For the company training center that I’m going with, I basically needed to have a clean driving record and pass a background check. That’s about it. If I was an experienced driver and didn’t want or need to enroll in classes to obtain my Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), there would be more requirements. But since I’m completely inexperienced, they basically just need a warm body.

That’s not to say that any schmuck off the street will make it in trucking, though. Even though trucking is sort of idealized as being by yourself, doing what you want, when you want, that just isn’t true. According to the, frankly, terrifying number of articles I have read in the last month or so, people skills are a must. If you can’t get along with your dispatcher or your trainer or anyone, you’re either fired or locked out. I am going to be the very last person in a very, very long line of people moving cargo from one place to another.

If I don’t get along with my trainer, they can fail me.

If I don’t get along with my dispatcher, they can refuse to give me loads.

If I don’t get along with the security guards at dropyards, they can force me to be late.

So, beyond qualifications or personality traits, in order to become a trucker, you need to get your Class A CDL. There are Class A, B, and C, I believe and Class A is the most broad and allows you to transport the most varied (and dangerous) cargo. There are also endorsements such as Hazmat (for transporting hazardous materials), tanker (for transporting liquids), and doubles and triples (for driving double and triple trailers). In Ohio, the plain CDL A is $23. Each endorsement is $43. Which is kind of steep since you’re just taking a written test to get your permit. Since we’re so low on funds, I’m just going to get my plain CDL A and get endorsements later.

Something else you need to get, often before you even get to whatever training school you decide to go to, is a DOT physical. It is a little more involved than an average physical because they need to make sure you can bend and lift a certain amount. It’s also usually NOT covered by insurance, but the average rate is about $60, so it’s not too bad. I’ll write more about it next week because that’s when mine is scheduled.

I’m going to try to blog daily, but since there won’t be much going on until I get my physical and my permit, posts might be a bit sparce for the week. In the mean time, I will be studying and trying to keep my blood pressure low by cutting out pop and watching salt. I’m not too worried since the cut off is 140/90 and my bp has never been higher than 135/86 and I had been running to get to that appointment, but it’s something I should do anyway.

Hope to have you along for the ride.

~Catherine