Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Art of Truck Driving

Back in 2000 I drove a big rig on the first day at the US Truck Driving School during rush hour traffic in Rialto, near San Bernardino, California. After wards, it took them about 2 hours to pry my fingers off the steering wheel.
"What the fuck am I doing?" I yelled to myself as I realized I'd gotten in to one of those, "well, it seemed a good idea at the time," heart-sinking moments. Only this time I didn't have a hangover.
It all started with a simple concept. Lee & I decided it'd be an adventure, and great fun, to haul freight all over the Lower 48 and Canada for the biggest trucking company in the nation.
We just had to learn to drive a truck.
Next thing I knew, I sat drenched in sweaty fear, in charge of an extremely large truck in dense Southern Californian traffic. I believe it's called a blast of reality.
Somehow or other, after a couple of days, my competence improved. Marginally.
One of my minor hitches proved to be getting the 450 hp truck up to a respectable speed. Ants overtook us as we watched the grass grown on the sidewalk.
John McDonald, my long-suffering driving instructor nagged me constantly in his slow Alabama drawl, "Anne, you gotta go a little faster.:
Bravado took over and I pushed down on the throttle - straight in to the arms of a red light. Instinct took over and I slammed on the brakes. The cars around me were enveloped in thick smoke from my locked wheels. One joker lent out his widow coughing loudly in my direction.
"You shouldn'tta done that," was the laconic comment from McDonald as he got back in his seat. Come to think of it, he said that quite often.
"Yes, but rather effective, don't you think?" I snapped.
"If it'd been raining, you'd be jack-knifed," he shot back. "Yessirree."
McDonald thrived on having the last word.
He is also a brave man. I believe this because he took me through the excitment of the freeway tango. It goes like this.
I take the truck down on to the freeway, cruise up to 55 mph then race off the next exit and immediately tear back down on to the freeway. It's teaches you how to get with the traffic flow. I rather enjoyed the freeway driving. It was the street traffic that scared the wits out of me.
Lee and I were not alone. We'd joined 27 colourful characters at the truck driving school for 11 days of intensive instruction.
People from every walk of life sat in that room - like multilingual Lee with a master degree to independent Audra, a pizza delivery lady with lots of silver in her nose and ears. There was Bryce, well, Bryce is Bryce with his tattoos, rude T-shirts and a big, soft heart. And we all bonded without a hitch as we faced the prospect of driving a big rig.
Each day we re-enacted High Noon as the class stepped out into the dusty parking lot and faced the trucks lined up on the opposite side. You could almost hear the twanging guitar in the background. I drove truck 359 and hauled trailer 4585. Numbers indelibly etched on my brain.
We ground gears trying to double clutch our way through the 10 gears. The intricacies of air brakes and power divider started to make sense. Squashing orange cones became the norm while learning to back and wiggle in to docking spaces.
Heart failure was a common occurrence, for us and the anonymous driver of the car waiting at the light as we cut corners too tight. Backing, coupling and uncoupling trailers, pre-trip and post-trip inspections of the tractor and trailer became part of every day life.
During class time we did fun things like trip planning exercises. Less interesting is learning the endless federal rules and regulations.
Did we have fun?
You bet!
We had to pass a test for graduating. How I passed I have no idea. Perhaps it was my explanation to the examiner on my way out to his truck.
"You need to understand something. I'm British and when I'm tense and under pressure I revert to my own language. If I tell you I'm checking the petrol with a torch, don't run away in blind panic. I actually mean checking fuel with a flashlight."
He probably decided on the easier route - pass this crazy lady and get as far away as possible from her.
We both passed and then had to head out on 3-weeks over the road training with a trainer before going for our commercial license.
But that, as they say, is a WHOLE 'nother story.  
Instructor John McDonald watches one of us has another go at the orange cones during boot camp.

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