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Tales from a small town

Short stories about life in a small town. Non-fiction. Great reading.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A new me

I've dropped out of blogging since August, because I've been busy reinventing myself - which can be hard.

For those of you who've read my blog, you may know that I worked in a factory for 15 years. I got out of that and into truck driving. I started off driving a straight truck (which is not a semi) because if a straight truck is rated to only carry 10,000 pounds or less, all you need is a driver's license. That's the good part. The bad part is, because all you need is driver's license, just about anyone can do it, which means it has the "anyone-can-do-it" pay that comes with it.

I told the safety director/personnel director at the trucking company I was at, that the low pay meant I had to have 40 hours a week or more - not less. He told me that the only way I was going to make the money I was used to making at the factory, was to go through the driving academy that this nationally-recognized trucking company runs - graduate from that, and drive for them. "Don't worry about that," he confidently says, "they only take the best."

Two days later I put in my 2 weeks notice, because I was accepted at the academy. This academy gets 300,000 applicants a year. They only accept 1% of those, and out of that 1%, two-thirds fail the academy, and out of that, about 25% don't get their CDL (commercial driver's license, which allows yout to operate a semi in all 50 states, plus all the Canadian provinces.)

The academy is rough. It's designed to be just like the military, just without all the marching and excersizing. They tear you down mentally and emotionally, and build you up in their image. In fact, I don't think there isn't a male instructor there, who isn't a veteran of one of the branches of the armed forces. You're on the go from 7 a.m., until 9 p.m., then you go back to your hotel room for about 2 hours of homework that must be completed before the next day.

Until you get your CDL, you're a peice of shit in the eyes of the instructors, and you better not have an opinion about anything, without their prior, express written consent. You are told how lousy you are from the time you get there, until you leave. The academy is 2 weeks long, but there are no breaks for the weekend - you train all 14 days, as though all 14 days were a Monday. They yell at you, they scream at you, they cuss at you - while you're driving a semi.

People cry, they puke, and yes, they even have heart attacks - literally. The only good thing that can be said about the experience - and it is a good thing - is that by the time you're done, you go through a metamorphasis, and you become more focued and aware and confident about everything you do. The transformation is amazing. Then you begin to wonder how you ever functioned before - seriously.

It does have a funny moment; just one. They have computer simulators like I-Max. They take a semi cab, put it on a platform that can shake, rattle and roll in conjuntion with your "driving," and put a back-projected, wrap-around computer screen in front of it, with computer graphics so real, you actually forget you're in a simulator.

Because the interior of this cab is complete, you steer, accelerate and shift - and all the analogue gages on the dash board are hooked up to the computer so they read just like they would if you were actually driving on the road. Again, you get so wrapped up in this thing, you actually forget you're in a simulator.

The simulations they put you through are intense. You're driving down a mountain, and all of a sudden, it begins to rain - then the rain turns to ice - then cars start cutting in front of you. When you make sudden lane changes to avoid the cars, the load shifts on you, causing the truck to do unexpected things - just like in real life; but that's just the beginning: then, your brakes fail - while all of this stuff is happening.

Semis don't shift like cars. In a semi, you've got to match the speed you're going to the appropriate gear - at the appointed RPMs for that gear. All three things have to be correct to shift, or you can't shift - you'll just grind the gears. That means, you can't down-shift to slow down, because the load is pushing you, which makes the RPMs climb (with your speed) and if you're not at the correct RPMs, you can't shift at all: it's mechanically impossible.

Bottom line: you're shitting your pants. About that time, an instructor (and only if they like you, because if they think you're a pansy who can't take it, they won't do it to you) will crawl on his hands and knees to your driver's door, and pop up like a jack-in-the-box, and scream at the top of his lungs. Of course, you're the last to know this is going on, and all the instructors laugh with a demonic glee at your reaction: they call it "the death look," because you're convinced you're going to die.

There's just one other funny story, but this wasn't staged. There was a student at the academy who looks just like Snoop Doggy Dog. Same dress, same cooler-than-thou demeanor, everything. This guy's hotel room was right next door to an old man's hotel room. This old man was going through the academy as well. The old man had a mild heart attack in his hotel room (while doing the next-to-impossible homework, of course,) and he calls 911. The 911 dispatcher gets the room number wrong, and the cops and firemen bust down "Snoop's" door. The problem? "Snoop" was smokin a fatty!!! Talk about the look on someone's face! Could you imagine sitting there, smoking joint in the privacy of your hotel room, and all of a sudden, the cops bust your door down?

The cops told him since they didn't have a search warrant, they weren't going to arrest him for anything, but they were going to call the head administrator of the academy and tell them what they saw, because they don't want any dope smokers driving a big rig, posing a risk to the general public. He was gone the next day.

Was that really funny? No, because it involved two tragedies: a man having a heart attack (btw: he lived) and someone getting fired from a job through circumstances he had absolutely no control over. But, I'm not going to make any apologies for the fact that comedy and tragedy are oftentimes inexplicably intertwined.

Anyway, that's what I've been doing with myself during my absence from blogging.

Before I forget, "Happy New Year!" to everyone reading this.