Saturday, April 24, 2010


As I type this, I sit in a Days' Inn north of Sacramento, CA.  My trainer dropped me here while he does his home time for a few I have some time to kill.  I've gotten a good night's sleep and a shower, and I don't feel like doing laundry just yet so I'm avoiding that by posting this.

I have three days in one place (and I plan on talking to some locals by whatever means necessary later today, because this is a rare opportunity to pick the brain of the local culture).  Weird.  Because, as my trainer has repeated often enough, I find myself a gypsy.  Before, Gypsies were characters in a weird supernatural novel or maybe a Scooby Doo cartoon.  More mundanely, they might be people who traveled around Europe or even a member of that nasty club composed of people who Hitler had it in for in the 30s and 40s.

But as my trainer means the term, it's basically anybody who travels from place to place with no roots.  Period.  And I guess that's what I am, at least for now...though I definitely have roots.  My wife and daughter, both of whom are the reasons I'm doing this are my roots, and they separate me from most of the guys I meet out here.  They are my fellow Gypsies, and no doubt I'll be spending many future posts outlining and categorizing them and their habits and attributes.  Some of them have befriended me briefly and given me advice and pointers.  While much of society looks down on these men and women as lowlifes (or at best simple, ignorant people) who are to be ignored, I look at them as people who are doing the best they can to make their way in the world in a way that is honorable and decent.

I am honestly bewildered (and sometimes a little amused) by how truckers are looked down upon by many people.  Here we have a class of people that are mostly people who don't steal or hurt anybody in any other way.  They go out of their way to help people they meet on the road.  They are the smartest, most capable drivers on the road.  I almost guarantee you that you have never gotten angry at a truck driver on the road for anything that didn't involve your simple fear of their size, their indecisive moves as they are looking for an address or perhaps your misunderstanding of their signals.  It seems to me a tight-knit group who view themselves as sheepdogs among the sheep, who they describe among themselves as "4-wheelers" (a sly reference to the Motoring Public's description of them as 18-wheelers.

Anyway, the general character of long-haul and similar truckers is nothing like what I had been led to believe by my previous experience.  The women who work at truck stops know what I'm talking about.  Yes, there are a lot of horny men on the road and they hit on the waitresses or counter tenders or whoever they run across that happen to be female.  But even those females who are the hittees at least know the score and can make their decisions about who to respond to.  Some of those women actually work jobs like that because they like the gypsies that other people call long-haul truckers.  I wouldn't have believed it myself until I saw it, but it's true.

The short story is that a lot of these truckers are beautiful, complex people,  some of whom have left the world that you idolize behind them.  Hey, I used to be a software engineer.  Now my engineering problem is how to back a trailer into a tight spot without dropping your steers into the ditch right in front of the trailer row.  There are complex mathematics at work in such a situation that include the algebra, geometry and even a bit of the trigonometry I learned in high school and college.  And some of the best I've seen do this type of task settled for a GED.  I'm no good at it yet, but I hope to be someday.

Humbling.  But the main point I'm trying to make, I guess, is that you should treat such people with respect.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Not Much Chance to Post

I've been in training about 12 days now, and it's been a real challenge trying to post.  Once I start solo in a month or a little more, there will be a lot more time to contemplate the various aspects of trucking life.

For now, I'll just say that Morgan, my trainer, is great for me.  He not only is a very skillful and knowledgeable trucker, but he's the polar opposite of my personality.  Where I am naturally introverted, reflective, moody and tend to isolate myself, Morgan is open, friendly, often boisterous and has a way with people that I envy.  I'm taking this time to learn not only about the art of trucking, but also about how to try to open myself up to other people.  Morgan has been taking me to school in both areas, demonstrating tricks of handling a truck or trucking-related personnel while also showing me how easy it is to strike up a conversation with the girl behind the counter, the guy at the fuel desk, other truckers, or whoever happens to cross our path.  This guy is someone that can teach me things I've needed to know for a long time.

I am sitting here typing this in The World's Biggest Truck Stop on I-80 in Iowa.  We just swapped a load, and will be starting to load back to California for Morgan's home time, which he will take at his home right outside of Sacramento.  I'll be laying up in a hotel for a few days while he focuses on his family and taking care of the things that pile up while you're out on the road.  I'm looking forward to the chance to start exercising some of the skills Morgan has been showing me on the hotel personnel, people in the restaurants and maybe even whoever I meet on the street.

For my first couple of weeks of training, Morgan was pulled from his usual 48-state run-all-over-the-country division to help on a dedicated account where we ran Toro lawnmowers and associated parts and raw materials in circles in rapid-fire succession.  Minnesota and Nebraska and Iowa, Oh My.  On the bright side, I was able to run out my 70-hour clock my first week and more, and got lots of drive time so far.  I've fixed some problems in my performance and am making good progress on others.  At the end of 300 hours of driving, I suspect I should have a pretty good handle on most aspects of what I'll need to know to make decent money going solo.  Basically, though, as Morgan put it once:  "Run like your ex-wife is behind you."  The boy has a way with words.  And also is on his third marriage.  He used this on me because he knows I have an ex myself.

After Morgan's break, we'll be going back on the 48-state beat, and I should learn more about trucking in other areas of the country.  I've heard...INTERESTING things about the trucking highways and byways of the southern and some of the Eastern seaboard states.  Sounds like Morgan gets down there a fair bit, and I'm looking forward to it.  But first, my first trip over the Rockies in many years.  Should be fun.  Set the jake brake and head out, driver.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ready to Hit the Road

I'm in my third week of truck training, and I'm about ready to call it quits for school.  I spent most of today reading a book I brought with me, because I've passed my CDL test, I've read all the chapters I need to read for the entire course, I've pretty much mastered every exercise in the truck yard (with the exception of the reverse-slalom, which I think I can nail tomorrow) and I'm pretty much just done with doing the school thing.  I hope they let us go early on Friday.

I have learned through my school experience that my suspicion all along has been correct...I am very much blue-collar kind of guy who has spent the last 18 years as a white-collar wage slave.  I LOVE the people I have come into contact with since starting the whole trucking experience.  My only classmate is really one of my favorite people that I've met in the last few years, the instructors are my kind of people, and the "underclassmen" are also great.  I have met one guy that is a loudmouth (but I even like him, in a way) and a couple of recruiters who I don't trust simply because of their agenda, but otherwise truckers are simply good people, in my admittedly limited experience.

So I'm now ready to dive into the real world of trucking.  I've all but chosen the company I'm going to work for, and it came down to the fact that both companies I was pre-hired with were about equal on paper, so the tiebreaker was that one company will allow me to bring my dog once I go solo.  I love my dog.  Nuff said.  Sorry, Swift.  You should have left your pet policy in place, and I very well could have gone with you.  So absent a miracle whereby I had an offer from a company wanting me to drive a local or semi-local job, I'll be with Werner for the next year or more.

They want 6-9 weeks of my time at basically minimum wage to train.  I've got to rack up 300 hours behind the wheel before I go solo.  Fine.  I spoke with a Werner driver who stopped back at the school to talk with his former instructors, and he confirms that Werner, while having problems like any other trucking company, has been decent to him on the whole.  Good enough for me.

On Monday I got my Hazmat background application and fingerprinting stuff done.  I already had my doubles/triples and tanker endorsements, so the paperwork is nearly all in line.  I finish my semester with my Master's program in a few weeks.  There's going to be at least a couple of weeks of down time while I work on that, and then I'll be getting my Greyhound ticket for Missouri, where I do my orientation and then get matched up with a trainer and hit the road.  I look forward to it...I probably won't be writing much until then, but I'll probably be blogging nearly daily from that point on.  I have a feeling I'll want to remember that period of my life.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

School Daze

Okay, I'm sitting in my hotel room after the first day of truck school.  Man, was THAT a blast!  I actually drove one of those giant rigs I've seen on the road all my life, and it was FANTASTIC.  The shifting was a little rough, but I'm not complaining, after getting to actually drive the first day of school.

I also got to talk to one of my instructors for quite awhile on a personal level.  We discovered that we're both Christians, we're both BIG fans of 80s music, and we've both been divorced.  From what I know so far about him, we could easily be best friends in a parallel universe.  He also complimented me on how fast I picked up on shifting, and didn't yell at me when I ground the gears.  If I wasn't married, I'd probably have to ask him out on a date.

They seem to have low expectations at this school.  I missed the first day (by prior arrangement)  and I had to catch up.  They seemed surprised that I had not only read the proper chapters for yesterday, but today as well.  I figured that would be simply par for the course.  I buzzed through the tests and stuff, participated in class discussion and generally did all I could (including skipping lunch) to catch up with the only other classmate I have (Russell, who seems a very decent guy).

I had a chance to quiz my instructors (Joe and Jim) on real-life issues related to trucking, like how they use the CBs, some points of trucker culture, the trials and travails of balancing a life on the road with life on the road, I got their opinions on what companies may be best to work for, and so on.  In general, it was a really good day of learning, getting to know the people around me and starting a good routine which I will be following for the next three weeks.

An auspicious start, if you ask me.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Well, Here We Go!

Hi, I'm Dan, and I'm a recovering software developer.

No, seriously.  18 years of my life, and they were pretty good ones career-wise.  But last summer one morning, I woke up to go to work and said "I think I'm gonna be done with this soon."  And so began the planning for a new career...which I thought would be teaching.  I'm two semesters into an online 5-semester teacher-preparation master's program for special education.  And I'm really doing pretty well.

The problem came after I quit my regular job and took a contract so I would have more time to work on my studies.  That worked great for a semester and a half...and then the day came when my client took me into his office and said he had to end the contract.  Bummer.

Several years ago I had moved to outstate Minnesota.  I took a huge pay cut, but it was the lifestyle I was after.  I grew up out here, and the Twin Cities wore on me after well over a decade.  The people aren't actual people there.  I could count the number of people I knew in my town on my fingers after living there 10 years.  I met more people in my new town in my first few days.  Anyway, suffice it to say that while the life is great, there aren't a lot of software development jobs out here.

So what to do?  I need to find money to get back to school.  I have a wife and daughter to support.  I'm not afraid of working hard, or working long hours.  I'm not afraid of changing my lifestyle pretty radically for awhile if it will see us through this rough spot.  The economy here, while not as different from normal as, say, Vegas or Detroit, is still pretty depressed.  Let's check out the want ads.

Hmmm.  Nursing home?  Nope.  Food server?  I'd really rather not.  Greeter at Walmart?  Heh.  Janitor,  backup mail man, government drone?  Nope, nope and nope, in that order.  Trucker?  Don't have a CDL.  But still...I do like to drive.  I've known truckers.  It pays decent for out here in the boonies with no experience if you can GET the CDL.  More research suggested that it would take a month of driving school and a period of crappy wages during orientation and training at the company, but after that at least we'd still have health insurance and be able to pay the mortgage.

What the heck, I'm in.

And that, dear reader, is where you find me now.  On Tuesday I start what I believe will be a 3-week truck driver training program.  I've been pre-hired by two trucking companies, and I think I know which one I want to go with.  All that's left is to learn what I've got to learn, do what I've got to do, and hit the road.

It occurred to me that in the next little while I'm going to be seeing some very interesting things.  My whole life is going to change.  I'm going to be homesick.  I'm going to be sitting in truck stops or by docks waiting for loads and I'll need something to do.  I love to write.  There might be people who would be interested in what I'm doing.  I already have several blogs devoted to other subjects, but haven't written much lately.

See where I'm going with this?

So couple your trailer to my tractor and let's hit the road to see what there is to be seen.