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.