Friday, February 19, 2010

Graduation Day

Well, I have a certificate, a letter of recommendation, and a class A. ... I'm so sad!! I had a great experience these past weeks, and I'll miss it. I'm going to give myself the weekend to mourn its end, and to fear the Monday morning aimlessness of unemployment.

I can drive a big rig well enough to be the new, low guy on the totem pole. I've pulled dry van trailers and a flat bed. I've slid axels, switched trailers, and learned to adjust slack adjusters and to log log books. I've pulled forty plus feet of vehicle around ninety degree residential corners. I'm now comfortable with a big piece of machinery that was a complete mystery to me a month ago.

And I'm sceared I won't find a job.

But only til Monday. Come Monday, no fear. Craigslist and Monster, here I come.

...I'll also have to figure out what to do with my afternoons now that I'm not blogging about becoming a truck driver. Sweet Babboo will be glad for the extra time I'll have to try out new recipes, I reckon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Final Week Regret & Anticipation

I'm in my final days of truck driving school. And I'm sad about that. But also happy in that I realize the guys I went through most of these five weeks have moved on -- with, at the very least, a class A in their pockets. Hopefully, jobs soon. A new crowd is coming in, and it's time for me to move on, too.

I've had a great time, but I won't wax poetic on that until Friday. Except to say, my trainers have been Fabulous. Okay, 'nuff of that, for now.

So today, I had good runs in the 10-speed and the 9-speed, and I moved between them more easily than a week or two ago. I'm still working on the reversing thing, but had a pretty good day on that, too.

Anyway, back to cappin' on the new guys. They're all fine fellas, but watching them coming in just highlights for me my own tragic flaws. ... The half-lidded, jaded conceit of the square-jawed 'veteran'. lol. Newbie-one is too young and too cavalier right off -- he'll get some humility soon. Newbie-two has done Evvverything we've done, but Tenfold -- if I have a headache, he has a brain tumor; if I've been to heaven, he has season tickets. (I stole that from the very wonderful film Shirley Valentine.)

...I reckon it's time for me to graduate.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Holiday Guest Contributor -- He Just Doesn't Know It

Okay, so it's a holiday -- no school, so no chance to ponder my school day. But I've been telling you about Matthew Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft, right?  Here's his thesis, as it were, from the Intro. The italics and bold are mine:

"This book advances a nestled set of arguments on behalf of work that is meaningful because it is genuinely useful. It also explores what we might call the ethics of maintenance and repair, and in doing so I hope it will speak to those who may be unlikely to go into the trades professionally but strive for some measure of self- reliance—the kind that requires focused engagement with our material things. We now like our things not to disturb us. Why do some of the current Mercedes models have no dipstick, for example? What are the attractions of being disburdened of involvement with our own stuff? This basic question about consumer culture points to some basic questions about work, because in becoming less obtrusive, our devices also become more complicated. How has the relentless complication of cars and motorcycles, for example, altered the jobs of those who service them? We often hear of the need for a" "upskilli"g" of the workforce, to keep up with technological change. I find the more pertinent issue to be: What sort of personality does one need to have, as a twenty-first-century mechanic, to tolerate the layers of electronic bullshit that get piled on top of machines?"

He's got a great line about how you open a hood on some new cars to find a set of smooth compartments, without hoses or wires or the familiar motor elements -- basically, they put a hood under a hood. Who does that? Why?

Thank you, Mr. Crawford, for your contributions to my blog.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Girls, Horses, Trucks

You know all those things they say about girls' passion for horses? ... a big truck is kinda like that.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Right Means Left

Had a nice run out into the countryside today -- I'm getting used to the 9-speed, trying to embrace a 'new truck' after growing so comfy with the 10-speed. What's the big deal, you ask?

In a 10- speed, you begin the pattern, selector down and the gear low and inside -- 1st. 2nd up, 3rd down, 4th up, 5th down. Selector up. Move over and down for 6th.

In a 9-speed, it's closer to your H pattern car. Selector down. 1st is up, 2nd down, 3rd up, 4th down. Selector up. 5th over and up. 

When you're new, the shift pattern change is tough to wrap your head around. Most of the other students are "car guys" and even they have trouble. My Sweet Babboo despairs of ever teaching me the difference between a '63 Cadillac and '69 Cadillac. Grills. Lights. Fins. blah blah blah. Do they have airbags? That's what I want in a car. Airbags, crumple zones and good engines.

Anyway, we spent most of the day working on backing up the trucks. The primary difference between a class A and a class B or C is the ability to reverse a tractor trailor. Honest.

If you want to push the trailer right, you steer towards your left. My trainer-gurus have a great way of simplifying -- if you're trailer is drifting right, steer right. In other words, they focus on where you don't want to go. Strangely enough, that works. Quite well.

I have a tendency to get in my head and overthink things. (Surprise!) ... I'm-a-werkin' on that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Good Place for a Foul Mood

All you long, aimless drive enthusiasts already know this, but I want to state the obvious ... when you're in a foul mood, get behind the wheel.

On the surface, that doesn't sound right, does it? I'm not saying the road is the place for the rager. No no. I'm saying, when you're mad, usually it's peoples who caused it (not Sweet Babboo, of course). And getting away from peoples can solve it.

Let the bad vibery fall away, put on some good tunes, adjust your mirrors, relax your shoulders. Sink into your air-ride driver's seat. (Big truck seats are way cool, by the way -- cars oughta have 'em.) Grip that big ol' wheel, punch off the parking brakes, and ease out onto the road.

You're six feet above the cars, you're tooling in the slow lane, and your speed limit is 55. Who's going to 'push' a big rig? Just watch the traffic. Concentrate on your truck and your driving. Let the rest go.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuesday ... the OTHER Monday

I'm combining my two half-days into one and calling this Monsday. or Muesday. Yesterday, I waited for unemployment to call to confirm that my training is approved -- ie, I can go to school while on the dole ("2 a (1) : a giving or distribution of food, money, or clothing to the needy (2) : a grant of government funds to the unemployed b : something distributed at intervals to the needy; also : handout 1 c : something portioned out bit by bit.")

Portioned out bit by bit, indeed. But I'm a-grateful fer it.

Today, I had an a.m. meeting.

So for the past two afternoons, I was getting in a few hours' practice, but feeling sort of static. Full days are much better. I get the afternoons as a second attempt at the things I screwed up in the morning.

I saw a report this weekend on the demand for / good pay for blue collar jobs. Imagine that! ... We're finally figuring out that you can't outsource plumbers. and that "information workers" as we geared ourselves for during the 90's when we were shutting down our shop classes can be found oversees quite handily. It's not necessarily right, but it's happening. Meanwhile, my plumber is the town catch.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hazmat, part the-ree

Me and co-student Mustached-T went to the city today to register with the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). Smooth drive, easy in-n-out. Not bad. ... but ohhh, the weird comedy of the whole big-brother thing.

I began the TSA background check process with a phone call. "Have you been convicted of a felony?" No. "Have you been found innocent of a felony due to insanity?" Excuse me?

Today, was the 2 id's, money order and fingerprint part-o-the-process. Apparently, my skin is dry. The poor woman was smoothing grapefruit lotion into my fingertips and pressing them again and again onto a glass plate, hoping they'd take. ... Success. Maybe. We'll see in 20 working days.

I appreciate the government's effort to ensure that anyone carrying hazardous materials is the kind of person you'd want to carry hazardous materials ... so I feel nothing but good will for the process. Still, I'm allowing myself to enjoy the humor in it, too.

I still have a few weeks of training, but I'm going to start applying for jobs, too. I got brave today and went into a local office. As a first effort, it was relatively painless. They were cordial and welcoming, plus invited me to fill out an application for future consideration. Wow. Yay. I had expected them to say, "We only look at drivers with 2 years' experience." I'm just happy they didn't dismiss me, right off.

A good week, by any standard.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hazmat, part two

On the to-do list today ~ passing my hazmat test. First though, I had to drive the scary 9-speed cab-over International with the 40 foot-ish trailer. ...Because my trainer was taunting me and calling me a wuhsy for hiding behind a hazmat test he had no doubt I could pass, no problem.

It's great to have the trust of all these guys ~ they've been completely, 100% supportive and professional. There's comaraderie and a fair bit of joking, but also a lot of plain old good will. And purpose. We're either focused on learning or teaching. And the proof of skill is entirely objective ~ you see when you've screwed up in the angle of the park, the popped clutch, the ground gear.

There's no your way through it. The best drivers are clearly the best. When they're behind the wheel, the ride is smooth; the drive is well executed.  ... Have you ever watched the charming and the soulless shmooze the image of competence? Then you know what I mean when I say watching true skill is refreshing.

Will that count out there in job-ville? Ohhh, experience whispers one thing; hope whispers another.

By the way, after my drive, I passed my hazmat test. 100%.

Next stop, the TSA security check. I guess with that, if I don't end up driving, I can get a job screening passengers at the airport.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Didn't wanna say before, but this morning, I had an appointment to take the driving test for my commercial driver's license. I made 7 errors (out of 28? allowable errors of 100 points possible) on the pre-trip inspection, moving/parking/docking skills test, and road test ... and I now have 
a Class A!

happy dance
happy dance
happy dance

Still have a few weeks of school to build my skills and still have the hazmat to do (which involves the written test and a TSA background check). ... but  
I have a Class A!

happy dance
happy dance
happy dance

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Truck Driving School"

When people see that "Truck Driving School" sign on the trailer, I think they have one of two reactions: give this thing a wide berth and hope it isn't going my way for very long OR drive like a lunatic because that poor owner/operator/instructor must have wayyy beyond basic collision coverage.

Peoples is funny. No collision, but another adventurous day on the road.

On a similar note, I pray pray pray for red lights, but today, I got a green on a left turn onto a highway entrance. Wouldn'tchaknow, the yellow hits Right as I am at that "should I stay or should I go" line. I'm also, for the first time, in the cab-over 9-speed instead of our usual Volvo 10-speed. I'm fiddlin' with the gears, rolling through the yellow and feeling panicky. In my mind, I'm thinking, "Get round this corner and up that hill to the highway." It's Miata time. Only big trucks with flat-bed trailers don't turn like Miatas. I took the back axle up over the meridian curb. ... rats.

My confidence was dented, but overall I did alright in the cab-over. I had a nice afternoon run in the 10-speed, and I had some parallel parking practice time.

We have some newbies starting this week. So there's, like, 3 generations of students going through right now. The three guys who started the week or two before me. My threesome "class". and three to five (or more) who are three weeks behind us. I did a run with my "class" today and we waxed nostalgic on our first day together, just two weeks and several popped clutches ago. (I started just before they did.)

A good day. I think I'm learning as much about "man-talk" as I am about driving. It entails a lot of long pauses in conversation. and tacit agreements to not speak of one another's foibles -- "what happens in vegas, stays in vegas" sort of man-loyalty. ... I swear, it's like being on another planet.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Forget passenger endorsements. That was folly. Passing the paper test is just for the permit -- if ever I do passenger, I'll need to learn on / test on a passenger vehicle. No no. That's not the direction I'm thinking about just now.

Ah, but Hazardous Materials. While not an appealing prospect, the endorsement will be valuable. Sweet Babboo has almost always worked in hazmat transport (except for his brief stint in regional bus driving).

Here's the thing, though. Learning what all those placards on the sides of those trucks stand for ~ yowza! Class 1 -- Explosives. Yah. (I'd swap the #1 slot with #7, but I didn't get to choose the order.) Class 2 -- Gases (flammable, poison, etc). Class 3 -- Flammable liquids. Class 4 -- Flammable solids, spontaneously combustible materials, and materials that are dangerous when wet. (Class 4 is my personal favorite for scope and strangeness.) Class 5 -- Oxidizing materials. Class 6 -- Poisonous and Etiologic (because the word 'infectious' just wouldn't do) materials. Class 7 -- Radioactive. (I told you it should have the #1 slot.) Class 8 -- Corrosive. Class 9 -- Miscellaneous Hazmat. ... You mean there's somethin' out there that isn't covered by 1 through 8??

Next time you're breezing by a placarded truck or 'waking' in its blind spot, think about that.