Classes run from 7 a.m. until 5:30. That’s way earlier than I am used to getting up so on goes the alarm – 5:30. It has woken me two of the four mornings this week and the other two I have been awake all by my lone by quarter after five. For some unknown reason – undoubtedly having to do with the physics of florescent fixtures, the kitchen lights are especially bright at that time.
Today I spent the first 30 minutes in class and then those of us who had additional tests to take (or retake) were excused to go back into the belly of the beast. One of my compadres and I arrived at the DPS at around 9:00. We waited about 55 minutes to get our “don’t call us, we’ll call your number” slips. There was a single number between mine and his. After another hour I finally got called back to Window 6.
A brief digression. Whereas my last visit to the DPS office (in Conroe) was made tolerable the presence of pretty women in the waiting area, the Vantage Drive DPS office offered nothing but unattractive schlubs. And then an thick unattractive woman with some serious attitude sashayed in and broke the monotony. She was all about being noticed. When a businessman who had been on his Bluetooth all the while he had been waiting in line made a public request, cigarette dangling from his lips, for a lighter, Miz Muscle Shirt Personality practically jumped out of her skin to offer hers as she scurried from the back of the line flicking her Bic. She followed him outside. Alas, her connection to the businessman ended as quickly as it began as she made her way back to the end of the line within 30 seconds.
Every few minutes she would exclaim one inanity or another at twice the decibel level of any other communication taking place in the facility.
I was finally called to the inner sanctum. I once again provided thumbprints and a headshot in front of the blue screen along with $41 for the next level of licensing. “But you took my photo two days ago,” I explained. “We do it every time you come in,” she answered. Okay.
I took the three tests, General Knowledge (50 questions), Pre-Trip Inspection (30 questions), and Air Brakes (25 questions). Seven wrong, one wrong, two wrong. I passed the three exams handily.
As I was waiting to complete the paperwork, a number was announced and I heard a voice over the din, “one thirty one, woo hoo.” Of course it was Miz Would Want Her On My Side in a Bar Fight Personality. A moment later she sashayed into the clerks’ area along with a frail, rather normal-looking older lady who must have been her mother (she must be so proud). She kept whooping and hollering “what’s this” and “where do I look for the eye test” and “red, green, green, yellow” (test for color blindness). There were muted chuckles and her celebrity followed her out of the DPS office and all reverted back to dull, stultifying DPS normal. Now that I that I think about it, I could see her driving a dump truck and giving the other drivers wedgies back at the office.
When I got to the final clerk, who had just taken the place of the guy who looked like he knew what he was doing, he took my document, clickety typed on his keyboard, got a hmmmm look on his face and said he couldn’t find any record of my having taken the tests. What!?!? “You could certainly take the tests over again,” he mumbled. Uhhhh, I don’t think so. The clerk said he just couldn’t find anything connected to my drivers license number. I asked what he could find if he used my name. “I was just checking that out,” he said lamely. Why the hell wouldn’t he have checked that out before he started giving me bad news?
By that time a supervisor, hearing some agitation and heat in my voice, sidled up to the counter and asked what was up. The substitute clerk miraculously found my test results and confirmed that I had passed all three tests. Phshew!
Getting back to the training center Kraut and I hightailed it out to the tarmac (sounds cooler than it is) where two other members of the class were already straight line backing the tractor trailer. Carl was in the tractor and doing a pretty crappy job of backing the rig between the rows of orange cones. I didn’t say much because I was pretty sure backing was going to be tougher than it looked.
Karl never did back up the 150 feet without venturing outside the lines. I was next. I got three quarters of the way down the passage and then started overthinking my moves. We were also practicing shifting through the first three gears when we pulled to the head of the lane. In a manual transmission tractor, this required double clutching. After a couple of rough shifts, I was a double clutching fool.
It had struck me last night that this whole truck driving school experience could be likened to elementary education. So far this week, we had barely cleared pre-school. Having passed my five tests I felt that maybe I had made it through kindergarten. Here we were, grown men, ranging from 22 to 61, getting all giddy about hopping in the cab of a big rig and backing up at a whopping two miles an hour. Imagine our delight when we progressed to doing laps around the training yard at maybe five or six miles an hour.
We went though a couple of cycles of backing for all five of us. Kraut and Mantisse were the best, Reader and Carl were the worst, and I was somewhere in the middle. Before we went though the second cycle, I did some serious imagineering and visualization. When it was my turn again, I did sloppily fair on my first attempt, and with one bad start, killed on my second attempt. Nailed it.
The our instructor then decided we could practice our “onward” driving in the time we had left. And, be still my beating heart, she would let us venture into fourth gear! I gotta tell you, we were some happy first graders. I continued to KILL with the double clutching. Nobody else came close.
It was getting pretty close to quitting time and we were all ready for the day to be over. It was 100 degrees on the pavement and we spent most of the time outside. I had been wearing a straw cowboy hat and using a golf umbrella to keep my basal cell cancer prone skin in the shade. But no matter where you stood, it was a hundred degrees. We couldn’t drink enough water. After we each toured the yard twice, we parked the rig and went though the steps to test the air brakes. It was just like the written words we had read in class. Remarkable!
No school tomorrow. We ended the week at 10 students. Carl, who didn’t really have his drivers license, was told by the state that he really did show as having been licensed since 2008. By this time, the school had decided he really only had his permit and since he didn’t have the requisite two years in the drivers seat as a fully licensed driver, he was ineligible for the class. He had a good attitude about it all. Plus he still had a job, working the night shift at a lubricating oil manufacturing plant. He’ll do fine.
I will be enjoying my three days off although I will absolutely dream about straight line backing tonight. Next week we’ll tool around the training facility a few more times before venturing out into civilization and the public highways and byways. Talk to you then.