Up at 5:02 and down at the hotel office by 5:25 I was ready to fight my way onto the shuttle. I arrived at The Yard before 6:00. While I was ready to get started at 7:00, things really didn’t start until 7:45. The instructor would be a guy we had seen five weeks earlier, and old bald dude with white hair, a white handlebar mustache, and a beard that grew where most men trimmed, just under his jawline. Weird.
It would only get weirder.
It turns out Cranston was a retired sergeant major in the Army and after 20-plus years in the service spent the next 20-plus years in the trucking industry. It was evident he was a by the book kinda guy and would be running a tight ship (pardon the navy reference for this old soldier). Well, kinda sorta. He ended up being big bark and some bite. I thought he was a passive agressive sort of guy. He also had no sense of humor unless he was the one cracking wise, which was rare. He thought he was cute. He looked like kind of a cross between Charles Manson and Gabby Hayes (maybe too obscure a reference for some – he was the wisened cranky guy from the Roy Rogers show). He even kinda whistles his S’s when he talks.
The class was predictably diverse. There were four of us from the same school in Houston. Honestly, we seemed to be a cut above the rest. Beyond us there were the preditable percentages of youth and older dudes, blacks and whites, and idiots and relatively intelligent-looking individuals. There were two women, one black and one white. Curiously, the white one was from South Africa and was, thus, the only real African-American in the class. Two of the black guys had a very hard time staying awake in class. While I would have thought that after a warning or two, sleeping in class would lead to expulsion, Cranston kept giving them dirty looks, but only waking them and not booting them out of class.
On Thursday a visitor showed up at the back of class. Turns out he was the owner’s son. One of the black guys, predictably, fell asleep. Cranston was beside himself and told the class, after or visitor left, that he would be called on the carpet before the end of the day. Jeez, I thought, if an old retired soldier who had spent the last 20 years in the company, much of it as a trainer, gets so twisted because he has a couple of nimrods in class, he’s got some other issues. I am absolutely certain that very few trainees get booted for anything other than flunking the physical or gross subordination. Nobody wants to run off paying (either directly or indirectly) paying “customers.”
But I digress. For the next four days we were at the yard until at least 8:30. On Thursday, trip planning day, we didn’t get released until almost 9:30. What idiot would allow himself to be abused like that for only fifty stinkin’ bucks a day?!? I looked in the mirror when I got back to my room and saw at least one idiot.
Looking back, even only a few days, the days are a blur. It was as though they put a funnel up to our heads and poured every aspect of safety, operations, fuel, administration, driving, trip inspections, insurance, shippers and receivers into our brains. At night for two out of the three first nights, we were over in our Orientation II practice area, backing up. I got pretty good if I do say so myself. My last 45 degree back in was accomplished with not a single pull up. The secret is to set up perfectly. Obviously, I am not a pro at this point, but I will be waaaay less trepidatious than I was for the last five weeks.
The biggest pain of the week was shuttling from and to the hotel. It was always a struggle. There was absolutely no civility among the trucker scum. People who had been waiting the longest, better be in the right spot when the shuttle finally arrived or they would be waiting for the next shuttle – a minimum of 45 minutes later. Why this tranport company didn’t have better transportation, is a mystery.
Actually, it’s no longer a mystery. It is evident that the company is a driver mill and really doesn’t give a rip about the trainees themselves. The meals were poorly balanced. If you were a carboholic, you would’ve been on a carb high all the time. They served a lotta noodles, and pasta, and pizza and bread. Just the thing if you wanted to eat a lot and then take a nap after the sugar high turned into a post-sugar torpor.
The whole atmosphere within the building was impersonal at best and surly at worst. Very few people made eye contact in the halls. Most of the guest speakers seemed to have been trained to be tough or the students would somehow take advantage of them. I encountered a handful of cordial folks and a couple of the presenters were downright entertaining, but by and large, we seemed like a group that had to be put up with. “Go and talk to the slugs and then come back and get your ass to work,” seems to have been the standing instructions to the presenters.
Another downer for the week fell in the footwear department. I had a pair of tennis shoes (techincally crossfit) and a pair of brown leather, rubber-soled shoes that I had worn during the training exercises five weeks earlier. These shoes were fine then. The trainers were even the same. But suddenly I had to have steel-toes boots with “oil resistant” written on the soles. Well that was 50-some bucks I didn’t have right now. But I trooped over to Wal-Mart after returning to the hotel and charged a pair of Brahma working boots. They looked like ropers. They were confortable if I was just standing in them but the plastic around the top cuff tended to tear up my sensitive wittow legs. Walking and standing for long periods of time also messed up my back. But they were steel-toed and oil resistant dammit. I returned them to Wal-Mart earlier today. If’ I can find a suitable replacement for reasonable money, I’ll buy them. Otherwise the company can come and get me.
On day two we were told to get into our trainee / trainee teams. While Kraut had indicated he wanted to partner up, and confirmed this on Monday evening, when we were moving seats, I noted that Kraut was sitting with Bubba’s brother and avoiding eye contact. Yep, plans had changed. A young guy, also from Houston, had asked me to partner up a day or so earlier and I said I thought I was set. I looked at him and made the partner up sign and so we partnered up.
He was a bright kid, but liked to talk. That’s alright I thought. I wouldn’t have to worry about holding up my end of the conversation. He could handle all the talking for both of us. And he was confident. Also, in working with him on the backing exercises, he was actually pretty good. We were assigned a 2010 Kenworth T2000 Wednesday afternoon and drove it during practice that evening. It needed a little work and we were told it would be fixed and detailed before Friday afternoon.
When we found it Friday it had been largely repaired but had not been cleaned. We took it back to the detail shop where we learned that the company definition of detail was to put new mattresses in (a good thing, to be sure) and then take a leaf blower to the interior. Even though it wouldn’t even pass a gray glove test (dirt and grime everywhere), that was the extent of the detailing it would get. They really need to change the term from detailing to generaling.
But in the end it didn’t matter. My partner who had made preliminary arrangements to be home in Houston for a day and night of a family reunion in October, didn’t have final arrangements yet. By the time final arrangements were made, he would be assigned to a finishing trainer. And being without a partner, I would be as well.
That information came as a crushing blow. I was mentally prepared to be on my own. I was looking forward to being in the truck with another trainee would would not be judging my every move. I could hold the steering wheel like I wanted, not at the 10 and 2 positions at all times. So we parted ways with me more than a little miffed. Partner got assigned to a finishing trainer almost immediately. There were no others available evidently. Nor were there the next (Saturday) morning when I went in for roll call at 8 o’clock. Nor was there at noon-thirty when we were released for the weekend.
So here I sit at my daughter’s place again. This is a good thing. Any day away from America’s Worst is a good day. I’ve had normal food, washed my clothes, done a little more shopping, and watched a little Ryder Cup golf, even though I haven’t actually, you know, played golf in a couple of years.
Tomorrow will be a better day.