driven2drive

What's it like to take a shower at a truck stop?

I feel like I’m officially initiated into this trucking lifestyle… I took a shower in a truck stop last night for the first time!

I was a little apprehensive at first, because the thought of taking a shower at a truck stop just doesn’t sound too appealing. But let me say that when you go days without a shower, all you want to do is get clean!

So you go to the counter in the truck stop, in particular this was at a Pilot, and receive a ticket with a confirmation number. Then you check the tv screens for the wait times until your number is ready. The truck stop will announce notifications over the speakers too, letting everyone know which ticket number is ready and which shower room to go to.

So since there were like 10 spots ahead of us we went upstairs to the driver’s lounge. It was a medium sized room with glass wall by the hallway and inside was filled with red cushy chairs all facing forward towards a tv. There were about 15 drivers sitting up there; only one other driver besides me was female. The lady had been waiting like 3 hours for a shower, which was an unusually long wait! She said it was the longest she’s ever had to wait.. I joked and said maybe it was National Take a Shower Day, lol.

Fortunately we only had to wait maybe 45 minutes to an hour. I ate some Subway in the meantime cuz I was starving lol. So our ticket numbers are up and the tv screens around the Pilot indicated which showers to go to. My trainer friend walked back with me to the shower area and showed me how to punch in the access code using the keypad on the outside of the showering room. The access code is located on the shower ticket so don’t lose that!

The shower room was pretty decent, it was a private room, clean and included a standup shower, sink, toilet, towel racks, 1 bath towel, 1 washcloth, 1 floor towel and a small bench of some sort. It also included a fan, like a summer type of fan, not sure why. The only thing they didn’t include was a hair dryer. I supplied my own bath towel but also used what was given. Inside the shower was a soap dispenser of some unlabeled blue liquid, as well as a tiny tray for your bath products. The water got pretty hot and stayed that way for the most part.

The only thing that concerned me was that there wasn’t really a deadbolt lock on the inside of the door; its access was controlled electronically but only included one of those flip locks, to keep someone from opening the door all the way. Investing in one of those poles that sits snug under the door handle would probably be a good idea, even if only for the peace of mind.

Overall it was a good experience. It’s funny though, you can tell from the amenities that it’s meant for a guy. For example, only 1 bath towel provided. Well don’t I need another one for my hair? lol and the mystery soap in the shower, it was probably shampoo, conditioner and body wash all in one. Maybe guys aren’t real particular about that kinda thing, I mean it was helpful if you didn’t have any soap. But me being female I have separate products for everything! lol And lastly, no hair dryer? Is that what the big fan was supposed to be? It’s not like all the male drivers have short hair. lol Just my observations.

Once I exited the shower area, there was a whole bunch of men lined up to use the TransFlo to fax in paperwork to their companies. Well out comes a young female with wet hair and she’s met with stares from one dude. I’m thinking, is it my wet hair or the fact I was taking a “trucker shower”? lol

Please check out the facility’s photos in my next entries!

EDIT: I wanted to mention that there aren’t any time limits on these showers. Granted, you probably need to keep it reasonable but I find it fascinating that they aren’t on a timer.

Who are our truck drivers?

What is a truck driver? Who is a truck driver? What are you supposed to look like if you call yourself a truck driver? Who is sitting in the front of that tractor-trailer?

In these past 3 weeks I have been exposed to more trucking than I ever have in my life, and I’m not even driving yet. But I have met so many different people of all shapes and sizes, all ages, both genders and all races. Trucking doesn’t attract just one group of people. It is so diverse. It’s amazing how our assumptions in life can really distort a person’s perspective.

Do you respect truck drivers or do you look down on them? They are people just like everyone else. I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of female drivers I have seen here, even if they are teaming with their husbands/boyfriends/significant others. I’ve met a lot of solo female drivers and I’ve also met women who said they wouldn’t do this without their husbands. Everybody I’ve met though has been friendly and not hesitant to start a conversation with anybody.

A couple posts ago I had a quote that almost everyone I met has said I don’t “look” like a truck driver. Mostly that has come from non-drivers. I feel a sense of acceptance in the trucking community, that I am not being judged based on how I look compared to stereotypes in this industry. There are all kinds of people out here.

One of the hardest things I have had to overcome getting into trucking is that omg, I am not the kind of person you would see in a 18-wheeler. I’m in my twenties, young, clean appearance with a couple college degrees and only 5’ tall, I don’t smoke and I’m not known for cussing, I take care of myself and I may come off as too “good” for trucking.

•"How do you reach the pedals?“

•"I just can’t see you driving a big truck.”

•"But you just don’t look like a truck driver.“

I have expected these comments at first, but now they are just kind of annoying. "Sorry for not living up to the mental image in your head representing a truck driver. Let me know how I can make you feel less confused.”

I was first exposed to the non-judgmental atmosphere of trucking by other former/present/future truckers in trucking school. No one ever questioned me getting into this, that I didn’t “look the part” or anything. You were just accepted as someone who wanted to learn how to drive a truck. Even now when I tell people I’ve planned on going solo, they don’t blink an eye. Now, I have noticed that some fellow truckers will try to offer me advice about personal safety, but no one ever says don’t do it, or you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s just this kind of unspoken acceptance.

What I’m saying here can really be applied to any group or culture of people, but if truckers are so willing to accept each other then what is everyone else hung up on? It’s time to destroy the preconceived ideas about truck drivers that they need to fit a certain mold in order to be accepted by non-truckers, but even then are those stereotypes fair? There really are no fair stereotypes for anyone. I am learning to view each person as an individual and not as a product of their gender, race or job title. Everybody is worth so much more than that. I’m learning that the things you would automatically assume about someone usually are not accurate once you get to know them. I mean, it is human nature to judge others because it allows us to evaluate them as a threat or not, going back to cave days. But don’t be so quick to give into those assumptions. Everybody has a different story and different opinions but they have a reason for it; not everyone needs to feel the same way about everything- what would anyone gain from that, how would anyone grow?

A person’s perspective on a group or category of people can be changed for the better by being open minded and accepting the fact that we’re all individual people. No one has to continue subscribing to any stereotypes about anybody; stereotypes are as much of a choice as it is to be accepting of others for who they actually are.

Crunch time

Tomorrow is the first CDL test day and I decided to test using the van, aka the 53’ box trailer. I don’t understand why no one else wanted it. Well of course my first choice was the flatbed- better visibility, but I’m about on the same skill level with the backing maneuvers in both the flatbed and the van. Someone is testing before me and they chose the flatbed, so van was my 2nd choice.

The test will be broken down into 3 parts:

  1. Pre-trip
  2. Backing
  3. Road

I’m not really nervous about the skills part of the test, mostly I am more concerned about the ‘presentation’ part of the test, i.e. the pretrip. There’s like 90 parts on the truck you need to point out, talk about and mention certain specific keywords. We’ve been practicing it every morning around 6:45ish, but not in such detail that you stop at every part and think about what you need to remember. In the mornings we’ve only had enough time to just kind of scan through everything without thinking too much about it.

The most important part about the pre-trip is the in-cab inspection, you MUST get the air brake tests correct or else you would fail… Definitely do not want that. Just remember to RELEASE both parking brakes after the parking brake tests. Sometimes I have forgotten to release the parking brakes when I test the air brakes, and it really isn’t testing them since they are locked, lol.

Well I got some more practice in today on backing, for a very short amount of time, probably about an hour or so. But I think I’m finally starting to “get” the 90. For some reason it didn’t seem like such a beast this time. Oh yeah, it was raining when I was practicing so there were rain drops on the mirrors that really wouldn’t wipe off. They made the convex mirror pretty useless, so I pretty much just kept an eye on the trailer out the window. And for the most part it was always in my point of view. You got to get enough “crook” in the trailer to start out, and then just kind of ease it back to the cones depending on how far away from the cones it is, then, if you want the rear tandems to get closer to the first cone you turn the wheel to the right- I think of “right to the cone.” If they are too close to the cone, then turn them left. This may require a couple pull-ups. Oh yeah, when I was turning the wheel to the left to put the trailer in, I was very far from the cones so I was about to pull up, but my instructor told me not to and to keep backing. I was amazed that the wheels were lined up perfectly! I didn’t need to pull up at all.


Well I got to leave here around 5:30, so I got to get studying!

What have I been up to?

I am continuing on in the trucking world with a whole new company. I had previously attended orientation with a company that I decided to leave because I just wasn’t feeling it with them (Company “A”), and the fact I’d have to wait an unspecified amount of time for a female trainer. I really didn’t like the idea of going with a random trainer, even if she was female. I had stated that I wanted to go solo but I had to be honest with myself and realize that trucking wasn’t something I wanted to do by myself. After riding along with my truck driver friend, I was beginning to feel more comfortable with what trucking was all about and how it all works. So we decided to try out a company that allows us to train together; in other words this new company is allowing my friend to be my trainer (Company “B”) due to his OTR experience. He will be considered a “lead driver” while I am the student.

Now that I have gone through one company’s orientation, I can appreciate the differences in how other companies do things. For example, Company A required a physical for EVERYONE, but Company B only required a physical for those whose current medical cards were not certified by the proper credentials, i.e. certified by an MD instead of a chiropractor. So thankfully I didn’t have to redo my physical because it was done by a MD from when I got my permit, but I was also able to supply the long form as well. You know what’s funny, I had another medical card & long form from Company A, but it was certified by an Advanced Practice Nurse, not an MD so always shoot for the highest certification! It’s silly that the FMCSR (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations) allows you to get your DOT physical from either a MD, DO, Chiropractor, Physician Assistant or Advanced Practice Nurse but for some companies, just any of those ranks aren’t good enough. The craziest part is that Company B *charges you* for your physical, if it was determined that you needed one, in addition to the drug screen (urine test) that is also required by the FMCSR. So we all had to sign a mini “contract” allowing payroll deductions of $50 each for the physical and drug test. It amazes me that Company B is passing on these expenses to the unassuming driver, or rather *creating* these expenses FOR the driver. It’s not like getting a drug screen is optional for anyone. So as long as the government requires drivers to undergo these medical regulations, why not let the driver pay for it? Just let them know they have to pay for it after you get them into orientation so they have no other choice but to go along with it. It’s kind of like price gouging at the gas pump. What’s ridiculous is that the physicals this company is issuing really aren’t as thorough as they could be, and they weren’t even certified by an MD but a DO. I mean, Company A paid for everyone’s physicals and drug screens. So if Company B can make $50 off every physical, why wouldn’t they make EVERYONE get one? Would it just take too much time?

The agility test was a breeze compared to my previous company. No heart rate monitoring, no lifting weights at ALL. The only weight you needed to lift was your own body weight up and down the tractor steps and in and out of the trailer. It was almost too easy. You had to open and close the hood. Now let me just inform you of what you AREN’T supposed to do, which I ended up doing due to my lack of experience on hoods with only a handle and no hood ornament like the Petes… Do not slam the hood shut! lol. So lifting it is the easy part, just prop up your foot on the step built into the front bumper if you need more leverage. But as you go to lower the hood you have to lift it back up, but don’t drop it (lol). Keep ahold of the handle you used to open the hood and hold onto that as you lower it back down to its original position. The hoods with the latches on the sides do not slam back into place like the Petes do, so please don’t do what I did..lol. It made a loud CLUNK. Embarrassing but they passed me on it. However, in my defense the procedure was never demonstrated by a staff member so I was doing it how I knew best.

The second part of the agility test was to climb up the catwalk steps with 3 points of contact making sure not to ‘grab & step’ at the same time. It was awkward climbing up the catwalk because you had to hold onto a handle at 9 o’clock with both hands. However the steps were big and chunky like the steps that lead up into the cab.

Then we had to do a ‘duck walk’ under the trailer and act like you’re visually inspecting everything by turning around a little bit while squatting. Fairly easy for someone who is relatively short.

The taller people had an easier time getting in and out of the trailer, which was the most awkward procedure of all. Once again you had to grab with both hands onto the edge of the left trailer door, so your hands were both at 9 o’clock. Awkward. So you kneel up onto the trailer floor and slowly stand up. Getting down is even more awkward because you have to grab the same edge of the door as you did getting into the trailer. Then at the same time, lowering your foot toward the rear bumper which seems oh so far away.

My advice on all of the climbing in, out and around the trucks- go slow and take your time. Do it often while you are still in school so when it comes time to do it at orientation it won’t be your first rodeo. At my school I wish I could have practiced getting in and out of the trailer; it was something we never went over. Try to experience as many different style trucks as you can because they all operate a little differently.

Also, this is by far the cheapest company I have experienced. By cheap I mean trying to pass on almost every expense to the potential driver. For one, charging for required medical tests. Two, not compensating the potential driver for their 3 days at orientation much less any time waiting on a trainer or co-driver (teams only). No cafeteria available, and ‘provided lunch’ consisted of someone cooking dozens of hamburgers and bringing in different sides & condiments. Really? And this company has contracted with several hotels in the area to provide lodging for those who attend orientation when they run out of their own housing at their facility. Did I mention this company makes $4-5k per student whom they get to sign their 8-month contract? And they have orientation TWICE a week? There were about 30 in my class, most of which were ‘contract students.’

Now I do have some positive points about Company B that Company A wasn’t too thorough about. They fully reimbursed my expenses in gas & tolls for my transportation to orientation as they had financed a rental car for me and my friend. I received that check not even a day after I turned in my receipts. Here’s a tip though, add up the receipts or make copies of them before submitting them so you know the dollar amount to expect back. In addition, I like how we went over in depth how to use the Qualcomm, Comdata card, trip planning and macros. Company A skimmed over all that in an hour or so and said “our trainers will go over all this.” So I can appreciate how Company B was more efficient in making sure things were taught instead of just barely touched on.

Can I say something about recruiters real quick? Don’t take their word for anything! They probably do not have or aren’t given a lot of knowledge about the orientation process as they should have. Don’t expect them to know all the answers to your questions, even though they should! Write down everything they tell you and ask as many questions as you can.. If they don’t know the answer they should at least try to find out and get back with you. HowEVER, sometimes recruiters make mistakes! A good example is our recruiter here. She said we could either begin orientation on Monday or Thursday, that it was up to us. We were under the impression we’d be on the road by this weekend. Well, since my friend is going to officially be my trainer, he has to go through a “lead driver” class which we found out only occurs on Thursdays & Fridays. So our recruiter should have told us to start orientation on Monday so we would be done with everything come this weekend. When we explained this to my recruiter, she said she didn’t know. So now we have to stay a whole nother week until everything is finalized. It’s inconvenient because every day from here on out we have to call the company at 7am to have them fax in a voucher to the hotel to reserve it for another day. Cuz apparently if you delay calling in for your voucher, you may end up getting locked out of your room as it became assigned to someone else.

I sure wish the area around my hotel was more lively with places to eat and things to do. There’s a couple fast food joints and a couple restaurants and a convenience store.

But don’t get me wrong, I am thankful to be here and thankful that we have both passed orientation. There are not many companies that allow experienced drivers to train their student driver friends; that is my biggest benefit with this company. I must say though that Company B’s vibe is very informal and extremely laid back compared to the organized and more structured Company A. I just get this whole other feeling from Co. B because there are hundreds of people there for various reasons, mostly because they are considered a training company and offer their own housing… It almost feels like college or some military style thing. But it is definitely laid back even with the admin employees… We were greeted at the front counter with “Sup?” Really?

I am thankful this is not my first experience going to orientation. Every company will do things differently but the important thing to remember is to keep it all in perspective and try to look at things objectively- why are they making everyone go through this procedure, how is it benefitting them, what kind of profits are they making, etc.

Remember when?

Remember when, this time last year I started looking into how to become a truck driver? I was on a long road trip and when I got to a hotel I called my friend and asked them to look up trucking schools online…I figured one had to be close but the closest one was 2.5 hours away. Or so I thought.

Then I was reading about the differences between going to a private/public trucking school vs. company-sponsored school. I started to think company sponsored school was the way to go until thoughts were raised about what if I don’t make it through but my friend does, and what if I have to end up owing thousands of dollars? (Not in back taxes to the IRS- lol).

It actually took me several months to decide on the right school. First I considered a school with weekend course so I could still maintain a job, but the school wanted $5-6k a piece, with no financial aid. Then I stumbled upon a community college, one of the last places I wanted to enroll because I had just graduated from 2 different schools and figured the enrollment process would be a hassle, etc. Well to my surprise it was one of the best things I could have done. Tuition came to around $300 and the trucking program was under a grant in which everyone qualified. The only “catch” was that in order to go to this 7-week long program Monday thru Friday I had to quit my job.

In order to make the transition from steady income to no income, I had to save up my money and live as frugally as I could. I saved up several thousand dollars so I would not be completely broke and at the mercy of a trucking company to go to work right away. I was slightly uncomfortable with the fact that I would not be working, but I felt like trucking school was something I needed to accomplish.

I was fortunate to be able to rent a house 30 minutes from the school. It made commuting easier and I enjoyed having the room of a house instead of a one-bedroom apartment! Plus, the town had a culture of its own which was fun for me to explore when I wasn’t in school.

When I said I wanted to become a truck driver, I’m not really sure if I knew how large these trucks actually are. They are quite intimidating with their size, not to mention me not feeling like the truck fits me well. Maybe all it takes is some getting used to. There’s always just that huge fear in the back of my mind that I’m not going to be able to control it. I am now looking at tractor trailers differently, literally. The bulk of the machine is the trailer. That’s where all the cargo is stored. The tractor is just a means of hauling around the trailer. Here are some things that I initially feared and overcame:

climbing out of the cab • opening the hood on the tractor • opening the trailer doors • sitting comfortably in the cab • backing up • passing my CDL test • attending company orientation • agility test @ company orientation • shifting • using the clutch •

I have come a pretty long way as you can see… I think I just need to appreciate how far I have come and stop worrying about the future with me and trucking. But here are some things that do worry me:

pulling in straight to the fuel island • driving in rainy or bad weather • controlling my shifts • mirror usage- am I going to see everything that I need to see? • eating healthy on the road • not hitting anything • feeling properly rested when it’s time to drive •

I actually can’t wait to relieve my concerns and just start driving!

Time out- what's going on? (It's lengthy)

So I am all checked back in at the hotel near the company’s terminal. I went over everything with a disinfectant wipe, you know, like sanitizing the handles, remote, curtain handles, etc. I’m making like I’m going to be here awhile but I’m really not so sure anymore.

We finished up at the terminal today since we had successfully passed orientation and all of the things that were expected of us- physical, drug screen, agility test, backing test, obstacle course, Smith system defensive driving, written test, road test, sliding tandems and coupling/uncoupling. It was a crazy week last week but we all got through it. Every day it was a new challenge and completely out of my comfort zone. As a matter of fact, trucking has been everything but comfortable. lol

Anyway, when we finished up on Saturday with the obstacle course, I felt relieved that I passed but it wasn’t like I was super excited. I mean, after all trucking hadn’t even begun.

So fast forward to today. I knew it would be a breeze because we’d receive our ID cards and all that good stuff. Easy peasy. So the van picks us up from the hotel we were staying at and head to the terminal. We again sat in the little room where we once were last week.There was more paperwork to sign and a couple videos to watch- diversity in the workplace and then sexual harassment. Then came the rushed crap about probably what is most important in trucking- everything except the driving!

We got started off by being told that when with a trainer, we could spend 1 night/week in a motel. Yeah, no ‘h’ on the front, lol. The company will cover the first $50, anything over that comes out of your pocket. Soo who’s to say there will be a decent enough motel around.. I mean, if anything you have the trainer’s truck to fall back on.

Then we were introduced to the Comdata card. Still not really sure what it is- lol! It’s like a credit card that the company gives you to pay for company stuff. Something about using it to pay for fuel. We were told that the Comdata card has to be set up with a specific truck # or else it will not activate. So you gotta align it with the trainer’s truck at first so you can use it to fuel up. You can also use it to pay for scale tickets- not really a ‘ticket,’ per say, but whatever it costs to weigh the truck at a scale. I’m just still confused about what the Comdata card is used for since we were told that you can draw $25 from it once in a 24hr period or 4x in 7 days.. Not even sure what that means.

Oh and then there is a company-provided ATM card that you can only use at the terminals, it won’t work at any other ATM. Then we were told about how we get paid. How “simple” it is. It’s divided into 2 accounts, a pay account and an advance account. Something about getting .10 of every mile put into the advance account. Then something about Saturday at midnight when whatever is left in each account will go toward your paycheck. And about reimbursements, umm yada yada fill out some form…

And don’t forget if you are around a company terminal you must fuel up there, not any other fuel stop. And if you go to Canada fuel up in the U.S before going in. But I ain’t even gotta worry about that anymore because they aren’t requiring a passport right now.

We can’t have 2 logbooks… I don’t really understand this concept because if electronic logs fail, you need a backup on paper logs. However, we were given 2 fullpage logbooks, like 8.5” x 11” and you can only use 1 logbook for each month. It would be such a waste to only use those paper logs as backup. But then again who would want to log twice? I wonder if this company even allows its drivers to use the standard half-page log books.

We were given a huge zippered packet full of stuff- blank delivery receipts, customs booklet, pamphlets, Transflo info, Comdata kit, online resources, mileage booklet, quick reference cards, hazmat compliance pocketbook (not the same as the emergency response guidebook), FMCSR green book, log book, reimbursement forms, cover sheets for Transflo, health benefit info, fuel directory. Transflo is the name for how the company receives all paperwork- it’s pretty much scanned in thru a fax type machine.

Anyway, the guy is talking all thus vague info about which forms to fill out & when, what to fill out, receipts, getting signatures, how to send in reimbursements, to call Safety, to call Road Service, don’t buy fuel with cash, the schedule of the hotel shuttle, placement of emergency triangles (it’s more than just 10’, 100’ and 200’), that your employee access card will only work from 8-5, etc. Yeeah.

So I am just kind of put off by all this info. “Your trainer will go over all of this.” Why hadn’t we been practicing the non-driving side of trucking all along? We’re supposed to rely on our trainer to teach us all this? I’m not familiar with any of this info, any of the forms and just feel kinda lost. I feel like I missed a step somewhere. And before you could figure out what question to ask, we were handed special envelopes with all of our brand new employee credentials. ID badge, access card, money cards, etc. We were handed these with a welcome and a handshake. It just seemed too good to be true. Like, heaven forbid you run over a curb in a turn or you can’t back up to a dock in 15 minutes. But let’s not go over any of the documents- you know, records of everything that goes on. It’s not like we have to be so skilled with the truck that it’s all we study before going with a trainer- it’s not like you are prohibited from working on perfecting your driving skills, lol the truck is right there. Now all these forms and documents, what is that all about? It is completely new to me. I just feel like I am not ready or qualified to start doing this. I am good with the truck, but I just feel like I had a curveball thrown at me. Like this whole other side of trucking they don’t teach you about.

I just was not as excited as everyone else today. I still haven’t bought anything from the company store and everyone in my class has already bought hats and a couple guys in my class already bought company jackets… I mean why? In my opinion, at this point you are just a warm body to sit behind the steering wheel. They don’t care to see what you’ve accomplished on your résumé. You never had to dress up for an interview. And at this point, I don’t have a single person at this company I can turn to to be my main contact. I still have lots of questions but it just seems so impersonal because they get people to come in every week and do enough to get them hired but they don’t bank on keeping you. I just don’t feel that committed to this company like everyone else is. Maybe it is because I am looking at it objectively and not desperate to turn over a paycheck. Like I am questioning them as much as they are questioning me.

Another aspect is my wait time before I get a trainer. There are 4 females ahead of me and one if them had been waiting a month and the other only a week- however she is going to team with her husband so they may be purposely trying to inch her along. Anyway, the company keeps you in the hotel while you wait and supposedly they pay you. What I don’t agree with is that when I mentioned the possible extended wait times to this company, for females, I was told that they weren’t going to mention it unless I had brought it up. Umm, what? It’s no surprise there are more men than women in trucking. And they only put female trainers with female students, I like that concept but what if there were no female trainers- would they have no female drivers? Why is this (or any company) failing to promote their female drivers into becoming trainers? There is such a need for that in this industry. How else can women expect to join men in trucking if they have trouble even finding a trainer in less than a week?

So all in all, I am not thrilled about waiting an unspecified amount of time for a trainer. The company can’t even give me concrete info about it, and you know they know. Just how long am I willing to put up with waiting? I have now proved to myself that I can do this and that I have what it takes. Why put all my eggs in one basket? I don’t have to stay with this company just because I have passed everything up to this point. What do I want to do?

Don't forget your game face

Alright, in a very short amount of time I am learning how I need to handle myself in the trucking world, with the presence of men being such a “threat.”

I am learning that I need to watch out for myself and watch how I come off to other people. Now typically, being told to ‘be yourself’ would apply, however, I am realizing that I would have been better prepared had I had a game plan. In other words, how am I going to answer questions like, are you going solo or teaming? Because the believed stereotype would be that if an attractive woman is trucking, it’s because of her boyfriend or husband. After all, young women in this industry who aren’t rough around the edges are rare. You just wouldn’t see them in trucking- “that’s something only men do.” Right?

Well I am learning that in order to avoid getting hit on and seeming like you are available for dating, make up a story. Even if there isn’t a man in your life, even if you don’t want a man in your life, just make something up. “My boyfriend already drives so we’re gonna team together.” At least if people are aware that there is a man in your life, they are more likely to give you respect for that.

Otherwise, if you present yourself like I did and declare that you’re doing this yourself, guys automatically think you are single and that they can flirt with you and say/do things they normally wouldn’t do. And if you just go with the flow and don’t define your boundary lines, you had better watch out. By boundary lines I mean, will you decide to laugh at every joke? Will you come in there with a friendly smile for everyone, which may consequently result in a guy taking it as you are interested in him? Are you going to laugh and joke around with these guys, will you laugh at the inappropriate jokes? Sometimes I pretend to laugh just to go along with whatever is being said, but the second you don’t laugh they will have more respect for you. What are you going to do when the driving instructor treats you differently than the guys, for better or worse? Don’t think it won’t happen. What kind of clothes are you going to wear? What kind of impression do you want to make? There is nothing wrong with being yourself BUT you have to ask how you may come across to other people. What is your demeanor going to be, professional, silly, funny, serious? You set the tone. Your actions and behavior tells others how to treat you.

It just amazes me how there are men out there who aren’t afraid to hit on you, with no business doing anything with you, and they don’t even know anything about you. Sorry, but I just don’t want that kind of attention.

What kind of impression will you give, based on your personality and body language? You may have to tone down who you are in order to avoid unwanted attention from guys.

So put on your game face and keep in mind why you are in trucking- to learn a valuable skill and to earn money. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, you may need to be the one who is the professional.

Getting acquainted & reacquainted

Today I was able to get back in a truck after almost a month! It was a very welcoming experience because I finally got to be in a truck that fit me! It was a 2003 Kenworth T2000. I could see over the windshield just fine; the hood slopes down on such a hard angle. I can reach the clutch perfectly and without much effort- it certainly feels more natural. The seat slides forward so much that I actually needed to slide it back a notch. The clutch was brand new n it felt like butter. The 9 speed transmission shifted really easily. The Kenworth could not handle much revving of the engine, unlike the Peterbilt 385 that I learned on at school- on that thing you NEEDED to mash the fuel pedal in order to downshift. On the K, the throttle felt much differently in that it was extra ‘mushy’ and not very touchy. The brakes, however were kinda touchy but I learned them pretty quick- you just gotta be gentle with ‘em.

Another thing I really liked about this Kenworth was that it is designed to NOT stall out when taking off from a stop- when letting off the clutch, you are NOT to give it any fuel. Wow! I was so used to that clunky Peterbilt trying to shake and shudder every time I took off in 3rd. This to me was a big deal!

I am happy to know that not all trucks are big, clunky and mannish. This is the difference between the Pete 385 and the Kenworth T2000:

Kenworth: “Hi! I’m Kennie. It’s nice to meet you. What’s your name?”

Pete: *big burly voice* “I’m this way whether you like me or not! Now scram!”

lol

We learned a very abbreviated way of doing the pre-trip. Piece of cake but I just need to get used to a different truck.

We also practiced serpentine driving thru a bunch of cones. Once I got the hang of it it was pretty cool, weaving in and out of each cone and watching your mirrors all the way through so your trailer tires don’t hit the cone.

Anyway, I am really enjoying myself and have shared many laughs with my classmates. I haven’t laughed this hard in so long, especially with a group of people. I’m talking like real laughs, the kind where you can’t stop and your face turns red and you might accidentally snort. And you’re just laughing at the most random things. We’re hitting it off really well.

Reflections on trucking

First off I want to thank all the truck drivers who were on the road yesterday and away from their families. We were in that category of drivers yesterday and it was really lousy being away from all the traditional family Christmas events. There were hardly any trucks on the road, much less at any of the truck stops. Freight keeps rolling though, deliveries don’t stop. I just don’t think any truck driver should have to be away from their families on Christmas. When it comes down to it, it is hard for anybody to be away from their families on Christmas. There are a lot of occupations that require people to work through the holidays, but there’s nothing like being in person. It’s funny to think of all my past Christmases with my family and how they all kind of blend together, but this one time I am away from them on Christmas and the absence certainly makes itself known. I didn’t even eat a decent meal yesterday, but you can’t dwell on those details too much… if you do, it will just make you sad. All you really can do is count your blessings and be thankful for what you do have and really ask yourself, is this trucking thing worth missing out on holidays for? It is certainly not worth it; nothing could ever be more important than being home for Christmas. I didn’t think it would affect me that much but once you experience being away from home for the holidays it just puts a bad taste in your mouth.

Anyway, trucking is very interesting. Interesting in that it is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING LIKE TRUCKING SCHOOL. For those of you who went to trucking school to get your CDL, or are currently in trucking school, or are contemplating going to trucking school- learning how to drive a truck is completely different than learning how to get your CDL. I am a person who is very ‘by-the-book’ so when I read or learn information, I retain it. When I feel it is appropriate to apply that book knowledge to a real life situation, it is not always the case. Everything in trucking is on such a case-by-case basis. There is no strict rules for anything- it is mostly judgment based. I mean, it is good to learn all the textbook stuff they teach you in trucking school to keep it in the back of your mind, but learning it and actually DOING it are two completely different things. For example… the textbooks tell you not to use your jake brake in bad weather. Not always the case. You can use it intermittently in bad weather as long as you are going straight and your tires are on the pavement. And downshifting is overrated- I was taught to downshift to 2nd or 3rd gear when coming to a stop. You don’t really have to do that. You can keep it in 4th or 5th when coming to a stop. And also, going up and down mountain grades can be done in top gear, without downshifting!… as long as you are empty/really light. Everything in trucking is all about:

-each situation

-weight of the trailer

-road conditions

-traffic

-your experience/comfort level

-looking ahead as far as you can, and

-READING ALL TRAFFIC SIGNS!!

It is imperative that a truck driver pay attention while out on the road. There is constant stimuli that a driver must be receptive to. For example, when downshifting on an exit ramp to go to the fuel station, as soon as you get on the exit ramp you need to be looking around at which direction the fuel stop is at. You can’t be paying 100% attention to your gears because you have cars around you and you will be coming to a stop and you need to figure out which lane to get into.  Some exit ramps do not list which direction different gas stations/restaurants are located; it will not tell you that the TA is to the right .5 mile down the road. You also need to be on the lookout for 'no truck’ signs. NEVER turn down those streets. If you end up missing your turn and keep going, you could end up in a residential area or an area that you cannot turn around in. In trucking, it really is best to stay on the beaten path and not take the road less traveled!!

In my short time of trucking I am learning that the whole gender thing with trucking is not relevant. The most important thing in trucking is having control over the vehicle at all times and being constantly aware of your ever-changing surroundings. Physical strength is secondary. Being out here has not even called my attention to me being a female and doing the whole trucking thing. My major concern is learning how the truck is and being one with it and driving it and not letting it drive me. I am still double clutching even though I have been demonstrated how to float gears, but I am not entirely comfortable with gear floating yet. I don’t know if it’s just because I feel overwhelmed with trying to learn something a different way- and it probably is easier than double clutching.

I find that I am pretty hard on myself as far as expectations go; in other words I expected myself to be good at this right off the bat. I mean, I did go to school and earned my CDL. I did all those pre-trip tests, backing tests and road tests, right? I know how to upshift, downshift, turn and stop, so that makes me qualified to drive for real, right? Wrong. So so wrong. It really doesn’t help you in school when you’re learning how to drive the truck on the same route day after day, especially if you live in a region where it is only one kind of terrain. I learned on all flat roads so driving on inclines/declines kind of scare me. I learned in sunny weather, maybe rained once so the thought of driving on snow or ice scares me. All you really have to prepare yourself is what you read in your trucking books, which really doesn’t do much. You hear “ice and snow, take it slow” but what does “slow” really mean?? I was driving through Montana yesterday on I-94 and only the right-hand lane was dry pavement for travelers. The left-hand lane was covered in snow and tire marks from passing cars. And all those passing cars travel at 70mph in the passing lane! Quite shocking to a non-seasoned driver. Also, all the exit ramps were covered with snow and ice. When I took off from a rest area, the rest area parking lot was covered in snow. I put it in 1st gear and slowly let off the clutch so I wouldn’t spin the drive tires, and I kept it at an idle all the way out of the rest area. Even while on the road to get back onto the interstate, I was crawling along in 2nd gear barely on the accelerator. YES, it IS important to go that slow, all the while trying to keep in the designated tread areas that other vehicles have taken. At that time there were no other cars at all on the road, but even if they were you HAVE to go that slow. Keep in mind my trailer was filled with only 3,000 lbs so that makes you have a lot less traction!!

I can’t imagine learning the whole trucking thing with a complete stranger or someone that I did not get along with. First of all, you hardly get any privacy in the truck unless you use the curtains in the middle behind the 2 front seats which blocks off the area with the bunk beds and drawers/cabinets. Just because you are in training mode with your trainer does not mean you can handle all of the driving or drive the full 11 hours… Everybody is going to be at a different level, and I really thought I was okay until I realized I didn’t have clutch control; I was having trouble taking off from a stop WITHOUT stalling out because I didn’t understand the point at which the clutch was engaged. As you are coming off the clutch, it needs to be done SO slowly, ever so slowly, and even as you feel and hear and see the truck moving, do not let up quickly on the clutch, it has to be done so gently. It definitely helps to have an understanding of the clutch and how it works, in order to get a “feel” for it. 

I wish my trucking school had taught gear recovery better. It’s almost like, you are taught how to shift gears, double clutch, etc but you are not taught how to handle many troublesome scenarios… like what if you are downshifting, and try to go into 5th gear but it grinds and won’t go in… do you keep trying to rev it and shove it into 5th or do you rev it and go back to 6th…? We were taught in school that if it won’t go in once, put it back in the gear it was last in. Learning accelerator control is another big thing, learning how much to press the accelerator in order to rev up the RPMs to put it in the next gear, whether upshifting or downshifting. Every truck is different. In the Pete that I learned on, you really had to mash the accelerator. In other trucks, just a little “tap” will do. If you over-rev the engine, in other words putting it past the top of the shifting range, it is NOT good and it will let you know because more than likely your gear will not go in… So do yourself a favor and learn how the gears work and what happens when you move the shifter and press the clutch, etc. For all of you who said in order to learn how to drive a 18 wheeler you didn’t ever need to have experience driving a manual transmission, that is BALONEY! It definitely helps you grasp the concept of what you are supposed to do. I’d rather already have an idea of how a manual transmission works and tweak the way I do it than learning for the first time in this huge Class A tractor trailer combination vehicle. It’s KIND OF a lot of pressure for the first timer!! Like, in order to learn how to paint, one first needs to learn how to draw. Being out of gear is nothing to joke about, and totally uncool… you can’t just give up when the gears are grinding and it won’t go where you want it to… any time you are in Neutral you are pretty much telling the truck “I’m tired of driving right now, why don’t you drive for me?” It seems like downshifting is a lot more complicated than upshifting because every exit ramp will be different and you also have to take into consideration outside factors like how far ahead you realized you needed to slow down, what time of day it is, the weather, traffic, etc.

Also, for those of you who say you want to get into trucking because you like to drive… THINK AGAIN! It is SO much more than driving. I wish everybody drove like they were driving an 18 wheeler… constantly being aware of your surroundings, watching out for other cars around you that they don’t do anything stupid, having to look in your side mirrors every few seconds, keeping an eye on your road signs, watching the trailer behind you in your mirrors and making sure it’s in your lane, etc. You know, it really isn’t as bad as one might think when they tell you to look in your mirrors every 5-7 seconds. That is something that is NECESSARY in order to drive the big trucks. You HAVE to know what is around you. It’s part of the whole driving process. You can’t just have tunnel vision and daydream while looking straight ahead and at nothing else. Trucking requires 500% of your attention. The great thing about that is that everything you need to know is right in front of you, on both sides and behind you. Signs will tell you what mile marker you are at, what town you are approaching, what lane you need to be in, etc. Using your hood mirrors helps check your blind spots especially on your passenger’s side. Rear view plane & convex mirrors help you to see who is behind you and in the lanes further out to the sides. You can also check both side mirrors to see who is behind you, because you may see them better in one mirror than the other depending on which side of the lane they are positioned on. Looking ahead will tell you the traffic conditions, if there are any brake lights, if people are slowing down, merging, etc. 

As a truck driver you are responsible and accountable for the way you handle your vehicle but you also need to look out for others… for example, when a whole line of cars are merging ahead of you onto the interstate and you are in the right-most lane, it is wise to let off the accelerator instead of speeding up or maintaining your speed, EVEN THOUGH the mergers are supposed to yield to you, most of them won’t, and will expect YOU to get out of the way. So it is always best to let the crazies go ahead of you than trying to keep up with them and trying to prove who’s bigger, even though you are by default! 

And for anybody driving a regular car with 4 wheels- DO NOT EVER GET IN FRONT OF A TRUCK!!! Who ever thought it was a good idea for you to cut in front of a tractor trailer? Yes, trucks generally gain speed much slower than a car, but they take so much more room to stop!! It is such a foolish thing every time I see a car get right in front of the truck like nothing will hurt them and they are in their own little world. And also, it is funny how every 4 wheeler looks so TINY when sitting up in the big truck. Like all the 4 wheelers are a bunch of matchbox cars. You have no idea what any truck is hauling (unless it’s hazmat- that just means stay further away), how many pounds it is hauling, whether it is top heavy, whether or not the driver is paying full attention, so it is best to stay away from any big truck on the road, back off and give them room. And for pete’s sake, DO NOT RIDE ALONGSIDE THE PASSENGER’S SIDE OF A TRUCK!!! That is the biggest blind spot on the truck. I don’t care how many mirrors a truck has, it is very dangerous to be in that zone. It is called the “blind side” for a reason, and no I’m not talking about the movie! 

Venting complete. lol

Got the truck!

We finally got the truck! For reals this time. Right now I’m sitting in the truck at Wal Mart munching on a sandwich I made while waiting for some laundry to get done.

Our truck has some great features like a built-in fridge which will be so useful. I can get creative and start making my own meals instead of always buying them from place to place. It has lots of storage space too.

10-4 over n out!

It's bittersweet

I passed the final part of orientation today! It consisted of an obstacle course. I really wasn’t all that concerned about it since you’re doing it in low gear at an idle. However, it proved itself to be challenging.

The obstacle course consisted of 12 different stations. A scale box where you had to correctly position your steer tires, then drive axles and then trailer tandems in the box, simulating a weigh scale. Each wheel had to be in its own half in the box, except for the steer tires, since there is only one axle you only needed to put it in the first half of the box. It was easy to do because I had my mirrors positioned downwards and I just stuck my head out the window to watch the placement of my steer tires.

Some of the stations consisted of turns around a random tire laying on the ground or actual barrels. The fun part about this is that there was a number range on the ground stemming from the object we needed to maneuver around. It was from 1-10, with 10 being closest to the object. The whole point of all this was to use your mirrors and try to get as close to the object as possible without hitting it. You were allowed to back up in the event where you were about to hit something, but that just changed 2 weeks ago! Before, if you were positioned in such a way that your truck was going to hit an object, I take it you had to hit that object and get 0 points for it?! Kinda crazy huh.

The station where I had the most trouble was the ‘diminishing lane’ station. There were 2 sets if cones to fit in between except that one side gradually got narrower. I only did the course twice but was hitting cones with my trailer because I wasn’t pulling into the maneuver in the best way possible.

Then you had to do some serpentine turns around a few barrels. Sometimes I had to back up because my trailer was coming in too short and I needed to give it more room. No big deal.

Then we had to do a left turn around a 90* area marked by those white skinny plastic poles on certain roadways. Now, it really wasn’t a 90* turn because the only thing you were being graded on was how close your steer tires came to the white poles. You try to come into it as far to the right as possible, then turn left.

There were also 2 DOT-type bumper stops to see how close you can get your front and rear bumpers to a designated line. You had to watch your antennae-like hood mirrors to see where the line was in front of your bumper. Then, with the rear bumper, we were told to count 6 seconds once the front trailer tandem passed the line, just make sure your clutch is out all the way. Also keep in mind the trailer tandems were in the 10th or 11th hole so I’m sure that had something to do with it. I got a 9/10 on the rear stop!

So all in all, the obstacle course was definitely challenging but we only needed to score 60 points to pass out of a possible 120. We were told we only had 2 chances to practice and one chance to pass. All the guys in my class were testing only after one practice round. But I decided to use up all my practice rounds because I just couldn’t imagine not passing if I didn’t use all the practice that I could. Ya know? I mean, the first time I did it, I was alright but I was getting used to the course. So everyone tested and passed, so I get in the truck again so I can practice. Well all is going well around the course. I was at ease because I was just practicing…until I noticed the teacher was holding a clipboard. I thought, wait, I told him that I was just practicing. I was hoping, however that he was going to grade me. I was doing an okay job. Teacher comes around to my window and lets me know I have 55 points and that he was just pacing me. In other words he was only keeping score incase I wanted to count it as a test grade. I mean hey why not? I felt happy that I was only 5 points from passing and knew I would get at least 60. So at the end of the course he walks back up to my window and tells me I scored an 83 and can use that as my test score if I wanted to. I wasn’t about to one-up myself so I took it and was happy I passed! We will have to re-take this obstacle course after going on the road with a trainer but the grading criteria is the same. I can’t wait to see how much I will improve. I really wanted to do better than I did, but it is what it is.

So yeah, we all passed! I feel thankful to have been part of such a great group of people since we all got along for the most part. I mostly enjoyed our sense of humor. So now I have made some new friends across this great nation. Our instructor was so helpful and a great guy. He wanted to help each one of us succeed and not let us get sent home because he understands that we all had to sacrifice something to get here in the first place and he’s not about crushing anyone’s dreams. I mean he actually realizes that we are actual human beings and not just ID numbers.

I have received lots of positive feedback about my attitude in class from everyone, everyone has had such nice things to say about me. I’m sure being female is part of it, yeah. But my one classmate wanted to know how someone my age could have the confidence I do around the trucks. I was flattered because for the most part, I have a healthy respect for this type of heavy equipment and in a way it is scary to think about operating. But you have to hold yourself together if you want to be in control of the truck, I mean there is no room for nerves in the cab. Everybody has been saying that I am very mature for my age and my teacher said that based on my attitude now, about being so diligent and careful and going slow and trying to do things correctly, that I am going to be “a damn good truck driver.”

After lunch we went over some trip planning and the most important thing to remember was to log as many hours as you can under ‘off duty’ line 1 in your logbook. Like, if you are waiting for your appointment to get unloaded, and aren’t on the dock yet, save your ‘on duty- not driving’ hours by logging time waiting as ‘off duty.’ I’m sure I will have a better understanding of this later on.

Finally we were shown how to put chains on a tire. There was a freestanding drive tire and the teacher just demonstrated how to do it. We didn’t try it ourselves, but I got the basic concept about it. I don’t really want to be driving in weather where chains are required (note that some states require you to have them available on the truck, not necessarily on the tires).

Every day this past week has been something new and each day has presented itself with its own set of challenges. The only thing I don’t like about these big companies is this neverending fear that you may get sent home. I mean, with that obstacle course today, any one of us could have been sent home if we didn’t at least get 60 points. I mean, imagine this being your 6th day into orientation yet there is still a chance that you could mess up on something out there and all that effort go to waste. That’s what I’m saying, like the big companies are so quick to get rid of you if you happen to mess up. Nobody’s perfect truck drivers and we should all be qualified to do the job, but it’s just the whole integrity of it all.

Ok seriously not ready

I am just not ready to go to Orientation… I could not find my SS card, and it took me like an hour to find it. But all the while I’m searching around and looking thru stuff n running out of places to look.

This is the result of starting to pack at 11pm the night before. This whole week I sat on my butt n did nothing except read online to prepare for the whole trucking experience, so it looks like I just did not apply my time wisely. I just can’t imagine leaving for a month with the apartment in this cluttery condition…

First step… get rid of stuff…. next time I go to the thrift store I’m bringing them a whole bunch of stuff… the less items you have, the better..

So I decided not to leave for Orientation tomorrow. It’s not that I haven’t been waiting to start trucking, I just can’t start a new chapter of my life knowing this apt is so cluttered and I just don’t want to come home to that..

It’s 3:19am.