Monday, April 28, 2008

My heartland fade across the line

CHICAGO, IL - Funny thing about this new life of mine: sometimes I go for days on end without internet access, sometimes I get two full evenings to sit in truck stop cafes and play online. Currently enjoying a cup of tea and some chocolate pudding in a gigantic and very muddy truck stop in Chicago after running around northern Illinois all day. It was snowing! Now it's just raining and miserable and cold.

As per suggestions (and my own prior intentions), I've set up a Twitter account. I'll be posting short updates from my cell phone at least daily when I can't get online. If you're reading this blog by visiting the page, you can find it at the top of the sidebar. If you're getting it through a feed, look me up on Twitter.

Right now would be a good time to upload a bunch of pictures I've taken lately, but the camera cord is in the truck and I don't feel like wading though half a mile of mud just to get it right now. Instead, I'll transcribe some of the notes I've taken over the past week.

Randomly heard on the CB somewhere in AZ or NM: "What the hell are we doing out here on these roads? You spend so much time in that truck that when you get out you look like a big old walking bucket seat."

The man in the next truck at the TA in Santa Rosa, NM, is sitting behind the steering wheel, reading a newspaper and drinking milk straight out of the carton. Just another evening at home...

A young woman in a truck stop bathroom is scrubbing her face over and over. "Sixteen hours in a car," she says to me when she sees me watching her. "Try a few days in a big rig," I tell her, smile, and walk out as she looks at me in awe.

I asked my trainer why he chose to be a coed trainer, because many of the male trainers I met in Fontana said they'd never train women. "They are better students," he said. "They listen better."

Going to Georgia tomorrow. One can only hope it will not be snowing. And the further away I am from California, the less likely I am to walk off the truck. And after a long phone conversation last night, I feel a little more at peace with where I am right now.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wandering through the hills of Iowa

WALCOTT, IA - I am currently in the world's largest truck stop. No, really. It's pretty exciting.

Another exciting thing: I just took my first shower in four days. Ah, welcome to life on the road.

The first two weeks of student driver training are supposed to be introductory. The trainer gets loads that s/he can handle alone, with the student along to observe and drive a few hours. After the two weeks, the truck becomes a team truck, which means it never stops moving, with the trainer driving 10 hours then the student driving the same amount of time. In practice, this rarely happens, and dispatchers treat the truck as a team truck from the day the student gets in it.

This arrangement does not work well for a student like me, who ought to go call her truck school and get her money back - at least, according to my trainer. I don't know how to shift a damn truck. I don't know how to shift, period. I never drove stick shift before truck school, and the transmissions my school used are vastly different from the transmissions Werner uses, and I'm lost. It's been suggested I go work for a company that uses exclusively automatic trucks.

My trainer has actually been very nice and honest about all of this. He's a nice guy, a big, bearded, dry-witted man from Michigan. It's a little bit like driving around with Michael Moore. It's not his fault that I suck at this, and he's doing all he can to help me, but it's been a week and I'm still lost.

And with every wrong move I make and every gear I miss, I think about the person I left behind. My heart is not in this. It's not on the road anymore, at least not right now.

It's always been so easy for me to leave. Sure, I've missed people and places, but it's always been a wistful glance in the rearview mirror as I drove away. But it gets harder every time, the weight of previous departures building up to an anchor I carry with me.

Today, driving down the rolling hills of Iowa, I realized that all I'm doing is running away again, as I always do. And I hate myself for it.

I don't know what this all means. I've been two seconds away from grabbing my stuff and walking off the truck for the entire time I've been here. But I'm in Iowa so I can't do it right now. And my mind spins through so many thoughts in the span of an hour that I lose track. And, well, I just don't know.

Friday, April 25, 2008

RIVERSIDE, CA - Back in SoCal after a run to Amarillo, TX, and back.

Honestly, it's been rough. Crying in truck stop bathrooms kind of rough. I'm having second and third and millionth thoughts. But I'm here. It's only been four days.

No time at all to get online. Currently borrowing my trainer's laptop to post. Probably won't have time or chance to post on my own until I get my own truck.

Don't panic. It always gets worse before it gets better.

Monday, April 21, 2008


I got a trainer! His name is Paul. I haven't met him yet, but he's picking me up at the terminal at 10am Tuesday morning, and we have to get to North Carolina (of all places) by Friday, then pick up another load and take it to Arizona.

So, here we go. I might be out of contact for a few days...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hurry up and wait


Sitting around the hotel waiting for Werner to find me a trainer. STILL. Already changed my preference to coed, so as to get the hell out of here faster. D and I have been doing a lot of walking around, but the Inland Empire isn't the most engaging place in the world, ahem. You know it's bad when I get excited about having access to a Starbucks. The rest of the time, just sitting around and listening to truckers' stories.

About half the people at this hotel are Werner drivers, either waiting for trainers or for their trucks to get fixed. The other half is business people. It's endlessly fascinating to watch the tension between the two groups.

My friend Mandy, a former NC newsie colleague who's now a reporter in Palm Springs, drove over to hang out with me Thursday night. We ate salads and drank tea and talked about men and the failure of the news industry. After she dropped me off at the hotel, I felt even more disassociated than I've felt in the last few days, which was already pretty disassociated. Half of me wants nothing more than to get on the road and go, go, go. The other half is ready to give in to this vicious heartache and go back to NorCal.

What D keeps telling me whenever I start whining about all this is, "No matter what you think you should have done, you're here already. And you'll never forgive yourself if you go back now." She's right. I just need to get the crap out of FonTucky. Aaaaany minute now...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Truck stop barbecues and bitchy women

FONTANA, CA - "There's a barbecue every night at every truck stop," the man says, and puts a new coat of barbecue sauce on the ribs he's grilling. He and some others have made a WalMart run and came back to the truck terminal with enough meat to feed a hungry horde of truckers. The man running the grill is wearing a confederate flag baseball cap, a muscle shirt, and cowboy boots. He is chain smoking Marlboro Reds and speaking with one of the heaviest Carolina drawls I've ever heard, and after living in NC for a year I've heard many.

It's damn good barbecue though. Tons better than anything I had while living down there.

* * * * *

I've become fast friends with the one other woman in my 20-person orientation class, D. She is a big, gregarious blonde who's spent the last 18 years raising her son by herself out in the high desert near Joshua Tree. Now that the boy is grown, she wants to see the country, get out there on the road on her own.

There's a lot of talk among the few women here about the advantages and disadvantages of female trainers. First of all, it takes substantially longer to get one than I was originally told - like several weeks, and I have no particular desire to spend that much time waiting around. All the trainers go through extensive training, and the men who train coed are closely monitored. I'm really not worried about my safety. My primary reason for wanting a female trainer was research purposes, but I'm not sure it's worth it.

My new friend offered up another good point. "Why would I want a female trainer? I barely like myself. I can be a real bitch. Why would I want to be stuck in a truck with another me?"

I'm pretty sure I'm going to call and change my preference to coed. Anyone out there have thoughts on this matter?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Character sketches, in transit

RIVERSIDE, CA* - The bus that takes me from Stockton (my homebase, for those following along at home) to start training in Fontana, CA, is filled with other truck drivers, all going down to SoCal for the same reason as me, albeit with different companies. It's encouraging to have that bit of camaraderie on the 10-hour ride down, to hear the jargon in which I'll be immersed from now on.

But the man who sits next to me between Fresno and LA is not a trucker. He is from Texarcana, TX. His skin is freckled and tanned like leather around tired, bright blue eyes. He introduced himself by asking about the book I'm reading (the gigantic tome of "Infinite Jest") and launches into a long monologue about his favorite horror books and movies.

He is traveling with his son. The son is 14, the father tells me, and he ran away from and ended up in Fresno, and the father has been on Greyhound buses for two and a half days, all the way from east Texas to central California, to pick up his son. They are now headed back eastward, two and a half more days of buses ahead of them.

The boy is pale-skinned, dark-haired, thin, with a trace of mustache on his lip. Wounded adolescent pride shoots from his eyes like arrows when he's not slumped over in his seat, his head in his hands.

"That's trouble right there," the father says, his voice fraught with painfully unconditional love as he looks at the boy across the aisle. "See that hickey on his neck? He's trouble."

I switch buses in LA and head east, away from the sunset and back to the inland dust. When I go to check into the hotel where Werner puts its recruits, the girl at the desk informs me I have a roommate, which I was not expecting. The light in the room is off and no one responds to my light knock, so I walk in. I'm greeted with a loud, "What the hell do you want?" uttered by a small, disheveled woman in sweats.

My roommate is from Compton. She is watching a Medea movie on TV and chain smoking (inside the hotel room, in California, highly illegal). There's a Bible for women, all pink curlicues on the cover, on the bed next to her. She eyes me viciously, so I go out to get some food. When I come back, she is in the same position, albeit slightly more talkative.

She tells me that she was doing her training when she had to take time off for a funeral. She got back to the hotel just yesterday to wait for another trainer. "It's not your fault," she says. "But I told that damn front desk girl to just give me one day to deal with my shit, but obviously she don't care." We smoke a cigarette together, hot-boxing the small room. During a commercial, she gives me what I take to be her biggest piece of advice for new drivers: don't make friends with anyone. "Your trainer might try to be all buddy-buddy with you, but just keep it all business," she says. I think I will respectfully decline that piece of advice, but I definitely get the point as far as she herself is concerned.

In an effort to give this unlikely roommate her space, I am in the hotel lobby with my computer and my tiredness. Tomorrow morning I get up at the ass-crack of dawn to start orientation, which lasts for two days. Then I get to hang out here until Werner finds me a trainer, which could take up to a week since I requested a female trainer and those are harder to come by. Oh the adventures, they are just beginning.

*All posts from here on out will bear AP style datelines stating my current location.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

How Rosie got hired

The most recent member newsletter from the Women in Trucking Association ran this hilarious piece from the well-buried vaults of Mass Transportation magazine. The newsletter isn't available online, but this just needs to be shared.

1943 Guide to Hiring Women
Excerpt from the July 1943 issue of Mass Transportation magazine. Written by L. H. Sanders for male supervisors of women in the work force during World War II.

Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees: There's no longer any question whether transit companies should hire women for jobs formerly held by men. The draft and manpower shortage has settled that point. The important things now are to select the most efficient women available and how to use them to the best advantage. Here are eleven helpful tips on the subject
from western properties:

1. If you can get them, pick young married women. They have these advantages, according to the reports of western companies: they usually have more of a sense of responsibility than do their unmarried sisters; they're less likely to be flirtatious; as a rule, they need the work or they wouldn't be doing it — maybe a sick husband or one who's in the army; they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.

2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Most transportation companies have found that older women who have never contacted the public, have a hard time adapting themselves, are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy. It's always well to impress upon older women the importance of friendliness and courtesy.

3. While there are exceptions, of course, to this rule, general experience indicates that "husky" girls — those who are just a little on the heavy side — are likely to be more even-tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

4. Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination — one covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against the possibilities of lawsuit but also reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job. Transit companies that follow this practice report a surprising number of women turned down for nervous disorders.

5. In breaking in women who haven't previously done outside work, stress at the outset the importance of time — the fact that a minute or two lost here and there makes serious inroads on schedules. Until this point is gotten across, service is likely to be slowed up.

6. Give the female employe in garage or office a definite day-long schedule of duties so that she'll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves.

7. Whenever possible, let the inside employe change from one job to another at some time during the day. Women are inclined to be nervous and they're happier with change.

8. Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. Companies that are already using large numbers of women stress the fact that you have to make some allowances for feminine psychology. A girl has more confidence and consequently is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.

9. Be tactful in issuing instructions or in making criticisms. Women are often sensitive; they can't shrug off harsh words the way that men do. Never ridicule a woman — it breaks her spirit and cuts her efficiency.

10. Be reasonably considerate about using strong language around women. Even though a girl's husband or father may swear vociferously, she'll grow to dislike a place of business where she hears too much of this.

11. Get enough size variety in operator uniforms that each girl can have a proper fit. This point can't be stressed too strongly as a means of keeping women happy, according to western properties.
I think my favorite point is number 3: fat girls are more even-tempered that skinny ones. Wow. But as absurd as this is, it was serious when it was published - and for its time was probably considered to be progressive.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Driving test: third time is the charm

I am officially a licensed commercial driver. Woohoo! It only took, uh, three tries, but I passed and that's what matters.

On Thursday I wound myself tighter than could ever be advisable and as a result stalled out the truck, which was an automatic failure. Felt like crap, because it's a stupid mistake that I haven't made since the second week of school. Went back Friday morning and passed everything, finally. Was still super nervous, but made it.

The truck driving test? It's no joke. Getting the thing through traffic, maneuvering in tight spots, backing up, knowing what everything under the hood does. It's a lot of stuff to know and put into practice.

This has been a very humbling experience. Now, I know I'm a pretty smart kid, but here I put myself into a situation where I came in not knowing my alternator from my brake chamber. Like the time several weeks ago when we were practicing doing pre-trip inspections and I stood in front of the opened hood and rattled off names of parts. Then the instructor said, "You can't just name the parts, you have to point to where they are in the truck," and I started laughing because I had no clue. Not saying I could fix a diesel engine now or anything, but at least I know my way around one.

But for a second there, between my embarrassing failure on Thursday and my eventual pass on Friday, I kept thinking, "Crap, what am I going to do? This was the Plan B for my life, and I don't have a Plan C."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Driving test, take one

I have failed my first attempt at a DMV driving test. Doh!

It wasn't even really my fault. I was mostly done with the route and was on the freeway headed to the lot by the county fairgrounds for the parking skills test (the part I was most worried about), when a car cut me off. I was trying to merge into the right lane to take an exit, and the car sped up on the on-ramp and zoomed past me at about 80mph. It made my driving test an automatic fail, since I allegedly didn't see the car coming. After failing me, the examiner told me that my driving was excellent, which made me want to punch him in the face.

Very, very pissed off about this. I'd like to hunt down the driver of that car, beat him to a bloody pulp, and steal $30, because that's how much I need to pay to re-test. Fuckity fuck. I go back to the DMV on Thursday. One can only hope that the jackass drivers of Stockton will have taken themselves out by then.