Over The Road: Part I
For a few of my Old Friends, it is common knowledge I spent a number of years as an Over-the-Road Trucker (OTR) Trucker. Occassionally I will drop on some Stories about this period of my Life in the Age of Oil, but I do not recall ever having written about this time in all the detail I should before I pass into the Great Beyond. So tonight, I will begin to tell this story best I can, and it may take a while to complete. Likely this will not be the only article, because the story is too long for that, even by my standards. Gotta start somewhere though, right?
I believe the story has Significance in the sense it was a Transition from who I was to who I am now. How does an Ivy League educated man end up as an OTR Trucker? If you find one way of life untenable, how do you find another one? How do you learn new skills and change your behaviors to SURVIVE? How do you MAKE PEACE with yourself and the world around you? All these were questions I confronted when I turned to the life as an OTR Trucker; all the SAME questions confront just about everyone now as the Age of Oil comes to a close. Main difference is it is likely to be even HARDER to make successful changes to your life as we move forward here in the collapse of Industrial Civilization than it was for me back in the mid-late 1990s. Level of difficulty aside though, most of the Priniciples I believe are the same.
I sure never thought I would be driving a Big Rig as a means to make a living during my College Years at Columbia. Doctor maybe, Lawyer maybe, BANKSTER maybe, but Trucker never figured in to that equation.
I DID start out as a Bankster though, working first for Merrill Lynch through connections I had from my Dad the Pigman, then briefly after that with Drexel before it blew up. Made some real good MONEY in those days also, 6 figures straight outta college as 20 year old. Spent just about every dime of it also Partying with Joffrey Ballet and Fashion Institute of Technology girls as well.
Around the end of the second year of this, things started to go south. I got into fights with my “superiors” at Drexel over what I thought were poor risk evaluations. My stomach was tied up in knots EVERY DAY, I really did not even want to get out of BED at all most days to go to “work”. I couldn’t even express my rage to my girlfriend of that time. while she was quite sweet, a good dancer and GREAT in the sack, she just was not much of a talker at all. One cool September Morning it all became too much for me and I could not walk through the door at Drexel. And so that Period of my Life ended then and there.
I descended then into the Middle Class as a Clinical Chemist after that for a very long time. More than a 50% Pay Cut, and I was no longer hanging out with the Joffrey Dancers. But I was more at peace, met a”nice”girl and got Married. Discovered then that “Nice” girls are not always so Nice and beyond that, *I* am too idiosyncratic to live with for anyone. Besides, I just wasn’t making enough MONEY to afford a Wife and eventual kids down the line. We divorced, fortunately before reproducing.
I went into a deep funk after that and my job in the Lab got merged into another lab and I went through my first UE Period. This was the Rayguns Years, and there was Hoopla about Science and Math teachers being needed in the Schools to Save Amerikan Competitiveness against the oncoming Chinese Horde, so I went back to Skule for a Masters and took all the necessary Politically Correct Ed courses required as well as filling out academic requirements to get CERTIFIED as a Teacher in 4 specialties, Biology,Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics. This is a LOT of sub-specialties to be fully certified to teach through HS AP level.
Landed a job in a suburban Skule District on Long Island, immediately HATED the job. Administrative Nightmares, Kids who didn’t want to be there, it was awful. 3 years of that, I was done again.
Back on the UE Line, start sending out Resumes. Mid 30s at the time. You would think with that education I could find SOMETHING right? Nada. See, I was over educated for any Entry Level spots and too OLD already also with no experiencein specific fields. I did not want to go back to Lab work because it had become very BORING as all the stuff got computerized, you just put blood into machines and they did all the chemistry.
So, I am now in Springfield, MO living with my now Retired Mom in a 2 Bedroom apartment, UE with Debt Up to my Eyeballs from years living in NY Shity where if you don’t make 6-Figures your Rent alone consumes most of your paycheck. I take the opportunity at this time being COMPLETELY destitute to declare Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, right before they changed the rules to make that more difficult. The Banksters who held my Credit Card debt did not even show up in court, it took 5 minutes and I was out from under $15K in debt! Still no Job though, and no money either. No UE this time, because I quit my last job, I wasn’t fired or laid off.
So I am leafing through the Want Ads of the Springfield Newz-Leader and see an Ad for Schneider National, the largest Trucking Company in the FSofA, which will be having a Recruiting Session at the local Bates Motel on Saturday. Promises of BIG BUCKS in the great career of TRUCKING! So on Saturday I mosey over to the Bates Motel and Norman behind the desk points me to the Conference Room where said Recruiting Session is about to get underway. I join a dozen other guys or so who are just like me, COMPLETE LOSERS! LOL. OK, not precisely the same, I was a Loser with an Ivy League education and they were Losers who were HS dropouts, but otherwise not too different.
What I find out from the Recruiter in this session is that Schneider will train me for FREE if I just sign up for one year to work at the Bargain Basement price of $0.23 Cents/Mile. This translates if you run 3000 miles a week to around $30K, which at the time seems to me like a fucking fortune! Of course, running that many miles/week and staying Legal in your Log Book is pretty tough. Still, during that year as I found out later Schneider DOES run the living shit out of you pulling freight, because they are paying you the LOWEST rate out there for drivers on the road. They make the money back they spent to Train you in probably the first 2 months.
So I pack up my 1989 Toyota Tercel Wagon 4WD and drive up to Green Bay, WI for my 2 Week CRASH COURSE in driving a Big Rig. The Toyota was a 5-speed Standard Transmission, and besides BREATHING and not having a long list of DUI convictions, knowing how to drive a standard transmission was about the only requirement necessary to get into the Schneider Training School.
Once again, kindly Don Schneider puts up all the New Recruits at the Green Bay Bates Motel, where again all the Recruits are just like me, still MORE LOSERS, this time from all over the country! A couple of Female Losers in there, but mostly Male Losers. Rules are set down, no DRINKING for the 2 weeks, any Beer in your room found and its instant dismissal from the program. Since everybody has a Roomie, they don’t wanna get dismissed forsomebody else knocking back a few beers after a hard day on the Skid Pad, so they will Tattle on you. So pretty much nobody drinks, at least nobody in my session got dismissed for this.
So, off to my First Day of Training, and at the time Don Schneider came in to give a Pep Talk to every new class of recruits. Then we get our Classroom Time learning how to Trip Plan and do Logging which is phenomenally tedious for me since I figure it out in the first 5 minutes on the first day. Sadly for about 20% of the rest of the class, they never figure this out in 2 weeks, so that is one group of WASHOUTS from the program.
Then its off to the Yard with your Instructor and another Recruit to get in the old International Flattops they used for training to take the first step, which is learning to drive an UNSYNCHRONIZED Standard Transmission. For those of you who never drove one, this is the type you have to Double Clutch going into and out of Gear, revving the Engine to match the wheel speed or else the Tranny Grinds horribly and you can’t get it to drop into the gear. This I am not such a Quick Study on, and I spend 3 nerve racking, gear grinding days worrying I am going to Washout because I can’t get the hang of how to shift the fucking thing. Fortunately though, I finally do get this, then after another Day or so on the Lot its out onto the STREETS of Green Bay in your Bobtail, which is what a Tractor not attatched to a Trailer is called.
This is somewhat harrowing as well, since if you never sat up that high with lots of itty bitty Carz buzzing around you, getting used to that is a challenge. You get so worried about that you forget your recently learned skill of double clutching, and the Gears Grind again. Also, tractors aren’t really designed well to operate without a trailer. The steering and braking are both too sensitive. Driving a Bobtail is in fact HARDER than driving the Tractor Trailer combo because of this. Bobtail stories to come later.
If you get through this period (I obviously did), then you get to hook up to a Trailer and have to yank one of them around the yard a while until again you head out into the STREET. It’s at this point you realize typical City Streets are not well designed for Behemoths 70 feet long. Rounding corners and not rolling your tandem wheels over the corner and crushing a few pedestrians with 40 Tons of Beer or Paper in the trailer is another learning curve to master.
Finally, before the end of the two weeks you get your first lessons in BACKING a trailer, which if you haven’t done that is pretty confusing since you have to do everything with the steering wheel BACKWARDS while also LOOKING Backwards and Reversed through your side mirrors and having one completely BLIND SIDE. Backing is also REALLY important to know how to do well, because if you can’t back well, you can’t get into crowded docks or truckstops to get a good night’s sleep. Backing however is NOT a focus of your training, because it is not part of the Road Test.
If you haven’t washed out by this point, on your Final two days, you get 2 opportunities to pass your Road Test in Green Bay on Schneider’s Dime. After that, you would have to rent your own tractor trailer combo to take another road test somewhere else. Probably 30% have washed out by this point though. First time through the course, I FLUNKED. I rolled my Tandems up over a curb getting on the Interstate, an Instant Failure Mistake on the Road Test. Another Sleepless Night worrying I wasted my time and the Gas it cost to get me to Green Bay and back to Springfield, and would remain a UE LOSER, an even BIGGER LOSER than the other HS Dropout Losers who PASSED the test. My DREAMS of that $30K paycheck were fading.
Fortunately, on my 2nd run through the course, I go through CLEAN, and I get my Class I Commercial Drivers License! Hallelujah! CDL as it is referred to commonly. My TICKET TO GOLD! Almost.
See after getting the CDL, in order to be employed in the Trucking Industry you gotta pass a Medical Exam, which includes taking your Blood Pressure. I’ve always been Hypertensive, and I don’t like dropping pills to solve problems like that. So again after getting back to Springfield on my first try I Flunk my BP Test. Next time though I pop some of my mom’s BP meds and schedule the test for the early morning right after I get up,when my BP is always lowest. 2nd time through again, I PASS!
I am now finally Signed ON as an Official Schneider National Driver and assigned my Terminal out of West Menphis, AR. There, before becoming a First Seat Solo Driver, I am supposed to be paired with an Experienced Training Driver for One Month, then after that be Paired with another New Driver asa Team for 3 more months before going out on the road Solo in my own Big Rig. It did not work out quite that way though.
More about that in the next part of Over the Road.
Read Part II of Over The Road HERE