Monday, December 17, 2007

Ice and snow and wind, oh my...

Well, here I am again, almost 11 days from the lat update.  It’s been a BUSY time, we have been rolling every day, getting just legal breaks and heading out again.  This is the life of the dedicated run.

As the title might suggest, we have run into alot of weather - NOT.  Actually, it’s been high and dry most of the time.  Lucky for me in one respect, but unlucky, since I would like to learn to drive on snow and ice with Robert.  My time in training is quickly coming to an end.  Looks like I’ll be done Thursday with time.  I’ll surely miss having Robert around to help out, but you have to cut the cord sometime.  I just hope I have managed to remember half of what he has taught me.

I have managed to keep Robert amused with my visions of phantom ice on the road everywhere.  He has the patience of Job, thank god.  He gets a kick out of my over cautious-ness at times, but he is pushing me to get over it.  It’s working, albeit slowly.

Looks like I’ll spend Christmas at home, then go to upgrade after that.  Then I’ll be a solo driver, making money and trying to figure out what the hell is going on!  Luckily I have Robert on Speed Dial!  The poor guy is going to be haunted by me for a LONG time.

I find myself wondering what kind of truck I’ll get after I upgrade.  I like the Volvo, but Robert thinks I’d be better in a Freightliner.  He says they turn tighter and have better headlights.  I’ll bow to his convictions and hope I get one as well.

Sitting in a motel in Phoenix right now, watching MNF.  Not a bad life, I guess :)

Went and saw “I am Legend” today.  Not at all what I expected, but a good movie nonetheless.  Very good performance from Will Smith (again).  Worth a watch, methinks.

Oh well, time to study for my upgrade test.

See ya soon!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

WInd and Weather

Wow, a light trailer (4000 pound load) and STRONG winds outside of Flagstaff, Az made for a VERY white knuckle trip.  I did learn something interesting though.  The wind is just as nasty if you’re driving at 45mph or 65mph.  Robert had a great time watching me fight back the panic that comes with a 70 foot monster weaving all over the road.  Luckily he was filled with comments about how this was nothing, and we really needed to press on.  He was right, of course, as he always is.  You just have to keep the beast between the lines and press on.

Hell of a learning experience, I have to admit.  As the weather gets worse, I’m gonna have to get a grip and just drive the damn thing.  We’ll see what happens in the first snowstorm!

I learned that Volvo trucks have crappy headlights, I mean crappy.  They barely light up 75 feet ahead of the truck.  The brights are great, but you can’t just blind everyone in the other lane just to feel comfortable.  Oh well, live and learn.  Maybe when I get my own truck, it’ll be a Freightliner.

Yeeeeeeeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, away we go....   (Winter storm warnings in effect...)

Monday, December 3, 2007

What I have learned so far

After watching the heart stopping game tonight, I thought I might try to recap what I have learned so far...

Driving a truck is not like driving a car.  Wind, traffic, weigh stations, idiot 4-wheel drivers all add up to making every drive nerve wracking.  You have to maneuver 70 feet of vehicle on the same lanes that cars use.  Usually you have less that 12 inches on each side of the line to play with, and if your trailer is light, any gust of wind tries to push it into another lane.  You constantly have 2 hands on the wheel and your eyes are always searching, the road ahead, the mirrors, the dashboard.  It’s demanding, challenging, but fun at the same time.

Loads... Picking up and dropping off trailers, or simply getting a load or off-load is sometimes an adventure.  You have appointment times that you need to meet, and you never want to be late.  Planning your trip is a huge factor here.  The paperwork is generally easy to keep up with, and with the trucks onboard computer, keeping everyone informed of your progress is relatively easy.

Backing...  Yep, still having heart failure almost every time, but it is getting easier.  Robert is a great teacher for this, and he is letting me make my own choices about approaches and letting me correct my mistakes.  I feel like it’s getting easier each time, and my speed is getting better.  One thing I need to work on is staying under the truck better (keeping the trailer in sight while correcting the angle).

Hooking up and dropping trailers is becoming second hand now, even though I don’t ever want to be the guy who drops a trailer with the gear still raised - DOH!

Weigh stations can be an adventure, our EZPass system lets us bypass most of them, but we have been brought in a few times.  We’ve always loaded legally, so we’re never worried about it.  The company stresses this, and it’s easy to do it.  I’ve learned how to slide the rear tandems and the fifth wheel to adjust the load, so I have no worries.  Haven’t been brought in for a full DOT inspection yet, but the trucks are well maintained and we pre-trip the truck pretty well, so no worries there either.

All in all, while it looks easy, it isn’t.  There is nothing difficult about it, but when you’re driving 18-40 tons of vehicle, you have a pretty big responsibility.  Cars never win against trucks, and it is normally the truck driver who needs to be on the ready to avoid the stupid things that cars will do.

ADVICE: Try to be a little more aware when you’re around trucks.  Yes, we sometimes pull out on hills, and yes we sometimes get in your way, but 9 times out of 10, if we hadn’t done that, we would be putting more than just you at risk.  You’ll never win, so don’t try it.  You might be amazed how long it takes a truck to finish even a simple lane change, and how may factors went into the decision to do it.  Try to be a little more understanding!

In summary, this job is going to fun, challenging and an adventure.  It’s going to suck to be away for so long at a time, but the payoff is the freedom that comes with being over the road.  Maybe it’s a little selfish, but I sure like the feeling!  Who knows what comes of this, but I know I will now be able to say, yes, I followed that childhood dream of driving a big truck.

See ya soon.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

What a long... strange trip it's been

I have skipped ahead a bit, mostly because since Tuesday when we left the yard, we have been haulin’ ass.  Traveling all around California, making pick-ups and deliveries.  I met some very interesting shippers and some really rude ones.  I guess it’s like anything else, there’s different folks everywhere.

I choose to blog today because of a strange confluence of events  that is about to befall us.  We were originally scheduled to take a load from southern California to Idaho.  We were pumped about it that’s alot of miles and a good, long trip.  Of course, such was not to be, and as soon as we had planned the trip, the load was taken away from us.  It’s a good thing too, since we later found out that the snow was falling and there 10 hour delays on the roads.  Pure chance, or beginner’s luck?

The upshot of it all was, out next load we a hellish nightmare.  We had to go all the way to Las Vegas, and then to Phoenix.  A real hell trip :)  So, with mopey faces and a few tears, we headed for the city of lights.  Coming in the I15 from California at night is a sight to behold.  Gorgeous!  Of course, we didn’t have alot of time to see the sights, but we did get a great breakfast (Steak and eggs, $5.99) and got our sleep in.  Then it was time to load up and head for the warmer climates.

It may be a bit before I blog this again, we have loads coming up back to back, and sleep will be precious!  See ya soon!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hurry up and wait!

Dawn breaks with 3 deliveries to make in a short time.  Of course, three deliveries, means 3 backups to docks.  Yoiks!  Early in the morning, huge day before and just enough sleep.  That was truly and adventure!

(Note, I will not be using customer names or anything like that, in fairness to the company in case I have something bad to say about them :)

By 1030, our deliveries are made and we are heading for the yard in Colton California.  We have some things broken on the truck that need to be looked at.  So, off we go from San Diego back towards (East of) LA.  We pull in early afternoon and little did we know what awaited us there.  Our truck was in the shop FOREVER it seemed.  The mechanical problems were fixed pretty quickly, our computer problem was more vexing.

The computer is an amazing box.  It is a GPS/SATCOM unit, and it controls our lives.  All of our dispatches, routes, fuel info, navigation and communication goes through it.  It is amazingly easy to use, but like any other Windows product, it has flaws!  The flaws kept us in the shop for WAY too long. A day and a half (grrrrrrrrrr.)

Through it all, Robert is showing me and teaching me alot of stuff.  My head is spinning at times with all the advice and info he has.  He is a great trainer, and if I ever get good at this, it’ll be more to his credit than mine, to be sure.

The nice part about being in the yard, SHOWERS!  They have free showers! And laundry.  What a relief that is.  As anyone who knows me knows, a shower, often is a necessity of life!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

And so it begins...

After much tribulation, it was decided by me and the company that I should fly to Phoenix to meet my trainer.  A few phone calls later and I was on the 8am flight to Phoenix.  Not bad when you consider these were last minute arrangements on Thanksgiving weekend!  My trainer, Robert, has arranged to meet me at the airport and we finally met after days of trying to get together.  Everything works and we meet at the baggage claim.

Robert tells me that there is about a 2% chance that we will get a load on Sunday, so you know what happens next.  We decide to go get some food, the cell phone rings and bingo, we have a load!  It’s a fast run too, we’re already going to be late for the pick up unless we leave right away, so, the gear gets tossed into the truck and we hit the road!

During training, U.S. Xpress believes that the trainee (me) should do all the driving, backing and work, to get into the game fast.  It works.  Robert takes me through every step, gives me a “crash” course in operating this type of tractor and off we go.  Phoenix to just outside of LA, then down to San Diego.  What a LONG day that was.  First day in the truck and I have to drop an empty trailer in the drop yard, pick up the loaded trailer and head out for an 0600 delivery.

We get into the delivery area with just enough time to take a legal break and make our delivery time.  Talk about jumping in with both feet!  I was scared snotless at first, but then I got comfortable with the truck.  Robert taught me alot about being aware of everything around the truck.  It’s rather more of a deal to maneuver a 70 foot behemoth down the highway than your average 10 foot car.  Alot to learn, and alot to remember.  Luckily, everything goes without incident.

Friday, November 16, 2007

My kingdom for a truck...

Hurry up and wait... I thought I left that behind when I left the military.  Evidently not.  By 0930 I was an employee of the company, had gotten my fuel/ATM/pay/phone card and my driver ID number.  All I had to do now was go downstairs to the training office and get a trainer.  So easily said...

Alas, such was not to be the case.  No trainers are available here in Oklahoma City, and in fact, my trainer should be someone from Colton, California!  Oh well.  The sad part is, my training coordinator in Chattanooga took the afternoon off!  The great folks here in OKC tried like hell to get me hooked up (Thanks Debbie!!) but it just wasn’t going to happen.  Debbie hated the idea of sending me home, but it was either send me home or sit me in the hotel till Tuesday.  Needless to say, the idea of going home appealed to me.  So, after another 2 hours of waiting for the shuttle bus, I was renting a car (Faster than a bus, but they will only credit me the cost of the bus ticket...  As if I cared, the idea that they will cover that much is great!).

The drive from OKC to home was pretty uneventful, 8.5 hours of just hammer down.  Actually, not true, I drove no more that 3mph over the speed limit, professional driver you know, can’t get tickets.  Got home at about 0030, talked to Pam a long while (Surprising how much you miss talking in person :) and off to bed, for 12 hours...

So, here I wait, surprising Pam by coming home and making Xena a very happy dog.  Even though it’s going to cost me $500, I am definitely going to take her with me in the truck!  She’s going to have a blast!  (Xena, that is... the dog.)

So, we wait for Sunday/Monday to find out my fate..

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Scare the Newbie Day

It must be planned, it has to be.  This day is designed to scare the snot of the newbie drivers.  Alot of work is done, including driver’s daily log training, HAZMAT handling and all kinds of other things.  The thing is, everything they talk about has a penalty.  For instance, if you’re hauling HAZMAT and your little procedure book is not in arms reach when you are belted in the seat is a $10,000 fine.  Screwing up your logbook is a huge fine from DOT and quite possibly getting fired by the company.  All in all, everything today had a fine or job loss attached to it - yoiks!

And then, to top it all off, the last few videos are all about crashes.  Not really how to avoid them, but the effect they have.  One video was about a guy who ran a yield sign, t-boned a car and killed a little kid.  It was the story of his remorse and guilt.  Not a word about how to prevent the accident (although it’s rather self diagnosing, don’t run signs.)  Then a video about how they investigate crashes.  No info on avoidance, just what they look for.

I suppose it worked, I have had a healthy respect for the truck since day of my CDL school, but these films really show the responsibility that you have to have to do this.

The one really cool part about today was learning the qualcomm system.  The little gizmo that combines GPS and SatComm.  It’s how the company dispatches you and gets you all your load information.  Even though it was very intriguing, it was tempered by all the downer stuff.

Luckily, the Rib Crib near the hotel had all you can eat ribs every night this month!  Hopefully, tomorrow, I get assigned a trainer and get on the road to start my training month!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Well Pooh, it’s a very blustery day!

Wow, the wind today was amazing.  I guess the windstorm that shut down I-80 yesterday came south to visit Oklahoma City.  Winds were blowing all day, upwards of 50 knots.  That sets the background for today.

Orientation started at 0700, way early when you realize that I went to bed at around 0300 and got up around 0515.  Lots of forms to fill out, a physical to take, which was interesting and unexpected.  Had to do some serious stuff like carry 50 pounds for 50 feet then lift it to 50 inches.  Then I had to push 125 pounds, and pull 125 pounds (representing closing trailer doors and pulling the 5th wheel release arm/tandem slider.  I shouldn’t laugh, since an older gent in my class was really nervous about the last part, stepping up a 24 inch step, representing getting into the trailer.  He has bad knees, but he made it ok!  Speaking of my class, we started this morning with 10 people, by afternoon we were 4.  Two husband and wife teams got dropped (one for not passing the physical and one for bad eyesight), the other 2 guys were just there one moment and gone the next.  No explanations given.  I guess it’s good though, high standards means better people on the road.

I was really thinking I would be one of the guys let go, since we had to take a road test.  I was totally not ready for that, and I started to have my regular panic attack when I heard we would have to do a short field alley back.  Luckily, the examiner with myself and Bryce was very cool, got me used to the truck right away, had me back and couple to trailer, all with lots of tidbits of advice.  Victor was a good guy!  The road test was interesting, Bryce drove first for about 5 minutes, then my turn.  Unfortunately, we had exited off the highway at the wrong stop and I took over on a parkway that swung around the west side of Oklahoma city.  I ended up driving about 30 minutes through downtown Oklahoma City.  Did well though, Victor was impressed with how I handled the truck in the wind, totally foreign environment and me being a total newbie.  When we hit the yard again, it was time to do the backups.  Victor helped alot and I nailed the alley back on the first try with 1 pull-up to correct a slight undershoot.  I was sweating like a dog, but I passed with flying colors! (Thanks Robert!!)

After the day was over, Bryce, Wayne, Kristy and I headed back to the hotel.  After a quick beer it was over to the Western Sizzler for some buffet.  Not my first choice, but hey, not too many choices when you’re on foot.

While I talk about the classmates, I have to say they’re great folks.  They range from 27 years in a truck (Wayne) to 7 years (Bryce and Kristy).  They have adopted me as they’re “little newbie” and have given tons of advice, most of which sounds very sensible and reasonable.  I stick to my assumption that this is a great company and truckers are good people.

One last note, a recruiter story that has a happy ending (what’s the chances of that?).  We had to settle the pay scales today, and they had me down as 0 years experience, even though my recruiter said I would start at 2 years because of my military service.  The office folks here said they had NEVER heard of that before and laughed at me, but they told me to call my recruiter anyhow.  Well, one phone call, a quick talk and Jamaine had reset my pay on the company forms.  The folks here were amazed, they had never seen a student get that deal before, and were pretty impressed.  It’s all signed and set now, so thats a great deal!

Well, I have droned on enough for today.  I’ll sum it all up by saying, so far so good!  It’s still a cool adventure!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The dreaded bus ride…

What a deal, I knew I should have rented a car and driven to Oklahoma City.  As soon as I reached the terminal, the mass of human detritus drove that point home.  Just the odor from some of the gathered unwashed masses was enough to make me HOPE that there wouldn’t be enough seats on the bus.  Alas, such was not to be the case, there was room for me.  Just enough room.  I got the last seat at the back of the bus, an aisle seat no less.  Oh well.  A weird feeling gripped me just then.  I realized I was missing Pam already.  Odd, since I’m pretty used to going away from 25 years in the USAF.  I guess it is the reality of the fact that I’m going to be away more than I will be home as I start this journey.  Still, pretty weird to have a lump in your throat after all this time.

Then something odd happened.  My seat mate, a younger guy, gang dress, turned to me and says, “Hello sir, where are you headed?”.  Sir... wow, I didn’t see that coming.  Just goes to prove the point that you should never judge!  Well, we had a grand time laughing and joking all the way to Oklahoma City.  Along the way, I noticed that most of the folks on the bus were just regular folk going from one place to another.  After talking to alot of them, I just had to kick myself over and over for rushing to the judgement I made.  I hate it when I piss myself off.  In fact, the bus trip was actually pretty fun, if it weren’t for the seats and the deplorable condition of the bus itself.  Come on, Greyhound, get with it, your bus stunk, it was dirty and hadn’t had repairs in ages to the interior.  I have had worse seats in my life, but I don’t remember when.  Small, cramped, no leg room, even for me.

Well, the trip unraveled, as they often will, and I was dumped in the Oklahoma City, greyhound terminal.  Call for the hotel shuttle and at 1 in the morning I get to my room.  A double room, to myself, a suite even. Sweet!  So far, so good.  More tomorrow when I find out what this business is all about.