Sunday, December 8, 2013

I am assigned a trainer.

That afternoon, my cell phone rings. It is my trainer. He tells me to meet him at the Werner terminal. I am shocked, surprised and disappointed because the next day, Thursday is the 4th of July and my wife had it off. I had assumed that I would be there through the weekend and be able to spend a little more time with her before I left. But I gathered my stuff and grabbed the last shuttle to the terminal. He then calls me again and tells me that he would be a little later, about 7. So I sit down to wait out the hour and a half. He shows up at 8:30. He shakes my hand, says his name is Jim and I put my stuff on his truck. I figure that we might be able to get along. Jim is about 40, a few years younger than me, he is Hispanic and at first glance seems like a nice guy. Jim tells me his rules which is fine with me but his one big rule is 'if he tells me to do something I need to do it'. Of course in my head I add, if it's safe.

At this point let me say that I have been through several defensive driving classes from high school to the military to GM and beyond. I have had good ones and bad ones. I have had some classes that I thought I should have taught them instead of the brain-dead bureaucrat that did. I have taken what I have learned in those classes and applied it to my driving. Yes, I still get frustrated by other drivers but I try to always stay safe.

Jim tells me that we are heading to California with the load that we are picking up in Buckeye. He drives. Jim tells me that he doesn't talk to other drivers because they are all negative. Over the next week I learn what a negative person is really like. He often tells me about a previous student that he had that didn't do what he told him to and how stupid that student was. At one point I told him that I went to AIT and he tells me a story about a previous AIT student that, to me shows Jim's lack of knowledge.

We get to Fontana CA early Thursday morning (remember, 4th of July) and we park in the lot because we cannot deliver until Friday. So we sit there all day and all night. The next morning we get up and deliver the load then we go out and 'shag' a load (a short run that either begins or ends at a drop yard) back to Fontana. Then another. We are done for the day, actually for the weekend because Jim is taking home time for the weekend. I still have not driven. I am noticing that Jim is a very aggressive driver, but I chalk that up to living in CA.

That weekend I am sharing a room with another roomate that I have never seen before. This guy is apparently a chain smoker and the room that we are in is a non-smoking room. I smell smoke when I come through the door but it dissipates over the weekend as he seems to spend all of his time outside smoking. Monday Morning I check out and go back to the terminal. Jim shows up with his wife and they stock the truck. He has brought water and sandwich fixings and he says that I am to help myself. Jim so far is being pretty generous.

I did go into this arrangement with my eyes open. I knew that there was a chance that I would get a trainer that was only interested in my driving hours since the trainer gets the mileage pay for all the driving that I do. Werner pays my salary while I am training. Trainers also get a bump in what they get paid for mileage, so they become trainers because it will effectively double their salary.

Jim drives us down to our next pickup and on the way a kid on a scooter cuts him off by traversing the 'gore lane' (the white lines that come to a point when a lane merges or goes in another direction). Jim gets mad and begins to close quarter tailgate, I mean, he is so close to the kid that I can only see the kid's helmet. I keep expecting his to bump the kid and kill him. I don't say anything because all I want to do is to get out of training so that I can get on my own. Besides several of the stories that Jim tells me is about how many people he knows in high places and I decide that I don't want to test that.

We pick up the load and Jim has me drive, finally. On the way out of the LA area, we run into a little traffic. I, of course, am back from the car in front of me holding a steady speed. Naturally, cars are continuously cutting in front of me.

Let me stop and tell you that driving a truck means that you get cut off more than a car, much more. People don't want to be behind a truck. The catch is that if you tailgate the car in front of you, you will still get cut off, especially in LA.

Anyway, Jim yells at me and tells me that I have to tailgate the car in front of me so that people don't keep getting in front of me. I tell him no. Forget about the undeniable fact that trucks take longer to stop and I don't want to kill anyone. Studies have shown that the cause of the traffic jams in the first place is people that don't want to yield. By cruising at a steady speed and not slamming my brakes on every few seconds, I am saving fuel, brakes (not just mine, also those of the people behind me) and allowing traffic to move smoother. I don't explain any of this to Jim because I know that he won't get it. I just continued to drive as safely as I could.

I am not perfect. I still was having trouble with shifting. I ground the gears every chance I got and Jim's big advice over and over was “look down and see what gear you are trying to put it in”. To this day I don't know what he meant. After a particularly bad grind I was frustrated and I asked him what I was doing wrong. His response was the same as always; “You need to look down and see what gear you are trying to put it in”. I said okay, and I looked down at the gearshift, taking my eyes from the road and said “Sixth, now what am I doing wrong?” His sage advice was “look down and see what gear you are trying to put it in”. I didn't ask him again. I began to play what my AIT trainer had taught me and began to get better by the end of the day. My speculation now about Jim's problem is that he no longer knows how he shifts, he does it by feel and instinct now.

Tinker tells me that when he shifts, he just barks it into gear. I don't know what that means either.

Next time – Trouble in paradise?

Monday, November 4, 2013

First day

The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

I didn't quite know what to expect on my first day at Werner. I was told that they have a two day orientation and that I would be expected to take a new physical exam. As noted before, I have a physical disability and was worried about the exam.

Werner had told me that if I did not live within 30 minutes of the terminal, I would have to stay in the motel. I lived about 50 miles away. I was to check into the motel the night before (a Sunday) so my wife took me down there and we went to dinner and said our goodbyes. Werner paid LaQuinta for double occupancy and unless I wanted to pay for half the room I was to get a roommate. My roommate was a nice guy that was gone most of the evenings and I was always asleep when he came in so it wasn't too bad. He did tell me that he had been there for over a week waiting for a trainer to be assigned. I had been told that there could be a wait and if you had special needs that wait could be longer. The only question they asked me though was “smoking or non-smoking?” But some women might want a woman trainer and that could take longer. As for me, a trainer at AIT told me that most truck drivers smoke so non-smoking could take longer.

Monday morning I took the shuttle van to the Werner terminal and got off with several other people. I almost expected a drill Sargent to come out and start screaming at us to push his ground down. Instead there was an announcement over the PA that we were to report to the orientation room, wherever that was. Someone pointed us upstairs and we were faced with a pretty young woman that needed to see our licenses and school loan information since Werner had tuition reimbursement. After we all found our seats she began to tell us about Werner and what would be expected of us. We then went down 3 at a time for our physicals. I was in the first group. It seemed to take them awhile to get organized but the nurse gave us our eye test and administered the urinalysis test. Then we had to wait for the doctor to see us one at a time. In the meantime another group came down to begin the process and I noticed that one of the younger guys in my class walked with a limp and a bit of a drop foot. This is similar to my problem but I wear a brace and it is not as noticeable. When the doctor gets around to me he asks me about my foot and I tell him. He tells me to wait right there and he will be right back. When he comes back, he tells me to follow him and takes me into someone else's office and I am told to wait there. A man then comes out and tells me to follow him, I get the impression that he is pretty high up there. He asks me a few questions then takes me out to a truck and has me get in and operate the clutch for him. This is not a problem, it's my right foot that has the problem and I do show him that I can operate the brake and the throttle but he has me work the clutch several times. He seems satisfied so he takes me back inside and tells the doctor that he can pass me.

                                                                                   Tinker checks my spelling

This is a big relief to me. I should point out that while Werner 'pre-hired' me I was given no guarantee of employment and have not had a face to face interview with anyone. We went back upstairs where we found that lunch had arrived. I went up to the box last and found the 'egg salad' that I ordered was a fried egg (over-hard, luckily) on wheat. I looked in the box for the diet coke I wanted and all there was was a mountain dew and a regular coke. So much for the free meal during orientation. During a break I talked to the young guy with the drop foot and he said that he had palsy and showed me his hand as well. I asked if they had him go into the office to talk to someone else and then go out and show that he could work the controls and he said no.

After going over employment paper work we went back to the motel. I am guessing at this point that I was hired. The next morning we went back for more of the same except in the afternoon we just watched videos on the computer. That night we went back to the motel with the knowledge that it could be a week or two before we got a trainer. I settled in for a long week of watching movies. My roommate was finally assigned a trainer, but he was in Albuquerque and would take a day to get there. The next morning I went to the morning meeting and the little motel room was packed, there was no where to sit most people were standing, some outside. I did see a familiar face, Susan from school, She had also been there a week and did not yet have a trainer assigned. Of course she was looking for a non-smoking, female trainer. The man running the show took roll call and told about 12 of the people that they needed to check out because they were getting on a bus for Dallas to wait for trainers there, Susan included. I was a little disappointed because I enjoyed talking to Susan before class, she is about my age and was a teacher. But I went back to my room and watched some tv.

My roommate is still there, his trainer got sent down to Nogalas and was trying to get a load up to Phoenix. Looking back now, I realize that living in Phoenix may mean that I have a harder time getting home because the trainers probably get priority. Tinker was not able to go with me for orientation.

Next time – I am assigned a trainer.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


This blog is a chronicle what it is like to work for Werner Enterprises. Now I am not looking to do a hatchet blog on Werner in particular, keep in mind that the good and the bad could happen at any of the big 'training' companies. Werner is not the only game in town but it is one of the biggest and as such has the typical big company problems, mostly communication. You will see that some of the issues that I have would not have happened at a small company but the small trucking companies do not hire new drivers fresh out of school. This is a company to get experience in and then move on.

This blog is called Tinker's Travels because Tinker has been my companion for the last 10 years. We have not been able to deal with a real dog due to space, time and the wife's allergies. Tinker doesn't bark, doesn't bite, doesn't need walkies or food and doesn't complain, much. I have brought him with me just for comic relief and sometimes to take over the driving when I am out of hours.

A little background on me; I am 49 years old and have never really grown up. 18 years ago I worked for GM as a test driver and enjoyed doing that, mostly because I didn't have a boss breathing down my neck. Unfortunately that job went away as GM announced the closure of the Mesa, AZ proving grounds. I then went back to college and earned an associates degree in Automotive technology, a mechanic. It turns out that I am not as mechanically inclined as I thought and I have a problem with the industry requirement of cheating people. The second issue made me unemployable in the automotive repair world. While I was trying to work my way up as a pump jockey making $7.50 per hour I went down to apply at Macy's for a customer service call center job, a job my wife (fiancee at the time) was currently doing on the other side of town. We both applied but for some reason they only hired me. Since it started at $8.50 per hour and meant that I would no longer have to stand for 8 ½ hours straight (yes including lunch) I took it. Ten years later I was working my 5th call center job and was burned out. I had a hard time dragging my carcass to work everyday and whenever the company would allow me to go home early I took it. I finally decided that I should get back to something that I would want to do that I could actually get paid for.

I decided to go to one of the numerous trucking schools around, AIT. Why did I choose this particular school? The only real reason was probably that I had checked them out 10 years prior with my wife and they were still around. They guaranteed job placement and it didn't matter that they were an hour away, there were no closer schools. I was afraid that they were a little to quick to take me on, after all they didn't require a physical until after you signed up. Since I have a disability (that has not interfered with my ability to drive), I went down and got my own DOT physical, only to make sure that I could pass it. Now this blog is not about how AIT was, they did their job and I got my CDL, anything else was gravy. This blog is about working at a training company.

I am the kind of person that enjoys long hours of solitude. My favorite part of this job has been the long drives. For anyone getting into this field that needs constant companionship and only thinks the money will be so good, don't.

Next time – First day