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?

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