Gettin’ Serious

Four weeks of school. Check.

Passed exam and earned CDL. Check.

Quick trip south to pack up the old house and move north. Check.

Trucking life has now begun officially. First week was filled with informational videos, filling out forms, driving with a company trainer, information from various departments, a brief introduction to parking and being officially hired as a truck driver.

Second week, I moved stuff into our truck. Then, we took one more trip south to finish our move before heading out on the road for the serious truck driver training.

Third week was a mix of amazement, accomplishment and frustration. Driving on the open highway has been the easiest to adapt to. As one might expect, traffic jams take a lot of focus and can be pretty intense. As an auto driver for 30+ years, I’m familiar with driving in unfamiliar areas, but it can be a bit hairier to get a truck into the correct lanes than it is a car. Then there’s parking, communication with dispatch, fueling, recording Hours of Service (HOS), time management, inspecting the truck, connecting and un-connecting trailers, parking, checking in at shippers/receivers and fitting in eating/showering/sleeping, etc.

This week, I’m feeling a bit more comfortable, but I’m still getting used to balancing all these spinning plates and learning what goes where and when. I’ve driven through rain and wind gusts thus far. I’ve driven in daylight and darkness.

Now, I’m practicing more backing and parking with a 53 foot trailer behind me. This has been the biggest challenge for me in the journey thus far. There’s no rear view mirror in a semi, which makes seeing what’s going on behind the vehicle more challenging than it is in a car. More importantly, the semi is made of two pieces joined together and able to move in various directions. This requires some seriously counterintuitive thinking when backing.

If all goes well with my current learning activities, I’ll be graduating from trainee to rookie next weekend. I’m so thankful for God’s help with this and for the patience my teachers and husband have shown me.

Time to get some sleep so I’ll be ready to tackle tomorrow’s challenges.

Stay safe out there ☺️

Oh, the fun we’ll have!

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks for me. After studying and practicing for just over four weeks, I took my CDL exam Tuesday of last week. I have no idea what my scores were, but when the examiner said I’d passed, that’s all I needed to hear.

After the examiner put my results into the national DOT database, I returned to the school to deliver the news. As is the custom of the school, I had my photo taken in beside one of the range trucks so it can be posted on the graduation wall in the classroom. I felt a great sense of accomplishment and a bit of amazement that I had learned so much in such a short time.

The next morning, I headed for Mississippi to spend a few days home and pick up my CDL hard copy. Although my name and photo were on it along with the CDL designation, I was well aware that I wasn’t yet fully trained for the demands of the career I would soon be entering. But, it sure was cool to hold that new license in my hand.

This past Monday, I started orientation and training for my new job as a semi driver. Along with my fellow rookies, I’ve watched many a video over the past few days along with signing paperwork and listening to training staff explain various things related to my job. I also went on outings in a training truck with several other newbies and a company trainer. We took turns driving and being assessed by the trainer while occasionally trying to get him to crack a smile. We were unsuccessful at the latter, but all of us did well on the former.

Yesterday we started working on parking maneuvers. Most of us were a bit intimidated when we walked out to the range and realized we’d be backing a trailer between two other trailers. The scratches on the corners of said trailers seemed to tell us all we needed to know about previous attempts of some rookies’ attempts at success. But, one by one we gave it a shot with the help of a trainer, and all of us managed to get it in without much damage to the tractor fairings or trailer corners. I’m thinking we all know we’re definitely going to need a lot more practice to be functional and safe at backing our semi’s.

Tomorrow is our last day of classroom and range training. Apparently, we’ll be hearing from the benefits department, which is quite important to me. Healthcare and other benefits were a major reason I chose to pursue truck driving, so I plan on getting all the info I can on what’s offered.

Next week, I begin training on the road. I’m so thankful that my husband will be my trainer because he’s got lots of experience and we know each other well enough to know when we’re beginning to get on each other’s nerves. Seriously, I know I can trust him to teach me what I need to know to do my job well and as safely as possible. And, he believes I can do this, which is invaluable in anyone who is teaching someone something. Gotta have that encouragement.

So, I’ve learned a whole bunch of stuff over the past month and a half, but it’s only the foundation. Obviously, a good foundation is nothing to sneeze at. But, now I’ll be digging into the day-to-day details of trip planning, paperwork, communicating, bumping docks, safety decisions and all the other specific stuff. I’m expecting it to be quite an adventure filled with old and new stuff; boring and fun stuff; difficult and easy stuff; and everything in between stuff. Kinda like life.

Until next time, stay safe out there πŸ™‚

the countdown begins….

When I started this journey, four weeks seemed like such a long time. Suddenly, I find myself at the beginning of week four. I also find myself with greater knowledge and experience with semi’s than I had at the beginning. Now I have to solidify this new knowledge so I can earn my CDL and move on to the next learning phase.

This week I’ve found myself gradually being able to remember the vehicle parts and details I need to point out when I do my pre-trip inspection. Some of the parts included are spring mounts, torsion bars, various reservoirs, pitman arms and amber lights. Some of the things I’m looking for include rust trails, cracks, leaks, abrasions and soot trails. There are at least 90 things to recite and point out to the examiner. I still have some practicing to do this week.

I’ve also found myself internalizing the things I need to remember when driving. In a semi, we don’t turn right on red and we pull up to intersections in a straight line. We move straight ahead before beginning our turn and watch the end of our trailer as we go through to be sure it doesn’t hit the curb. Our driver’s seat can be adjusted up and down, forward or back, and more or less reclining. We have 6 mirrors to use to see all the things going on along the sides of our tractor and trailer. We have to consider our length, height, width, weight and turning radius when making our travel plans because not all roads, intersections and bridges can handle semis. Our stopping distance is way longer than a car’s, so we have to be vigilant about our following distance and watching for four-wheelers darting in front of us. And then there’s backing, which is a whole other ball of wax with all the counter-intuitive thinking and the big things the trailer does when the driver makes little moves.

So, tomorrow begins my fourth week of practicing all the steps I need to reasonably master in order to pass my exam. My goal is to pass on the first shot, which the school staff has dubbed “one and done”. Perhaps the next time I post, I’ll be able to tell you all that I succeeded in my quest on the first try. For now, I’m going to work on focusing on one practice at a time and trust God to continue helping me as I go.

Until next time, stay safe out there πŸ™‚

So Many TCKs!

Hello readers! My second week of CDL school has been completed. I have truly been learning something new every day. Mostly, more of the details about what the DOT test entails and how many ways there are to flunk it. Ugh.

So, my backing skills have been getting better as I’ve gotten a better grip on setting my mirrors, adjusting my seat and what to look for in my mirrors to know when I’ve got the truck where I want it for each step. It’s a challenge each time I get in a truck on the range because the seats and mirrors don’t have exact settings and all of us students seem to need them in different places.

In case I didn’t clarify before, the range is the paved lot where we practice backing maneuvers. There are numerous cones lined up exactly the way they are at the DOT test site. We use the cones to get a grip on where our truck is and needs to be to straight back, offset park and parallel park. Yes, parallel park. I know, right?!

Anyhow, I got a pretty good bit of practice in on the range this week and I’m sure I made my instructors raise their eyebrows at some of my attempted position corrections. Thankfully, they’ve been very patient thus far.

I also made some progress on my inspection list. There are so many details we have to remember to tell the examiner when we inspect the truck for safety! From tire tread to the power steering reservoir to shock absorbers to hoses to torque bars to proper colored lights and on and on and on. Multiple times each day I find myself beginning at the front of the truck and working my way to the back describing what possible issues I’m looking for all the way to the back of the trailer and on into the cab. Little by little I’m finding myself able to remember more of those details each time I repeat the process with the goal to have them all down before test day.

On the road I’m learning to watch everything around me including my trailer position, changing traffic lights, bridge heights, bridge weight limits, bicyclists, pedestrians, traffic, school zones, etc. Mostly the usual things a four-wheeler driver has to watch for, but while up-shifting and downshifting in a vehicle that’s 80 feet long and can take more than the length of a football field to stop. When that driver in a four wheeler makes the stupid choice to cut you off to make a turn, it’s much easier for another four wheeler to adjust than it is for a semi. I’m not sure some drivers really get that, but I digress.

Now, about the title of this post. I believe I talked about TCKs in an earlier post, so I’ll just let you guys go back to that for an explanation of what they are. I’m a TCK, and I find it very interesting that I’m meeting a pretty high percentage of them here at school. I’ve got classmates with military brat backgrounds and those who moved to the US as children. I’ve met people who grew up in Haiti, Trinidad and Turkey to name a few. There are also quite a view Veterans here. Some who were in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When I was just a passenger on the road, I wrote sometimes about the way the culture on the road is unique, especially for those who drive long haul. Being in a different state from day to day, spending a lot of time in truck stops, shopping in stores you wouldn’t have ever heard otherwise, eating out a lot, seeing the beauty of this great country, spending a lot of time on the phone, etc. I wonder if it’s that wanderlust that seems to root itself in many TCKs that draws some of them to the trucking industry or there’s something more to it. I suspect there’s more to it for many of us. Perhaps I’ll research that one at some point.

For now, I shall enjoy the rest of my day off before turning my focus back to CDL learning again.

Until next time, readers, be safe out there πŸ™‚

I’m Driving, Jack!!

Like what I did there? A little shout out to Titanic. πŸ˜€

Anyhow, this past week was kind of aΒ “whoosh” of learning. I spent the first two days reviewing various safety information with the rest of my class as they prepared to test for their CDL permits. I–having already gotten my permit–didn’t really have to be in class, but I figured I could always learn something else.

On the third day, I was put with an instructor and a more advanced student to go driving on real roads in Indianapolis! It seemed so sudden and yet, that is what I came to school for, right? So, I spent part of that trip watching the other student drive and listening to our instructor’s coaching until it was my turn in the driver’s seat. Then, I adjusted my seat, steering wheel and mirrors so I could reach pedals and shifter. It felt mostly like a really big car.

Once I was set up, my instructor coached me through what gear to start in, how to shift and where to turn next. It definitely takes some getting used to because there’s a trailer behind that needs to be considered when turning and the shifting uses a double clutch technique which is a bit different from the single clutching in a car. Remembering which gear the truck is in and using the switch on the shifter to go from the bottom group of gears to the top are new things, too. All things considered, my first drive went pretty well.

The fourth morning, I drove with the same instructor and two other students. I was a bit more settled that time and my shifting started getting a bit smoother. That afternoon, I started backing. Backing is definitely more of a challenge for me than moving forward. The instructor said I did good for my first try, but I was feeling rather out of my depth when class was over that day.

Friday, I drove with a different instructor a some more advanced students. That time I started learning how to downshift. Apparently, that’s something important to know for the CDL test along with so many other things I have to not think too much about at risk of getting overwhelmed. (Yeah, the syntax of that last sentence should give you a little idea of the subject, lol) Anyhow, after driving a couple of times that day, I gave backing another go. I started getting a bit more of what I need to look for at each step figured out, but it was still a bit overwhelming.

By Friday evening, I was ready for a reboot. My husband was at the yard (that’s what companies call the big parking lots where their drivers park their tractors and trailers) that afternoon getting his tractor looked at, so we were able to spend the evening together. Then, because he didn’t need to head off to get his next load until early Sunday, we spent Saturday together, too. We even got to spend some time together with our daughter, which hasn’t happened in more than a year.

It was definitely an enlightening week. I believe by tomorrow morning I will be ready to jump in again and continue this journey forward learning as I go. I hope you all have a great week and keep learning wherever you are in life, too.

Until next time, stay safe out there πŸ™‚

Travel time

So, Saturday I drove from Mississippi to Indianapolis where I’ll be participating in truck driving school. The first seven or so hours were nice. The sun shown most of the time with a few bouts of drizzle here and there. I listened to satellite radio here and there. Shout out to the Message and Jeff & Larry’s Comedy. Talked on the phone a bit. Enjoyed lunch at a beautiful rest stop outside Nashville where I took some time to walk under the trees.

Then, I went through Louisville, KY where the clouds let loose with what was apparently a mix of a cold front and tropical depression Gordon. My husband wanted me to be able to avoid the tole on I65, so he proceeded to guide me by phone through Saturday traffic. It went fairly well until he forgot I was supposed to take 265 and not 264. So, that was an adventure in a construction zone, in the rain. Thank God it was only a couple exits up to where I could turn around and go back to my correct exit. Unfortunately, the rain continued for the last 2 hours of the trip.

I arrived safely, got checked in at the dorms and brought my stuff in through the drizzle. In my attempt to move quickly and avoid getting drenched, I found I had left my phone charger and a few other things in my vehicle which necessitated a second trip. So, yeah. More wet.

Sunday, I dealt with some not unexpected anxiety issues. Big changes have tended to trigger various degrees of physical and mental challenges for me for much of my life as I’ve battled what was eventually diagnosed as panic disorder and depression.

Anyhow, after my mind and body settled down a bit, I spent part of the morning at the church I attended when I lived here. In the afternoon, I visited with a friend and then with my daughter before heading back to the dorm to prepare for my first week of truck driving classes.

All in all, it was a productive and enjoyable weekend.

Until next time readers, stay safe out there ☺️

Next Chapter

Hello again Readers!

It’s been quite a while since I last posted here. Since that time I’ve spent time as a student, a restaurant cashier, a day baker and a hairstylist. My time as a student lasted only a semester because I haven’t had the means to continue pursuing my Business Admin degree thus far. The restaurant cashier position was one I gladly gave up for the day baker position. Unfortunately, many of the day baker duties were beginning to cause serious stress on the joints of my hands, which have already been through many years of doing hair. Moving with my husband’s job found me back in the salon, still hoping for a door to open for a library job–which I finished training for 6 years ago–or for the chance to go back to school and finish my Business Admin degree. Neither of these is currently happening. So, seeing how 1) retirement age keeps coming closer, 2) I hardly ever get to see my husband, 3) the debts are still hovering at “you’ll pay them off when your dead” level and 4) my Third Culture Kid antsy-ness has me feeling never quite home, I’ve decided to earn my Commercial Driver’s License and drive team with my husband.

‘What’s a Third Culture Kid (TCK)?’, you may ask. Well, it’s a term I became familiar with only recently as I was chatting with a therapist. She told me I might want to look it up because many of the things I’ve struggled with in life might stem from that. I’m glad I took her advice as I believe it was another important stepping stone in my life journey.

Basically, a TCK is a person who grew up in one or more cultures that were not his/her parents’ culture. A great example is the new movie Crazy Rich Asians which features actors/actresses who were born to parents from places like Singapore and raised in places such as England or Australia. For me, it means being an Air Force brat born in North Dakota to parents from New Jersey and then living in Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Taiwan and North Carolina, all before fifth grade.

One of the hallmarks of many TCKs is their tendency to not quite know where ‘home’ is. To not have a ready answer when someone asks “Where are you from?”. I’ve personally struggled with this one from the first time I went to a public school that wasn’t on a military base. All those kids who had never been out of the county or state they were born in. What was that like? I thought they had weird accents and they thought I did. Many of them had the same friends since birth and most since kindergarten. My friends were only my parents and three siblings because the others I had known had likely moved to other places as well. I thought everyone was my friend before then because all of us kids knew we’d be leaving each other behind and making new friends sooner or later. Most of the kids in my new class hadn’t had to make new friends since the first day of kindergarten because they were all still there.

From what I’ve read here and there on the internet, many of us TCKs have had to meet loss and grieving at a very young age with parents who understandably weren’t really aware of our struggles or how to help us because they grew up in one place and left friends behind as adults. I had no idea until recently how to frame the pain and fear I’ve dealt with even into my adult life. I knew I had lost a lot along the way, but I hadn’t thought of it as a journey of grief. I thought that was for people who had often dealt with death as one of my former classmates did. But, losing relationships through death or insurmountable distance are still both losing relationships. And finding new friends to fill the roles in our lives that those people did is hard either way.

So, here I am, beginning a new adventure. Something I seem to have become pretty good at as I now enter middle-age. This time, we’re going to try to keep home base where it is in Mississippi as we traverse the country in a big truck….with me driving, too…yeah, this is should be a good one.

Until next time readers,

Stay safe out there πŸ™‚