Three months since I began and I can finally say I have come to understand how truck driving is similar to many complicated sciences like Thermodynamics and Chaos Theory. From truck driving school to orientation to working with two different finishers and getting out on my own, I am not saying that I am anywhere close to understanding this complex science, but this familiarity was the place I was hoping to reach when I set out to become a truck driver in early April. I wanted to be alone and feel like I had some kind of base to work from. Now I am finally alone and I am very glad to be here.
My sentiments about truck driving as a science come from Arnold Summerfield, a physicist noted for his clarity of expression, who said this about Thermodynamics;
"Thermodynamics is a funny subject. The first time you go through the subject, you don’t understand it at all. The second time you go through it, you think you understand it, except for one or two small points. The third time you go through it, you know you don’t understand it but by that time you are so used to the subject, it doesn’t bother you anymore."
This is how I feel about truck driving. For a while I really wondered if I could ever get this at all. Then I thought I was getting it and I was almost ready to celebrate. After my first month solo I realized I will never get this but I don’t care. Things are starting to shape up and I really like it on the road.
The first week solo went pretty well but it was far from being perfect. I was still nervous as hell each time I pulled off the interstate and I really didn’t know if I was going to crash the truck or do something disastrous from moment to moment. There were some very close calls, like the time I forgot to re-inflate my airbags after unhooking from a trailer. I went right ahead and started backing under the next trailer but my Fifth wheel was too low and I started to get caught up underneath. Then the handle of my fire extinguisher was inadvertently pressed by the weird angle of the trailer so that plumes of white powder started shooting off from my extinguisher! I was starting to look like a real idiot but I managed to get out from under that trailer without breaking anything and I only had to explain the white cloud of fire extinguishing powder to one curious employee who had been walking past the dock when the thing went off. “Is there a fire?” he said looking around at the white powder floating through the air. “No” I said. “My extinguisher got crunched between my truck and trailer for a second but everything is fine.” This seemed to make him very happy as he just said “OK” and walked away.
I noticed that when I kept a calm attitude other people usually followed suit. After the first week, I got laid up in Memphis and decided to take a much needed break to visit Graceland. I decided that my main task in the coming months was simply not to hit ANYTHING and the rest of the puzzle would all fall into place in due time. The main problem seemed to be pulling off the interstate and trying to get myself to the dock in one piece. This is really what makes this job difficult, I thought. Everywhere you go it’s your first time and there are rarely any clear directions to follow. On one occasion, I was making a left turn onto a road where a waitress came running out of the diner waving at me. “TURN BACK!” she waved and pointed in the direction where I should turn because this was a NO TRUCK ROUTE! I turned through the parking lot and found a better route around the town.
Things like this were always happening and I actually came to just accept it. It took me over 30 minutes to back out of a car parking lot that I was never supposed to be in to begin with. With construction piled up at the entrance and rain pouring down all around me, keeping my calm when I got into a tight situation had become second nature. Most people don’t know if you have made a mistake in truck driving because they don’t understand anything about trucks to begin with. They only thing they know is that you are holding them up and they just want to get around you no matter what you are doing. “Who cares if you made a mistake? Just get out of the way and let me get moving again!”
Of course, just when I thought the interstates were the safest place to be, I had another close call after visiting Graceland. I had slowed down to 55 in a 65 on a rainy interstate but could have probably slowed even further to 50. I had just come up over a big hill and suddenly noticed that traffic had come to a complete stop in front of me. “OH SHIT!!!” I was on the way back down with a full load and slammed on the brakes HARD. Almost immediately I felt the trailer start to skid against the wet pavement behind me. As I knew it was coming, I started pumping the brakes up and down and turning the truck to the shoulder in case my brakes weren't going to save me.
In fact, I used up every bit of my air tanks to stop that truck and it came to a skidding stop about 10 yards short of the car ahead of me. I was sitting there breathless and in total gratitude with only the sound of my air brake warning lights beeping and telling me I had used up everything I had. Maybe I would have missed this car by going to the shoulder but it didn’t mean I wasn’t scared to death after coming to such a screeching stop. Good thing I was only hauling giant loads of roofing paper and not a truckload of eggs! I pulled to the shoulder to give the air tanks a chance to fill up again and looked behind me at another driver who had just been through the same thing as me. He pulled over as well and we both gave thanks for still being alive. Next time it rained, I would slow down to 50 in a 65 and pay special attention at the top of each hill as I barreled over it like there was no tomorrow.
Truck driving is a dangerous job but it has started turning me into a better person. I never prayed much before I started driving a truck but I found myself asking “Someone” or “Something” to please get me through this on several different occasions. Maybe I was starting to develop a relationship with a Higher Power that I had neglected in the past when things always seemed more “solid” and “secure.” Truck driving is good for the soul I think. It keeps you awake and aware and, most of all, it keeps you humble and glad to be alive.
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