Wow! Today was a very challenging but rewarding day.
First thing in the morning a recruiter came in to pitch his company to us. He was very honest in the sense that he spoke not only of the good things to expect, but also the bad things. He spoke about how the economy is changing the industry, at least for the short term, the good and bad things about the trucking lifestyle, and overall painted a good honest picture of the career we're about to get ourselves into as well as his company. Most of what he said can be summed up by Brett's blogs. After the recruiter left, everybody in my class was bashing this particular company since he said so many negative things.
Now, I know recruiters shouldn't really talk about the bad things in truck driving. Their job is to recruit people by telling them everything they want to hear. But I really appreciated the honest approach he took. Some of the other companies have come in and have said all these wonderful things and that's all my classmates really want to hear. I think this is a big reason turnover is so high in the industry. People get into truck driving thinking it's going to be a big vacation and they will make it home every weekend to see their wife and kids. Heck, bring the wife and kids with you! Recruiters play a big roll in this so when students finally make the transition into the job, they are left with a bad taste in their mouth. Then companies wonder why their turnover is so high. I thought this recruiter was a breath of fresh air. Much better than hearing the typical sales pitch.
I've actually had fun asking some tough questions to the recruiters just to see how they try and pitch it into a positive thing. For instance, I asked one recruiter what their policy is on engine idle times. I already knew through my own research that this company was very strict with engine idling. They way he responded made it sounds like sleeping without A/C or heat was the best thing in the world! But I guess that's what they are paid to do. To everybody out there currently looking for truck driving jobs, just make sure you do your own research. And if you talk to a recruiter who starts telling you things you may not want to hear, listen to them the most. At least they are honest.
We did our usual pre-trip and the rest of the morning I was with a group out in the yard practicing on the obstacle course. Once again, everything went fine out there. The highest amount of points I racked up was 9. I got 3 points on my right turn and 6 points on my 45 degree back. I had the option to get back into the truck and back it up further to get less points, but we're treating the obstacle course like it's an actual exam now. Since I already passed, there was no need to back the truck up more and risk failing. So I just took the 9 points like I'd do on the actual test. All other times I went I got 3 points (both on the 45 degree back for stopping too soon. A zero is hard!). I'm pretty happy about it!
The entire afternoon was spent on an extended trip out on the roads. The first time we took an extended trip, it was a pleasurable drive out on country roads with a few small towns mixed in. Not this time! One student started off driving and I knew we were in for an interesting ride as we kept heading south into the busier suburbs of Chicago. My instructor took us right into the heart of some very congested, very crowded, very narrow roads. This was a HUGE challenge. When I got into the drivers seat, the first intersection we came up to I had to make a left turn and this intersection was extremely tight. I was turning onto a 2 lane road with a building on one side which was up against the road and a car in the left turn lane way out into the intersection. I had to go as far forward as possible before starting my turn then crank the wheel left. I cleared the building by maybe a foot or so. My trailer still wasn't going to clear the car way out in the intersection, so the person driving that car had to back up. But I still made the turn without hitting anything! I had a vision in my head of being stuck in that intersection with no where to go!
This trip consisted of many challenges I haven't faced yet. Lots of lane changes, merging traffic, construction, double turn lanes, railroad tracks, cars passing me and cutting me off, tight turns and corners, lots of pedestrian traffic, etc. I was forced to change gears very rapidly and downshift two or three gears at a time. Talk about white knuckle driving! We went into turns that you could clearly see where other trucks have hit road signs and have had trouble. It was quite intense! At the same time, each time I was able to maneuver that big truck through these tight obstacles, it was instant gratification. And it was also a great knowing my instructor thought we were ready for this. He has more faith in us then we do for ourselves.
My main message to all you "4 wheelers" out there: please stay behind the lines at intersections! This has become one of my main pet peeves. Those lines are out there for a reason and that reason is that big vehicles need the space to turn. And if you accidentally end up over the line but see a truck that needs to make a turn, would it kill you to maybe back up a little bit? I'd say maybe half the drivers gave me that courtesy today. Even if I can make the turn, it would still be nice to have the extra room. Also, my truck can't stop as fast as your Civic. When coming up to a stop light, it's not a real good idea to cut in front of me then jam on the brakes. I'm trying to time the light and you just screwed it all up for me. And I can't really see the right side of my truck too well, so please don't hang out in the "no zone" for too long. Either pass me or get behind me!
Huh, listen to me, I sound like an old disgruntled truck driver. I'm not frustrated and I didn't get road rage. Those are just observations I made today. I actually enjoyed driving today because it was sort of like a game. Not only was I driving the truck, I was driving all the cars around me, if that makes any sense. But I have a serious new respect to all those local truck drivers who drive on city streets every single day. The good news is I didn't have any close calls and was always aware of my surroundings. I also think today was the most fun and most rewarding day I've had so far. It was stressful, but I enjoyed the challenge.
Did you know that a good truck driver is also psychic? We've been having fun in the truck saying out loud what drivers are going to do before they ever do it. Like when we come up to an intersection, we'll say "That white car is going to turn in front of us." And sure enough, it happens! You can really read what a drivers next move will be by their actions. Are they creeping forward? Is the front end of the car dipping down or raising up? Are they flooring it to get around me (so they can just cut me off in a second)? If the lane is merging, are there cars lined up in the merging lane? What do you think that line of cars is going to do? They don't want to be stuck behind a CDL training truck, that's for sure! Everytime a car is within your sights, you must anticipate what they are going to do, even if it seems really dumb to you. Some of these people would give their own life and the life of their youngest child just to get ahead of a truck. And the closer it gets to 5 pm, the worse it is.
In any case, I'm really glad my school isn't just taking us on the driving course we need to take for our exam. Today I gained some valuable experience and really enjoyed the drive. With each challenge, I was able to overcome it with a little bit of sweat, a keen eye, a soft touch on the pedals, and was rewarded with an "ata-boy" from the instructor. It sure is nice watching that trailer in the mirror go exactly where it needs to go.
I'm not sure what's on the agenda for tomorrow, but it should be another great learning experience, I'm sure. I have to say, I'd never want to be one of these driving instructors. They must be on some serious relaxers or blood pressure medication. The experience I've had at this school has been nothing but stellar and it will be a sad day when I leave. They do a great job at busting our chops when we make mistakes, but in a fun way. Bravo to any of you driving instructors out there! Definitely not something I'd want to do!
Until next time, drive safely.