Thursday, October 8, 2009

Yes, it is over!!!

I am done with the school - and could not be more happy about that!

It really was not all that bad when all is said and done. I would have preferred a more comprehensive course because this is supposed to teach new drivers how to drive AND all the other details that driving a truck entails. Too much is left up to the mentors with the Swift training. I think that Shawn's experience pretty well sums it up. He had a lousy mentor. There is no sugar coating it.

Here is an example: When I was at Schneider we had an entire class on trip planning. This is important. Trip planning involves figuring out how many miles you need to go, how to get there, in how much time, and if you have the hours to get there safely. All of these elements work together. A driver needs to know how to give adequate time for driving, resting, driving again. Plus you need to figure out if you can do it in the amount of time you have left to drive. As you all know by now, truck drivers have to adhere to very strict rules on how many hours a day you can drive and how many hours you can drive in an eight day period. It can be tricky and confusing. That is why Schneider devoted so much time to this topic. At Swift we got about two hours on how to read a map. Oh, boy. The rest is left up to the mentor. So how does Shawn's mentor tell him how to log a 34-hour restart? Log it all on the sleeper berth line. Excuse me, but the last time I spent 34 hours in bed is when I had the flu. I think it was 1992. Completely unbelievable and likely to raise an eyebrow from a state trooper who is having a boring day and wants to stop you and look at your log book. That is not the way you do it. When I did restarts I was fortunate enough to be in interesting places - Las Vegas and St. Louis. Went to the strip in Las Vegas and rented a car and went to the zoo in St. Louis. It's a restart! DOT does not expect you to spend 34 hours in bed! Another gem from this mentor-every truck driver that works for a company is expected to follow the G.O.A.L. rule. Get Out And Look. Smart advice. Even if you look like a complete rookie it is better than hitting a brand new T2000. Shawn's mentor wisdom, "make you look like a newbie, don't do it."

If he is the only mentor that behaves this way then I would think that Shawn was just unfortunate but somehow I doubt it. Mentors get additional pay for taking on students, plus they get all the miles that both they and the trainee accumulate and a bonus of one penny per mile for all the students that they have mentored in the past year. Kind of like Amway. What a sweet deal.

So back to my original complaint. Too much is left up to the mentors to teach the students. Swift is concerned with getting the students to pass the exams. That is it.

But I am done. I have gotten rid of the rust and I feel much more confident and I am ready to go. I will be going to orientation on October 20th. Shawn is approved for mentor training, he will pick me up and we should be ready to roll.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

OK, I'm not a very good blogger...

mainly because I do not want to have to go down to the breakfast room to get hooked up to the internet. My room, like Shawn's room when he was here, does not get a connection. So the only alternative is to go to the room next to the office. All I want to do when I get back to the room is plop. Besides, Shawn gave such an excellent description of his experiences while at the school that I could not top.

We started with about 27. Lost a few to medical reasons - high blood pressure, medications, etc. When we made it back to the school that first day we lost one guy who simply walked out of the room when the woman in charge of safety and compliance was talking about having warrants in any state was a cause for dismissal. He left. Then we lost one person to the Scholastic Level Exam. A few to background checks. And then there was the person we fondly referred to as "Teeth". He was one of the guys who came from Georgia on the bus. He liked his grill work. Anyway, during the medical he was drinking so much water that his first urine test came back inconclusive. So he had to pee again. This test was much more conclusive and he found himself back on the bus to Georgia. I really don't get why people don't get it. Glad that he is gone and I hope that he never considers a career in truck driving again. He should think about employment in a head shop, probably one of the few places left that does not give a drug test.

He was the last to go. Our class was now down to 20. The last few classes that have gone through the school were split in half - an A and B class - due to size. They have lost a few instructors and the remaining instructors could not handle that many students. Our class has been one of the largest. We were also unique in that we already had three CDL drivers, me and two other guys. The A class would continue as usual, the B class had to wait around for a week. The way they determined the classes was whoever scored the highest on the DPS exams. The CDL holders were guaranteed a slot in the A class so that left seven openings. It was pretty obvious to me who was going to make the cut and I called it almost perfectly.

I won't go into the descriptions of the ranges because I think that Shawn pretty much covered it in his blogs. Our first few days on the range were actually rainy and cold. I had to go to Wal-Mart and get a jacket. There really is no shelter from the rain on the range. There is a picnic table with a canopy over it that is good for shade but the tarp has holes in it and you will get wet. The only place to get out of the rain was in the truck but only one student is allowed in the truck at a time. So we got wet. But I still would rather have the rain than the scorching heat that they had a few weeks ago. That range gets pretty toasty when the sun is out.

Well, here it is - Sunday morning. This is my last week and I am very anxious to get this over and done with. We have been on the road since Thursday and will continue our road training for the next three days. This was our weekend off. Because I do not have to take the DPS exam our road trainer (we are three to a truck) does not seem as concerned about my skills as he is about the other two students. They like a 100% pass rate. I do not have to recite and demonstrate the 7-Step Air Brake test anymore. Thank goodness! However, I am a bit rusty after three years and of course, I do not drive the DPS way anymore. Having to do it the "right" way takes some getting used to again. While all good drivers with any amount of wheels should scan for traffic before entering an intersection I do not see the point of scanning for traffic while I am in the middle of the intersection. If they are coming at me or if I am in the middle of three lanes and there are vehicles to my right and left checking for vehicles on the side streets is not going to do me much good. I guess if I should see an out-of-control driver I could brace for impact!

Once I am done with the school I will come back home and sit until October 20th (our 30th anniversary!) for orientation. Shawn should be finished with his trainer early next week. If the planets are aligned properly then he will get his truck, get the one-day mentor training and be able to pick me up in Lancaster and be my mentor on or about October 23rd. This has been rough for us. We have been together for a total of 14 days since July 14th. I realize that I have nothing to complain about considering all the spouses that are separated because of any number of reasons. We were also apart when Shawn was in Nebraska and we were still down here in Texas. That was for an even longer period AND I had young children. So I guess I should just shut up about it.

Angie and Daniel (the young man facing the camera) are my fellow truck mates.

The sunrise after three days of rain. Quite pretty, yes?

This is me after three days on the range. We do nothing but straight line backing and parallel parking.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Well, here I am!

Arrived today around 2:30 pm and checked into my room. My roommate has already been here awhile so she was obviously in class. I would have liked to lie down in bed for a bit but I was unable because I did not know which bed was hers. So I putzed around, developed quite a good headache and ventured out to see if I could find a store and buy some Tylenol. I stopped in a Velaro and was directed to an HEB. Quite an interesting area. I was definitely a standout in the supermarket.

Not much more to say. Tomorrow is the medical and then we will go from there. I need some sleep!!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Good News! (and a little sad news)

I will start class on Tuesday, September 16th. My recruiter in Dallas called this morning and said that she did not know why they cancelled this week's class. I can breathe again.

Sad news - The little hummingbird that was defending his feeder from intruders met his end today. You can say that he died defending his "property". I found him on the mat at the back door. He must have flown into the window on the door and broke his neck. With the way these birds zip around it surprises me that it does not happen more often. It probably happened within minutes of when I found him. I picked up the little guy and he was so light that I could not even feel his weight in my hand. I gave him a burial on the corner of our property. I also moved the feeder next to the other feeder in the yard. No glass out there. I will miss seeing him on his perch keeping an eye out for the competition.

And some bad news - Ian went to mow the lawn today. Lawn tractor worked fine for a little while and then it would not move forward. A trend developing here?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Visitor Counter

I just put the counter on the blog today. While I may not have a huge following I have had more than 2 visitors!

Hummingbird Update

I promise I will not blog about hummingbirds anymore but a most extraordinary moment happened to me when I was filling the feeder.

I noticed that while I was pouring the liquid into the feeder that some of the birds were flying around me - quite close. I put down the pitcher and hung up the feeder and just waited. I was about eight inches away from the feeder. In about 15 seconds a bird landed on the feeder and just looked at me, drank a little then flew off. After that another bird, then another. Pretty soon the feeder was at capacity (8 holes) and there were birds flying all around me. They were so close I could feel the breeze from their wingbeats. They would fly and hover right in front of my face, so close that I could not even focus on them. It was amazing and a little disconcerting. I hoped that all of them had passed flying school and that I would not be pulling a hummingbird out of my neck!

To see these birds so close was exhilarating. They look even smaller and delicate. I saw how their little beaks open and their tongues work the liquid into their mouths. At a distance it looks that when they confront another bird they just get close and make them move but this close I could see that they actually touch the other bird with their beaks or full body contact. I heard them actually smash into one another! I was hoping that I would not be next but they were so curious about this big thing in front of their feeder that they were checking me out throughly. The whole time I was standing there, maybe five minutes, I did not move and hardly breathed.

It truly was amazing.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


On Friday I tweeted about the insane number of hummingbirds that were at the feeder closest to the back door. It was quite an extraordinary sight. I had to fill the feeder three times that day - even after having filled it on Thursday. It generally takes about a week before this feeder will empty completely.

Normally, these birds claim a feeder and will not let any other birds anywhere near their feeder. Shawn and I have mentioned before that if they would spend less time chasing the other birds away they would not need as much food. But it is very entertaining watching their aerial acrobatics. So to have seen all this activity at a feeder was pretty amazing.

When I was talking to Shawn on Friday evening he suggested I blog about the hummingbirds because I was so bummed about the school thing and I needed to stop thinking about it. I began to look up ruby-throated hummingbirds and came across some very interesting facts.

They build a walnut-sized nest and the female will lay two white pea-sized eggs. The male does not help with the raising of the young (what a bum) and in fact, after mating will probably mate with another female. The mother will incubate and raise the young. By the time they are fully fledged they will actually weigh more than the mom because they have been fed insects instead of nectar. When the young do leave the nest she will tolerate them at her feeder for a little while but then she will treat them like any other intruder. Talk about family unity!

RTH's are also the most common species of hummingbird that breeds in the east to center of North America. They can be found as north as Canada. This makes their fall migration even more spectacular. Even though these birds have been doing this same trek for eons without our assistance, birders do encourage that we help these little guys along the way by leaving out the feeders. Southern states should leave their feeders filled until Thanksgiving. And no, having the feeders available does not distract them from migrating. Though there have been cases where a bird has over-wintered in a northern latitude this does not really happen very much.

Hummingbirds have incredibly small legs so they don't really walk or hop. The legs are used for perching and they can use them for scratching.

Hummingbirds drink water! Who knew!

While hummers do seem to like the color red they will also go to flowers of a different color. We have plumbago and yellow bells that they like just fine. Most feeders that you buy in the store do have some red on them but their is no need to put a red dye in the nectar that you feed them. Speaking of nectar - we used to buy it in a powdered form but now we just mix it ourselves. One part sugar, four parts water. Use really hot water. Does not need to be boiling, just real hot.

That's my hummingbird blog. Hope you enjoyed it.

Video can be found here.

Now for the rest of the story...

So I took this video yesterday after Erin, Angelo and the kids left from celebrating Ian's very belated birthday. I was glad that I was able to locate the tripod because, well, you all know how things have been lately in my lost and not found department. I felt fairly confident early in the day that I would find the camera, which I did, and the charger. I charged the camera and all seemed to be working fine. Set the camera up, sat down in the shade, adult beverage in hand, I shot 27 minutes worth of video (aren't you glad I did not post all of it! I did zoom out twice and once filled the feeder.) I am happy that worked and I went upstairs to download my soon-to-be
masterpiece cable!

Looked everywhere. We have about 1.2 million cables in our house but not one of them was the cable I needed. I am extremely frustrated at this point and wondering if this was the direction for the rest of my life. After spitting and foaming at the mouth for about a half hour I go online to look up what kind of cable it is that I need. Well, what do I know? To me this stuff is like a car. I put the key in the ignition and I drive it. Don't ask me how it actually runs. I don't know if it is four-pin or six-pin. I know that I put one end here, the other end there, I click "download" and it happens. I think that I may have found the cable that I need and it was about $8.99. I say to myself, "I will go to Best Buy tomorrow and pick up a cable." I'm pretty well soothed at this point.

So I go to Best Buy and even thought ahead and brought my camera. I walk into the store, the people greeter puts a sticker on my camera so no one thinks I stole it, and I tell him that I need a cable. He points out Devon and says that I should talk to him. I say "oh, the guy in the blue shirt?" I did quickly recover and said "of course, you all have blue shirts. Except you (people greeter) have a yellow shirt." We all laughed and one of the other employees pointed out that he had a black shirt (GeekSquad). I go to Devon, the cable guy, and he takes me to the cable rack and finds the one that would work and hands it to me. I look at it and say "I am supposed to plug this into my computer or lock up my bicycle with it?" No kidding, this thing is a gray cable encased in clear plastic that looks like the cable with the combo lock at the end. He tells me that it is for heavy data transmission and that is why it looks like that. I assure him that none of my data is heavy and asked if he had anything cheaper because the price of this heavy data/bicycle lock cable was $34. And also if they had anything less than 6ft because I put my camera right next to my computer and not across the room when I am downloading. No, of course, they did not. I go and pay for this thing and think that I will go to Radio Shack and see if they have anything a little more reasonable.

Well, their cable was shorter and it was your standard thin, black cord but it was also $2 more. I'll stick with the Best Buy cable. If I don't ever use it to download video again at least I will have a new cable lock for my bicycle!