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!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Well, I am a little bummed right now

I was called earlier today and told that I would not be starting school next Wednesday as had been originally planned. The class has been cancelled. The recruiter that called from Memphis assured me that it was nothing to do with me - as if I would think that they would cancel the entire class because they did not want me to attend. No reason given and she told me that my recruiter in Dallas will call me when the next class would become available.

Well, it does make me a little concerned. All along I have been thinking why are they having classes if freight is down. It would make more sense to use their existing drivers instead of hiring on more drivers. My worry is that this may have just occurred to them as well. Or maybe I am just over thinking and the reason is because the instructors wanted to take a longer holiday weekend.

I am also pissed off because the things I have been looking for all week are just not being found. I have opened boxes that have so many pictures in them that I could open up a museum. While it has been entertaining I have still not found what I am looking for - my diploma because you need the stupid thing to avoid taking the Scholastic Level Exam; an exam which they insist is required by the state of Texas but, in fact, it is not. Never took it while I was at Schneider or CFI. What is really funny is that it has to be a HS diploma or GED. Apparently you can show them your PhD and that would not work. I have my DD-214 from the military that says I have a HS diploma buy that won't work either. No, they have to have their grubby hands on the thing.

In doing all this searching I was also hoping that I would come across my training books from Schneider (because Schneider's training was far better) but, no. I did come across a hopeful box that had some Schneider stuff but, alas, no books. In this same hopeful box was the box for the game "Civilization". I liked this game. Only played it on my laptop, not on this computer. So I said to myself, "cool, I will load this later." Opened the box, flipped open the jewel case, no CD. I searched the million cd's that Shawn has in his desk. Nothing. I am feeling a little beaten up at this point. I want to curl up in a corner.

Shawn told me that I needed to blog. He did not like my last blog and would like to see something else. Suggested I blog about the hummingbirds that have drank (or is it eaten. Technically, hummingbirds don't really drink) nearly three feeders full of sugar water today. He also said that I should take some video. I am not sure I can embed video in this blog but maybe I can get it on my mac gallery.

So in the next week I will blog about:

- hummingbirds
- my new diet (on which I have lost three pounds since Monday)
- the importance of organization

I will also try to:

- complete the painting in the dining room (because we will never put up crown moulding so I need to get rid of the pink and white strip across the top of the wall)
- mow the lawn
- sort through the pile of paperwork on the counter
- and get most of the quilting done on Conor and Amanda's quilt

There you are. Check back with me in a week.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why Can't I Marry My Brother?

I love my brother and I want the world to know that I love him by having the state legally recognize that love and commitment.

We are both sterile so children would not be a problem. But we not only want that legal recognition of our love for each other but we also want the benefits that married couples have. One of us is unemployed and the other has a good job with health insurance so we could take advantage of that benefit. It would be good for the state because then the unemployed spouse would not become a public burden by going on Medicaid.

We know that this is not a traditional marriage but times are changing and the definition of marriage as being only between people who are unrelated needs to change as well. We all need to be treated equally before the law and love should be the only requirement that is needed for a marriage license. 

You might find this morally offensive but I should not have to live by your morals. In other words, keep your morals out of my private life. You can live the way you want to and I can live the way I want to. I am not hurting you by marrying my brother.

So, should I set a date?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Should Swine Flu Be Politically Correct?

This needs to be filed under "do people think when they open their mouths?" Apparently the name of this recent outbreak of the influenza virus has some folks concerned that the name "swine flu" might cause offense. 

The Israeli deputy health minister Yakov Litzman has proposed the name "Mexican flu" because Muslims and Jews consider pork to be unclean. OK. I always thought that the eating of pork was prohibited but I guess I was wrong. Apparently merely saying the word "swine" will doom you to eternal damnation. Litzman obviously did not think that the Mexican government might be a little irritated at his suggestion, which of course, they were. The Israeli government retracted the proposal.

But we need to follow this line of reasoning. Are we going to rename the Hong Kong flu? How about the 1918 flu pandemic? That was called the Spanish flu. US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also does not like swine flu because it might hurt the pork industry. So we should then rename the bird flu as well. Why don't we just call the disease by its medical terminology - "Influenza A (H1N1) virus, human." Not nearly as easy to remember ("hey how about that outbreak of the Influenza A (H1N1) virus, human of 2009. That was a hell of a thing.") but at least the only species that would be offended would be humans. Pigs would be safe from defamation and Muslims and Jews would not have to worry - well, about what it is that they were worrying over.

The WHO has objected renaming the disease because that is what it has been called since the outbreak and the name is consistent with scientific naming convention. After all, it did come from a pig.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Noticing Small Things

It is raining this morning. That is very good. Looking out the TV room window I noticed the puddles forming in the yard. In particular a puddle at the base of the playset slide. It brought a smile to my face because it reminded me that four little feet made that puddle possible (and maybe a couple of big feet!)

Happy sliding! 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

FedEx and USPS - Reality Check!

On April 9th I ordered two pair of Crocs from their online store. Because I went over $50 I qualified for free shipping. A day later I get notified that my Crocs have shipped and I get the tracking number for FedEx. When I go to the FedEx site it states that my Crocs will arrive at my house by April 16th.

Here it is - April 16th. No Crocs.

My order sat in the sortation center in Dallas since the weekend. I am guessing that because it was sent by the cheapest method possible that there was no sense of urgency and it got put in the "Don't touch until the last possible moment" bin at their facility. Having been at the facility in Irving when I was truck driving I can testify that it was a most frightening place because the fork lifts zip around there with such speed that if you happen to get in their way you run the risk of getting scooped up and put on the next truck. But apparently I did not see the dark dusty corner where the unworthy packages get sent. I have visions that the guys back there sit around in plastic chairs, slugging Cokes out of bottles, eating cold pizza, watching a black and white TV with a rabbit ear antennae and talking about how they once were masters of the universe when all was right with the world and Eisenhower was president. When a package got tossed their way they would flip it over their shoulders and hope it landed in a bin. Except for Vinny - he would stand at the 3-point line and scream out, "Watch this guys, nuttin' but net!" (Vinny is not from Dallas.)

So my unimportant little package sat in the unloved section of the FedEx facility in Dallas. 

This morning I get up and check to see if my Crocs were on their truck in Austin just waiting to be joined up with their happy new owner. But wait - my Crocs will not be delivered by  a FedEx driver. No, No - they will come via the always dependable UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE - Answerable to No One Since 1775. I go to the USPS site, plug in my number and it says that the electronic information has been received but that does not mean that they are in receipt of the package. Translation - "we don't got it, we don't know when we are going to get and stop botherin' us. And another thing, we hate this internet tracking thing because people now think that they are supposed to get their packages in a reasonable time period. In the old days you get it when we get it to you!"

A few years ago I went to check my mailbox and there was one of those little dreaded yellow slips in the box that said "We attempted delivery of a package but there was no one at home so we have taken the package to the post office and it can be picked up anytime between 4:15 pm and 4:18 pm. If you do not pick up your package at this time we will attempt delivery two more times. If delivery is not possible we will send the package back to the sender and you will never see it again. It is up to you to contact the shipper and try in vain to get the package re-delivered or get the charge reversed on your card. Good luck with that! Thank you. Your post office - ready to serve. (OK, so it does not say that exactly but it should.) But here is the most odd part of my story - I was at home. I was not asleep, showering or in some far off corner of the homestead. No, I was in the house. The weather was pleasant so I had the front door open. My dogs like to lay there where they can see out the screen door.

This is what the dogs do when they see something out the door:

Butterfly lands in the driveway - Alarm level meant for us humans: "Invasion is imminent. Take cover!"

Squirrel in a tree - "The entire Chinese army is at the front door. Secure the dog food! (Not that Wolfie would care.)

Car drives up and someone is standing at the front door: "The comet will make impact in 15 seconds. Uh-oh, better make that 10 seconds."

Well, I am finding it a little hard to believe that a "delivery was attempted." Yes, I live in a rural area but I can see the mailboxes from my house. It takes me under a minute to walk to the box. Here is what the little yellow slip should have said, "Carrier is too lazy to drive down your road, get out of the car and make the delivery." I called the post office and asked why I did not get my delivery and she ran down the list of what she is supposed to say. After I responded to each of the reasons she finally ended up with "the driver was probably running late and did not want to take the time to go to your house." (oh, is that on the list?) To which I said, "And you're OK with this?" She responded, "well, you know, they have a certain amount of time to make all their deliveries." In my alternate universe brain all I could think of saying was "so if your driver was a nurse at a hospital and she were running late it would be fine with you if she did not give a patient their medication?" I went to the postmaster the next day and he was not so OK and promised me he would talk to the driver and remind her of her responsibilities. He then asked me if I wanted a job. At that point I felt I was in some weird Woody Allen movie where it was completely acceptable for people to say very odd things. I declined the offer. Could not have done it anyway - my vehicle did not have bench seats and it was a standard.

Here I am at the end of my story. It is 2:10 pm. No Crocs. Mail has already been delivered. No yellow slips in the box. Maybe tomorrow.

And maybe I will make more that a once-a-year post.