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.