The phone rang, and it was my recruiter – she had been calling for weeks, and I finally took a deep breath and accepted the call.
“So what’s keeping you from working for Western Express?” she inquired with uncanny determination.
“Thanks for asking, but I have to organize the EU Embassy Run, a 13-mile charity run in DC in mid May, and I need to be home a couple of weeks in advance for planning,” I stated.
“Don’t you have someone you can delegate these responsibilities to, or are you a one-man band,” she wondered.
“Yeah, unfortunately – this is my baby, and I’ve been going solo ever since she was just a twinkle in my eye.”
“No worries,” she assured. “Hop on a bus to Bethlehem, and we’ll get you trained, tested and released for home with plenty of time to spare,” she reassured, making a huge assumption that things would go off without a hitch.
That sounded encouraging. “Just how much training would I need?” I wondered.
“Well, looking at your DAC report (Drive-A-Check), I see that you have four months of experience with Coastal Transportation. So we’ll just require three days of indoctrination and a week of cargo securement flatbed training, both at our Bethlehem yard and then a week on the road with one of our road-hardened trainers.”
This sounded very doable. Even though I had my reservations, I didn’t see any reason not to give it a shot.
“BTW, how come you were at Coastal for just a quick second?”
“Well, I got fired for going over 67 mph on a downhill. Does Western have the same restrictions?’
“Nope, we’re not that strict. We give our drivers lots of freedom. Just don’t do a U-turn, and you should be ok.”
My week with my trainer was one of the most mentally agonizing experiences since I spent a month “cranking” serving as a food service attendant onboard a U.S. Navy Knox class frigate.
My trainer, Trevor, reeked of old cheese and bacteria. He never took a shower the entire week, and he probably didn’t brush his teeth daily, the few ones that he still disposed, albeit rotten and decayed.
First thing he did each morning, he combed his thick mass of hair with old-school Brylcreem, gobbled a huge wad of chewing tobacco filled his thermo flask with dark, roasted coffee and he was good to go.
Trevor was a million miler and he won numerous awards for no preventable accidents, though he loved screaming at four wheelers and called every women driver who tested his mettle with the C-word.
During the seven days we spent on the road together, we were busy – teaming up and hot bunking when we needed naps. To this day, I don’t remember what was worse – smelling his foul breath when he yelled like a banshee or sleeping next to his sheets that smelled like a dead rat.
The next day, I got in my Subaru and headed home to DC – just in time to organize another fabulous run.
The unique aspect of the EU Embassy Run was that we visited over a dozen embassies while running 13 miles. While most people had to wait in long lines to get in, we got head of the line privilege. And the best part we got to partake in the food, drinks and culture from each location.
The run started eight years ago on a whim. I coerced a couple friends and the run has blossomed into a public event with a loyal following.
After the run, I rushed back to Easton in my Subaru. The recruiter right on point – I was able return home to organize my big event and back to finish up training.
The only thing left was my test drive around town and a couple of backing maneuvers in the yard.
The test went well, but my tester, John, recommended I take a 3-day backing training.
“No worries. In fact, I was looking forward to it. Who wouldn’t welcome additional training – everyday on the road was a learning experience.”
On Saturday, the Lead Examiner came to pick me up along with all my luggage from the Days Inn Easton and dropped me off in the Bethlehem terminal to pickup my truck.
“I thought I have backing training,” I asked.
“Well we decided to waive this training and assign you to your truck immediately,” he replied. “That way you can start making money for you and for Western.”
Since this was a three-day Memorial Day weekend, I was instructed to stay in my truck and wait until Tuesday when my Driver Manager would contact me and issue my first load assignment.
After completing the walk through, getting a few things fixed and then signing out the truck, I drove to the Western Express terminal in Nazareth to park the truck. The truck had been cleaned out, but no amount of baking soda could eliminate the smell of urine – hopefully the previous driver had a K9 co-pilot.
As instructed by the Lead Examiner, I was to stay and watch my truck through the three-day weekend.
I was looking forward to taking a three-day backing class because I wanted to improve my backing skills. Backing is a skill where every driver, young or old, always needs to improve and refine. My trainer would not have released me from the week of on-the-road training if he wasn’t satisfied by my skills.
The backing class should not be used as a means to discriminately eliminate trainees since this is what the 3-day indoctrination, the 3-day in-house flatbed training and the 1-4 weeks of on-the-road training time with a qualified truck driver is intended to do.
On Monday Jose was so busy that he could only give me training for 1 ½ hours of training. I waited in my truck at the Bethlehem terminal all day for Jose who was busy doing other tasks. Finally, I ran into the Safety Officer at the terminal. I explained to him my situation and that I was wasting time just waiting around for Jose. The Safety Officer empathized with me and agreed to test me on my backing.
The first two backing maneuvers were perfect. I conducted two difficult alley dock backing maneuvers in two different locations in a very busy terminal satisfactorily, within time and with no incidents.
At which point I felt I had satisfactorily demonstrated my backing skills to the Safety Officer. He then surprised me by directing me to do a Blind-side alley dock maneuver.
Blind Side alley dock is a maneuver that Western Express doesn’t teach or test. From my indoctrination to my on-the-road training, all my trainers instructed me never to do it since its challenging, risky and thus should be avoided. So I never once tried this.
That’s why I was shocked when the Safety Officer asked me to attempt it. Perhaps he wanted me to do Blind-side as extra credit since I already satisfactorily completed two sight-side alley docks. Whatever the reason, I felt motivated to try it, knowing that I had the perfect person to keep an eye on the rear of the trailer, just in case I got too close.
The role of the Tester is to also serve as the spotter and to prevent the trainee from hitting anything. As the name implies with Blind-side, the driver cannot see where he’s backing into and must rely on the mirrors. Thus a spotter is always required.
Suddenly, I heard a Whoa! I looked at the convex side mirrors and saw a raised fist. I stopped, set the parking brakes then climbed out.
The edge of my trailer had nicked the side of the truck behind me. I was livid – it was the job of the Safety Officer as the tester and spotter to ensure this would not happen.
On the contrary, the Safety Officer made it appear like it was my responsibility when clearly it was his, and he had failed in his role.
Shortly after this incident, the Safety Officer informed me that I would be released from training. He told me to call the Western Express claims line to report the incident and asked me to turn in the keys to my truck.
Not only did I have to take all my shit from the truck that I just spent time cleaning (second one, mind you), but I had to find a way home. I had 4 duffel bags of clothing and gear, which I wouldn’t be able to easily take onto the bus.
I have no problem with Western releasing me but they actually wrote on my DAC report that I was unsafe which would hinder my ability to find work — In actuality, they didn’t have to say anything because it’s a company policy — not DOT’s. Frankly, if I couldn’t work for them, they didn’t want me to work for the competition.
Western should never have assigned me a truck if I had not completed training. They should have owned this mistake and accepted responsibility.
At any rate, welcome to trucking. Firing & quitting are two common practices. No wonder, companies have a hard time keeping driver’s seats filled.