Taking the CDL test at the Front Royal DMV was like climbing the steep Donner Pass with an oversized load on a broken axle. On one blustery, cold April morning, ten panic-stricken students showed up to take the dreaded drivers road test. All ten left without a CDL. Only one had a conditional pass, meaning he didn’t fail but he had to leave early to return to work, so he would have to come back to finish where he left off. Even Todd did not survive, and after all the grief he gave me for returning from lunch late.
Even the Navy SEALSs had a better attrition rate. Despite training for five months, how could we have such a dismal failure rate. Did the DMV have an axe to grind or were they making a statement to the school?
Perhaps we had pissed off the DMV by driving the route that the testers were taking their examinees. That wasn’t cheating, but the testers didn’t want to give our trainees any edge.
Since the school was brand new, they had just started working with the DMV and had to establish a repertoire. And the state had to raise the bar to show future students they wouldn’t be playing around. So we were the guinea pigs for a new vaccine prior to clinical trials.
The lead tester was a ruthless despot named Dorothy who gave me the chills so bad, the whole truck rocked and vibrated even when the engine was on idle.
I started with the air brake test. I turned the ignition on and let my foot off the clutch.
“The first step is to check that my air compressors are working,” I stated as I revved the accelerator so that the air tank pressure reached 100 psi. Sherry’s vivid metaphor of the governor been the bossy wife and the air compressor, the lazy husband paid off here. When the air pressure on both tanks reached 100 psi, the buzzer stopped and I heard a faint sneeze indicating that the air tanks are full.
Now I was ready to proceed to the next step…
I then put the truck into first gear, turned the truck off, and then turned the key back on. Then I released both parking brakes which takes the air out of the air tanks and puts it into the brake chambers. Then I turned my timer on my cell phone on and waited a minute to ensure I didn’t lose more than 3 psi in 1 minute.
I remember Sherry telling us not to forget to turn the key back on – the blasted ignition key has failed more people than you wanna know.
I did fine on the air brake test and in-cab inspection. And I knew the pre-trip procedures cold. But when I was under the gun, and she breathed down my neck like an overbearing drill sergeant, my memory turned to gel.
I then failed to mention that the slack adjustor is not cracked, bent, or broken and has no missing hardware, and since I began on the driver’s side, I missed it on all the subsequent wheels because we’re allowed to say “I’d check this axle the same as I would my front axle, checking my frame, brakes, suspension, tires, and wheels,”
I forgot to mention the requisite number of correct items to pass. Didn’t even get a chance to get her in gear.
I stormed back to the schoolhouse – Sedrick was there to greet me, sullen and dejected, hoping for better days.
“What the hell is going on with this deranged DMV office in this podunk town in the middle of nowhere?”
“Yeah, today is definitely a terrible day for CDS,” he replied, shaking his head wistfully.
“You know what Sedrick, I wish you never called me to come out here. This was a big mistake.”
“Well perhaps you should have paid better attention at the range. JR told me that you didn’t stay in the yard much. You were either late from lunch or running around the yard three sheets to the wind.”
“Can’t believe you said that – we spend a lot of time in the yard twiddling our thumbs and talking smack with each other. At least I’m doing something positive for my mind and body.”
“Well you should have spent that time studying. Man up to your mistakes and look no further than the mirror.”
“Which one, in a truck, there’s a half dozen of them.”
“Well, if you know them all, then you should have breezed through the pre-trip like it was a day on the beach.”
“F*ck you!” I hollered.
“Let’s take this outside,” he demanded.
The argument continued outside the halls of CDS to the point that we attracted a small throng from the community college. Eventually the campus police showed up, and now we had just escalated our petty squabble into a boisterous argument.
“That’s it – you’re no longer welcomed on campus,” Sedrick asserted.
“Oh the terror, then can I transfer to the Fredericksburg campus?”
“No can do – you’re gonna finish up where you started. You can return to the Front Royal range to practice your skills, but from now on you’re banned from the schoolhouse.”
* * *
To let off steam, Martha and I visited the Pavement Smoking’ Taphouse in Front Royal for drinks. Just like you need to idle the engines after a long haul, we needed to blow off steam at a local tavern. Of course that was after a run through the historic town along the bike trail along Happy Creek.
The gastropub was my favorite due to its atmosphere – a 1960’s gas station turned into taphouse with fresh microbrew that backs into an arboretum, water running over the rocks. Across the street was another of my favorite eateries: Thunwa Thai.
“Sherry told me today that I can’t take the test until I have my baby,” she said dejectedly.
“That’s a crock of shit. You’re nowhere close to your due date. What were they thinking giving your unborn child a CDL also?”
“Maybe they think, doing a pre-trip on an 18-wheeler is too strenuous, or that I’ll pass out behind the wheel,” she mocked.
“I told Sedrick today, I wished I never bothered to pick up the phone.”
“Yeah, it’s starting to seem like a mistake for me, too. So are you gonna wait 3 weeks to retake the test?”
“Well when I was driving down to Georgia to see my Mom for the holidays, I stopped at Fredericksburg campus. Some of the students informed me that the DMV in Chester, VA (just south of Richmond) gives away CDLs like they were fake lottery tickets.”
“Will CDS let you take the test down there?” Martha inquired.
“H*ll no. The school’s too damn cheap. But I have an idea.”
The next week, I drove down to Chester to meet with Shipper’s Choice.
I worked out a deal where I would rent the truck for $500 to take the test. This also included 5 days of training. The reason they would allow me to do this was because their yard is located next door to the DMV.
Martha had also attended Shipper’s Choice several years ago and knew some of the instructors.
“We’ll take care of you here,” they promised. “We have a good relationship with the testers.”
“Yeah, can’t believe what they did to Martha,” I added.
“Tell Martha to come back, we’ll let her finish up her training on our dime, and we’ll even throw in the fuel for free,” they offered.
I would be camping out in Chester for a week or so, so just like Pavemint was my gastropub in Front Royal, I needed a hang out spot in Chester. A place that offered reasonably priced food, great happy hour specials and lots of TVs to watch baseball. Found that spot at Wing’s Pizza & Things
“Are the Nats gonna make it this year,” Heather, the bartender asked.
“I certainly hope so especially with Bryce Harper smashing homers and Max Scherzer tossing bullets,” I replied with a twinge of cockiness.
The bartender noticed a toy die-cast tractor trailer on my table. I was spinning it in between the napkin holder and the salt and pepper shakers.
“Hard left rudder,” I yelled as the trailer swung to the right and then I followed through and straightened out my trailer.
“Is that your version of American Truck Simulator?” Heather asked pumping her arm to signal an air horn.
“Yes, it’s the old fashioned version of the popular video game,” I responded with a grin.
“So are you a student at Shipper’s Choice? Training to get your CDL?” she inquired casually.
“Yeah, I come all the way from DC so I’m camping out here until I take my test.”
So I spent many afternoons at Wings & Things, converting the restaurant table top into my makeshift office.
And in the evenings parked next door at the Holiday Inn Express and crashed in the parking lot so I could be ready to roll first thing.
The school let me train with them for a week and I gained a lot of skills both in the yard and on the road. Each instructor had his own quirks and offered a different perspective, and each truck I drove offered its own challenges. Finally my week was up and I was ready to take my exam.
The day before, without much notice, I got a call from the U.S. Marshalls.
Usually they would call a day or two before the eviction. I had received judgment for possession over a month ago and had been waiting restlessly in limbo.
Yeah! after months of drama, arrest and time spent in Landlord Tenant court, they would finally be evicting Faith.
The process drew out so long, that I went to court three times with Faith. The first time she asked for a continuance. The second time she claimed we improperly served her (Jason and I invited her to Gordon Biersch for happy hour and instead of handing her a check, served her the complaint.) The last time she made the judge laugh so hard, he gave her leave to seek legal help.
“Your Honor, excuse my French, but I’m a lesbian and the defendant is trying to f*ck my girlfriend,” she told the Court. The courthouse immediately erupted in a burst of laughter. Even I was all smiles and I struggled to maintain my composure.
Airing her dirty laundry in court was crazy and beyond comprehension, but the tactic seemed to have worked – the judge clearly didn’t want to deal with the complexities of this case, so he pushed it back to the next unlucky magistrate who would be assigned the dreaded “LT” duties
The next month things turned out more smooth for me. Thankfully, Zaylee was in attendance to ensure Faith wouldn’t pull off any new tricks. Since I was still not getting any rent, I was easily awarded judgement for possession.
I still had to wait several weeks for my eviction date. And as luck would have it, the U.S. Marshalls office called me the week I was scheduled to take my CDL Test in Chester, VA.
So I called Neil, the eviction specialist. “Can you get a 15-man working party to Lebaum tomorrow morning?”
I wanted desperately to be home to oversee Hope get the celebrated boot. But if I didn’t get my CDL, I wouldn’t be going home at all.
The next day I get a call from Neil. “You wouldn’t believe it, but the Marshalls confronted Faith at the door, and she threw a huge tissy.”
“Hurray, after all this wrangling, we finally got her out!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, and she kept telling the Marshalls that you were doing this so you could have Zaylee all to yourself,” Neil mentioned.
“Geez, the reason why I’m all the way out here is so I can escape both of them,” I stated. What ’bout all her crap?”
“Yes our 15 man working party got it out. We had to remove all your furniture from the house, and after the Marshalls left, we moved them back in. It was just a revolving door.”
The Marshalls required to move everything out, even stuff that wasn’t hers. Faith, after all, didn’t really own that much. Even the bed and furniture in her room wasn’t hers.
Now, hopefully, this would be followed by good news the following day.
My gamble to spend $500 at Shipper’s Choice in Chester seemed to have paid off.
Indeed the pre-trip was a lot easier than in Front Royal, but that only got me on first base. Unfortunately the batter hit a ground ball and I was called out at second.
I did the straight back and offset flawlessly without any pull ups.
But then when it was time for the parallel test, the examiner elected for the blindside – which was my weak point.
I first turned the steering wheel as far left as it would go and counted to three
“One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi”
Then I turned the wheel clockwise until the truck and trailer were aligned.
Then once the rear axle was inside the box, I turned the wheel counter clockwise again and clockwise once more to get in front of the trailer. Everything seemed to go without a hitch, until I waited too long and my rear axle ran over the boundary cones.
At that moment, I could feel the impact in every part of my body.
The tester looked at me gloomily and gave me a throat-slitting gesture.
“Why the hell, do we have to test for parallel anyways?” I fumed.
“Well, pretend you’re arrive at the receiver early, and they won’t let you inside. Then you have no choice but to parallel park on the street,” said Michael my instructor.
“I see, then can I use the truck again to take another test?’
“That’ll be another $500,” Michael responded rubbing his thumb against his fingers smiling.
“Shoot, at this rate, I’ll just buy the damn truck,” I responded sarcastically.
Needless to say, the next morning, I headed back north towards the Shenandoah.
Sedrick cleared me to get another week of refresher training before my next test date. Even though he was still raw with me, he was willing to let bygones be bygones. Trucking was a rough and dirty job after all, not for the faint of heart of those thin skinned.
Rocky, one of the newer instructors, accompanied us for the test. This time, our pass rate surpassed that of the US Navy Seals. I survived the parallel maneuver by the skin of my teeth, and even Rocky closed his eyes and crossed his fingers.
When it was time for my road test, the examiner almost disqualified me when at a light I took my foot off the brakes too soon before engaging my clutch and the truck started to roll back. A family of four looked wide-eyed in a sedan behind me.
Thankfully I made it through and after three tries achieved the seemingly insurmountable goal – I was now a certified Class A CDL truck driver.
Sherry, Jimmy, JR, Rocky and Sedrick couldn’t be more happier.
Sedrick let me back into Lord Fairfax to receive my CDL certificate. We let bygones be bygones
“Where are we celebrating?” asked Martha, her grin wider than the blue Shenandoah sky.
“Italian Touch,” I responded. “Their pitchers of Bud are priced just right, and we’re gonna guzzle it down like it’s Kool Aid tonight.
“Why not Pavemint,” she asked. “The microbrews there are smashing.”
“Well, the Touch is just a touch down the road from the schoolhouse, and their wings are the tops in the Shenandoah.”
“I’m proud of you. Ya really persisted having to take the test three times with two different schools and two different DMVs.”
“Thanks, with the shortage of truckers, you would think that they would make this a lot easier,” I responded.
“Yeah, can’t wait till I get my CDL and start working for a company,” Martha added.
“That would be amazing. Will you be worried about your safety – some truck stops are dark and secluded and truckers can be quite shady.”
“Yes, that will be a huge concern as well as taking care of all my kids.”
“I don’t know how you do it, Martha.”
“That would be a challenge. But tonight is all about your accomplishments. Now that you’ll be getting on the road, will you meet a girl in every city.”
“I’ll just be happy to have one, Martha – one girl at home is all I would ever need.”
“Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, with kids or without?”
“It doesn’t matter Martha, I’ll be happy with the right girl regardless of race or kindred. Even if she’s a trucker.”