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New Directions: What Do You Do When Life Pushes You Down A Path Not Your Own?

Updated on April 7, 2013

So, life hasn't worked out quite as you wanted it to?

Well, it was a good run. Ever since I started displaying a talent for artwork, I wanted to be the next person to be lined up next to guys like Picasso or Rembrant.

I started out drawing. then i went on to painting. I was voted class artist in both my 8th grade and 12th grade years of school.

Then I started on sculpting, but I didn't like dealing with how much clay cost.

I delved into machining and 3D Animation, and I did have a bit of success, but not enough in the long run.

I have learned how to tattoo quite well, but with so many people out of work, no one really has the money to get any serious work done, and so you're stuck doing $20-30 lettering pieces, and it costs more for the materials than working on a large piece if you take the hours worked against the money made and needles, tubes, ink, etc. used.

In order to get by, I had to take a second job at a bus company and turn it into my primary job. It sucked.

And finally, when I got laid off from that, I went to the mercy of the unemployment office knowing that Jesus said, "If you give a man a fish, he eats but for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he shalt eat for a lifetime," and asked them if they did anything to send people to school.

Now mind you, part of my job with the bus company was moving the busses from point A to point B for maintenance, so I kinda wanted to become a bus driver, because they were best paid in the company. However, as part of being sent to school from the Unemployment People, I had to pick a trade that had a demand. As it turns out, there are too many bus drivers out there, so that was out. Besides, to get sent to Bus Driving School would take me way too far out of the way, anyhow.

However, there was a listing on "Truck Driver - CDL Class A" that had a totally opposite story to tell. Truck Drivers are totally in demand. So I said to myself, without even researching anything else, kissed my entire future up to God, and went for it.

I had to go to a class, a meeting, take a test, get all my paperwork together... pretty much everything short of having to sacrifice a chicken to a volcano in a timeframe that had me pulling my hair out... But I got it done. And that test... I scored perfect.

So, the best sentence I think I ever heard came out of the mouth of the career counsellor. She said, "You have been approved. Congratulations, you are going to CDL School."

And it was a change that completely turned my life upside down... which really brought it rightside up, because I was all upside down before I was approved.

Right? Wrong? Do I Really Care?

Let me start out by saying, that all my life, I was always called upon by my friends whenever they needed something. Even if I didn't have much, I tried to make sure that my so-called friends were taken care of.

Problem was, when I needed something, not many people ever paid me back or even tried to help.

I've had friends who deliberately went out with girls I liked (in HS and shortly after) just because it made them have what someone else wanted.

I had friends who would seduce girls I was dating because it made them feel good about themselves.

I had women flirt and use me to meet someone I was friends with.

I had been living in a fantasy world where I believed the illusion that these people were friends.

And ever since I had nothing left to offer, no one ever called. Ever. So it was safe to say that I had been written off.

This meant that when things started working out for me again, that the same people would start coming out of the woodwork looking to get a piece of whatever I was making.

And I still cannot wait to tell these people that I was only good enough to use, and that no one ever stand by me... so they can go to hell.

Is this right or wrong? Really, its neither and both. Feelings are your own and no one can telly you how to feel... and really, it is a bad way to look at things, however, I don't care, because these people made me feel like shit time and time again.

Ok, We Know How We Feel... Its Irrelevant If We Can't Learn The Job.

If you told me, during the entire course of my life, that I would learn to one day drive these things, I would have assumed that you were on crack.
If you told me, during the entire course of my life, that I would learn to one day drive these things, I would have assumed that you were on crack. | Source

So I sign up for the school. My experience with buses gave me a bit of a heads up than anyone who has no experience. But I was still caught off guard, nonetheless.

I knew there was a written test I had to take before I was able to hop in a truck. So obviously the first part of this schooling was going to be in a classroom. Very cool, I already had a copy of the book that I had been studying on and off, I already knew something about the mechanics of large diesel engines that make buses move and the brakes that stop them. I had learned to take extra room to make turns, because I pretty much had to learn how to park them in an often fairly tight lot after being shown only once. I knew how to drive a clutch, because I did work for a parts store that had a delivery vehicle that was a manual trans pickup I had to drive...

"So how hard can this shit be?"

Well, my first day there, they gave us a study guide in the form of paperwork and a practice test... me, figuring I had enough experience and reading time of the CDL Manual that I could pass this in a heartbeat. Let me describe the experience.

Firstly, its not ONE test you have to pass in order for the MVC of NJ to trust you enough to hop in a truck with an instructor to learn the ropes. Its THREE tests you have to pass. Ok, what have we got to know about... Air Brake Test, General Knowledge Test, and Combination Vehicle Test.

You would figure the General Knowledge test would be generally enough to get a permit to learn. Its not. For those of you who have not taken this test, its not about general knowledge on driving the truck. Its about general safety practices of driving. Which sounds like its the same thing, but its not. And guess what, I failed that practice test. Its all good, though... its just practice.

The next practice test I took was the Air Brake Test. This should be easy... i already knew the test didn't have anything about disc brakes, which was cool because I didn't work on disc brakes. However, the test isn't about only about how the brakes work. Its also about how the brakes fail. I never really had to be in the position to know how brakes fail, just how to fix them when it was time to change them.

However, I passed the practice test... barely. Ok, it may be a good idea to become more familiar with the braking systems of a multi ton vehicle.

Then there was the Combination Vehicle Test which was about, holy shit, Tractor Trailer type vehicles. You know, a rig and a trailer with either a box or a tank on them.

the thing I learned though, is that this test wasn't good enough to drive a truck with a liquid tank of the trailer... they also have a tank test for that type of trailer.

Now, to go a bit off topic here, this is why you need the separate test... did you know that a milk truck is more dangerous to drive than a gasoline truck? It is. This is because a tank carrying gasoline can have baffles and a tank carrying milk cannot. What baffles are is pretty much walls inside the container to prevent all the liquid from going from the back of the tank all the way to the front. This gives less force to push the truck forward on a stop. But the reason baffles aren't allowed on milk truck is because the walls are hard to keep clean and free of bacteria, so the DOT in association with the FDA or the CDC or something, decided that for the sake of food quality and safety, that milk is not to be transported via any tank that has baffles.

Ok, so it was my first day. I already knew I had a lot to learn, but I had no idea how much. But its ok, because if I was going to school to know rather than learn, it would be a waste of money and time.

So after two weeks of classes, I decided to go take my first three written tests at the NJMVC in Lodi, NJ. Which taught me something else... NEVER under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES do you EVER want to go to the NJMVC of Lodi, NJ to take any written test. Wall to wall kids looking to get their Class D Driving Learner's Permit.

So, waiting in line for 2.5 hours to pay $125 for the permit, I figured, that I'd get to go right in and take my tests. Um, that would have been too easy, I guess....

I had been sent OUTSIDE the building to another side of the same building to wait in line amongst 900,000,000 teenagers of all shapes, sizes and cultural diversity. As it so happens, the next person to walk in after me was a Catholic Priest. After having a laugh about him praying for all of those kids who are going to end up driving with such faith you'd think they had Jesus in the trunk, I proceeded to wait in line for an additional 3 hours. for the sake of me not having to remember this time that I cannot replace, lets fast forward.

I get to the desk where they test your eyes and tell you which computer to take your test on. less than 20 minutes later I return to the desk after scoring three perfects (general knowledge, air brakes and combination vehicles) without skipping any questions and ask to take the next three tests (passenger, tanker and hazardous materials. What the lady at the desk said next sort of pissed me off, but I kind of understood where she was coming from, because if I was in her spot, I would have quit...

"Can you please, if you don't mind, come back on another day? You see how long the lines are."

Completely dismissing my desire to get the tests out of the way, I figured i would do that. I already felt very proud of myself. It was a step that was going to take me out of a position of just getting by, and put me in a spot that was better than just getting by.

Now we have to fast forward a bit and talk about...

My First Road Lesson (a.k.a. BIG BOY TOYS!)

Before We Do Anything... We Gotta Check Out the Machine.

Air Brake Check, First Part and In Cab Inspection

Part of Federal Department of Transportation Laws states that the first thing you have to do before setting off on your trip amongst the other drivers, truck stop whores, and pissing contestes is the Pre-Trip Inspection. This makes sense. You don't want to find out that you have potentially faulty equipment while you are out in the middle of nowhere... So far, I've only focused on the IN CAB pretrip... I guess they give it to you in bites with this school, and the In Cab only lasts about 15 minutes, so I'll cover it here... It goes something like this as far as I remember... and I am not going to remember everything yet... by the time I take the test, though, I will be a pro... I'm studying hard this week, because, at most, I only have 3 weeks until I take my road test.

Anyhow, first thing you do, is make sure the truck is in neutral, make sure the splitter is down (I'll cover this in the section I cover shifting in), and the trailer and parking brakes valves are out. you turn on the truck, and you look and see if your oil pressure comes up right away. If it don't come up, you are going to sieze the engine, so this is very important.

Next thing you're going to do is wait for the air tanks to fill up. Standard setups have two tanks... they are the Primary and Reserve... they also set them up as the front and rear... and then they have three tank models, one being known as a 'wet tank' because its the first one you drain on the daily... see, moisture in the air can really screw up the brake lines. They're made out of metal, and water typically rusts anything made of metal...

Anyhow, when the tanks are full, and you hear the cut-off valve activate you turn off the truck, put it in gear, and put the trailer and parking brakes in the in position... then you turn the truck's ignition to the on position without turning the engine over, and and then you step on the brake... then you hold it for a minute and see how much pressure you lose... you're not supposed to lose any more than 3-4 psi for that minute.

Next thing you gotta do is see if your air pressure warning indicators are working... as well as your emergency braking system is working. So you pump the brakes to drop the pressure in the tanks... See, the way the brakes work, when you press the brake pedal, air is pushed by pressure to a device that engages the brake shoes or pads onto the drum or rotor... when you release the pedal, the air in the device pushing against the drum is released into the atmosphere... so pumping the brakes drops the pressure every time you press and release the pedal...

Anyway, you start at 120 psi, and when the pressure is at 60 psi, a warning is supposed to activate, letting you know that your tanks are losing too much pressure... if this warning goes off, you know it works... and since the truck is in gear, and off, its not going anywhere.

Now you keep pumping the brakes to 40 psi... and the trailer and parking brakes are supposed to pop out, letting you know that the emergency systems are working right... it's a spring brake system... when the air runs out, these kick in, and guess what... if these bad boys pop out, the truck is stopping right where you are, and you cannot do a damned thing about it, so if that warning comes on that says your shit is low and your gague says its on 60 psi, you better pull it over where you would like it to be before it stops wherever it feels like.

Now you gotta pull the truck out of gear again, and turn the truck back on, and again, you wanna make sure the oil pressure goes up right away. And while you're waiting for the tanks to refil, you want to take a look at the essentials... the windshild should be clean, not cracked or broken... also your other windows. You're mirrors should be clean and in good repair, and adjusted properly so you can see where you need to. You want to make sure the windshield wipers make good contact with the windshield, make sure that they're not peeling or anything... they don't cover this in the school, but I would think you want to make sure that you have washer fluid and the pump works. You want to make sure you're steering wheel has no more than 2 inches of free-play... you want to make sure your directional and four way indecators are working, make sure your high beam indicator is working... make sure the horns are working... make sure that you have the reflective triangles are there and that you have a good fire extinguisher. By the time you're done checking this stuff, your air tanks should be full again. which brings us to check the brakes that we just checked the air system for.

To do this, you put the truck in gear, and let up a bit on the clutch... this checks the trailer and parking brake. Then you take off the parking brake to check the trailer brake... and then you check the pedal brake... which is really called the service brake, but its the prake you activate with the pedal... so you wanna drift the truck in low gear to 5-10 feet and then stop with it... all that works? Good. Turn off the truck, set the parking and trailer brake, take the key and inspect the outside of the truck...

Now I haven't done much of the out of cab inspection yet, but it basically involves checking the tires, the lights, reflectors, mirror mounts, hoses, belts, fluid levels, rims, valve stems, trailer door, etc. Now, for the test I will have to do all this from memory... but all companies have sheets that you fill out for the pre trip... and its all included on that list... if its not, or if the company doesn't provide a pretrip checklist, its a DOT violation... another form you have to constantly fill out is the log book... the rules are a bit confusing to me right now, I'm just not getting the examples they're giving... so I'll eventually end up finding the rules online and looking it up there.

Ok, now that we made sure that things looked on the up and up...

Ok, We Are Good to Go... So Let's Get Moving.

This guy makes it look easy... and I'm sure it is once you truly get the hang of it.

How can I start this accurately...?

Ok, lets say, for the sake of metaphor, that misconceptions are like a whore with saber-toothed-crabs... you feel anticipation, you get excited, and then... YEEEEEOUCH! Something bites you.

Except in this case, the fact that you know how to drive a car clutch means absolutely nothing when it comes to driving a truck. So now you have to unlearn driving a clutch to learn how to drive a large diesel clutch. Which really isn't that big a deal, once you stop making the truck try to break its bonds with the trailer that is behind you.

Anyone who knows how to drive a car clutch knows that you hold the clutch to put it in gear, and as you take your foot off the cluch you give it some gas and it goes... second gear, remove the gas, press the clutch, shift, release clutch and add gas. and so on and so forth to top gear. And really, there is no need to really downshif in a car, because in a car you can cheat and slow down by putting the car in neutral.

That's not how you drive a truck. Not in a long shot.

For this section, the BOLD words are things the instructor are telling me, and what follows is my thought as I hear it.

To start off with, in a truck, there are three positions for the same clutch pedal. At the top position, this is completely disengaged... pushed down an inch or two, this is shifting range... all the way down engages the clutch brake.

Wait a minute... That sort of goes against everything I know... and what is a clutch brake?

To start a truck's forward motion, you are supposed to press the cluch all the way down to disengage the gears and engage the clutch brake.

Fine, I can understand that so far... In a stop or to stop, the clutch goes all the way down. This is easy. Still... Clutch Brake?

Next, to get the truck in motion, you put the shifter with splitter down into the lowest gear needed. Since we are empty, start it in 2nd. Now, with the brake down, start to slowly release the clutch... when you feel the truck start to grab and go, release the brake and let the clutch up the rest of the way slowly... don't hit the accelorator.

I undeerstood most of that... except don't hit the accelerator... seems odd to me. (As a matter of fact, my instincts DID NOT ALLOW ME to NOT HIT THE ACCELERATOR AS I LET THE CLUTCH UP. If anyone has ever stalled out in a car, you know how embarrasing it is to do the death buck.)

Ah, you drive a clutch, don't you? I know this feels weird, but a truck trans in different. you don't hit the gas till the truck is actually out of gear. As a matter of fact, you NEVER hit the gas while that clutch is in ANY operating position other than fully released. Try it. It won't stall.

Ok, we got past this point. This is cool. Ok now what do -...

Ok, you're gonna upshift. So what you gotta do is release the gas, push the clutch down about two inches, pull the stick out of second, release the clutch, push the clutch down again only two inches, put it in third, release the clutch slowly press the gas.

I stopped the truck and looked at him like he had four heads.... I knew to press the clutch all the way down, as muscle memory told me, and pressed the brake. "Can you please repeat that? That's an awful lot of words to describe an action that is supposed to take about a second to do."

Ah, ok... you're one of those... ok, pull it off to the side here, and turn the truck off... we will practice the motions slow and build up the speed with the parking brakes set and the fuel cut off closed.

Ok, I'm not going to go through the entire exchange of him teaching me how to shift with the truck off... but its a lot of stuff to do in a very small amout of time, and I was happy to have practiced it before I actually had to do it. You pretty much have to drive it with rhythm... so its kinda like playing a drum kit, but with different motions.

lets say, the clutch is a bass pedal. the gas is a high hat, the gears on the top of the stick are a crash cymbal and the gears at the bottom of the stick is a snare.

Now lets go over the sounds of the instrument written in a form of phoenetics:

  • bass pedal/clutch = BOOM, represented by "B"
  • gas pedal/high hat = tst, represented by "H"
  • top gears/crash cymbal = tshh, represented by "C"
  • bottom position gears/snare = psht represented by "S"
  • and a rest (no note) we'll mark as an 'x'

ok, playing in 4/4 time, at about the same tempo of any country rock song you ever heard, considering that every position is a 16th note (in 4/4 time a quarter note is the beat, and a 16th note is 2x that beat) to write it out accurately as I can with a keyboard would look like this... starting the truck from a stop and shifting from second to third gear (out of 10 gears, but we'll get to 6th thru 10th gear later.)

B,C,B,H,X,X,X,X,X,X,B,S,B,H

That long spot of rests is where yo're waiting for the truck to move fast enough to switch to the next gear... anyone who knows how to read music, and can actually follow this the way its written out will understand that this is beat for the opening riff of "Mississippi Queen"... and that's sorta what you're playing for every shift, be it up or downshifting...

If you know that beat, its the basis of all southern rock on a general level, and southern rock has a direct relation to most country music in the late 70's and early 80's... which is probably one of the least known, but truest reasons why southern rock and country music is associated with trucking. At least, the origins of the stereotype were probably based on someone learning to drive the truck and someone overhearing the instruction of the teacher saying, "Keep 'On the Road Again' playin in the back of your head." Actually, now that I think about it, On the Road Again is probably the PERFECT beat to play in your head while shifting.

But all this is the fun stuff... its easy to drive forward. Turning is a little strange, but once you understand how the trailer moves its also not that big a deal... until some asshole decides he's going to stop his car in the crosswalk as you're trying to take a right turn... in that case, for the time being, I'll just wait till the guy backs up or the light changes.

Now we know how to drive forward and make turns and stop and go... so now we have noplace to go but...

Backwards... you even have to STEER backwards when you're going backwards...

Straight backing... let me be honest with you here... In a tractor trailer, there is no such thing as backing it straight up. It is a CONSTANT PROCESS of adjusting left and right through lightning reflexes... even if you're going at only 2 miles an hour.

Try this. take two pencils, and place them on a table, eraser to eraser. Take one pencil and try to push the other one the whole length of the pencil while keeping it perfectly straight as you push it.

Its pretty fuckin' hard, isn't it? You prolly couldn't do it the first time. Its the same thing with backing up a tractor trailer, except you're dealing with a couple of tons rather than a couple of ounces.

When you are backing a car, and you notice in your driver's side mirror that your back wheel is coming too close to the curb, which way do you turn the wheel? You turn it to the right, to swing the ass end away from the curb, right? Good.

In a tractor trailer, when you are drifting to the left, you have to turn the wheel to the left also... this swings the ass end of the truck to swing left, thereby breaking the trailer's ass end to the right.

I must say, I did this pretty well my first few times... so I really can't say much except that I will practice this every time I'm out, because while I do it pretty good, I can do better.

More to come...

There are a few other things I have to learn yet as far as the industry... they will be alley docking and measured right turn... when I learn these, I will be editing this hub to include those areas in this general area.

Ok, I may be out of my element, but its fun and I'm certainly not out of my league...

Ok, so its not exactly what I set out to do with my life... and I accepted the schooling before I gave it a good thought... lets face it, I need to make more money, and that was my motivation from the get go.

But as it turns out, it was a freak thing that truck Driver turned up in the same result as Bus Driver in the list I spoke about earlier... and that's because you need different licenses for each.

And its still not what I want to do with my life, but driving has always relaxed me, driving these things is fun, but its also still a challenge... maybe this is God's way of saying take a break, or saying that he needs me here... I don't know. I do believe I was put in this spot for a reason I don't understand, and rather thank fighting the man upstairs, I'll just see why he put me here rather than my stronger talents I posess...

Maybe I'll get a better shot at what I want after meeting the right people on the road... who knows.

See you guys on the road, I guess... ;)

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