Over The Road: Part II

Read Part I of “Over The Road” HERE First

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink of the Diner

When we last left the Road, I had just graduated the Schneider National Training Institute for LOSERS.  After driving my  7 year old Trusty Toyota Tercel 4WD mini-SUV/Wagon back to Springfield and finally passing my Blood Pressure exam, I am given a date about a week away to show up at the Schneider Terminal in West Memphis to continue my Training for a Month with an Experienced Training Driver.

So, after cleaning up my affairs around Springfield, I borrow still MORE Money from my Retired Mom to hopefully last me for the first month on the Road until the first Paychecks can be cashed.  During this Training Period, you weren’t Paid by the Mile, you got a fixed $250/week salary.  Regardless how many hours you drove the truck for this time, this is what you were paid.   Your Training Driver got the Mileage pay for what you drove.  Needless to say, this works out to LOWER than the Minimum Wage,  but somehow this is Justified in the Trucking Industry.

In fact, if you consider the fact the OTR Company Driver is expected to ALWAYS be available 24/7 near the Qualcomm in his Truck as long as he still has Legal Hours left to drive,  he is ALWAYS  “On Duty” and because of that you really are paid below minimum wage all the time.  You ONLY get paid for the hours you actually DRIVE.  You are also expected to NOT LOG  hours and hours you spend waiting to get unloaded  or even in some cases actually Unloading the truck YOURSELF.  You CAN log this time, but if you do so you are frowned upon by your Dispatcher and he returns this by handing you really lousy loads until you Learn Your Lesson.

I am getting ahead of myself here though. Upon arrival in West Memphis, I was not aware of any of these issues, I was just happy to have a JOB.  All I had with me at the time was one bag with some clothes in it, I had no clue on all the stuff you should Carry With You to make your life as an OTR Big Rig Driver somewhat tolerable.  Would have been nice if somewhere in that 2 week Training Course in Green Bay if somebody had discussed this with the New Recruits. By the end of Big Rig Years, I had a Package of 5 Bags and Containers that included all the coolest supplies and equipment necessary to live the Mobile Life.  I’ll list those out eventually also.

So, I do get Matched Up with my Training Driver for the One Month period, except there is a small PROBLEM. They were short of Training Drivers at the West Memphis Terminal, because despite the fact it is pretty lucrative for the TD to do this, it is pretty STRESSFUL to be in the Passenger Seat of Newby Driver. Also, long time Drivers with the Hours required to BE a TD tend to be Loners not comfortable with spending extended time with what amounts to Random Strangers assigned to them.

As a result, instead of being  matched up One-to-One with my TD, TWO of us are assigned to ride with him for the month. This in the Equipment Schneider was mostly running at the time, Intenational Harvester Flattops.  These as opposed to the more common “Condos” you see nowadays pulling the Trailers on the Interstate. Below is a comparison photograph of the two types of  tractors.  Everybody went to Condos in the 90s,but Schneider wa sstill running the Flattops for training at that time,and also for most of the Newby Drivers first rigs also.  As you can see,the Fairing onthe top of the Flattop gives no additional living space. The Condo Model  (In this case a Kenworth T2000) uses that space to allow Stand Up Room inside the Cabin.

In an IH Flattop, you can’t Stand Up to stretch ever,  and there is only one Passenger Seat which the TD always occupies if he is not in the Driver’s Seat. Soifyou are 3-up in such a rig, the other Newby not currently behind the wheel has to spend HOURS in the tiny Bunk compartment.  You can try to Sleep or Read, but it is near impossible to do either. There is no ergonomically comfortable way to spend hours in a Box like that. Think of it like being in one of those Tiger Cages the Vietnamese put POWs in for Punishment, except not for just a few days, but a whole MONTH.  Supposedly.

What occurred in actuality in my case was that this whole situation was so intolerable for all 3 of us that after 1 Week, our TD said “I think you guys are READY” and signed us both off as being  sufficiently Trained to go out as a Team of Newby Drivers. I was fortunate here in that the guy I was training with and I got along pretty well during that week.  He was a Black Guy from the Bed-Stuy area of Brooklyn named Lincoln, and we had lots of NY Shity stories to share with each other. So I was pretty OK with the idea of spending a few months with him Team Driving.

The idea behind putting two Newby Drivers together as a Team was that they could Help each other along the way. The Passenger doing the Navigating by the Map while the other drove;  one of the Team getting out of the Truck to serve as Spotter in Backing into docks which makes it much easier, at least if the Spotter knows how to give the right directions it does anyhow.  Not true of most Newby Drivers of course, but over the years I ran into a couple of really GOOD spotters. You did’t have to do anything but watch him in your mirror circling his arm left or right (and he would reverse it for you so when looking in the mirror it was correct for you), and all you needed to do was follow his arm motions and spin the wheel along with his arm while you were backing, and POOF a perfect docking on the First Try!

The very BEST of these Spotters was a man whose name I will never know, but who really probably saved my LIFE as an OTR Trucker.  I ran into him at a Railyard in Chicago after about my 3rd month on the road.  He was a Rastafarian Jamaican, complete with the heavy Bob Marley accent and the Dreadlocks.  More about that encounter later though, I am jumping the Gun again.

After being Certified as competent by my TD, I was all ready to go out on the Open Road with my new Bed-Stuy buddy.  EXCEPT there was another PROBLEM.  The idea of  partnering up complete STRANGERS,  both of whom were often long time LOSERS was not working out too well for Schneider.  They were getting into fights with each other, blaming each other for ACCIDENTS, stealing from each other, the WORKS.  It likely was an administrative and legal NIGHTMARE for Schneider for as long as they pursued this idea.

So they STOPPED pursuing this program, in fact right before we were supposed to head out together on the Eisenhower Interstate to begin making a living as Truckers in the Age of Oil.

Result of that?  After a 2 week stint at the Schneider National Training facility in Green Bay, WI and 1 week with an Experience TD where I only got 1/2 the time behind the wheel you normally would get because I was sharing the training time with my Bed-Stuy buddy, both of us were assigned our OWN TRACTORS AS FIRST SEAT SOLO OTR TRUCKERS!

Folks, the normal amount of time and money involved in getting your Class A CDL from a typical Commercial Driving School is around 6 Months, and at that time around $5000 I did not have.  In 3 Weeks, at no cost to myself except the 1 year of Indentured Servitude for Schneider I put in afterward at $0.23 Cents/Mile,  I was First Seat Solo in charge of my own Big Rig out on the Open Road of the Eisenhower Interstate.  I was TERRIFIED.

So also terrified was my friend Lincoln from Bed-Stuy, and he did not make it. His was the Final Washout.   3 weeks out onto the Road, he bought his own Ticket to the Great Beyond in a multiple collision with two other Big Rigs and several 4-wheelers.  I guess I was lucky I was not riding in his passenger seat when that occurred.  Or perhaps it was not LUCK?

Perhaps it was the Finger of  God? I was Saved a couple of other times before that one when I most surely SHOULD have been dead. Other stories from other parts of my life, perhaps a Tale in the Future, not part of this one though.. The statistical chances it happenned the way it did to me over all of them seem small.  I don’t know the answer to this, in this life I won’t get it either. I don’t suppose I will know the answer to that question until I buy my own Ticket to the Great Beyond.

How I SURVIVED those early days  is the next part of the Over the Road story.


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