Destiny Childs was breaking the mold. She was only 12 when her father left to grab some smokes at Mondawmin Mall and never came back. Maybe he never abandoned his wife and kids after all. Maybe he got robbed at gunpoint, shot when he tried to fight back, and his body disposed in the inner harbor, a dumping ground for criminals, the forgotten and the insane.
The family struggled to pay rent and moved from one low-income housing to another. Her brother was arrested for looting a CVS store after the death of Freddie Gray. Last year, she moved in with her fiance, and the future was looking bright until he got locked up for drug trafficking.
Last year, Destiny broke the glass ceiling and became a certified truck driver, but then a terrible wreck set her back. The DOT piss test found traces of marijuana in her system as well as meth and alcohol – that was the end of her driving days.
Thankfully, she was ok and there were no criminal charges. Now Destiny had enrolled in the Diesel Tech program at the North American Trade Schools fighting for a second chance.
And she came with the right attitude. Hard working, determined, attentive But after the first few months, she started to go downhill. She would be absent from school, wouldn’t do her homework and would bomb tests, hoping to prove her worth in the shop. But probably her worst trait was her inclination to boss fellow students around like we were her inferiors.
“Ok let’s do a clutch adjustment,” said Mr. Hyde. The first thing we do is check the free play. Stepping on the clutch pedal – we should aim for about 2 inches of freeplay – the distance the clutch moves before it starts to engage.
This wasn’t no tire change. Replacing a clutch and even repairing one required a lot of skill and finesse. There was no brawn here unless you’re lifting a clutch onto the transmission.
“Ok, Chito go under the truck and put the feeler gauge in between the release bearing and clutch brake. Biggie go up to the cab and step on the clutch all the way down. Then Chito tell us if the gauge clamps. If it doesn’t Richard, adjust the linkage.”
“And whatever you do, don’t turn the ignition – we don’t want anyone losing fingers today.”
And diesel tech has its fair share of hazards. In the back, a small class was learning TIG welding with gas and fumes saturating the air. In the front a forklift was moving a transmission around.
This is the reason why Mr. Pontzer taught us 10 hours of OSHA so we would be familiar with all the inherent hazards in the shop and get our certifications to show our next employer.
Last month Jude was hoisting the fifth wheel off a Volvo when the load got loose swung around and hit him on the forehead. Needless to save, the instructor gave him the day off, but he was back, a full up round the next day. To this day, the deep gash on Jude’s forehead is a good reminder of Jude taking a bullet for the rest of us.
And in the name of safety, Destiny loved to boss the two of us around like she knew more than we did. We were all equals and we all should assist and help rather than instruct and demand. And it got into her head.
“Listen, I’ve been in the military. I know what it feels to be bossed around, and it’s usually by a superior officer who knows what he’s talking about.”
“Well get used to it. Think this is bad now. Wait till we hire more women.”
“Stop making fun of our curls. Can’t help that it’s all messy – that’s the way it is when I wake up in the mornings.”
“Well you rock so many different styles,” Richard added. “Sometimes we just don’t what to expect.”
“Which would it be tomorrow? Braids, weaves or wigs?” I asked
“Well working under the truck, my hair gets dirty. So I have to change my hairstyles every so often. It’s easier to change it than to wash it.”
“How long can you go without washing your hair?” Richard asked.
“Two weeks,” Destiny replied. “Unless, I’m working on the clutch, then it’s a week.”
There was no free play which is the distance of the clutch pedal moves before it engages.
We each took turns under the truck adjusting the clutch brake.
Diesel Tech wasn’t all hands-on. We were all assigned a topic to give a 30-minute presentation to the entire class.
As luck would have it, I was assigned to present on Emissions.
The EPA had claimed that “over the life of every 10,000 trucks without modern emissions systems, up to 1,600 Americans would die prematurely, and thousands more would suffer a variety of ailments including bronchitis and heart attacks, particularly in cities with air pollution associated with diesel-powered trains, ships and power plants.”
The trucking industry has long argued that the emissions burdens placed on them by the EPA are a major financial hardship.
The International trucks with the badly designed Maxxforce engines are notorious for putting out too much Nitrous Oxide.
All other truck manufacturers created an SCR (Selected Catalytic Reducer) to remove the soot. DEF was added into the SCR.
The engineers created an advanced EGR which sends emissions back into the engine. The emissions reduces the amount of Nitrous Oxide that goes through the tail pipe.
But in return the fuel efficiency goes waaay down. This doesn’t always work properly. The EGR tends to fail and leaks coolant into the engine.
Then the DPF gets clogged with soot to the point that the truck is no longer operable, and you have to do a forced regen.
This can be a huge pain the ass. And eventually it happens so frequently that you have to get your DPF and DOC cleaned – a process called baking.
Jada was a friend who ran a custom T-Shirt printing kiosk in the Mall. She had never been to DC, so I took her down for the weekend. She also got to see the truck, and loved the interior trim.
I parked the truck at Security Square Mall and lived in it while attending school. It was a great treat and very convenient. I needed to practice my shifting and would drive around the mall several times a week, taking other students with me to practice.
Didn’t have to commute and it was way better than sleeping in the hot car.
On warm days, I would hike down to the Patapsco Vally State Park and go for a swim. Sometimes, I would invite adventure seekers from the construction class, like Cam who is in the National Guard. It’s a bit hidden, and you never expect to see a beautiful oasis down here. There’s nothing more refreshing than jumping into a natural swimming hole with fresh, spring water.