Taking the CDL test at the Front Royal DMV was like climbing the steep Donner Pass with an oversized load and a broken axle. On one blustery, cold April morning, ten panic-stricken students showed up to take the dreaded drivers 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 DMV was run by a spiteful authoritarian named Dorothy who gave me the shivers so bad, the whole truck shaked even when the engine wasn’t running.
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 sullen and dejected, crouched down licking his wounds.
“What the hell is going on with this deranged DMV office in this podunk town?”
“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 like a truck in the wind.”
“Can’t believe you said that – we spend a lot of time in the yard twiddling our thumbs and taking smack with each other. At least I’m doing something positive for my mind and body.”
“Well you should own up to your mistakes. You need to 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 Lord Fairfax. In fact the squabble picked up a notch to the point that we attracted a small audience from the community college.
It got so bad the campus police had to intervene.
“That’s it – you’re no longer welcomed on campus,” Sedrick demanded.
“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 you don’t need to visit the schoolhouse ever again.”
Martha and I visited the Pavemint Smokin’ Taphouse 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 historic old 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. 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 (just south of Richmond) gives away CDLs like they were lottery tickets.”
“Will CDS let you take the test down there?” Martha inquired.
“Heck no. The school’s too damn cheap. But I have a idea.”
The following 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 Wings, 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 it’s 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 Hope.
The process drew out so long, that I went to court three times with Hope. The first time she asked for a continuance. The second time she claimed we improperly served her (We 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 erupted in a burst of laughter. Even I had difficulty maintaining my composure.
Whatever was in her mind for airing dirty laundry in court worked – the judge clearly didn’t want to mess this case, so he pushed it back to the next magistrate who would be assigned the dreaded “LT” duties.
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 Hope at the door, and she threw a huge tissy.”
“Hurray, after all this wrangling, we finally got her out.”
“How ’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. Hope, 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, and the drive tires ran over a cone, and I could feel its impact in every part of my body.
“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 a 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.
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.
Thankfully I made it through and after three tries achieved the seemingly insurmountable goal – I was now a certified truck driver.
Sherry, Rocky and Sedrick couldn’t be more happier.
“Where are we celebrating?” asked Martha.
“Italian Touch,” I responded. “Their pitchers of bud are priced just right, and we’re gonna guzzle it down like it’s Kool Aid.
“Why not Pavemint,” she asked. “The microbrews there is the bomb.”
“Well, the Touch is just down the road from the schoolhouse, and their wings are the best in the Shenandoah.”