Ch 9 – How Western Went South in Easton

The phone rang, and it was my recruiter – she had been calling for weeks, and I finally relented and took the call.

“Western Express would love to have you onboard,” she asserted.

“That’s great, but I have to organize a fun run in Washington, DC in mid May, and I want to be home for that a couple of weeks in advance to plan.”

“Don’t you have someone you can delegate these responsibilities to?” she asked.

“Unfortunately, no – this is my baby, and I’ve been organizing this run for the last eight years.”

“No worries,” she assured. “We’ll get you trained, tested and released for home time with plenty of time to spare”

“How much training would I need?”

“Well, looking at your DAC report (Drive-A-Check), I see that you have four months of experience with Coastal Transportation.  So we’ll just require three days of indoctrination and  a week of cargo securement flatbed training, both in Bethlehem and then a week on the road with a trainer.”

This sounded very doable. Even though I had my reservations, I didn’t see any reason to say No.

My week with my trainer was one of the most mentally agonizing experiences since I spent a month “cranking” serving as a food service attendant onboard a Knox class frigate’s mess decks.

My trainer reeked of old cheese and bacteria. He never took a shower the entire week, and he probably never brushed his teeth either – he didn’t have too many to begin with. First thing he did each morning, he combed his thick mass of hair with brylcreem, gobbled a huge wad of chewing tobacco filled his thermo flask with dark, roasted coffee and he was good to go.

Put bad hygiene aside, he was worshiped by Western like he could blind side back in his sleep.

He was a million miler and he won numerous awards for no preventable accidents, though he loved screaming at four wheelers and called every women driver the C-word.

During the seven days we spent on the road together, we were busy – teaming up and hot bunking when we needed naps.  To this day, I don’t remember what was worse – smelling his foul breath when he yelled like a phantom or sleeping next to his sheets that he hadn’t washed in months.

After our last load to Bethlehem, we celebrated by going to his favorite local dive bar.

The Funhouse is a cool spot with lots of character. As soon as I walked in, the manager Derek greeted me and asked me what I wanted to drink.

“Magic Hat,” I replied.

“And what would you like to eat – we’ve got hot dog, fries, wings?”

“Ok, wings – a dozen – deep fried and naked please for me and my trainee, Chito.”

“You got it, Naked hot wings and #9 coming right up.”

I looked around and admired all the pictures on the wall of musicians who have performed here over the years.

“Yes, Talking Heads, Start Making Sense and the Killers got their start here,” said Tommy. “They start here and then move up to the Wind Creek Event Center.”

There’s so much knick knacks and nostalgia hidden in these walls. Each headshot and clipping had its own story, and I could easily imagine a grungy tribute band playing here surrounded by students and locals jamming out on a Monday night.

I walked out to the back porch – it was a chill spot with several college-aged kids hanging out.  This is the quintessential college pub – drinks are budget-friendly and the place is tight, dark and reeks of booze & smoke.

There’s a pool table, but we can’t play because everyone has to be seated. When you open the door to the bathroom, you stare straight at the toilet. So if you need to take a dump, please lock the door. The restroom is so tight that when you open the door, you actually have to straddle the john to close the door.

That’s alright – at least you can keep an eye on the pool game while doing your thing.

Derek’s shift was over and a lady dressed like a cocktail waitress had come in.

“Hi, I’m Tammy, another #9?”

“Yes please. So are you from here?”

“Originally from Dallas, but I’ve lived here and worked here now for nine years and never want to leave.”

“Wow, what do you like about this place?”

“There’s so much history here. As the name suggests, the staff and customers love to have a good time. Even if that means acting silly sometimes. And the owners, Chris and Tina are great to work for. They’re like family to me.”

“Super, Tommy and I are celebrating our week of team driving together. He’s officially given me his blessing and now I’m ready to take over his load.”

The next day, I got in my Subaru and headed home to DC – just in time to organize another fabulous run.

The unique aspect of the EU Embassy Run was that we visited over a dozen embassies while running 13 miles.  While most people had to wait in long lines to get in, we got head of the line privilege.  And the best part we got to partake in the food, drinks and culture from each location.

The run started eight years ago on a whim. I brought a couple friends and the run has grown to a public event since.

After the run, I rushed back to Easton in my personal vehicle.  The recruiter was right – I could return home to organize my big event and back to finish up training.

The only thing left was my test drive around town and a couple of backing maneuvers in the yard.

The test went well, but my tester, John, recommended I take a 3-day backing training.

“No worries. In fact, I was looking forward to it.  Who wouldn’t welcome more training.”

On Saturday, May 26, 2017, the Lead Examiner came to pick me up along with all my luggage from the Days Inn Easton and dropped me off in the Bethlehem terminal to pickup my truck.

“I thought I have backing training,” I asked.

“Well we decided to waive this training and assign you to your truck immediately,” he replied.

Since this was a three-day Memorial Day weekend, I was instructed to stay in my truck and wait until Tuesday when my Driver Manager would contact me and issue my first load assignment.

After completing the walk through, getting a few things fixed and then signing out the truck, I drove to Nazareth to the Western Express terminal in Nazareth to park the truck.

As instructed by the Lead Examiner, I was to stay and watch my truck through the three-day weekend.

Thankfully I brought my car with me so I returned to Easton to grab some dinner.

My first stop was Antonio’s Pizzeria, just across the street from the Day’s Inn where the other Western trainees stayed.  The pizza is to die for and the beef pies are out of this world. But being a creature of habit, ordered my usual Fettucine Alfredo. And boy was I happy camper. Pat’s alfredo sauce taste like creamy, cheesy heaven. The way he cooks his pasta, al dente – chewy and firm and not overcooked. The sauce was so thick and smooth, coating the pasta perfectly.

The flavors of Southern Italy – just like the good ole days
Pat doing his magic with a moundful of cheese and tomato sauce before the pie is roasted in the hot oven
Another attraction of Antonio’s is the ability to purchase beer by the bottle to go

I returned to my truck that night and the next day drove back to Easton to go paddle boarding in the Delaware River.

I was approaching the dam, when I noticed a park ranger in his truck looking at me at the landing a few hundred yards away.  I should have ignored him and continued downriver, but stupid me, I decided to return to the shore.  As soon as I landed, the ranger returned.

“Do you realize you could have gotten killed in the falls!” he exclaimed.

Finally on Tuesday, I received a dispatch from my Driver Manager to contact him. I then informed him that my CPAP machine was ready to be picked up near DC at which point he allowed me to return home in my personal vehicle. He also instructed me to pick up an abandoned Western Express tractor in Baltimore, MD and drive it back to Bethlehem.

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After I picked up my CPAP and making preparations to drive to Baltimore to pickup the abandoned Western Express tractor, I received a call from Ms. Barnhill not to pickup the truck and to catch a Greyhound back to Eason PA ASAP.

When I arrived in Bethlehem, PA  Ms. Barnhill informed me that I would need to take a three-day Backing Class, despite the fact that I had already been assigned a truck for a whole week.

While I waited for my Backing Class, I continued to keep my possessions in my assigned truck and spent time in the truck while waiting for my trainer who was always busy with multiple assignments.

I volunteered to take a two-day backing class because I wanted to improve my backing skills.  Backing is a skill where every driver, young or old, always needs to improve and refine.  My trainer would not have released me from the week of on-the-road training if he wasn’t satisfied by my skills. And that is why I volunteered to take a one-day backing class.

A Backup Class should be exactly what the name implies — a 1-3 day class to refine backing skills.

It should not be used as a means to discriminately eliminate trainees since this is what the 3-day indoctrination, the 3-day in-house flatbed training and the 1-4 weeks of on-the-road training time with a qualified truck driver is intended to do.

“Ok, pull until your tandems is in front of the hole.  Turn your steering wheel hard right until you reach 12 0’clock.  Then hard left until your reach 9 o’clock.  Straighten up the trailer.  Then start backing.”

I satisfactorily completed all of the above including the Final Road Test with the Lead Examiner.

After I picked up my CPAP and making preparations to drive to Baltimore to pickup the abandoned Western Express tractor, I received a call from Ms. Barnhill not to pickup the truck and to catch a Greyhound to Eason PA ASAP.

On Monday Jose was so busy that he could only give me training for 1 ½ hours after I waited all day.   I waited in my truck at the Bethlehem terminal all day for Jose who was busy doing other tasks. Finally, I ran into the Safety Officer at the terminal who agreed to test me on my backing.

The first two backing maneuvers were perfect. I conducted two difficult alley dock backing maneuvers in two different locations in a very busy terminal satisfactorily, within time and with no incidents.

At which point I felt I had satisfactorily demonstrated my backing skills to the Safety Officer. He then surprised me by directing me to do a Blind-side alley dock maneuver.

I was very surprised when the Safety Officer then asked me to do a Blind Side Backing.

Blind Side backing is a maneuver that Western Express doesn’t teach. From my indoctrination to my on-the-road training, all my trainers instructed me never to attempt it since its challenging, risky and thus should be avoided. As instructed, I never once attempted the Blind-side alley dock backing maneuver.

Additionally, both the Lead Examiner as well as my Backing Class Instructor told me that they don’t test trainees on Blind Side Backing.

That’s why I was shocked when Why the Safety Officer asked me to attempt it. Perhaps he wanted me to attempt Blind-side as extra credit since I already satisfactorily completed two sight-side alley docks.

The role of the Tester is to also serve as the spotter and to prevent the trainee from hitting anything.  As the name implies with Blind-side, the driver cannot see where he’s backing into and must rely on the mirrors. Thus a spotter is always required.

That’s why I was shocked when the edge of my trailer nicked the side of the truck behind me.  It was the job of the Safety Officer as the tester and spotter to ensure this would not happen.

The Safety Officer made it appear like it was my responsibility when clearly it was his, and he had failed in his role.

Shortly after this incident, the Safety Officer informed me that I was released. I was astounded since I was asked to do a maneuver that I was not trained to do, and no one else was tested on this.

Federal law requires that everyone should be treated equally especially with testing.  I would be reporting this incident to the EEOC.

This was not the first time I was terminated by a trucking company.  Coastal Transportation fired me last year for over-speeding – going more than 72 mph (on a downhill)

I have no problem with them firing me but they wrote on my DAC report that I’m unsafe and now I’m unable to get a job (with that report) — they didn’t have to say anything because it’s a company policy — not DOT.
 
its questionable whether going over 72 is unsafe because after a downhill there’s an uphill and you need the momentum so that you don’t slow traffic behind you
 
Also not all trucks are the same. Forty percent of the trucks are the newer MACs that don’t overspeed. The rest of us have the old Internationals that do.
 
So if the company is going to fire us for Over speeds than they need to make sure that everyone gets the same type of trucks.

So as soon as I left Easton, I stopped at the state capital and filed a complaint with the EEOC.  The office was responsive and easily took my report – they would get back to me in a few months.

 

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