Ch -1 Trucking School in the Foothills

The phone rang out of the blue. Normally it’s a robocall or some scammer who wants to buy my house.

“Hello this is Sedrick from Commercial Driving School. Is Chito there?”

A long pause, then I remembered I was checking out their website a few days ago – I must have inadvertently made an inquiry.

“How would you like to get your CDL?” Sedrick, the recruiter, asked.

“Not a bad idea, but I don’t think I can commit to attending class full time right now,” I quickly explained.

“Totally understand. That’s why we have part time training on weekends 8am-5pm for 10 weeks,” the man suggested.

Next thing I know, I find myself visiting the school in Middletown, VA, a short distance from Winchester. Middletown sits in the mouth of the Shenandoah Vally which stretches 200 miles between two mountain ranges – The Blue Ridge Mountains to the East and The Allegheny Mountains to the west.

“So why do you wanna become a trucker?” Sedrick asked as he gripped my hand firmly letting out a burst of stifled laughter.

“Don’t know if I can answer that question yet – don’t even know if life on the road is for me.”

“Well, I know you live in the District. So do you wanna go over the road for weeks on end or do you wanna run local and get lots of home time.”

“Yeah, that’s the million dollar question Sedrick. Opportunities to make money in trucking is very limited in DC. Heck, they don’t even want you to drive anything larger than a box truck within the city proper. And since I served 20 years as a Navy squid, I’m sure I could handle been gone for weeks on the road.”

The school was located on the campus of Lord Fairfax Community College. There would be 8 days of classroom training spread out over the first month then 100 hours of training in the driving range and on the road. The range was located 15 miles away in Front Royal, VA which was inconvenient since some days started with class in the mornings and range in the afternoons. Also there were opportunities to drive to the school house to meet with recruiters.

The advantage of having the classroom in a college environment was the use of the recreation center and fitness center which was brand new and well equipped. I signed up for the class begrudgingly.

On the weekends, I would be leaving my confines of Washington, DC and spend 48 hours in a little mountain town nestled in between the Shenandoah National Park, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had never considered getting behind the wheel of an 18 wheeler. Don’t even like the game The American Trucking Simulator.

Truckers were foul mouthed and dirty and the work was tiring and grueling. I had an MBA and I was supposed to be dressed in a suit and tie not draped in a tarp and bungee cords. I was supposed to sit behind a desk with an 18-inch screen, not an 18-inch steering wheel. But hosting events and happy hours for RUNINOut was wearing me out and there was no money in it. And trucking provided the allure of miles upon miles of driving bliss and easy money.

When we met our instructor, stereotypes of an overweight trucker in jeans and cowboy boots went out the window. Jimmy was every bit 5 foot 8, lean and scrawny. He sported a goatee so thick that I could easily lose drop my keys in it, and never find them for weeks. He had no mustache and neither did he have any hair. His bald dome was so shiny, I had to don polarized glasses to eliminate any glare.

“My name is Jimmy – I’ve been trucking since it was sexy to be a trucker, when you were just a twinkle in your father’s eye.

“Convoy, Smokey and the Bandit – I’m not too young to remember when the urban cowboy was idolized and when trucking was trendy,” I snidely replied.

“Dry vans, reefers, flat beds, owner operator – you name it, I’ve done it.”

Wow – impressive – even flat bed, I thought to myself.

“Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I’m too small to chain down a load and manhandle a damn tarp – and yes it kicked my ass!”

A collective laugh in affirmation.

“That’s good that you guys have a sense of humor. One word of advice – you’re gonna hear a lot of crap from me so don’t take anything personally.”

“We gotta mind our language here, we have a female in our class,” Sedrick added.

“I know why you guys wanna get into trucking,” Jimmy said to our class of seven guys and one gal.”

We all looked bewildered – was he going to mesmerize us with the fun, adventuresome life on the road, rolling in the dough?

“It’s to get out of the house – escape your spouse who’s tired of seeing your ass day in and day out. And for you Chito, get out of that damn Beltway that’s gotta’s drive any driver batty.”

“Oh my goodness, if you only know my tenants,” I added.

“It’s to escape my kids,” said Martha sarcastically.”Yeah, I’ve got three myself,” said Tommy.

“How many do you have?””Eight and one on the way,” she answered proudly.

Martha getting ready to enter the cab of a truck. We all looked astounded. How would she do her pre-trip if she had to worry ’bout her prenatal? This would promise to be an exciting and eventful truck driving school class, if we made it out in one piece.

“Ok, today we’re going over the nuts and bolts of a class 8 heavy duty truck,”  Sherry, the lead instructor announced.

Sherry is a Mom and Grandmother and has been driving for 25 years.  Although her services were cherished at home, Sherry knew that life on the road was her calling.  There were days that were monotonous and she wished she could be home to take care of her family, but deep down inside, she nurtured a sense of purpose.

She loved been dispatched to pick up household items.  Places like Walmart, Amazon, Giant – to pick up non-perishables that she recognized.

When she sees something at the store that she had previously delivered, she develops a great sense of satisfaction that she’s making a noticeable difference in society

Sherry enjoys working under the hood and getting dirty, but she also likes to chill and put on female clothes every once in a while.  It’s ok to put on leggings, a pair of flip flops and to get her nails done.

“Are we gonna learn to be mechanics?” asked Todd snidely.

“No, not literally – we’re going talk about and touch all the working elements of a tractor trailer,” JR added.

JR was an assistant instructor and spent most of his time on the range while Jimmy stayed mostly in the school house.

“During your CDL test, you’ll be required to point out every nook and cranny on the truck, not just under the hood, but also throughout the entire length of the tractor trailer,” Sherry stated. “You have to talk fast and roll out buzz words, and it could still take up to an hour to go through the entire spiel.”

Sherry stood in front of the truck and spoke with both arms raised

“The first thing you do is to stand in front of the truck. Look for LIGHTS, LEANS and LEAKS. Verify that the LIGHTS on the front of the truck are the proper color, securely mounted, not cracked or broken, and clean. Next, make sure the truck isn’t leaning to one side, which could indicate a suspension problem or low tire pressure. Finally ensure there are no LEAKS underneath the engine compartment.”

We all listened attentively – rolling our eyes and scratching our heads. When can we start driving? It’s gonna be a long weekend – there certainly was a ton of crap to learn. And I didn’t expect to get under the hood.

The next weekend, Sherry went over the Air Brakes test.

Another way to think of the relationship between the governor and the compressor is that the governor is the bossy wife and the compressor is the lazy husband. When the system reaches minimum pressure the wife tells the husband to go to work and put air in the system. When the system attains maximum pressure, the bossy wife (governor) tells the husband (compressor) that he can go in the living room, sit on the couch, watch sports, drink beer, and fart.