Just when I think I’ve made it past ‘the worse part” I realize that it’s still a rather hectic process of advancing through my training here at the Swift Academy. Things have not really let up for us. Even since that first tough week, and now that we’re the “senior” class, it’s just a different set of challenges that lie ahead. The stress, along with the fatigue, continues. Getting up each morning at 3:50 a.m. and moving from one task to another throughout the day, with just the usual 15 and 45 minute breaks, during an 11 hour stretch, is beginning to wear me a bit thin. But the goal line is now just a few days away.
There’s a favorite saying of mine regarding worry. There are two things about which I should never worry. First, I shouldn’t worry about the things I cannot change. If I can’t change them, worry is foolish and a complete waste of time. Second, I shouldn’t worry about the things I can change. If I can change them, then taking action will accomplish far more than wasting my energies in worry. So, give worry its rightful place and keep it out of your life.
So that’s where I’m at on this early Sunday morning as I contemplate the final three days of training that lie ahead. I have some concern and a little stress over the tasks I’ll need to accomplish to move on to the next phase that begins a week from tomorrow, for newly hired Swift drivers, called “Orientation.” But to get there I have to prove my knowledge of these trucks and trailers I’ll have the privilege of driving. First I’ll need to demonstrate a “Pre-Trip Inspection.” Then it’s on to showing my proficiency at the “skills” of handling a rig by “straight backing” it along a 100 foot 12 foot wide path. In addition there’s the task of “alley docking.” Finally it’ll be on to my over the road driving test. All of these exercises I’ve explained in some detail in my previous post. “D Day” comes on Wednesday. Do I “worry?” Yep, you bet I do … at least just a little.
After some delay, due to changes in testing for those of us from Washington state, we finally got behind the wheel and on the road a good day and a half later than normal on Friday. I spent three sessions totalling 2 1/2 hours on this first day under the watchful eye of our third and newest instructor. His saucy and irreverent reputation preceded him as I heard other Swift drivers speak of him while still in Yakima.
After our early morning pre-trip inspection of tractor #90480, and it’s 48 foot trailer, from within the cab, our instructor gave our little group of three a ten minute “pep talk’ about his expectations. He quickly made it known he was going to be one onerous taskmaster verbally whipping us into shape. He explained he’s not one of these “positive reinforcers.” The kind that no matter your performance he would stroke our ego, patting us on the head, and tell us how great we had done. Rather, he would accept no excuses and be blunt and to the point. After all, this is a very dangerous business we’re in, and in fact it’s among the most dangerous occupations one can have. Our several days ahead were limited, there was a lot to learn, and our work would be arduous to say the least.
Well, as it turns out, that’s exactly how he was! He constantly bombards us with ego-deflating one-liners in his instruction and criticism as we move from one task to the next. “Straighten that wheel.” “Get off those brakes.” “Were you planning on shifting into the next gear or what?” His haranguing and denunciations are without end and are well rehearsed sarcasm for every situation, thanks to his years of practice at humiliating and degrading wannabe drivers.
After watching, as well as being the target of this practice for at least one round, and about half way through the day, I leaned over to have a private word with another classmate. While we sat behind in the sleeper watching our fellow comrade being flogged into submission, I whispered about our teacher, “You know his bark is a lot louder than his bite.” My classmate nodded in agreement. As it turns out our leader’s pontificating, while certainly negative, belittling and can be demoralizing, is really given in a humorous fashion. He’s not mean, nasty or malicious. It’s simply his way of getting his point across and a method in which, if taken in the right spirit, can actually be a fun experience for all of us.
To some, who haven’t been through this kind of training, they may not appreciate it. But I’ve learned from past similar schooling experiences, in both the military and without, that instructors like to bombard you in this way as a means of testing your mettle and your ability to handle stress. It’s a technique that can quickly test one’s determination, fortitude and commitment in meeting the goal ahead. To use a cliche, it “separates the men from the boys.” As our instructor pointed out, we have to earn our advancement, it will not be handed to us. But once we’ve gotten through those tests ahead, we’ll be able to hold our heads high in knowing, we’ve truly earned our licenses and the right to move on.
It only makes sense that if you can’t handle the good-natured tirade of one, who really is looking after your best interest, how will you ever be able to handle the stresses of driving what can weigh more than one-hundred thousand pounds? After all we’ll be negotiating through and around traffic, and the motoring public, who look upon these big rigs and their drivers with as much disdain as they do dog kickers and child molesters. By the end of the day it was clear that our time together would be, while certainly not without it’s stress, a good experience and one that will ultimately end too soon.
I’m so grateful, as I’ve written before, I have the experience of driving long articulated transit buses. The streets and freeways of Seattle are certainly a good proving ground. I got to experience those challenges and hone my skills on a daily basis for thirteen years. Without it, I’m frankly not sure I could have handled this transition. I can certainly empathize with my fellow classmates. With it, I’m confident in my ability to handle the tests ahead, so long as I can get my gear shifting technique under control! Shifting a non-synchronized transmission is far different than any experience I’ve had handling those 26 foot U-Haul “Super Movers” I’ve driven on occasion. It was something I didn’t expect.
They say that “the reward is in the journey.” But in this case, and I think my fellow students will agree, the real reward will come not the day we finally receive our Class “A” Commercial Driver’s License, nor will it come the day we finish our six weeks on the road with a “Mentor Trainer.” Instead it will be the day we first open the door and peer into our newly assigned Volvo or Freightliner tractor that will be our home, our workplace and tool, as well as our constant companion as we crisscross the country. Does that mean the journey is over? Not in my wildest imagination. It’s only the very beginning of yet many more journeys to follow.
So that’s my lot in life … I’ll try not to worry. Thanks for hanging in there with this latest post.