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3 days of hell

So on a frigid Sunday morning I began my trek from Cleveland, Ohio to Indianapolis, Indiana.The entrance ramp to I-77 South was treacherous and roads were no better with top speed was maybe 40 mph.

I-271 South was worse as only one lane had been used since that last round of severe Winter weather came through and again top speed for all was about 40 mph. I finally reached I-71 South and at least 3 of the 4 lanes were open. The "Hammer lane" or passing lane as non-truckers call it was just a sheet of ice and was avoided by all. I still encountered those moving slower that 40 mph and we were forced to pass them and t hat was dangerous.

There was a ridge of ice and snow between the lanes built up by the earlier traffic that had to be breached. It was very wide and other narrow and I found the narrowest one and took my foot off the accelerator and moved over the hump and prayed my tires found dry pavement. Then I slowly hit the accelerator again. Around Ashland, Ohio all lanes were clear and I was able to do 50 mph.

I reached the I-270 Columbus by-pass and once again encountered terrible road conditions and was back to 40-45 mph.

I finally reached I-70 West and all lanes were clear and was able to do the speed limit. About 8 hrs later I arrived at the Extended Stay America where the major carrier put the attending students up. I discovered that the front doors were locked at 11:00 PM and only your room card would grant you access. Not a problem except that the card reader by the front door was not working. The front desk staff was aware of it and working on it.

I also discovered that the front desk closed down at midnight. Now there is someone on duty all night but they are doing laundry in the industrial sized machine visible from the front desk.

The rooms were clean and comfortable but there is no maid service. If you run out of towels you take them to the front desk and are issued more. Trash cans full? You take them to a room off the lobby and drop the full bags are issued more.

The kitchenette and fridge were clean and the coffee maker despite being held together with clear packing tape worked. Its a non-smoking hotel so I waited until the nicotine withdrawal was at its worse before I ventured into the arctic air always bringing a piece of cardboard to wedge between the door lock so I was not locked out. Fortunately all the card readers on the side door worked, but I didn't trust them as the temp was dropping.

Monday morning and I am anxious to get my new career started. So I awoke early and after a shower and breakfast I grabbed all my paperwork and caught the shuttle.

Now the shuttle is a standard passenger sized van used by the hotel to transport guests to their destinations and students of the trucking center. It departs three times in the Morning for the training center and as the start up time is staggered its not to full. I arrive and attempt to register and am politely informed that I am a day early. They summoned the shuttle and I returned to the hotel where I spent the day watching TV.

The room mate arrived around 9:00 PM on Monday night. He was a heavyset guy that I though was older than I was by his looks, it turned out he was a few years younger. He chatted for a bit and he seemed personable and had a good sense of humor. So when he made the comment of, "I hope my snoring doesn't disturb you." I thought he was joking. It was around 10:00 pm when I turned the TV off and fell asleep.

According to electric clock on the nightstand I had only been asleep for two hours when I was wakened buy the LOUDEST snoring I had ever heard. To wake me who sleeps like a log, it had to be loud, and it got LOUDER. I attempted to block the noise with my head sandwiched between two pillows. No good as the loud raspy sound cut through them. So I dug out my portable DVD player and ear buds and inserted a movie hoping the dialog and music would drowned out the sound, it did but just barley and I was still up until 4:30 am.

Day One: I showered and made coffee and fully dressed by the time the alarm rang at 5:00 AM for my roomie. We caught the 6:00 am shuttle to the training center and were directed into a classroom. Today was paperwork and the medical screening. EVERY ONE of the instructors we met were professional and there were no crude remarks against the company. All of them after introducing themselves were proud to tell us how many years they had been there. Many of them sported the 1 and 2 million accident free mile emblems.

We were told that the fuel reimbursement for traveling in your personal vehicle would not be accepted until week three, that was never made clear until today. If you elect to ride the "Grey-dog" be warned as they are not too careful with your luggage.

The only student in our class that opted to go that route had his luggage loaded onto the wrong bus when he transferred coaches and all his personal belongings including his heavy jacket were on there way to Columbus. He got in around 2:00 am and had just fallen asleep when it was time to leave, I could sympathize on his lack of sleep.

One by one we were called into the medical room to perform the required tests. The examiner explained each one to us and informed us that the rest periods between each set was short and our pulse rate would be measured and recorded. They were simple tests.

Stepping up and down on a step in accordance to an electronic metronome for about one minute.

Squatting 10 times.

Lifting 30 lbs over your head.

Lifting and Carrying 30 and then 40 lbs half the length of the room.

They measure your pulling and pushing strength.

They tested to see if you could use the rear bumper to enter a trailer.

They checked if you could squat under it and exit with no problems.

Then a lift from waist high to shoulder high 30 and 40 pounds.

Despite being a little overweight and a smoker my pulse didn't go above 110 bpm.

We returned to the classroom for more paperwork and issued large workbooks that had to be carried to class everyday. We were told of the mandatory purchase of a kingpin lock, something else not discussed during the application process. They also offered work boots at a substantial discount, the cost of both of these items would be deducted from your first paycheck.

We were then issued our temp ID cards that helped us with the free lunch. Now there was a limit of amount it was good for per meal. If you elected to eat breakfast and lunch there you usually wound up paying something for lunch The one day I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, heaping portion of tater tots and a large coffee I think I paid 14 cents.

After lunch we were called in one by one and spoke to the reps on the phone from the prospective company we would pull for. The instructor that called me in placed the call and told the rep and told him, "This student showed up a day early so he really wants to work." Reflective vests and shoe spikes were given out and we met out prospective road trainers. Mine was a very attractive blond female and we chatted before it was time the catch the shuttle to go home.

Now it seems that despite the staggered start times everyone is released at the same time. We bared the face numbing frigid air for the right to call the much coveted shotgun position and spare ourselves from being wedged against the van's interior or sandwiched between other students.

The student who was separated from his luggage was contacted by the Greyhound station informing him his luggage and finally arrived and the company wasted no time and transported him to pick it up.

I soon learned that the week you are on the road with a trainer all your stuff has to be cleaned out of your room and they will reserve a new room for you. Back at the hotel I asked at the front desk about keeping this room or if there was a storage area for the foodstuffs I had brought with me. This trip was on a tight budget and I brought enough food for three weeks so I didn't have any unnecessary spending.

My concern was that I had discovered that a wayward and unseen 12 pack of Coke had exploded a few of it cans in the rear of my SUV after only one day in the severe Winter temperatures and I could not imagine what would happen to all the canned goods I had. They had no storage area of any kind and I was told if a speak nicely to the manager he might let me keep the room I am in.

Back in the room my roomie ordered a large pizza and while waiting he informed me that he passed the tests only by a hair, it seems his pulse jumped to 152. His pizza arrived and he wolfed down half of it while we read the required homework assignment. I fell asleep at 10 pm and was awakened again at around Midnight by the LOUD and RAUCOUS snoring.

I mean it was louder than any alarm clock I had ever owned. More than once I purposely bumped his bed on my way to the bathroom hoping it would interrupt the noise, it did for about 5 minutes. I gave up and once again resorted to my DVD player in an attempt to get some sleep. It didn't work cause his snoring came through loud and clear. Now I had roomed with a buddy when we traveled the country performing children's shows and yes he snored, but it was faint and never interrupted my sleeping.

Day Two: I was up showered and dressed before my roomie was. Clad in multiple layers of clothing to protect ourselves from the elements we caught the shuttle and met up with our trainers. Now I understood the reason for the spiked footwear, the yard was a sheet of ice.

There was only one other student assigned to the truck with me while others had 3 or 4, mystery never fully explained. We were shown their way of coupling and uncoupling all morning. We did a few turns around the yard and our instructor explained the bump shifting. 2nd to 4th to 6th. The other student was giving the task of driving on the road before we returned for lunch at 11:30 am.

Now my sleep deprivation was starting to catch up to me and I nodded in the classroom where we were also informed of the on-line instruction that MUST be completed before being allowed to graduate. another undisclosed piece of information.We were told to come in on Sunday and invited to use the laundry and shower facilities between the instructions.

I was finally given my time behind the wheel and what a joy it was to drive a new truck instead the old POS's at the trucking school. At 6:00 pm we were released for the day and I returned to the hotel wedged between to student large than I am. There was only one tense moment while en route. It occurred when a student decided to use his cell phone on a van packed with people all talking about their day. He yelled "Shut up I am trying to talk," the responses he got were not nice and he ended his call.

Back in the room I showered to warm up and after a quick dinner I fell asleep around 8:30 pm. 2 hours later it was a repeat of the previous 2 nights. I had been asleep for about 2 hours before the loud guttural sounds issuing from my roomies throat woke me. This time the DVD player was no help because even with the volume on the loudest settings I heard him loud and clear. Now there was a new problem. Based on the order coming from his bare feet it had been awhile since they had seen the inside of a shower stall.

I went to the front desk and asked for a private room and was willing to pay for it as I was desperate for sleep, they had none. I was given a few places to call and they were either full up or out of my price range. Having only six hrs of sleep in three days and it was beginning to take its toll and I began to hallucinate and the adrenaline kicked in as I readied myself for the long ride home.

I called my wife to tell her I was headed home and she talked me out of it until morning and I had spoken to the trucking company. So I sat in a lobby and read for awhile. Lobby, now that's joke. Two chairs, a table and a lamp. I finally experienced an adrenaline dump returned to my room at 4 :45 am and stretched out on the bed had just closed my eyes when my roomie woke me telling me it was 5:00 am. Wow, 15 minutes of sleep.

I told him to go without me. I then placed a call to the student adviser and told him my problems. Single or private rooms could not be guaranteed I was told. I told him I was out of here, he invited me to return whenever I wished as they instructors were pleased with my progress thus far. Now I was running on pure adrenaline and was packed and headed back to Ohio in less than ten minutes.

Clear roads and the CB chatter kept me alert and in five hours I was home. I showered and ate and fell asleep for 12 straight hours.

Am I honked off? Dammed right I am. I wanted to learn and I wanted to drive for this company as their attention to the safety of the drivers and motoring public was impressive. So what will I do? I will take whatever job I can find and save my money to pay for a room for eighteen days there.

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