Friday, March 22, 2013

I've got a nimrod.

Hey kids,

Man, this tiny font is driving me nuts.  Blogger won't let me change it, possibly because of my bone-crackingly slow Internet speed or whatever.  Will try to fix that soon. 

ANYWAY, I'm here to report that things have gotten better with the trucking. More than one of you expressed concern after my last post, which was all whiny and emo and grouchy. Sorry. I may have been ovulating.

" to cope in a declining civilization." Ha! Love it.

Anyway, I didn't really edit that last post. I just let the raw emotion flow and that's what came out. I don't normally write that way, but I've caught myself doing it a few other times recently, and maybe it's because I've been out of academia for almost a year now. One of the biggest things I learned in college was to be extremely careful and specific about what I said, to hyper-edit everything I wrote, and to cut my superlative habit and replace qualifiers with quantifiers and to temper nouns and verbs with words "some," "many," "often," and so on (more on why here). Of course I learned a lot of other really cool things in college too, but that was the one constant that applied to all my classes throughout my four years of undergrad and one year of graduate studies. But now that I'm no longer consistently around people who speak in academic or scientific language, I hear myself just saying more of what I feel and to hell with whether anyone can find an exception to what I've just declared to be true. I also hear myself speaking more in general terms, like using "monkey" in a sentence instead of "golden-mantled howler" or "France" instead of "Haute-Corse." And not thinking about something for an hour before I come out and say it. Which isn't necessarily a good thing, because sometimes I think about what I've just written or said and realize I haven't been very clear and what I've said doesn't quite represent what I was really thinking. I guess what I'm trying to say is that since I've been out of school, my expressions are becoming less precise and more sloppy and haphazard, and I should probably instill a little more discipline there to retain some of the articulation skills I once had.

If only speaking and writing colloquially weren't so much more fun. You feel me?

And they say you never really learn to swear until you learn to drive. Well, I learned how to drive a long time ago, but now that I do it for a living, my vocabulary consists of pretty much all swear words, muttered to myself in between singing along to Ace of Base or Mr. Mister or Tom Petty or whatever.
  • "Running down a dream, that never would come to m--would you lay off the crack pipe and stay in your fucking lane?!"
  • "Easy there, killer. Don't even fucking think about pulling out in front of me."
  • "Would you set your fucking cruise control and maintain a steady speed? Fuuuuuuuuck."
  • "Don't pass me and then slow down! Now you're going slower than I am, you fucking jerk!"
  • "Uh, is this actually a driveway? Fuck...what...what the fuck? What is that thing? Am I even on the road? Why are there no fucking signs?"
  • "Man, I can't believe how rough this highway is! My fucking wheels are going to fall off. What is this, Mongolia?"
  • "WOULD YOU FUCKING MERGE?? Get in there if you're gonna! Damn it. MERGE!!"
Notice a theme, there.

Seriously, I cannot believe how some people, instead of slowing down or speeding up a little to gracefully merge with Interstate traffic, just cruise along halfway in the ditch and seem to hope that all the traffic on their left will somehow just disappear. They make nimrods seem like small potatoes. And I don't mean Nimrod like the son of Cush. I mean when I was driving my road trainer's truck a few weeks ago, we were on some Interstate when a car was coming onto the highway, and there was plenty of room for him to file in behind me, which he started to do, but then decided to race ahead. Well, his on-ramp lane was ending and he didn't really have room to race ahead, but he was trying, so my trainer warned me, "You've got a nimrod over here trying to get in."

I laughed at that, because I hadn't heard "nimrod" used as an insult in a quite few years, and because it sounds like something one of my brothers would say. "Yeah, I saw him in my mirror," I replied, "but I can't move over."

"Well, just keep a steady speed and let him figure it out. If he hits you, he'll get the ticket for failure to merge."

Which is true, and something my CDL school instructors told me as well. Most states even have yield signs on their on-ramps. Wisconsin doesn't have those signs, but the 2012 Wisconsin Motorist's Handbook (p. 40) says, "If you have to wait for space to enter a roadway, slow down on the ramp so you have some room to speed up before you have to merge. You must yield to traffic already moving on the roadway."

So now that whole "you've got a nimrod" phrase is stuck in my head, and every time I see someone trying to zoom ahead of my rig to merge at the very last possible second, I can't help but think, "I've got a nimrod." It makes me chuckle every time. And sometimes it's two cars trying to race to get ahead of me. I ask you this, grasshoppers: Have you ever had two nimrods at once?

Anyway, so my first two weeks on the road alone were pretty horrible, but not because of traffic or other idiots who should have their licenses taken away. It was a bunch of other stuff. But things improved during the second and third week as I got the hang of things and figured out how to do required tasks my own way, and my stress levels returned to normal.

You know, trucking's not so bad. I can see myself doing it for a little while. Sometimes it doesn't even feel like work. Especially on days when I spend the whole time on the Interstate, listening to music, checking out the landscape, thinking about how to cope in a declining civilization, and noting how odd it is that the flatbed truck ahead of me is hauling a big slatted wooden box that says "Live Fish" on it and how little droplets of water are appearing on my windshield and how that's kind of gross and I'm not a big seafood person myself. But I don't mind hooking or unhooking trailers, inspecting my truck, planning a trip, or navigating. I know what to do when I pull up to a guard shack or a shipping/receiving gate, and I know how to play the refueling points game at the truck stops to get as many free showers and free snacks as possible. I don't even mind truck stop showers too much, because certain chains keep theirs pretty clean. So there's a budding sense of mastery there, which feels good.

I do still get a tad nervous when I'm coming off the highway into a town or city, especially at night when I'm trying to find an address or a particular loading dock and I can't see shit. Especially at night in the rain. Man, that's the worst. I mean, some loading docks are in industrial parks on the edge of town, where there's not a lot of traffic and the lots are spacious, organized, and well-maintained, with driveways and entrances clearly marked. Other loading docks are hidden on unmarked streets behind abandoned buildings in tight, ancient, inner-city alleys that make you wonder how any truck could even get in there, with low-hanging electrical wires, narrow mud driveways, and huge pot holes that could flip a tractor. Some loading docks look like scenes from a horror movie, with wet pavement and steaming sewer covers and barbed wire and rusty machine parts strewn all over. Those are the times I wish I had a good camera, like a Canon S110.

Construction also makes me a little nervous, because the lanes get so narrow with Jersey barriers and orange barrels, and then you have those uneven lanes where one tire is on cement and one is on asphalt, and then you have construction workers and backhoes lurching out into the road. One of my CDL school instructors told me that when he was a young driver, he used to swerve a little on purpose so that his trailer would swing out and knock the orange barrels over. I thought that was hysterically funny, and am now trying to imagine what orange barrels look like when they lose their equilibrium. Do they bounce? They look bouncy to me. Maybe they're filled with sand and don't bounce at all, but instead just kind of slowly tip and roll over like a hog carcass.

Another thing I'm still adjusting to, or sometimes refusing to comply with, are the long, long hours. Federal law says that truckers can drive no more than 11 hours per day, can work no more than 14 hours per day, can work no more than 70 hours in the past 8 days, and must take at least a 10-hour break between every 14-hour shift. Well, pretty much all trucking companies tell you to work the maximum 14 hours per day, and then nag you about "driver fatigue" and not getting enough rest. At Safety Cone, you only get 5 days off per month, so that totals up to more than TWICE the monthly hours of what a normal full-time employee works. Okay, that's a 14-hour day, 25 days out of the month, for a lower-middle class salary. Kind of ridiculous if you ask me, particularly since I don't get to go home at night in between shifts. I mean, I know lawyers and brain surgeons and whoever work 100-hour weeks, but they make in a month the same amount I make in a YEAR.

I dunno. Once I get more experience, I think I might apply for a garbage-truck or donut-truck position or something where I drive within a smaller area, get paid hourly, and can be home and involved in my community more often. I like driving big vehicles, but these hours make it extremely difficult to keep in touch with friends and family and also to stay on top of errands, especially when truck stop WiFi is so spotty and unreliable. I suppose most truckers have wives at home who take care of all their bills and medical appointments and household paperwork. Even if I had a husband or boyfriend at home, I don't think I'd trust that he'd do all those things in an organized and timely fashion, I guess because most of the men I know are too cool to use calendars or day planners and therefore forget about appointments and dates and never submit required paperwork on time, and then complain about late fees, rescheduling fees, overdraft fees, and higher interest rates, and I just don't want my finances mixed up with someone like that. Forget tall, dark, and handsome. I want neat and organized. Like an accountant. But are there accountants out there who also have an appreciation for the arts? A question for the ages.

You know, back when I had a home and had time to go out at night to concerts, public lectures, museums, and swanky bars, I used to get all polished and dressed up in the hopes of attracting an accountant or someone respectable like that, and I'd look great and I'd use open body language and be in a relaxed and friendly mood and receptive to the advances of proximal males, and how often did men approach me, chat me up, ask for my number, or offer to buy me fried cheese curds? Almost never. And now, when I'm out in trailer yards or loading docks or picking up my scaling ticket--when I'm busy, in a hurry, on a tight delivery schedule, not smiling, not in a chatty mood, wearing my work boots and mannish trucker clothes, and I don't give two squirts of piss about Billy Big Rig sitting over there--NOW all of the sudden I'm beautiful and interesting and everyone wants to buy me lunch and know if I'm single or not.

And by "everyone" I mean the guys in their late 40s/early 50s who wear big gold rings on each finger and t-shirts with eagles and Confederate flags printed on them.

Well, that's not entirely true. It wasn't just them, but over the past three weeks, all sizes, shapes, and colors of shipping clerks, yard hands, and truck stop attendants have brought up my marital status while I was engaged in required work-related transactions with them. Just one example:

Me: Hi, I'm here to pick up my scaling ticket. Truck number blah blah blah.
Clerk: Sure. That'll be $10.00.
Me: [I swipe my company card.]
Clerk: So, do you have a husband waiting out there for you?
Me: [irritated] I just need my ticket. Thanks.

I usually ignore the question, because it's so inappropriate and irrelevant and none of their goddamned business. Like I'm ever going to see these guys again. One driver, whom I'd never seen before in my life, recently spotted me in a mechanic shop parking lot and walked over to my truck. I thought he was going to ask for directions or something, so I rolled down my window, and what did he do but climb up onto my truck and stick his fat head into the cab (!), and then proceeded to ask why "a cute girl" like me is a trucker and tell me the specifics on how he just broke up with his baby mama and is now single, and was I single too? I guess my leaning away from him dramatically and trying to roll my window up under his neck conveyed my disinterest. "I'll leave you alone now," he said. "Yeah, thanks," I frowned.

One young driver marveled at my, I guess, existence, and told me that he was shocked to see a woman driver who'd actually graduated from CDL school and was out here working. "Most women don't make it!  They can't learn how to drive a truck!" he guffawed.  "I find that hard to believe," I said, disgust dripping from my pores.  "Do you have access to company statistics to prove that, or is it just your opinion based on one individual case?"  He hemmed and hawed and bumbled for a minute before walking away.  Yeah, that's right.  Shut the hell up and get outta here before I taint-punch you.      

A few have offered to buy me coffee or breakfast, which was nice of them, but I declined. You know, I'm getting paid per mile, not per slice of toast eaten. Other drivers and clerks have asked me whether or not I have kids and then scrunched their nose when I said no. "Really? No children?" they said. "That's strange."

Hey, thanks for rubbing it in my face. The next time I'm dating yet another guy who says he hates kids or never wants them because he's "just a big kid himself," I'll be sure to pressure him further by telling him it's "strange" to be childless. I know he'll appreciate that and it will change his mind.

But I've only gotten that "no kids?" comment 2-3 times since I've been on the road. Most just stick with saying, "You're too good-looking to be a trucker." If I had a piece of chocolate for ever time I've heard that the past three weeks, I'd have an ass the size of Texas. I mean, it was awkward the first 1-2 times I heard it, but now it just pisses me off. What is that supposed to mean, exactly? Why does my appearance matter if I can do the job just as well as anyone? I guess it's supposed to be a compliment, but to me it's the same as saying, "Wow, you stick out like a sore thumb. You don't belong here and you're making us all uncomfortable. Go away." What do they expect me to say? What do they think I "should" be doing instead? Something more traditionally feminine, like being a nurse, secretary, or elementary school teacher, because I don't have the right "look" to operate heavy machinery? The next time someone says that, I'm going to corner them with all these questions. Then I'm sure they'll bitch to their buddies about how I'm a stupid cunt and how women these days "hate compliments" or "hate nice guys" or some bullshit.

I just wish men would understand that we like compliments about our appearance—in the right context. Compliments are wonderful at a social event or on a date. Compliments are wonderful in personal texts and emails. Compliments are wonderful in the bedroom and the morning after. Compliments are weird, awkward, and distracting at work and in professional situations. Most women want equal pay for equal work, an equal opportunity to be hired for jobs they are physically able to do, and while at work they want to be treated as professionals. These male truckers would never tell another male that he's "too good-looking to be a trucker," so they shouldn't say it to a female. You'd think that in a developed country in the year 2013 it would be standard to just keep that shit out of the workplace and save it for after hours, but apparently not. 
Anyway, I should emphasize that not all drivers are goofy like that. Some of them are very professional and properly socialized, and they're cool. Trucking is still a dangerous, dirty job, though, and it's very tiring with long hours, and sometimes I have nimrods, but I get paid every week and I've been able to make some student loan payments already, so that rocks nostrils. But I'm no longer saying it's the worst job out there. Although Hope might think it is: