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Day 14: Hail to the Chef

December 27, 1999

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The truck I’ve been training on is a 1992 Peterbilt model 378 pulling 48-foot trailers, a 102-inch and 96-inch. This rig is big and heavy, and I have come to appreciate what one of my instructors told me early on, that is, “If you can learn to drive this, you’ll be able to drive anything.”
This point reverberated this morning when our crew of students and instructors found the practice area already occupied by a lone truck, its driver practicing parking maneuvers with orange cones he had with him. Just a few weeks out of trucking school himself, he told our instructor that when he hit the “real world,” he found himself ill prepared. Taught on single-axle cabovers with 35-foot trailers in a large class, he didn’t get what he felt was adequate training. Tomorrow he delivers in Brooklyn to a small company on a narrow street. When we found him, he was practicing his backing skills for that delivery.

Dennis, our resident chef, passed his CDL driving skills test today and returned to class with his shiny laminated license in hand. The school instructors presented him his diploma, then we all sat around filling him full of travel and road tips. The guy has never been west of Indiana. He is so excited. No more chief cook and bottle washer nights for Dennis. He is going trucking, in Utah, starting in January.
This afternoon I practiced the alley dock repeatedly, plus trailer connecting, reverse backing, the pretrip and air brake tests. Around 4 p.m. we took the Pete out into moderate traffic on the interstates around Trenton, NJ. I cruised along without a flub, merging, down shifting, building speed, changing lanes. No problems. Then it hit me.
One day shy of the three weeks, I am doing it, driving the truck, executing basic functions routinely. The sun had set. Nighttime driving and I was fine with it. Got high grades from my instructor, who joked that next week my practice sessions will be on snow.
At the beginning of this odyssey I didn’t see how they could teach me everything I needed to know to pass the tests and drive, too, in three weeks. It seemed like an insurmountable amount of material and learning. They did it. I did it. One little piece at a time. Now all that remains is practice.
The next, and final, log entry will be two weeks from now when I let you know how I do -- that is, did I bring home a newly laminated CDL.

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