My class at Bordentown Driver Training School is a tiny but spirited band: me, James and Alan.
After serving six years in prison, James, 32, is hoping for a new beginning. A former trucker, he just retested, successfully, on the written exam and is retraining for the driving test. He has two sons and plans on driving local so he can spend more time at home rebuilding his relationship with them.
Alan, in his mid- twenties, has been driving a fork lift. He is getting married and wants a better income for his new family. He takes his tests on Thursday.
On Day One we delve into logging, 10/15 hour rules, calculating summaries, map reading (I learned I had more to learn about the subject, despite clocking thousands of miles a year on my own), and a host of other things.
Every minute offered new revelations: the allowable play in a steering wheel, the time it takes to build air pressure, how to spot frayed electrical wiring, bulging tires and leaky fuel lines.
We received incredibly patient one-on-one instruction from instructor Richard Yohrling. If there's something you don't "get" the first time, he just keeps going over it until you do.
I have been assured all of this material will be a familiar as an old shoe inside three weeks, that I will master the reverse serpentine and 45-degree alley dock, and be double-clutching with the best of them.
This is my first time in a classroom for I won't admit how many years and I love it. The gray matter hasn't turned to mush and indeed seems to be sparking up a storm. Can't wait to go back tomorrow, despite the three hour (round trip) commute.
I actually have it easy compared to James who works from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. in the truckstop truck wash and has only five and a half hours of personal time (including sleeping) in the day.
On the way home, driving through remnants of rush hour on the PA Turnpike, I found myself looking at my 18-wheel friends in a new light. For as many times as I have scoped trucks through a camera lens, it's different now: I'll be driving one real soon.
Homework is waiting: three "advanced logging" assignments and trip planning to do before turning in and doing it all again tomorrow.