"Hey, honey, you missed it," shouted a Trenton, NJ, highway construction worker. He was referring to my tractor-trailer's tentative approach to the first of a line of cones marking a narrow through lane on a city street undergoing repairs.
My heart was pounding as I realized my right tires were sidling alongside the curb and the left tires were just whispering past the cones. As fate has it, I'm pulling the 102-in.- wide trailer today.
Concentrate. Breathe. My instructor is telling me I'm doing just fine. I'm thinking, I'm not about to leave behind anything for that band of construction workers to joke about.
Pretty soon I'm out of the work zone and back to normal traffic. I survive downtown Trenton. I can breathe again.
The day's education in trucking also includes a scary romp through the two-lane business district of Hamilton, NJ, where a narrow thoroughfare is lined with parked vehicles on both sides. I avoid hitting them by keeping the left tires toeing the center line. I remember praying that the old lady getting into her car up ahead would hurry up and close her door before I reach her (she did).
Did I mention it's raining? When I got to school this morning I figured there was no way they would put me out on the road. I forgot...fair weather or foul, the freight must go through and, so, too, the trucking students.
Two hours later, I'm beginning to understand. This is the only way to learn how to drive a truck: Get out on the roads, all kinds of roads, all weather, and drive them. Turn the corners, make the merges, shift repeatedly, brake. One mile after another.
I also learned today how to use the trolley brake to take off from a stop light on a slight incline.
Despite heavy afternoon downpours, we proceeded with the backing exercises. I am definitely making progress in keeping my tendency to oversteer under control, and that alone is making a big difference in backing to the "dock."
Perhaps my toy truck had something to do with this forward step. Trucker friends suggested I get my toy trucks out and play with them as a way to help me get past my difficulty with reverse maneuvers. So I did. Even brought one, my souvenir Walcott Jamboree 1990 tractor-trailer, to class. The instructors commented on what a fine truck it is (it has folding landing gear and sliding trailer door) and proceeded to use it to review the maneuvers, using quarters to represent the cones.
Whatever it was -- toy trucks, good teaching, day-by-day practice or, perhaps a precursor to that mythological "click," I am definitely feeling empowered today.
Weather or not, NJ-0007 is learning to truck.