I have now completed Day 12 in a 15-day truck driving course in pursuit of my CDL. Each day from here on is driving practice in preparation for the Big Test on January 5.
A half day is spent negotiating New Jersey highways. The other half I practice classic maneuvers (45-degree alley dock, straight backup, reverse serpentine, blind side parallel park, measured right turn). I have to know how to do an eight-step test of air brakes. Flunk it, and the inspector stops the test. We start each day's drive with the pretrip inspection, going over the truck from engine to trailer door, followed by the air brake test.
My test in two weeks will also include some but not all of the basic maneuvers plus road driving skills.
Today's journey did not begin auspiciously. My instructor had parked on a shoulder and told me to take over the wheel. My shifting seemed sluggish and got more weird as I struggled to gain speed. The problem: One of the brakes had not released. By the time I tried for fifth gear, there was smoke coming out of the back tires.

This humbling episode happened on the road in front of the truckstop. After that I had nowhere to go but up.
Cruised down I-295 in the center lane, passing a truck on my right and giving the little trucker hand wave to rigs passing me on the right. Practiced shifting up and down on Rt. 130, which is mile after mile of stoplights, malls, and lots of traffic.
Midway through the morning I pulled the truck into one of those classic New Jersey diners, all pink vinyl, chrome and mirrors, for a pit stop and cuppa joe. Then back to the road, first wriggling very carefully out of the diner's crowded parking lot, for more practice.
By the time we rolled into the Bordentown Petro, I was limp from the exertion and stress. I am getting a taste of just how tired an experienced driver must feel after a full shift and how important it is to find a place to rest and regroup.
In the afternoon I chased three serpentine cones for three hours. Getting better, but still have not nailed the maneuver. But I sure am trying.