TD109: Coping With Rookie Truckers

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There are approximately 3.5 million truckers in the US, so naturally that means we can’t all be seasoned veterans. We drivers probably encounter at least one trucker per week doing something that would only be done by a rookie. We shake our head in disgust, but what do we do about it? From what I’ve seen, the vast majority of us do absolutely nothing… or worse.

As is typical with the Trucker Dump blog, most of my ideas come from things that have recently happened to me, which begs the question how long I’ll be able to continue doing this blog if I can ever escape the trucking industry like I’ve been trying to do for the last decade. But I guess we’ll cross that crusty, old, underfunded bridge when we get to it. But for now, let’s continue with the story that prompted this post.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in Fort Smith, Arkansas wondering how my company was going to get me home. I’ve been working for this company long enough to know that they didn’t have much freight moving north from there, so things were looking about as good as a naked 80-year old. Luckily, this was a Thursday and I wasn’t due home until the weekend, so at least they had some time to work up a miracle.

Still, I was flabbergasted when I got a message telling me to pick up a load in Joplin, Missouri, some 140 miles away. The sucky thing about it was that I would be driving right past my house in order to go pick up the load. Isn’t it funny how trucking companies don’t have a problem eating the costs of 140 unloaded miles to pick up a load, but they’d rather put live kittens in a blender than to deadhead a driver home at half the distance. Well, at least that’s the way my company is anyway. Quick! New subject before I get pissed.

The other annoying thing about it was that the load didn’t pick up until the next afternoon and the guy who would be relaying it from me wouldn’t come off his 10-hour break until late that night. Oh well. This happens sometimes, so I’m used to it. Yes, it blows chunks to sit at a truck stop less than 50 miles from your house for half a day when you should be home, but it’s the price you pay for living out in the boonies. Well that, and the whole lack of indoor plumbing thing.

So anyway, I picked up the load and nabbed a spot at the Flying J in Joplin. After a quick call to The Evil Overlord, she had grudgingly decided to get out of bed and meet me in Joplin so we could hang out in town instead of me spending all day in the truck. Luckily, she didn’t need to after all.

The relay driver called me shortly after and told me he’d be there within a few hours. This made The Evil Overlord especially happy because she wouldn’t have to crawl out of bed in the middle of the afternoon; heaven forbid. Apparently the driver’s satellite hadn’t updated in quite a while, which lead my dispatcher to believe that the driver was in the middle of a 10-hour break, when in fact it was almost over. Sweet!

Actually though, the relay driver said “I think my break is almost over.” You think? You think? How does a trucker not know when their break is over? This was my first indication that I might be dealing with a rookie. But I let it slide and asked him to get there ASAP.

Well, he showed up about two hours later than what he said he would so apparently he had figured something wrong, which is odd considering my company uses e-logs. I’m guessing he must have been doing an eight-hour split sleeper berth, because otherwise the e-logs are very good at telling you when your break is over. Ours still suck at splitting though. Still, I wasn’t going to complain about his tardiness since I really hadn’t expected him to get there until late that night.

Further evidence pointing to him being a rookie came almost immediately. He rounded the corner and stopped when he saw me. I waved to let him know it was me he was looking for. He then started to do a blindside back directly across from me! What the…?!

Now had this been late at night I might have thought he didn’t want to risk losing the parking spot by driving around the lot to set up a proper driver-side back. But the lot was only about three quarters full! There were lots of places where he could’ve found an easier backing job, including one just a few spaces past me. I honestly don’t understand this. When I was a rookie, I’d have rather licked a leper’s sores than do a blindside back! I simply cannot imagine anyone doing one unless they had no other choice. And there is almost always a choice not to.

But instead he went ahead and got himself all jammed up between me and the spot he wanted. He got to the point where he could barely move. It reminded me a lot of Austin Powers trying to turn around in that little cart. LOL As soon as I had enough room to escape, I went ahead and pulled out from my dropped trailer so he’d have some extra room to maneuver, which was exactly what he needed to get back into the spot. By the way, I’ve done this for experienced drivers too. It takes less than a minute for an experienced driver to drop a trailer and the gesture will always be appreciated.

Now I will admit during this whole time I was sitting in my driver’s seat watching this train wreck happen. What I should have done was get out and help this poor guy. But how exactly do you help in this situation?

Personally, I have never been a fan of getting out and helping a driver back into a spot.

I have been known to be an extra set of eyes if I see someone really struggling, but I’m really not a fan of the type of driver who stands there and tells the driver which way to turn his wheels. This is mainly because there are more than one way to do a proper backing job. And I have no idea what this guy is going for. More on that in a bit.

As a side note, if you’re a driver trainer, don’t do this to your student. I’ve watched countless times where a student is looking at the trainer while backing instead of watching what the truck and trailer are doing. You aren’t teaching them anything! Except how to watch you maybe. We learn best by trial-and-getting-stopped-by-trainer-just-before-error, you know.

Well all said and done, this whole backing and swapping process took about 20 minutes. While he was unhooking from his trailer, I walked the paperwork over to him and told him I had expected him to get there a couple of hours ago. No, I’m not a jerk (well, not in this case anyway), I said this all in a teasing manner. He looked at me sheepishly as I asked, “Are you new?” “Yep.” “New to this company, or new to trucking?” “I’ve been out of driving school for one month. My trainer just dropped me off and I just got my truck.” Wow. If you’re anything like me, it’s hard to remember what that’s like, isn’t it?

He then started fumbling about as to what satellite messages he was supposed to send after doing a relay and asking what paperwork he needed to send into the company. I explained all the procedures to him as quick as I could since I was eager to get home. I then hooked up to the empty trailer, got back in the truck, and looked over at the guy awkwardly hooking up his gladhands. Remember when gladhands were hard, drivers? Now I think we can do them in our sleep, which is something I’m pretty sure I’ve done before when The Evil Overlord used to wake me up to do that kind of stuff. Frankly, I’m surprised we didn’t regularly drop trailers to the ground with the landing gear still up!

I think God must’ve spoken to me at that moment, because although I was itching to get moving, I felt a bit more compassion for this guy than I normally have in my cold, dead heart. I sighed and stepped out of the truck. I walked over, and with a friendly smile said, “Hey, man. I’m not trying to be a know-it-all, but can I give you a couple pieces of advice?” I’m sure some arrogant rookies would have passed, but to this guy’s credit, he smiled and said, “Please.”

I began, “First, don’t EVER EVER EVER do a blindside back unless you have absolutely no choice. At a truck stop, always drive around the lot until you can line up a driver-side back. And if you’re trying to get to a customer’s dock off a street or something, circle a couple of blocks if you need to. Listen; you will have to blindside back sometime in the future, but it’s always dangerous (even for experienced drivers) and the more you do it unnecessarily, the more chances you have of hitting something. You really don’t need that this early in your career, do you?” He replied with a truly grateful, “Thanks. I’ll remember that.”

I went on. “Now see that Werner truck up there between those other two trucks? (Picture back-to-back  parking where the two trucks facing us are one spot apart and when you look between them you can see the back of the Werner truck facing the other direction.) Don’t EVER try to nose in between two trucks like that to park where Werner is right now.”

I went on to explain that no matter how far he got over, he would be extremely lucky if he could pull that maneuver off. It can be done, but it fails more often than not. I explained to him that I had been delayed for a whole hour one night at that very location watching a guy who got himself all jammed up trying to do that. In that particular instance I had actually broken my normal practice by getting out and telling the flustered driver which way to turn his wheels to escape the situation. To be quite honest though, it had less to do with me being a super nice guy and more to do with him blocking the way out for me and about five other trucks. And again, I was trying to get home, so I was pretty motivated that time too.

In the end I had to wake up the driver next door and ask him if he’d mind dropping his trailer and moving his tractor so the guy could go ahead and pull through. At first he was acting like he wasn’t going to do it, but he changed his mind after I said, “Listen man. This guy is freaking out over here. He’s been stuck like this for an hour. You can either drop your trailer or you can have your fender ripped off. Your choice.” I even told him that if he would pull his trailer brakes I’d be happy to unhook everything for him. He took me up on it, so the lazy bum never even had to leave his cab. So that is eventually how we got out of that Lindsay Lohan-sized mess.

So anyway, back to our current rookie. Before I left I made sure that he understood that he could rescale the load for $2 with the weigh ticket I had given him, as long as it was within 24 hours and it was the exact same location. I assured him that they never check to see if the truck number matches. All they need is the reweigh number on the ticket. I thought he probably knew this already, but I was wrong. He was grateful for the advice (and saving him $8.50) and I pulled out ready to head for home. In hindsight, had I chosen to keep my advice to myself, I wouldn’t have a second half to this story. Oh well. Nice guys finish last.

Just as soon as I pulled out feeling all good about myself, another driver down the way had just started to back into a spot. It was two spaces wide so I figured it would go pretty quick. As The Evil Overlord likes to tell me so often, “You’re wrong.” And just as often, she’s right. Just as I was this time.

Well, I watched that driver trying to back in for 10 minutes. Forward. Reverse. Forward. Reverse. Often with very little change in what he had done before. He started with a wide-open driver-side back and kept going until he eventually ended up in a blindside back. I’m still not really sure how he managed that. Every time he’d try to back in, the driver next to him would lay on his horn, which naturally brought him to an abrupt stop. I could see this was going nowhere good and traffic was backing up behind me, so I hopped out, signaled the other waiting drivers what I was doing, and walked over to scope out the situation.

The guy had gotten himself into a 45° blindside back. His trailer tires were already between the lines and the doors had already cleared the mirror, but he was crooked. I could see that he could probably make it with one little correction. I walked over and told the honker dude I thought the guy could make it if he would quit honking at him. The guy yelled at me, “He’s going to hit me!” I said, “Well I don’t think so, but if you’re convinced of it why don’t you go over and pull your mirror in so he won’t.” The hothead shot back, “I shouldn’t have to do that! He should pull out of the spot and go find someplace else to park!”

Well, I confessed to him that he was probably right about that, but I also explained that at this juncture it wasn’t really an option with all of us blocking him in. He had nowhere to go. I’ll have to admit that the stuck driver (which I found out later was in his first year of driving) wasn’t letting Sir Screams-A-Lot affect him. He was smiling at the whole situation, even though he probably shouldn’t have been. I kinda respected the guy for not letting old weiner head get to him. Still, he was stuck and he knew it. That’s when he pointed at me and then to his tractor. In broken English he said, “You do?”

Okay. Now before you old-timers tell me how stupid this is, let me say that I’m well aware. If I hit someone, he could blame me. And I’m sure the little green lizard’s employers would have a field day with it too. But hey, I wanted to get home. Besides, Captain Crabby Pants had finally gotten out of his truck to make darn sure no one was going to hit his precious mirror. So into the cab I climbed. Thankfully, I’m not a germaphobe, else I’d have been freaking the heck out. That truck was nastier than a Nicki Minaj video!

Anyway, He-Who-Must-Be-Paranoid seemed a bit more confident when I got behind the wheel. Still, he insisted on directing my every move. He had me turning my wheels this way and that with about 4 pull-up adjustments. At that point I stopped, looked at him, and said, “Oh come on, man. I can’t even see that side, and I can tell I’m nowhere close to your truck!” I knew that if he’d just hold his tongue for a second, I could swing the tractor back under and finish the job. But I admit that it would’ve meant that the front of the trailer wouldn’t crossed into his “no-zone” for a brief moment. So instead I chose to let Mr. Alpha have his way. We did get the job done, but thanks to him being a complete anus, it took about three moves longer than it should have. Oh well. Like my trainer taught me, “A good back is one where you don’t hit anything. Doesn’t matter how long it takes.” Wise words. So naturally, you know they didn’t come from me.

So here’s the thing, drivers. You have experience. Great. But let me take a second here to remind you that there was a time when you were a rookie too. We all were. Not one us had a grip on the air-powered umbilical cord as we floated from 4th to 6th gear into this world. Even if you did learn to drive on the farm when you were twelve, I’d be willing to bet you screwed up a time or two… or fourteen. And before you make that claim, give me your dad’s phone number. I’ll get the real story.

So what say we remember that the next time we’re confronted with a rookie who is having a really crappy day? The last thing they need is some irate driver screaming at them or belittling them. Nor do they need to hear your snide remarks on the CB. What they need is tolerance. What they need is a helping hand. What they need is an extra set of eyes. What they need is a driver who’s willing to offer some friendly advice. And if you’re not willing to give these rookies what they need, then what those rookies really need is a set of brass knuckles to punch you right in the kisser. Now let’s see you try to scream at him with a mouthful of broken teeth.

*So how do you treat rookie drivers? Why? Got any good stories about it? Please share your thoughts below.

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Additional links from the podcast version:

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Short clip of Austin Powers in his cart. LOL

In the feedback section:

Brian from Australia chews me out about being lazy

Long Duck is back after listening to TD96: The Feedback Show, but before that he totally grosses us all out.

Finally, Justin shares his thoughts on TD106: How Will Amnesty Affect The Trucking Industry. And he does it in our favorite form; a rant.

You can email your comments, suggestions, questions, or insults to TruckerDump@gmail.com

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Mystery Feedback Song – Only a cheater would click this before listening to the podcast! You aren’t a cheater, are you?

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. TD113: The Feedback Show #2 - - February 15, 2016

    […] listened to TD109: Coping With Rookie Truckers, but it was talking about electronic logs in the feedback section that prompted him to weave a tale […]

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