"We will be following I-24 east through town. I want you to navigate us through Nashville on your own. I don't want you to ask me about which lane you should be in or what you need to do. I want you to concentrate on your task, read your signs, and get us through here. If you begin to make an obvious mistake, I will correct you so we don't get terribly off-course, but I won't advise you of what you need to do before-hand."
And so it began. On two occasions he tried to ask me about what he needed to do and I just shrugged my shoulders and told him I wasn't going to answer him. His brow would furrow and he'd concentrate even harder. And you know what? He did it. Flawlessly, I might add. Afterwards, I told him:
"That was awesome! See? You can follow these signs. When I'm sitting here with you, it's too easy to just ask what you need to do rather than figure it out for yourself." He smiled when I said this because he knew that's what he'd been doing. "In the future, I want you to treat every city and junction just like that. I'm still going to be sitting here watching you for quite some time, to make sure you've got it, but I don't want you to ask just because it's easier than figuring it out for yourself."
A couple of hours later, I drove the point home as I was driving us through Chattanooga. "Remember how you felt when you were driving through Nashville? How you had to pay attentnion to every sign and watch for directions, lane changes, and interstate junctions? Every time you go to some place unfamiliar, you have to concentrate like that. I'm doing that right now. I haven't been to Chattanooga in years... and never in a truck" [This was a white lie, actually]. "And never on I-24. I have never done what I am doing right now. So, I'm doing exactly what you were doing in Nashville this afternoon: concentrating on following these signs because it's the only way I can figure out how to dive through here. It's not as difficult for me since I've had lots of practice doing it, but it's still the same basic task that you performed in Nashville."
So we've had a real breakthrough. His shifting ability continues to improve constantly, as well. A few times, I observed him doing a gear search on the downshift in an almost automatic nature while he continued to be cautious of his surroundings. He continued to roll until he got his gear, rather than have to come to a complete stop to recover it. Who da man? I am! Go soopa! Go soopa!
We did have a small blunder this morning while leaving Talladega, Alabama, but of a new variety we hadn't encountered yet. We were bobtail (sans trailer) and turning right onto a 55mph, four-lane highway. He turned onto the highway into the right lane, then signaled, checkd his mirror, then changed into the left lane. In all, a flawless execution and he deserves props for remembering all of these vastly important steps in the task. But he didn't take into account his speed (20mph) when judging the distance of the tractor-trailer barreling down the hammer lane at 60mph. I saw the truck in the mirror back-off and take for the center turn lane to avoid him. The other driver sounded his horn. I made him aware that he was cutting off the other driver. Jason said he was "way back there" when he decided to change lanes. I calmly mentioned the speed differences and he looked at his speedometer and promptly gave the truck some fuel. I didn't want to be too hard on the guy, he had been aware that the truck was at least THERE afterall and didn't do anything erratic or dumb upon realizing his error like switching back to the right-lane without checking mirrors, etc.
So today we're moving some empty trailers from one location in Birmingham to another in Talladega. Then we're taking a load out of Talladega to... Oregon! A nice, long trip to the west coast with all sorts of new cities to traverse where Jason can hone his newly acquired skills. He got a taste of mountain driving while crossing Tennessee last night, but he'll get the real deal over the weekend as we cross the Rockies, Sierra Nevada and Cascades. Interestingly, this is an identical trip to one I took one year ago. The last time I made this trip, I had attempted to visit the semi-ghost town of Goldfield, Nevada but had not been able to because it was dark when I got there. Maybe I'll have better luck this time.