March 30th, 2010


orientation, or being entertained by dead children

I'm beginning to suspect that the high turnover rate in the trucking industry has nothing to do with traditional variables like job satisfaction or fickle drivers, but that it is linked to the pure fucking entertainment value of new driver orientation. It's full of unique characters, bizarre occurrences, and everything is on the company dime. I think drivers job hop just so they can relive it over and over again.

Last Sunday, welfy and I drove to Georgetown to find the company shop near the Toyota factory. The company was going to let me use their passenger van to drive to Indianapolis. The shop is just a three bay garage sitting on a lot which is more packed dirt than gravel these days. Lots of tractors were sitting about and a few trailers. The company runs mostly Volvos and a few Internationals. As a company, they have fairly new equipment for their over-the-road fleet, but a lot of the tractors here are relatively ancient, upwards of ten years old, relics of the old Lexington Cartage company they bought a couple of years ago. A ten year old tractor is a dinosaur in this business.

I was the only new driver coming up from the Lexington/Georgetown area, so I didn't have to wait around for anyone else. The weekend shop mechanic, Dave, fueled it for me and gave me the key. I chatted with him for a while, taking the opportunity to probe one of my first regular Joes in the company about my new employer. Since he wasn't a driver though, I didn't find out a whole lot that was useful to me.

I took the van home and spent some more time there with Welf and finished packing. Around 8pm I set out for Indianapolis, just under a 3 hour drive from my house. The company had reserved me a room at a La Quinta on the east side of the city near their offices. That's some pretty swank digs for putting a truck driver up for the night. I had a king size bed with a bajillion pillows on it, an arm chair, and a desk with a high back leather office chair. The view from my 4th floor window was breathtaking; it overlooked a Steak 'N Shake.

Unfortunately for me, the night before, I had made the mistake of drinking an entire bottle of wine in about an hour, subsequently passing-out at about 7pm and sleeping until 9am that morning. Naturally, I wasn't one bit sleepy and stayed up until nearly 2am before going to bed. Unsure of exactly where the terminal was, I wanted to make sure I left myself plenty of time to get there at 8am. I got up at 7, grabbed a quick bowl of cereal at the hotel breakfast spread and drove up the interstate a few miles to the Mt. Comfort exit to search for the terminal. I initially passed it, but found it easily enough after I backtracked. It was a newish building in a commercial park across from the Mt. Comfort airport. It basically just housed their corporate offices, with a very small lot for a few trailers behind it. Their shop/yard in Indy, as I would later learn, was across town on the west side.

I went inside and found Robin, the head recruiter. She lead me to the orientation room where there were cards setup on the front row with names written on them and I sat behind the one with mine on it. The people belonging to the names on the other two cards soon arrived as well, both middle-aged guys like myself. Before long, Robin had us fill out the first few basic forms; a medical history and some releases for our upcoming DOT physical and drug screen. We then were sent out to do that. It's fairly typical to get to that as soon as possible; there's no sense in going through all the trouble of orientating someone if they can't pass their physical or drug test.

Since I was in possession of the van, I was given the task of chauffering us out to the clinic where this would be done. We waited a lot and took our turns seeing the doctor and peeing in cups. One of the two dudes, a Type 2 diabetic, had too much sugar in his urine, which caused him to fail his physical. When we returned to the terminal, he was sent packing and 3 became 2. After all of the waiting and peeing, it was nearly time for lunch, so me and the remaining dude were given some $5 gift cards for Wendy's and we took the van down the street to eat.

Remaining dude's name was Phillip, according to the card he sat behind back at the terminal. As we ate and chatted, I began to notice the more minute features of his face, in particular, the broken blood vessels in the end of his nose; usually a tell-tale sign of alcohol abuse somewhere in a person's history. Sure enough, the conversation eventually included references to "2-3 month binges" in his past and that his family had a history of alcoholism. He says he drinks some beer every now and then but stays away from the hard stuff. Phillip lived just a few minutes away and was be hired as a local driver there in Indy for the company.

We returned to the terminal and spent the remainder of the day watching dead children videos. These are truck driver safety videos about everything from vehicle maintenance, to drug abuse, to distractions, to not getting enough rest, to speeding and the end result is always that children die. Usually it's just one child with their mother and the re-enactment fades to black and white and goes into slow motion. The child's face is seen through one of the windows of the passenger vehicle the truck driver is so carelessly careening into because he was high on meth, didn't bother with his pretrip inspection so his brakes aren't properly adjusted, and is fiddling with his radio, doing 95 mph in a residential zone after having been up for 3 days and falsifying his log books. Of course, there is some variation. In one it was kids playing on the shoulder of a highly traveled 2-lane highway; just sitting there, playing with some toy firetrucks. Another involved a school bus FULL of children ripe for the killing. One had a repetitive montage of scenes from the re-enactment while a chilling country and western tune played with lyrics like "a little boy that'll never get to grow up." Another occurred during a dream sequence where the driver sits bolt upright in bed after the nightmare, and is later shown staring soberly in a bathroom mirror and splashing cold water on his face. The drug abuse one featured a poor man's Michael Madsen smoking cigarettes at a table in a prison jumpsuit while he recalled his child killing.

For added entertainment, these videos were dated between 1985 and 1997, way before the prevalence of Qualcomms and cell phones. They showed drivers stopping to use payphones to call their dispatchers, or a driver asking passersby to find a phone to call for help as a matter of accident protocol. The safety video for cornering/turning included a cab-over tractor and dialog like "since 53 foot trailers are starting to become more and more common". There were also a lot of un-ironic mustaches, polyester suits, bad sweaters, big hair, and work-place smoking.

This is basically all we did the rest of the afternoon and through the morning on the second day. At noon, we got some $5 gift cards for Subway and proceeded to head out. Phillip handed me his and told me that he was going to go home for lunch that day. When I returned from lunch, I sat in the orientation room goofing off on my laptop until things began again. After a while, I noticed it was after 1:30 and no one had ever come in there, including Phillip. I began to worry that maybe I was in the wrong place and had misunderstood something about the post-lunchtime part of the day. I hunted-down Gretchen, the chick who had been doing most of the orientation stuff. She said that they had been waiting around on Phillip. I told her about him having gone home for lunch. They tried calling him and just got his voice mail. He never showed-up the rest of the day. The safety director came in and gave about a 2 hour presentation, then Gretchen gave me a final onslaught of paperwork to fill out and presented me with a bag full of goodies like logbooks, trip envelopes, seals, and a company cap. By 4:30 it was all over with and it was time to return home.

Since Frankfort was on the way to Georgetown from Indianapolis, I was told that it was okay to take the van home for the night and simply return it when I reported for work at 9:30 the next morning. I hope to write about that, including some pictures of my truck in the coming days.