The CDL School I attended was located in Priceville, Alabama. A Super 8 motel room would be my home for the next three weeks. I did not know what to expect on the first day, but I met a wide range of personalities in the other students. The range included a Mississippi farm boy with a middle-school education to a former software engineer with a Master’s degree. There was an ebony giant named Steve, who looked like an offensive lineman for the New England Patriots and, his foil, a rail-thin fellow named Ray. There was also Mike, from North Carolina, who had worked in the computer field in some capacity, but seemed perpetually bitter because of “lowering” himself to training for a trucking career. And, of course, there was the guy who already “knew everything” and for whom, in his mind at least, this school was a mere formality. Despite the varied backgrounds and personalities, everyone here had at least one thing in common: each person was seeking a better life for himself or, he was seeking to get his life back on track from a prior misfortune. So, it came as no surprise when a camaraderie quickly developed among most of us. Driving School Amsterdam
I became fast friends with Alan, the former software engineer. Alan had been laid off from his engineering job and, at 54; he’d been having difficulty finding suitable employment in a young man’s field. Like me, Alan had a lot riding on the success of this new venture. After the expenses of moving from New York to Alabama and the costs of CDL school and my motel, my savings were dwindling rapidly. If this trucking thing didn’t work out, I was screwed. However, Alan and I were not the only ones who had pushed our chips “all in” on this hand. The guy from Mississippi said that he’d ripped the stereo system out of his car and sold it at a truck stop in order to have gas money to get to Priceville.
As is often the case, most of us banded together and helped to alleviate the concerns of our circumstances through laughter and joking. Steve was the biggest comedian of all, both literally and figuratively. Steve wore a perpetual smile, and the clowning giant was the rare type of person whose mere presence tends to lift one’s spirits. He was always a joy to be around and he usually kept everyone laughing, except Mike, who maintained a sour view of the world.
The training format of the school put us in the classroom during the first week in preparation for the written tests, and the next two weeks introduced the road training for the driving portion of the test. I wasn’t too concerned about the written tests-but, I was VERY concerned about the road test. This could prove to be the potential worm in my apple but I was determined to give it my best shot.
The classroom instructor was a rotund, middle-aged fellow named Ron. He boasted many years of over-the-road experience and, although he may not have been the most entertaining instructor in the world, it soon became clear that he had probably forgotten more about trucking than most of us would ever know. Thanks to Ron’s expertise, 10 of the 15 students passed the written tests on the first try. Three of them passed the second time around and, the other two had to make a third attempt but, eventually, everyone in the class had passed. Now, it was time to drive the trucks. Oh boy…
Alan and I bantered nervously in the crisp morning air of the big day. Alan was a transplant from England and, although he had been in the States for sixteen years, he had not lost an iota of his Cockney accent. When he became aggravated or nervous, his accent tended to become even more pronounced-sometimes to the point where I’d have trouble understanding him. On this morning, I didn’t need to understand him. We were both nervous but, at the same time, we were excited about the new challenge before us. We’d be spending the first couple of days in the yard, learning straight-line backing and 45° angle backing.
The instructor entered the yard before the sun had fully risen and waved for us to join him at the row of trucks in the yard. The rank of about a dozen trucks was mostly ancient long-nosed Freightliners and dilapidated Volvos but, presumably, they all worked. They reminded me of ancient battle-scarred warriors who should be resting in retirement but who have been recalled to active duty for one last fight.
The instructor’s name was James, who was a little younger than Ron, but whose shoulders were slightly hunched, as if he’d been carrying a cinder block before he’d arrived. He had a cookie-duster mustache and spoke in a nasal monotone, which made me glad that I’d ingested plenty of coffee this morning. James, as we would discover, had a propensity for talking about women’s breasts. He didn’t just talk about them, mind you, he analyzed them: the shape, the size, the feel, the texture, the smell, the “rating system”, the color, the roundness of the areola, the smoothness, the pear-shaped ones, the apple-shaped ones… well, you get the picture. At first, the mammary musings of James was funny and entertaining but, after a time, it started seeming a little creepy. It was obvious that he was obsessed with the glorious globes. I’ll admit that I have an appreciation for female breasts myself, but they are rarely exposed as a topic in one of my normal conversations. James spoke of breasts as if he were casually talking about the weather. Be that as it may, James was our instructor now, and I fervently hoped that he had more knowledge to bestow upon us than the most plausible route to “Titty City” in Nevada.