I might not have long to blog today — as soon as Nick wakes up, we need to head down to the truck and start training. I believe he could pass the CDL skills test right now, but we have a couple more days to tighten up and, selfishly, I want him to slam dunk it.
I was a CDL examiner in Arizona, in one incarnation, and probably tested out 150 or so candidates in this state. I had a great mentor who would always answer the phone when I had questions or qualms, Jim Dumais. In Arizona, the prevailing perspective is: the more instructors you can get through 3rd Party Examiner school, the better — whether you go on to staff them *as* examiners or not — because you want that close connection between the curriculum and the testing criteria. Teach what will be tested, test what’s been taught. Kind of makes sense, huh?
I worked in CDL training in New Mexico for a year and a half, after that, and my feelings about it are mixed. I made some quantum leaps in my instruction ability and personal understanding of truck stuff, there, vs Arizona. Both curriculum and testing were more rigorous, sometimes egregiously. My big concern, always, is as I said before: are we teaching what will be tested, and testing what’s been taught? The answer always was: I don’t know and I never will; I’m not in the privileged echelons of New Mexico Examiners, which is an elite only slightly more accessible than 33rd degree Freemasons. They kept that shit locked *up*, and it was up to us — the entire entity of a 15 week long training course housed in the auspices of a community college — to constantly guess what the fuck the examiners wanted or didn’t want. Our feedback came in the form of students passing or failing, period. So we had these 15 week cycles of trying new things to help people pass — near total guesswork. There was no pow-wow or willingness to pow-wow, from the examiner elite, and I found that simply disgusting.
I mean, here we are, 60k drivers short in the industry as a national baseline. We’ve got people ready, willing, and able to enter the industry. They’ve already shown they can jump through the initial MVD hoops, authenticate their own existence in fifteen ways, take some tests, and get themselves into a training program. There’s a wait list for this program every semester, on top of 100% enrollment. Additionally, we have a well-funded cadre of experienced, caring instructors, and a big ass fleet of trucks and trailers. We’ve got everything. Allllll we need is a regular, earnest pow-wow with the examiners, so we can provide the best possible information to the students in exchange for their time, money, and hard work. With the simple addition of that one thing, I’d say: anyone who wants a CDL should go to New Mexico. That’s were the best training I’ve ever seen can be found. You’ll know more, graduating that 15 week course, than some people who’ve been on the road five years. I’m not exaggerating. It’s badass.
BUT, no. I tell everyone, go to Arizona, so you won’t get fucked over by a system that is, ultimately, broken. Just that one little piece, but it’s such a problem. The New Mexico examiners will fail you if you run the yellow light. They’ll fail you if you stop at a yellow light. They’ll deduct points for turning appropriately with a 48 foot trailer, saying you would have curbed it if it was a 53’. But they’ll also deduct points for you shifting into high range at low rev, saying if you had been loaded, you would have lugged the engine. So it’s not okay for you to drive the equipment you have — you should pretend it’s some other equipment; but then if you drive as if it’s some other equipment, they’ll mark you down for that. They invented a rule about the offset back: no pull-ups allowed until the trailer has broken the plane of the front-most cones. That’s not anywhere in the CDL manual; not in New Mexico, not in any state. It’s not a thing. They just created it, and no one can do anything about it.
And you know, at the end of the day, some of this could be hearsay. Maybe they did a great job, with these students, and I just got the secondhand version from people bitter about failing. The point is, I have no idea, nor do any of the other instructors, because there’s no mechanism or opportunity for comparing notes, in New Mexico.
So yeah, my short time there was punctuated by constantly sending amazed emails to the Associate Dean. I wanted them to send me to NM examiner school so bad, just so I could get some clear information and bypass all the hearsay, which is exactly what they don’t want instructors having the power to do. Believe it or not, I actually do entirely approve of the skills test criteria as it’s established, semi-sort-of-federally. I was explaining to Nick the other day, in regards to backing: this points system is designed, quite ingeniously, to filter in drivers who aren’t perfect but who can recognize and solve their problems, and to filter out drivers who aren’t perfect and also can’t recognize or solve their problems. As a system, it works, much to even my own amazement.
It’s just the only industry I know of which allows, or can allow, some states to evolve a situation where there’s this much of a disconnect between curriculum and testing criteria; ie New Mexico. So, if you want to get a truly top notch education in CDL driving and then be arbitrarily failed by an examiner anyway, go to New Mexico. The 3rd party CDL examiner training program was introduced to relieve this bottleneck, this MVD chokehold on a hungry industry, and rightly so. I think every single instructor in the country who wants to go to examiner school, should be able to, so they have the best possible information straight from the horse’s mouth. It’s only when there’s an attitude of lording power over others that you’d disagree with that statement. Ugh. I did have a good friend in New Mexico who happens to be an examiner that I’d hit up all the time for perspective, and it’s only because I had this guy’s phone number that I could pass along good info. That’s ridiculous.
What’s probably the most ridiculous is that no one’s paying me to care about all this anymore but I’m up in the pre-dawn hours blogging about it anyway. I’m curious what the CDL testing landscape looks like in Hawaii. It might not be as hungry of an industry there, and maybe that’s a good thing, maybe not. They seem to have the aloha spirit on a lot of things; how will that translate?
Anyway the fact is, commercial driving continues to be one of the best, most potentially lucrative, and funnest professions you can get into, without a lot of time and debt, and it truly is a color blind, gender blind, age blind, and nation of origin blind meritocracy. I helped my Libyan friend Dean get his CDL, back in late 2014, and that guy’s already built a new house for his family in Tripoli, bought his own truck, bought a restaurant, and started a family. He made $1400 a month, $700 of it under the table when I met him, and barely spoke English because, like so many immigrants, he came here and got a dead-end job which, thankfully, was a job, but he was cloistered with other immigrants who also didn’t speak great English, and working there six days a week ten hours a day, he’d spent almost a decade being in America but not acculturating, not becoming fluent, not becoming competitive on the job market, not confident enough to handle applications and job interviews. Here, but stuck.
He got his CDL and fucking rocked it, kneeling down on his prayer rug 5x a day all over the country and becoming, quite quickly, a man of means. It’s amazing to be able to do that. And it’s important to retain the spirit of CDL testing, filtering out truly unsafe drivers, while allowing these hungry, vibrant, resourceful people from all walks of life to get a leg up, to get a credential that actually opens doors, and allows them to hustle up a new level of opportunity for themselves with a lot, a lot more freedom.
So yeah, Nick is doing great, he’s a shoe-in, and who knows how much he’ll use this credential in what I consider to be the more rare and profound phenomenon of his gift for strength coaching and addiction recovery mentoring. He’s got a lot of gifts to give the world, and it’s nice that we can bootstrap him up into CDL driving as a ready means of employment or entrepreneurship in an occupationally uncertain time, for us as new Hawaiian immigrants and for the nation’s stupid economy, in the stupid fake pandemic. Basically the coronavirus lockdown started, and continued, and the whole trucking industry was like: “Wow. So anyway —”
I think it’s worth mentioning that the industry has a reputation of taking advantage of drivers, turning and burning, and that’s 100% true. I just think it’s a criticism that logically could be applied to far more industries than just trucking; I don’t understand the hyper-focus on this one. I mean, anyone who’s ever had a job knows what it’s like to be turned and burned and taken advantage of. It’s not only a meritocracy of skill, it’s also a meritocracy of hustle and self-interest. Like, just take it for granted that when you get a CDL, they’re gonna try to squeeze you, you’re gonna try to squeeze them, and even on a bad day there are literally a thousand other driving jobs you could get, so long as you’re not a fuck up. It’s a little wild-westy, to be honest. Always has been, always will be.
There are some great little sub-industries. I don’t know how much my uncle makes per day, delivering wind turbine blades on an oversize, extra long trailer, but I do know he gets $1500/day to just sit in a hotel and do nothing, in the event of a weather related hold up. Which makes him crazy, he hates it. I’ve always shied away from owning my own equipment or brokering my own loads or contracts, but I’m feeling a big desire to lean into it, in 2021. Having Nick’s support is huge, having business ninja Julie’s support is huge; I know my strengths and weaknesses; some of my biggest potential projects simply can’t be executed by me alone. That’s always been my big barrier — not rendezvousing with co-creators who I like and trust enough to grow new projects with. My brother’s excellent, profitable, amazing passion project in Seattle, Kati Vegan Thai, probably wouldn’t have happened had he not rendezvoused with the perfect business partner. They’ve been through a lot together, and she brought all the elements and components he didn’t, and vice versa. It’s an amazing thing, to find someone like that, and it’s sort of dawning on me that maybe I have.
It’s funny when you’re contemplating something you haven’t created yet. It’s like looking at a roadmap where the destination is reasonably clear, but the route to it is just blurry mountains and spaghetti roads. I always say, I love things best the second time. I love trying new foods the second time, hanging out with new people I like the second time, going on a new type of adventure the second time. The first time is just this big catastrophe of me feeling disoriented and not at my best. I’d love it if I could create some kind of trucking and/or CDL-training mini-empire the second time; unfortunately, that means I have to do it a first time, first, with my spaghetti road map. Hopefully Nick, Julie, and maybe Doug Prall over at HDS can take this trip with me. Also maybe Cary. Also who knows. I mean, it would be cool to create an opportunity that others can feel excited about contributing to, so that I don’t have to have all the answers with my spaghetti map and they can feel good about helping me make the map better.
Who knows, who knows. I’m always a little angry, frankly, in a jealousy way, when recent CDL grads go on to own their own trucks and do amazing things. We had this one student, last fall, who was the sweetest guy on earth, and just autistic as all get out. He had some major, major meltdowns early on — learning to drive is a high pressure, multi-tasking occasion that he really had to rise to, sometimes by pulling over and freaking out. Various instructors were like, oh god here we go. But I had him for a six hour long, one-on-one driving shift, shortly before he tested out, and I tell you what. This guy was the happiest, most beatific C3PO *ever*. Just logically and formally narrating, in detail, every moment of what he was observing in traffic, what shifting decisions he was making and why, what he was observing, how the truck was responding. I mean, in his element like no one you’ve ever seen. A lot of students want to talk about training but also just pass the time, on these six hour shifts. Not this kid. He didn’t want to talk about anything but driving, right now, right now, right now. Also a lot of students, on the night shifts, wanted to turn it in a little before 11pm, the end of shift. I mean, when you go out with one single person from 5pm to 11, that’s a long ass time, and it feels pretty late by ten o’clock. Not this kid. I had to like really advocate for us to park the truck, set the brakes, and go the fuck home, at 11pm. On the dot.
He went on to buy his own box truck, get a route or some freight, employ someone to run it, bought another box truck, same thing, and I think he’s on his third one right now. And this is a kid who wore a hair net 24/7 for no reason anyone could ascertain, and thick white socks pulled up over the cuffs of his pants, had zero ability to understand “jokes” — I actually saw him mentally self-destruct in response to something that was just a little good natured jibe among instructors — and he would stop his whole day, his whole backing maneuver, whatever was going on, in the *instant* his sunscreen apparently timed out and he had to put on more. Everyone had to stop what they were doing because it was time to put on more sunscreen.
Oh my god, which reminds me of maybe the funniest story of all, with him: on our long driving shift together, he really wanted to try bumping the dock at the retail store where he’d been a stocker, for the last six years. That’s right — he went from stocking shelves for six years to running his own trucking mini-empire. Anyway: so we went over there, he bumped the dock — apparently he’d been watching professional drivers bump the dock for six straight years and so this was a real magic moment, being that guy finally — and then he wanted to go inside and introduce his manager and co-workers to me. These folks were, totally, his family. He never said a single word about family otherwise, so I don’t know what was going on with that. He’d clearly been negotiating the world on his own, with a reasonably severe disability, for a long time, and with no help, so yeah.
So I’m actually really into this profession, and teaching this skill set, and I’ve been driving a long time in a lot of different trucking sub-industries, but I don’t look like that, you know? I look like a fairly attractive librarian, and unless there’s some reason not to — and there wasn’t — I tend to wear very feminine clothing. So I think I had on jeans, a nice blouse, tall boots, and this lovely sweeping coat, because it was a chilly night in Albuquerque. At the truck school I would generally wear Carharrt overalls earlier in the semesters, so as not to rhetorically confuse the students, and then by the end of the semesters I’d just dress normally but modestly, of course. By then they knew me very well and I had a reputation for being the shifting nazi. I’d take them out to a long straightaway and actually time them, over and over, shifting all the way from first gear up to sixth and back to first, just for the fun of it. And I’d show them, first: look, I just did it in thirteen seconds. Now you try. This sounds extreme I know, but turns out a lot of the crazy coordination issues people have with shifting, revving and lugging and stalling and overthinking, entirely go away if you force them out of their brain and into their body, locking in repetitive muscle memory elements, in an overall fun context. I’d put some music on my YouTube app, whatever their genre preference was, and watch them finally sort out their own issues. There comes a point where they don’t need anyone’s input; they can feel, and hear, what’s happening, and what needs to happen, and you watch them just fine tune it all by themselves, brilliantly. I learned this with classical guitar. There’s nothing on earth that solidifies motor memory better, and faster, than simple metronome drills, to infinity. It’s not fancy, it’s not creative, it’s just the shortest route from here to there.
So I was wearing a nice, feminine outfit, and this autistic student is totally oblivious to anyone’s demographic anyway, and it’s like 8pm on a Friday night. We go into the retail store and, right off the bat, he leads me up to some tired looking female cashiers. With glowing pride and reverence — because trucking is everything to him, and I represent trucking right now — he says, “I’d like you both to meet someone very special,” and then gestures to me.
Their eyes get big as saucers — I mean, in the context, I’m like this babe, and he’s this guy in an in explicably permanent hair net with an arsenal of quirks, and it’s a Friday night, and these cashiers were like “wtf is happening”.
I extended my hand and quickly said, “Hi! I’m his driving instructor, I work for CNM.” This is usually a lot for people to process, because I don’t look right for it, but in this context their re-orientation to the situation was immediately obvious on their faces. The student was still 100% oblivious to the sub-text. They said, “OH! Oh, okay, that makes sense.”
Lollll! It was so funny. So he leads me all over the store, having this same exchange, introducing me this same way, and I keep jumping in and clarifying at the first possible moment. His manager especially was like WHAT.IS.HAPPENING, because the student used an extra degree of reverence — now it’s two people he respects and views as being above him on the pecking order, you know. It was a catastrophe, but so funny, and — gah, what a guy. What a great guy, and he’s just knocking it out of the park now!
So yeah I get a little jealous. I’m like, what the hell? I’ve been doing this a long time and I haven’t built anything for myself from it. Zero passive income, from trucking. But it’s the thing I said before. I just know I’m a Jane of all trades, dabbler, mercenary, which is great, but I need to align with the people who compliment my skill set and my shortcomings in vision, to work together and build something great.
So who knows if, or what, that will be, but I think Nick getting his CDL bodes well for us having an additional paradigm in which to create, together. Which is really what life, and partnership, is about.
Okay, time to go train! Maybe my favorite thing! Next to blogging and wearing pretty dresses! Have a good day, everyone, and — swear to god I’m gonna get back you everyone who’s commented over the last month plus. I’ve been bad about that, but your comments and feedback are really wonderful fore me to read. I hate to type anything meaningful out on my phone and I usually don’t open my computer for the rest of the day, after I blog, unless it’s to watch HBO’s Raised By Wolves here recently in the evenings with Nick. We’ve been amusing ourselves by saying it in a really thick German accent for no particular reason — “FAZED BY FOLVES hap hobben” — but I’ll circle back and thank you all, for sure, very soon.