Even if you can knock ’em down, they get right back up. Chris and I are finally back on the road after some much needed rest at home and the long awaited transition to a new company. In the first week of March, we picked up a rental car on their dime and started a short (by our terms) journey to Northern Georgia for a week-long orientation with a big-boy-bike employer. Bye bye training wheels.
The company we came from was, in all truth, a starting company, largely hiring drivers fresh out of trucking school with newly-minted licenses, though they do hire and keep experienced drivers. But even in an industry that has one of the highest turn-over rates, they hired a lot and hired from a very shallow pool, so to speak, expecting to lose a large percentage after onboarding. As a consequence, their numbers compromised their ability to serve drivers, especially serious teams like us, and their spread-thin fleets had a hard time keeping up with the demands and priorities inherent in the trucking lifestyle. The drivers who stayed were treated as dispensable.
They also created under-trained, complacent, and dependent drivers by installing their trucks with those all-too-obnoxious literal bells and whistles. We do not miss lane alert, critical report monitoring, Bendix radar detection, and the whole host of little tyke “safety” features. For those unfamiliar with those technologies, they’re essentially alerts that pester drivers by incorrectly detecting objects we might collide with, thus slowing us down with a forced engine brake or otherwise distracting us. Definitely more unsafe than safe. The only thing I could say I miss is an on-board navigation system through our Qual-Comm. But even that isn’t essential, and between our company’s set routes, our own knowledge of continental roadways, and the ~deluxe motor carrier’s atlas, we can make our way just fine.
Our new company has none of these features in the truck. We are treated as capable adults and skillful drivers by everyone back in the office, and most importantly, by our Driver Manager (Fleet Manager) and other contacts. The core departments such as Safety and Breakdown are likewise adults who uphold the values of timeliness and communication that this job so sorely needs. They take much better of their equipment; they have to. The majority of the freight is produce or other perishables, so for the first time in our careers we’re hauling reefers (refrigerated trailers) that have to be in better condition for customers’ standards. We have to monitor that temps stay consistent and loads stable, and sometimes even have to supervise loading. We are trusted to do our jobs. Our experience speaks for itself, and guys, so does our paycheck.
We are making over twice what we made at our previous company, so we effectively got a 100-120% raise. I put down a range as our salary pay—you heard me, salary, not cents per mile—only increases as we exceed our monthly minimum miles and get fat mileage bonuses. This company specializes in multiple coast-to-coast team loads per week, so we are getting plenty of miles, and the pay to prove it.
We are in the big leagues now. That means more pay and prestige and quality of the work, but that also means we’re earning it. Our responsibilities are greater in number, our schedules are tighter, and the stakes are higher. We are not just licensed monkeys in the driver’s seat: there is greater emphasis on being our own mechanics, inspectors, safety specialists, and we play a much more active role in transporting high-value and vulnerable refrigerated produce loads. Chris and I both have developed really great driving and maintenance habits in our months with the previous company, but admittedly became a little complacent ourselves in the tepid waters of the kiddie pool. We don’t have as much room for error and are real professional drivers now.
We got a taste for this bigger-fish lifestyle at the offset, when we arrived at the company-sanctioned hotel in Cartersville, Georgia. The accommodations were far and above better quality than the company lodge with our previous employers, and we mingled with “civilians” and breakfasted on better fare than shrunken biscuits and weak coffee. Our four-day orientation—long for the industry—was held at the company offices in Kennesaw, where their care towards drivers was just as evident. Renovated facilities, well produced materials, thorough classes on procedures (if a little slow due to the employee learning curve), free swag, catered lunches, and face-to-face meetings with company leaders. We felt pretty spoiled. A lot of that is just schmoozing, but policies and pay rates don’t lie or flatter. Chris and I are usually pretty good judges of character, and every staff member we met was friendly, honest, and genuinely concerned about our success and that of the company.
Being the stringent skeptics we are, we kept waiting for the other shoe, or really any shoe, to drop. We even admired the swanky modern bathrooms, yet told ourselves that it won’t always be roses and really nice sinks. And indeed, on the last day of orientation, we didn’t get a brand new truck like we had hoped. It has good and bad tradeoffs with the previous one, but is still a solid and well-maintained piece of equipment, even if the previous driver(s) was a little rough with it. It’s got a good scrape on the passenger side hood and some warped cabinetry in the sleeper. Hopefully as we earn experience with this company and stay with them, we’ll get the upgrade we’re craving. And while our actual work on the road in the past few days hasn’t always been easy—definitely not ideal—we recognize it to be par for the course in this industry, and the cost of transition as we learn new skills and adapt to change.
While the majority of our freight is drop-and-hook, our first couple loads were live. With that and working new equipment, new responsibilities and procedures, and unfamiliar customer lots, frustrations (for me) were plenty. In truth, the weakness here is not in the circumstances, but in my own patience: when waiting is the only solution to a problem, when things are out of my control, with other people’s peopleness, and with my own. I’ve ranted in previous blogs about how salty I get when others take me at face value and are shocked to find out that a petite woman can truck. However, sometimes my stature does present a challenge. I’m pretty strong and know how to use my body to my advantage, but when physics betrays my weight class, sometimes I need Christopher’s ~80 lbs of more leverage to open a stuck trailer door or crank a particularly rusty landing gear lever. He’s my faithful partner in moments like these, but not being 100% self-sufficient can really sour my mood. As I’ve become older, committed to this partnership, and eager for this career, I’ve had to learn to trade out independence for interdependence, and that’s a muscle that could still use some strengthening.
I mentioned to family, as we were giving them our “pitch” for choosing this company, that even if it’s not better, at least it will be different. I was right on both counts, and our habit of throwing ourselves into change definitely makes for exciting adventures, even if they can be rife with stress and the discomfort of not being an expert right away. That’s a particularly sore area for me, and while I may sound like I have a super great attitude in this post, in reality I’ve been an absolute ghoul to be around the past few days. With starting any new position, there’s an acclimation period where questions are plenty and mistakes even more so. I have this irksome character flaw where I try to assert myself as a peerless adept even when, to some degree of awareness, I am clueless. It’s taken awhile for me to be confident in “owning” that I don’t know something, or need help, and when my patience and energy levels are depleted, I’ve still got a long way to go.
Chris unfortunately has been on the receiving end of my frustrations because he is the only present mirror of my behavior. As always, he has defused my temper with unconditional love, patience, and a rational perspective. The best part of this whole venture has been working by his side, and becoming my best self with my best friend. A driver couldn’t get a better partner. We weather the challenges together, becoming great at what we do and learning all the while. He never makes me feel bad about not knowing something, or needing help with a little heavy lifting.