28 September 2006

Truckin'! Got my chips cashed in!

It would be decidedly pretentious of me to lay claim to being busy these past few months.

I took a ten-day vacation from my job and returned to it on approximately July 8 or 9 (I dont recall which). By that time, my idyll had nurtured any notions of discontentment that I previously entertained (and there were a great many) to the point that I had already determined to move on to something else.

My nine hour drive from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Chicago consisted of me wondering what other sort of work I should I should be getting into. [Normally an eight hour drive, I was taking a longer, "scenic" route to avoid a few toll booths and other hubbub] I have a degree in chemistry, but the last jobs that I had that "required" it could also easily have been performed by a cadre of trained monkeys. In point of fact, a cadre of trained monkeys would have been much more efficient in both positions due to the volume of activity that was expected from me. My last position maily consisted of me running around for 12 hours and pausing only long enough to test something before I was off again. Said monkeys probably would not enjoy it any more than I did, but would have the benefit of working at a much more relaxed pace.

To be sure, I wasn't looking for someting much more lucrative, so much as I was looking for something that I might enjoy doing without putting me at risk for heart failure or other exertion or stress-related disorders. That can be a tall order since many businesses are trying to do more work with fewer people.

Somehow I ended up thinking that I should be a truck driver. For a number of reasons, that makes sense. I'm patient. I am a careful driver. I am mechanically inclined. I prefer to go for days without shaving. And I'm predisposed to sitting around on my ass for several days at a time. I'm kidding. Sorta.

Certain issues at the workplace at the time made me especially anxious to make this change as soon as I could arrange it. From a starting point of knowing very little, I poked around on the internet to try to find out what I ought to be doing. I was shocked to discover that truck driver training could cost more than $5000, depending on where you go and what is involved. [The $5000 was for a 5-week course learning/practicing with multiple truck types] Also available (takes a bit more looking) from some places is a sort of on the job truck driver training.

After poking around a bit I found an address for a truck driving school was was suprisingly close to me. I called them on the phone and then went round to see them in their office and pick up a pamhlet with a course description. They charged $3000 for the course, and the next class, starting the following Monday, was already full and would last four weeks. The previous class was taking an exam, so I lounged around for a bit and talked to the owner about his street racing days. [Apparently he used to have a '51 Olds that was set up with dual thermoquads. He would disconnect the linkage to the front carburetor when he was not racing.]

To my impulsive mind, that was all the information that I needed. That night I gave four weeks' notice at work. I gave notice in an e-mail that I didnt sent til about 3am (cause I was busy) but by the time I returned to work on Saturday night, it had been replied to with a "hope-we-can-work-this-out" tone. I was astounded that it had been replied to at all, especially on a weekend. I gave notice at that time (July 22nd I believe) also because I didnt want to be a brand new truck driver in the middle of winter. There's a scary thought for ya!

I gave four week's notice for a few reasons. It would be four weeks until August 21, when the next class started. They had no prospective students for that class at the time, and I had not given them a committment yet. Four weeks, however, should be adequate time to see if I could find something better, and leave me this school to fall back on if I did not. The main reason that I gave four weeks was because the place I was working for isn't capable of doing anything significant in a mere two weeks time. The only reason that our work schedule was up to date was because people kept going on vacation that month. In the four weeks that followed, they did find one person to replace me (although they were ALREADY short by one person) and started to train him on the Thursday just before I left. That person quit the very same day. Four weeks wasted, just like I expected they would be.

During that four weeks I applied to do an on-the-job training deal with PAM transport. PAM, a few of its subsidiaries, and another company called USA Truck apparently contract this company to do driver training (the related screening) and then hire (to the tune of a one year agreement) the successful candidates. Their brocures read like a fast track to the trucking industry, with information on the four companies that you could be working for. I was all set to go down toFort Wayne, IN to start truck driver training with them on August 21 (ayep, same date!) when a closer reading of their materials revealed a sub-plot that I didn't like.

(Quotes are taken directly from their booklet:)
You can pay $2495 up front to pay for the tuition, in which case you will get $1750 back after one year of employment. (Nominal tuition cost is $5000 which will be deducted from your pay at $45/week during your employment) While you are recieving driver training, you will be staying (typically) at a local hotel for three weeks. "The cost to you is $295. [We] "may,
at our option, agree to finance your housing at a cost of $400." There is a further offer of $200 spending money during the training time. Far at the bottom of the page is the caveat: "Any loans made to you by [us] are simple interest at 18% per annum."

Immediately after hire, you spend 4-8 weeks driving with a trainer in the cab with you. You earn $300/week at this time (minus the $45 for tuition, I expect). Then you start out at 29 cents per mile and can be as much as 32 cents per mile after one year. Increases are more gradual after that.

Basically, I read the financing conditions for training costs and decided that I didnt like what I saw. I fully intended to pay cash up front and be done with it. IF, however, conditions with my employer for the next year were to be anything like the less-than-generous financing offer, I didn't want anything to do with it. So after they had screened me and everything, I finally acted on my suspicions and told them no. I hung up the phone, went down the street to Bestway Truck Training and wrote them a check for $3000.

Upside: I sleep in my own bed and have training less than a mile away.
Downside: I'd be driving a truck right this very moment if I'd gone to Fort Worth.

More on that next time.