Sunday, August 8, 2010

Border guards and golf shirts

Two weeks of hard knocks and difficult lessons. Driving for the automotive industry after a spot of experience with a general freight company is a different kettle of fish altogether. (“A DIFFERENT KETTLE OF FISH”, I must be tired, lame Airplane jokes don’t generally feature in my blogs.)

A lot of the work is ‘less than load’; rounding up several shipments from a few suppliers in one region to bring back to different local plants. There is much checking that everything is loaded in the right order, and learning to secure stuff down so that it doesn’t shift about and get damaged on the way. There is learning to move the rear wheels of the trailer to and fro, and charging and dumping the trailer’s air suspension to account for the requirements of different shippers and their loading bays. In other words, a lot more actual physical graft. Clambering about, messing with straps and ratchets, getting grazed, bruised and dirty and ending the day looking faintly reminiscent of Pigpen (only without the little halo of flies, so far) was a lifestyle I associated with flatbed work, left behind when I finished training with Terry, but it’s back with a vengeance despite still driving ‘dry vans’.

Add in the strange places we have been required to visit and I can see why even seasoned drivers have to be oriented with a trainer for a while. Challenger tended to deliver sealed loads to large distribution warehouses on industrial estates on the edge of towns. Linamar collects and delivers at small manufacturing facilities down obscure turnings in city centres. With very tiny shipping and receiving areas in car parks. Full of cars. Driving a long way in a straight line is the easy bit…finding badly signposted factories in crowded side streets, working out how to get in and out of them, how to manoeuvre into the docks, how to correct someone’s paperwork so that there are no issues at the border and how to tell the forklift driver to arrange things in the trailer…all new headaches. I am heartily glad of my two weeks with a highway trainer and almost think I have got some of it.

The border is getting easier, which is one blessing. I have just about mastered the diversions around road works at both ends of the Ambassador Bridge, and am getting better at not forgetting my name and where I live when asked by customs to verify who I am. Since their records show that we have been crossing daily, with perfect paperwork, as time goes by the quizzing is getting a little gentler too. I am perfecting the right sort of polite obsequiousness that makes for a happy border guard… ‘yes sir’ and ‘no ma’am’ go down especially well, so I am learning to pop a ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ in as early in the conversation as possible. The dry-wipe marker trick is definitely helping though, I think I will continue with it for a long time yet. Then that awful moment when you realise you have forgotten where you are going doesn’t contribute to an outbreak of nervous sweating. 

My upper body strength is improving too. I can cut through a seal with one chomp of the bolt-cutters, ratchet down a strap to the exacting standards of my trainer and get the trailer doors closed in one swoop, instead of several minutes generally messing about with levers and handles. And looking like a pillock.

And speaking of looks, I have also learned a little more about being a woman on the road. It’s summer now you see. Back in the winter, when all truckers were bundled up in layers of fleece and woolly hats, no-one could tell from the outside who was driving. I got a sound ticking off from my trainer for wearing a v-necked stretchy T shirt, donned for comfort and ease of movement clambering in and out of the backs of trailers. One is required to look as androgynous as possible behind the wheel; it’s a safety precaution in a truck such as hers which is limited to slightly faster than average. Whether it will matter so much when I get my own truck and find out what speed it is limited to, only time will tell. The reasoning unravels thus…

All Ontario licensed trucks must have speed limiters fitted, so that they can’t exceed about 105Kmph, or 65 mph-ish over the border. The actual speed the limiter cuts in at can vary from vehicle to vehicle, and one that is limited to slightly over the average, as ours is, can be very useful. That extra 2 mph or so can make the difference between getting clear of truck traffic on the highways and sitting behind someone slightly slower than yourself without the acceleration to get past them. But, a chap in a slower truck does not like to be overtaken by a woman. Some of them can get quite snippy about it. It may be an accident of mechanics but that doesn’t ease the ego. Hence the wearing of baseball caps. With a cap over my eyes, hair tucked up into it, large sunglasses and a golf-shirt I can just about pass for anybody. I did think my trainer was being a little OTT about the whole thing until I left off the cap one day last week, due to being so hot that even my hair was sweating. Began to pass a truck just south of Toledo and he tried extremely hard to run us off the road.

I have been out to buy more golf shirts.

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