The author, sitting on a truck at school.
This May I passed a trucking school on my bike and enrolled shortly after. For four weeks a small group of men and I watched instructional DVDs and took tests in a classroom Mondays through Thursdays from 5:30 to 10:45. Fridays we’d meet in a relatively empty industrial area under a bridge and take turns practicing pre-trip inspections and air brakes tests on an 18-wheeled truck.
Fifty to 65-year-old administrative assistant who handled my paperwork and told me how the school works. Made self-deprecating comments about not understanding technology and offered me a bottle of water. Asked what size t-shirt I wear and I said “Small.” He looked concerned, said “Are you sure? They shrink in the wash,” then began insisting I take a blue polo shirt instead of a white t-shirt. Another administrative assistant helped us look for the polo shirts in a closet. Jay repeated comments about the shirts shrinking in the wash and the other assistant passively defended the shirts’ integrity. They watched me place a small and medium polo up to my torso. It was quiet for a moment. I looked at the non-Jay assistant, said, “I don’t know, things shrink in the wash,” then looked at Jay and said “I’ll take a medium.” He looked happy.
Class instructor. Moved slowly and looked like he had a permanent twinkle in his eye. Once heard him humming The Addam’s Family theme song as he approached the front of the room with a trucking DVD in his hand. He stood beside the TV, stared into the back of the room, and continued to hum for a few moments after the DVD started playing. I don't think anyone else was aware of this.
Sat next to me on a foldout chair in the truck yard on my last Friday. I hadn’t seen him before. Advised me to invest in a house that needed fixing up, then stand in a Home Depot parking lot at 6 AM and “wait for the Mexicans to help you.” Told me about a business plan and said, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” The business plan was stupid as hell. Showed me MySpace pictures of the inside of his t-shirt store that went out of business. I said, “It looks… big.” Shortly after that he announced he was Muslim then went into the truck to do his air brakes test. The last thing I heard him say was, “It’s hard for a convicted felon to get a job.”
Skinny 40 to 50-year-old who sat in front of me and frequently said things aloud to no one. Sometimes I’d say things back. One day we were the only people left outside on a cigarette break and somehow ended up having a pause-filled conversation about superheroes, which I thought would end with each successive thing said. Came late to class after cutting in front of a man at a gas station who started hitting him. Wore an AC/DC baseball shirt sometimes.
Quiet Muscular Man with Wrinkles and Freckles
Sat next to Mark but didn’t respond to him. Wore Sketchers sneakers and sleeveless shirts. Grew up around trucks. We were often the only two people standing alone at the yard on Fridays, and sometimes had short, business-like conversations about our progress in class and jobs we want to have. Remember him saying “See, I’m 42, so you have your whole life ahead of you,” and, “You seem like a trusting person, don’t listen to everything they tell you,” to me. On my last day of class a beetle flew into my hair and I put it on an envelope and showed it to him. He smiled at it and let it crawl on his finger and said, “It’s a beetle, a bug.”
Reminded me a lot of Everlast. Had a wedding ring and a tattoo of a Puerto Rican flag. Both Fridays he came to the yard, nearly every time I’d see him he’d be under the truck. Pretty sure he dropped out.
Talked fast and knew a lot about basketball. Overheard him dominating a conversation about energy drinks and marijuana. He said he hated coffee until it cured his cottonmouth, mentioned a special kind of blunt, then laughed heartily and made a motion like he was driving a motorcycle with high handlebars. Debated with our instructor about how if you’re involved in an accident, there are certain circumstances where “hitting someone back” would be the right thing to do.
Surly Man with Vague Accent
Sat very close to the TV and didn’t talk to anyone. One day he wore a shirt that wasn’t opaque enough to hide the words “JAMAICA: A LAND TO LOVE” on the shirt beneath it.
Nice Man with Vague Accent
Maybe 20 years younger than Surly Man. Wore sunglasses inside. Frequently answered his phone during DVDs. Saw me walking home after class and asked if it was safe for me to be walking alone and I said it was.
Sat behind me on his first day and initiated conversation by listing all the clothes I should buy before going on the road (three pairs of steel-toed boots: “When you lose a pair, you have two more,” overalls: “When you’re done for the day you don’t wanna mess with pants,” and black socks: “They’re just nice”). Mentally referred to him as “Black Socks” for a long time. Told me, “I already drive trucks; I’m here ‘cause I wanna drive different trucks.” It took a few conversations for me to deduce he was a school bus driver who had failed his trucking road test at least once. Talked with Red the most out of anyone, I think, because he was good at talking in long tangential monologues and I was good at nodding and asking questions. Drove him to the train station a few times. Liked to talk about his plans to live with his fiancée in Landsdown, Pennsylvania.
Wore a white v-neck every day. Something about his face and demeanor made him seem both constantly perplexed and laid-back. I got pizza from across the street and waited at two stoplights so I could finish eating before returning to class. When I reached the school Randy said, “What’s wrong, you don’t wanna jaywalk?” I said, “I tried it once but it didn’t work out too well for me,” and gestured to my remaining pizza. I didn’t know what I meant but Randy laughed. One Friday we sat near each other on foldout chairs and endured one of Red’s monologues by sometimes looking up from our cell phones to facially commiserate. Told me about a two-story seafood restaurant and bar that specialized in frozen drinks that cost $10 but make you “giggly all night.”
Stood outside with the smokers but I never saw him smoke. Approached me on a cigarette break my first day of class and gave nearly non-stop unsolicited advice about “the ins and outs of the classroom.” Mentioned names of classmates as if they were friends. Alluded to living with his parents, or wanting to. Sat next to me the next day and asked if I needed a ride to the truck yard on Friday. Repeated directions to the yard several times after I told him I had a car, but thanks anyway. Two weeks later, after concluding he had dropped out, I saw him sitting at the break room table. He said his grandmother died. I waved to him sitting near the smokers on our next break. Didn’t see him again.
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