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Thursday, November 1, 2018

UPDATES - Pittsburgh and the Trucking school

As many of you know, I'm from Pittsburgh.   I did not know any of the people that were involved in the senseless murders.   I don't know anyone that was directly involved.

However it's always different when it's your home.   I know that are of Pittsburgh well, having eaten in the restaurants nearby, having friends that grew up in the area.   I remember dancing in a few local bars.

Squirrel Hill, and to a lesser extent; neighboring Shadyside, where always the Jewish part of town.   Hasidic Jews are very common on the streets, and recently I learned that Pittsburgh has one of the larger Jewish communities in the United States.  It's growing as well.

By now, many people have learned about how the local Muslim Community raised over one hundred thousand dollars for the families of the slain and injured.

Pittsburgh is a special place, everyone raves about their hometowns of course, but we "Yinzers" know something about our town.   Part of it was due to the history of our city, part of it was do to topography.

Pittsburgh is a city of immigrants,and the Jews started to move into the area in the early 1830's.  As was the custom at the time many of them congregated together in certain areas of the city,  Squirrel Hill became the Jewish neighborhood, and it's remained that way since.

Pittsburgh however is not a easy city to get around in, and you often crossed rivers and bridges (literally and figurative) to go from one part of the city to another.   This exposed Pittsburgher's to different cultures, languages and even religious beliefs on a daily basis. 

Since Pittsburgh was a "blue collar steel town", "The Polack, the Jew, the Negro, the Irishman" all worked side by side and provided the steel that forged a nation.  Various words unique to the area but I'm sure a linguist would be able to trace the roots of them back to various languages somehow formed so that everyone could somehow communicate.

What this has meant is that Pittsburgh and it's citizens have been very proud of their city, very open to outsiders and have developed an attitude of "live and let live" when it comes to your personal beliefs and opinions.

Generally speaking, Pittsburgh is a very progressive and forward looking city.  It is stronger than hate.

Now that we got the political part of the blog out of the way......

Let's talk about not succeeding.

I could never really master backing up the truck.   Straight line backing is exactly like it seems and I did OK with that.  Where my issues where is something called "Off Set Backing" and "Ally Backing." 

Off Set Backing is basically go from Lane A into parallel Lane B.  You pull up forward and then back the truck up into the parallel lane. 

While the attached video makes it look easy, it's actually not.   Set up is everything, although the ally docking is a bit easier than the off set.

Sadly I just could not seem to master it.  I had spent over 200 hours of working in class, on the pad (where we practiced these procedures) and actually driving on the road. 

I tried my best, I gave it my best shot.   Even though I mastered everything else, these two procedures I just could not figure out.

Long story short, I threw away a lot of money doing something I'm not sure of I would have liked doing in the first place.  I also find myself without a job at the moment.   I'm not even sure if I can collect unemployment since my former job and I parted ways on good terms, although I was told that I would be welcomed back by former managers.

It's okay no matter what happens.  Life is weird and wonderful and full of surprises.   In the meantime however...anyone got a job open?

Sunday, October 21, 2018

At the end of week two

I'm tired.

I'm one of the oldest, if not the oldest person in my class.   Most of my classmates are in their early 20's.  Most are Hispanic or from the Caribbean. A few are heavy tattoo'd.

Here I am.  The banker, the insurance agent, the wanna be writer and semi-philosopher.   I feel out of touch, out of place and at times lost.

I'm not doing badly, I am doing well when it comes to the day to day law, logs, paperwork.  These are things that I am used to.  This makes sense to me.

It's the practical part of driving that scares me somewhat.  How to maneuver a large vehicle is small spaces.  How to change from one loading dock to another without wrecking.   Why I can't seem to remember that if I want to make that dumb trailer go to the left, that I need to turn to the right when backing up. 

For these reasons and more, I decided to switch over to "automatic only" simply because I was having trouble getting the downshift procedure correct, and with only four days left of class (starting Monday), I didn't think I had enough time to truly master it and everything else that I have to make sure I know.  It will result on a "limit" on my license meaning that I can only drive automatic trucks but frankly the industry is going that way anyhow and nearly all companies have automatics now.

I'm still not sure if I'm making the right choice.  However I'm trying to concentrate on the positives of my choices.   When I was working insurance I've had checks as low as 500 a week and up to 2,000 for a week.   There was no consistency.

I'm hoping that changes.

Now that I'm getting older and facing retirement in the face, I'm planning on working till at least 70, I need a good matching 401K and a few other things.   Trucking companies are one of the few that still match dollar to dollar up to 6 or 7%   Frankly that's pretty much unheard of anymore in banking and insurance.

The idea of being able to take Sue with me and see the country while getting paid is a definite plus in that column. 

Still though, it's the physicality of it that's surprised me.   Truck drivers are often expected to put in 14 hour day.  They can spend up to 11 hours of it behind the wheel, which surprised me.  Of course, I know from an early job in my life that working a 14 hour day and "working" a 14 hour day are two different things.

You arrive somewhere and it takes them an hour or two to load your truck as you sit in the cab resting.  Technically you are "working" but not really.   Your taking a quick nap or watching video's on YouTube.   I get it.

This is the last week, I have a job waiting and two more that I really, really want to try and get into.  It looks like that I'll be driving over the road (OTR) for at least 6 months.  Again, a lifestyle change that scares me.

It's always scary. 

I'm to far in now to turn tail and run.  If this is not for me, then I will find a way out of it, but I will always have the CDL license.   I will always have those skills.

Let's see what happens.

Thursday, October 11, 2018's been a week? Really? Feels longer than that.

For a lot of reasons I decided to change careers.

1)  I was not making the money I was expecting to, even though I have supervised, trained others and such in exactly what I was doing.

2)  I was burned out.

3)  See number two.  I think I just got to a point where I wasn't happy anymore, and it showed.

I should be fine.....right?
This first week has been...long.   We are in class for about 10 hours each day and are basically learning how NOT to fail the DOT CDL exams.    After four days of training, I earned my learner's permit.   Today was that day.  Which means that I can finally get behind the wheel of a truck.

I'm still not sure if this is something I want to do.   I mean, lets be honest, the hours are long.  I'm going to be making good but not great money (although it will be consistent in theory) and will most likely end up away from home for the first six months to a year.  It's rare that a local company (companies that operate within 115 miles) will higher a noob.   You can't blame them.  It's a safety issue and these trucks are not cheep. 

It's only in week two and three that we actually get to drive.  Basically we have 14 days to learn the basics and then get hooked up with several companies.  That being said, I'm not that happy with any of the companies that the school has offered.  They are all big over the road (OTR) companies with shall we say....shit reputations. 

I've a few friends in the industry and two out of the four that my school offers were basically Oh Hell No!!! from the lot.  For several reasons however I'm not going to mention who they are just in case I do end up working for one of them.

Besides I would rather stay close to home (see previous post). 

All I can do really is just try and find the best fit for me and being the geek that I am, I'm going online.   A proverbial crapload of info out there to try and shift through. 

There are also a lot of options out there that I've never really considered before, like cement trucks or working for a local construction company.  Yes, it's possible and that would give me the experience I need for a job later on that might be more towards my liking. 

I just never figured that I would end up doing this.  However I lived with a guy for a brief that that was an OTR driver.  He had a Master's in philosophy and decided to take a year off before pursuing his Doctor's degree and see the country.    He never went back for his doctorate (as far as I know) because he loved being out on the road. 

I loved the fact that his 1/3 of the rent showed up on time and that he was never really around.  When he was about it was always a good time though.  You just never really know where life is going to take you.   So why not find out?

Friday, October 5, 2018

From 2 smaller wheels to 18 big ones

These past two years have been interesting.  I've made some good decisions, some bad ones.  Some were made for me...But as of October 1st, I'v officially left the financial world and enter a new one.

It's a complete change of lifestyle for me, and as you probably guess from the title, I've decided to drive a truck.  I'll get to my reasons in a bit, and since no one really reads this blog, I'll do so in my own time.

I have been in call centers all my life, I've been a phone jockey. I've been a team leader. a trainer, a supervisor, a manager.   Honestly there is much that I've not done.  When I decided to go the independent insurance route in 2016 it was a bit of a shock.  Luckily I didn't lose money the first year like I feared.  I didn't make money either but I didn't have to hijack anything out of our savings accounts to pay bills, so I'll consider that a success.

Then ten months ago a friend of mine called me and suggested I go to work back in a call center.  I would still be an Independent agent, but one where I would not have to pay for leads and that's a large chunk of change saved up right there.   The job also had a few other perks like working when I wanted to, as long as I put in 40 hours, etc.

The first 3 months were training, paid at $18 an hour on Medicare products.  I'm a big fan of Medicare, but not of selling it over the phone.   However I did what I was asked. In the months that followed, I only hit my sales goals once.  Something needed to change and you can read about that more in the other blog I keep.

So why trucking?   Well, I have my reasons but it mostly had to do with skills and being in a job where I would always be in demand.  It's not recession proof, but is damn close to it.  I'm not worried about doing the actual job, I can learn that part of it. While I may be a proverbial monkey with a gun when it comes to anything mechanical, I can learn.

What scares me honestly is being isolated.  I am an introvert at heart but I also know that in the past I've made bad choices because I was lonely.  I'm also hoping that this isolation and new experiences will get me back into writing and blogging.  It's something I've missed, and besides, my first best selling novel should have been written by now (actually I've the first 3 chapters done and it has the working title of "Emma").

I read about drivers that may not be home for months.  Or how you see nothing but strangers (waitress's, dock workers, other truckers) and how your whole world consists of the cab and sleeping quarters of your truck.   A world reduced to 50 square feet.

I also read about seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time and the beauty of the high plains or watching the sun raise over the ocean...then watching it set the same day over mountains in the west.  Of the wonder of leaving the desert and driving into snow. 

What this came down to for me was a change of pace, of needing to finally do something different for a bit.

What this came down to for me was family.  While I can do insurance and banking anywhere in the world (and my former company did offer me the chance to work from home), it's also based on relationships.   That life insurance policy leads to a call about Medicare.  You need Dental work?  I got that covered.  Your daughter is getting married and needs home owner's insurance?  Done.

I remember I insuranced an entire street because I treated the people right.  I've several standing invites for dinner and at least one woman offered to set me up with her Daughter!  Relationships matter.

Still, however, I have to face facts.  My father is ill, and my mother will need help in Pennsylvania.   Sue's family is in the same place, her father doesn't even remember her now. 

The income needs to be more stable moving forward.  I need a job where I can slip into easily without much disruption if we do move.   Insurance and banking is about building relationships, and I'm not willing to spend another two years or more of my life to building those relationships again in a new city.

I just hope I'm making the right choices.

So long story short, I'm back in the blogging game.  Concentrating on travel and trucking and what ever else comes my way.

Take care.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Rocky Bleier - The Play

I happened to see this the other night...and thought I would share some thoughts bopping around my head on it.

To quote someone in the attached video "If someone had come to us with the Rocky Bleier story as a work of fiction, we would have found it to far fetched."

Rocky Bleier is, for those either not interested in or those that don't follow sports, perhaps one of the greatest living Pittsburgh Steelers of all time.  He played on the dominating teams of the mid and late seventies where he won four Super Bowls and was elected into the football Hall of Fame. 

Susan won tickets during a giveaway at a local watering hole where we will go and watch the games with other "Yinzers" and Pittsburgh sports fans. 

He was also awarded the Purple Heart in Vietnam for the injuries he suffered in the battle field, where a grenade severely damaged his right foot and a bullet damaged his thigh. 

"The Rock's" comeback story is inspirational and sometimes hard to believe.  He was told he never walk again...much less play football.   He was told he never be good enough to make the first team, he was actually cut by the Steelers several times, yet he fought back.  

Even after catching a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, the words out of the announcer's mouth were "He's not that good of a player."

What surprised me in the play, if you indeed can call it a play....think of it as more as a one man's life story seen through the eyes of sports....and how sports reflects on culture.  

1)  Bleier was born and raised Catholic.  While he doesn't swell on his Catholicism, actually not bringing it up much at all, he's really not thanking some higher power.   Concentrating more on chance and probability.  "What," he asks "are the chances of a football deflecting just right and into the outstretched arms of a man of Italian American history being in just the right place at the right time?   Or that of a grenade rolling off the back of my commanding officer to land, unexplored, between my feet?

2)  Being a Vietnam veteran and suffering so, Bleier has the right to go on an anti-war triad if he wants so, it's the only political moment in the play and is handled with honor and respect.  "The country chose amnesia over history" he states.  

Bleier's story is remarkable in a lot ways, even if he had never played football for the Steelers. It is also something that is truly unique to Pittsburgh in a lot a ways. Not the tropes about some blue collar kid doing good.  Or when life knocks you down,you get up and move on.  The biggest disappointment you can ever have is not believing in yourself.

When people ask me, "Why do Pittsburgher's love their Steelers?"  You can point to Rocky in a lot of ways.   Rocky Bleier's The Play is a talk about his life, and in a lot of ways a story about rebirth and renew.  

Pittsburgh was a dirty steel town, so dark it's been said that the streetlights never turned off.  Then the citizens said, "No more" and it wasn't.  The Pittsburgh Renaissance started in 1947 and continued all the way through till 1973.  That's when the mighty steel mills started to shut down, unemployment started to run rampant.   I was 7 at the time, and although I don't remember my family suffering much...I know there was suffering.

I do know that as I was growing up, into the late 70's and early eighties one beacon of hope was the Mighty Steelers, and I also remember the city investing in things like Education, something new called "robotics" and how we, as a city, were building towards the future.   Oh yes, we were knocked down...but we win in the end.

Pittsburgher's shyly smile at each other because we know, that no matter where we go those three rivers run in our blood.   That you find strength in teamwork, in building for the future.  In hard work and dreams and sweat. 

You make your own probabilities. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

To Leave or to Stay

These past couple of months have been interesting to say the least.

The talk about me getting a new bike is settled for now (I will be buying a new bike by year's end).  A new dilemma has reared its ugly head in our family and is one, which while not consuming us, has certainly kept us awake at night.

Should we stay here in Florida, or head back home to Pittsburgh?

This all has to do with family.

The lovely Susan has family there, so do I, but her mother is starting to show signs of Alzheimer's disease.  Sue is the oldest child of five and it seems, the only one with not only the ability but the desire to help her mother.

Then their is my family.  My father is in his mid 80's and has two benign tumors in his head.  My mother, 10 years his junior, is capable of taking care of herself but she can't drive and is showing signs of dementia.  Unlike Sue's mom, she has not been tested but the signs of the two illnesses are similar, and my brother can not take my mother in for a variety of reasons.

Both of them will refuse to move to Florida.  Sue's mother is rooted to her home in Grove City, PA (about an hour north of Pittsburgh) and my mother will not leave her only granddaughter.  My father, always the stoic, knows that the best care he can get is in Pittsburgh.  It makes sense for him to stay.

We are faced with some startling realities. 

1)  Our parents are not immortal.  No matter how much we with they were.

2)  I have lost two aunts to Alzheimer's in the last 3 years.  Now my mother is showing signs of it or dementia.  This scares the hell out of me.

3)  Susan's medical issues can be better served in the cool of Pennsylvania, as the excessive heat in Florida can effect her more than we like.

It does bring up a good question though about what is home.   Sue's family is rooted to the area, she is too...even though she moved 1000 plus miles to be with me.  My brother feels the same way.  Although my parents have moved and traveled a lot since retirement, they still call Western Pennsylvania home. 

I love Pittsburgh, it's rivers run in my veins and I do like going back to it.  I've written about it before.  It is really a great place to live.  I remember reading somewhere that if Pittsburgh was a European city, people would flock to it.

However home for me is wherever I've hung my hat.  I've lived in Tampa for over 10 years, in Charlotte, North Carolina for over 10 years.   Charleston, South Carolina for a bit.  Savannah, GA for a bit.  I've considered taking a job in Jacksonville/St. Augustine, Florida at one time (and in hindsight, I should have but that's in the past).   I was also offered a job in Boise, ID early in my career. 

Pittsburgh may always be "home", but somewhere along the way, it stopped being "home."

I've been halfway around the world and am serious planning on retiring to Portugal if Sue and I ever break up or she dies before me.   I'm not joking.   I've looked into it.

Jack Kerouac must have influenced me more than I thought he did.   Jean Genet too but for completely different reasons.  I remember a friend of mine - Matt the Muppet - handing me that book when I was in my 20's.   "This book will fuck up your life."   To the young philosophy minded education major, it did.    But I regress.

So here I sit, a still young man that can not imagine himself being 52, considering what he will do.  Considering yet another career change and wondering if a move would be helpful at all.   I'm not sure if I could even find another job paying what I make now.  Nor am I sure I wish too.

When my grandparents passed, I was still a young man.  I didn't understand what my parents (who were my age) were going through.  What they were feeling.   Now I face the same choices, the same decisions that they did.  It's not easy. 

The reality of it is starting to sink in.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

That itch

So it's a lovely Saturday.

"Where's your riding gear?" Craig asks.

Truthfully I had considered it.  I don't have a helmet but I'm sure the dealership would have let me barrow one, or even thrown it in as part of the package if I was serious about buying.

I won't lie, I had the itch.

In fact, I've had the itch for a while now.   It was always there.  I would be driving somewhere and see a group of bikers heading out somewhere.   I would sometimes see a bike for sale on the side of the road, or in a dealership somewhere.  It really started to itch badly when I saw advertisements for the 2018 DGR!  It may have been one of the best moments in my motorcycling life...and I wanted to do it again.

The Triumph dealership did have a street twin that seemed to be calling my name.   Nice and neat with that classic look that I love so much.

Tempted?  Yes, very much so.

They actually had a 2017 on the lot that was still under warranty and the previous owner had switched it over to half pipes and did something else I don't remember to the exhaust.   The bike had a low, throaty growl to it that sounded deep and resonate.  "That" a random women said to me, "sounds like a motorcycle" and I knew exactly what she meant.

Frankly if the salesman had not pushed so hard, I may have signed some paperwork right then or; at least taken a test ride.

At 900 cc and a high torque engine however, I could see myself getting into trouble quickly on that bike.   I hate to admit but I like some speed.  I may have been a little to "quick" for my own good on the I worried about that...and I know deep down that I would be a hell of a lot more careful.

Plus, even though I learned to ride on a standard transmission motorcycle.  I never fully felt comfortable in shifting.  When I rode a friend's bike here and there, I never really felt that I mastered that was one reason why I switched to, and preferred scooters.  That was one less thing to worry about.

Sue and I are talking, and she seems more interested in getting a bike than I am.  The Harley Dealership next door had a lovely 35K trike with all the fixings.   That is more than I paid for my car, and it was brand new.  She would like me to get something like that and again feels that it would be safer.

In a way she is right.  Plus I know that with all her medical issues, the days of her climbing on back and just riding with me are slim to none.  She knows that too, so a trike may be better overall choice.

Now...can we find one that's affordable?