The best rookie story of all time

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Updated Aug 21, 2016

Y’all gotta hear this one.

We were actually told this story a while ago. It’s taken me this long to get the courage to ask the teller if he’d let me write it. I was allowed with the caveat that “discretion is the key here,” so all names have been changed. But: we both think there’s a pretty good chance someone out there may have had a similar experience with this particular trainer, or one like him.

Let’s go waaaaaaay back to 1996 and visit our friend “Pete,” as he gets a look at the guy who’s going to be sleeping three feet from him for 6 weeks.

“He was an older guy, 60-ish maybe. I think he might have trained two or three more after me and retired – he was close to being done. He started trucking in the early 60s, wore his trucker hat way up high in the back with the brim low in the front, had a cigar in his mouth constantly, never lit it.”

Pete climbed on to the trainer truck in Jackson, Miss., making $70 a week as an OTR trainee for six weeks of scheduled, observed training. He said he had half a carton of Marlboro Reds and $10 to his name when “Trainer Bob” told him to grab his logbook and get in the sleeper. Ol’ Bob said they were going to Atlanta to deliver some produce. Pete grabbed his gear, and did what he was told.

“We rode along an hour or two. He never said much. We stopped at the BP to fuel, and Trainer Bob hung out, shot the breeze with the owner while I sat there at a table like a little kid, eating a Slim Jim, waiting for him. He finally wrapped up his conversation, motioned to me and said, ‘Alright boy, it’s time to go,’ so I followed him to the truck and we headed out again.”

Ham-SandwichPete tells us that Trainer Bob was a man of few words. He chews on the unlit cigar, but he doesn’t say much, and they ride along in silence for a couple more hours. Trainer Bob finally says, “Son, I know it’s hard making $70 a week as a trainee. I want you to know you’re safe here, you won’t go hungry. I’ve got a cooler full of Cokes and deli meat in the back, chips in the cabinet – fix yourself something and don’t go hungry.”

Pete was absolutely delighted to hear this information. He said he wasn’t looking forward to six weeks of Slim Jims and crackers. It was nice to know he could have a nice ham sammich once in a while if he needed it. He crawled back into the bunk, found the cooler, and made himself a delicious, savory ham-and-cheese masterpiece. Pete completed the delicious lunch with a bag of chips and an icy cold Coca-Cola from the cooler. He was feeling pretty good about things when he sat back down in the passenger seat with his meal. The first bite of the sammich made his mouth water – he said it was one of the most delicious bites of ham, cheese and bread he had ever taken.

Trainer Bob never appraised the situation in any way other than to take the cigar out of his mouth (for the first time Pete could remember), point at him, and say, “Son, if I feed ya’, I [I’m going to use the word “fornicate” here, but “Pete” used a whistle to avoid the un-family-friendly word Bob actually used – Pete is a gentleman who would refrain from language like that around ladies anyway, and I love him for it] ya.”

So Bob basically tells Pete his savory sammich is going to have a price he may not be entirely comfortable with.

(Side note: as we are being told this story, I am completely rapt at this point … jaw is hanging and I’m waiting to see if our buddy is going to reveal some really personal information I don’t particularly want to know here.)

Pete’s face is indescribable as he’s relating this part of the story. He’s very intent, and I feel like something awful has the potential to happen:

“Suddenly, that sandwich wasn’t nearly as savory. I choked down the bite I had taken and set the thing to the side, I couldn’t eat any more of it. I didn’t know what to do, so I sat in silence and contemplated my options. I didn’t have a cell phone to ease my mind – it was 1996 and I was broke. I just sat quietly and stared straight ahead, and thought about my virginity in those areas and how much I cherished it.”

Pete says they rode along about another hour in tentative silence. Trainer Bob was the first to speak: “I’m just kidding, son. I ain’t like that. I was just feeling ya’ out, trying to see what you’re made of. You’re safe here.”

Pete says he was so rattled, he didn’t know whether to find the sandwich and finish it, or just be quiet, so he just sat quietly and smiled like an idiot until they finally stopped for the night. “I did my six weeks with Bob,” he says, “and Bob he made me the trucker I am today. He taught me a lot, he was kind of like a dad to me.”

Pete relates a final story about his time on the road with Bob:

“He had a calling card he’d use to talk to his family at the stops – I’d go play pinball while he pulled the phone over to a table, like they used to do before cell phones. We were three miles from our stop one night, and he had been on the phone long enough for me to get high score on a pinball machine in the lounge. He walked by and told me it was time to go. I argued back I was beating the high score and we were three miles from the stop with plenty of time to make it. He told me he didn’t give a damn about my high score, we had a job to do and it didn’t matter how much time we had to get to the delivery, if we weren’t there yet. I walked away salty, but I learned a lesson. We were out there to do a job, and I wasn’t to make the high score on a pinball machine.”

Pete ended up finishing his time with Bob and was assigned to a brand new flat-top Freightliner that he drive back and forth from Columbus, Ohio, to Bakersfield, Calif., for 28 cpm until he couldn’t stand it anymore and quit.

This 20-year vet of the industry is still kicking it out there somewhere in the Southern States, and he has one of the most memorable trainer stories of all time. Kudos, brother.

Be safe out there.

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