This is the first morning in my entire wildland fire season career that I’ve had no ice for my iced coffee. I’m trying to be okay with it. I’ve managed to retain and procure ice under some fairly radical circumstances, but this camp’s disorganization has finally defeated me. Also, our gray water guy never came, yesterday. Or gray water person — anyone, at all, with a truck equipped to suck out gray water. So we just offered showers showers showers, all day long, and our bag got fuller and fuller, and these guys are too disorganized to figure it out. As I mentioned yesterday, the gray water driver currently sleeping in, a quarter mile from me, convinced management that there are like 50 shades of gray water and she can only deal in one, which is not the one we produce. We tried to go into town yesterday (over hill and dale, mountains mountains mountains) on our short mid-afternoon break, to get ICE, among other things, but the fire had burned over the road at I guess third base on the drive, and we all got turned around. The people whose job it is to inspect us were waiting here for us when we returned, ice-less, seeming a little peeved. We had called and texted them multiple times, before leaving, to ensure we didn’t miss them because they’d been a little vague about when they’d be here, and we only had that one window of opportunity to get ice so all our fucking food doesn’t go bad, and we don’t have to continue drinking boiling hot bottled water all day. So they were peeved, we apologized and said we called and texted, the guy said “I didn’t see anything from you,” then he looked at his phone and goes, “oh, never mind”.
So then we do the inspection, which went fine because all our stuff is top notch, but we got hung up on the issue of how to get — to physically get — the disposable large towels to the customers. These towels, by the way, come in large 24”x24”x30” or so boxes, and they self-dispense like Kleenexes, with perforations. So, even in the middle of a fake pandemic, a person can walk up, grab the disposable towel that’s sticking up from the middle of the box, pull it straight up, and it will simply tear itself off at the perforations. I guess in our contract it says something about physically handing them to customers? I’m still working my way through that lengthy tome. But then we have a contract addendum, relative to COVID, saying we have to sanitize everything everyone touches between customers, yadda yadda, basically making sure people don’t touch anything someone else touched, or if they have to, then that it got doused with bleach first.
So needless to say, we have been allowing customers to pull their own towels out of the dispenser. But during this inspection, the wheels of progress stop turning, entirely, around the question of how this should be done. It’s suggested that we glove up each time in order to hand the customer their towel, to eliminate the chance of it “coming back” on us that someone got COVID and realizes it was because they pulled their own towel out of the dispenser and didn’t have it handed to them (??). So I’m like, “Why do we have to socially distance and have all the chairs six feet apart and half the sinks taped off if it’s then okay to just walk up to someone and hand them their towel?” And the guy’s like “well you still have to maintain social distance”. And I’m like, “My arms are this long.” He’s like “well, maybe your arm length plus their arm length…”.
Ultimately Nick and I just agreed that whatever insanity they thought best was the thing that made most sense to us, because that’s all you can do with the government, although I did mention that, in an allegedly highly transmissible viral outbreak, I would personally rather secure the receipt of my own disposable towel if it were me.
So we really drilled down into the bedrock of how people should receive their disposable towels, but we don’t have anyone to suck our the particular shade of gray our gray water represents, the bag keeps getting fuller, and there’s no ice. Whenever we mention these concerns, it’s like we’re speaking a foreign tongue or something.
Nick mused, after the inspection, “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t work for the government.” I laughed because it was such a ridiculous thought. “No. My god. Of course you couldn’t.” I’ve struggled with it too. I got in trouble when I first started my pre-COVID job because I thought a lot of things on our Class A pre-trip inspection study guide didn’t make sense. I mean, literally, I couldn’t explain several items to students, so I simply explained them rationally rather than trying to incorporate the irrationalities. Like, having them sit in the truck and say, “All my lights and reflectors are clean, secure and operational.” It didn’t say “indicators”, but I told them: from inside, you can only really see if your indicators are working, unless it’s nighttime in which case you can see that some of the lights are working, but you’d still have to get out and look at which ones. They’d ask, so where on the pre-trip do we actually do that? I’d say, It’s not anywhere on here, so that’s something you need to do in real life, but this is the pre-trip we’ve got. They’d say, but will the examiners be testing that we do check? I’d say, I would hope so, if they’re good examiners. They’d say, but so and so told us to go exactly by this pre-trip. And I’d say, Yeah, I was told the same thing. But, let’s all agree, at some point the external lights have to be checked, and if I were you I’d make sure I worked that in. I didn’t write this thing.
Or, there was another issues where it told them to perform a safe start, didn’t say what that was, but did tell them to turn the key to “accessories” until the gauges settled, and then it ran down what the gauges should say. The students didn’t know that you need the truck running to check the gauges, so they’d start going through the whole in-cab inspection with the engine off, and I kept saying, “Here’s the part where we need to actually start the engine before we go on.” They’d protest, “But it doesn’t say that.” I’d say, “I know, but whoever wrote it meant to say it. I mean, you can’t just sit there and tell the examiner ‘my air pressure gauges are building to governor cut-out’ with the engine off, because nothing’s building anywhere with the engine off. You gotta turn it on — which involves a safe start, and I know it doesn’t tell you what that is, but the CDL manual does. Push in the clutch, make sure it’s in neutral, turn the key to accessories until the gauges settle and you hear all the relays fire, then go to ignition, then slowly let out on the clutch.” They’d say, “But so and so told us to go exactly by the pre-trip, and it never says to start the engine.” And I’d say, “I know, and I didn’t write this pre-trip, but let’s just all agree that at some point we’ve got to start the engine, right?” And they’d say, “…okay…” dubiously, like I was leading them astray.
And then I got in trouble for deviating from the word-for-word of the pre-trip, which never told them to start the engine or to check the external lights’ actual functionality. So then I offered to re-write the pre-trip, but they said it had already been distributed so maybe next semester. The next semester they said the whole batch had already been printed so it was too late. Next semester, same thing. So I spent three semesters teaching off a pre-trip I couldn’t even explain, in some areas, and then I got laid off because of COVID. This is how I know I’d have a tough time working for the government.
The craziest thing is to just change your reality so you don’t experience cognitive dissonance with the poorly written form or document you’re given. I mean, you either commit to reality as you know it, and explain the differences between reality and the form, and negotiate the same conflicts over and over because of that, or you just pretend the form captures reality in order to make life easier. I think, in just about every job I’ve ever had, I’ve either re-written forms or protocols to better reflect reality, or I’ve asked if I could and been denied. It’s like the vocational, paperwork version of my personal spiritual quest, where I want my inner reality and my outer reality to at least resemble each other. I want forms and documents and curriculums to match the circumstances they ostensibly describe. It’s a real Quixote of a personal problem.
If I was somehow able to found my own truck school, or collaborate in the founding of one, I would gloriously create accurate, edited, reasonable documents, based in reality. They would be minimal, they would be effective, they would be devoid of all-caps and multiple exclamation points relative to the brake test. They would make effective use of mnemonic devices. They would explain when to start the engine, and how. Oh, what a lovely fantasy.
It was my job to liaise with the CDL people at the state level in Arizona, when I worked at another truck school before, and all compliance was handled by government employees who did not, themselves, have a CDL or any experience around trucks. I thought that was odd. It created issues. Like, just white collar / blue collar schisms. They’d call me and say, “batch x y z of test forms looks like it got wet.” I’d say, “yeah, it was raining when we tested out x y z students”. They’d say, “well, it’s illegible.” I’d say, “well, a skills test is about two hours long, so that’s two hours of rain falling onto a triplicate form full of tiny print.” They’d say, “can’t you make it so the rain doesn’t get on the form.” I’d say, “I’d love to — do you have any suggestions?” They’d say, “…no.”
Or here’s another one: I had to get all my instructors credentialed through the state, and they required a bunch of weird stuff. One was that they had no criminal background, which was sad because I lost a lot of good candidates that way. Another was that their application packet include a copy of their high school diploma. Some of my candidates were in their sixties or seventies, and had no fucking idea where their high school diploma was. That’s a crazy reason not to get a job at a truck school, you know? But the worst one was that they had to have five years bus experience to be a bus examiner, but no experience to be a bus teacher. It’s a lot harder to teach something to someone than it is to stand there with a clipboard and check things off, so that was backwards and I had a big bottleneck on Class B passenger credentialed examiners. In fact, I think it was just me doing it, all the time, despite being campus director dammit. And these lists of things required in the application were created by people who had no fucking idea what any of it meant, in real life.
I guess the thrust of this blog, which I discover along the same timeline as the reader, is that I’m feeling frustrated by the arbitrary and enormously impactful, often harmful, decisions made by disconnected people in centralized power situations, which has never been a more relevant concern. It almost seems like there are two kinds of people in the world: people who want to get shit done, and people who want to stand there with a clipboard and make little tics on a form that makes no fucking sense to begin with. I really want to just be able to function, in this world. I really want my boyfriend to be able to coach strength, for anyone who’s interested and wants to pay, at a gym of their choice or with our own equipment. Hell, he coaches strength to at least one or two people every single place we go — fires, hotel downtime, at home with my dad, visiting his parents. He never stops coaching people in how to get stronger and it’s insane that that livelihood was just taken away from him, indefinitely. I really want a gray water driver to come suck out our bag, and I really want the government to understand that I need that. I really want to have the freedom, at some point in the future, to choose instructors of commercial driving based on their skill and attitude, not whether they can find their high school diploma from five decades ago. I really want to live and function in a meritocracy. I really really don’t want the entire world to become one big MVD, where it’s all just listless, soul-crushing red tape jargon. Sigh.
Okay, enough for now. Hopefully the upcoming days will continue to yield more thoughts and more time to blog them.