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Jen drove a dump truck. And then made bread.

September 1, 2013

I drove a dump truck. On public streets and even down the freeway! I think that one needs to sink in a bit. One of the “other duties as assigned” for my new job includes getting a Commercial Driver’s License and driving a snow plow to clear state roads aka “pushing snow”. Now, when I interviewed they said I might have to help with snow removal and I thought they meant a pick-up truck mounted snow plow because who on earth would think that I need to be behind the wheel of a SEMI?! Apparently the powers that be think I need to. I bet if they knew about my checkered history* with Semis, they wouldn’t quite so quick to think I need to drive one.  But, I’m up for a challenge so I spent the 3rd week of my job with Doyle, the CDL trainer.

*This history is briefly summarized in this post.

By the end of the first day, Doyle knew that I was not going to be an easy charge. In fact, he told me plain as day that I was being one of his more challenging trainees. I told him that he should be grateful I hadn’t put the dump truck in a field. That’s what I did to my dad the first time he tried to teach me to drive. We were in a VW bug which was a stick shift.  He told me to let off the clutch slowly and slowly push on the gas. We were at a T in the road and wanted to go right. I stomped on the gas, dropped the clutch and didn’t turn the wheel quite enough. I went over a dirt mound right into the field.  I hit the brakes without pushing in the clutch, so the car promptly stalled and died. That’s when I calmly looked over at Dad and said “Well, you had enough?”  He said “Yep” and got out of the car to switch me spots and get us and what was left of the car home. That was the first and last time he tried to teach me to drive. I think I still make him nervous in the car.

Back to Doyle.  At the end of the first day he had determined two things: 1 – I drive too fast backwards.  I told him that I drive too fast in every direction. 2 – I do not follow directions very well. I told him “No, I don’t.” Part of the problem is that even at 30 years old, I still have trouble remembering which is left and which is right. It was infinitely worse in Ireland where we were on the wrong side of the road. Poor Jake. So, when Doyle is telling me to go left, I have to think for a second about which way that is. Also, when you’re trying to back up a trailer, you turn the wheel the opposite direction of where you want the trailer to go. When Doyle says “Left!” a few thoughts generally happen before I actually turn the wheel. First, I have to determine which way is left. Then my brain screams NO!! That’s wrong!! It has been determined that Doyle is right and my brain is wrong but it’s really hard to override that. Finally, I turn the wheel left but not ENOUGH left so he starts saying “LEFT LEFT LEFT!” That’s when I make a hard left because what else do you do when someone is demanding you go left?!  That turns out to be too far left. GAH! I can’t win. It’s a good thing that Doyle and I get along very well, despite our obvious communication problems. I spent the majority of the time laughing at my screw ups because let’s face it. It’s pretty funny and if I won’t laugh at me, who will? Another challenge with the trailer is that until I started doing CDL training, I had NEVER driven a vehicle that was pulling a trailer. Ever. So, starting with something like a pickup pulling a small trailer would probably have been beneficial, but not nearly as entertaining. It’s much funnier to just toss me in a dump truck with an equipment trailer and watch me knock over cones. Oh and speaking of cones (didn’t I mention cones a couple weeks ago? My life involves lots of cones now!) the facility we practice on is managed by the highway patrol. They do NOT like it when their cones get smashed. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m already on their good side. Oops.

Now, to be clear, I only need to get a Class B with airbrakes.  That would allow me to drive dump trucks, snow plows and other big vehicles.  However, if I want to pull a trailer, that requires a Class A.  I’m still on the fence about Class A vs B. I like the idea of a Class A because why not? Go Big or Go Home.  But MAN! That trailer is a pain in the neck! The whole thing is so much easier without the trailer. Although, by the end of the week, I could do 4 of the 6 possible skills tests: Straight backing, offset backing left, offset backing right, and backing into an alley dock. The two that have continued to be problematic are the parallel parking on both driver and passenger sides. Straight backing is a given, then the other two tests you have to complete are determined at random via computer. I would just need to hope that I got offset backing & alley dock. It’s pretty rare to get both sides of offset backing or both sides of parallel parking.  Even still, with what I CAN do for parallel parking, it would just be points off. I tend to have tires on the line, but it’s not a fail. Anyway, I had to go back to real work before I mastered the parallel parking so I’m still not sure which one I’ll do.

Straight Backing – I am not driving.

This is me backing into the alley dock.

Going backwards. Again.

For the record, I’m actually only required to wear the hard hat when I’m outside the vehicle. Obviously, I was concentrating too hard on what I was doing and forgot to take the hat off. I’m not sure how I forgot that because it is an OVEN in that truck.  There’s no freon in the AC so we cooked and it’s not like the hard hat breathes very well.

Switching gears, I’ve decided to try making San Francisco sourdough bread in the Midwest. This is also a pretty funny endeavor for me because not only have I never made bread, the majority of my baking has involved a box. Well, except for cookies. I’ve made cookies from scratch. So why not start with a particularly finicky variety that requires cultivating a specific type of wild yeast and bacteria? First, you have to have a sourdough starter. It’s like gold.  People hand them down for generations. The miners that moved to Alaska for their gold rush protected their starters as they would their most prized possessions.

I ordered two different dried starters, one was significantly cheaper than the other and it arrived first. I followed the directions to get it started and ended up with this:

It looked good and had a faint sour smell so I followed the recipe card that came with the starter and made my first loaf of bread! Except that the recipe was for two loaves and called for loaf pans. I prefer my sourdough in round loaves so I decided to make it work without loaf pans. I misjudged exactly how big those round loaves would be and had to improvise to make all the dough fit on my cookie sheet. This is how we ended up with a big blob of a loaf.

We were so excited to try it! We cut into it and…it didn’t smell sour. Then we tasted it and it actually tasted a tad bit sweet. No sour to speak of at ALL.  I was so disappointed!! It took a whole day to activate that starter! What had gone wrong? Then I looked at the directions for activating the starter that was still in the mail and it included pictures of an active, partially active and dormant starter. That’s when I realized that our starter never activated.  I tried to get it active but it was either a dud from the start, the chlorinated tap water killed the organisms or I just plain messed it up. It was probably a combination of all three. After it grew some fur, we threw it away and waited for the more expensive starter to arrive.  Expect more sourdough experiments in the future!

Hmm. I don’t have enough pictures to meet the 7 pictures each week requirement. So we’ll have to go with a random picture! My life tends to be pretty random, which I’m sure doesn’t come across at ALL in my posts. Random things tend to happen and you really just have to laugh. Things like this:

Hi! My name is Gandalf!

This is Gandalf. He is my 13 year old American Eskimo and was the eater of rat poison.  He has since recovered fully and is no worse for the wear.  This picture came about when I opened up the cabinet on the kitchen cart. Side note: This just sparked a conversation about how the cabinet doors are ON the kitchen cart, but the cabinet itself is within the cart. So did I open up the cabinet on the cart? in the cart? for the cart? Jake thinks I should write that I opened the kitchen cart’s cabinet. Anyway, you get the idea. There’s a cart with cabinet doors that enclose a storage space. I opened the aforementioned doors and Gandalf walked right into like nothing.  I was looked at him and said “Really?” to which he grinned and I took his picture. He’s such a weirdo and would probably love it if we kept those doors open all the time so he could get in there and browse the cookbooks located on the shelf above his head.

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