From “Traveling the Highroad”
“She doesn’t have the ability to be a truck driver.”
Yes, indeed, that’s what my driving instructor said. Whatever gave him that idea? I had enrolled in a three week course in a truck driving school in Colorado the first week of January, 2017. My New Year’s resolution was to learn something new and make lots of money. I was weary of lady wages, so I chose trucking since I knew it would challenge me. I had the mindset that I could learn anything and do well.
I always plan on getting along with everyone, and it always surprises me if I don’t. I am a natural people lover, and I always assume that everybody loves me too, even if they don’t know it yet. Someone once told me that I act too dang sure of myself so it threatens people in charge.
I never intend to sass or behave like a “know it all”. In reality, I am trying to “learn it all”, so I tend to drive people crazy with a million questions. It takes a little knowledge to ask intelligent questions. Since I had no knowledge of heavy equipment and the operation thereof, my questions at first were not particularly intelligent. But as I became familiar with the subject, naturally, my level of intelligence grew, which resulted in more intelligent questions, gradually. If he will just hold on and give me a minute, for pity sakes, man! You guessed it. My instructor was one of those male chauvinist Trumpsters who easily get annoyed with “Blondies” and their dumb questions. “Why the blankety blank is she in this class anyway?”
As luck would have it, I was the only female in a class of seven, which naturally caused my female-ness to show up more drastically. I totally enjoyed my fellow students, who ranged in age from 18 to 65, and we all seemed to get along great. My only problem was getting along with the head instructor. Poor Harvey. He had no idea what he was in for when he decided to dismiss me from class for behaving too much like a female.
Sigh. Somehow the sight of a lady in a dress seems to present an image of a soft-minded creature made of ghost froth who might easily disappear if a breeze comes along. Wrong. I had made up my mind to learn to drive a truck and I wasn’t going to go away easily or quietly. Just because I’m a female and wear a dress and speak softly doesn’t mean I can’t learn stuff, for cryin’ out loud. During my three week class, four different individuals, one instructor, one fellow student, and two office personnel, sidled up to me and put their arm around me to gently break the news, “Maggie, your clothes are nice, but you need to realize that you can’t dress like that and drive a truck. You’re going to have to lose the dress.”
“Oh yeah? Watch me,” I thought. Think about it. A century ago, pioneer women worked a lot harder than women do today, and they were usually completely covered. In fact, back then they wore a whole lot more layers of petticoats than I do. I bet they never thought, “It’s going to be extra hot today driving this wagon across the plains. I’ll think I’ll throw off all my clothes and wear shorts and a tank top.”
I had dressed modestly every day for fifty years, and I saw no reason to change. It doesn’t matter a hill of beans to me what everyone else around me does. It certainly isn’t my motive to draw attention to myself. I’m not trying to prove a point, make a statement, or become a symbol. I simply dress to please myself. Myself is comfortable in a dress. I didn’t look like I fit in a truck driving class. So what. But that fact added to my persistent questions and complete vulnerability in a male dominated environment seemed to affect the head instructor’s perception of my ability, or rather, the lack therof.
We had five instructors. No problem getting along with four of them. Unfortunately, before the first day of class was half over, I could see I was in for a personality clash with the head instructor, Harvey. His style of teaching was to dish out sarcasm and belittlement in abundance which sent a message to his students that it was okay to match wits in self-defense. For me to even ask a question would often instigate a debate before a direct answer was given. Harvey was obviously very knowledgeable about the subject, and I was in awe of both his knowledge and ability. Unfortunately, he confused the heck out of his students because he so often displayed cynicism and disrespect, but then out of the blue, he would throw a curve ball and send out a splash of good will and humor so that a student who he just made feel like shmuck would keep trying. Trouble was I never knew which mood to expect at any given moment.
During my previous teaching career over a span of twenty years, I had learned by experience that if a teacher has trouble in his classroom, most of the time, it is his own fault. No matter the age of the students, a teacher must set the learning stage with respect, directness, patience, and humor. All human beings learn best by repetition, encouragement, and example. When an instructor presents information in a positive, non-oppressive manner, optimum learning takes place.
Harvey’s qualities were many, and to be sure, we heard about them all day long. He had a tendency to present himself as the God of Truck. I got the feeling that if I could not measure up to his level RIGHT NOW, I would be banished to the scooter squad. He had a way of making one feel foolish for asking questions. One got the impression that Harv considered himself a step above Superman if he had to exert patience and explain things too many times.
Life in Harvey’s classroom was indeed a study, and certainly a bit frustrating because I honestly liked him and was all ears because I wanted to learn. I could see that he had wonderful potential of teaching excellence, but he was so full of himself that he could only understand his own language, which was almost entirely foreign to me. Teaching had taught me that just because a teacher teaches, that doesn’t mean a student learns. The student must learn in his own language, so to speak. No matter how incredible a teacher may be, and no matter how brilliant a student may be, the instructor cannot impart his knowledge to the student by giving lessons in Portuguese if the student speaks Swahili.
In spite of the challenge, my classroom assignments scored all A’s, and I was making progress. Fortunately, when we went out in the field by Day 5 and began learning to drive a semi-truck, our instructors Bill and Bob were quite patient. Learning to shift a manual transmission without grinding was huge, and needless to say, I earned a lot of laughs for my girlie escapades. I should have charged admission to all those guys who enjoyed themselves at my expense. I did learn and improve each day, but in the classroom, life became increasingly miserable.
The fateful fiasco came on Day 7 when we were doing a classroom exercise. Harvey turned on his overhead projector to demonstrate a bill of lading. Two problems: one, the board was dirty from cleaning neglect, and two, the image was grey, almost the same color as the board. Difficult to read. Harvey instructed us to copy the projected bill of lading on our blank forms and warned us that it must be exact. I happen to be a perfectionist to a fault. I had to get it just right, but I could not read the board. It wasn’t that my vision was in question, but since I had chosen a back seat to minimize my presence in an all-male classroom, besides the fact that the image was handwritten, smudged, and on top of a dirty board, we had a crisis. I had learned from experience that if I asked Harvey for help, he was most likely to deliver a cynical retort which would add just one more belittlement in front of our class of six men. It gets rather tiring after so long.
We had a ton of paperwork to get through in a short time, and I couldn’t risk getting behind. Finally, I told Harvey that I could not see the information and asked if he might read it to me so I could write it down. Sure enough, Harvey replied in his Harvey tone that I could march myself up to the board to get a closer look. I felt stuck between a rock and a hard spot. I had no intention of making trouble for Harv, but I knew that if I walked up to the front of the classroom, the projector light would shine through my clothing, too obvious in front of a group of men. Not my style.
I wrote down all I could from the view at my seat and then set the exercise aside to finish later. Harvey had told us the first day to always keep our flash cards handy so we could fill our spare moments with memorizing vocabulary terms and definitions. I got out my cards for review. Harvey walked by and pointed out that I had not finished the exercise and told me to put away my cards. He insisted I walk up to the board to write down the information. It wasn’t a test on knowing the words, just a practice lesson on filling in the blanks on a form. I asked Harv if I could get the words from Steve, my next door neighbor student. Harvey replied in an exasperated tone that I MUST learn how to fill out a bill of lading and should do whatever it takes to get the information from the board. I answered that I already knew how to fill out a bill of lading. I just needed the words.
Bad commenced to worse, and Harvey reached the end of his very short fuse. Dang my pride. I should have set aside my caution and marched up to that board and made a spectacle of myself, no problem. Why didn’t I just do whatever it took, huh? After all, this is truck driver school, and the classroom is run by a hardened truck driver who doesn’t give two cents for a lady’s dignity, and she should just accept that fact and act like a truck driver like he does, right?
But let’s be fair. Harvey could have prevented the challenge in the first place. He could have kept his board clean, and he could have made sure his projected form was clear, and if not, he could have read it to those of us who couldn’t read it. He could have tried to understand that there must be a good reason why the one female in the class didn’t want to walk through a light in front of seven men. Harvey should not have assumed that the female in question was just being stubborn because she loves to challenge his authority and disrupt his class.
Harvey disappeared from the classroom and I got the feeling that World War Three was imminent. He returned a few minutes later to escort me to the principal’s office for a thorough scolding and expulsion from school. Harvey stood with his arms folded and announced to Fiona, the HR manager, “I recommend we dismiss this woman from our driver training program. In all my thirty years’ experience, I have never met a student who asks so many questions. She is not grasping the material, and she does NOT have the ability to be a truck driver.”
I stared at Harvey, dumbfounded. The HR manager took it from there. “Miss Jessop, we don’t think this class is a good fit for you, and we have decided to terminate your enrollment. Your potential employer has been notified.”
I was bewildered. The HR manager was a woman I had never met. She knew nothing about me except what she had been told and what she could see in front of her. It was too obvious that both Harvey and Fiona expected me to cave in and go away in a meek lady-like manner and never be seen or heard of again. It dawned on me at that moment how much we as human beings judge one another based on appearance and hearsay.
It was so ridiculous, it was almost funny, but I was past being amused. What an insult to intelligence. Not smart enough to be a truck driver, huh? I had passed the Colorado real estate test the first try a few months’ prior, which I had been informed was a commendable accomplishment. I had taught language arts, business math, speech, speed reading, home economics, and chorus for years. I had been a business owner and manager. I had been through many experiences over the years which had taken the kind of grit that would make a grown man cry, yet these folks were treating me as though I was illiterate and incapable. They had no idea what kind of person they were dealing with.
Hurricane Maggie was about to arrive.