Who Taught You How to Drive?

I learned something very important Monday night. If a semi (truck) “bumps” your car straight on from behind, and you are going more or less the same speed (obviously he would be going a little faster), it may not really hurt your car.

I take a class Monday nights at a town that is about 30 miles from here. I use a freeway to get there. All was good until I needed to exit. The freeway was full of semis. They travel in the right lane, which is also where the exits are (go figure).

Trying to not create too much havoc, I found a spot between a car and a semi. I moved over then checked my rearview mirror to make sure I hadn’t cut him off. I could see the entire front end. I thought the rule was if you can see the driver, he can see you. Once again, all was well. Emphasis on “I thought”.

I am really bad about using my mirrors unless I am going to turn or change lanes or whatever. (Do they really expect you to scan them every 30 seconds? I’d run into something in front of me.)

For some reason I looked again, and he was closer. I thought that he must have been one of those jerk drivers who try to intimidate small cars. (I drive an Elantra).

Semi drivers are usually pretty good drivers and I was almost to my exit, so I figured it was just an annoyance. Silly me. I looked again. He was almost on top of me.

Something hit me from behind. Yep. The exit was about 200 yards too far away. It’s amazing how hard a semi can hit even at a low speed. I guess they really are the ones destroying our roads.

I was extremely annoyed. I need the car for work, and I’m sharing it with my son. I didn’t have time to take it to the shop. And apparently cars don’t have frames anymore. It’s all magic and fiberglass. Besides it’s only seven months old. And I was going to be late for class.

So I stopped on the side of the exit. I stomped to the back of my car. It was a little dirty (my fault), but I didn’t see anything wrong. Then I realized I hadn’t heard any crunch or breaking plastic (or glass or whatever they use). Maybe they really do use magic.

The truck driver came over to see if I was OK. He said he hadn’t seen me and bumped into me. Ummmm, OK. You’re a professional driver. Don’t they train you to look for merging traffic? But he was very nice, and I sent him on his way. Then he was very relieved.

If you look at where we live, you would see that it’s difficult to get anywhere without using a freeway. Many lakes mean no major roads. So I have a lot of experience with semis. I realized that this wasn’t my most annoying encounter. At least it was a one-time occurrence.

To get to several of the places I frequent, I have to take a four-lane freeway. That’s four lanes in the sense of two lanes going in each direction. It’s not really a bad drive, even in rush hour. In comparison with rush hour on other freeways around here.

However, it is the major north-south freeway in this part of the state. Which means a lot of trucks hauling a lot of stuff during the morning rush hour. A lot of heavy stuff. Trucks carrying heavy stuff aren’t supposed to go really fast. The speed limit theoretically is 55 mph on the 70 mph freeway. So they’re in the right lane.

Every once in a while, a large heavy truck wants to go 60 mph. So he has to pull into the “fast lane”. Which is no longer the “fast lane”. Once the driver gets out from behind the slow truck, he realizes that he can’t zip around another big truck like he does in his pick-up. So everyone goes slow for a while.

That is far more irritating than the semis that drive in Detroit during rush hour. I generally hold back for them which makes me very unpopular with the drivers behind me.

Some people don’t like to be behind semis. So they don’t let them in. Finally the truck driver gets frustrated and forces the truck between two cars. That really irks the drivers on the freeway. The cars behind the truck on the entry ramp are not so upset.

Some people hate being behind semis on snowy roads. Not me. They are usually excellent drivers. Full trucks are slow, but so am I. They very rarely swerve or skid. They pack down snow nicely, and it’s still warm when I go over it so I don’t have to worry about ice. And people don’t get mad at me for going slow. They blame the truck.

Moral of the story: Most truck drivers aren’t like the guy in ‘Duel’ (a surprisingly good 1971 TV movie about a psycho truck driver, directed by Steven Spielberg). However, if it looks like one is going to run you over, use your horn to make sure it’s not intentional.


We Don’t Care; It’s Your Fault

I may have mentioned that safety is one of our “Core Principles” at Ralph’s. We all have to sign an oath that we are  committed to 200% safety, own own and the other person’s. As far as I can see, the only flaw in the plan is that the store itself isn’t a party to the agreement.

The most recent innovation is the introduction of “safety shoes”. These are not real shoes. My mother’s elderly uncle (and most other people) would have called these things “rubbers” in the days before every word had some relationship to sex. They are black pseudo-rubber and pull up over your own shoes, more or less covering the bottom and sides. The idea is to keep people from sliding on the floors in all areas working with fresh food.

You may recall that I am technically part of the deli, although I spend 10 minutes or less each day in the deli itself. Nonetheless, I must wear safety shoes. I’ve heard that these items were chosen specifically for their ability to walk on wet and oily surfaces.

I can assure you they were not chosen for climbing on ladders. The first day I had them on, I climbed a step-ladder to get an item for a customer from the back of a top shelf. I have done this same thing many times. Make sure the ladder is anchored correctly, step to the proper level, reach forward, grab the item, and give it to the customer (yes, we have procedures for everything).

The first three steps went fine. I turned to face the customer and slid off the ladder. Too bad my kids are too old to appreciate the amazing bruise I got from the shelf that my arm caught on the way off the ladder. I did not make the connection that tight hold would not translate to flexible footwear.

Even more embarrassing was when the shoe caught on the floor of the cooler while I was opening the door. The door moved, I did not, and my face met the door. Management had told me that the one place I worked that absolutely required the shoes was the cooler. I am guessing that no one considered that a room full of cardboard boxes would not be particularly slippery. Luckily no one saw me that time.

After the ladder incident, my team leader asked if I wanted to file an incident report. I assured her it wasn’t necessary. In the first place, I wasn’t really injured. In the second place, it would have triggered the much dreaded “safety violation”. The stores all aim to be accident-free; it looks bad on the company’s public record if employees are continually being injured at work.

A year or so ago, I sprained my bicepal tendon. It was caused by a sudden impact to a repetitive motion injury (RMI). I had tried to pull a cart out of an overcrowded cooler (not my own) and twisted wrong. The amount of paperwork was overwhelming, and I had to watch a 45-minute safety video before I could go to urgent care (hopefully the order would have been different if there had been blood or protruding bones).

I was supposed to be written up for a safety violation. I had pulled the cart rather than pushed it and jerked it to get it free (it was wedged in such a way that I had no choice).The only thing that saved me was that it aggravated an RMI. I had to wear a sling and go to physical therapy for several weeks.

My manager didn’t talk to me for a week. The only reason he forgave me was because I didn’t miss any time. Lost-time accidents accidents are many times worse than regular accidents; apparently they go on the store director’s permanent record (like some high school behavior). I guess he was somehow responsible for the warehouse sending too much stuff and the planners somehow putting in too few coolers. The same as I was responsible for trying to work quickly in that environment.

For some odd reason, they put the beer and wine sections right outside the doors to the back room. And my cooler immediately inside those doors. And a major food-stocking vendor across from me. And the baler and receiving in the same section. And aisles barely wide enough to let two carts go by each other. I guess no one realized that a lot people would need to go in and out the swinging doors at approximately the same time.

I don’t know whether you are familiar with that type of door. They have a small (2′ x 3′??) plexiglass window that somehow becomes almost immediately scarred. I have never seen anyone actually touch the window. They swing in both directions. Our informal rule is that whoever has the heaviest load gets to go through first.

The rule would work well if you could actually see whether someone was on the other side of the door. From my front-row seat seat (which usually puts me in the way while loading and unloading carts), I have seen that we all find a way to avoid a major collision. Fear of paperwork and disciplinary suspension are as much to credit as 200% safety.

We had an update meeting recently. Management was excited to tell us that the company has decided that some accidents may not actually be the employees’ fault. They did not explain what such a circumstance would be.