One of the things that is hardest about my new line of work as an agency driver is that I am constantly working with a wide range of businesses in a variety of different sectors, many of them for the first time. This means that I am forever having to establish new relationships and trust, learn new processes, grasp “how things are done around here” quickly, and not feel like a chump in the process. This can be very stressful.
But I am also learning so much, not just about the world of logistics and driving, but also about myself. How I relate to people, how I come across to them, how I feel about feeling stupid, how I deal with unpredictability and lack of control.
Paradoxically one of the main things I am learning is that I find all of this much more interesting, and frankly fun, than getting stuck in the same place, with the same office politics, doing the same thing, day after day.
One consequence of driving every day is that I am seeing, and being affected by, many more road traffic incidents. Yesterday I was stuck for nearly an hour and a half when they closed the M25 after a bad crash.
What is it about car crashes that holds such a morbid fascination? Why do people slow down so much to “rubber neck” that they block up the other side of motorways? Even though I really hate the idea of people being hurt I still get a strange thrill passing an incident. Is it the feeling of “There but by the grace of god…”? Are we made more aware of our mortality and the fragility of our lives and this gives us a thrill as we realise how lucky we are? Is it a hidden desire for blood and gore and voilence that for most of us has been sanitised out of every day life?
I often wonder the same about violent television or films. What makes someone want to write stories that horrify us? Why do people want to spend whole careers perfecting the ability to realistically recreate gore and bloody suffering? Why do people watch their work?
Not sure I have any answers. Do you?
One of the consequences of being an agency driver is that I am working for different clients all the time with different processes and different products. This keeps things interesting.
But it also means that most of the drops that I do are for the first time. As a consequence I rarely know what is in store for me at the start of the day. Locations that can become easy when you have done them even once can be really testing when you have no idea what is involved. Finding my way into several very large Central London building projects, in my very large truck, yesterday was testing.
I never know what I am going to be doing until I get into that day’s company depot in the morning. There is still a knot in my stomach as I pick up my duty sheet for the day but I am getting better at finding this an exciting challenge rather than a terrifying ordeal!
Whenever I say that I am setting out on a career in truck driving people invariably say something like “you must be mad – that is all going to be automated soon”.
Maybe the long haul stuff between Regional Distribution Centres, maybe in American cities with their more regimented grid systems, but everything else? You must be kidding.
Most of my work is what is known as multi-drop. Up to eight or ten deliveries in a day, many of them in remote areas with windy country lanes, or in Central London with it’s gloriously random patterns of roads.
A lot of the firms I have worked for deliver into building sites. By definition building sites are new. They are often not reliably mapped yet and the Sat Nav often gets their location really wrong.
Once you get there navigating around the site is a nightmare, despite the Site Managers’ and Traffic Managers’ best efforts. Every time you visit the site there is a different combination of parked vehicles, skips, moving fork lifts, scaffolding extending beyond the perimeter of buildings. It’s a real challenge and changes day by day.
The thought of an AI system having enough information to not only get to the site but to manage entry and exit is a joke.
My guess is that most of the areas being eyed hungrily by the tech companies selling the benefits of automation and AI will have their own equivalents of “the last mile”. That gloriously messy and unpredictable junction between theory and practice, between order and chaos, where our best laid plans meet the real world and we have to grapple with that world to get anything to work!
Why my brain hurts.
In many ways the actual driving is the easiest bit of my truck driving day. Getting stuff on and off can be challenging and hard work but by far the hardest thing is the sums!
I have to keep so many rules about driving time, working time, time to next stop etc in my head that it really hurts. To get a sense of that complexity watch this video from KevTee which attempts to make things easier. Stick with it long enough to feel your brain aching like mine does every day!
Building sites of any size will have at least one banksman. Their job is to manage trucks off the public roads and onto the site safely. They wear specially marked high-vis jackets and carry an air of authority. They will stop traffic on the main road if necessary and then walk behind you as you reverse onto the site, normally waving their hand to give you directions.
You quickly learn that getting them to stand between you and oncoming traffic is useful, taking their arm waving seriously is dangerous! They don’t know what it is like to drive a truck, have no idea of its turning circle or the way the front tracks as you position the rear. They can’t see what you can in the many mirrors and cameras you have at your disposal, and it isn’t going to be their responsibility if you hit anything.
But life is full of banksmen, whether official or self appointed. Teachers, or bosses, or just well intentioned friends, people take it upon themselves to tell you what to do and how to do it. They too can have an air of authority and appear to be helpful but, just like with the truck, they can’t see what you see, don’t know what you know, and it isn’t their lives that will be affected if their advice turns out to be wrong.
In the great building site of life, don’t take the banksmen too seriously.