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Stress in the city

MONTREAL, Que. – The traffic was light, the roads dry and motorists were oddly sedate. We were first at every loading dock. Our rig rode like a Bentley. If this was stress incarnate, I sure wasn’t feeling it. Fortunately, I...


MONTREAL, Que. – The traffic was light, the roads dry and motorists were oddly sedate. We were first at every loading dock. Our rig rode like a Bentley. If this was stress incarnate, I sure wasn’t feeling it. Fortunately, I hadn’t signed up for a day of madness; rather, I’d joined Robert Transport driver Eric Gosselin to learn how the pros ply the mean streets of Montreal without going bonkers.

“I know truckers who will not drive in the city because they find it too stressful,” Gosselin says. “You have to have the right attitude, a positive attitude. Empty your head of bad and negative thoughts if another driver does something that annoys you.”

Gosselin drove long-haul for seven years before beginning a two-year stint driving in Montreal (he’ll begin LCV runs to Toronto in April). “There is stress on the highway but it is much more elevated in the city. It takes a lot more calm and concentration,” he comments.

I hear him: I’d once worked for a few months delivering industrial supplies around Montreal. Being in constant survival mode does strange things to you. Today, however, I was in for a lesson in stress management.

I trail Gosselin around his huge liquid natural gas-fuelled Peterbilt as he waves his flashlight here and there, poking, pulling and measuring as he chats through his circle check.

After a good 40 minutes of preparation, we idle through the gate to the street, our destination the corner of Basile-Routhier and Henri-Bourassa. A moment later we join the 6:30  a.m. traffic heading for the Lafontaine Tunnel. Gosselin putts through to the other side at a sedate 60 km/h.

A merging rig is on a slow collision course. Gosselin waves him ahead of us. “Why not give him a break and let him into the traffic?” He talks about making life easier for other drivers where he can.

Right on time, Gosselin glides into a bus terminal entrance like he’s been here before, and he has. Earlier this week, on his first delivery here, he puzzled out how to shoehorn his 53-foot trailer into the loading dock beside a car-clogged lane.

First-time deliveries can be a pain, but his training and the authority Robert gives him helps.

“Last year, Robert showed us a video about how to approach loading docks. Go there, stop, assess the area around the dock, decide whether you can back in properly. If, for some reason, you cannot, don’t feel obliged. Just say no,” Gosselin explains.

Such decision-making power reduces stress because drivers don’t feel obliged to do something that could damage the truck.

During the unloading, we chill for three hours and talk stress therapy. Long waits bother some drivers, Gosselin says. “I like this, but there are other drivers who become impatient. They have to be on the move. They like the stress of the city.”

Gosselin is on the phone. “I have a friend at Robert I talk to sometimes. This is another way to reduce stress, bit by bit. I also like to take little walks while I am waiting for the trailer to be unloaded.”

Gosselin also takes cat naps. “I put my feet up for 20 minutes, 40 minutes. This reduces my stress levels.”

He also plays music to relax, and likes his disco tunes. He laughs when I suggest the cab has plenty of headroom for a disco ball. “I also listen to music at home and watch TV. This disconnects me completely from my work. My work doesn’t disrupt my sleep at all,” he explains.

At our next stop, in a Ville Anjou industrial park, after getting directions to his dock door, Gosselin circles the block and parks. He hops out, walks the skinny lane, sizes up the 90-degree bend before the dock, returns and sets up for his manoeuvre. A Boutin truck coming from the other direction waits while we back off the road.

Our 20,000 lbs of steel has been loaded. Gosselin buys a lasagna off a lunch truck, but meal-time will have to wait. We have just 50 minutes to make our rendezvous at a Reno-Depot in Vaudreuil-Dorion. Gosselin isn’t the least bit ruffled.

“Breathe out. Relax,” he’s been telling me all morning. “You have to stay calm. If you are really stressed, your risk of an accident is higher.”

Despite the tight schedule, Gosselin accelerates like we have all the time in the world. As we cross the city at a sedate 98 km/h, he shares another secret. “Some drivers stress themselves because they are afraid of being late. You can’t watch the clock.”

I rode shotgun with a driver a few years ago. Her day cab was more mechanical bull than truck. The relentless bucking and the endless shifting and whining of the transmission as we lurched from light to light sent me home with a California earthquake-sized headache. Gosselin’s rig, on the other hand, rides like a dream. There is no wailing compressor, the engine is as quiet as a mouse and the automatic transmission silky smooth. I feel relaxed, not under siege. As we close the doors after the day’s final pick-up, it starts to snow. I ask Gosselin how he copes with treacherous road conditions. “Robert always tells us to drive to our rhythm, tells us that no trip is worth putting ourselves at risk.”

His last stress-reduction decision of the day is to not head directly back east into Montreal’s dreaded supper rush hour. Instead, he drives west, south, and then east along the new A-30 ring road and home to Boucherville. We sail along, calm and in control.


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1 Comment » for Stress in the city
  1. Max Smoot says:

    Hourly paid, for sure. Trusted by his company to make decisions that HE thinks necessary. Given a decent unit to drive. And then left alone. Perfect recipe for successful town work.
    Good writing, BTW.

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