The Captains Quarters

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Purgatory (not the ski resort), Dallas, Texas – January 12,2017

    I am obligated to come here every 90 days to have my blood pressure checked.  There are also required Safety Lectures and “Retraining” (on simulators and actual trucks) for unfortunates like myself who have had “fender bender” accidents. My accident was as a result of being in a crowded truck stop in the Northeast where the rows of parked rigs are so close together that exiting is nearly impossible when they finally fill up completely. I kept trying until I managed to scrape and crack a fiberglass fender.  There is a way to exit such spaces that the simulator manager taught me, on my current visit to Purgatory.  When time came to retrain in actual trucks, I requested to try that maneuver, but was denied permission to do so.  Instead I was made to practice standard backing techniques that would not have helped in that situation.  The retraining and safety lectures stretched into three days. 

    By the time I got all the items on my list of atonements accomplished, my truck had been taken for service, stranding me in the various coffee lounges for the duration.  The shop has had it for three hours now and their advice was for me to request a motel room for the night.  There is an option on the form a driver fills that gives permission for nighttime work on the truck.  I had stupidly thought that this might get me out of Purgatory quicker, but it has not worked out that way.

    The motel rooms are free when your truck is in the shop and they not really worth that price.  These rooms are not well-maintained.  The “housekeeping” is maybe twice a month.  Last time I opted for one of these rooms, the towels were crumpled up on the floor behind the toilet and the sheets were obviously pre-used.  I managed to convince the desk clerk that it would be a good idea to give me some clean towels, but he would not replace the used sheets.  I slept on top of my sleeping bag with my head on my truck-bound pillow and covered by my personal blanket.  I had to share the room with a total stranger.  No offence intended to the stranger, but I prefer not to share a bedroom with someone I don’t know.

    This time, I have elected to sit up in the lounges until late evening and then find the comfortable padded chairs (these do not recline) in the shop waiting room for an attempt at fitful intermittent sleep.  When I finally get the truck back I can sleep my fill and then request a load out.

   The period of exile has stretched to thirteen hours.  The shop lounge chairs are padded enough to be  comfortable and I have found the best way to sleep (intermittently) is to sit upright with legs folded in a pseudo-Lotus position.  The night clerk went out of his way to be cordial and it may have been he who called in my situation.  An anonymous person showed up and knew my name.  He said that my truck was in the Alliance shop and they are working on the fuel pump and the APU.  He asked if I wanted a motel room or to sleep in one of the unassigned trucks.  I politely declined.  In part that was my own grim stubbornness.  But also, I saw that sleeping in the waiting room draws attention to my situation and that convinced me to stay.

     I started this preamble just to mention from where I was writing.  As happens a lot, things have gone from discouraging to disheartening.  I arrived here early Tuesday morning,  It is now dawn on Friday morning Even in my usual pessimism, I had not expected to be here this long.  That is a very common expectation from all who enter Purgatory.  Just about everyone I have spoken to thought they would be gone by “now”.  I encountered “The Instructor”, who you may remember from earlier posts. He is the stalwart and patient individual who mentored me through a seven-week sojourn that was my road training.  The Instructor is a contractor who has a lease on a brand-new Kenworth with an automatic transmission – the very latest technology.  It is in the shop with…a balky transmission – the very latest in dysfunctional technology.  For me this is a time of no income.  For the Instructor, this is a time of no income but with a weekly truck payment of over $600 due.  He has been here since Sunday.

       In view of my current destitute vagrancy, it is at once appropriate and ironic that my subject is the truck’s sleeping quarters.

A Tour of the Captain’s Quarters

The sleeping environment in the truck is like a sensory deprivation tank with noisy neighbors.  The Captain’s bunk is comfortable enough, even for this six- foot, three Captain.  But, it is a “cozy” space that harkens back to the primeval cave of genetic memory. The closet space and Captain’s desk combine to separate the bunk from the cab.  There is also a heavy, insulated dark curtain for sleeping in daylight that is also vitally necessary in hot environments since the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) cannot provide enough power to air-condition the entire cab and sleeper space.  Thus, the “bedroom” is about 35 square feet including the closet, cabinets and the “loft” where I have a refrigerator and  general storage area.  The bunk area is as big as the single size mattress and as I sit at the Captains desk, the bottom of the upper bunk leaves me a half inch of headroom.

captainsdeskThe Captain at his desk, Composing the Ship’s Log (Going Walkabout).  The black-out curtain is just behind the laptop screen.  This was photographed Wednesday night when I still had a place to call my own.

The passenger chair will rotate to provide a more comfortable seat on the other side of the desk, but I find I seldom use it that way.  Besides the comfort factor of the air-conditioned space, privacy is a precious commodity in the trucking world.  In the reversed passenger seat, my office is an aquarium where passersby see me at study through the windshield and side windows.  The windshield sunshade provides some privacy and I could get some window covers, but that would still leave me with inadequate climate control. The bunk-seat configuration may seem cramped in the photo, but I have most every need within reach and it has become a familiar and comfortable place for me to write, eat and read.

If the writer pauses to think and the interlude stretches until wakefulness fades, horizontality is quickly and easily attained – as I will now demonstrate, since drowsiness is precisely what brought this sentence to mind…

That sentence was from the early hours of Thursday morning just after the picture was taken, also when I had a place to sleep.

When the Captain is in repose, there are reading lights and a control panel for the A/C and heat.  Remote control allows me to lock the cabin doors from the bunk – an innovation that tells me Kenworth has consulted actual drivers about this design.  The climate control has a local  instrumentation panel that allows me to adjust the temperature (if the APU heat was working) from inside my sleeping bag. There are screened openings at the head and foot of the bunk that can be opened for ventilation in temperate climates.

The noisy neighbors are the APU itself and the refrigeration unit on the trailer.  Both are driven by diesel engines – of different pitches – that intermittently stop and start – each at different times.  Sometimes, neither is running and then you can hear the neighboring trucks’ machinery operating.  You might think that annoying, but it actually becomes sleep-inducing after a while.  Even more soporific is the exhaustion that comes after driving for ten hours.

firstmaterelaxes2Above:  The First Mate  models the Captain’s Bunk during one of her rare visits to the Ship 😉   This is actually in the Peterbilt I drove until September, but the Kenworth’s accommodations are similar.

07:45  I will complete this post with an update when the truck is actually ready.

09:05 The mechanic says the parts will arrive “any minute” and work will proceed then.

10:24 The Instructor showed up to tell me his truck is ready.  He went to retrieve his stuff that he was storing in my truck.  Still no word from the shop.

12:45  The shop says my truck is parked outside the shop and is ready. I moved the truck to the tractor parking and went to “perform ablutions”.  The plan is to sleep a few hours and then get a load out.

15:11  The truck disappeared in the 15 minutes I was gone.  

15:50  Located the truck, back in the shop.  No estimate on when it will be ready.   It still needs work on the APU heater.  I had been in South Dakota at -5F, idling the truck engine in violation of local laws, so I want this heater.  I am now enjoying the coffee lounges again. 

20:15  Now they tell me that a suspension airbag needs to be replaced.  But, they have parked the truck outside and I can sleep for a while.

23:30 I have the curtain pulled.  I am awakened when somebody starts the truck and drives it into the garage bay.  The garage music clashes with my eclectic taste in fine music.  Earbuds and Netflix and I go back to sleep.

02:25, Saturday, January 14, 2017

   The truck is again taken outside.  Back to sleep.

04:00  A knock on the cab and I am asked to move to Tractor Row.  If ever you need to wake a sleeping driver, knock on the area behind the driver’s door, at the level of the steering wheel.  This is usually just above a tool box door.  That is where the sleeping driver’s head will be.

07:30  A new day and time to start the countdown to leave.  We quickly find that the QualCom – the satellite communicator / navigation computer is – to quote Jerry Clower – “Graveyard Dead”.

08:00 Back in the Garage waiting room.  I have spent approximately 30 hours here.  I decided to make coffee.  A feat which no one has accomplished here in many, many days.  There are hundreds of stories that walk through this room every week. I have seen most of this week’s supply.

garageloungechair

The middle chair in the garage waiting room. My bag and laptop mark the spot where I spent maybe 30 hours over the last three days 

   Lieutenant Colombo would be right at home here…”There is…just…one more thing, sir’.  I have decided that this will be the place I come back to haunt for the time I am doomed to walk the Earth.  In the early hours before dawn, the mechanics will notice that there is a shadowy, sleeping figure in the middle chair and pots of fresh coffee will mysteriously appear from time to time.

11:30  I have the truck and a piece of paper that says they are all through.  I have a load to Oklahoma and then to Washington State. 

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