Ontario, Oregon. Parked on a back street with snow slowly burying the truck.
From Dallas I took a load of bananas to Oklahoma. It was such a nice, new trailer, too. Built just last year and all shiny, with brand new tires. It was only mine for that brief moment of time after which I had to drop it in the empties yard of a meat plant in Arkansas. A trailer was loaded and waiting and late. Of course, I have run out of drive time by now and a ten hour break is required. The trailer stays where it is and the tractor and I go to “bobtail parking” until I can drive again.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the facilities available to drivers are wildly variable in quality. In one shippers plant, you may have a clean bathroom and some vending machines. Elsewhere, there may be a single port-o-can, long overdue for service. In more than a few cases, there is nothing but an unpaved parking lot.
This place in Arkansas was the shinning gem of excellence in the category. While it was housed in an old building, with even older furniture, it was clean and welcoming. There was a well-kept bathroom and lounge with a television and vending machines. What made it exceptional was the well-maintained SHOWER and “one dollar” LAUNDROMAT – a dollar to wash, a dollar to dry and a dollar for detergent.
The trip begins just before midnight when I hook the full trailer. It is a crappy old trailer that didn’t want to let me slide the tandems. These are the eight wheels at the rear and if I cannot move them forward , the load will be ridiculously and – more to the point – illegally front-heavy. The general rule I have now is to try everything I can think of before asking for help from The Company. But those options were exhausted and I had to ask for help. What Road Rescue told me was to pump down the air pressure (with the brake pedal) and build it back up, then drive around the yard for a while. It worked!
I called back to say thanks. That is another lesson learned in the Walkabout. That is: If someone treats you with respect or gives you useful advice, make an effort to say “Thanks” because it is a rare moment in time.
The trip I had been assigned was doomed to lateness from the beginning. The trailer has waited over a day and there was not sufficient time left to make the delivery on time. So, right off the bat, I have to request a “Repower” – a trailer swap with some team drivers who can make the distance in that time. I did that, three times in three days. And all the while I was advancing the load. Not quite as far as I could every day, because I had to be at certain places to be available for swap. I’ll relieve the suspense the swap never happened in five days.
Much of the route to Ontario, Oregon was like this. You can see why I find peace on the road.
News came that my stepmother Gretchen has passed away. I am her only relative and Executor of her will and I have to be in Houston. If you think this will be easy, keep reading.
In Idaho, where I picked up snow chains (just for show, I am not allowed to use them) I heard that I 84 was closed West of Ontario, just past the Oregon border. As it happened, Ontario was my destination for the day, so I proceeded there. That was probably not wise. When I got to the truck stop I had chosen, the place was packed with trucks. They have 105 spaces and I would estimate there were 125 trucks there. There was nothing for it but to exit the lot and look for a place to park.
I found a space behind an auto parts truck on a side street about five blocks from the truck stop and next to large snow bank against a building. The snow was really coming down and it continued through the night. The windshield was covered and little cones of snow were accumulating on top of the mirrors. I was exhausted from three days of driving and it was not hard to sleep for a while.
When I awoke, there was more snow accumulating, slowly covering the truck. I called the truck stop occasionally to check on the road closures only to find that there was no reason for optimism. I also had a roaring headache and shooting pain through my shoulders. I felt like I had a fever. The only device for measuring temperature is the pulp thermometer for checking produce loads. This is a dial on the end of a metal probe. I used it like a medical thermometer several times and it read 112 degrees each time. I hope it is not accurate. My manager keeps talking about getting me off this load and home, but Nothing Happens.
From my igloo at Ontario. I lost track of time, but I must have been here for 20 hours.
I called the Pilot several times and got the word that I84 was still closed. There was nothing left but to spend the time in the bunk, alternately shivering and sweating and aching all the while. Trucks have been passing by on the street, most all of them with chains. Finally, a phone call from The Company tells me I84 is clear. For 20 hours or so I have been stranded like a beached whale. Starting up, the wheels spin ineffectively. The natural reaction is to lock the differential so that all wheels will turn simultaneously. Now, all eight wheels spin ineffectively. There is a slight forward motion, however. By shifting from reverse to low in the right rhythm, it is possible to rock the truck out on to the road.
The Pilot I could not park in is on the way out. The mob scene there is frightening. Even though I have digestive issues that require attention, I opt to go on down the Interstate. My route has been changed. Instead of dodging up I82 to Seattle, I will follow I84 all the way to Portland. Finally, the open road again, where serenity descends upon a troubled spirit. For One hundred and ninety-nine miles. There are programable text signs that say I84 closed at Hood River. The the turn-off to I82 is nearly upon me and the navigation computer is still telling me to take it. Do I go on into an inevitable shutdown or turn North? I decide to call Night Dispatch to clear this up. There is a rest area just a few miles from the Junction.
Rest Area Mile 186 Interstate 84, Oregon, January 20, 2017
Tonight’s dispatcher is a student of the Bitchy Academy. I have two questions for him. First, can he confirm the route change? He manages, through a few smart-ass remarks to confirm that. Second, is there a route around the closure ahead? When he realizes I am being ordered into deadlock he quickly switches me to a fellow Bitcharian who smarts off and puts me on weather shutdown again.
This prison is much better. It actually has a bathroom and snow is not covering the truck. I can rest. But it is the same alternating chills and fever with constant aches. Word came next morning to go in to the final and after that, a yard near Seattle where I could drop the truck and get a taxi to the airport. They would fly me to Houston.
Grocery Distribution Center – Auburn, Washington January 21, 2017
It felt good to have hope of getting home and the drive was right down the south side of the river that separates Washington and Oregon. The peace of the open road was once again surrounding me and penetrating me. While the death of Gretchen was still a painful wound, it was softened and eased by the serenity I find while traveling.
I-84, West of Hermiston (where I was camped at the Rest Area) hugs the Southern bank of the Columbia River.
Cliffs along the river bank. Other than their igneous nature, I could not further identify the rocks.
Before long I was here in Auburn and the prospect of getting home actually lifted my spirit. I checked with the clerk and warned him that I was two days late because of weather. He informed me that I was five days early but they might fit me in on Monday if I showed up at Midnight and waited until 6 AM. There was no guarantee that I would get in at 6 or even on Monday at all, but there was a chance.
My manager had a truck yard lined up to take my tractor and empty. It is closed for the weekend. This is an industry where the drivers are expected – actually “required” is a better term – to work on weekends and holidays and regardless of the weather. I find it curious that these vital hubs are free to close for days at a time and leave human beings in desperate straits. Manager says he will continue to look for a place to park the truck.
The Company has given me the number of a driver who will come and swap trailers with me. He has only to get his cargo unloaded and the travel here to meet me. His name is David. I expected a call from David at about 17:00 local time. I awoke from a nap at 20:00 and gave him a call instead. David got to his destination, also after a weather delay, only to find the place closed. He has found a parking place and will wait until morning when they will either take his load or refuse it. He will call me in any case. I had thought that if I could just get to Auburn, the official destination of this journey, that things would begin to make sense. I was wrong.
I am feeling better now. No chills or fever, but I am still weak and aching. I have not moved the truck from the Grocery DC. These are the people who are so anxious to get their cargo that they impose a $500 late fee. And yet, when the stuff shows up after a weather delay, they let it sit in a parking lot for 14 hours (so far). I am in the Safeway parking and I will stay here until someone decides to kick me out. If so I will point out that it is their own damned cargo that they are casting out. I will also tell my personal story of death in the family and an uncaring company who cannot let me go home. It won’t change anything. But they need to know the consequences of their actions.
And by the way, The Company no longer earns my respect. Four days after Gretchen has passed away they can’t seem to get me home.
Update – Portland Airport January 21, 2017 20:10 CST :
The lot at Safeway in Auburn. They had no excuse to kick me out, but they did ignore me until I left.
Word came, at hour twenty or so, that another driver could take my load down in Portland. There was some back-and-forth where The Company argued with a local driver of twenty years experience and overruled his advice. Then I was directed to drive back to Portland to swap trailers with Mark who would sit on my trailer for four more days and then deliver it back to exactly the place I left from to get to Portland. Without Mark I would have been directed to the wrong drop yard. When we met he showed me the route to take and the street view of the place so I would recognize it. He gave me the phone number to the place, which Stevens neglected to do. I called and a receptionist and a guy named Mike were very helpful. A nice guy named Norm was kind enough to drive me to the airport, as a brother trucker. I will pay this forward!
Alright, I am through criticizing The Company for now. If they do something good, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, you may assume that they do not meet minimal standards of Human Decency.
Tradition demands (i.e., I did this the last time) that I examine beer prices at the airport. The standard unit Samuel Adams was not available so I substituted a Blue Moon Wheat Pint. Only $5.50! Stunningly affordable, especially in comparison to Chicago! It may become necessary to examine more than one pint.
The flights will be three. From Portland to San Francisco, San Francisco to Los Angeles* and L.A. to Houston. I should arrive by 6:06.
I look forward to seeing those members of the Road Trip Interest Group who live in Houston.
Update: My Kitchen Table, Houston January 23, 2017
The flight was delayed five hours which threw the connections out the window. I got another, direct flight – with an aisle seat thrown in. Just a few more hours sitting around or reclining on three uncomfortable seats, while watching Netflix. I slept a few hours despite the painful accommodations – exhaustion can be your friend, in that respect.
I arrived at 18:30, found my luggage and walked out to see the Red Ford Explorer with Marilu waiting.
Journeys end with lovers meeting.
Over The Road,
P.S. Let me repeat that David, Mark, the anonymous receptionist, Mike and Norm were all kind and helpful to me during this ordeal. I will pay their kindness forward. – SBC