Desperately Pursuing the Sunset

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Sitting in a Door in Minnesota August 28, 2017

I got here late thanks to the St. Paul Traffic and a no-truck tunnel in Minneapolis.  Now they are late loading me because of “problems with some cases”.  I will miss my 2200 appointment in Cedar Rapids and that will “knock on” and make me late for the next load.  The Blue Company will remember I was late but carefully edit out the fact that I had no control over that reality.

The trailer is still gyrating with loading activity and the dock light is still red – hours past any departure that would get me there on time. 

Houston has been devastated with flooding while I have been away.  We were fortunate. The family is safe and our house has been spared any damage.  We know plenty of people who cannot say the same.

I don’t have any pictures.  Those of you in Houston might send me one or two by clicking on the “contact’ button and attaching them to an email.  Don’t send them to my new, accursed phone since I have been able only to move camera photos and not those received with text messages

I will substitute instead a picture grabbed while leaving St. Louis.

StLouisArchAnother example of how I am “Seeing America” – from the exit ramp

 

Road Ranger (Pilot) Truck Stop, Waterloo, Iowa August 29, 2017

 

The process of taking a load from a shipper is different for every customer.  The one just experienced went like this:

  1. Pull up to the guard shack and exit the truck.  Remember to bring:
    1. Your Commercial Drivers License
    2. The load number (also called, variously, the bill number, the pick-up number or the order number)
    3. Your safety vest – a bright yellow fish-net thing with reflective stripes. Some customers will not deal with you if you are not so attired.
  2. Convey this information to the shipping clerk. You may have as many as four different 6 to 10 digit numbers copied from the dash-mounted communicator.  Just keep reading numbers until the clerk says, “That’s it”.
  3. The clerk gives a trailer number that contains your load.
  4. Ask where to drop the empty and where to find the load. With some exceptions, this information will never be given unless requested.  Answers vary from “out back” to the polite lady who took me to the window and pointed out all the locations and describing all the procedures n detail. 
  5. Drive to the Empty drop lot. Park the truck in a slot between two other empties where only a compact yard tractor would find it easy to do so.  If you are fortunate, there will be a big gap or an end spot.  If not, this can take up to an hour of careful move-and-get-out-and-look (repeat) maneuvering
  6. Crank down the landing gear. These are the two metal “feet” at the front that hold up the trailer when it is not supported by a tractor.  About 40 revolutions of the hand-crank will do it. Leave about 1 inch of space under the “feet”
  7. Unlatch the fifth wheel – the main connector by which the trailer is towed, If there is tension on the connection this may dislocate your shoulder  Normally it is just damned hard to do.
  8. Disconnect the air hoses and electrical cables running from tractor to trailer.
  9. Double check on steps 6 through 8. Much damage can be done if any are lacking.
  10. Start the truck and turn off the airbag suspension. This drops the trailer down onto its feet and takes the weight off the tractor.
  11. Release the tractor brakes and drive out from under.
  12. Turn the airbag back on.
  13. Drive around until you find the loaded trailer. In big yards, this can take as much as an hour. I can’t prove it, but I think some yard drivers like to play hide-and-seek with the trailers.
  14. When found, reverse steps 12 through 8 to connect to the new trailer.
  15. Send :loaded messages and fill out gate paperwork.
  16. Drive to gate with ,oad and take papers, license and safety vest in.
  17. When granted the “Bill of Laden” you may leave. Don’t get caught without this paper because it will be assumed that you have stolen the goods.

  All the red tape and mucking about dropping trailers and hooking new ones and filling out paperwork and sending status messages if done “Pro Bono” just to get the load that the driver will be paid to re-locate.

But, this time Your Captain performs all these activities only to relocate three miles away in this truck stop, then wait for another truck to show up and take it away.  My pay for the drive is $1.35.  I’ll do this again tonight and hopefully be allowed to actually make the trip and be recompensed for same.

Drop Yard in St. Louis, Missouri – August 30, 2017

This place is hiding in an industrial district behind a large complex that blocks all but a few of the streets in the Fantasy Land that passes for the Navigation database.  Zelda the Navigation Computer told me to hammer straight through the locked and unoccupied gates at midnight.  I had no choice but to seek a way around the gated area.  Zelda reroutes me automatically and she managed to route me down a mostly narrow road – fenced and gated on both sides – to a dead end at a railroad crossing.  She called the railroad “41st Street” and told me to turn left on it.

Fortunately, the road was utterly unoccupied this late at night and I could back the beached whale back up about four blocks to a gravel lot where it was possible to turn around.  A pair of headlights showed up and I correctly predicted it would be a Security SUV with the Complex’s name on the side.  The officer was politely helpful and directed me to a “ground truth” route (i.e. based on human eyes, not Fantasy databases) to this yard.

Three trucks were sent here with various levels if information.  We (the three drivers) managed to figure out the following:

Driver A (Captain Walkabout) will drop trailer A and hook trailer B.

Driver B will relinquish trailer B and hook trailer C

Driver C will drop trailer C and hook trailer A

Then Drivers B and C will leave on their newly acquired routes and Your Captain will spend ten hours in this gravel lot, surrounded by idle trailers.  No matter, the interior of the tractor still has all the comforts of home, except indoor plumbing.

I leave soon for a warehouse near Fort Worth Texas.

The passage of Hurricane Harvey has left Houston heavily damaged.  I have kept in contact with the First Mate and Number One Son.  They are uninjured and the house is still high and dry.  Second Son is safe in Dallas and the Captain sails the Seven Seas – so to speak. Take comfort in the fact that the First Mate and Number One Son are capable and competent to deal with the situation.

Shell Truck Stop, Edwardsville, Kansas September 1, 2017

I just did a pick-up at a shipper only a mile away from here. It was a load to Texas and good mileage. However, the Company directed me here to this truck stop (where I have no shower credits) to wait for a swap in the morning (again).  So, now I am on an empty trailer with no place to go. The driver who took my load is headed for his home leave in Austin, so I don’t mind this time.  We now return to the Hurricane Harvey Story:

Some Background

Houston is built on a flood plain drained by various “bayous”.  The main one is Buffalo Bayou that snakes through town and becomes the extensively dredged Houston Ship Channel on the East side.  All the tributary bayous have been straightened, widened and paved and handle floods well – most have come out of their banks this time, nonetheless.

Buffalo Bayou itself has been left “natural” on the West Side and is controlled by Addicks and Barker Reservoirs – behind very lengthy dams of the same names.  People think of reservoirs as bodies of water and these certainly are currently (no pun intended).  But,  the “normal” state of both reservoirs is dry – with but a few, small scenic duck ponds that remain year-round. I mention this because there are a some vocal but uninformed people asking why water was not released before the storm.  The control gates of both release water directly into Buffalo Bayou.  There are also some diversion channels that conduct water to other areas.  I don’t know much about those, but I will look it up after this.

The Harvey Story Continues

Number One Son went to work that fateful day, only to find the Restaurant flooded to the third floor.  This is a very old building that has been “Grandfathered in” to be exempt from the flood control restrictions.  They keep re-building it after every flood because it has a very rustic, scenic “atmosphere” when it is not under 30 feet of water.  The floods had risen enough behind No. 1  that he dared not attempt to return home.  So, in one day, he is now homeless and unemployed.  After a night in a parking lot, he stumbled across a couple who were regulars at the restaurant and they took him in.  There is a lot of this “Good Samaritanism” going on in my hometown just now and it makes me proud.

He attempted to get to the First Mate and help her deal with the free-range cats that were now house-bound, but was stopped by Buffalo Bayou which was now swollen with the run-off from Addicks Dam.  After another stint in a parking lot, he was taken in by some family friends nearby.

They are releasing water because the reservoir is about to top the dam and go uncontrolled.  That would probably damage the structure and could result in a full-scale dam breach.  This resulted in the flooding of some “old money” houses in the Memorial area.  The Army Corp of Engineers owns and controls the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs and manages them for the “greater good”.  Barker Dam is South of the bayou and our house is less than a mile from the Southern part of Barker.  I was sweating out the nights driving while listening to KTRH which is the Houston area station that carries all the disaster communications.  I had long ago decided that flood insurance was not really needed since we were on the “dry” side of the dam.  But, with both dams in “controlled release” would the house escape disaster?

It turns out that our house is just South of the “height of land” between the Buffalo Bayou and Braes Bayou watersheds.  We are still untouched by flooding.  We have many friends who cannot say the same.  The First Mate has taken in one such friend and Number One Son is now with her as well.  The cat-to-human ratio in the house is now 1 to 1 and she is switching from the Zone Defense she was practicing to a Man-to-Man strategy.

Loves Truck Stop, Interstate 80, exit 59, Sydney, Nebraska September 2, 2017

After the “one-mile” load I was assigned to go back to that very same shipper in the afternoon.  There I looked around desperately for trailer number 11105 for most of an hour.  After enlisting a gate guard and a yard driver, it was finally pointed out by the just-arriving next shift, who saw it come in.  It was hiding way back in the far corner behind the trailer I passed three times, thinking it was the last in the row.  The load is bound for Portland and then Seattle.  Nineteen hundred and seventy eight miles.  So far, it has not been swapped from underneath me.

I arrive here at the “Bitching Hour” of three AM, when every parking spot is taken and trucks are triple-parked out to the road.  I am parked along that road in the gravel.  Now that daylight has broken and trucks have left empty spots, I dare not drive over to them for fear that the electronic log will flip to “drive time”, flag me with a violation and delay my start by 5 hours.  I was unable to get authorization to buy fuel but did walk across to the store later to get a shower.

Echo Information Center, Interstate 84, exit 170, Utah  – September 3, 2017

Westward from Missouri, the Earth and Sky expand and embellish.  Those “beached whale” trucks – them so hard to find space for “back East” –  shrink to insignificance and crawl across the landscape like ants on table.  At times alone within the circle of the horizon, a solemn and quieting sense of oneness with the landscape descends upon the witness.

  • This despite hurtling along at 65 miles per hour in a 40-ton vehicle. All the while,my governed speed mocked by Wyoming’s signs reading “Speed Limit 80 MPH”

This is where the spiritual payoff to this Walkabout ultimately manifests itself. Is it worth all the isolation, the exhausting long hours and lonely days on end?

No.  But, it ain’t bad!

   It has been asked of me why I don’t get a job driving trucks around Houston.  My answer is the view out the windshield that greets me this morning:

UtahMorningViewNOT the View from a Local Fed Ex Truck Cab

P.S. This was not nearly as spontaneous as I make it sound.  I had to scrub about a thousand dead bugs off the windshield for this one snapshot. 😉

Over The Road

Steve

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