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Category: Over The Road
Steve is available for freelance or contract writing projects.
Please use this Contact Link and include your email in the message.
Another Masterpiece from the WordPress site
August 16-21, 2016
Baltimore Washington International Airport
Chicago O’Hare Airport
Home in Houston
In addition to a Driver Manager, I have a “Counselor” who is supposed to represent me in matters of family considerations, personal leave and financial matters. I will admit that I doubted the effectiveness of this set-up from the start. It may be that I am too cynical on these matters. But I insist that I have good reason to be cynical by default.
Nevertheless, I called and told my tale to my Counselor and she did what someone should have done before they jerked my chain around like they did. She found a place for me to store the truck and bought me an air ticket home. So, while I cannot forgive the despicable way they were treating me, I can say (somewhat grudgingly) that they ultimately did the right thing. Since I am managing to get these loads delivered on time and safely (and at bargain prices, I might add), I have every right to expect the right thing.
So let’s move on. The place where I left the truck is the other Peterbilt shop in Maryland, this one in Baltimore. I made sure to tell them about my ten-day visit to their sister “Pete Store” in Landover where I was so long a fixture in their shop that they joked about me being put “on the payroll”.
I am in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) with an hour and a half to burn. If it were anywhere but an airport, I would have a beer. I vaguely remember beer. But the fact that the menus don’t mention prices and that this is the Eastern Seaboard North of Virginia tells me that these prices are out of my league. Besides, I’ve waited over a month and it won’t hurt me to wait until I can have beer at merely retail prices. On the other hand, I don’t do this often. These days I almost don’t drink beer at all. Maybe just one. In the spirit of investigation, you see. (That wasn’t hard to get over, now was it?).
Well, beer at BWI is seven dollars for a draft pint. I can’t call it reasonable. Indeed I can still call it excessive, but with the understanding that the airport will set the rents for these places knowing that they can charge these excessive amounts and so that is what has to happen for them to meet that rent. So, I pay the seven bucks for a Samuel Adams draft and tip a Dollar – once.
You may remember that this all came about because they wanted me to go back to Illinois. In a weird twist of fate, I had a layover in Chicago before the final flight to Houston. In Chicago O’Hare Airport (ORD), the investigative urge comes upon me again and I find that the price of beer went is now in double digits – for the same Samuel Adams draft. I am an old man of limited means and so I appreciate very much that the bartender selling this expensive brew contributed his tip to the price of my beer.
So, now I am home at that same kitchen table where you saw my “before and after” photos. I have been to the gym this morning to swim 15 laps and already I have some muscle tone in my upper body that has been so sadly lacking in the last few months. I also weighed myself to find out that I am still 70 pounds lighter than the end of last year. That is a really good thing, since my health was beginning to notice the extra stress!
I have “taken care of business” – most importantly to get my youngest son to college at UT Dallas. It is a great campus for a University that is gaining a good reputation for Computer Science. Among their corporate sponsors is Texas Instruments, a company that invented a little thing called the “integrated circuit”.
I dutifully spoke the required phrases that all Fathers must recite.
“Why when I was in college, we had roommates and a bathroom down the hall with a gang shower. Not these single bedrooms and private baths. ”
“ We had to lug around big piles of hardcover books, not your fancy-pants ipads.’
“We walked to classes in the snow, uphill – both ways”.
The elder son is now a Chef and I have counseled him to become a restauranteur extraordinaire and create a gastronomic empire on the model of
Pappas family – now famously successful in Houston and all of Texas.
I figure that while I am dreaming, I should dream BIG.
I also was able to make room in the overstuffed garage for the second of four automobiles that will live here with the two resident humans for the near future. It is perhaps ominous that cats now outnumber human occupants in my remote and fondly remembered home.
And my lovely wife is also busy with her many interests – not least of which is her travel agency where she creates “Dream Vacations”, arranging cruises and tours worldwide. I am happy that in my absence, my loved ones are industrious and well-occupied.
Me? I am also well-occupied, back in my truck in North Carolina and bound for Orlando. This is not what I imagined I would be doing at my age, but it has been challenging and interesting. I will continue to ply the highways and tell my tales. I of course appreciate your interest, Dear Readers.
P.S., I know you like when I include photos. I don’t have any that relate directly to the text. But, the photos below are from the time in Maryland when I visited the Air and Space Museum. And, I did mention Maryland.
From the old WordPress site…
August 16, 2016
The 25 hour lay-over completed, I drove to the final delivery, checked in for a door and backed in to be unloaded. This was a well-laid-out docking area that had widely spaced doors and a long run-out in front of mine. That did not stop a fellow trucker from parking across my long run-out to make it another high-angle parking situation. So, again the ordeal of maneuvering the trailer backwards into a gap. This time the gap was a bit bigger, though. And, I seem to be getting better at this.
I thought of how to explain this and came up with the following analogy:
Line up two dominoes with a gap between them that will fit a third domino with a small gap on either side. See the diagram above.
Once you have the “Start” laid out, put one hand in your pocket, then push on the center of the end of the third domino where you see the red diamond shape. No fair pushing on the corners! Now push that third domino until you have the “End” configuration. If the moving domino touches the others, you lose. It would, of course be much easier if your moving domino were lined up – parallel and straight in front of the gap. That is what I mean by “long run-out”. Imagine doing this exercise with three hundred-thousand dollar vehicles (more with cargo), looking back at the trailer through the driver’s window and in mirrors. This from70 feet away.
I have to do that about once every two or three days.
Anyway, I got to the receiver, sent that status to the company and backed in to be unloaded. They unload the trailer by driving a heavy forklift into it and picking up a multi-ton stack of cargo and exiting. They do this hundreds of times a day and have gotten very fast at it. The result is an earthquake-like shaking in the cab for an hour or two. But, in the meantime the long-awaited message will come that will tell me to pick up a load and take it to Texas and home.
Only, the message says go pick up a load and take it to Illinois – delivering on the second day of my pre-planned and approved home time (only Illinois ain’t my home). I put in for this break over a month ago and while I was in Purgatory (not the ski resort) they asked again and I requested the same and they approved it again. Must be a mistake, right?
“Well,” they say,. “It will be easy to get you a load out of Illinois to Texas”.
If you read my previous post, you know that I have just come from Chicago.
That’s in Illinois.
I went there from Maryland because they said it would be easy to route me home from there. Then they said, they had nothing from there and I could get a load home from Maryland. So, I went to Maryland.
Somebody is being less than honest with me.
The load assignment has an acceptance auto-reply where I answer “yes” to the assignment and have an option to comment. I answered “NO” and commented the story I just told you. Some severe editing was needed to get that into the two line comment field. Then I went looking for a place to park. But, this too shall pass and what else could go wrong?
Parking for big trucks is a critical problem in this part of the country, as my previous post mentioned. There was a truck stop, nearby and it was one of those where you pay to park, but “any port in a storm”, as they say. There was not one space left open. I left. The first two hours in this place are free (and darned well worth every penny, as it turns out) so, I didn’t have to pay to be turned away. I drove toward the nearest stop I could find on the “apps” which is fifty miles away. There is no real hope that they will have space, but what else can I do?
Along the route (North on Interstate 95), there is a rest stop with truck parking, fuel and a big food court called Maryland House. I’ve been there before. It is hidden from the road and requires a left exit where the left lane is forbidden to trucks. Truckers often take their 30 minute breaks at places like this, so there was a chance I could find a recently-vacated space. I did and I am there now.
It is four AM and there is still no word on my load home. I will probably be denied my home break. But, it will be denied by a human being on the phone – not by anonymous satellite message. There are certain levels of decency that I expect out of life and this is one of them.
Then, I’ll go back to Illinois. But I will remember this shabby treatment for a good long while.
September 3, 2016 (Transplanted from my old WordPress site)
The rig is parked in another gigantic lot, but this one is 90% vacant. All of the spaces are “pull throughs”, i.e., no backing involved. Many Thanks for this much needed relief! This is a “Service Plaza” on Ohio’s Turnpike which is really Interstate 80. I don’t know how the state got the right to put toll booths on a Federally funded Interstate, but they have spared no expense on these installations. Besides the ample and easy parking for cars and trucks alike, there is a well-appointed building with restrooms, a food court some shops and a trucker’s area with showers, laundromat and TV lounge.
It has been two days of over ten hours of driving and there is another ten to go before my first of two stops in Massachusetts. I will split this ten with a ten hour break in the middle. It is a bit complicated, but given the time of the appointment for deliver and the distance involved, there are ten hours of driving and ten hours of mandatory off-duty between now and then no matter what. I can drive straight to the receiver and hope there is a place to hide an 80 foot truck for 10 hours or stop in the middle, probably at the fuel stop. That way, I can arrive, on time at the receiver and drive away when through. It will be a very close thing and I have asked for another hour or two on the appointment.
Just when I am about to give up and stay in a roadside park when word comes that there is on-site parking at the receiver. I won’t be turned away for being early and be forced creep the streets illegally looking for a place to park. So, now I can drive straight in and stay until my appointment at 5 AM. That went well overall, but at the very end, Jill the Navigation voice told me “turn right” where I saw nothing but darkness. Immediately she added, “Not allowed. Return to the route behind you.” It is an ineffective and singularly useless thing to say to a man driving a truck on a narrow country road, with no shoulders to speak of and nothing but narrow residential driveways and tiny commercial parking lots on both sides. The usual defense of pressing Jill’s Re-route button made her say “Communications Failure”. In other words, “You’re on your own, Sucker!”
No, I must drive ever onward as my time runs down to the tens of minutes, desperately searching for an area big enough to allow the turning radius I need. Think of a football field. If I go straight across on the Fifty yard line, I can turn and come back on the Twenty. And there I was driving blindly into the night with no idea what I would encounter. Finally I found a small motel on a corner lot with very few guests. There was an entrance on both the highway and the cross street. By using every inch of pavement on the cross street, the highway and the parking lot, I managed to reverse direction.
Jill came back to consciousness and showed me the distance to the turn-off. The sign on the road was low and unlit, but visible from this direction. The gate guard seemed to know the motel I mentioned. In my experience so far, Shipping, Receiving and Warehouse staff are polite and helpful people. The gate guard at this place was exactly that, explaining where I needed to be an when. He even had a number for pizza delivery straight to the truck. I had previous plans for peanut butter sandwiches.
At 6:30 the call comes to find a door and be unloaded. They finish around 8 and bring me the paperwork. Part if this was written while I was “hiding” over in the parking area after closing up and sealing the load for the next stop.. I didn’t need to stay, but I have nowhere to be. I have drive time, but it is limited by the 8 day regulations to 7 hours and 11 minutes. The next stop is 3 hours from here. I don’t know if I can go hang out there until my appointment at 7 AM tomorrow. I transmitted the completion message for this stop and assembled the paperwork for this trip so far.
I looked up a Pilot truck stop (they have an iPhone App) near the final and drove there, saving a couple of hours tomorrow morning. It was at I 95 exit 40 in Connecticut. Why Pilot? Because that is where the company has us fuel up and that is where I get a shower credit for each 50 gallons. I have six left and they expire after ten days, so it behooves me to use them. I just found a receipt from Loves (the competition) and it says I have 4 showers there. Those expire as well so perhaps I had better double up on showers. But, Loves doesn’t seem to have any locations nearby.
This trip I spent two nights at rest stops and missed my chance at a shower. This particular Pilot is an addition to a general travel shop in what looks like it used to be a hotel. There is a saddle and some photos of a young barrel-racing cowgirl and her horses on display on the staircase landing. I can only guess at the story behind this exhibit. Was she the daughter of the hoteliers back in the 60’s? This is obviously a sentimental shrine to the racer and her horses. Perhaps she is the elderly owner of the travel stop, these days?
The showers have beautiful pedestal sinks from the 1950’s and ugly rusty metal folding chairs from the 1960’s. The driver’s lounge seems to be a coin-operated pool table and what is labeled a “Theater Room”. It really is an old-style private theater that might have screened projected movies for VIPs at one time, long ago. I couldn’t manage to make the camera flash to get a good photo of this darkened studio The parking lot is off behind the fueling bays and you would not know it was there if not for the signs that point it out and threaten to tow your rig if you park by the fuel island.
All these spaces are accompanied by ancient fixtures with ductwork, built on massive concrete bases. These were evidently, life support system for trucks in the old days when it was idle your engine or freeze to death in the winter. These would be necessary in such a setting a half-century ago. Imagine a capacity crowd of 80 such trucks all gathered in a spot like this and idling You younger folks, who never knew a world before emission controls on automobiles, cannot imagine what a dismal cloud of unburned hydrocarbons would “surround and penetrate you” in such a scenario. The more ancient of us can see why these things were needed, at the time. As seen in the photo, this one has a history of “incidental contact” that may date back decades. Most trucks have Auxiliary power units (APU’s) these days. These are clean-running small diesel generators that keep power and heat/AC in the sleepers.
I had three days of decent wages on the Kansas – Massachusetts run. Each day was about 580 miles. But there was a twenty four hour wait at the Shipper – common with meat plants, Also, the double destinations at the Receivers adds another full day of minimal pay. Today I got unloaded at the first stop and drove about 150 miles. Oh, and I got $25 for the extra drop (Ka-Ching!*).
Tomorrow, I will drive about 60 miles to the last stop and then deadhead 90 miles to the next assignment.
There is a new trip on the horizon for which I only have places and times, so far. It looks like I will be hauling candy from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania. This is a short (500 miles) trip spread over three days. Despite the short mileage, it sounds interesting.
Now, my phone is dead. I expect it is the cable, because I have replaced same three times now since I have had this iPhone. They cost about $25 and seem to last just a few months under heavy usage. Without my phone cannot use the Apps to find a truck stops at which to buy a new (and overpriced) cable. I do have the address of the next pick-up. So, there I will set off that way and see what I stumble across. I can see that I need a back-up for the iPhone. I have become dependent upon it. Technology has its consequences.
Steve Carroll Campbell was my father. He was born in January of 1930 near New Boston, Texas. When he was about ten years old, he suffered from a degenerative bone disease that so attacked his right lower leg that local doctors were ready to amputate. His father, Louis D. Campbell, took him to Texarkana where there was a Shriner’s Children’s Hospital. The family legend is that his stretcher rode on the back of a flat-bed truck.
The doctors there tried something desperate. They carved bone out of a live goat and transplanted (grafted, I suppose) it in the appropriate place in this poor boy’s diseased limb. A desperate gamble indeed since it was – as far as I know – unprecedented. But there was nothing to lose – except, of course, the boy’s leg.
He walked on crutches for over a year, this tragic figure of a child, until his leg was strong enough to take his full weight. The leg, though smaller in diameter and severely scarred, it was the roughly the same length as his left and quite capable. Unless you saw him in shorts, you would never know that anything had ever been amiss.
You may be old enough to remember when Shriners took one day a year to stand on street corners and collect donations for their charities like that Texarkana Hospital. As an adult, as often as he was able, my father would scrape together a hundred dollars to buy a crisp, new $100 bill. He would find a Shriner collecting and drop the bill in the little bucket, anonymously. In those days, a hundred dollars might have been a full week’s pay with which Dad could ill afford to part.
My father was uprooted from Bowie County and moved to Houston – with his mother and younger brother – in his high school years. While his mother worked long shifts as an LVN in a maternity ward, he worked as a merchant sailor and later as a letter carrier (on foot – told you that leg was strong!)
Dad refused to allow me to be a “Junior” because his middle name (it sounds exactly like “Carol”, a girl’s name) was a source of ridicule for him by mean-spirited classmates. Blake is my middle name and I do not know where it came from. It is possible that my Uncle Mark (Dad’s brother-in-law) may know. I’ll ask.
As far as I am concerned, Carroll is a perfectly acceptable man’s name and I can quote two examples you may have heard of : Carroll O’Connor, the actor famous for portraying Archie Bunker and Carroll Shelby, the automobile designer and racer famous for the Shelby Cobra and other cars.
Shelby was also from Texas, by the way. While I think Dad’s precaution was overly protective, I recognize that he did it because he loved me and wanted the best for me.
Dad eventually settled into a career in the glass sales business. It was he who trained me to clean glass properly. It takes clean paper towels, two of them. The first, “the wet one”, is used with a light amount of cleaner to emulsify the spots and loosen dirt. The second, “the dry one” mops up the streaks left by the first. Soon, you toss the wet one. Then the dry one becomes the wet one and you get a new dry one. To clean windows, the proper way is to use two people, one on each side. That way if you rub vigorously but can’t get the spot out, you can point it out to your partner since it must be on his side.
This “pointing out your partner’s flaws” is much quicker than a single cleaner going from one side to the other – especially on house windows far from the doors – as you know if you have tried it. These days, I have a truck windshield that I struggle to keep clean of all the bugs that dive like Kamikazes and spatter directly in my forward view. I always remember my Dad when I clean the windshield and I do the best job I can, in his memory. (This part written while “over-the-road”)
When I clean the mirrors, I remember Dad’s team method for windows and if there is a spot I can’t tackle, I say, “Hey Dad, that one must be on your side!”. He looks back with a smile and calls me a “smarty-pants” (or something similar 😉). He looks a lot like me, these days.
For most of his life, Dad fought a smoking habit established at a young age. That and a lung disease that was associated with poultry farming deteriorated his health until he was on continuous oxygen in his early 60’s. He died on June 30th, 1997 (age 67) of respiratory arrest – he wanted to breathe, but could not. It has been almost 22 years now that he has been gone. I miss him terribly to this day.
Happy Fathers’ Day,
October 6, 2016 (from the WordPress site)
The truck parking situation in the Northeast is now critical. I am still avoiding much of the whole mess by traveling when most are sleeping and vice versa. When I leave truck stops or even roadside parks, the mass of trucks is astounding. They are parked not just in every space, but also in every space that is not a space. They line the driveways and side streets and even the off ramps from and onramps to the Interstate. The rest areas are so overflowing that I sometimes have to hop the trailer tires over a curb to get out to the road. From there, it is smooth sailing because…why? That’s right – most all the other trucks are off the road! By the time I am ready for a break it is about six or seven in the morning and there are spaces left by the early risers who have departed. Sometimes I can roll past the still sleeping trucks lining the on-ramps, avoid the side-liners in the driveway and find a nice vacant pull-through in the main parking lot at those hours.
If parking is crowded at a fuel stop, I can log my fuel stop for the first 10 minutes then go on “break” while I top off the reefer and add DEF (explained later). After that, I must pull forward if there is a truck behind me, but I can still buy some wiper fluid or oil, find the bathroom, get a cup of coffee, etc. If by that time I don’t have the required 30 minutes, I will watch the mirrors while the guy behind me stalls around for the same reason. If he gets through fueling, I have to move, but mostly, I manage to kill the 30 and drive on. Jill stops saying “you have one hour and seven minutes of remaining drive time” to saying “you have four hours and 35 minutes of remaining drive time. The difference would be only three hours but she holds up your on-duty time (fueling, inspections, time at shippers or receivers) until you break, as well.
When I settle for the “night” it is about two or three in the afternoon. Empty truck stop spaces abound. Some rest areas are vacant except for my truck and two or three others. All those empties and far, far more will be occupied when I leave again. I have some photos of this phenomenon.
Above: Trucks parked on the Interstate ramp that leads to a rest area. I see these by the hundreds on any given “midnight run”. The law says you have to stop driving and park the truck after 11 hours of accumulated driving. At times, there is no good choice for that location. The parking situation is critical in the Northeast and getting worse. I avoid it – for the most part – by my “graveyard shift” driving hours. By the way, notice the cool “spacecraft-like” appearance of my instrument panel
Above: This phenomenon is not limited to nighttime hours. This is not long after dawn.
Above: Except for the truck in the fuel line (far right), all of those vehicles are in a “no parking” zone. Nobody kicks them out because they have little choice. The drivers will all quickly move their trucks when awakened if they block somebody in. Those blocked in apologize for awakening them and are quite understanding in a “there but for the Grace of God go I” sort of way. Ninety-nine percent of truck drivers are polite, thoughtful and helpful individuals.
Newark is a lot like a truck stop in the middle of the night. There is no extra room to be found. When there might be some, they start a construction area there. This applies to warehouse areas and streets in industrial zones. Where in small towns there are wide open spaces surrounding industrial zones, Newark has shops and houses that border them. I went down a narrow residential streets to get to the new home for the half-million-dollars-worth of beef. I had parked on the street to walk my papers to the guard to check in. I parked right by a fire plug – see photo below
Above: I reckon I could talk my way out of this ticket.
They had a vendor parking area that was basically a trailer junk yard with a little extra space. Paved with gravel and diesel oil in a black organic ooze that gets tracked into the truck. Driving out in the morning, Jill, the Virtual Navigation Girl told me to turn where rigs were parked on both sides, take narrow streets where cars lined the edges, use closed entrance ramps. Nobody had told her about construction areas or detours. I wore out my touch-screen finger pressing the “re-route” button. I was hopping curbs and making sign-language pleas for cars to back up and let me avoid taking out road signs on the corners. I went around in circles until I finally worked up an escape velocity and left the orbit of Newark. (…with apologies to Douglas Adams)
Not far out of town, I picked up a load of plastic bags to take to North Carolina. This was at another of those obstacle-course yards where I had to back blind-side into a space with a fence in front making life difficult.
Above: The offending fence. Its demise predated my arrival, but I rejoiced in its horizontality nevertheless. The text at the top of the windshield lists truck stops and rest areas along the planned route. Don’t worry – it’s dry-erase
I had to scale this load and found a Loves truck stop. It was easily accessed by making an illegal right turn. The scale was behind a powerline tower, necessitating a wait in the fuel line, then a diagonal approach to where I could wait for that one driver in a hundred who will leave his truck on the scale while he goes in to get his ticket. The obstructed approach left me with one trailer wheel off the scale. While I tried to pull up and back the trailer on to the scale, another one-in-a-hundred driver started pulling on to the scale behind me, thinking (being charitable, there;-) that I was through. So, I gave it up and went back to the Interstate to the next windshield-noted stop. It is possible to leave problems behind, occasionally.
While driving through Maryland, Jill told me about a new important message. She won’t let me read these while I drive. She does read them to me spontaneously, from time to time. I sure would like to find out how that happens so I could ask that on demand – but I don’t know. At a State-border weight checkpoint I stopped in the line long enough to read “Stop where you are! Call me when stopped.” This panic-inspiring instruction is easier said than done. The scale screen told me to exit to the Interstate, so I couldn’t stop there. After 10 miles of no rest stops or obvious truck stops, I exited anyway and looked for big parking lots. This happened to be a stretch of road with massive construction along both sides of ten more miles that left me no turns and no parking lots. The road dead-ends into a checkpoint for the Aberdeen Proving Ground – a Serious and Secure Army Installation. They would not even let me on to their website to research them for this post, because I was using a WiFi connection. The link below is Wikipedia.
It took some explaining about how I was not here to deliver, but was a lost soul looking to turn around and go the other way without being fired. They finally stopped traffic to let me make a (LEGAL and Company Acceptable) U-turn.
Finally, I found a Target and wove my way through the customer lot, only hopping one curb. I found my required eight parking places (and the here-to-for-hidden easy back way in) beside the building and called in to find out that the load was to be delayed a week!
Now, I was to drag my trailer to a shop of the refrigeration unit manufacturer in Carlisle, PA (it has a lingering problem) and drop it, pick up an empty and go to Lemoyne, Pennsylvania to pick up a load of “Freight, all kinds” and take it to Temple, Texas. Before I left the yard in Carlisle, that load was cancelled and I was assigned to go to Howard, PA, pick up a Coca-Cola load and take it to Minnesota.
This sets my record for number of different destinations in one day. The day was not over yet, but it ended before another destination could be flown in.
On the morning of the next day, I was reminded of the classic comedy routine by Abbot and Costello. Who’s on First?
On the bright side, I am getting really good at dropping and hooking trailers. Darn shame that I was paid exactly nothing for those 15 activities and had to shell out my own money for the load locks and truck wash.
Above: On the way to the wash shop. The leaves are turning.
From the WordPress site.
Interstate 70 Rest Area Mile Marker 130, Licking (Yes, that’s what it’s called) County Ohio – November, 2016
To reduce chronological confusion, when I am writing “in real time” I will put that text in italics.
Normal font means I am describing something that happened a day or more ago.
At times, it seems that I don’t have a moment to spare. After Denver, I took a load of meat from Kansas to Maryland. I spent a lot of time in Maryland a while back while I was “Shipwrecked” at a Peterbilt Shop.
The delivery in Maryland was in three parts. The first was a big box chain distribution center that was no problem. The second was a Kafka Movie experience. I arrived an hour early at Three AM. I was left waiting for a door. That is to be expected for early arrival so I was not alarmed. I got a door about 90 minutes later, backed the open trailer in and turned in my paperwork – all as expected. After that, the driver waits for the green “docking light” to turn red. This indicates that the unloading has begun and the trailer is “latched” to the building to prevent the trailer from moving. All this would be normal.
But, after an hour, the light was still green. Not normal. I went back to the receiving office and to ask politely if there was some problem or misunderstanding. I was told to “just wait for the call”. On the way back to the truck I notice that eight of ten truck drivers near me are also still looking at green lights in their rear-views. I waited until it was obvious that I would miss my next appointed drop at Seven AM and called to re-schedule. I told the receiving office at stop #3 (a quarter mile away) that I would need at least another hour. She asked where I was. When I told her stop#2’s name and address, she gave me two and one half hours. That made me think she knew something I didn’t. 😉
Drivers generally don’t bother each other in loading docks because they are all busy with paperwork or sending reports or trying to get some sleep. But, I happened to catch a neighbor (also sitting at a green light for over an hour) and he told me that this is normal for Drop #2. At last the light went red and unloading began. They were through in time for me to barely make the new appointment at Drop #3. So, with paperwork in hand and a song in my heart I started the engine and made ready to leave. The light was still red. Again, my trailer was clamped to the building. I could not leave unless I dragged the building with me. A polite reminder call to the receiving office and I was assured I would be released momentarily. I called again fifteen minutes later and said, “I don’t mean to be a pest or anything, but…”
I was at last released to arrive double-late at Drop #3. By this time, my door had been given away and I had to wait another three hours for a door – not unusual for late arrivals.
During the early hours at Drop#2, I received a new load assignment. I reviewed the information and made a trip plan. This opportunity expired during the delay at the door. Another assignment went exactly the same way while delayed at Stop#3.
Above: I don’t have any pictures that relate to this post, so this is a photo of Jill’s recent directions at highway exits. As you see, Jill has gone all Schrodinger’s Cat on me – actually telling me to stay and go at the same time. This went away after a recent software upgrade.
Interstate 94 Rest Area at mile 161 near Ann Arbor, Michigan – 3 AM 11/13/16
I am on a tight schedule two loads in front of the narrative. I will find some time soon (another 34) to catch up. Meanwhile, I have these snippets of time to advance the story.
All told, I spent over ten hours in Maryland planning trips that were later cancelled, interacting with receiving personnel, filing reports, doing paperwork, moving the truck around, waiting for a door or waiting in the door. I might find that sort of activity more interesting and challenging if I were actually paid to do it.
From Maryland, I was sent out to the end of a Peninsula where truck stops are apparently not socially acceptable. There is a chicken plant down there where I was assigned a load. No fuel or parking so it requires preparation and lead time and back without running out of fuel or drive time. It is a lot like Free Diving where one holds their breath to descend to great depths and then return to the surface. This chicken plant is an ugly, unorganized place where they tell you to “drop the empty anywhere” and your full trailer is somewhere on that same lot. I walked around on foot through the muck on the parking lot that also includes thousands of feathers and other organic material from the hundreds of seagulls hanging out around the yard.
Exiting the yard when my load was ready was a choreography. I had to hook the trailer and drag it around to the scale, past all the randomly placed empties and loaded trailers. The scale exits back to the yard, so we do it again to get out the gate. I rehearsed the sequence on foot, making sweeping motions where I would swing wide to avoid collision. I’m sure the yard personnel thought I was some sort of latter day Mr. Monk and avoided me as a result.
Detroit Receiving Yard – 7 AM 11/13/16
Checking in at the guard shack here in Detroit left me with instructions to wait for someone to come find me. I parked where he told me and looked in vain for a receiving office. When my appointment time came I called that number we have for contact and sure enough, there was another door, outside the yard fence where I should have gone. The guard is just a guard and has nothing to do with Receiving. Now that someone in operations knows I am here, I should get a door soon.
Back to the chicken load from Virginia Shore to Iowa.
My work cycle was now reversed from what works. I was getting up in the late afternoon and driving until early morning. Arriving at truck stops and rest areas exactly when they can be expected to be overflowing into the streets and out onto the Interstate shoulders. The trick of passing up the rear-enders to find new vacancies works about half the time. If it fails, then there is the exit ramp. If that is full, the next stop may be only 30 to 50 miles away.
Now Westward bound, I was chasing the sunset instead of fleeing the dawn, as I would prefer. Jupiter appears above the sun and dominates the sky after dusk. When I turn around and head back East, I will see (low to high) Mercury, Saturn, Venus and Mars above the predawn Sun. Venus should be obvious, Mercury may be lost in the Sun. Saturn is faint, being on the far side of the Sun. Mars can always be recognized by its reddish color.
Delivering my Giant Containers of Chicken (one per pallet, 20 pallets – 39,000 pounds) was a pleasure. The Receiving staff was pleasant and informative. The lady of “mature” years who signed me in took me to a window to show me where to park and described what to expect from the loaders. She directed me to the “facilities” and offered me coffee. The doors had a half mile of run-out in front of them making the easiest docking in the world. After I left, I found no room at the inn at the local truck stop, but there was a Walmart down the street with other trucks parked. I joined them and spent about $90 re-stocking the ships’ galley before spending a restful 10 hour break in the same eight parking spaces.
From there to Ottomwa, Iowa to take on a load of pork. I dragged it to Michigan and I thought I was in the twilight zone when I pulled into the chosen area where I expected an 8 PM crowd and found only one other truck in the midst of about 30 pull-through diagonal spaces. A third truck arrived and I asked the driver about this phenomenon. She said it is like this every weekend.
Normally I fill up my water bottles at rest areas. I found the water fountains stained with mineral deposits and the water was not worth collecting. When stainless steel fountains are stained, be very afraid. Flint, Michigan is just down the road from here. You would think they might use water softeners and filters at rest stops and other very public places. Evidently not.
I called from Detroit Receiving again after an hour parked. I’m next, they tell me.
Vermillion Service Plaza exit 139, Interstate 80, Ohio – 1 PM 11/13/16
The Detroit drop is complete and I have moved to a place 20 miles from the Ohio drop. I’ll leave at 3:30 AM tomorrow to complete that one and drive 120 miles to another appointment at noon.
This brings us to the point where the two narratives merge into the present.
Over The Road,
This is yet another post that was languishing over at the WordPress site.
September 27, 2016
This sage advice is from me to myself. I am in Denton, Texas, “sitting in a door” awaiting the unloading of produce from California. A “preplan” has just come across the satellite link that tells me my next load will be picking up at the Coca Cola Syrup Plant in Dallas. The destination is Denver for 840 miles – a two day trip that will undoubtedly be stretched into four days, as we discussed in earlier Chapters. But, I accept the load because I really have no choice.
Now for the Rest of the Story: A note from someone named Billy says I should bring my load to the Yard. So, you see the lesson is clear: Stay away from Dallas.
I called my Driver Manager to Confirm this – since I have no idea who “Billy” is – and, yes I have to make an appearance in Purgatory (not the ski resort (NTSR)). One reason is a physical exam , after the third such in the last nine months. I passed them all, by the way. The first and third exams had a one year renewal. But, since my livelihood is apparently a low priority, I have to go in for a forth. Today is Friday. Since it its nearly 4 PM and the light is still red – meaning I cannot yet leave the door – there is no way I can get there during “office hours” – and I suspect the Doctors do not work on Weekends. So, unless I miss my guess, this will be three or possibly four more days of ungainful unemployment.
The unloaded message from Target has come. The light is still red but when it changes I can go to Coca Cola and then to Purgatory (NTSR). Meanwhile, my clock has run out completely and utterly. The Coca Cola Plant policy is – as I many times said as a bartender – “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”. I had told the shipping clerk that if I could not be loaded in two hours, I would come back in the morning. That particular clerk was not among the Polite and Helpful Shipping Personnel of whom I have written before. He ignored my advice completely.
While the clock was ticking down, – in anticipation of what finally did occur – I had called “Night Safety” and asked for advice. Their sage counsel was basically this: “Call me when you actually fall off the cliff.”
One thing I have learned in this occupation (maybe I should start a list) is: When you have an insoluble problem, ask the people in the plant because they have seen this a hundred times before,” The first choice is the Yard Tractor Guy, If he is unavailable (being very busy), ask the man who brings you your paperwork. That helpful and cheerful individual clued me in to some big parking lots to be found about a half mile away. I chose a Lowes lot, because, on the way in I had stopped there to confirm directions. There was an old trailer parked there that I could hide behind to avoid any questions from the Local Constabulary.
I was officially “off duty” and I creeping the truck at 10 MPH – flashers going – I manage to stay that way to find the Lowes. I also find another truck who has taken my hiding place behind the abandoned trailer. One look by the loading docks finds tow-away warnings with certain words in bold font. There was, however a string of about 10 conventional parking spots – off the side of the building, but in full view of the street.
Calling Night Safety is no longer useful since they may well tell me to move. And I have no confidence in their advice now anyway. So, I mentally prepare my defense for the sin of parking.
September 27, 2016 Pilot truck Stop outside Amarillo, Texas
Back in Purgatory
The “Yard” is a singularly depressing place. Every driver there is earning nothing. When I arrive, I am handed a list of tasks I must accomplish in order to escape Purgatory (NTSR). I find that I will be here at least three days between safety lectures and the physical exam. A few of the safety items are accomplished before the office staff goes home at noon, Saturday. The remainder must wait until Monday. With few exceptions, every driver here is trapped without transportation. You don’t just drive these trucks when you think you want to go somewhere – you must be “dispatched” and you won’t be, until your list is complete and signed off. There are two “loaner” cars for the untold hundreds of drivers. The waiting list is three hours long and the car must be returned within one hour. The entirety of Saturday afternoon was consumed with one trip to Walmart. This was urgent, since the truck’s food supply has dwindled to “Spam Rations”.
Sunday was shaping up to be especially dismal, having literally nothing to advance the cause of getting out of Purgatory (NTSR). I thought of my son Benjamin now attending college classes about 50 miles from Purgatory. I would like to visit him, but that would be a trip out of the one-hour-loaner-car range. A taxi is financially counter-indicated in my current circumstances. Fortunately, Dallas has an extensive mass-transit rail system that nobody seems to know about. I hatched a plot to make a Great Railway Journey to The University of Texas at Dallas (which is really in Richardson, Texas). Some research came up with this route:
Take the 597 bus that stops right in front of Purgatory (NTSR). That takes me to Lawn View train station. From there I take the Green line downtown and transfer to the Red Line which takes me almost to Plano. I get off at City Line/Bush station and take the 883 UTD shuttle. About two hours and fifteen minutes each way. Since the alternative was to cool my heals in Purgatory, I decided to make the journey. The price was right, being a five-dollar day pass. I noticed that it was good until Three AM the next day. I am quite sure this is because bars close at Two.
Above: The trip plan to UT Dallas. The Astute Reader will notice that this is actually a picture of the return route.
Above: The Green Line station at Lawn View
Above: Benjamin’s Dormitory Building. His window is third from the left on the second floor. Like almost every building on Campus, it is very new.
Above: The lobby at Benjamins Dorm.
So, instead of a depressing and lonely vigil of hopelessness, Sunday had become an interesting trip to spend some time with my beloved son. There is, after all a reason not to avoid Dallas. For this much-needed relief I was truly thankful.
Benjamin took me to lunch and then we went shopping at Walmart. That was yet another bus ride. The stop outside Walmart was littered with abandoned shopping carts. I, your humble narrator, pointed out (ostensibly to Benjamin, but meant to be overheard by the mass of scholars there assembled) that the arriving student-shoppers could choose a cart from this stash and take it in with them. I set them an example, but none of the “Future of America” saw fit to join me. They did select carts at the door, however. And no doubt they added to the collection at the bus stop on the way out.
Above: The bus stop at Walmart
Above: City Line / Bush Station, on the way back to Purgatory. The emergency equipment was there when I arrived for some poor commuter who somehow fell and was trapped between the bench and the partition that you see under the awning at left. I didn’t rush over and photograph him, since I am sure he was dying of embarrassment, in addition to the nasty bruises I noticed as they put him in the ambulance.
There is some good that comes of this unwilling visit to Purgatory. Mechanics replaced the duct taped improvised oil filler cap that I made from a fish oil pill bottle with a real oil cap and replaced the lost oil – five gallons of same. They also repaired the tractor suspension airbag that was leaking. While I was in safety class and getting my blood pressure checked, they replaced my cracked windshield. They transferred the EZ pass for tolls and the Prepass indicator for weigh stations to the new windshield. One particular windshield-mounted item did not make the transition and I won’t miss it one bit. (Update: Since I am no longer employed by Stevens Transport I can tell you that the item in question was the “1984 – Big Brother Camera” (84BBC) that watched over me for those months before the windshield was replaced. I did not mention it before because, in my Paranoia, I imagined that Stevens might read my blog and call me again to Purgatory for a replacement of the 84BBC.)
There was also a problem with the air-suspension seats, which tend to leak down while the engine is off and leave the driver looking eye-level at the steering wheel. They did not get to that problem of the leaking seats but I can live with those. When the engine is running the seats rise to comfortable height. It would have taken longer and I needed to get on the road to actually earn a living.
On Monday, after all my assigned tasks were complete, I received a load assignment to take bottled soft drinks to Denver.
Over The Road,
November 6, 2016 (Transferred from the WordPress site)
Pilot Truck Stop # 316, I-70 exit 276A, Denver, Colorado
All my plotting for a “day tour” in Chicago had been blasted to tiny bits by events as they materialized from the continuum. Happenstance had its way with my plans which now lay in ruins. Well, to paraphrase a nameless stereotypical Mexican Bandit in the Movie “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “Plans? We don’ need no estinking plans!”.
This current location has a train station less than a mile away. Yesterday, I found out the hard way that it might as well be on the moon if walking there is contemplated. A stroll yesterday revealed that there is a big ugly gash in the Earth and an excessively large grain elevator that separates the station from the truck stop and the rest of the world. I could see busses and trains in the distance, but the route to get there was not forthcoming. I figured out that it might be possible to walk down the elevated freeway to get there. I am not so inclined.
Above: This view from Google Maps (obviously an older photo) shows the area where the new station was built in red. The Gash is pointed out by the blue arrow, the Elevator by the Yellow and the location of the truck stop is off stage to the left.
There is a bus stop diagonally across the street from the truck stop. It is the number 44 bus that takes me around the gash and the elevator to the shiny new station. The bus stop ain’t much to look at (below).
Above: The bus stop in question.
Above: The station’s newness is obvious. The grain elevator is seen. The Rocky Mountains loom in the distance.
The train took me to Union Station in Downtown Denver. From there we find free shuttles down Broadway that end at the Capitol.
Above: The Capitol Building of the State of Colorado. It is currently under construction. The cost and delays are a subject of local dispute.
Above: The Capitol Dome from within.
Rest Area at I70 exit 224, Kansas.
A new load assignment came in to interrupt the story. Deadhead to Dodge City Kansas for a load of beef to bring to Omnivores in Maryland.
Denver also has a nice big city park where the Zoo and Museum of Nature and Science are found. Both are worthy of a visit, if I had the time – even at the steep prices of admission. As it was, I wandered around and got some good photos. Remember, this is about the journey, not the destination. The park is reached by a bus near the Capitol to Colorado Avenue.
Above: Wolf statues in front of the Museum. These are obviously not “hands-off” art since there is a sign warning that the brass wolves may be really hot. 😉
Above: A Mastadon statue based on some remains found at a construction site. Truly a Magnificent Work, in my humble opinion. The scale is not obvious and I had no one to put in the picture for reference. I estimate the tip of the animal’s trunk to be 18 feet off the ground.
Above: A view of the park’s lake and the Denver skyline with the Rocky Mountains in the distance.
About this time I got nervous about leaving the truck, so I went back to check on it. A bus takes me North to that same rail station and I go back to the truck stop on that same #44 route. As I arrived, there was a moment when I did not see the truck. It was hiding behind a new arrival. See it there behind the Square-nose Peterbilt?
Above: My truck is there, hiding behind the Peterbilt, just to scare me. By coincidence there is a Freightliner in the foreground and a Volvo past my Kenworth. Those four represent maybe 90% of the trucks on the road in the US.
I ventured out in the afternoon to see the airport. I could have cut the $9 day pass to $4.50 without the airport, but that particular Denver facility has a storied history of cost overruns and a baggage system that would make a Rube Goldberg machine look like the picture of efficiency. It was so horrifically bad that the airport sat idle for 16 months after its completion and scholarly studies and analyses by consulting firms were done analyzing this massive failure. The airport and baggage system costs ballooned from$700 Million to something like FIVE BILLION DOLLARS.
All this, with pictures after the next leg of the Kansas to Maryland Beef Transit. I have to sleep now. Life is keeping me busy, and unexpectedly happy.
Flying J Truck Stop, I-70 near Effingham, Illinois
That same bus gets me back to the train station and I am whisked off in the out -of-town direction. Before long, the cityscape disappears and the countryside ensues.
Above: On the train to DIA. East of Denver, the landscape is not what comes to mind when “Colorado” is uttered.
Above: This construction of telephone poles on stilts greets new arrivals at the airport. There is mirror image of this on the other side. Their artistic significance was not immediately obvious.
Above: The Westin Hotel, left makes a bold architectural statement.
Above: Across from the Hotel the airport terminal is another statement that clashes dramatically with the Westin.
Note the aluminum “grassland” in the foreground.
Above: The Aluminum Alfalfa Field (I made that name up) is a wind-driven mobile sculpture. Its charm was mostly lost on this windless day. While I can imagine that interesting waves and ripples would be generated, I am an old techno-nerd. I suspect that the people – especially young folks – now are so jaded by Computer Generated Images that they are not impressed by such things.
Above: The telephone poles viewed from the upper level, outside the hotel
I had plans to see other lines on the transit system, but it was getting late in the day and I would need to roll to Kansas at 5:00 AM. I will no doubt be back this way and there is a line to Golden that might be interesting.
The weather was perfect for an entertaining and interesting day. Even though I am marooned again for a day and a half, instead of boredom and depression I find contentment and purpose in a different sort of journey.
I said at the beginning of this Walkabout that did not know what I would learn.
Here is the first conclusive lesson. It requires some explanation:
I have traveled a great deal in my life and I have always found it compelling and satisfying. Looking back – I had not always sought out occupations that involved travel, but they seemed to have found me nonetheless. When I found myself trapped in an office job in a windowless gang-office in Houston, I found a way to transfer to a part of the same company that works in the field (jungle, desert, mountains) in South America. There was no “transfer policy” in said company, as they did not expect people to want to move to the field. It seems that “normal people” wanted to come in from the field and work in an office. If you have not discovered this independently by reading my posts, let me just admit right now that I am not “normal”.
There were many reasons for my intention to go and work abroad, none of which had anything to do with travelling. The most important result of that decision is my wife, who I met in Caracas, Venezuela (she is from Peru) and the family we have raised. Beyond that, I found that travelling back and forth to the field was the most pleasant and interesting time, despite the sadness of leaving the family and the joy of returning.
Having said that, this latest change in my life has made clear what I knew only vaguely before. That is: I am most content and my soul most at ease when traveling. With the exception of my family, the destination is just the excuse for the journey.
Update: I-70 Tollway Travel Plaza @ Mile marker 112 in Pensylvainia.
My journey from Denver to Maryland has thus far passed through Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. I noticed Trump signs early on and kept a rough count. There were about twenty seven (27), some in every state. The largest was a billboard about 20 feet across. The smallest was a custom made sign in West Virginia that said “Trump Digs Coal”.
As you may know, West Virginia coal miners have been begarded into poverty by a cruel and hateful Obama who is running coal companies out of business for no good reason*. Hillary promises to do the same.
There were no Hillary signs to be seen – anywhere..
*Don’t argue with me, I know what I am talking about. 🙂
September 16, 2016, 2 PM Loves Truck Stop in Ripon, CA
I was on my way to Walmart in Ceres, CA in the last post. Jill had the address for Walmart, so I wasted no time getting there. Only I somehow missed the whole Walmart. Turns out it was on the corner, facing the cross street, so I turned (as directed) and drove off into oblivion. I always get a sinking feeling when that happens because I could go for many miles before I find a place to turn around. But, I found a big, empty parking lot in just half a mile. I pressed Jill’s “re-route” button and she sends me back the way I came. My speed is too low because I am scanning for that blue sign, when a Walmart truck passes me. Now I can follow him home.
I came in the wrong driveway and, even using all the pavement, I still had to hop the curb with the trailer tires. This might not have been the first time, because there were yellow posts just back from the curb. The critical problem is so far away that I can’t tell if a collision is near. Also, I am seeing it in the fish-eye mirror that makes it look even further away. Pivoting the big rectangular mirror out lets me see enough to ease the wheels up on the curb just inches from the posts and get through. My mouth gets very dry when I am doing things like this.
While I am shopping, the parking lot began to fill. A few items were forgotten, but best to exit before I get trapped by cars parking around the truck. Sometimes it seems that people think the drivers can call up Scotty and have their trucks beamed out to the highway Believe me, I have wished that many times myself.
The next stop is 18 miles away in Ripon. There is a Flying J (FJ) Truck stop and a Loves at the exit and following Jill’s directions puts me in a lot where I can see both signs. Of course, these signs are on sixty foot poles and can be seen from miles away. It is not until I have committed an hour and a half to the 34 that will reset me that I notice I am in the Loves lot, not FJ. I could “creep” the truck over without losing that break time, if I keep the speed low. But after the last software update, Jill has been saying things like “Warning! If you keep driving it may invalidate your break, which is not finished” when I move the truck while on break.
No worries, I can walk across the street to use the shower, and I did. The truck is in the backlot and the FJ storefront is almost the same distance away as the Loves. I should explain that flying J was bought out by Pilot – or the other way around. In any case, my Pilot shower credits are good there, as well. A short walk before a nap reveals that there is a supermarket just ten minutes away, past a corner of an orchard – almond trees, it turns out. In the morning I might make a nice stroll to buy those items I forgot at Walmart. This is not an activity for the afternoon, since the temperature is 101° F now that we have descended into the Central Valley of California. It was 48° in the morning in Arizona, but that was high up in a mountain pass.
I made the shower run and after a nap, I did my laundry, also at the FJ. There was time to sweep out the cab – a never ending task since the first time I step back in from the oily, greasy and litter strewn truck lot I negate any previous cleaning. Morning was a good time for a walk (58°F) and I made it to the Supermarket for “remainder” shopping. I found the bakery French loaf that Walmart did not have, milk and cookies and took pictures of the almond orchard.
Above: Almond trees ain’t much to look at. These are a frequent road-side sight along this stretch of CA 99. The almonds are seeds of a fruit that you see here (inset) dried and split open. The light brown kernel is what you see if you ever buy almonds “in the shell”.
Later, I swept out the trailer, since I may get a produce load and they are nitpicky about cleanliness. Some even insist on a washout, so my work might have been unnecessary. However, while normally trailers come and go, this particular trailer (15820T) has been with me for nearly two weeks now. It was there for the Great Massachusetts Beef Journey, the Frozen Catfish Sojourn, the Thirty Thousand Pounds of Bananas and the Twenty Mules Frozen Chicken dash to California. It was there at the Ad Hoc Truck Stop and the Tire Shop at Santa Rosa. It seems like part of the family now, so I reckon it should be clean.
To be available at Two AM tomorrow when my 34 is over, I need to sleep now. I have partaken of the previously mentioned milk and cookies as I was writing this part and they are as effective a sleep aid as any I have purchased over-the-counter at a pharmacy.
I was just awakening from an afternoon nap when a pre-plan came over the satellite link. I will be taking on a produce load in Salinas and delivering it to Denton, Texas. The pick up date is the 19th, so I sent my acceptance with a comment that I will be fully rested and ready with 11 hours of drive time and 70 hours of eight day duty at 2 AM on the 18th. It may be that I can get an early start on this load, but I have no idea if that will be possible. Of course, it is Saturday evening and I reckon there won’t be anyone available to ask.
This is as good a place as any to end this post and pick up with the new load later.
Over The Road,