October 13, 2016 “Reprinted” August 31, 2019 from WordPress
Last Chapter, there was a load assignment waiting and it was a good one. I pick up a load of meat in Sioux Falls South Dakota and deliver it to Stockton, California. Wyoming, Utah and Nevada are in between.
I am still starting my driving day just after midnight and it is working well. The roads are clear and the truck stops uncrowded when I arrive. The deadhead from Roberts Wisconsin goes smoothly. I made a 30 minute break in a rest area near Blue Earth Minnesota. At 4 AM it was eerily silent and empty. I have been puzzled about the origin of the name Blue Earth since I encountered it in 1973 while traveling to Minnesota to meet the family of my step mother. I cannot yet tell you where it comes from, since I cannot manage an internet connection from this dusty little town in Northern Nevada where I am writing.
(From Ripon, California) Blue Earth gets its name from the Blue Earth River that surrounds the town. The river was given the Native American name “Mahkota” (meaning Blue Earth) for the blue-black clay found in the river banks.
The stars are particularly bright and the Milky way is plainly visible when I can put the truck between me and the flood lights. The Astronomer in me is not yet lost, but he does not get much time on the field
Above: Orion is a constant of the winter sky. Go see it if you get a chance. The red star is Betelgeuse. The three stars down by the “x” are called Orion’s Sword”. There is a technique called “averted vision” which I will teach you now. Look at those three stars in Orion’s Sword. They will look like ordinary dim stars. Now look away just a little bit – about where the “x” is. Notice that the middle star will go “fuzzy” on you. That is the Orion Nebula. Averted vision works because the light detecting cells in your peripheral vision are more sensitive than in the direct line of view. Weird, but true.
I tried to grab photos by blindly clicking the camera at these majestic sights without taking my eyes off the road. This is a very inefficient process that produces a lot of reject pictures that are either blurry, full of dashboard reflections or just don’t live up to the scenery. For each one you see here, there are ten or more that don’t make the cut.
This state starts off as rolling hills of dry grassland and ends that way. Even after my vigorous culling, there is a beauty to which this picture still does not do justice.
There must be a better way to capture images. I am looking into a time-lapse dash camera. Recommendations?
You may remember that I have been tolerating an air leak that leaves my driver’s seat on the floor after a while (please see the before and after photos below). It started out as an annoyance after a night’s break. Recently, I have been finding the seats on the floor after a ten minute fuel stop. Other drivers have noticed the escaping air noise and I wanted to get this fixed before the Highway Patrol notices. Remember that the brakes and suspension rely on air pressure – so it is not a trivial problem.
Eye-level view from the Captain’s Chair before (left) and after (right) air pressure.
The Powers That Be in Purgatory (not the ski resort) sent me a satellite mail to the effect that my tractor needed scheduled maintenance. I took that opportunity of a shop visit to request that the leak be repaired. So, after completing my last delivery in Harmony, Pennsylvania and before I accept another load I will drive to the TA truck stop near Barkeyville (I didn’t make that up) Pennsylvania.
The shop that performed the service check also changed out those near-bald drive tires that I have been putting up with for four months now. They were so bare that they would slip when driving on unpaved yards. The tractor starts out in four wheel drive but I had to shift into eight wheel drive to get any traction. I had asked the mechanics at Purgatory (NTSR) to change out those tires, but they refused.
The TA techs sent enough pictures to Purgatory to convince them to cough up for new tires, but they did not have the part to repair the air leak. Now, here I am in the driver’s lounge. It is a proper lounge with great big comfy recliners. You can see below that my fellow driver has found one and it has fulfilled the ultimate destiny of driver’s lounge recliners.
Above: Kenworth client demonstrates proper use for driver’s lounge recliners.
I appropriated the only desk in the room to indulge in my therapeutic literary activities.
Over the road trucking is not just an occupation, but rather a complete existential lifestyle. The truck feels so much like a ship that I cannot help but use such terms as “Captain’s Cabin” and “Ship’s Galley”. The truck is my mobile and very private domicile and the world as it passes, along with rest areas and truck stops are all parts of an ever changing but self-consistent existence.
Times like these, when I am “shipwrecked” are moments of alternate reality. I exist now in a circumscribed zone of quiet idleness while I depend on others to enable the continuance of the road venture. I know it could get depressing in a hurry. During those ten days in Maryland, I found diversion in expeditions on foot and mass transit. Likewise in another sentence to Purgatory I found a way to occupy my time with a visit to my son. More recently was theExcellent Day in Denver.
This particular interlude will hopefully be brief and I will occupy my time with telling the tale rather than gathering the experiences. My life on the road may strike you as a lonesome or forlorn existence. But when I encounter truck stop workers, technicians or service representatives who work in one place, doing basically the same thing every day, I count myself fortunate. Those people know exactly what tomorrow will bring – or next week or next month. I cannot say, for certain, where I will go tomorrow. Perhaps to the mountains of Northern California, perhaps to the Desert Southwest, perhaps to the limitless grassy plains of South Dakota.
As old as I am, I am still learning how to live my life in a meaningful and satisfying way. My reality as it has become is somewhat solitary, but it is my nature to enjoy solitude. My only regret is to be so long away from my family. But, this Walkabout has made me a better, stronger and more thoughtful person and I hope the brief time that I will be with them will be all the better for that development.
The era of mass public shootings began with Charles Whitman in 1966. He taught us all we need to know to prevent or minimize such events. We ignored his lessons.
On August first of that year, Whitman rode the elevator to the top of the Clock Tower at the University of Texas at Austin. He rolled a hand truck along with him that carried a footlocker full of guns and ammunition. Soon after ensued the first mass murder in a public place in modern America.
Texas Monthly Magazine published an in-depth story for the 40th anniversary of this episode in American history. It is entitled “96 Minutes” – you know why. It contains many quotes from individuals who were there or were immediately affected by those events. If, after you read that, Whitman’s Lessons are not then apparent, then come back and read on, because those lessons are here named and explained. Unless otherwise indicated the quotes in this article are from 96 Minutes.
I. There will be warnings.
Whitman sought out psychiatric help. He mentioned that the Tower would be a great place from which to shoot people.
From the note he left behind:
“I have been fighting my mental turmoil alone, and seemingly to no avail. After my death I wish that an autopsy would be performed on me to see if there is any visible physical disorder[.] … Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type.”
II. There are reasons.
This type of behavior does not occur at random. People see trouble coming, but they don’t imagine the magnitude of consequences.
“Was it his abusive childhood? His overwhelming anger? The amphetamines he consumed, observed one friend, “like popcorn”?”
This reporter has seen his type a few times before. There are tales of more. They go along, these amphetamine addicts, energetic and good-natured, until they explode. To reinforce that anecdotal information, the reader is encouraged to research the term “amphetamine psychosis.”
Charles Whitman was:
“… a good son, a top Boy Scout, an excellent Marine, an honor student, a hard worker, a loving husband, a fine scout master, a handsome man, a wonderful friend to all who knew him – and an expert sniper.”
He himself recognized the symptoms (but not the cause) and asked for help that never arrived. One might doubt that the danger was known at the time. A bit of research turned this up:
… a letter by P.H. Connell published in the British Medical Journal on March 9, 1957 …
“[a] common result of amphetamine intoxication is the development of a paranoid psychosis indistinguishable from schizophrenia, during which the patient may be a serious social danger,” he wrote.
III. Help will not be in time to save you.
“In the absence of any visible police presence, students decided to defend themselves.”
The police were armed with revolvers and shotguns. Neither was effective against an enemy atop a 300-foot tower shooting over a chest-high wall.
The populace of U.T. and Austin in 1966 was an armed society. These people felt every right to defend themselves, and they did so in numbers. Among civilians, students and police were those who owned high-powered rifles, many with scopes for long-range targeting. Within 20 minutes, they began to return fire on Whitman, who was forced to give up his place shooting over the wall and from then on shot only through the drain holes at the base of the deck.
In the seventy-odd minutes after that, only one more fatality occurred. When the Tower deck was “stormed” by two police officers, backed up by a volunteer, Whitman was on the deck, with his rifle’s barrel through a drain hole. While he was furiously reversing the rifle out to shoot these “intruders,” officers responded with a revolver and a shotgun. Those turned out to be effective after all – at close range.
Had Whitman been standing to shoot over the wall and undistracted by return fire, it might have been a very different story. Thanks, armed society!
IV. Do not dwell on the tragedy.
This one is not immediately obvious.
In the aftermath, don’t glorify or name the shooter. Don’t dwell on the event. It might be best to just shut up about it – perhaps for many years. Excess attention to the event makes it, in some twisted minds, an exaltation of the actions of the maniac, and that seems to promote similar events. It is known that the publication of suicide stories is a stimulus for more suicides. That once kept people from publishing such stories. The incident was not spoken of much.
A similar event did not occur until 1984 in San Ysidro, California. Another disturbed individual went on a rampage in a fast food restaurant. Among civilians, nobody shot back at all. The police did have a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, which arrived only after the majority of deaths had occurred. Whitman’s Third Lesson had been ignored, and the shooter hadmanaged to kill 21 and wound 19 others.
The San Ysidro perpetrator had called a mental health clinic and said he had a problem on the day before the event. He made an “offhand” comment about hunting humans on the morning of the incident. Whitman’s First Lesson was ignored as well.
Was the 18-year gap a result of the reluctance to talk about Whitman? Perhaps. Whitman’s Fourth Lesson could be said to have been postulated that day. Ensuing years seem to have confirmed it – in a negative and tragic way – as the rhetoric about shooting incidents increased and the gaps between such incidents shortened.
The current state of affairs: Paralysis
There have been more and more arms restrictions and regulation. The role of defenders has been taken away from the people and deposited with SWAT teams. Has it improved the situation? Not at all!
Perpetrators are being spotted in advance, but their actions and words are ignored by the very authorities charged with defending the public. Schools are institutionally disarmed and advertised as such. Crimes that would disqualify perpetrators from purchasing weapons under existing laws are not being prosecuted. And some of these shooters seem to have been taking drugs with dangerous side-effects.
So how would we solve these problems?
Let’s take the first two together.
The warning and the reason
The answer would have been to take Whitman’s Warning seriously and help him to give up his speed habit. Medical science knew the reason, even if Whitman himself did not. If someone had described the problem to him, he might have cooperated with the solution – he wanted to get better!
Don’t wait for help
They didn’t. How many were saved by the return fire is uncertain, but it is unquestionably “many.” The armed society also – albeit unknowingly – paved the way for the final assault on Whitman’s “fortress.”
Your defense is your responsibility. Blaming others is denial. That you were unprepared is tragic, regrettable, forgivable, even understandable – but not correctable.
The stark reality of Whitman’s Third Lesson is this: the best way to deal with a mass shooter is to aim your own gun and shoot back. Even if you miss, you may save lives.
That last thing
What shall we call it? Forbearance? Discretion? Responsibility? Don’t talk so much? If mere chronology is any indicator, keeping quiet about Whitman perhaps delayed for 18 years a repeat of the situation. These days, not a year seems to pass without one, while the media analyze and accuse for as long as ratings persist.
Perhaps there is a time to shut up about the subject?
Steve Campbell attended the University of Texas at Austin some years after the Whitman Event. See his writings at Goingwalkabout.blog.
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
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
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
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,
“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
Then, I’ll go back to Illinois. But I will remember this shabby treatment for a good long while.
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 Banditin 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 ofcost overruns and a baggage systemthat 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 studiesandanalyses 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. 🙂
any condition or place of temporary punishment, suffering, expiation, or the like.
I am now “on the Yard” at company headquarters. I have dropped my trailer and been assigned another truck. This one is a real mystery. A Kenworth T680 built in November, 2013. It looks almost new, drives and shifts smoothly and is “clean as a whistle”. The odometer reads 35,000 miles. And that would seem impossible.
This truck has been “on the fleet” for two and a half years and should have at least five or six times that mileage. The Peterbilt is just about that old and it has 385,000 miles. While I am lucky to have such a low mileage vehicle, I can’t help but wonder what the story is behind this machine. One thing that is completely out of place in this story is the condition of the forward drive axle. Its tires are nearly at the legal minimum for tread depth, while its brother’s tires to the rear are almost new. I have requested that these tires (the baldies, that is) be replaced.
I pull up the Kenworth “across the bow” of the Peterbilt to transfer the refrigerator first and then all my other possessions. It can’t stay there long, but I don’t need long. Next I swap the Peterbilt out of the “good” parking spot and put the Kenworth into same. I drove the Peterbilt over by the garage where I would turn in the keys in the morning. Then, I collapsed in the Kenworth because what I just described was a lot of work. Fortunately, the Kenworth has a working Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) that keeps the cabin habitable through the hot Dallas evening.
Above: 2014 model Kenworth T680 – 12946. Note the windshield shade with cool-looking beach scene. It reflects the heat , yes. But more importantly, it marks my truck so I can find it later. Please see “Tractor Row” below for explanation.
Above: “Tractor Row” The one with the cool-looking beach scene in the windshield is mine.
Above: The Kenworth has a desk that does not look like a piece of plywood.
Above: Purgatory’s Backside. The small building in the foreground has the driver’s lounge where trucker stereotypes are preserved by drivers leaving their empty soda bottles and pizza cartons strewn across the tables and floors while the trash cans in the room remain empty.
In the morning, I have lots to do before I am allowed to leave the Yard. These activities include safety lectures and dealing with “compliance” (recordkeeping to comply with federal regulations on driving time – it’s complicated). Then I need my Driver Manager’s approval and that of “Central Clearance” – they check all my registrations and paperwork. I cannot get my truck out the gate without all these items ticked off the list. And those tires I requested apparently are still being manufactured and will be shipped out by mule train sometime next week.
Fact is, I don’t have a load, yet anyway, so there is nowhere to go. And, it does not matter anyway because all the people who can provide “approval” for my departure have gone home at noon, today, Saturday. They will not return until Monday when dozens of other drivers – trapped in Purgatory with me – will compete to get their clearance. So, another two days (minimum) of no income. This has become a recurring theme in the “high-paying-job-as-a-professional-truck-driver”.
I have been instructed to report to the “Yard” in Dallas and turn in my truck. It has apparently been sold. I asked how long it might take to get a new truck. The answer was “Depends”. I should have replied, “No, Fruit of the Loom – briefs” but my comedic reflexes are slow these days.
The last time I was issued a truck, I expected a worst case scenario. Specifically, since I had driven and was familiar with Kenworths and Freightliners in training, that I would be issued a Peterbilt. Good instincts, as it turns out. The clutch gave me trouble from the start, with what is called “clutch chatter”. Not severe and the only other Peterbilt I had driven (only for a half hour or so) had the same problem. In any case, the clutch was a body-builder tool and I was soon walking with a limp because of all the excess muscle in my left leg. Not a big problem, until it was a big problem.
The last episode of mechanical adversity cost me ten days of poverty. The company pays an insulting $25 per day for breakdowns after the first two days. The company wanted to nickel-and-dime the hotel. I would have to call and get authorization every day. We tried that on check-in and they refused the company card so I covered the hotel with my own credit card and expensed it back to avoid looking like a deadbeat every afternoon. They have at least reimbursed me for that. They tend to treat drivers as people with no financial means whatsoever. That is probably appropriate considering the level of remuneration.
One wonders what delays are in store for the next truck.
Above is the Peterbilt in question as we “sit in a door” in Garland, Texas. The “lumpers” unload for hours while the driver kills time…taking photos, say. This receiver was mercifully quick and I left no more than three hours after arrival. From here I go to the “Yard”…Company Headquarters. There, to put the old mare out to pasture (tractors are female and trailers, male by virtue of their “connecting equipment”).
After the delivery at Clarksville, I headed for the closest truck stop on I-40, to wait for a new load assignment. This was another of those “pocket” stations where parking for 20 rigs is jammed in behind the fuel island. Both that parking and the surrounding streets were full, so I looked up rest stops and found one on I 40, not far away, with “Room at the Inn”.In a Homer Simpson moment I realized I had not sent my “Empty at Destination” message. No load assignment will happen before that. Once that was done, the message came within seconds – obviously set up in advance. My load picks up in Waldron, Arkansas. This place was about an hour and a half away, down US-23, a winding, up-and-down two-lane blacktop with no shoulders. It would make a great motorcycle trip. It makes a big-truck trip where paying attention is a survival trait.
Frozen chicken is the new cargo. It started out looking like a 24
hour ordeal of drop the empty trailer one morning and hook a loaded
trailer the next. I had all day to drop, but why wait? I got in the
gate before 8 AM and found the office with some guidance from a helpful
employee. These guys all wear warm, long-sleeve jumpsuits, steel-toe
boots and carry mittens. They keep the warehouse cold since this is
frozen chicken they load.
The guys in shipping told me to back into door #4. Apparently this
would be a live load! So, I don’t ask questions, I just get to the
truck and look for the door. It is in an inside corner, with a trailer
parked sideways on the approach, a really big tank, a dumpster and a
trash compactor in front. About 45 minutes were needed to get this one
done. I got some pictures, but photography is not allowed in the plant,
so don’t tell anyone.
In this view, doors one, two and three are to the left, door five to
the right – all occupied with dropped trailers. That dumpster on the
right comes in to the story later.
Plan A:Pulling in from stage right, (figure one) until the tank was looming in the windshield, backing the trailer in while folding the drivers-side of the tractor into the trailer. That backed the trailer into yellow post at the corner.
Above: Plan B was to pull over in front of the trailers, (stage left in figure 2) (PRIME inc., etcetera) and back around the parked trailer (whose taillights you see) into the door. To quote Chico Marx, “Dat’s a-no good, too”. Plan C: Drive out and to the left and find a place to swap ends with the entire rig. Where? – Back in beside the last visible trailer (there is a sign there that says, “Don’t even think of parking here. ” Who’s parking?) Then pull past taillight trailer and the trailers (no tractors) in doors one, two and three, swing wide and put the tractor in the space between the compactor and the dumpster, seen in the previous photo. Then reverse into door #4. That worked.
September 14, 2016 7 PM, Loves Truck Stop at Williams, AZ
While waiting (and not long) for the load to be put on board, I
worked on the trip plan. If I can get a couple of hundred miles behind
me it will take the distance off of the final run to delivery, in three
days’ time. The problem is not drive time, but all the waiting at
first receiver, then shipper has again worn down the 14 hours and I must
get on the road asap/
My trip plan is only roughed out when the loading is finished and so I
submit Oklahoma City as the target for the day and promise the Driver
Manager (DM) that I’ll finish the plan later. It is a matter of driving
as far as practical and finding a place to stop for ten hours (A “Ten”).
I soon see that OKC is out of reach and I have looked up the exit
numbers of the truck stops and rest areas. A rest area near Henryetta
wins the stop and, now committed, I see as I pull in a sign that says
“No Facilities”. OK, it does beat the Ad Hoc
Truck Stop (#1) since I knew it was there before arriving. At Three
PM, mine is the only truck parked. By the time I roll at Two AM, there
are a few dozen, but it is a big area, since there is no room taken up
by restrooms, water fountains or vending machines.
We have established that the best plan is to start in the “wee, small
hours” between midnight and four AM. By the time my day is done, the
parking at truck stops and rest areas are mostly vacant. This works
well, but sometimes clashes with afternoon delivery appointments.
Below is a photo of a sandstone formation at a rest area somewhere in
New Mexico. I know at least a few of my readers have a Geology
background. So, would one or the other please enlighten me as to how
these rocks were weathered like this?
Above: Cubbyholes in the sandstone.
The second leg is to Albuquerque where I am directed to fuel up, but
that is out of reach and Santa Rosa, New Mexico fits the bill for a
Ten A few hours out I begin noticing the outside rear tire on the
trailer looks a little flat. That is the furthest from the driver and
it is supported by the other tire, so it’s hard to say. But, I pull
into the tire check lane and the Loves’ tire tech checks the pressure
with a set of eighteen hoses that attach to all the tires at once.
Meanwhile, I put in just more than 50 gallons (qualifying for a shower
credit) because the annoying red light and a dashboard message that
won’t let me see my digital speedometer tell me that fuel is low.
Sure enough, that tire is at 29 pounds (should be 100). Without the
other tire in the dual, it would be flat as a pancake. I wind up “in
the shop”. The trailer is, anyway. The tractor is outside the shop and
far from the work zone where the tech is finding the leak, so it’s just
one more parking place to me. The usual truck stop routine is in force –
eat, shower and sleep. By the time the first two are done, the tech
shows me the nail my tire picked up and I sign off and move the truck to
normal parking (still with lots of vacancies) and sleep.
I did fuel up in Albuquerque .before dawn and there was a beautiful
overlook of the city on the way out of the depot. I tried to grab a
couple of picture at the stop light, but both came out blurred. I will
look for another photography solution. (Anybody with Go-Pro camera
experience? Please let me hear from you). I was short-clocked by the 8
day rules to only 9 hours and change today (14th) and only
made Williams, AZ instead of Kingman, which was the target. I can still
make the final on time, but it will be a three hour trip that morning
instead of a half hour hop. It pays to stay flexible and put the fat in
the schedule at the end of the trip.
I passed the “divide” of Arizona at 7337 feet of altitude and wind
picked up during the day. Williams is West of Flagstaff and on the
turn-off to the Grand Canyon. This is a good example of the fallacy of
the “see America” aspect of this job. With the Grand Canyon mere miles
away, I saw the truck stop. The sky was tinted red with dust at sunset
and the temperature was 48° F in the morning (September 15, 1 AM,
September 15, 2016 5 PM, Loves Truck Stop at Tulare, California
At the border, there is an inspection station. They are more
concerned with what I am carrying, not its weight. I hand over the Bill
of Lading (BOL) and tell the guy, it’s frozen chicken. He says, “I
know you guys carry either that that or frozen beef. I tell him
(briefly) about the frozen fish. I don’t bring up bananas, since it
might occur to him to look for fruit flies. There is an old joke that
goes, “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”. He
wishes me a safe trip and I am back on the highway.
California is a ten percent pay cut, since the speed limit is
everywhere 55 Mile per hour. Not to worry, though because I can make up
for it by driving more hours. The cars can all go 70 still and they
probably curse us in our trucks when there is no passing lane. Hey,
they voted for the dufusses who made the speed limit!
That definition mentions in passing that Boron is made by exploding stars. It is a little appreciated fact (except by Astronomy Degree holders – Guilty, Your Honor) that all elements except Hydrogen (and -according to some – a small quantity of Helium , with a trace of Lithium) are manufactured by Nuclear Fusion. So, a great deal of what makes up your body was once inside a Star, somewhat like the Sun. Boron requires Stars that explode and fortunately for us, our Sun is too small for that. So, Boron comes from other Stars or bombardment of cosmic rays – which is even weirder when you know where cosmic rays come from:
You may remember the Brand Name “Twenty Mule Team Borax” which is
mentioned in the above link. However, unless you are Cretaceous, like
myself, you won’t remember the 1950’s television series “Death Valley
Days” that was sponsored by Twenty Mule Team Products and hosted by a
very young actor in Western costume. His name was Ronald Reagan. More
digression – but this time locally influenced.
I had called this truck stop from Arkansas two days ago, to ask if
they could order replacements for my windshield wiper blades. I had no
luck finding the right parts in truck stops over many states. The guy
assured me they were in stock and I found them there. As planned, I
continued for three more hours to get here to Tulare. This sets me up
for a three hour drive to the Final in the morning. I had some time
left and could have driven to a rest stop 24 miles further on, but the
prospect of a shower was too much to pass up. Upon arriving, I realized
that the last Loves shower credit – the one I earned in Santa Rosa – I
had used up in Williams. I still had “clock” and could have continued
to the rest area. But, it could be closed or over-crowded and that
would force me back here anyway. That scenario would have cost me an
hour of drive time tomorrow (due to the eight-day problem) so I
stayed. I know I promised to lay off the “drive clock” subject, but it
keeps cropping up in the day-to-day events.
September 16, 2016, 7:20 AM PDT, Winco Distribution Center, Modesto, California
So far, I like this place. They give you a map and directions and
send you to pull-through (i.e., easy) parking to await your
appointment. Then off to a door and walk your papers into the office. I
have called the local Walmart Supercenter (about 5 miles away) and
received permission to park while shopping. After that, I will go to a
nearby Pilot (16 miles – where I have 5 shower credits) and take a 34
hour break which will reset my 70 hour 8 day situation. That should
stop this running short on drive time. I’m hoping this will set me up
for a long trip, but there are no guarantees.
11:11 AM PDT
I have now completed all my paperwork for this trip, save the Lumper
receipt which they will bring me when I am released. I’ve also cleaned
up my email inbox, replied to some messages and written this bit of
prose for y’all. The door light has been green for over an hour and
still I have no clearance after three hours and 11 minutes from my
appointment (for which I was timely). Can you guess if “detention pay”
is in force with this receiver?