The St Louis Arch is a reminder that the Peace of the Open Road will come to an end in Memphis tomorrow afternoon and the next day that “grim obligation” returns.
Walkabout convention: When you see text like this in italics it means that I am speaking in the moment of the date and place of the subtitle. When the text is like this I am speaking of another time or place or both.
Loves Truck Stop, Interstate 29, exit 44 St. Joseph, Missouri – September 9, 2017
Tomorrow will be the fourth day of driving from Wallula, Washington to Memphis, Tennessee. These are the most pleasant of times, when the toil of obtaining or liberating a cargo is absent from the list of exasperating tasks that must be fulfilled in a day’s work. There is only the highway and most of it is in the most agreeable form – the open road.
The Pacific Northwest is blessed with long stretches of highway that seem to go on eternally and present the observer with vast tableaus of intricate, awe-inspiring landscape. To amble through this wonderland for days – without the grim obligation of mucking about in yards, wrangling trailers and dealing with guards and clerks – is a pleasure that transcends the mundane toil of what is a demanding and unrewarding occupation.
To amble through this wonderland…
Pilot Truck Stop, Interstate 20, exit 26 Atlanta, Georgia – September 12, 2017
Tropical Storm Irma has become a blob of rain and wind and I am somewhere near its center. There is only a constant drizzle this morning that replaces the steady downpour in which I found Atlanta.
The truck stop was level one full when I arrived – meaning that all the “designated” parking was taken and not likely to change. Level two was just beginning, which means that the “outliers” were finding the unofficial spaces where they won’t be in the way of commerce, i.e., not blocking the entrance, exit, fuel islands. Your Humble Narrator found a really good spot over near – but separated from – the automobile gas pumps. I was worried that I would be asked to move, but that was purely paranoia of a person that does not often break rules. Now that I awake, there are trucks parked beside me that begin to encroach upon the entrance. No one is blocked, you understand, but every truck now entering is inconvenienced and has to carefully avoid my late-arriving neighbors. After this “late stage two” comes stage three where emergency measures are in effect and trucks impede traffic, ignore no parking signs and pavement markings and occupy public street-sides to the point of impeding traffic. I have only seen that once, in Ontario, Oregon where I was “snowed in” for about 30 hours. You won’t hear about these parking “levels” anywhere else, because I just made up the system. I think three levels are about appropriate, with the third being open-ended to include complete paralysis of traffic (a la Ontario) at its most extreme.
The delivery in Memphis went particularly well. The staff at the receiver was polite, efficient and helpful. The road to Atlanta was mostly unobstructed, but the rain began at Birmingham, Alabama and intensified steadily until it was the aforementioned “steady downpour” at Atlanta with wind gusts of an estimated 30 miles per hour.
The time has come to prepare for departure. I deliver a second installment here in Atlanta and then on to Fort Mills, South Carolina and the Final.
Receivers Staging Lot, Atlanta, Georgia – September 12, 2017 – 9:22 AM
After five days of enjoyable driving, it is time to pay the piper with some uncompensated misery. Arriving at 4:30 AM for a 6:00 AM appointment, we find a queue of trucks at the entrance. I fall in line behind the last of them and wait. I call the contact number and get voice mail where I leave my name, company, load number and phone. Eventually, patience runs out and I walk to the gate, only to find another driver who also walked in. No trace of any gate guards or receiving clerks. Eventually, one of many autos entering stops to talk to the groups of drivers now numbering four. Word is: after Six, if nobody shows up, enter the yard and pull up to the next gate.
So, then we are lined up outside the next gate and I wander around looking for someone in authority, then give up and go back to the truck. I call the contact number and leave another voice mail. Finally the line starts to move and when we arrive at the front, I get out – bills in hand, safety vest on and they tell me to wait in the truck. Ten minutes later the same guy tells me to go park down there and wait in the truck. An hour later, I call the contact number and leave another voice mail – and an hour after that, I opt for the operator, who passes my call to Tweedledee, who passes my call to Tweedledum who passes my call to voicemail. A call to the Company is next, just so they can share the pain. Grim thoughts and depression begin to consume the day.
Finally, I decide it’s time to do some writing – another uncompensated activity but far more satisfying – and a lumper shows up at the door to tell me to back into door 345. Odd how that works.
Backing into doors has become less traumatic and this one – despite being a tight fit between a trailer and a full semi – is done with a minimum of trouble. A message to the Company for the authorization of a lumper fee is completed and a check written. The trailer is already gyrating with unloading activity.
You see how the mood has shifted from the open road to grubbing around in a Receiver’s yard!
Pilot Truck Stop, Interstate 70 exit 188 Warrenton, Missouri – September 14, 2017
I passed road cuts in both North Carolina and Tennessee that looked like Black Marine Shale, or something similar. My presentation “Energy, Oil, Gas and Shale” includes a list of shale plays in the US that lists the Chatanooga Shale in Tennessee and the Cumnock Shale in North Carolina. Whether these were the formations I glimpsed is unknown, but possible. After all, I re-discovered the Utica Shale while passing through Midstate New York.
I will look these up when I have a good internet connection.
A preliminary search reveals that both the Chatanooga and Cumnock formations have been drilled and assessed to be productive sources of Natural Gas. My impression is that the economics of both are as yet marginal – depending as they do on the price of Natural Gas. Comments that a rise in the price of Natural Gas would stimulate activity and prosperity were common to the articles I read. It occurs to me that both these and many others such plays should soon profit from the advancing technological advances in efficiency of NG production. That would transcend the question of rising prices.
Houston Base (the kitchen table) – October 5, 2017
Once again, I am “at liberty”. That’s a thirties era expression for unemployed. Let’s call this a Leave of Absence.
I am, however, reunited with my long-suffering family. My health is recovering from the constant stress of non-stop driving and I get to go swimming every day again.
The job market seems to have improved. I say “seems” because I am applying to jobs that match my experience very well. None of them yet have even called me back for an interview and, as usual there is no address for a follow-up. I’ll try to track down some humans to speak to at these places, but they prefer to hide behind job web sites. At least one job disappeared and then re-appeared, so I applied to it again. I had expected to get a message to the effect that I had applied already, but it went straight through to “submitted”. Perhaps this is their strategy to weed out the less desperate.
One application came with a word problem math test. They trick the questions up. For example, with changes in units like days, hours, weeks and “two-week periods” all in the same problem. And one question about income from customers said “they get 7 customers every month, starting with 10 in the first month.” This is a set-up to assume that they mean seven MORE customers every month. But that is not what that sentence says. So, I suspect that the total number of customers in a year is 87, not the 495 that accumulation would suggest. The question is ambiguous and requires an assumption. Bastards. Software managers – but I repeat myself.
It was a timed test as well, not allowing for the contemplation that revealed the deception. I expect I did better than most would, but it has been years…alright decades…since I have dealt with such “trip-you-up” exam vultures as these. If they do offer me a job, I will double my very meager and desperate salary request, just to compensate me for having to work with such Smart-Asses.
Back to the Walkabout now
There were some dastardly receiving yards in the last weeks that tried my nerves. One, in particular assigned me a parking spot (number 253) where I was bound to insert my empty trailer before I could hook the loaded one to actually go out and earn money. The montage below shows the passenger side (L) and drivers side (R) when finally I managed to make the empty fit into the space – well over one hour later.
Montage of Empty Slot Number 253
I was fortunate to capture a yard worker on the passenger side for to give some idea at the scale. You will notice that the man’s head would not fit between the trailers. Yes, I left more space on the driver’s side and drivers will know why. I have to squeeze my XL body into that gap to crank down the landing gear and pull the fifth-wheel latch to disconnect the trailer. My head HAS to fit between those two trailers. It was – just barely – possible. The Yard tractor has a hydraulic lift that can do without these activities. And before I get through complaining – there were trailers across the way that made a “straight-line backup” impossible. I TURNED the trailer into this space – backward while looking in a mirror, people! I will remind you of what I have said many times. This activity I do FOR FREE, just so I can get back on the road and actually earn money! I won’t tell you who this yard owner is because they might sue me for revealing how they abuse the people who carry their stuff.
P.S. Don’t worry TVS – I’ll keep it “civil” for your article. 🙂