Tag: Travel

Uber Alley – Art Cars and Signs of the Apoplexy

8/04/2020 The red Ford Explorer is back in service and driving near 200 miles per day.  It had been 150 miles, but now we are struggling to make up for the time and expense involved with the previously discussed Imbecilic Design of the Ford engine that cost so dearly.  Below are some points of interest around the city, captured in the last few weeks.

Art Car Museum

I pass a lot of places that stand out as quite unique.  This one is the Art Car Museum at 140 Heights Boulevard (77007). 

Figure 1: The Art Car Museum. The website seems to overrule the hours posted on the sign – “Now open by appointment only”. We assume that admission is still free. There was – at one point in time – an “Annual Art Car Parade”. We assume that has been canceled, like everything else.
Figure 2: An example of an “Art Car”. What on normal cars is “collision damage” becomes just another eruption of fruit, in this case.

Signs of the Apoplexy

Public notices and labels or roads and structures can be quite mysterious and or/or amusing:

Figure 3: Bean dip is an ancient product that pre-dates grocery-store tortilla chips by many decades. In the stone age, when I was young – it came in cans and was consumed with Frito brand corn chips – rectangular in shape and curled by the cooking process.
Figure 4: I had occasions to walk by this Hindu Temple and found out three things. 1. The Hindus attending left their shoes out front. 2. The local homeless population did not “walk off” with the Hindus’ shoes, because it would have been a step down. This is because Hindus are clever enough to not wear their best shoes where the have to be left at the doorstep. 3) Hindus are not intimidated by seven syllable words. This is an archival photo. The sign, today is faded to the point of illegibility and the Temple, closed and abandoned.
Figure 5: Just why this building is labeled “SICK” is still a mystery. It seems to be empty and unused, as are the neighboring offices. Could it be one of those asbestos-laden “sick buildings”? I doubt it. That’s entirely too obvious. On the Westbound Beltway 8 feeder, just East of the Highway 249 junction,

Hasta Luego,

Steve      

Comet Update 7/3/2020

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Comet 2020 F3 is still in one piece and still brightening.  As in the previous update it is rounding the Sun in the fast, sharp curve that includes the Perihelion (closest approach to the Sun).

See Figure 1, below

C2020_F3_Orbit_July 2
Figure 1:  Orbit of Comet 2020 F3 generated by JPL Small Body Database Orbit Diagram Widget.  Augmented and annotated by your humble narrator.

Spaceweather.com features a four-day movie of the comet’s appearance in  the LASCO instrument onboard the Sun-watching SOHO probe.

There were at some observations, after the comet left SOHO’s field of view.  Seven are now documented in the COBS database as bright as magnitude 1.0  – comparable to the brightest stars in the sky.

See it also in the now “standard” graphic for my updates- below.

LightCurve_Calc_OBS_2020F3_7-3_ANOT
Figure 2:  The Standard Graphic.

After the SOHO data (red circle) are “conventional” telescope observations and you might think that a decline is happening.  Don’t take that to the bank, because these observations are from telescopes looking just above the horizon and just before dawn.  That is a lot of atmosphere to look through and a lot of twilight interfering.   Estimates of brightness of the comet might be inexact.

Note that:

The “Calibrated Prediction” (green dots) has about July 17th as the peak brightness.  That is based solely on the distances (Sun to Comet to Earth) and assumes that the comet reflection characteristics never change.  That is – of course – never true of comets when they warm up near the sun – emitting gas and dust chaotically.  So, why do the “prediction”?  Because then we know how much of the brightness variation may be attributed to distance alone.  We can take that effect out to study the changes in reflection characteristics…including periodic variations that must be due to rotation. 

If this sounds like an “inexact science” – good!  All Science is inexact!   However, a good Scientist can give you some idea of just how inexact his science is.   😉

Challenging the Dawn

Oscar Martín Mesonero of Salamanca, Spain, also saw the comet in morning twilight.  See his photo below (also from Spaceweather.com)

F3_low_tel_photo
Figure 3:  Mesonero’s photo of C/2020 F3

The comet is here seen as more-or-less “head on” and seems to vaguely show a bifurcated (two part) tail.  That is not unusual as gas particles may be ionized and affected by the Sun’s magnetic fields and solar wind.  The dust particles tend to stream out behind the orbital direction of the comet’s path, while still blown around by solar wind.  Sometimes the two line up as viewed from Earth, other times, not so.

Hasta Luego,

Steve

Uber Alley – Camouflage

Foreword:  I am fully aware of the stereotypical reputation of posts about cats.  So, I promise not to post anything like this again for at least a year. 😉 Posted: 6/27/2020

Some pet owners attribute human-like characteristics to their animal friends. But, some alleged domesticated cats have unique dog-like traits and other qualities that defy description.  Locally, there is this dingy-gray cat named Pepper (but referred to as the Princess, for her attitude) who is the same color as some spots on the concrete driveway.  She frequently likes to play “chicken” with the multi-ton Ford Explorer I am backing out of the garage (as I set off to drive for Uber – that’s the connection, you see).  In the pre-dawn darkness, as imaged by the back-up camera, she appears as just another spot (albeit a moving one) on the driveway.  I take great care to not let her become a literal spot on the driveway.  This is the same cat who will jump into open cabinets despite the dishes there found and climb into empty boxes (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Pepper in a box

Unlike most sane cats, she loves to get in the car and we have to tell contractors and movers in the area to double check their trucks before they leave.  She would sit outside the neighbor’s window and torture the poor dogs in the house.  She hopped in the Ford while I was unloading from a One, Two, Three, Etc. road trip and I found her as I took the car to turn it around.  So I drove her around the block instead.  Far from cowering on the floorboards, this one. See figure 2 below  

Figure 2: Not cowering on the floor

This feline is watched over by a woman who calls the cat “Princess” while referring to herself as “Abuelita” (Grandmother).  Abuelita makes every effort to comfort the Princess – even to the point of providing her with a special chair, covered with the cat’s own blanket and a pillow included.  Please see figure 3, below.

Figure 3: Luxurious repose prepared for Pepper

The Princess, however, rejects the throne and prefers to spend her time in a more rustic location.  Please see figure 4, below.

Figure 4: This is where she really wants to be.

So, this is the lunacy that (to some degree) makes the rest of life bearable.  😉

Hasta Luego,

Steve

Uber Alley – Introduction

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a sea-change is a change brought about by sea: Full fathom five thy father lies … / Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change. This meaning is the original one, but it’s now archaic. Long after sea change had gained its figurative meaning, however, writers continued to allude to Shakespeare’s literal one; Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, and P.G. Wodehouse all used the term as an object of the verb suffer.

Merriam Webster

Having discovered that six decades of life “unqualifies” me – despite over four decades of experience – my life suffered a “sea change”.

 After Going Walkabout for about five years now, it becomes obvious that I need to be my own boss.  Mostly this is because I can count on me to give me a fair break.  I won’t reject me for being old.  I won’t coerce me to violate DOT guidelines.  I won’t resent me for having more technical knowledge than me or for speaking my own language better than I do.  I won’t assign myself menial tasks (which I would cheerfully carry out, anyway) in a forlorn attempt to convince me to quit and I won’t set myself up to fail.  Yup, that’s what I learned.

My Walkabout was the result of an early – and involuntary – retirement.  It was complicated by winding up as the sole survivor among my parents, dementia suffering stepmother and cardiac-failed 59-year old sister.  

That is what happens when you continue to survive because anybody can just up and die.  Life goes on and I hope that my wife and children will live long and prosper.  Make no mistake – I fully intend to do so myself for about five more decades.  I decided at age 15 to live 100 years more.  As I am now 65 and work about 35 hours a week, swim an average of a half-mile per day, have lost about 80 pounds and I still mow my own yard – I do not think that goal to be unreasonable.    

But the post is called Uber Alley for a reason.  I am now a humble Personal Transportation Contractor and I find that every day is a unique adventure.  In that sense, it is somewhat like over-the-road (OTR) trucking. I start out at five or six in the morning from the house or the gym.  I have wound up in places like Prairie View, Pasadena, The Woodlands, Rosenburg, Needville, Texas City, Seabrook and Galveston.  While I have had some repeat passengers, I can count them on two hands – out of 1348 trips in nine months.

There is enough to write about and it promises to be just as interesting as the Going Walkabout series that started this whole imbroglio.  I stumble across things that should serve to illustrate the stories with photos and I’ll include some here, just to get started.  I won’t be posting pictures of the passengers – for obvious reasons. 

Below is the Main Street Wharf, in downtown Houston.  I was just about to go see it up   close, when another ride came in and I had to leave.  That is a lot like OTR, as well.

Figure 1:  Just pulling into a parking spot to stop and sanitize the seatbelts, I found this.
Figure 2: About the closest I got to the Wharf before another trip called.

Hasta Luego,

Steve

I Went Back to Ohio

SteveTrucker2Sign123_Lone

Burbank, Ohio

August 10, 2016 – (“Republished” from the WordPress site on 11/01/2019)

The sentence in Purgatory was complete and I had a load assignment.

My load was sitting on the Yard waiting for someone to haul it to Ohio.  It was due to be there yesterday at 5:00 AM.  It came it from Laredo, having crossed the border from Mexico to the Yard, then apparently sat there until they assigned it to me. I don’t pretend to understand why things happen that way, they just do.

The cargo weighs 31080 pounds and is made up of 3215 pieces on 47 pallets.  It is described as “Freight – All Kinds” and must be maintained at 65° Fahrenheit.  The only clue as to what it is will be the destination – Nabisco.  It is a sealed load that I will probably never see. I did not bother to scale or balance the load, since it made it this far.

The first I do is make a trip plan, so I did that in about an hour.  The fuel stops are picked for me, so mostly I pick my 30 minute break stops (to qualify for the last three hours of driving time) and where I settle for the night for the ten hour break that gets me another eleven for the next day.  By this time I had been awake and busy with the new truck, safety and training for fourteen hours, so the first thing on the trip plan is to go to sleep.

You may find it odd, but I have found that the best time to start a trip is a half hour after midnight.  The road out of town is clear and traffic is at a minimum.  The bars are still open so the patrons are not yet driving.  Things are quiet and calm and that is appropriate for driving an unfamiliar truck on the first leg of a journey of 166 miles.  Usually there is a “deadhead” mileage to add to that, but for this case, it is one mile.  And I didn’t use that much.  As I eased to the stop sign at the gate, the guard came out and waved me to the inbound side because the outbound gate was under repair.  Off to a flying start!

The midnight advantage was working since backing out of the gate would be impossible in the exodus of Purgatory-fleeing drivers all day Monday.  I find the selection of music available on the radio to be unimpressive.  I won’t be the first old man to say this:  Music today is rather disappointing.  The Instructor listened to what “country” music has become.  Willie Nelson it ain’t.

Fortunately, I had found my old CD’s in a closet and brought along a shoebox full.  Call me picky but only maybe six of those are worth hearing more than once.  One is the Dire Straits album “Brothers in Arms”.  It includes “So Far Away” which, back in my Field Work Days (42 days in the jungle/desert/mountains, then 14 in Caracas with Marilu) was “our song”.  It is appropriate these days as well.  I am learning it by heart for an eventual Karaoke recording as an anniversary present.  So, don’t tell her, OK?

I will resort to tactics invented by people who are paid by the word and quote the full lyrics:

  • Here I am again in this mean old town
  • And you’re so far away from me.
  • And where are you when the Sun go down?
  • You’re so far away from me
  • So far away from me
  • So far I just can’t see
  • So far away from me
  • You’re so far away from me.
  • I’m tired of bein’ in love and bein’ all alone.
  • When you’re so far away from me.
  • I’m tired of making out on the telephone
  • And you’re so far away from me.
  • So far away from me
  • So far I just can’t see
  • So far away from me
  • You’re so far away from me.
  • And I get so tired when I have to explain
  • When you’re so far away from me
  • See, you’ve been in the sun and I’ve been in the rain
  • And you’re so far away from me.
  • So far away from me
  • So far I just can’t see
  • So far away from me
  • You’re so far away from me.

I promised more photos but the view from the truck is what?

BurbankTruckStop.jpg

Yep, another truck stop.  And, it’s raining so I will do an album of various truck types – later maybe.

There is a unique feature of the Kenworth passenger seat in combination with the non-piece-of-plywood desk.  Photographing it is difficult, given the close quarters in here, but I’ll try:

DEskAndChair.jpg

You see that the passenger chair rotates to face the desk.  And, yes, it is probably the most comfortable chair you will ever sit in.  I spend ten plus hours a day in its twin and I’ll testify that they went all out on designing these chairs.

Back in Ohio

Steve

Haute Cuisine de Camionneur

stevetrucker2Sign123_Lone

October 29, 2016  (Reprinted from the WordPress site on 10/02/2019)

Flying J Truck Stop, Waterloo, Iowa – Highway 20, exit 68

This nomadic lifestyle that has taken over my existence has ramifications that reach every aspect of life.

Socially, I am pretty much a hermit with a cell phone.  Part of that is my life-long character, but it has been exaggerated by Over the Road Trucking. Even when I have some time and am feeling lonely, I have a total of about five contacts before I run out of people to call.  Three of them are my immediate family.

Physically, I have lost 70 pounds, my blood pressure has plummeted and I feel much more energetic and alert.

Emotionally, I feel great when I drive.  Pickups and deliveries are interesting, but frustrating sometimes.  The 34 hour breaks are difficult, but writing helps to alleviate the boredom and depression.

I am going now to drop my empty trailer at a meat plant.  I will “bobtail” out and find shelter in the other truck stop across the street.  After that, I call every hour or two to find out if my loaded trailer is ready, then I activate my clock and go pull the trailer back here to weigh it.  Then, we are Off on the Road to Rocky Hill, Connecticut.

Road Ranger/Pilot Truck Stop, Waterloo, Iowa – Highway 20, exit 68

Diet has also changed.  I buy deli meat, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes to make sandwiches, mostly.  I have not had a “meat and potatoes” meal since I left the house in August.  When supplies run down and I can’t manage to arrange a Walmart visit, I have to get creative.  I ran out of lunch meat and bread, but I have a secret stash of canned spiced ham*.  See photo below of my latest creation.

spampepperjackdillpickleletucewrapAbove: Haute Cuisine de Camionneur – Jambon épicé avec fromage et concombre sur la laitue

*Wikipedia:

Spam was introduced by Hormel in 1937. Ken Daigneau, brother of a company executive, won a $100 prize that year in a competition to name the new item.[3] Hormel claims that the meaning of the name “is known by only a small circle of former Hormel Foods executives”, but popular beliefs are that the name is an abbreviation of “spiced ham”, “spare meat”, or “shoulders of pork and ham”.[7] Another popular explanation is that Spam is an acronym standing for “Specially Processed American Meat” or “Specially Processed Army Meat”.[8]

The difficulty of delivering fresh meat to the front during World War II saw Spam become a ubiquitous part of the U.S. soldier’s diet. It became variously referred to as “ham that didn’t pass its physical”, “meatloaf without basic training”,[1] and “Special Army Meat”. Over 150 million pounds of Spam were purchased by the military before the war’s end.[9]

During World War II and the occupations which followed, Spam was introduced into Guam, Hawaii, Okinawa, the Philippines, and other islands in the Pacific. Immediately absorbed into native diets, it has become a unique part of the history and effects of U.S. influence in the Pacific.[10]

As a consequence of World War II rationing and the Lend-Lease Act, Spam also gained prominence in the United Kingdom. British prime minister during the 1980s Margaret Thatcher later referred to it as a “wartime delicacy”.[11][12] In addition to increasing production for the U.K., Hormel expanded Spam output as part of Allied aid to the similarly beleaguered Soviet Union.[13] Nikita Khrushchev declared: “Without Spam we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army”.[14] Throughout the war, countries ravaged by the conflict and faced with strict food rations came to appreciate Spam.[15]

spamAbove: Jambon épicé (Spam – Glorious Spam! – it says so right there on the can)

 Interstate 80 Service Area near Bryan, OH

I find myself in another of those giant service areas in Ohio.  Rigs were parked out the entrance ramps as usual in the Northeast.  I was lucky that I was arriving at 6 AM and the early risers were just leaving.  I could snake my way through the late arrivals and find spaces open near the exit.  My next leg will end about 2 AM and I will not be so fortunate then.  This is a tight schedule and I can’t delay arrival.  There are some parking-only areas on this route and those generally are big enough for all.  I will defer further updates until I am sitting in the door in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. 

Rest Area on Interstate 84 East of Scranton, near Paupack, Pensylvania

 Scranton, Pennsylvania was the site of the Ballad of Thirty Thousand Pounds of Bananas by Harry Chapin.

My own cargo of bananas was thirty eight thousand pounds, from Central America, by way of La Porte, Texas and I took them to Clarksville, Arkansas.  And while I did travel down “The hill that leads to Scranton, Pennsylvania” last night, my own voyage was much less exciting.

Is now 11:00 AM, Eastern Daylight Time and there are snow flurries outside the truck – which is why I am inside the truck.  My appointment is at 23:00 (11 PM) in Rocky Hill,  Connecticut, which is a bit less than three hours away.  I slept from 6 AM when I arrived until nature called and said I had to go out in the flurries to the “facilities”.  I’ll will have “clock” for this journey in a few hours, so I will go back to sleep now and pick this up later.

It is early afternoon and I am preparing to make the run into Connecticut now.  No snow is falling and the road is clear.  I see traffic zooming by from where I sit.

Pilot Truck Stop #255, I95, exit 40 Milford, Connecticut

Another on-time delivery (OTD) accomplished.  This one was a live un-load and they didn’’t have all the sissy rules about disconnecting the tractor.  So, I get to enjoy the earthquake-like gyrations of the truck while multi-ton forklifts race in and out of the trailer, ultimately a few feet from where I am falling asleep.  After I have paperwork in hand, I can leave.  Now with no load or destination I can find refuge only 38 miles away in this Pilot where I can have a shower and sleep.

Before I can “get my clock back”, there is a new assignment to take pick up a trailer in New Jersey that is already loaded and waiting patiently for me to take it to Joliet, Illinois.   That where Jake Blues was getting out of prison and Elwood showed up to take him back to the sleazy little apartment with the el train running just outside the window.  If you have never seen this movie, you owe it to yourself.

Jill tells me, “You have eight hours and zero minutes of remaining drive time.” So, I must go now.  I will be driving in daylight for the first time in four days.  I hope I can find the sunglasses.

Steve

Ad Hoc Ergo Dormio

SteveTrucker2Sign123_Lone

10/1/2019 – Reprinted from the WordPress site

Stop & Shop DC, Assonet, Massachusetts, September 6, 2016

How I Spent Labor Day

You may remember I was headed for the final stop on a meat load.  It was another part of Massachusetts over by the East Coast.  Once again, I back into a door and they unload the truck while I either write or try to sleep.  They finish and tell me that there were some damaged goods.  Four boxes of Beef Liver at fifteen pounds each.  I have to inspect this for the claims department and dispose of it – two more of my unpaid duties.  The cardboard of the boxes is bent, but the plastic wrapper on each liver is still sealed.  In other words, this is perfectly acceptable product and it is stupid to waste it.  In talking to the freight handlers (“Lumpers”) in Massachusetts and in most of the Northeast, I find that the language spoken among them is almost exclusively Spanish.  Conveniently, I am fluent same and given my Gringo Good Looks, I am able to spring a thunderbolt of a surprise on these unsuspecting obreros.  They are frankly astonished when – out of the blue – I speak their language more eloquently and correctly than they do.  This is because I worked with Colombians and Peruvians who are quite crisp in their pronunciation and grammar.  And Bolivians (I know you’re out there;-).  I can also adopt a mush-mouth Maracaibo accent when the fancy strikes me.  But it really hurts my head to do so.  I can muster a convincing “Gringo” accent as well.  Remind me to tell you the story of the country boy surveyor in Venezeula who told the local field crew to bring their coolers over to the truck so he could fill them with ice.

I did offer the 60 pounds of liver to the Receiving clerk, who politely asked me if I was crazy.  I made same offer in Spanish and English to the Lumpers and Drivers.  No dice!  As I pointed out to one of them, if it were sirloin, they would all take it.  Heck, for sixty pounds of sirloin I would find a way to get it home. I called (from the receiving phone) to the Salvation Army and another charity.  Neither was open for Labor Day, but the Salvation Army God-Blessed me on their voice mail message.  Finally I left with the 60 pounds of liver figuratively hung from a twine around my neck like an albatross.  At the gate I have to open the cargo doors to show that I’m not pilfering and I mentioned the liver to the guard.  He called a Catholic food bank director who came over personally to take the liver off my hands.  The guard let me linger in the 5 minute parking until the director showed up. Apparently this kind of scenario happens frequently.  That is, the damage is limited to the container while the product is completely intact.

While that was transpiring, I got a message that my load from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania had been canceled.  A new load from New Jersey to Laredo took its place.  While I was deadheading (driving with an empty trailer) to New Jersey,  that load was also canceled.  Fortunately, it was another New Jersey shipper, so the travel wasn’t wasted.  But, I ran into traffic coming back from Labor Day and decided that attempting New York City was best left to the wee small hours of the morning.  Every last space of the fuel stop parking was taken, but I found a “Service Plaza” before the Bronx.  It was from there, on the public WiFi that I got a message out about the “graveyard dead” iPhone.

On to New Jersey , Lucca Cold Storage Vineland, NJ

The drive in the morning was astonishingly uncomplicated.  Truckers complain about the George Washington Bridge mostly because the lanes are narrow, but I found both the bridge and the river quite  scenic.  Admittedly, it was like the following:  Jerk head to left, briefly look at river, then eyes back to the road in a hurry. The same on the right.  Yup, scenic!

I got to the new shipper where more Spanish speaking Lumpers loaded my truck with exactly four pallets that took up about the first six feet of the 53 foot trailer and did not rise above 4 feet in height.  The total weight is 590 pounds.  Frozen catfish – destined for two different Wal Mart distribution centers in Texas.  This trip makes no economic sense at all.  I will burn about 250 gallons of diesel fuel to get this relatively tiny load to Texas.  Between that, my pay and the overhead it already will cost over two dollars a pound just to put the product on the shelf.  But, as long as they  still pay the going rate, who am I to complain? Far from it.  The light load means I will not have to play the downshift game while climbing hills.

The loading was two hours late, there was confusion about the tiny size of the load and the flashing red light that told me not to move refused to go out.  The Company (that’s what I will call the people I work for, from now on) thinks that this is a produce load.  They have certain rules and procedures for produce that are stricter  and require more free work from the drivers.  There is no possibility of convincing the system that fish is not produce, so I need to report a set of read-outs from the refrigeration unit every 12 hours. I took care of all these niggling details, sent my required messages and hit the road.

All that took a lot of time out of the middle of my driving day.  So, now my 14 hour total on-duty span was eating up 11 hour clock, but I had about 4 hours left to drive.  It was counting down whether I was driving or not, so I hastened to make use of the time.  There is no “taking a break” in this situation.  The remaining drive hours just counts down at 60 seconds per minute, no matter what.

You Can’t Get There From Here

Ultimately, I was caught out.  I ran into traffic around Washington and Baltimore and wound up in a race to get to I-81 in Virginia and the truck stop at exit 323.  I lost.  Jill had routed me down state highways and I was paralleling I-81 and needed to jog over to it and go back North to the exit.  Time was running out and when I stopped in front of a restaurant to tell Jill where the truck stop was and check the mileage left. I found I had 24 miles to go and 15 minutes do it.  The truck doesn’t go that fast.

Panic ensued as my mind raced to think of a way out of this nightmare. A slow dawn arose in my brain as I realized I was looking about 150 feet past the closed restaurant at a patch of land with a long abandoned parking lot where grass was growing out of cracks in the asphalt.  I pulled up and backed the truck into it and managed to get 50 feet between the cab and the highway.   I was back toward the trees in a reasonably inconspicuous place to hide for 10 hours.  I was trapped there by Federal Regulations for the time being.

About an hour later, another truck shows up.  The driver is Russian and asks me if it’s OK to park.  He is in the same regulatory limbo as I am.  I generously welcome him to my new truck stop. I am calling it The Ad Hoc Truck Stop (#1).

Ad hoc is a Latin phrase meaning “for this”. In English, it generally signifies a solution designed for a specific problem or task, non-generalizable, and not intended to be able to be adapted to other purposes.

AdHocTruckStop.jpg

Above: Kenworth # 12946 at the Ad Hoc Truck Stop (#1).  I turned off the lights right after this and tried to “blend in” to the trees.

By the time I am fully charged with drive time at five AM, there are two more trucks parked over by the still closed restaurant.  There is a real estate broker’s sign here that advertises this as income producing property.  While the spot seems quite popular as a truck stop, the trouble is that unless you sell fuel, truckers are pretty self-sufficient.  For example, I have had dinner, watched television, slept comfortably through the night and then awakened and had breakfast with a cup of coffee. I have not spent a dime. No restroom facilities, but I did need to check the tires for leaks during the night.

Let’s See This Through to the End

Wal-Mart Distribution Center (DC) #6056, Terrell, Texas, September 9, 2016 9:40 AM

In the interest of having something complete to move on from, I will finish the sage of the frozen catfish.  By the way, these were “Farm Raised” catfish.  I had seen the words “Wild Caught” on the Bill of Lading earlier, but upon further investigation, it was only one item per pallet listed as such.  It is the data logger that records the temperature history of the cargo.  Somebody in New Jersey has a sense of humor.

I am waiting to be unloaded at the Wal-Mart DC in Terrell, Texas. I was 50 minutes early. Their system is for me to back in the door and then uncouple and move my tractor to a parking area. I had the trailer in the door about 7:45.  So, now my trailer’s refrigeration unit (“Reefer”) is trying its best to bring the entire warehouse down to 34° Fahrenheit while they ignore the now thawing two (2) pallets of frozen fish (that I had watched over like a new mother for 1500 miles).  It has been an hour and a half. The warehouse is kept cool, but it is nowhere near 34F.  The powered pallet jacks these guys drive can unload both pallets at once and get it to cold storage in less than 10 minutes.  I could have used an unpowered pallet jack and walked both to the freezer in 30 minutes.  I could have hand carried all the boxes in less than an hour.  The other DC’s cargo is also thawing in my now-opened-for-the-first-time-since-sealed trailer.

Very soon, I will again be into the 14 hour clock eating my driving time again.  I need at least 5 hours of drive time and to arrive at the truck stop near the final by 4:30 PM.  That will allow me to get to the last stop (another Wal-Mart Distribution Center) on time.  Being late will, of course be heaped at my door.  No matter that another Wal-Mart DC made me late.

Flying J Truck Stop, New Caney, Texas, September 9, 2016 8:50 PM

Once again, I exist at this Oasis in Limbo where all of us are prisoners of the Clock, serving out our 10 hour sentences so we may drive again.  Over the road truckers are adrift in time.  Some of us here are just waking up, some here for the 30 minute mandatory break in the middle of a driving day, some finally collapsing in the sleeper after a 600 mile sojourn.

Word came that Louis, my oldest son, is in the hospital for Diverticulitis again.  I called to talk to him.  They don’t think an operation will be necessary, but he has been in serious enough pain to merit a morphine IV.  He seems mostly irritated at the prospect of another boring hospital stay.  I am encouraged, because grumpy people are usually not seriously ill.  It’s when they give up and become polite and co-operative that you have to worry.  My father had been like that in his final hours.  I mentioned that I could possibly come by to see Number One Son, but he told me to get another load and earn more money.  He has no doubt been listening to his mother worry about expenses, now that I have joined the ranks of the underemployed.

At midnight, my eight day, 70 hour clock picks up the 10 hours and 43 minutes I used up nine days ago, making 11 hours and 29 minutes.  I will awaken at a quarter till two, when my 11 hour clock is renewed after the ten hours in Limbo.  The 14 hour clocks start when I log my pre trip inspection, shortly before I leave to deliver the last of the catfish.  That should take exactly two hours at the DC, since they would have to pay me to stay longer.  That is called “detention pay” and was a procedure adopted when drivers refused loads to certain abusive DC’s who burn up all their drive time while they wait to be unloaded.  I have it from knowledgeable sources that Wal-Mart DC 7010 would drag out unloading for seven hours, throwing away the drive time of drivers who – like me for the last few days –  have their 11 hour clock consumed by the 14 hour clock.  When they do that, it is like they reached into the driver’s pocket, pulled out a hundred dollars or so, and burned it in front of his eyes.

Now that they have to pay drivers some little pittance, they are suddenly all about efficiency, getting them in and out of the doors in exactly the free two hours.  We will pick up the story tomorrow at the End of Trip.  I’ll go use up one of my shower credits now.

Wal-Mart Distribution Center (DC) #7010, New Caney, Texas, September 10, 2016 3:53 AM

I hit the “rack” to have a short nap before going for a shower.  There had been 14 showers available at 3 PM.  At 8 PM there were 0 (Zero), so maybe after the final drop.

This DC has us break the seal, open the doors, bump the gate at the door and then uncouple and pull up about five feet.  All this is to assure they won’t find the trailer moving while they ignore the thawing load for an hour or so – oh, and when they actually unload.  I almost had an opportunity to unload myself and possibly capture the $50 they will pay to take two pallets to the freezer.  It would have taken me less than a half hour, with a human-powered pallet jack, or maybe an hour carrying the 112 Gorton’s boxes in by hand.  But, the Company has generously already agreed to pay that automatically to the illegal aliens – through a sub-contractor with legit credentials, of course.

It has been a full hour since I bumped the dock and the light in my mirror is still green, which means they have not even begun to think about unloading.  My “Arrived” message and the gate records say I got here at (actually 20 minutes before) my appointment.  I would bet you $100 that the call from Receiving telling me to pick up the paperwork will come at 5:10 AM – the “free” limit, before Detention Pay.

Detention Pay is really just a bunch of Fairy Dust, promised but never delivered.  I looked it up. I would be (would be) paid $12.50 per hour for up to ten hours after the two free hours (they actually call them “free hours” in the Driver’s manual).  This is payable in half hour increments, rounded off low. That price is about 80% of what I could make actually driving   I will never see it anyway, but at least the threat of detention pay keeps the Receivers from stealing the drivers’ time.  As we all know, Time is Money.

To sum up all this talk about clocks and limits:

  1. Drivers have a limited time per day – eleven hours – to drive, regardless of when it is done.
  2. Drivers must do all the day’s driving within a 14 hour window regardless of how much break time is done in that window – except when a continuous ten hour break occurs. Then another 14 hour window can begin.
  3. If pick up or delivery happens in the middle of the day and the delay exceeds three hours, now the Shipper/Receiver is taking hours that could be earning hours and turning them into “free” hours.
  4. The Eight Day 70 hour clock can also consume driving hours. On the 8th of September, for example, I had 11 driving hours and fourteen hours to do it.  But, because my eight day clock was down to 7 hours and 44 minutes, that is all I was allowed to drive. The next day I “got back” 10 hours and change that I had used nine days before.
  5. And why this obsession with driving? Because, my friends, driving is the ONLY thing that actually results in wages.  All the other stuff I have been telling you about is stuff I do for free so I can drive and make a living.
  6. By now you have heard more than you wanted to know about Federal regulations on trucker’s time and I will give that subject a rest, as well.

The empty call came about half an hour earlier than the two hours I expected.  I went to Receiving to get my paperwork and found out why.  There is a line of drivers waiting for documentation while the clerks finish it up.  Clever.  The call is the event logged as the end of the driver’s wait.  How long the driver stands in line for paperwork does not apply to detention pay.

To end the Saga of the Catfish, I will include a photo that captures the now empty trailer’s futile attempt to air condition the world as I pull it out of the door to close up and move on to a new cargo.

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Above: Trailer 15820T makes a valiant effort to bring down the Earth’s temperature to 26° Fahrenheit. Alas, 53 feet away is the hot end of the refrigeration cycle dumping all the heat the trailer sucked out of its interior.

Albuquerque

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Time Runs Out     October 17, 2016   (Reprinted from WordPress – Sept 2,  2019)

You may recall the explanation of the Federal regulations on truck driving that I explained partially in The Unforgiving Clock.  There is yet another onerous burden placed on the driver’s time called the 70 Hour or Eight Day Clock.  That says that I cannot accumulate more than 70 hours of “on duty” time in any eight day period.  That includes not only driving, but also the vehicle inspections, time at shipper or receiver and fueling times.  All of those are watched over by a department back in Purgatory (NTSR) called “Compliance”.  That  organization is exactly as forgiving as its name implies.;-).

If drive times are moderate and on-duty-not-driving is limited, one can expect to spread 70 hours over days one through eight and then gain the hours of the ninth day back.  That would let you continue to earn a pittance for all your time away from home.  If, however, there are some long distance assignments that leave not much spare time,  the day comes that your Eight Day Clock is down to five hours or so and you still have two hour’s worth of driving (and mucking about at the receiver) for the day and exactly zero hours to be regained tomorrow.  Restoring the “fresh 70 hours” is a matter of abstaining from driving for 34 hours.  The result of which is a forced “weekend” of poverty in a place you don’t want to be, when you would rather be earning a living,.  Thanks a bundle, Federal Department of Transportation!

And that is why this post is originating in Albuquerque.

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Above:  The Flying J Truck Stop parking at Albuquerque – whose lights are seen in the distance.

I am once again “Marooned” as in Thirty Four Hours in Ripon  or again in Mostly Wisconsin.  I know from those experiences and others that it is advisable to find some meaningful activity, thus to avoid being dragged down into the swirling maelstrom of desperate depression.  Thus, this narrative becomes Queequeg’s Coffin to my Ishmael.  If that metaphor escapes you, I am afraid you will have to read “Moby Dick” by Hermann Melville.  You will learn more about whales than you ever wanted to know.  The novel will also explain to you the origin of the name of a well-known chain of over-priced coffee houses.

I was obligated to read this in college.  It was a burden at the time, as are most college assignments, but I re-read that same book I had bought for the course years later and actually found it fascinating and interesting.  That was the exact same paperback edition that can be seen (on a shelf as Chekov discovers the “Botany Bay” belt buckle) in Star Trek II – the Wrath of Khan, which was heavily laced with Moby Dick references. The plot involved more than one “Marooning” as well, making it doubly appropriate.  Ricardo Montalban played what I consider to be his greatest role ever.

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Above:  Moby Dick Edition in a library of literary references in Star Trek  II

If you don’t have time to read a bulky classic of literature, you can “cheat” and see the 1956 movie of the same name.  It starred Gregory Peck, who thought himself too young for the “old man” role of Captain Ahab and Richard Basehart who (older than Peck) was too old for the role of “young man” Ishmael.  There was also a well-played supporting role by Orson Wells as Father Maple.  If you view the trailer, Queequeg is the shirtless gent with the elaborate body and facial tattoos.  While I was researching how exactly to spell “Queequeg”, I discovered a restaurant by that name.  While naming establishments after characters in Moby Dick has proven wildly successful in at least one case, I feel I must point out that Queequeg was a cannibal – albeit a fictional one.

Breaking the Seal

When delivering a cargo, it is typical that the Receiver tells the Driver to break the seal, open the trailer doors and back into a warehouse cargo door.  Usually the seals are plastic bands that can be broken with bare hands.  Coca-Cola, however, has seen fit to make their seals with stainless steel cables.  Not with a crow bar and hacksaw could I manage to sever the cable and trucks with impatient drivers were accumulating behind me while I struggled with it.  The yard tractor -atypically – at least twice passed me as I struggled, without stopping. One driver loaned me a pair of wire cutters that made short work of it all.  Her motives were entirely selfless since I was not blocking her rig. I returned the cutters with thanks and resolved to buy a pair before the next load.

The truck stop sells a line of tools and I found a pair of tin snips – the only candidate that might do the job.  I tried them out on the remains of the Coke seal.  You see the results.  Not to worry, I was able to gnaw away at the cable with the pretend-tool until it finally surrendered – in a minute or two. The second photo shows what I knew that I would find on the label.

Above:  It is a shame that the Company has to pay for such substandard tools.

Watch Out for That Next Wave

I reckon all of you receive unsolicited ads and promotions.  I got one from LinkedIn that makes me a bit paranoid.  A jackass who wants to replace truck drivers with robots.

Someone at LinkedIn figures that a 61 year-old man who took up truck driving when he was forced out of a professional position to be replaced by thirty-somethings would be interested in this neophyte who wants to drive him out of that occupation as well?

Let me think…NoThankYouVeryMuch!

The Answer is 42

My life has become my job.

Like most sweeping, unqualified statements, that one is full of unexplained circumstances and unexamined definitions of the very words that make up the sentence.

I reckon I had better start with the thoughts in my head when I first typed the words.

I spend all of my physical presence in or around this vehicle.  I sleep in it, eat meals in it and I am mostly never more than a few hours away from it.

When you think about it, that – in itself – is not much more than saying that it is my home.  I don’t own it, but most people do not own their own homes – at least not outright.  This particular home is unusual  in that it moves around the country, which is why its owners let me live in it.  The “rent” I pay is by guiding it around and hauling big trailers (also theirs) that carry stuff to different places for profit.  There is enough value in that pastime that they also pay me a commission based on how far I make this home travel.

My family live in other homes which circumstances allow that I visit occasionally.  Most recently I visited my younger son in Dallas at his home on the University Campus there.   It is unfortunate that there are few opportunities to visit Houston where my wife and older son live in the place I previously could claim was my home.  We own that one!  I will make it home – that particular home – around Thanksgiving for five days.

So, you see that whatever interaction I have now with my family is just something I work into the small gaps in my job.  I can speak to them most any time.  Using Skype or other such facility, we could actually see each other.  I have not done that yet and I am not sure why.

I have noticed that the trip from shipper to receiver is the most pleasant and satisfying part of my life as it has become.  The beginning and end of the trip are fraught with confusion and misspent energy.  The third part is these interludes wherein I am neither loading, unloading nor traveling and that segment is the hardest to endure.  It is made less onerous when I write, so you may expect more of that activity.

I have discovered that I keep writing because it hurts when I don’t.

Deep Thought (see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

A destination is just an excuse for a journey.  It is the journey that gives meaning to existence.  If you doubt me, then:

Will you accept the metaphor that life is a journey?

If so, then what is the destination?

No matter what your answer to that last question, are you in a hurry to get there?

Over The Road,

Steve

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Minnesota, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada

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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.

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Above: Blue Earth Rest Stop

 

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Above: Blue Earth Parking

 

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

 

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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.

 

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Above:  The Orion Nebula through a telescope

 

Blind Snapshots

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.

 South Dakota

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.

 

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South Dakota

 

 

 

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Above:  Wyoming starts off in the East looking a lot like South Dakota.  But it begins to change as we go West.

 

 

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Above: Wyoming with Rocks, Trees and Major Hills

 

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Above: Wyoming again.  South Dakota this ain’t.  This geological feature did not last long.

Utah

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Above:  Entering Utah.  Note the boarded fence, far right.  I saw a lot of these. They can’t be to keep livestock in, because there are big gaps in all of them.

 

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Above:  This section of Interstate 80 passes a corner of the Great Salt Lake.  The weather was “overcast”. The view might be more “spectacular” on a sunny day.

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Above:  West of the Lake is a great salt flat.

 

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Above:  I 80 enters a road tunnel in Nevada.  The numbers at the top of the windshield are truck stop and rest area exit numbers.  Don’t worry, it’s  dry erase!

 

There must be a better way to capture images.  I am looking into a time-lapse dash camera.  Recommendations?

Hasta Luego,

Steve