Monday, July 29, 2013

The River's Flow

Once again I've been staying at places that don't have a wifi connection, so another week has gone by without an update, but last night I stayed in Greenwood, LA at the Flying J truck stop so I'll try to take advantage of this opportunity to tell you about my travels.

After delivering my load of coiled re-bar in Milton, FL I was promptly dispatched to Calvert, AL where a 42,000 pound steel coil was waiting on me to get it safely delivered to Lavergne, TN.  Since I drive a flat-bed truck most of what I pull behind me is headed to Industrial sites or manufacturing facilities, so I was surprised to see my next message sending me to Springfield, TN to get loaded with something headed to a Dollar Tree distribution center in Marietta, OK.  Being familiar with the types of things that Dollar Tree sells I couldn't imagine what I'd be taking to their warehouse.  These dispatch messages don't typically tell me what I'm getting loaded with, and I was curious all the way there until I got there and realized they were a manufacturer of warehouse shelving.  So, even though the customer was a retailer I was still delivering an industrial product.

Have you ever thought about what it takes to get the $1.00 package of paper plates or plastic cups to the shelf of the store where you so conveniently go and purchase them?  Well, it takes manufacturing facilities (often times over seas), and ships, and ports, railroad tracks, and trains, and trucks - lots of trucks, and warehouses, distribution centers, and more trucks, and then finally it takes the retail outlet itself with an individual person to unload the truck and set the product on the shelf so your little kid can have matching paper plates, cups, and napkins at their birthday party.  Then you throw them away without even a thought of how many people had a hand and an effort in getting those things to you.

Like the continual flow of a river, freight moves across this country in and through some amazing facilities that are all designed to keep the American consumer satisfied.  There are times that I can't tell if I'm actually part of the flow of that river or if I'm just a little speck of flotsam being carried along by the current.  But at times I catch the flow of the current that carries me home and that's my favorite time on this river.

Some of these facilities that I go to are so huge it's almost hard to believe when you see them.  There is an awful lot of investment and effort that goes into putting those $1.00 packages of party favors on the shelf for you to so conveniently pick up at the store just before your kid's birthday party.

After that I went to Idabell, OK and picked up a load of lumber headed to a truss manufacturer in Austin, TX.  As I left out of Idabell around 5:30 in the morning I witnessed the new day being ushered in with the brief but endearing kiss of a beautiful sunrise.  The heavens declare God's glory.  Day after day He speaks down through the ages.  He is the light of the world and His people will dwell with Him in a fair and glorious land that needs no sun or moon for He is the radiance and glory of Immanuel's land.

From Austin, TX  I made my second visit to Gerdau Steel in Midlothian, TX to get 40,000 pounds of steel I-beams bound for the port in Mobile, AL.  That's where I will be tonight waiting for a ship to dock there so we can unload them directly onto it.  There will be  long line of trucks there all with the same intention, so I'll be contending for a position up front so I don't have to wait a long time to get unloaded.

Well, I've got to get rolling, but I'll let you know how all that goes as soon as I can.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

What's in a Name?

I've been really busy this past week and was not able to park anywhere that I could get internet service. Sometimes I'm pushing the clock so hard I just have to park at the best place possible, whether or not they have internet service is never part of my decision making process.  I'm simply trying to move my load down the road as efficiently as possible.

Here's how this past week unfolded:

After unloading the shingles in Rochester, I was dispatched to Auburn, NY to get a load of steel going to Langhorne, PA.  From there I picked up another load of shingles in Meyerstown, PA to be delivered to Bozrah, CT.  Then I hightailed it over to Wallingford Connecticut to pick up a load of 18 rolls of coiled re-bar going down south to Milton, Florida.  Isn't that something.  The past two weeks I have worked my way up the east coast from Florida to New York, and then came right back down from there to Florida.

The traffic in these north east states is ridiculous.  It can be excruciating trying to get 40 tons of rolling steel through the clogged up highways from D.C. up into Connecticut.  I entertained myself on this arduous journey by writing down names of towns and streets that I saw that have some significance to my girls, my wife, and myself.  Quite probably they won't mean anything to anyone else but them, but here they are.  While passing through the towns of "Lime", "Bath", and "Brighton", I came across "Grace Church St.", "Wentworth Rd", and "Georgiana St.".  I also drove through three different cities named "Middletown", and came across both a "Kimberly" and "Dale" street.  Oh, yes I almost forgot, I spent Wednesday night in the parking lot of a truck driver friendly little restaurant named "Esther's".

Esther's was so quaint it made it quite enjoyable to be there.  It reminded me of Johnny Caces in that all the employees there looked like they'd been working there for the last 40 years.  They were all portly little old ladies with a cheerful air about them, and they each sported a nicely starched white uniform which was reminiscent of the "Harvey Girls".

One sees so many things when traveling like I do that you start forgetting most of them, but I remember seeing this quizzically comical arrangement of signs on one stretch of highway in Pennsylvania.  I came upon a highway sign warning you to "Beware of aggressive divers in this area" and then just about fifty feet down the road from that one was another one that pictured an Amish horse and buggy on it!  It just struck me funny.

One more thing I saw right next door to Esther's Restaurant was this old phone booth!

I haven't seen one of these in at least 35 years!  It's hard to believe it's still in use, but it is.

I left Connecticut on Thursday morning and I arrived in Milton Florida on Saturday morning with enough time left over to take my 34 hour break and reset my clock for the next week.  Saturday night I went down to the bay, which was just about fifteen minutes away from the Wal-Mart where I parked for the weekend, and listened to the waves gently roll in and get broken up into droplets as they landed on the rocky shores protecting the peninsula from the relentless wear and tear of their continual march.

The bright light of the sun slowly gave way to the filtering effect of the horizon as the evening made it's slow and gentle progression of time toward darkness, while I stood there wishing my wife were here to share this moment with me.

As I turned to the east to go back to my rented car I notice the moon rising and shedding it's borrowed light over a weather worn beach house on the other side of the small peninsula.

Today I took the short drive over to Pensacola and strolled along the beach for some fresh air and exercise.  I watched some people para-sailing out in the bay, and took a break under a pavilion that gave me some shade from the sun while a friendly waterfowl came up to me begging for a handout.

For the most part I've had a very busy work week, and a very nice break over the weekend to get me ready for another week of running this truck down the road, carrying the things that are needed to keep our economy moving and hopefully improving.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Resting in Rochester

I'm in Rochester New York today waiting for my Monday morning delivery.  I got here Saturday around 2:00 in the afternoon so that I would have time to take a 34 hour break.  That magic number of 34 hours is what allows a truck driver to re-set his hours on his 70 hour clock.  It's kind of confusing, but it's a good thing to do because it allows you to run harder and get more miles accomplished, and if you have a good dispatcher, like I do, he's paying close attention to how you're managing your hours.  When he sees that you are keeping time available he's more free to send you the good runs with lots of miles on them.  Time management and math skills are very helpful to one's success in this field.

One thing a truck driver has is a lot of time to himself.  I think it works against some of them - sometimes you can spend too much time thinking on things that will drive you crazy.  I think of my dear wife often.  I feel for her being there at home alone.  I wish I could be there for her more often - I talk to her everyday but that's not the same as a tender embrace, or a shoulder to lay her head on.  I miss looking into her beautiful eyes when we're talking, I miss the gentle touch of her hand.  After thirty years of marriage just the touch of her hand still makes me weak in the knees and dizzy in my head.  There's a sparkle in her eyes that I've never seen in anyone else's.  Who can explain the feeling of affection between a man and his wife?  Jane Austin spoke of a woman's "charms and allurements".  Well, I'm not a Jane Austin expert, but I know there is no other woman on this earth that has ever even come close to "charming" me than my dear "Beloved".  The mystery of her allurement cannot be explained by me, it's spiritual, it's pure, and it comes over me at times like a wave of fresh pure clean unadulterated emotion - it's a foretaste, if you will, of the unending pleasure and enjoyment we will have in eternity with the Bridegroom Who sought us and brought us into His kingdom.

Oh boy, you see what I mean about having too much time to think.  I better stop this train of thought before I say something I'll be chastised about when I get home.  Which brings up another thing about this crazy job - coming home.  You look so forward to getting home, but it's hard to just jump right in there and assimilate your life right back into your family's life when you're gone most of the time.  They have schedules and plans that don't include you - their lives have to go on without you while your gone and you just popping in for a few days doesn't really change that.  It's something that causes many truck drivers problems at home - I've discovered a long list of divorced truck drivers that testify to this difficulty.

Okay, I've got to change gears here, I'm going into the realm of "TMI".  I try to exercise and walk when I can out on the road.  When I'm taking a 34 hour re-start like this weekend I have plenty of time to do that.  Yesterday evening I took a lengthy and brisk walk here in a beautiful farming community and ended up back at the truck stop with this sunset taking shape as I arrived.

Well, I better close this post for now.  I'll let you know as soon as I can what my next adventure will be.  It's one of those things about this job that's unpredictable.  Tomorrow morning when I send them an e-mail saying that I'm unloaded they will send me my next assignment.  I don't have a clue what I will be doing until I get that message, and then it's "off to the races".  It's really kind of fun though - I could be storming across the country or I could be just traveling over to the next state - I never know.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

From Sea to Shining Sea

Well, just about a week and a half ago I was as far west as Santa Maria California, and on Monday I picked up a load of 40 foot long I-beams in Midlothian, TX (former hometown of my good friend Jennifer D.) and delivered them today in Fernandino Beach, Florida.  You can't go any further east in Florida without falling into the beautiful ocean.  Tomorrow I will pick up a load of shingles in Savannah, Georgia and deliver them to Rochester New York.  I've been everywhere man!

I know it sounds like I'm on a vacation or something, but this is hard work, really it is.

I'm really enjoying this job, it's kind of a crazy profession, I mean it is the only job I know of where there is a good chance that you very well might not know anybody else that works for the same company.  We have about 2,500 drivers, and the only one that I might could even say that I know is the one who trained me, and I probably will never see him again in my life.  I couldn't even tell you who my boss is, but there is somebody who sends me e-mails that give me my marching (or driving) orders everyday.  And this week they sent me about three thousand miles already for this week.  I better get to bed so I can rest, I've got a lot of miles to knock down tomorrow if I'm going to get all this done.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Wheee! Wheee! Wheee! All the way Home!

I apologize about the lengthy silence here, but I have not had any internet service in the places that I have been spending my nights lately.  I'm at home now for a few days.  I got home on July 3rd, and I will be back on the road on Monday the 8th.  I couldn't help but think about the old nursery rhyme where you wiggle the child's toes as you're reciting it and when you get to the final toe you say "and this little piggy went wheee wheee wheee all the way home".  Yes, that's how I felt as I was headed home this week.  The last time I was home was the weekend of May 25th for Abigail's ballet.

I thought I might share with you my adventures since June 13th which is when I was hoping to go home but instead got dispatched up North to Minnesota.  It will give you just a little glimpse into the life of an over the road truck driver's daily life.

I started out on June 13th in La Porte, TX picking up a 47,000 pound load of granite slabs.  This is the type of granite you see being made into counter tops.  This load had two different stops in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  When I arrived in Minneapolis it was about 10:00 pm so I just slept in the customers parking lot so that I would be the first truck there in the morning and thus could get unloaded first without having to wait in line.  This first stop was simple, I easily backed into their warehouse where they unloaded their product with an overhead crane, and promptly sent me on my way to my next stop.  The second stop was much more interesting.  They had a lengthy, very curvy single lane drive that snaked it's way around to the back of the very large warehouse with signs pointing delivery trucks to follow that path.  Normally, if I am at a place I've never been, I'll get out and take a good look around to see just how I'm going to get in and out before I commit to guiding my gentle giant in there.  When you're driving a 70 something foot long vehicle weighing upwards of 80,000 pounds it's just smart to know how you're going to get out before you actually get in somewhere.  But, since the driveway was so long and obviously curved around to the back, well, I assumed they must have some way to turn around or exit back there somewhere.

So I go on back there and a Spanish fellow directs me where to park as the fork lift driver comes racing out of an overhead door to unload me.  While they are occupied with that task I'm trying my best to figure out how to get out because there's definitely not enough room to turn around, and I don't see any other exits.  When they're finished and I've gotten my paper work signed, I ask the Hispanic man how the trucks usually get back out of here.  He slowly tells me in his unique Spanglish dialect that they back all the way out.  Well that's okay with me because I actually kind of enjoy the challenge of backing an eighteen wheeler.  Yet my curiosity begs to ask another question of my helpful com-padre.   "What happens if another truck is pulling into the driveway from the other side of the building and we meet up somewhere over there with him trying to get in and me trying to get out?"  He simply says, "Well meester, that all depends".  Depends on what? I query him.  "That all depends on wheech truck driver is the most stubborn" he says as he turns away and walks off with a sly grin on his face.

By now my Quallcomm is making noises to me that I've been dispatched to Eau Claire Wisconsin to pick up about 40,000 pounds of miscellaneous building supplies to be delivered to a building supply store in Lincoln, Nebraska.  They take up all my legal working hours at this shipper getting me loaded, so that I can't drive anymore, so at 2:00 am I bed down in their parking lot for the night.  When I arrive in Lincoln it is about 10:00 pm so I sleep in yet another parking lot so that I can get unloaded first thing in the morning.

After unloading the building supplies I am promptly dispatched to Norfolk, Nebraska to pick up 46,000 pounds of angle iron headed for Greeley Colorado.  I can smell the smoke of the Colorado forest fires as I finally get to sleep at a truck stop where I enjoy the simple pleasure of having access to restrooms and restaurants.  Once I've delivered my angle iron I'm off to Pueblo, Colorado to pick up the load of "slinky coils" that I mentioned in an earlier post - they are headed to Salt Lake City, Utah.  Then I'm whisked away to Tooele, Utah to transport 8,000 pounds of Styrofoam insulation to Fresno, California where they are building a new cold storage facility for all that produce grown in those lush California Valleys.  Here is a photo of my slinky coil load just in case you would like to see some of the "stuff" that I drag around with me.

Just so you have an idea of what some of these places look like that I'm going through here's a photo of the view I enjoyed while sitting at a truck stop in Salt Lake City Utah.

From there I receive a message telling me to grab a "high value" load down in Fontana California that is headed to Houston, TX.  This turns out to be a 23,000 pound load of large reels of copper wire.  On these "high value" loads you're expected to stay with your truck at all times and report each stop you make to the home office.  They even request that you don't take a shower for fear that someone has followed you and is waiting for an opportune time to steal your valuable goods.  Well, they don't know it, but I took a shower on both nights that I was babysitting those reels of copper wire.  We were having excessive heat warnings over there in that area during that time, and I was sweating a lot so I took showers - quick showers!  I slept in truck stops with this load because it would be more secure that way.

When I got to Houston, I was thinking "great I'm going to get home now", but it was not meant to be as my quallcomm alerted me that I was heading to Brenham, TX to pick up 34 parking lot light poles to be delivered to six different locations in Texas and Oklahoma with the final destination being Mooreland, Oklahoma.  Well, it was going to be prudent management of my time to take a 34 hour break now so that I could re-set my hours for the coming week, and since my three girls were about 45 minutes away at Giddings, I cruised over their way and spent the weekend with them.  That was such fun surprising them like that.  We had a great time together.

Oh boy, this action packed post is getting lengthy.  After getting all my light poles delivered to their respective homes I got a message sending me to Fletcher Oklahoma to pick up 47,000 pounds of sheet rock going to Longview, TX.  This is now July the 3rd and my dispatcher tells me to take this load to the house and deliver it on Monday the 8th.

Yes I felt like that little piggy saying:
Wheee! Wheee! Wheee! All the way Home!