Sunday, August 4, 2013

Every Day Is A New Learning Experience

Wow, so much has happened this week that I'm not sure where to begin.  First I'll tell you that I'm in Drums Pennsylvania right now and I'm taking a 34 hour break here at the Pilot truck stop.  Now, here goes the story of how I got here.

I think last time I left you I was waiting to go into the port at Mobile Alabama with a load of I-beams. That actually went surprisingly well.  Sometimes when I'm going to places that I never have been yet I just don't know what to expect.  I'd been told by another truck driver while at the steel mill in Midlothian that it would be a struggle to get unloaded at the port because there would be so many trucks there to get unloaded.  I got there about 7:00 am and after going through the truck traffic control office and getting all my paperwork verified by them I was allowed in to the port property and directed where to park and wait for further instruction.  By the way, the only people allowed to enter these ports are those who have previously been issued a TWIC card.  This is a plastic card with certain electronic information embedded in it issued to you by the department of Homeland Security.  It requires a FBI background check of the cardholder, fingerprinting and various other government bureaucratic criteria.  This is something I applied for early in my pursuit of this truck driving career, and am glad I have it because already I have delivered at two different ports.  It allows me to be a more versatile, available, and valuable employee.

Okay, I think I got sidetracked, sorry about that.  As it turns out, once I was inside the port, I'm like the fifth truck in a line that is continuing to lengthen very quickly behind me.  After about two hours I'm unloaded and have all my tarps and chains and binders put up and I'm ready to roll again.  So I send dispatch a message saying I'm empty.  It takes a little longer than usual for them to respond so I go to the truck stop and wait on them.  I'm there about thirty minutes when I get my orders which are for  my very first "oversize" load.  Now an oversize load is one that is not legal to drive on the highways without having special permits issued to you by each of the various states you'll be travelling through.  I'm going through about nine different states to get this load to Greenwich, Connecticut.  I pick up my load in Greenville, Alabama.  As it turns out this load is some laminated wood trusses and beams built for a timber frame structure being constructed in a Greenwich park.  I had to take special care with this load by providing rubber padding between the pieces and putting special foam padding under my straps where they made contact with the beams because all this wood is to be exposed in it's final resting place.  What a challenge!  But if you know me, then you'll realize that this is just the kind of thing I enjoy.

The load is 12' wide, and I've got to get all the way up into Connecticut without letting it get bumped or scratched on the way there.  Another thing about these permitted loads is that you can only drive during daylight hours for obvious safety reasons.  Also you have to travel on the route that the different states you're going through assign you to.  Well, my route takes me across the George Washington Bridge in New York!  I know you're probably not familiar with this, but the last time I had to cross this toll bridge I got hit twice by another eighteen wheeler, but there's no way you can stop and check on the damages, it is the craziest flow of vehicular traffic I've ever experience and to top it all off the lanes are really narrow and there must be ten thousand pot holes in the pavement.  My New York permit also requires an escort.  Well, apparently my company missed that part and after I tried to get on the bridge and found out I don't even fit through the toll gates I had to call 911 to get the police out there to stop the ridiculous traffic so I could back up and get out of the way.  They have some special Port Authority Police for the George Washington Bridge because it spans on both the New Jersey side and the New York sides of the Hudson.  About thirty officers showed up!  I'm not kidding, it was like a circus, and they were not real happy with this rookie truck driver for making them come out there and deal with this problem.  The first one on the scene was not nice at all and told me he was going to throw the book at me and starts naming off all these violations that I'd committed.  It was from him that I learn that there is a special way to get on the bridge when you have a wide load - gee whiz! - somebody could have told me about this ahead of time and saved a lot of trouble.  This same officer tells his commercial vehicle inspector underlings to look my truck over really good because he is going to write me enough tickets to make sure I never forget all the trouble I caused him.

I get backed up and out of the way over on a side street where I'm told to sit and do not move until I have my escort car there, and a commercial vehicle officer will be here in a moment to issue me my tickets.  Well, a really friendly officer shows up and tells me that the powers that be have told him to write me up with as many violations as he can find, so he has to follow orders, but the only problem is he can't seem to find any thing that I actually did that was illegal.  As it turns out, since I was still on the New Jersey side I wasn't legally bound to have my escort yet.  Even though I have to have the escort to get on the bridge I never even really made it on the bridge so technically he doesn't think he could write me a ticket that will stand up in court.  He also says that after thoroughly inspecting my load securement and truck he doesn't find any thing out of order, but he is under strict orders to write me up with anything he can find.  He does notice that after I'd traveled all the way from Alabama to get there that the wind has stretched my "Oversize Load" sign a little so that is obstructing part of my license plate.  So he will write me a ticket for that which is not considered a moving violation and I can just mail in the fifty bucks instead of having to appear before a New York magistrate.  I think I let out a sigh that could have been heard in Texas when he finished telling me that.

I can't get through to anyone at my company because they are so busy all the lines are tied up, so I just handle lining up an escort service myself and after sitting for about four hours now I'm on my way across the Hudson on that very trying George Washington Bridge.  By the way it cost my company a little more that $500.00 just to get that load across the bridge!  Crazy isn't it - but that's life in New York.  The really cool thing about crossing this time with the wide load on my truck is that the escorts blocked off all four lanes for me and I sailed through that thing without a care on my mind - what a relief!  Also the escorts knew exactly where I needed to be as far as which lanes to be in all the rest of the way across the state until they dropped off at the Connecticut line.  They would tell me in advance over the CB radio which lane they were blocking off for me to get over into and it made it so easy to maneuver through the state without any mishaps or damage to my sensitive cargo.

I keep trying to make this long story short, but it's not going too well, I keep remembering things about this trip that made it an unforgettable learning experience.  I left out all the details of running through the other states and trying to park at truck stops with my wide load, but it has to be shortened because I just don't think I can hold your interest for that long.

The customer was thrilled to see me when I finally get there and they unload me with a smile on their faces at the condition their precious beams and trusses are in.  Apparently they were having considerable anxiety about them while they were in transit.  It's always good to see your customers so satisfied after you just went through all kinds of trouble that they don't even know about to get them their goods.

Well, it was about the end of the day on Friday when I got this ordeal over with and that makes it hard to get a load for the weekend, but my dispatcher came through for me.  The only catch about this next load is I've got to go over to the Long Island area of New York to West Babylon!  On top of the fact that I've got to pick up a load in a town with such an infamous name, it is a load of garbage that I'll be taking to Amsterdam, Ohio.  Apparently they have so many people over here and no available land to use as a landfill so they have to ship their garbage out to other places.  It was an interesting operation that I picked up at.  They unload their garbage trucks inside big buildings where big front end loaders scoop it up and place it into very large trash compactors which bale it up and put in large bags that are then loaded onto trucks to go to other landfills at various parts of the country that are willing to accept it.  So, I'm sitting here today in Drums, Pennsylvania taking a break while my truck is emitting a rather unpleasant odor.  Oh well, I'm glad to have the load, and I was glad I could call my wife yesterday and tell her that I came out of Babylon today.  Yes, I'll be glad to get this load off of my truck and off my mind.  I'll update this lonely little blog as soon as I can.