Saturday, January 25, 2014

Pocket Knife Lost (my apologies to the great Milton for this title)

I've had a long and healthy relationship with the lowly pocket knife.  I have quite a collection of pocket knives.  Most of them were given to me by friends.  One of them was given to me by Jeff Abt from one of his trips abroad.  If I remember correctly it was from Tibet.

From the time I was a young man I have almost always carried a pocket knife.  It is something I use often, and when you have something so handy with you all the time you can kind of grow fond of it at times.  My late friend and one time employer Steve Spradley told me that I should never hire anyone who didn't carry a pocket knife.  He claimed that person was an impractical person and would never make a good employee.  I still remember him asking me if I carried a pocket knife before I went to work for him back in 1983.  It was years later that I found out why he asked me that question.

I one time loaned my pocket knife to a fellow that was working for me on a job site in Longview Texas so he could cut something or another, and it was later that night when I got home that I realized I never got it back from him.  So the next morning I asked him about it, and he couldn't remember what he had done with it.  After quizzing him a little he decided that he must have laid it down on the roof of the building where we were working and forgotten to pick it up when he came down.  It was one of those knives that I had gotten attached to and I made up my mind to drive the hour and a half drive back to the job site on the weekend and see if I could find my knife.  This particular knife was one that I had given to my father-in-law for a Christmas present and after his death the family gave it back to me when they were determining what to do with his belongings.  It was a dandy little Spyderco knife that really felt good in your hand.  I took an extension ladder with me, and leaned it up against the building where my friend had been working and as soon as I climbed up to the top there it lay - right where he had forgetfully set it down.  I can't tell you how good it felt to get it back, I know it all sounds kind of silly, but it really did give me a sense of relief.  That was years ago, and I'm only telling you all this so that you'll have an understanding about how disappointed I was when I recently lost the pocket knife that I've been currently carrying with me.

A week or two ago I picked up two coils of aluminum in Kentucky and carried them to a company called "Rexam" in St. Paul Minnesota.  Rexam is a manufacturer of the aluminum cans that soft drink companies use for their drinks.  So now chances are that you may have drunk something from a can which was made from the aluminum that I hauled on the back of my truck.  How about that?  Here is a photo of one of those coils.  That one coil weighs about 23,000 pounds, and that my friend represents a lot of cans!

Now if you're wondering why I all of a sudden changed the subject to aluminum coils, and it was such an abrupt change in the subject that inquisitive minds should be wondering such things, it is because it was on the day that I picked up these aluminum coils that I later realized my pocket knife was missing.  And, as you will soon find out, these aluminum coils hold the secret to how I lost my pocket knife that day.

Later that day when reaching for my knife I was quite surprised that it was not there clipped to my pocket as it always is.  I searched for it in all the possible places I might have left it, including my laundry bag just in case I might have left it clipped to the last pair of pants I had been wearing.  But after searching high and low I was left with that empty feeling that I had lost another perfectly good pocket knife.  That evening I exercised my mind in going through all the steps of the day and trying to remember when I used it last, but I just could not come up with a scenario which would help me solve the mysterious disappearance of a very functional and well balanced Gerber knife.

The last time I remembered using the knife was to cut some rope just before putting a tarp over the two aluminum coils I was hauling to Minnesota.  So while I was driving I finally came to the conclusion that I must have laid the knife down on the bed of the trailer and inadvertently forgotten it there before I started driving.  It kind of felt a little better thinking I had solved the mystery of how I lost the knife, but it still bothered me that I could be so forgetful with such a useful tool as my lowly pocket knife.  After a while it just settled in on me that it was lost and I might as well get over it.  There was no way it would have ridden on the bed of the trailer that far without falling off at some point in my travels.  I determined that as soon as I got a chance I would start looking for another knife.

When I got to Rexam the next day I backed my truck into their building and started getting my tarp off and preparing to loosen the straps so they could unload my cargo.  After I got the tarp off and folded back up and put away I began to loosen the straps.  When I went to the opposite side of the trailer from where I had been working what do you think caught my eye?  There was my pocket knife clipped to the protective plastic wrap that was covering the coil of aluminum!

I was so surprised I laughed out loud.  All the mental calisthenics I had been doing the day before to try and solve the mystery and I never even realized that while I was getting the tarp on these coils I at one point had to climb up on top of them and had kind of slid my way back down to the trailer bed and when I did somehow the clip on my knife dug into the plastic wrapping and slipped right off of my pocket as I slid downwards, and there it rode all those many miles up to Minnesota without ever coming loose.

Pocket Knife Lost and Pocket Knife Found, all in a few days work.  Man it sure feels good to have that knife clipped on my pocket again.

I'm in Thousand Palms California tonight.  A pretty little town in a desert valley surrounded by mountains.  I'll tell you about how I ended up here and show you some pictures tomorrow night.  I've got to get myself in bed now so I can get up early tomorrow and get on over to El Paso Texas with 44,000 pounds of aluminum in another form.  This is a load of aluminum billets and they have already traveled a long ways before I got them.  They are engraved with a stamp that says they were manufactured in Dubai.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I'm Loving this Job

This week I ended up going through the state of Indiana three times.  My first time through was during what was an early winter blizzard.  It was actually a little scary, and I saw a lot of big trucks that didn't make it through.  Lots of cars and trucks in the ditches and medians, along with several accidents involving multiple vehicles.  I try to be extra cautious and careful when traveling in the snow and ice, but as a truck driver you have to be not only watching out for yourself but everyone else around you also.  It can be stressful at times.  The other drivers around you are constantly getting in front of you when you are trying to maintain a safe following distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you. The truck driver puts up with a lot of craziness from the other drivers around him.  They don't want to be behind him because they can't see, then when they manage to get past him they cut over into his lane causing him to have to adjust his following distance which angers the next car behind him.   The drivers behind him complain that he's too slow, and the ones ahead of him complain that he's too close on their tail.  He does the best he can but still everyone wishes he were not there at all.

I know that is a strange way to start a post about how I'm loving this job, but those thoughts are also on my mind tonight.  It's amazing how many people come racing up around me to pass me and then they blow their horn at me just as they are about to get past me.  I'm paying attention to them the whole time and I know I haven't done anything to warrant them honking at me.  It happens so often that I wonder what the deal is, as it can be startling at times.  I can only assume that they think I don't know where they are and they want to warn me so I don't change lanes.  I know where they are and I usually have figured out what they are about to do even before they've decided to do it.  Anticipating the actions of the other drivers around me has saved me from an accident a considerable amount of times already.  When driving something that is like a building on wheels (over 75 feet long and up to 80,000 pounds) you have got to be on your guard constantly.

My first trip through Indiana I got stuck there for two days because the highway department closed the highway that I was traveling on.  I stayed at the first truck stop I could get in.  The temperature never got above zero while I was there.  It stayed around 15 below for several days.  I came up from Roanoke Virginia that first trip and after spending my first night there I woke up trapped in the snow at the truck stop.

Truck driving is more of a lifestyle than it is just a job.  It takes some getting used to a life of being on the road away from the comforts of home, the routines of a home life, and the warmth and affection of those you hold dear.  I see a lot of people living this lifestyle that really don't belong in it. I'm not sure why they got into it, maybe they just needed a job. It's a great job for those who are up to the challenge, but it is demoralizing for those who just jump in thinking "hey I know how to drive, and I love to travel, I might as well get paid for it."

It takes a special person to fill the shoes of an American Truck Driver. We work long hours in all kinds of weather, we take considerable risks accomplishing our daily tasks, and we do it with little thanks from anyone other than the modest paycheck we receive from our employers. I feel a sort of sadness, or maybe it's more a feeling of compassion, for the many people I come across in this field who just shouldn't be in it. I was in Roanoke VA securing the load of steel I hauled into Indiana and noticed another driver from my company beside me working on his load. The poor fellows shoulders looked like they were hanging down below his knees. It was pretty obvious he hated what he was doing, and after talking with him a few minutes he made it clear that he was completely demoralized by his choice of career. He told me that trucking was sucking the life out of him. He clearly needs to be doing something else. This is not a cushy job for the faint of heart, but sucking the life out of you?

It was such a contrast to the way I feel about this career. I love this stuff, I can't wait to get started each new day and show what I'm made of. I love being challenged. I get a charge out of coming up with creative solutions for the difficulties staring me down. I'm energized when a plan comes together and the obstacles are conquered and vanquished. I don't ever really think about my pay in connection with the amount of hours I work, I look at the accomplishments and the victories, and if there are defeats along the way I commit to learning from them and facing them square on the next time I'm up against them.  I hit it hard each day and make my way through the obstacle course of what is a rewarding career for some and a demoralizing defeat for others.

I came up from Roanoke through the mountains of West Virginia on I-77 and I-64. There was a beautiful carpet of snow on the ground, and bits of it lying heavy on the bare limbs of the trees. I've got to tell you it was simply beautiful. I was hauling a 47,000 pound precarious load of flat steel up through there and I felt a certain degree of pride rise up in me to be doing this job while commandeering my rig through those mountains.  I love what I do.  This is a great job.  I only wish that the loveliest woman I've ever known wasn't having to keep the home fires burning all alone.  I am grateful for God's provision for us, and I rest in the solid fact that He knows best.