Friday, November 20, 2015

Rules, Regulations, Reality, and Responsibility

Sometimes you just can't make things work out just right in this business.  Not only could I not make it on time for that delivery to the Great Dane manufacturing plant, I couldn't even make it over there legally.  I do not like to do it, but I had to drive illegally to get there.  Here's what happened: I explained in my last post how it was a really tight schedule - remember now that the problem was nothing of my doing, so it does not count as a service failure on my part.  If you remember, recently I posted about the fact that we are not allowed a service failure on this account, and a service failure is grounds for termination.  The problem in this incident was the fact that I was bumping up against the clock, i.e. I did not have enough hours available to get it done when they dispatched the load to me. They knew this not only because they can see right on their computer screen how many hours I have if they choose to look at it, but also because I warned them when I accepted the load that I might not be able to do it.  I mentioned in that post titled "Hard Pressed" that the trip would have to be pulled off with zero problems, and running that long of a time period only increases the odds that "Old Murphy" is gonna figure out how to put one of his laws into play.

I was driving all through the night, and when it began to get close to sunrise there was a thick fog developing along my chosen route.  Sure enough due to the fog there was a bad accident involving several cars and one eighteen wheeler.  It caused about an hour delay in my time.  I began to contemplate what it was that I should do, and the first thing was to contact my customer to let them know what happened, and that I would be late.  Turns out they were actually glad that I called and said their schedule was messed up because of another driver being late, and they would just move my appointment back a few hours if that was okay with me - Perfect!  That makes it so that I'm not charged with being late, but the whole delay from the accident makes it so that I am going to go over my legal driving hours just to be able to get there in the first place.  Ahh! I remember this little known rule in the F.M.C.S.A. Motor Carriers rule book called the "driving exemption" which allows you to add two hours of driving time to your day if there is an unexpected delay because of unexpected weather issues causing you a delay.  I figured that will be perfect, I'll just put it in my logs that I used the exemption because of the severe fog and I will be good to go.  Wrong!  When I looked up the rule I discovered that it does not apply to your seventy hour clock, which is the one I was pushing.  If you are just having trouble with your eleven hours driving clock, but have not worked seventy hours in the last eight days it is okay to use the rule, but not if you are going over the seventy hours, so I'm out of luck on that one.

So, what do you do in a situation like this?  Well, you have to make your own judgement call.  I could have called my dispatcher and said, "Hey, I can't make it without breaking the law so I'm going to stop and take a ten hour break and set up a new appointment for tomorrow."  Understand that it is quite possible the customer may say, "We're sorry driver, but we are over booked already for tomorrow, Fridays are killers for us because the drivers do not want to sit all weekend at a truck stop waiting till they can come in Monday morning to get unloaded.  We have an opening for three o'clock Monday afternoon, will that work for you?"  If I chose that option, there is no way I would get home for Thanksgiving, and I want to be there pretty badly.  So, as I'm driving down the highway I am mulling all this stuff around in my poor feeble cranial cavity.  I decide that my best option is to commit a defiant act of roguery, and defy the law.  I'm heartily ashamed of myself, but that is the course of action that I took.  I drove for 35 minutes with my Zonar (on board computer) warning me that I was a social deviant and that I had better straighten up or face the consequences.  Actually it just showed a red line on my logs during that time period, but that is how it felt to me. I am not comfortable breaking any laws, no matter how trivial they may seem, and I let out a big sigh of relief as soon as I got there and was able to take my clock off of the drive line.

Just an FYI for you on the way this could possibly get a truck driver in trouble.  It is the law that you have to keep the current day, and the past seven day's logs on your truck with you.  So you always have to have eight days logs with you.  That is all they are interested in if an officer so chooses to ask you if he can look at your logs.  Now to put this in perspective, since I started this career I have only been asked twice by an officer to see my logs.  Once I was asked by an officer as I was going through a weigh station, and the other time was way back at the beginning when I had that issue going across the George Washington Bridge.  So, after eight days goes by I will be very relieved of this anxiety I am driving under now.  Thirty five minutes is a very minor violation, but it is still something they can enforce if they wish.  I am proud to have such a good clean record, and I would like to keep it that way.  There are plenty of drivers who think they can't make any money if they are not constantly breaking the rules, but I have proven to myself and my dispatchers that it can be done effectively, and efficiently while still keeping a sense of honor and dignity in what you do.

Well it seems like I have been mentioning all the rules we have to deal with and understand in this career lately, which I'm certain doesn't interest any of you, but it is a fascinating challenge to keep up with them.  Several times I have mentioned rules in our "green book" to my dispatcher and he will say "is that a rule?"  He was the safety director for many years at the Knight terminal in Olive Branch Mississippi, and he gets all excited when he realizes that I know the rule book much better than he does.  Here is the book I am referring to, and in fact one of the rules in this book is that we have to have a copy of it in our truck!

Take a look at this photo, I'm sorry it is so small, and it is probably silly for me to try and show you, but I just wanted you to see the last page number in the book.  Yep, that is a lot of pages of fine print that we are supposed to keep up with.  I have heard some drivers say that there is no way the officers are aware of all those rules, but I personally want to make sure that I know it better than they do.  It is one of the many challenges about this career that I try to overcome and be the best that I can be at it.

Well,my dispatcher already has a plan for getting me home for Thanksgiving.  He contacted me today to let me know he was sending me to Corpus Christi, TX with a load that leaves out Sunday night, and if all goes well I will be home by Tuesday night or Wednesday at the latest.  Woo-Hoo!

I'm on my way back to Delhi to get that load to Corpus, but I'm parked right now in Lincoln, Alabama.  I've decided that I am going to stay here for a 34 hour break so that I will have a fresh set of seventy hours before me for the next few days.  That way I don't keep running into this problem of not having enough time to get where I need to be.  The last thing I want to have happen is I get that load down there to Corpus, and then I can't get myself back to Nacogdoches for the holiday with my family.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hard Pressed

I'm going to Statesboro, Georgia with a 40,000 pound load of 53 foot long pieces of extruded aluminum.  This load goes to the Great Dane trailer manufacturing facility there.  These pieces of aluminum are incorporated into the decks of their 53 foot long trailers manufactured there.  I get a lot of these type loads out of the plant in Cressona, Pennsylvania, which is where I picked this one up.

Here's a look at what it looked like after I had thrown all the straps on it to keep it secure as it traveled down the road.

All these loads must be protected from the weather, so I have got to get my tarps thrown on this one.  After I finished that laborious task it looked like this.

I am just barely going to have enough legal working hours to get this one delivered on time.  I'm going to bed right now (it's early afternoon here) so that I can leave at about midnight after my required ten hour break.  I have an eleven o'clock in the morning appointment.  I'll let you know how that all works out - I'm not so sure it's going to all come together - it's too tight - the slightest delay could really mess things up.  That's trucking for you!  The last time I delivered to this plant they started unloading me about three hours after my appointed time, and I had gotten there four hours early!  They will probably be waiting on me tomorrow and I will get there late.

I'm in Greencastle, Pennsylvania parked at an overcrowded T/A truck stop.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Great Flip-Flop

Okay, I thought you might be interested in how I manage my time out here on the road so that I can do this job successfully.  It's probably a little bit of a boring subject, but since nobody reads this thing, I can simply amuse myself with what I choose to write about, and no one is bothered by it.  To be successful at this you must be able to "flip-flop" your nights and days back and forth throughout your work week to make everything come out right, and be as productive as you can.

Let me see if I can set this up so that it makes sense to a person who isn't accustomed to the rules and regulations that a truck driver has to work under.  We can drive for eleven hours a day, but we have to accomplish that eleven hours in a fourteen hour window.  Then we have to take a ten hour break before we can drive again.  That is just a small portion of the many rules we have to consider when out here trying to make a living, and serving our customers in a way that meets their needs.

I picked this load up on Saturday night in Delhi, Louisiana.  It is supposed to deliver in Farmington, Connecticut on Tuesday morning, and then it has an additional stop in Bristol, Connecticut immediately following the first stop.  I was not able to start driving until around 2100 hours (that is 9:00 P.M.) due to the fact that I was waiting for my ten hour break to come to it's close.  Since I just finished my ten hour break, I can now drive for a full driving shift of eleven hours.  So I drove through the night, and with fifteen minutes for a pre-trip inspection of my truck, and about fifteen minutes for a fuel stop in Meridian, Mississippi and a thirty minute break thrown in there at Fort Payne, Alabama I ended up my driving shift at around 9:00 a.m. and parked for some much needed rest at Dandridge, Tennessee.  (that thirty minute break thing is another regulation - we have to take a thirty minute break at some point in the first eight hours, but if you take it during the first four hours you will have to take an additional break before you can finish the eleven hours of driving)

Okay, so you can see that I worked all Saturday night and it is now around nine a.m. when I am starting my next ten hour break.  So, I can start driving again at 7:00 p.m., or 1900 hours as we truck drivers look at it - all our appointments with shippers and receivers are in military time for some reason unknown to me.  I assume it is to keep us marginally intelligent truck drivers from getting confused over all that a.m. and p.m. stuff.  So I started out this next driving shift with my fifteen minute pre-trip inspection of my truck (another one of those regulations) and then spent the night by driving through the remaining part of Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and on into Pennsylvania.  I stopped in Fort Chiswell, Virginia for a fifteen minute fuel stop, and took my thirty minute break at a Wilco Hess truck stop in Toms Brook Virginia.  I managed to get myself to Scranton, Pennsylvania where I stopped at the Petro Truck Stop at around 6:45 this morning to start my next ten hour break.

Now, at this point I am approximately four hours from my final destination, maybe even a little less.  So what I will do is start my way over there tonight so that I end up arriving there at about 2100 hours or 9:00 p,m. tonight.  I will then start up another ten hour break while I spend the night in their parking lot - actually I will park my truck in the unloading area which is a covered portion extending off the back of their warehouse.  This eliminates the possibility of any other truck driver getting in there ahead of me and delaying me at this location - remember I have another stop to make after this one, and the slightest delay is going to make me late for the second stop.  This account that I am on is so strict on delivery times that you have got to do things like this to stay on top of the game.  My company gets charged some big fines for drivers being late, and we the drivers have already agreed in our employment contract that a service failure (being late is a service failure) is grounds for termination.  We are not allowed to be late.

If all this sounds extremely strict to you, well it is, but you have to realize that this is what we call a dedicated account, and because of that the company gets paid more for servicing this customers needs, and we the drivers are getting some of the top pay there is for what we do.  We are expected to conduct ourselves like professionals, or find something else to do.  Incidentally this customer has often times called my dispatcher and requested me as the driver they want delivering to them.  He once told me that I had really made a name for myself here and that it is unheard of for this customer to actually request a certain driver - they are known for constantly complaining about everything and being in general just an overly demanding customer.  Also, just so you know, if there are extenuating circumstances such as a bad accident on the highway or severe weather we can get our schedules re-set with a simple phone call.  But if you just stayed up too late at the truck stop watching John Wayne movies and couldn't get your tail back on the road, well you are in some big trouble on this account.

Now, if you've been able to keep up with the math that is woven throughout this wandering post you will realize that at this point I am able to "Flip-Flop" my schedule back to daytime hours once I am unloaded here.  You see they will start unloading me about six thirty in the morning and since I will be parking at the site around nine p.m. that means that ten hours later it will be seven a.m., and I can head on over to my next stop and "git er done."  I hope you enjoyed this little journey through some truck driver math, it's really just third grade stuff, but at times it seems quite magical to my happy little dispatcher who is so pleased that I can do this stuff.  Just last week he said again to me that he wished he could put a class together so that I could teach some of the other drivers how I do this stuff.  The other benefit to getting myself back onto the daylight hours at this point in this journey is that when I am unloaded at my second and final stop, I will then need to go to pick up my next load, my back haul load that helps pay the bills for me to return to the plant in Delhi, Louisiana.  Most of the shippers and receivers are loading and unloading in the daylight hours, so if when I am ready for a load I need to be on the daytime schedule so that I can get in and out of those places efficiently.

Here's a shot of my truck with this current load on it.  Underneath those tarps is 43,000 pounds of aluminum extrusions.  I am parked high atop a mountain ridge near Scranton, Pennsylvania at the Petro Truck Stop there.  This is where I-81 running north through Pennsylvania intersects with I-84 which will take me east over into upstate New York on my way over into Connecticut.

This is exactly where I wanted to get to today so that everything would work out right with my timing of my schedule as I just laid it out for you.  The other benefit to running this particular load at night like this is that you avoid all the terrible traffic that is so prevalent during the daytime hours up here in the Northeastern parts of the country.  My friend Paul Anderson does not like this run at all - he prefers not to drive at night, and to do this one right you just about have to.  Not too long ago he did it as a favor to our dispatcher because I was unavailable (at home) and the dispatcher told me that Paul told him next time you ask me to do that run, slap me real hard so that I will remember how much I do not want to do it again.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sleepless in Seattle, or Dandridge

Just finished driving all night - it is now about 9:30 a.m.  I'm exhausted, but for some reason I can't get to sleep.  So, here I am, maybe a little exercise in writing will help, I hope I'm coherent.  I had planned on getting myself to the Pilot in Dandridge, TN, and that is where I am.  I will run through the night tonight also, probably will drive close to eleven hours tonight and get myself positioned close to the Pennsylvania/New York line on I-84.  If I can get this load delivered by Tuesday morning at 10:30 a.m. I will have turned in 3,529 miles on my paperwork this week.  That is a strong showing.

I ate dinner with my Friend Paul Anderson last night in Delhi before I got on the road.  He asked me where I stood on my mileage for this quarters report.  He was surprised that I was about twenty five hundred miles ahead of him.  We have this little competition thing going.  If you remember he was the one that I was tied with on the fuel mileage during this year's first quarter.  I have exceeded thirty thousand miles each quarter since I came here to work on this account.

I was in Indianapolis just two days ago and the wind over there was atrocious!  I had a Conestoga trailer and those things are built like a giant kite.  I was getting pushed all over the road.  If you ever see an eighteen wheeler on a windy day weaving back and forth in and out of his lane, it is best to just give him some room and stay away from him - the wind can really cause us some issues, especially if our trailer is empty.

Here's a look at my truck inside a building up in Indiana while delivering that last load.  This is one of the nice things about this dedicated account I am serving here at Knight Transportation.  So many of the locations I go to keep us out of the elements, a rare and worthy benefit for a flat-bed driver who is always responsible for the securing of his freight and the protection of it from the weather.

Well, I'm sure this post sounds like some random rambling, so I will give it a try again and lay my head down on my pillow to try and get some much needed sleep.  I'll be back in here in a day or two to update you on what's going on with me and my strange unique life on the road.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Mississippi Delta Blues

I woke up this morning in Rochester, Indiana after spending the night at the Paradise truck stop there. I managed to get all three of my stops done yesterday on the load I had.  My final stop in North Liberty, IN was scheduled for this morning, but I was able to get it done a day ahead of schedule.  I had a plan in mind to get that done like I did so that I could get back to Delhi in time to have myself available for that "gravy" run up to Farmington, Connecticut.  Sure enough my dispatcher called today and asked me if I wanted a load to Magnolia, Arkansas or Farmington.  I laughed because he knows which one I would want. Then he jokingly told me that he just wanted me to know that I have options.

Then he proceeded to tell me that he gave out the loads a little differently today.  He said he started at the bottom of his list of drivers instead of the top.  (He is referring to the top as the best performers) He said that he gave the lower tiered drivers their choice of the available loads until he had worked himself back up to the top and he was left with these last two loads.  He did this to make sure that he was being fair with everyone as far as being able to get enough miles assigned to them so that they can make some decent money.  Either way I still end up with the Connecticut run - he said he wasn't surprised because he only has one other driver besides me who likes to do that run.  For me it is the best run we have on this account, but most drivers don't even want to get near the Northeast part of the country.  It's no walk in the park going up there, especially in the winter, but it is not that bad if you plan your trip so that you can get in and out of there during the best times to avoid the worst traffic.

I'm sleeping tonight at the "Shady Nook" truck stop in Clarksdale, Mississippi on the historically significant "Highway 61."  If you are not familiar with the significant relationship between this part of Mississippi and "Blues" music, I can't take the time to explain it to you tonight.  I've got to get myself in the sleeper berth so that I can get started early tomorrow.  I need to get to Delhi and then have enough time to log ten hours in the sleeper so that I can start running this load tomorrow night with a full set of available driving hours. I'll have to drive through the night for two nights in a row to make it come out on time, which is probably another reason some of the other drivers don't like this run.  This job has no set hours - we do what is needed to get the freight delivered on time.  The folks who understand that end up rising to the top of the food chain.  It takes some sacrifice to be the best at this job, but for me it is well worth the effort.  You won't catch me "singing the blues" about this job!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Back On The Job

Not much to say tonight, just wanting to let you know that I'm back at work now.  It's Wednesday night and I am sleeping in Louisville, Kentucky at one of my customer's locations.  I left home late Tuesday afternoon after taking my dear wife to lunch.  I stayed home for four days, and it was just as pleasant as ever.  It is always difficult to leave home and get back to work, I go through the same emotions each time, and I always think it will get easier with time, but there is no substitute for spending time with the people you love.  I am already looking forward to my next visit and I've only been gone for two days now!  Oh well, I will have a nice break at Thanksgiving, and then I will enjoy a couple of weeks at Christmas with them.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Going Home For A Visit

This morning I'm waking up in Austin, TX in the parking lot of Intelligent Logistics.  After driving all night on Wednesday night to Corpus Christi I got unloaded at Horton Automatics, but then had to park my truck and take a ten hour break so I could legally drive again.  Then around six in the afternoon I took off for Austin to deliver the final portion of this load.  I made an eight o'clock in the morning appointment with Intelligent Logistics, and although it is now about 6:30 a,m. I am already getting it ready to go by removing all the bungees from my tarp and moving my truck around so that I can block any other trucks from getting in the unloading area ahead of me.  There is a certain aggressive posture that one has to take at some of these receivers if you want to keep yourself ahead of the game - it goes contrary to my personality, but I have learned how to survive out here, and it is the shrewd who know how the game is played, that are best able to keep the wheels turning.  The advantages of serving this dedicated account helps you to know how you have to conduct yourself at the various locations you go to.

I've mentioned in here several times a location in Riverdale, New Jersey that I often deliver to.  They once instructed me to always get in there early and park my truck in such a way that I am blocking off all four of their loading docks.  I have done that ever since they told me that, but it never fails that there is always at least one or two "dry van" trucks that show up and want me to move before the folks in the warehouse have even showed up for work.  It angers them when I refuse to move, but the harsh reality is that if I allow them to get in place I will have to wait for them to get unloaded first, which may take several hours out of my already overly scheduled day.  This is the kind of stuff that sets me apart from some of the less successful drivers in our fleet.  Not the fact that I'm heartless, but just the simple fact that I understand how it all works, and I plan my days accordingly so that I can get more done.  I make sacrifices all the time like sleeping in parking lots where I don't have the conveniences of the truck stop just a short walk from my truck.  You have to do things like this to survive out here, and the truth is that the guys who get frustrated and angry with me understand this also.  They are usually more frustrated with themselves than they are with me because they realize they didn't make the necessary sacrifices that they should have and got outsmarted by a more savvy driver.  They understand that if I were to let them in there then I would end up waiting, but they are just hoping I haven't developed those "street smarts" yet.

I'm headed home for the weekend after I get unloaded here - I'm very excited about that prospect!  It is a strange way to earn a living, but somebody has got to move all this stuff across the country, and the American Truck Driver pays a great price so that his fellow citizens conveniently have their favorite brand of toilet paper right there on the shelf every time they want it.  I actually enjoy what I do, and I hope it comes through occasionally in this blog, but man I miss my family, my friends at church, and especially the beautiful and charming woman God gave me to walk through this pilgrimage with.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Entertaining Angels Unawares

I'm back in Delhi today.  This is the location of the SAPA plant that I am a dedicated driver for.  Most of my loads originate from this plant, with the exception of the back haul loads they find me to help pay for my return trips to this base of our operations.  After delivering all six of my stops on that last load I carried up to Connecticut I took a back haul load out of the Cressona, Pennsylvania SAPA plat that had three stops in Tennessee.  Then they deadheaded me back to Delhi.  On that six stopper up to Connecticut I was very fortunate to get it all done, and my dispatcher even sent me an email that said this:  "Awesome job man!  I don't know how you do it, there's not another driver here who I could count on to get that done like you did.  And on top of that you did it all without calling me and griping and complaining that we are putting way too much on you - I owe you a favor big time!"  Okay, I'm not trying to brag on myself, but I get these little messages all the time.  This guy thinks I'm exceptional, but he doesn't realize how much help I receive.  I am convinced that "the everlasting arms are underneath me" as I criss-cross the country in this big rig.

Can I relate a story about this very trip that blessed me?  I may seem silly to you, but here it goes:  I was moving right along on that last load and was thinking I was conscious that it was going extraordinarily well for all things considered when travelling in these Northeast parts of the country - the traffic up here is incredible and the towns were definitely not designed for maneuvering a tractor trailer with a fifty three foot trailer on it.  When the fork lift operator unloaded that last piece at my final stop I handed him my paperwork so he could sign off on it.  I've been here several times, and it is always the same fork lift operator, a friendly fellow named Jose.  I recognized him, but he wasn't acting as friendly as he usually does.  When he signed my paperwork he signed it as "Gabriel."  He noticed me looking at his signature with a curious look, and he smiled and said "is something wrong?"  I looked at him and said "I thought your name was Jose."  He laughingly replied "Jose is my twin brother.  He works the day shift, I am the fork lift operator on the second shift."  You see I had already been thinking about angelic help when everything was going so well on this load, and then my last stop gets signed off by "Gabriel!"  Usually I am at this location early in the day, and I had no idea that Jose had a twin brother who worked here later in the day.

I'm picking up a load here tonight that goes to Corpus Christi, TX.  I will have to drive all through the night tonight with it, because this customer always insists on us being there at seven in the morning the following morning after the trailer is loaded.  They never get it ready until the end of the day at the plant, so the driver has to make sure he has enough available hours to run this load through the night.  This load is designed to get me to Texas so that when I'm done with it I can go home for a brief visit.  My home visits are brief, but that is by my own choice.  I don't want to sound as if I am mercenary, but I am trying to be as financially successful at this job as I can be.  Truck driving is a completely performance based job.  The movers and shakers are the ones that make the best money.  A big, and unusual, advantage of this particular job is that I get about four days off at Thanksgiving, and I can take quite a bit of time off at Christmas time if I want to because the SAPA plant is actually closed for maintenance and upkeep to the equipment during that time.  There are very few trucking jobs that will allow you to take a couple of weeks off like that, so I keep my visits at home brief, but look forward to that stay with my family at the end of the year.

Well, I need to lay down and rest now so that I can be well rested for tonight's "all nighter."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

So What's A Truck Driver To Do?

I'm in Pennsauken, Pennsylvania tonight parked in the parking lot of CED Electrical distributors, waiting on them to get here in the morning to unload the materials I have for them on this load.  This is my second of six stops on this load.  The following stops are all in Connecticut.  This load was not ready to go until late Tuesday night in Delhi.  I left out with it at around 10:30 p.m.  I drove all through the nights on Tuesday and Wednesday so that I could arrive in Riverdale, New Jersey Thursday morning.  When I set my air brakes at the back of the building where they unload me here, I had one minute left on my legal driving hours for that day!  Talk about cutting it close, you can't get any closer than that!

I had to drive like a crazy man to make this load work out,  If I didn't get that stuff to Riverdale by Thursday morning I was not going to have time to get the rest of the stops made by Friday.  If I can't get unloaded by Friday... well, I'm stuck up here for the weekend waiting on folks to get back to work on Monday.  The craziest part about this scenario is that after getting to Riverdale my time of driving was completely used up, so once I got unloaded there, I had to take a ten hour break before I could drive again.  Then it was only about an hour and a half drive to Pennsauken, but by the time I can get there they are closed for the day so I have to take another ten hour break until the morning comes rushing in.  So, here I am taking my second ten hour break.  These ten hour breaks are for you to sleep and get rested up for your next lengthy driving period, but two of them almost back to back?  What's a driver to do with all that free time on his hands?  Well, he could just take a little walk and enjoy the sights of the season in the area he is for the day, and that is what I did.  So, I will proceed to share with you how my day was spent today.

I took a walk in a nearby wood where I discovered a small babbling brook...

I discovered a pair of snakes in an amorous moment together on a rock.  What are snakes doing out here in New Jersey on October the twenty ninth?

I enjoyed the beautiful fall foliage in a nearby neighborhood...

I enjoyed the crunching of the leaves under my feet...

I enjoyed the foliage and the unique architecture of a small neighborhood that I walked through...

I enjoyed the solitude of a pleasantly situated park bench...

Then I followed the brook back to where my truck was waiting for me...

Then I rested so I could get back at it and drive over here to Pennsauken.  I'll try to jump back in here in a few days and keep you updated.  I'm working on getting myself home so I can see my beautiful bride... after thirty something years, she still seems like a young bride to me.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Driving A Truck In The Winter

Tonight I'm sleeping in Delhi, Louisiana.  I spent yesterday at a truck stop in Niota, Tennessee after driving through the night.  I drove through the night last night to get to Delhi this morning.  I was hoping they would have a load for me today, but things have slowed a bit at the plant so I got a nice break today.

Remember what I told you about calling my dispatcher and picking up the return materials from Stanley because the original plan they had for my back haul load was only one bundle?  Well, I showed you what my load looked like after I picked up the returns from Stanley, but here is the single bundle of material that I had to get a fork lift at the SAPA plant to move to another trailer for me.  This is what I hauled all the way back from Cressona, Pennsylvania to Delhi.

Looks a little lonely back there for that long ride doesn't it?  The other returns had to be taken to the plant in Cressona, but this one bundle needed to go back to Delhi.

I was telling you in my last post how the beautiful foliage only served to remind me that winter is coming.  I'm not afraid of driving in the inclement weather, I've actually done quite a bit of it.  The worst thing about the winter is working out in the elements.  There is nothing quite like having to lay out your tarps on the ground when there is 18 inches of snow on the ground and it's 5 below zero with a fierce wind howling in your ears.  Do you remember this photo of me folding my tarps in a snow storm up in Syracuse, New York?

That is by far the toughest part of this job - doing the physical work that is required out in the weather.  Those tarps weigh about 135 pounds, but in the winter when they are covered with ice and snow it is sometimes nothing short of a miracle that I can get them up onto my trailer from the ground.  I actually like physical work which is one of the reasons I chose to be a flat bed driver, but I have to admit the winter is a challenge, and I am not quite a young man anymore.

Here's a few more winter scenes to give you an idea of what it gets like out here, but remember, our customers still need their freight, and often times on this dedicated account our company gets charged back for holding up the progress of a factory where we are supposed to be making our deliveries on time or else it shuts down the production lines in the factory.  They call these loads JIT loads (Just In Time).

Here's a shot of the Stanley Plant in Farmington, Connecticut that I go to all the time.  This is part of the parking lot and driveway that I just backed my truck down about 100 yards into the area where the fork lift unloads me.  The snow is so deep that you can't even tell where the curbs are or where the edge of the pavement is.  That was a challenging day.  I don't know if you remember the historical record setting snow they had in Buffalo, New York this past winter, but this picture was taken on that day.  Yes, I was up there driving through that record setting snow storm.

Winter has it's challenges, but we just have to take it as it comes.  I've been thinking about this job I have now doing this dedicated driving for SAPA and it actually takes some of the most difficult parts of the winter out of the equation.  Of course I've still got to drive in this mess, but much of the tarping that we do is done inside the buildings at the various plants.  That is some nice relief from the elements that "Old Man Winter" throws at us.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Enjoying The View While "Gitting 'er Done"

I slept last night at the SAPA plant in Cressona, Pennsylvania.  I've had such an enjoyable and successful week this week that I've decided to take a little break here at Cressona.  One of the nice things about this job is that you can manage it as you like.  If you are a really hard worker you can make a decent living at this, and there are many that do.  On the other hand, if you don't make good decisions about how to conduct yourself out here on the road, you may suffer the economic woes of the lazy and unmotivated.  I meet truck drivers all the time who complain that they can't make a living at this, and yet when you ask them a few questions they will tell you they've been at it for fifteen years or so.  I don't get it.

It is a difficult job, fraught with problems not found in other lines of employment.  The foremost difficulty is having to be separated from your family.  What is puzzling to me is that most of the unsuccessful drivers I speak to don't really even have a family, they are loners.  They chose this occupation because they don't enjoy being around other people, yet they still can't seem to make it work.  It is a job that requires a lot of sacrifice.  You have to be willing to flip flop your nights and days at a moments notice, and you have to be able to recognize on your own initiative when this is necessary to make things work out properly.  Nobody holds your hand out here, it takes a hard working person with initiative and a desire to succeed to make it worthwhile.  My background of many years of self employment has been a really great foundation for my success at this new career.

Enough of my rambling thoughts about this career, back to the fact that I'm taking a break here at Cressona.  First let me tell you how I ended up here.  I already had a back haul load dispatched to me.  I was picking up some return materials from Permasteel in Windsor, Connecticut.  When I got there it was one bundle of material weighting only 800 pounds.  That is a very small load to use up all that fuel taking it all the way back to Louisiana.  So I called my dispatcher and let him know that while I was unloading at Stanley, (our very large customer, to whom I'm always running up here to Connecticut) I noticed they had at least a full truck load of return materials sitting on the ground waiting for us to pick them up.  So, together we made a plan.  We would go pick up the Stanley materials and deliver them to the SAPA plant in Cressona.  While there, we would have them off load the one bundle of material from Permasteel, which has to go to Louisiana, and put it onto one of our empty Conestoga trailers sitting at the plant in Cressona.  That way we get an extra load out of this, plus we get to retrieve one of our Conestogas and get it back to Louisiana.  It absolutely makes no difference in what I get paid, but it made a huge difference in what the company can charge for this trip, plus it got one of those nice trailers back down to our plant so that we can have the benefit of it.  This kind of thinking goes a long way toward helping you be recognized as a top tier driver.  I still pretty much ran the same amount of miles, which is why I say it didn't make any difference in my pay, but it was a much more efficient way to manage what needed to be done to serve our customers, and our company's need to operate in a profitable way.

So, after switching trailers at Cressona I started studying my available hours and realizing that I'm not going to have another load down in Louisiana until Monday, it just made sense to put in a 34 hour break here at Cressona, and reset my seventy hour clock while enjoying my time taking a little break in this quaint little town.  Then I can drive through the night on both Saturday and Sunday nights which will put me back in Delhi, Louisiana early Monday morning giving me time to take my required ten hour break before I take off with my next load.  They won't have my load ready until the end of the work day Monday so that all works out like clock work!  I can get on that load with a full set of hours before me so that I can do some good with it.  This is how we have to think ahead, and plan our days, so that we can serve our customers and stay within the regulations that our governmental overseers have decided we need.  Incidentally, I do not blame the over reaching governmental bodies exclusively for their intrusion into our business - there is a long history of truck drivers not policing themselves and going to dangerous extremes to chase after another dollar.  We have brought much of the restrictions we work under on ourselves.

Man this post is getting long winded and headed off into a direction that was totally unplanned.  Let me try to return to what I wanted to share with you today.  I wanted to show you some of the beautiful sights I have seen in the last few days.  When I woke up in Riverdale, New Jersey at around 4:30 a.m. I started getting my load untarped and ready for the fork lift operator who would be there at about five.  By six a.m. I was unloaded and ready to roll.  Here is the sight of the early morning light that I started driving under.

I got all my deliveries made that day, picked up my back haul at Permasteel, and after making that new plan to pick up the returns at Stanley I spent the night at a truck stop near the Stanley plant.  This all put me a day ahead of my original schedule which allowed me a little free time the next day to get my work done and take the time to get a few photos of some of the fall foliage up here in the Northeast.  Now, after all that, I have finally gotten to my original intent for this post - to share with you some of the sights I've seen this week.  Here is what things are looking like up here this week.

It is a beautiful time up here right now, but the beauty has a foreboding effect - it only indicates that Winter is marching on, and cannot be stopped.  That will be the subject of my next post, Winter time for the truck driver.

One more picture for you.  Here is my truck after getting the returns from Stanley loaded.  Excuse the slight intrusion of my finger into the photo, but I just wanted to show you what these return loads look like.  This one is actually pretty clean, but they are always a little "higgledy, piggledy" they way they are loaded.  I have to be careful and get them secured well, because sometimes the individual pieces will vibrate loose as I'm going down the interstate.  I stop and check these loads fairly often to make sure everything is staying in place.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

It Was A Rogers And Hammerstein Kind Of Day

"Oh, what a beautiful morning,
Oh, what a beautiful day!
I've got a wonderful feeling,
Everything's going my way!"

Those words come from the opening number in the classic musical "Oklahoma," composed by the dynamic duo, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II.  If you're curious why I know all this seemingly useless information it is because over the years my daughters and their cousin Kassie have watched this musical enough times for me to have almost the entire thing memorized.

I left Greeneville, Tennessee early this morning and was witness to a beautiful sunrise while being refreshed by the 38 degrees cool fresh morning air.  The air had just enough "bite" in it to quicken your senses.  It made for a great start to a really successful day.  I couldn't help but think of those words from "Oklahoma" as I was getting started this morning.  Tonight I am sleeping in Riverdale, New Jersey on my customer's property.  I have three locations to deliver to tomorrow.  The other two are in Connecticut, but because I was able to make it all the way here tonight, I can get unloaded here first thing in the morning and then get on over to Connecticut and get those two customers tended to.  This should set me up so that I have enough time to go and pick up some return materials from Permasteel tomorrow also.  That will constitute my back haul load to Delhi.

It seemed like it was just a few weeks ago when I was thinking of some other words from that same song as I traveled through some of the Midwest states: "The corn is as high as an elephant's eye..."  Yep, the corn was up high back then, but now it has been harvested and the stalks have been gently plowed back into the soil where they will return to dust and feed the next crop.

Life marches on following the steady rhythm of an unseen hand.  It is a faithful testament that we are not our own masters.  I drove along under a beautiful clear sky today just thinking of and longing for that one day when that unseen hand, which "holds all things together," will rend the skies, and open up for us a door into heaven.  We will be forever with Him, enjoying Him forever.  As beautiful and wonderful as my day was today, it will pale into an unrecognizable pleasure when compared to the great day that is coming.  There will be music that causes Rogers and Hammerstein to blush with shame and bow their faces to the ground on that day.  We will be free from the restraints of time, the demands of schedules, and the tyranny of life as we know it now.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Trying To Be The Best You Can Be

Last night I arrived at the terminal in Gulfport, Mississippi.  After spending the night in my truck, I awoke and worked on doing my laundry inside the terminal.  It is nice doing my laundry at a terminal because it is free.  I guess I sound like a cheapskate, but everything seems to cost so much out here on the road that it is always pleasant to find a good value here and there.  I tried an unfamiliar, but nearby restaurant for lunch today (The Rusty Pelican) and was pleasantly surprised that although it is a Seafood Restaurant, they also had some Asian foods on the menu.  Apparently it is owned and operated by an Asian family.  I tried their Pho, and it was deliciously satisfying.  The diet that I am trying to keep myself on involves eating a very limited caloric intake for breakfast and supper but allowing myself to eat whatever I wish for lunch.  It seems to be working, albeit very slowly.  The thing about it is that it is something that I can maintain with relative ease out here on the road. Sometimes my schedule is so crazy that I get messed up, but I don't try to be excessively rigid about it.

Since I am in the SAPA division, a limited group of specialized drivers exclusively for the SAPA account, we do not make it to the terminal in Gulfport very often.  All the other drivers from this terminal have their dispatchers working right here at the terminal - ours is located at the SAPA plant in Delhi, Louisiana.  So we often don't even hear any of the internal news, or even see the company newsletter that is always posted on the wall in the drivers lounge area with all types of other pertinent information that the drivers may need to know.  I was surprised to see my name as the top driver for fuel mileage during the second quarter of this year.  No one had mentioned it to me, so it was a surprise.  The surprise was dampened some by the fact that I shared that honor with my friend Paul Anderson, whose numbers were identical to mine.  Paul is a great friend and a great competitor in this business.  I tell people all the time how this job is competitive, but many of the drivers don't really understand that.  Those who can stay at the top of the lists of drivers that management is studying will continue to be the drivers who are awarded the best loads and treated with the most respect when something comes up that they may need some special consideration on.  Paul and I got to know each other through the Trucking Truth website, and it is he who initially invited me to come over and try working for Knight on this special flat-bed account.  Here is the chart showing our mileage numbers - this chart shows the top ten persons from this terminal.

It is worth noting here that the SAPA drivers are notoriously absent from any of these measurements that make a driver stand out in the crowd.  Howard, our Safety director has continually asked Paul and I what it is that we are doing so that he can try to teach some of the other drivers in our group how to improve their performance.  Also note that the top fuel mileage was 7.29 miles per gallon.  Doesn't sound like much does it?  That is actually very good for these big trucks, and even though it pales to what you can get in a modern day car, it is still the most economical way to move goods across the country.  We have to practice certain strategies when driving to get our numbers up that high.  The problem with most drivers is that they just don't care, or are in too big a hurry to think about the smaller details that can make them more successful.  Paul and I were two out of only four drivers who received a recent increase in our pay.  Pay raises do not come around just because of your years of service in this business, but are based strictly on your performance as a profitable member of the team.

It's not easy to maintain a position at the top, and the next quarter you may not see any of the same names that are on this list on the next one.  There are some variables that are beyond our control, such as the average weight of your loads for that quarter, or perhaps where you were driving.  Mountainous terrain will definitely decrease your mileage.  I was fortunate to keep up with Paul, because he typically runs in a much flatter part of the country than I do.  He volunteered to take my run up into Connecticut last month one time, and afterwards he told Jason, our dispatcher, to remind him the next time he agreed to do that to "slap him," so that he would be reminded of just how difficult it is.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Good Times Up North, But Headed Back South Now.

Everything went so well for me the other day in Connecticut that I got all my deliveries made and then even made it up into Amesbury, Massachusetts for my final stop on that load.  That put me a day ahead of schedule.  I make all my own appointments with these loads, but I managed to get that one in there on the day before we had agreed on the appointment.  They were happy, and I was too, so it was a win win situation.  My next load was picked up in Cressona, PA at the SAPA plant and it was bound for Unicoi, TN in the Smoky Mountains.

I took a picture of this load after I backed it up into the "tarping station" inside the plant.  A tarping station is a safety feature at some plants that is supposed to keep you from falling off your trailer while covering your load with your tarps.  It is not easy backing a 53 foot long trailer into one of these things.  There is literally two or three inches of clearance on either side to get it in there.  I took this shot standing on the back platform at the rear of my trailer - you can see my grey tractor up at the other end of my trailer.

The fall foliage has been nice this trip, but it still isn't quite at it's peak.  I saw a lot of very lovely spots, but I just can't really pull over and take photos like a tourist.  It just isn't safe to stop and park on the side of the road in a Big Rig, and many of the scenic overlooks don't allow trucks in them.  But when I was stopped at a few of the places that I went to I took a few shots of what I could see.

Today I made my delivery in Unicoi, and now I am spending the night just outside of Asheville, North Carolina.  I'm on my way to Gulfport, Mississippi to our terminal there to have my truck serviced - that means oil and filter changed and general maintenance stuff like that.  After that it is back to Delhi for my next "marching orders."

I really only got one opportunity to take a photo while I was in the "Smokies" today, and it isn't the best photo, but here it is anyways.  I saw some beautiful scenery today, and it has been a very pleasant drive through here, but I just didn't need to be stopping unnecessarily for photo ops.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

One For The Gipper

Tonight many other truck drivers and I are crammed into the Pilot truck stop in Milford, Connecticut. Parking a big truck in the Northeast is always challenging.  There just simply isn't enough parking to go around for all the trucks up here.  I got here about 7:30 this evening, which is exactly how my plan was put together.  I shared those thoughts on managing my time with you in the last post to illustrate how important it is, and this illustrates how it works.  See, now I need to leave here about 5:30 a.m. to get on over to Deep River, Connecticut for my first delivery which is scheduled for 7:00 a.m. tomorrow, but I have to put in a ten hour break before the government regulations will allow me to drive again.  How's your math?  Did you catch how my plan is coming together?  If I arrive here at 7:30 p.m. - then take ten hours off - I can depart at 5:30 a.m. It's perfectly executed, but I had to figure all that stuff out long before I ever left Louisiana.  I had even put in a two hour cushion for stuff that might go wrong, and I used every bit of the buffer due to a multiple car accident on I-81 in Virginia that delayed me, and I took a circuitous route into New York by going North on I-287 and crossing over the Tappan Zee Bridge rather than facing all the traffic at the George Washington Bridge.  A well executed plan is always rewarding!  There are some days that I think God just laughs at me though, because sometimes with all the diligent careful planning I do I can't get anything to go right.  There are a lot of things about this job that are out of the drivers control.

I spent my last sleeping period in Lexington, Virginia at a T/A truck stop.  I've been there several times, but I took a few pictures of the view from the truck parking lot for you to see just how beautiful it is there.  In one of the photos you will notice a brightly colored red tree.  Some of the trees in this area have already begun to show their fall colors.  I'm hoping to see more of this as I get on up into Massachusetts.

When I got here tonight I took a little walk and then popped into my favorite little restaurant here, Gipper's, for a bowl of soup.  I call it a restaurant, but it actually is a sport's bar - imagine that, me frequenting a bar!  I don't even drink a drop.  They make the finest bowl of French onion soup here that I have ever tasted.  It is definitely a homemade broth that they produce and it is really delicious.  I have been eating this soup here for quite some time, and it has never disappointed!  So, there's a tip for you, if you're ever in Milford, CT, make sure and stop in at Gipper's and get yourself a bowl of the French Onion Soup!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Obeying The Rules, and Good Time Management

Time management is critical to this job.  It's crazy how many folks who are out here don't really even understand the rules and regulations that we are governed by.  My dispatcher has asked me several times if I would teach a class to the other drivers on our fleet so that they could learn to work their clock the way I do.  I'm flattered, but to be honest with you it's third grade math stuff.  The hardest part about it all is the discipline it takes to make yourself sleep when you need to, so that you can drive when you have to.  I've done this run up into Connecticut so many times that I have it down - my dispatcher says I have it "dialed in."  I'm not exactly sure what that means, but he sure is happy about it!  It basically takes 24 hours of driving time to get there from Delhi.  I drove all night last night (8 hours) to get myself to Rising Fawn, GA where I am now taking a ten hour break before I start driving again.

We are allowed to drive 11 hours per day, but it has to be done within a 14 hour window.  Once that 14 hour window has passed you can still work, or be on duty doing things like tarping a load or getting your truck unloaded, etc., but you can no longer drive.  I will often times make this jaunt up into the Northeast by running two straight days at ten hours a day of driving, and then finish the trip with four hours of driving.  That allows me time to get unloaded (usually a couple of hours) and then get myself back down to Cressona, PA where I will pick up my back haul load.  Of course all this is determined by what time of the day you can get away from Delhi, because that will determine what time you arrive in the Northeast.  You also have to calculate crossing the time lines in the various parts of the country.  Your time of driving is always calculated off of the time zone of your home terminal location for the record keeping, but you have got to make sure you get to your destination based on their time zone.

On this particular run I couldn't leave when I wanted to because I was forced by the rules to take a 34 hour break before I could start driving again.  That meant I could not leave until somewhere around nine o'clock at night.  If I ran the load like I usually do that would put me there at the wrong time of the day to get unloaded.  So, I had to come up with a different way to do it.  This time I am running up there by driving eight hours per day for three days with ten hour breaks in between each driving period.  That puts me there Tuesday night with just enough time to get my ten hour break in so that I can start working again first thing Wednesday morning.  That way I can make all three of my deliveries in Connecticut and hopefully still have enough time to get myself up to Amesbury, Massachusetts for a ten hour break before my Thursday morning delivery there.  By doing it that way, I will have enough driving time to get myself back to Cressona, PA for my back haul.  We have to think about this stuff sometimes three or four days in advance so that it will all work out efficiently.

That fourteen hour window is not the only restrictive barrier we face.  We also have a rule that states we can't drive if we exceed 70 hours of on duty hours during an eight day period.  That is what I was up against - I had already worked seventy hours in about six days, so I could not continue driving even though they had a load ready for me to take off with on Saturday.  I had to wait out the 34 hour break, which resets that seventy hour clock to zero.  In days past, when truck drivers kept a paper log book, they lied all the time about their hours, and it was a constant struggle for the D.O.T. officers to try and decipher the logs and figure out ways to prove the truck driver was cheating the rules.  Now everything is kept up with electronically - if that truck is rolling it is being recorded on your "electronic logs."  Not that I would want to, but it is no longer a viable option to do "creative writing" of your log records.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Looking For Some Nice Fall Foliage

I'm back in Delhi, Louisiana tonight getting ready for my next run.  I've actually already got it hooked to my truck. I'm heading up to Connecticut.  I will have three different stops in Connecticut, and then one final stop up in the far Northeast corner of Massachusetts, in the small town of Amesbury.

I have already worked seventy hours in six days, and the official powers that regulate us truck drivers insist that I am too tired now to work anymore, it's ridiculous, but you don't have much choice but to obey Caesar.  So, I am taking a 34 hour break which is the regulators remedy for an over worked truck driver.  We used to have to include two time periods between 1 am and 5 am in that thirty four hour break, which really made it restrictive.  Fortunately congress challenged the Transportation Department over this and suspended that portion of the new rules until they can present some good solid scientific evidence that would support their assertion that those two time periods will enhance ones rest and recovery from working.

I'm hoping to see some nice Fall colors in the trees when I get up there into the Northeast corner of the country.  If I do I will be sure and take a few pictures so that I can share them with all three of you who bother to read this little vignette of a truck drivers wanderings and thoughts.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Some Days This Job Stinks!

"Living on the road my friend,
was gonna keep you free and clean.
Now you wear your skin like iron,
and your breath is hard as kerosene."

                            -Willie Nelson

Those lyrics, if I even have them correct, come from a distant memory I have of a song called "Pancho and Lefty" about two bandits living on the road.

Life on the road is not easy.  Many truck drivers that I come across do not take the best care of themselves, and I am learning that it is very easy to gain weight out here if you do not take determined steps to avoid that problem.  Some of them don't even bathe regularly.  It's frustrating being relegated to public facilities all the time, but you still have to do what you can to keep from being a "stinker!"

Not too long ago I was sitting in a drivers lounge at a truck stop - I wasn't really interested in watching the T.V., but sometimes you just need to get out of and away from that truck for a little while.  It was bad weather that day, so I went inside and just sat down a while in there.  Pretty soon a very bad odor was almost choking me.  I mean it reminded me of trips I have taken to the public garbage dump in my home town.  It was pungent, strong, and offensive to my olfactory senses.  Turns out it was the truck driver who had sat down on the chair behind me.  I had to get up and leave the room.  Later in the day I returned and he showed up again a few minutes after I had settled in, with the same disastrous results.  I know it is hard to get a shower every day when you are out here doing this job, but anybody can manage to get two or three showers a week if they want to.  We get the showers for free because the truck stops issue us credits for the showers based on the fuel purchases we make.  So, there is no actual cost to the driver.  I have often times given showers to the homeless folks I see begging for money or food at the truck stops.  They always appreciate it, and I'm happy to share my credits with them.  They need a shower more than they need another bottle of beer, and at least this way I know what they are doing with my meager generosity.

Another foul odor is the public restrooms at the truck stops, I have no idea about the ladies room, but 98% of the men's rooms smell atrociously.  My friend Daniel B. says it is because truck drivers have such a poor diet.  He told me once that if he has extra shower credits he will sometimes use a shower credit just to go in there to that private room, which gets a good cleaning after each individual use, just so he can relieve himself in there without having to endure the stench of the restroom.  I've never gone that far to avoid the foul smell, but it is bad enough at times to make me think about it.

Even the parking lots of most truck stops stink like stale urine... I'll leave that to your own imagination, but trust me it is bad in the heat of the summer.

Just the other day I was working on putting my tarps onto a load of aluminum from Delhi and I kept smelling a bad smell like old stale sweaty body odor, almost locker room like.  I was scolding myself inwardly for becoming like so many of the truck drivers that I despise, but after I got through with the job and sat down in my truck with the A/C going I noticed right away that I didn't smell the odor anymore.  After a brief investigation it turned out that the leather gloves I was wearing were the culprits.  I guess they have soaked up enough sweat in them that they are starting to stink.  I discarded them and started out with a new pair, I guess it was time.

You don't even want to hear about what it is like to try to sleep in your truck on a hot summer night when one of those "cattle trucks" parks next to you at the truck stop... that is a stench that is really invasive.

Well, I always look forward to my time at home with my good smelling wife, in our tidy little house.  Some days I look forward to it more than others, and maybe this post will give you a little understanding of why I feel that way.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Gringos, Grackles, Gators, and Geckos

It's pretty amazing how much "stuff" you see when living on the road.  I've heard it said it is is like living three lifetimes.

I'm sleeping tonight in Shepherdsville, Kentucky.  I'm on my way to Indianapolis.  Lately I've had a lot more variety in my loads - I just finished working my way from Florida over to South Texas. and then I was sent right back to Florida.  Then I cam from there to Delhi, Louisiana, and from there up to Indianapolis.  Then I will dead-head back and find out what is next.

While I was down in San Benito, Texas recently I had to spend the day there because I had driven all through the night to get there on time, which left me having to take a ten hour break there before I could drive anymore.  I took a nice walk in town and found a place to eat lunch.  I walked in and out of a few little stores down there and was, in general, just killing some time.  I also slept some, but as the evening approached and it was getting close to the time I could leave I got out of my truck to take another walk before I started driving,  There was an eery Hitchcock like feel to the evening due to hundreds or maybe thousands of Grackles making their discomfiting noises in the tops of the trees. These birds can make some weird noises and when there is a multitude of them all growling, squawking, whistling, and screeching (which are the best ways I know to describe their vocal antics) it is reminiscent of that first scary viewing I had as a child of that classic Hitchcock film, "The Birds."

I'm not sure why there is such an abundance of these feathered fiends in the southern parts of Texas, but I was warily looking at them in the tops of the trees while walking around uneasily expecting at any moment an ornithological bombardment of unusually uncharacteristic proportions.

I had just left Florida, where I saw my old acquaintance the friendly gator at PGT industries in Nokomis, and here I was in South Texas surrounded in a surreal horror film like setting that was almost inescapable, even within the confines of my truck the noise was disturbingly intrusive.

Also while in Florida I was taking a walk in a particularly shady area where I saw hundreds of little Geckos running about in great bursts of speed like little flashes of lightning darting all over the place - it was an amazing sight, but I couldn't get a picture - they were just moving too fast!

I guess by now you are wondering why I put the word "Gringos" in the title of this little post - I put it there to represent the one thing I did not see while in San Benito.  I probably saw at least two or three hundred people while I was spending the day there, and except for one fellow in the KFC, where I had my lunch, I was the only Gringo I noticed.  I thought I had slipped across the border for a few moments, but I was confused, it was all the other folks who had slipped across the border!  I was in Texas, but it sure didn't feel like Texas!

One more crazy thing I saw this week - I was over in South Carolina as I was going back from Texas to Florida and due to the record flooding over there this week I had to take some back roads to get myself down into Savannah, Georgia where I had a stop to make.  I was cruising along on some little state highway when I noticed an older, but very large and stately home off in the distance to my right, almost like an old plantation style home.  I was looking at it admiringly when in the pastures on the property I start seeing camels!  Yes, I saw some camels just meandering around the pastures of this old property.  That is just weird, no Gringos in a south Texas town, and camels in a South Carolina pasture.  I just don't know what the world is coming to.  Perhaps if we get a new president in the upcoming election year he can figure out how to send the illegals back across the border, and the camels back across the oceans.

One last thing - I spotted this sign over the doors of a restaurant just south of Jackson, Mississippi.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

One Misty, Moisty, Morning When...

I'm patiently sitting and waiting in Tallapoosa, GA at the Newborn Truck Stop. I've been here two nights and I planned on leaving this morning, but I am still waiting... waiting on “Joaquin”... the tropical storm which has caused such massive flash flooding in South Carolina. You see, I've got a load of aluminum extrusions, the bulk of it goes to Nokomis, Florida, but I need to stop in Duncan, SC and Savannah, GA to drop off a few pieces to some customers in those towns. It is a “Misty, Moisty, Morning here in Tallapoosa, and it has been that way ever since I got here. The air is so thick with moisture that you can't even take the short walk from your truck to go inside the building of the truck stop without looking like you just walked through a rain shower. The air is that thick with moisture.

Just last week I was in Florida, at Tampa Bay. I picked up some aluminum logs at the Port of Manatee on the bay. I ran those over to a SAPA plant in Gainesville, GA and then made my way back to Delhi, LA where I grabbed a load that went to San Benito, and Corpus Christi, TX. Now I'm sort of backtracking that same route. When I emptied at Corpus I went home for a couple of nights and then when I went back to Delhi they had this load for me going right back to Florida. I'm starting to get a little more variety in my loads, and it is a welcome break from the monotony of constantly just running back and forth to Connecticut. I really do enjoy that Connecticut run, and it is nice that we have such a good customer up that way who is constantly needing us to bring them more product. That customer is extremely picky about the quality of what we produce, and they have proven to be very particular about the drivers who deliver to them also. The people in management at both SAPA and Knight Transportation have both spoken to me and said that the manager up there has requested me to be the driver on several different occasions. I think he just likes the fact that I will communicate with him my progress, and keep him updated on my ETA. It is kind of nice having someone contact my company and tell them how great a job I'm doing, and the folks at SAPA even told me that I had saved their contract with those guys because of the fact that I was always managing to get there on time no matter what the weather was throwing my way. One of them even said that I had set a new standard for that particular run.

We have a lot of new drivers on our fleet now. Truck drivers are always thinking they see some greener grass somewhere and jumping from one job to the other. Did you know that the industry reports an almost 100% turn-over rate in it's employment figures. Most of that comes from job-hopping after more pay and or better benefits. My driver manager keeps telling me that I am the best driver he has, and he treats me really well because of that. I think he has been getting some of the new drivers that are starting to get the hang of things around here to take that run up into Connecticut just to see how they handle it while the weather isn't so bad. I know he would like to have some others that he can count on to do that when it is needed. Our plant usually puts out three or four full truck loads a week that go to that customer alone.

I can't remember if I've shared this before, but there were a couple of drivers who were complaining to our dispatcher (this is the same person I refer to as my Driver Manager) that they weren't getting enough miles, and they had heard some rumors that I was getting over three thousand miles a week. They wanted to know why there was such a disparity between what I was doing and what they were doing. So my dispatcher agreed to let them try and make some more money. When they found that they would have to go to Connecticut they didn't want any part of it! Truck drivers are a funny group of people, some of them get so jealous if they think you are doing well at it, but then when they find out what you do to get to that level of performance they lose all interest in the game. I'm sure when that snow gets up around two and three feet deep I'll be the “go to guy” again for those trips up to the Northeast.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Whatcha Having BooBoo?

Okay, so one of the strange things about this lifestyle of being an over the road truck driver is eating in these little diners all across the country.  The waitresses all call you "hon," or "sweetie," or some such nonsense... I mean they don't even know you at all, and as best I can tell they are just trying to figure out the best angle to get you to leave a decent tip on the table for them.  Am I being too cynical?  Now I'm older than most of them, and usually their silly pet names for me only serve to make me feel like I'm some old guy who belongs in a nursing home - that's just me.  I know another truck driver who really likes for them to call him those silly little names, he says he thinks they really mean it when they say it, and it makes him feel good.  He is older than me, and he has had three failed marriages, maybe he needs such superficial attentions.  I can do without them myself, I'm just in for a meal, not any sort of companionship.

Recently I was in a little restaurant in Savannah, Georgia and the title that I gave to this post was the way my waitress greeted me.  She then proceeded to call me "BooBoo" for the rest of my very uncomfortable meal.  I guess I should just get over it, but it bothers me when people call me these silly names.  I'm kind of trying to lose a little weight right now, and am on a makeshift diet of my own creation.  Because of that I am eating out a little less.  I won't have to put up with as many waitresses that way, so maybe I won't mind it as much when they try to act like I'm their best friend.  Truck driving is a crazy way to live, and many of the drivers do seem to be real lonely.  I am careful about sitting at the lunch counter because you can bet another driver is going to saddle up next to you and start trying to bend your ear! I guess I am somewhat of a loner, I really just want to go inside the restaurant to relax, be away from the truck for a while and enjoy my solitude and my meal.

It's kind of funny because I really do enjoy hosting friends at my house for a meal at times.  I'm not anti-social by any means, but a meal for me is an intimate setting.  There is nothing more enjoyable than sitting around a delicious home cooked meal with close friends or family and enjoying each other's company while at the same time enjoying each other's food - it is one of life's simple pleasures.  I guess I abhor pretense, and when you come up to a total stranger and start calling them "BooBoo," as if you are very fond of them, then it grates against my sensibilities.

Sorry I haven't bee posting anything lately,,, I got a comment from Sarah recently saying I needed to post something because my "faithful readers" were missing me.  Ha Ha!  Those words "faithful readers" tickled me - I didn't know if anybody was reading my drivel, and I certainly wouldn't consider anyone a "faithful reader" of this completely unknown diary.  I've really been busy moving around, and I've been helping out a little on Trucking Truth.  Extra time is something I don't get a lot of, and lately I've just been trying to make sure I am well rested before I start my next driving shift.  I will try to get back into the habit of posting something here... for my "faithful readers" of course... all three of them!

I just left out of a port on Tampa Bay Florida with some aluminum logs that went to Gainesville, Georgia.  I am now in Delhi, Louisiana picking up a load of extrusions that are going to South Texas. My first stop will be in the border town of San Benito, and the second stop is in the coastal town of Corpus Christi.  After that I am going through Nacogdoches for a brief visit at home.  Last time I was home I had a nice lengthy stay, and I ordered some new glasses from my eye doctor.  This trip I will pick up my new glasses, and maybe I will be able to see what I'm doing now!

Friday, August 14, 2015

An Unexpected Interruption to Our Plans

I have landed myself in a really great position here at this current trucking company.  I am considered to be the top producer in this specialized fleet, and because of that I often get to pick and choose which loads I want to take.  When Abigail and I heard they had a load leaving out on Friday for Connecticut she was all excitement, so we agreed to take that one.  It was supposed to load on Friday. It didn't. Then on Saturday we fully expected to get rolling on our way up to Connecticut. Mid morning we got a call informing us that the load was being cancelled! That's trucking for ya! The only thing you can count on sometimes is that you can't count on anything! We were disappointed because I have got to get her back home by Friday of this week, and now it is going to be tough to do that with me not knowing where I will be going until Monday. Most of the time I have long runs and that is going to make it next to impossible to work the logistics out of getting her back home on time. So... we made the difficult decision to cut our time together short.

My dispatcher said he would share with me on Monday the list of loads that we had and I could write my own ticket to where I wanted to go - You've got to love this account I'm on! But, Abigail and I discussed it and decided we would go ahead and get her home now so that we don't run the risk of being late. I'm sitting in Delhi, Louisiana waiting on my next load, and that puts me about four hours from my home. We called my wife and she came and picked up Abigail so that she could get home. We still had this weekend together though while I was doing a reset. So, what do you do when you are taking a 34 hour break in a small town? Well... you can take your daughter to the local nail salon to get a pedicure...

Or you can walk around down town acting silly together and taking whacky pictures of each other to send to your friends on Snap Chat!

You can also go to your favorite little old fashioned "Soda Fountain" lunch counter in the old drug store down town for a really good old fashioned Hamburger and fries!

And you can also catch up on a few practical things like doing your laundry! Got to keep things in that truck ready for the next week ahead, you never know where you will be or what you will be facing. So when you get a break you need to prepare things so that you can take on the next week like a true professional!

Oh yeah, there was one other experience we enjoyed together.  When I got back down to Delhi my dispatcher wanted me to do him a favor and run a damaged trailer over to Monroe, Louisiana to a repair facility for him.  As I studied my available hours it looked like we would have enough time to stop by for one last special treat for Abigail by dining at Willie's Duck Diner in Monroe.

Here she is anticipating some of that good food we're about to eat while standing in the foyer waiting to be seated at our table.

We made a lot of memories while we were together on this trip, it was short, but sweet!  I love you Abigail!