Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Crazy Lifestyle of an Over The Road Truck Driver

Well, last weekend I made it home to give my little girl away at her wedding.  Earlier, the week before, my dispatcher asked me about making a run to Connecticut, and I took a chance by accepting the load, but I felt I could make it all work out so I could get back home to Texas in time for the wedding.  It was a close call, and if something would have gone wrong he was willing to get me a rent car to get home on time.  I took the chance, and it all worked out fine.  I got home on Friday night in time for the rehearsal and dinner, then on Saturday I poured my heart out into a song I had written for the wedding.  It was a bitter sweet day, but much more sweet than bitter.  We gained a son-in-law whom we love, and he gained a new wife and family at the same time.  Marriage is such a sweet union - I can say that with authority because I have been doubly blessed in my marriage.  My wife excels all the daughters of Israel, and her tender caring heart exceeds her beauty by ten fold - there is not a finer woman in this world!  Marriage is a union of three persons for the Christian, and that cord of three strands is not easily broken.

I stayed home until early Tuesday morning and then I set out for Delhi, Louisiana to get a load going down to Florida.  I went all the way down into Fort Lauderdale for the first stop on the load, and then over into Nokomis for the remainder of it.  While it rained on me most of the way to Fort Lauderdale, the rest of the trip was clear and beautiful.  I got a phone call from my friend Paul Anderson while I was at home - he was wondering where I was.  He got sent on the Connecticut run, a route that he does not enjoy, and he was wanting to know why I hadn't taken it.  While there is a curiosity and a jealousy among some of the other drivers as to why I keep getting these Connecticut loads, the truth is that most of them don't care for the run up there into the North East parts of the country.  I am sitting in Delhi today waiting for them to get this week's Connecticut load ready to roll.  My dispatcher called me while I was in Florida and asked me if I would do it.  He had already tried to give it to three different drivers who all refused it, and he knew that I was wanting to try and get home again next weekend for my youngest daughters home school graduation celebration party.  Once again it is going to be a tight schedule for me to get it all done in time to get home, but I will give it my best shot, and we will see how it all turns out.  I've got a plan to drive all night for the first two driving shifts on my way up there, and I think that will make the timing of it all come out right so that I can get unloaded on Tuesday, get a back haul load done and then get back to Delhi in time to get the scheduled load for Corpus Christi, which will send me over into Texas with hopefully enough free time to stop by the house on Sunday for this special occasion - we shall see if it works.

I mentioned in the last post about all the many different things one sees when doing this crazy job, so I am going to share with you some of the sights I've come across lately.  Keep in mind the things that I share with you are only a small amount of all the many interesting and/or beautiful or intriguing things I come across.  The problem is that I am not a tourist and I simply cannot just stop and take pictures of everything I come across.  I am usually hard pressed for time and have to keep things moving, but if I am stopped and have some daylight left I will try to get a few photos to share with you of the things that I come across.  So, here I go, with no certain order or progression with some interesting (at least to me) things I have seen of late.

Here is a load of really huge chains I saw on a truck at a truck stop in Dandridge, Tennessee.  Those things are massive!

Here is an intriguing guitar shop that I pass all the time.  It is at the border of Tennessee and Virginia on I-81.  The building itself is in the shape of a guitar!  The sound hole on the guitar is a big round window, and there is a stairwell at the butt end of the body going up to the second floor of the building.  The construction work is not of the highest quality, as I think you will be able to tell from the photo, but the idea or concept is certainly creative enough to make up for the fellow's lack of funding to really do it up right.

My good friend Daniel Babayev, a truck driver of Russian descent, who stalks me like crazy on the trucker tracker app at recently realized that we were both on the same interstate in Texas so he called me and we agreed to meet for lunch at "Whacko" TX.  Daniels English pronunciations are sometimes comical.  That would be Waco, TX for most of us.  And then when we ordered our meal he ordered a Tilapia fish dinner and pronounced it "Till-uh-pee-uh".  He's a good Christian friend, which is not easily come by in this industry.  Here we are at the I-Hop in "Whacko".

Several weeks back I stopped in at a truck stop called the Oasis Travel Center in Robertsdale, Alabama - exit 53 on I-10.  If memory doesn't fail me it is the last truck stop before crossing over into Florida from Alabama.  It was a convenient stopping point for me, and a billboard I had seen advertised the "Derailed Diner" was at the truck stop which featured an old railroad dining car as a dining room.  I was pleasantly surprised by the creative decorating at this facility.  The food was not all that impressive, but the decor was worth writing home about.  There was a mural on the wall of a school bus behind the lunch counter and the door of the bus was the swinging doors that the waitresses went in and out of the kitchen by.

You could do your own tailgating party inside since they had literally attached the back side of some antique pick-up trucks to the walls so that your table top was a real "tailgate".

Since the name of the diner was the "Derailed Diner", they had gone to the trouble and expense of making it appear that some old train had derailed and crashed into the building.

From the road this is the view you see, and I thought the dining car was where you would sit to eat.  

While you can eat inside that dining car, it is decorated more fancily than the rest of the rather eclectically designed restaurant.

I chose to sit at the lunch counter where there was a multitude of different types of seats you could choose from.  I chose the more traditional bar stool with a padded seat, but I could have chosen from anything from an airplane seat to a motorcycle or even a saddle!

The entire restaurant was filled with antique toys like die cast metal trucks, trains, and airplanes.  There were antique bicycles, horses from merry go-rounds and all manner of antique pieces, most of it having some relationship with the transportation business.

It seems like just about a month ago when I was up in the North East parts of the country I was seeing sights like this as the six foot deep snow began to slowly melt.

And then on a recent trip up there I came across this sight in someone's yard as I took a brief walk in Cressona Pennsylvania.

And then I also got to see the contrasting "Spanish Moss" that grows so heavily in the live oaks down in Florida.

Do you see what I mean about seeing so many different things when you basically live your life on the road all the time?  It is an over load for the senses at times.

One last thing.  I recently was taking a walk in Delhi, Louisiana while I was waiting on the folks at the plant to get a load ready for me, and I came upon this very old drug store - I think it may be the oldest continually in operation drug store in the country.  It was established in 1873!

I went inside to take a look around and I discovered an old fashioned soda fountain and lunch counter that was so appealing I decided to eat lunch in there.  The menu had a story about the gentleman who had founded the shop and it mostly talked about his Christian character and convictions.  The family still runs the store today with his convictions as the foundation for their success.

Sorry if I overloaded you with visual effects today, but now you get a little bit of an idea of what it's like to be continually on the road and seeing something new and intriguing every day.

I'd better take a rest now so that I can be ready to drive all night tonight.  I'll check in again when I have the time.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Reflections On An Anniversary

Hey there, sorry I haven't been in here lately, but to tell you the truth I have been just giving it all I've got here lately and I just have not forced myself to muster up the energy at the end of my work day to sit down and write any thing out.  My working hours have been so erratic of late that sometimes I'm working all night, and other times I'm starting at 3 a.m. and finishing up at 5 p.m.  I'm still enjoying what I do, and am having considerable success in this crazy career.

Today is exactly two years from the day that I was assigned a truck and made an official employee at Western Express, my first employer in the trucking industry.  What a ride it has been!

Just two years ago I was given the opportunity to prove myself as an over the road truck driver.  I was still trying to figure out how many wheels were on an eighteen wheeler when they handed me the keys to my very own truck, but I took off running and haven't turned back since.  I have criss-crossed this country I don't know how many times, and logged approximately 250,000 miles since I started.  I have traveled in all of the lower 48 states with the exception of Montana and Washington.  These days I mostly stay in the Eastern portions of the country running dedicated loads for SAPA aluminum.

The thing that stands out to me the most is the incredible diversity of things that one sees when they spend most of their time on the road.  It is like living three lifetimes in one.  Trucking is a pleasure to me, I enjoy the daily challenges of making everything work out right, and there is an element of it that requires you to be savvy enough to make things come out in your favor.  There are strategies that you learn and practice each day that help you to succeed.  Things like making sure that you are the first one in at a receiver so that you can get unloaded and on your way before they get too busy to handle you expeditiously.  There are sacrifices involved to do these kind of things, but I find that there is a small number of people out here willing to do it like I do so that makes your success come that much easier.

It is a competitive environment, and folks sometimes get there feathers ruffled, or sometimes unscrupulous folks will try and bluff you to get the advantage over you.  Here's an example: This load that I am parked at Beaver Dam, Kentucky with tonight was picked up at the SAPA plant in Cressona Pennsylvania.  They have a complicated system where you drive inside a very large building and hook up to your trailer which is pre-loaded for you and then you have to back into one of only two tarping stations to put your tarps on your load.  This is a safety feature which, when you are backed into these spots, provides safety platforms on each side of your truck so that you can not fall and sue them for damages.  You are not allowed to tarp your load without being backed into one of those two spots.  Problems occur in here because there may be eight or ten trucks in there all waiting to get into the tarping stations.  I'm always careful to make sure that I am paying attention so that I know when it is my turn.  Yesterday I put my truck into position so that I could be the next one in and I had to block others out so that they would not cut in front of me.  If you are not proactively aggressive like this you will never get your turn.  Well, as soon as one opens up I start backing into it only to be interrupted by some burly angry truck driver coming over and jumping up on the steps of my truck and screaming into my drivers window "Hey, there are other trucks ahead of you!"  Only I left out a few of the expletives he spiced up his complaints with.  So, I swung my door open, thereby forcing him off my truck steps and putting a little space between him and me.  Now, I wasn't interested in getting myself into a fight, but I also wasn't willing to give up my slot of time very easily to this fellow who I knew was trying to bluff me into letting him get ahead of me.  I probably would not have been so bold except for the fact that I had noticed a SAPA supervisor watching this whole ordeal, and he and I had already agreed that it was my turn to get in there.  He quickly stepped in and told the other fellow that he came in well after me and if he expected to keep getting loads out of their plant he would have to abide by the rules.  Well, as you can imagine, burly angry trucker dude was all politeness then as he quipped "Oh, my bad, I thought this was another guy, sorry."  Yeah, some days are just interesting like that.  I have heard truck driving described as "endless hours of pleasure, interrupted by moments of sheer terror."

That description of trucking reminds me of the time in Colorado when I was travelling down the interstate on a beautiful clear day and a little old lady in a Subaru wagon is slowly passing me on the left when all of a sudden something goes wrong and she starts doing three sixties in the highway.  As hard as I am trying to avoid her she ends up directly in front of me turned sideways sliding down the highway so close to me that all I can really see is the top of her vehicle.  My tires are boiling smoke and I'm praying as fervently as I know how while steering this way and that to hopefully keep from killing someone in a freak accident.  Miraculously our vehicles never struck each other and somehow the folks behind us managed to keep from hitting us from the rear.  It was a terrifying few seconds that seemed like they would never come to an end.  She eventually went uncontrollably back across the two lanes and got tangled up in the guard rails.  By the time I got parked on the shoulder and got out to check on her she was walking around and apologizing to me for getting in my way!  She was fine, but could not understand what had just happened.

I've got a whole barrage of photos I want to share with you - some of the many "interesting" things I see that I was talking of earlier.  But, I need to get to bed now for an early start tomorrow.  I have got to get this load delivered in Cadiz, KY tomorrow so that I can point this truck in the direction of Texas.  I've got a daughter getting married this weekend, and I've got to be there to give her away.  If I can get the time tomorrow night I'll do another post with the pictures, and then I'm going to enjoy a wedding, and some much missed time with my family.