Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hitting a Snag on a South East Run

I'm sitting in Savannah Georgia tonight at a crowded truck stop, waiting to deliver my fourth and final stop on this load.  I picked up this load on Saturday in Delhi after spending most of the day training a new driver on various things he'll need to know about his new job.  He has driven a "beer" truck for a couple of years, but knows nothing about load securement, electronic logs, or the whole lifestyle of an over the road driver.  I tried my best to help him out, but he's young and thinks he's got it all figured out.  He'll realize soon enough that I gave him some good advice, but I can guarantee you that he's going to learn some stuff the hard way.  I hope he makes it.

My first stop was in Duluth, Georgia where I unloaded two bundles of product at a large distribution center for an Electrical supply company called Renusol.  I slept at their location overnight and got unloaded first thing Monday morning.  Here is a look at the sunrise I enjoyed while waiting for the fork lift operator to get things moving.

This is a look at my load.  The two pieces on the very top were unloaded at this location, and I then proceeded on to Duncan, South Carolina for my second stop, Charlotte, North Carolina for my third, and Savannah for the final destination.

That is a little more than 40,000 pounds of aluminum extrusions that you are looking at.

While driving on Monday after that initial stop I had to call the other locations and set up appointment times with them.  My plan was to be in Savannah first thing this morning and be done with this load.  When I talked with "JoJo" at Dirtt Environmental Solutions about scheduling a time to be there he says we can't take you on Tuesday because we are doing inventory.  You'll have to come on Wednesday.  Well that really messed things up for me.  This load has a total of 866 miles on it.  I picked it up on Saturday and now I'm not even going to complete it until Wednesday.  That is five days on an 866 mile run!

I can't complain - I've had three consecutive weeks with over three thousand miles each.  I pride myself on my ability to compete and be a top performer.  Had I finished this load on Tuesday morning like I should have, this fourth week would have totaled just over 3,400 miles.  That's how you want to do things in this job.  Sometimes stuff happens that is beyond your control - you just have to roll with the punches and not let it get to you.  JoJo told me that he made it clear to SAPA that they would not be receiving on Tuesday.  I guess somebody didn't want to tell me about that little detail.

I do my best to stay at the top of the food chain around here, but sometimes you just get tripped up no matter how well you plan things out.  Oh well, it gives me some time to rest and take it easy.

I'm headed home next week to get Abigail.  She is going to ride with me for a few weeks.  I'm really excited about that.  I'll be doing a diary of our journey together, so I hope you'll follow along as I show her just exactly what it is I do out here.  This truck has two beds in it, so I won't have to sleep on the floor like I did when Esther and Sarah rode with me.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Poor You Will Have With You Always

I've been thinking about those words lately. One of the troubling things about this job and lifestyle of being on the road all the time, and traveling to so many diverse places, is that you come across so many people who seem to make their living by begging. Some of them are obvious con artists, like the guy I have run across three different times now, over a period of about a year, at the same truck stop who has curiously stuck with the same introductory line about his car being just down the road with a flat tire, and his hungry wife and kids are in it waiting for him to scrounge up the money for a tire so they can finally get home. The first time I encountered him he sounded so sincere that I gave him five bucks, which seriously was all the cash I had on hand. He then got indignant with me and wanted to know if I had a credit card, because there was an ATM inside the building that I could get some more cash with. He assured me that five bucks wouldn't help him get a tire!

Then there is the extremely convincing fellow that has given me the same story twice in a three month period, with real tears, at the Pilot in Danbury TN. He starts off by assuring me that he is not a bum, and that he is completely embarrassed to be asking for help, but... and off he goes on a strange tale of his wife dying of cancer and he's trying to get home to see her before she passes, but he has locked his keys in his eighteen wheeler and he just needs a little cash so he can call a locksmith... I mean this guy has even gone to the trouble to buy and wear a “Blue Tooth” headset so that he actually appears to be a trucker! Yes, he even has “props” to support his bizarre tale. It is hardly believable though when he told you the same story just two months ago!

I promise you that I could go broke if I tried to help everybody that requests money of me at the truck stops. It is a constant barrage of sad pitiful stories that begin to have a hardening effect on you because you simply cannot discern anymore who is sincerely in need, and who is just honing their art of an age old practice of finagling money from the kind and generous, yet hard working folks who go to work everyday for an honest living.

Recently a man came right up to my truck as I was parking after a long day of working and jumped right into his “story” about needing a little help. I basically interrupted him and told him that I was sorry, but I just couldn't help him. He thanked me, and I went inside the building and bought myself a barbecue chicken dinner. As a Christian, I think it right and good to help the poor, and to be quite honest with you it almost always troubles me when I flatly refuse someone like I did with this fellow. It was bothering me the way I had refused to help him, so I went ahead and ordered two of the barbecue chicken dinners and promptly walked outside to give him a decent meal. I figured if I gave him a meal, then I know what the money was used for, and I'm not helping him buy drugs, which of course is probably what has brought him to such a low and desperate state of having to beg for his next fix. And I was correct – he was indifferent to the meal as he took it from my hand, but then he began to insist that it was money that he needed, because he needed to fix a flat on his car. We were standing by his car which clearly had all four tires with air in them!

Last week I stopped in Florida at a truck stop that was near a Cracker Barrel restaurant. As I walked over to the restaurant to get a meal, a young girl in her early twenties with a small baby on her hip and a tattered diaper bag hanging off her shoulder asked me if I could spare some change. I begin to despise myself for refusing all these folks, but it is so frustrating to know that I am probably helping keep them in bondage to drugs if I give them money! I'm trying to eat my meal in the Cracker Barrel, but getting sick to my stomach form the images in my mind of the young girl and her little baby over there in the truck stop parking lot asking others for help. I decide I will go back and offer to buy her a meal if she is hungry. When I go back she is gone. I can't decide if I'm relieved she's gone, or more troubled because now I'm wondering what became of her.

I'm starting to think I am a big sucker – someone once said I had a “kind face.” Is that face of mine a magnet for liars and cheats, or does it attract people who see in it someone who is willing to help them out if they need it? I don't know anymore, but it sure is a frustrating dilemma.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day... On the Road

It's kind of strange how this job affects you.  While switching back and forth from working nights and days I often lose track of which day of the week it is, and I seriously did not even realize that today was Father's Day until I logged on to Trucking Truth today and saw a Father's Day greeting to all the fathers out there on the road today.  I hope I can manage to not forget my wife's birthday or something else important like that!  I drove through the night several nights this week, and had some considerable success "getting er done" in the face of some difficult odds.  I got a call from my dispatcher telling me that the guys at SAPA had noticed and commented on how well I did on an almost impossible load they gave me.  The problem with being a top performer in this business is that they start to give you all the difficult stuff, because you have built the reputation of "taking care of your business".  I'm not complaining, it actually is a good thing to be considered as the "go to" guy, but it also can really put the pressure on you at times.  I've always worked well under pressure, and continue to do so, but I don't run illegally and they respect that around here.

I had a load with three stops on it in the North Eastern regions of the country.  The first stop was in Riverdale, New Jersey, with the next stop being Farmington, Connecticut, followed by the final one in Avon, New York.  It was an almost impossible scenario to make all three on time, but I somehow managed to drive all night for two nights, avoiding traffic delays while juggling my hours around to make it all work out legally and on time.  They were very impressed, and said that I had set the new standard for that run.  I told them that I wouldn't count on anyone going by that new standard, because it wasn't easily accomplished.

The crazy thing about this whole run was that I told my dispatcher I could do it and that I would be ready for a back haul load first thing Friday morning.  He asked me twice if I was sure about that, and I answered him affirmatively.  He said okay, I'll let the planning department know when you will be ready.  My whole purpose in going out of my way to be done by Friday morning was that if you are not ready until Friday afternoon you will more than likely be sitting all weekend waiting for them to get you a load for Monday morning.  Friday afternoon loads are as scarce as hen's teeth because they have already been taken up by planners trying to have a load for their drivers over the weekend. Therefore you are wasting your time and theirs when you could have been rolling (which is the only time you are getting paid in this job) through the weekend.  If you waited until the afternoon to get yourself empty on a Friday you have usually shot yourself in the foot - it is a sign of poor planning on the drivers part.

After sending in my "empty call" at seven in the morning I fully expected to see my next load appear on my computer screen... nothing but cricket sounds... okay, what is going on?  I finally get a message from my irate dispatcher telling me that the planners didn't believe me when I said I would be ready Friday morning, and therefore they had not gotten me a load!  He was very upset, and told me he had a discussion with them and reminded them that I always do what I say, and this is on them. He was not going to make me sit there and not get paid, so they had better come up with something or else he was going to have me dead-heading back to Delhi.  This is critical in our fleet that they have our back-haul loads ready to go because we are a special fleet dedicated to serving the needs of that SAPA plant in Delhi, Louisiana.  So, I am running empty for the 1200 miles back to the plant - someone is going to be in trouble for this, but it's not me.

That customer in Avon, New York is a very old company called Star Headlight & Lantern Company. They were established in 1889.  It is still a vibrant company, but they have adapted through the years, as you can imagine.  They started out making the lights for miner's helmets, and other types of lights and lanterns - this all before the days of the automobile or the wide spread use of electricity.  They are now one of the leaders in making the emergency lights for police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, and other emergency vehicles.  Here is a shot of an old train car that they use as the sign for their factory.

Here's a look at a light fixture on the front of the train car that will give you an idea of the kind of stuff they made back in the early days of the company.

I think it's interesting, or else I wouldn't be sharing it with you.  You may think I'm silly, but I find all this stuff interesting as I make my way across the country serving my various customers.

For my return trip I ran across a portion of upstate New York that is known as the Chautauqua Wine Trail.  This is highway 20, and it passes through thousands of acres of vineyards that have been there for long generations from the early immigrants to that area who brought their wine making skills and traditions with them to the "new" land.  It is a lovely area with old towns and homes all along the way.  I wish I had time to stop and photograph much of what I see so I could share it with you, but I am trying to work and be successful at this job, and I don't have much spare time to be putting effort into this blog.  I did stop and take one shot of a vineyard near "Fredonia" New York.  I couldn't resist since the town was named "Fredonia"... a word that has special meaning to an East Texan like me.

The Chautauqua Wine Trail is a small two lane highway that every time I've been on it has a car club or a motorcycle club cruising down it enjoying the scenery and stopping at all the various "wine tasting" stops along the way.  I always try to be real careful when travelling through there as I never know just how many "tastings" the other motorists have been to that day!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

All In A Days Work

Well, I guess the title should be "All In A Weeks Work".  I just thought since I'm not in here consistently from day to day, it might be educational, if not entertaining, to share with you how my last work week unfolded.  Over the road truck drivers work seven days a week for the most part and we really don't take weekends or holidays.  Freight moves all the time and the folks who ship and receive it are almost always expecting us to be out there doing what we do.  We also work night and day with no observance of a difference between the two.  I drove all through the night at least three nights this week to make every thing work out right with my delivery schedules, and I was also trying to juggle my schedule around so that I could get home for my youngest daughters graduation ceremony from High School.  That worked out successfully, which I'm grateful for.

Okay, this work week started off with my dispatcher sending me from Delhi, Louisiana to Farmington, Connecticut.  I serve a dedicated account for the SAPA aluminum plant in Delhi, so many of my trips originate from there.  This run to Connecticut is one that I do often because of a major SAPA customer in Farmington.  Usually when I make this trip I will be sent next to Cressona, Pennsylvania where there is another SAPA plant that I will get a load to head me back down somewhat towards Louisiana.  This time they gave me a load from Cressona that was bound for Laurens, South Carolina.  I picked up this 40,000 pound load of 2" diameter aluminum rods for a Brawo manufacturing facility in Laurens.

From Laurens, South Carolina I drove back to Delhi, Louisiana and picked up a load heading to Dallas, Texas.  My dispatcher and I had been discussing this all week - that is, to find me a load going to Texas that delivers on Monday.  The purpose of that load, at least for me, was to give me the time to pick it up in Louisiana on Sunday morning so that I could drive over to Nacogdoches, TX with it by Sunday afternoon, allowing me just enough time to go to my daughters graduation and leave out very early in the morning (as in 2:00 am) so that I could get to Sherman, TX by 6:00 am for the first delivery of a load that had two more stops to be delivered that morning.  I went from Sherman to Rockwall for the second stop, and from Rockwall to Dallas, TX for my third and final stop, delivering it all by 11:00 am.

Our work week ends on Tuesday mornings at 10:30 central time - that is when you must have all your paper work turned in for your weeks pay if you want it on your next paycheck.  After delivering everything on that final trip that ended in Dallas, TX I had just enough legal driving hours to get myself back across the line into Greenwood, Louisiana, where I slept at a truck stop until 2:00 am this morning so that I could make my final trip that will go onto this weeks paycheck, which was my return trip to Delhi so I could pick up my next loaded journey, which will be to Florida.  Oh, and it is so easy for us to turn in our paperwork for our trips - we have an application on our phones that allows us to take a photo of the paperwork and then a "send" button that you push - it's that simple and efficient!

Well, I ran through that rather quickly and easily in a matter of a few paragraphs, but it actually was a lot of work!  Driving through the night and then switching your body's clock back to a day time schedule and then back again is not always easy.  I was very glad to be with Abigail and her close friends and family at her "Home School" graduation.  She has been a fine student, and an even better daughter.  She will be riding along with me in July, so there's something we can all look forward to in this little blog.

I had a good productive week this week.  All in all this week totaled 3,674 miles.  That is really nice - anytime you can get three thousand miles done in a week, you are doing good.  I somehow managed to go over that benchmark and still got home for my daughters special day - that was good indeed!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Chicken in Every Pot

Tonight I am in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I'm spending the night at a Knight terminal here, simply because I was scheduled to come here for a fuel stop on my way to Laurens, South Carolina, and it just worked out to be a convenient location to spend the night also.  Sleeping at the terminals is usually really nice because you are in a secure location with a locked gate and you don't have to worry about being able to find a parking spot.

I delivered my three stop load in Connecticut on Wednesday morning and then they had me scheduled to go to Cressona, Pennsylvania to pick up this load of aluminum rods that I'm delivering in Laurens first thing tomorrow.  I'm hoping to get everything worked out so that I can get home for my youngest daughters graduation celebration from High School on Sunday, but I just can't tell yet if everything will work out right or not.

I started my day today by putting my second Cornish Hen (I purchased a two pack of them) in the crock-pot along with some coarsely chopped onion, some chopped garlic, thick sliced carrots, and one coarsely chopped celery stick with the leaves, and about three cups of water.  I drove the better part of the day with the delicious smell of that hen "stewing" in the pot.  Then when I took my thirty minute break today I de-boned the meat and added it back into the broth so that I could have a nice home-made (truck-made) meal of chicken and noodle soup tonight.  Later I added some chopped link sausage, and some old Ramen noodles that have been riding around the country with me for much too long.  It was delicious, but only serves to remind me of how good my wife is at making soups.  I take my meals alone, but a meal this good is just begging to be shared with someone you love.

Here's how it looked when I started it this morning.

This is what the final product looked like.

And would you like to know where I was when I put this chicken in the pot?  I had just finished eating the breakfast special called "old fashioned eggs" (4.50, and more than I could eat) at a place well known to my family on I-78 exit 6 in Pennsylvania.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Cooking on the Road

I love to cook.  It is one of the many things I miss by being on the road.  I do what I can to eat right while living out here on the road, but it is tough.  This weekend I did a little grocery shopping and decided I would get a couple of Cornish hens and try cooking them in the Crock-Pot.

I started out by putting some chopped garlic in the bottom of the pot.

Then I sliced some onion real thin and added that into the pot.

Then about two tablespoons of my favorite salsa - Herdez Salsa Casera.

Now I added the small Cornish hen.  Do you know what a Cornish hen is?  It is not a baby chicken, it is a full grown Bantam breed which has great genetics for growing to full size quickly and having a large breast and very fine quality meat.  Just a little Chicken trivia for you from a guy who really enjoyed raising chickens at one time.  I also put some seasoning on the bird and topped it all off with some more chopped garlic.  You just can't get too much garlic in there!

After a while into the cooking process, when the pot began to accumulate some liquids from the bird beginning to stew, I added some carrots.

When I completed driving all night last night from Delhi, Louisiana to Greeneville, Tennessee I opened up the lid to see this beautifully hot and tasty meal awaiting my consumption.  It was delicious and a pleasant way to finish off a hard day of giving it all I could to support my family.

I'll be driving all night again tonight as I make my way over into Upstate New York on my way to Connecticut.  You want to know my secret for staying awake on these all night trips?  Well, of course you want to get some good rest before you take off, but I also like to have something crunchy to snack on.  Chips and Sweet Sodas will take their toll on a truck driver - just take a look at most of them and you'll know what I mean.  So, I bought me some apples and baby carrots to snack on while I'm driving.

By the way, the subtle flavors of the chicken were delicious.  The carrots infused a bit of a sweetness into the meat, and that blended with the garlic and a hint of Serrano peppers from the salsa made it a real treat.  The only thing that could have made the meal any better would have been to have my dear wife here with me to "pull" the tiny wish-bone with.