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.