Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sitting In A Corn Field

Well, not literally, but that is pretty much what South Dakota is - at least the part I'm sitting in.  This is a major agricultural area, and they produce a lot of corn around here.

"Take me back to the Black Hills, the Black Hills of Dakota..."

So sang Doris Day, in her starring role of that classic musical, "Calamity Jane."  I'm not really feeling her sentiment at this point in time, I'd really like to get out of here.  As I write this entry it is going on fifty hours that I have been sitting here idle in Yankton, South Dakota.  You see, the manager that is dispatching us this week told me he had a load going out of DeSmet that would load on Sunday morning.  Well I, being the astute truck driver that I am, considered all the other false things this fine manager has said to me this week, and made the decision to move myself on down here to Yankton.  I cannot even think of a place in DeSmet that would be loading something for a Sunday morning, and I know that most of our back haul loads from this area come from Yankton.  There is a SAPA plant here in Yankton, and they are the only place I can think of that would be working people around the clock like that on a holiday weekend.  It is now almost noon and I have still not heard another word about this "phantom" load that I am supposedly waiting on to bring me back south to my dedicated customer.  I will let you know how my decision turned out - I hope I did the right thing.

I have sat here so long that a Robin has built her nest in the frame of my truck and laid three lovely blue eggs in it!

Okay, before you flip out and wonder what am I going to do with the poor bird's potential offspring, I'll confess...

That is an exaggeration of sorts, just to illustrate my extreme frustration about sitting here like this.  I spotted this sweet little incubating "family to be" in a broken down truck that is sitting here parked on the same lot with me.

I generally enjoy taking some time off when it happens, and I am doing my best in this situation, but it just seems so unnecessary to be sitting like this when I know full well what would have happened had my regular dispatcher been here.

I did some reading this morning, and I am about to get out of this truck and take a little walk and roust up some lunch.   I'll let you know when I get released from this Northern Midwest imprisonment.

Friday, May 27, 2016

This Week Was "Wilder" Than Most

I'm a little frustrated today.  I have been sitting here in DeSmet, South Dakota for going on eight hours now, waiting to be dispatched on my next load.  This week has not gone well.  I don't want to sound like a complainer, because I have really been blessed with a great job and a wonderful dispatcher.  So, "what is the problem?" you may well wonder.  It's just this: my dispatcher is on vacation this week.  Normally we will have someone else who is a little familiar with this dedicated SAPA account handling our dispatching when Jason is on vacation, but this time none of the regular stand ins were available.  We ended up being dispatched by our Gulfport Terminal Manager.  He's a nice enough guy, but he doesn't like the way we normally do things, so this week he got to exert his authority over us.

The way this stuff is normally handled is that we have a "team of persons" in Phoenix, AZ who are supposed to be arranging back-haul loads for us so that we can get back to Delhi as quickly as possible.  You see, the loads never stop getting loaded to go out from there, and Jason makes sure that he has got drivers there and ready to pull those loads out.  If our back-haul team does not find a load for us then Jason dispatches us back, and we run empty to Delhi.  Now, that is not the most efficient way to keep the truck running profitably, but he is charged with making sure those loads going out of Delhi are covered, and so that is the way it is handled,  Everybody from the top corporate managers on down understands how this is done, and expects us to cover that dedicated customer's needs however we have to do it.  That is everybody but this terminal manager!

That is the beauty of being on this account - it is predictable and steady.  Your paychecks don't take wild swings up and down like many truck drivers might experience.  I have tried on multiple occasions today to make contact with this gentleman who is dispatching me, with zero results.  He knows I got unloaded first thing this morning, but refuses to answer my calls, text messages, and e-mails.  For all I know I may be sitting here all weekend with nothing to show for it.  Okay, while I'm whining I may as well just get it all out there... I was pretty frustrated the way I got dispatched on this load to DeSmet in the first place.  I was in Gulfport to have my truck serviced on Monday, and it took them two days to get me in and out, which is completely unheard of in my past experiences at the shop - they are normally prompt and helpful.  Then the manager told me on Tuesday at five o'clock to drive to Delhi and he would find me a load for that night or first thing in the morning.  So I drove from Gulfport, without hearing from him again until 7:30 a.m. in the morning when he is angrily wanting to know why I haven't picked up that load he sent me.  Well, I'm dismayed, I've not heard a word from him, and I certainly don't have any dispatch messages on my computer!  No apology, no excuse, just "you need to go get that load now!"  Oh, and on top of that he claimed he talked to me on the phone about it - well, I do know if someone talks to me or not - Puhhhleeeeaaase!

Well, it is a nice load, and I'm happy to do it, but just make it clear and easy on me by communicating it properly with me!  Now here I am, Friday at the end of the day and not a word!  I know the folks in Phoenix aren't going to be working over the weekend, I'm pretty sure this manager is working on finding his own loads just to show all the other folks how he thinks it should be done, and he has the authority to do that, at least for this week he does.  The problem now becomes, "will I ever get out of here?"  Well, I know I'll get out of here, but I really wasn't planning on spending the whole weekend in Laura Ingalls Wilder's hometown.

Okay, my rant is over, I feel better now.  I'll figure out some way to settle in and be happy about it.  I think I'll even eat dinner tonight at the "Oxbow" restaurant, a Laura Ingalls themed restaurant with pictures in the menu from the books, and menu items from the stories also.  I hate that there are probably loads down in Delhi that are having to be given to other carriers because our drivers are not getting returned in a timely manner this week.  This is all going to create a big bottle necked mess for Jason next week, but he expects it to be mayhem when he returns from his vacations, so we'll soon have it righted.

As I was running like crazy to get this load up here and delivered on time (it was a little tricky since I picked it up a day later than it was supposed to be) for some reason these word's of Robert Frost came up in my memory bank - they are from "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."

"But I have promises to keep.
and miles to go before I sleep,
and miles to go before I sleep."

If there is one thing I want to be, and am determined by God's help to be, it is a man who keeps his promises.

By the way, I did get this load delivered on time, but I pushed every legal limit to make it here.

I'll do my best now to enjoy a little unexpected break, and be rearing to go when they call.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Three Years In

This month marks my third anniversary as an Over the Road truck driver.

Here's some reflections on my experiences and the things I've learned:

There are a lot of nuts in this business.  So many of the people that drive trucks have "odd" personalities.  It is a unique job that allows you to not have to interact very much with others, and therefore it attracts a good number of people who don't function well in society.

There are a lot of brazen type of folks in this business.  Having a type A personality in this business will help you succeed, it is just as much a demanding job as being a self employed person.  A lot of determination and drive (no pun intended) are required.  The ability to make good solid quick decisions that will affect your income and your safety is vital out here, and because of these things the same type of folks who would usually be successful as entrepreneurs are also successful as professional drivers.

There are a lot of lonely people out here driving trucks.  Man, sometimes I cannot avoid a lengthy conversation with some random driver at a cafe.  They just want someone to talk to sometimes.

There is a great diversity of people in this career.  I have met young people, old people (two guys in their eighties) fat people, skinny people. (more fat than skinny though, man it is a tough job to stay trim) I have met a former lawyer, and a former dentist!  There are a lot of people like me who are out here doing this as a second career.  Some of them spent all their life in a different career while secretly wanting to be a truck driver all those years - now when they got the chance they finally took it.  There is just something "cool" about driving such a huge vehicle across the country that appeals to some people.  Even from our childhoods we find trucks to be appealing.  I still remember reading children's books to my kids about trucks!  And who can't resist the charmingly "redneck" appeal of "Towmater" in the movie "Cars?"

This is a job for the independent minded.  You set your own hours, you basically determine how much you want to make by your own measuring cup.  Your willingness to do what others will not (like driving all night, or starting your work day at 1:30 a.m.) will often times put you ahead of the game.

This is a much mis-understood career.  People who are not truck drivers don't understand why truck drivers do the things they do.  People driving cars get irritated with trucks for either going to slow, or going too fast, or for swinging out wide for a turn.  People who are trying to get started as truck drivers usually have completely false expectations of how it will be.  There is a very high failure rate for people just trying to get started in this career.  Something like 90% of the new entrants to the field give up before reaching ninety days into their career!

I could go on and on, but I don't want to bore the three people who read this poor excuse of a blog!

I will say this, I really do enjoy this career.  I take every advantage I can to enjoy my time out here. The sacrifices are real, but the pleasure of it are also tangible.  This last week I ran 3,650 miles from Delhi, Louisiana up to Connecticut, then all the way down to Boca Raton, Florida, and back up to Delhi.  It is just now becoming spring like in Connecticut, and yet it was hot as ever down in South Florida.

I took a little walk in Hamden, Connecticut this week and found a surprisingly good little "Greek" restaurant tucked away in what appeared like a convenience store in the neighborhood I was walking through.  I also enjoyed the spring time scenery in that town.  Here's a couple of beautiful trees I spotted while out taking in the fresh air.

Truck driving as a career has it's problems - I really miss my family, and I know the sacrifices they have made are much more than the ones I have been required to make.  I have my days where I just want to be at home with my wife and near my children and my friends.  It is a strange life to constantly be away from those you love.  It makes my time with them more special though, and I can only trust God to keep our bonds as close and tight as they should be.  He brought this amazing career into play for me and I trust Him to keep the circle unbroken.

I realize I am kind of rambling on, but I trust that won't bother you who follow this drivel.  I am looking forward to continuing on in my career, and hoping I can provide you with a little bit of interesting commentary on the occasions that I get to jump in here with something to say.

By the way, my incision from the surgery is healing very nicely and I'm not quite as ugly as I thought I'd be, or maybe I'm just getting accustomed to the way I look now - who knows?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Getting Back To Work

Five days after my surgery I got back to work.  Today I'm resting in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I got here a day early to my final stop on this load hoping to get it done, but my final customer is a stickler for their appointment times.  I knew this was the case, but just had to give it a try anyway.  They said, "we'll see you at seven in the morning," and that was the end of it.  So, I get to take it easy this afternoon, and that's not at all bad.  I'm not trying to push myself too hard this week anyway.

It is always difficult finding a parking place in this area, but I had a place in mind that usually will work out for me, and it did.  I got here about two in the afternoon and there were still a few spots left. I could have parked at the customer's property - they will let me park on the premises, but since I was going to be here all the rest of the day this will be nicer with restaurants and bathrooms available to me during my convalescence - if you can even call it that!

The day I left Nacogdoches I went and bought a part for my weed-eater at a local shop.  The young, and seemingly sweet, Hispanic girl who waited on me kept kind of staring at me, and then she said, "that's a bad looking cut on your head."  "Oh, yes, I had some surgery this week," I replied.  She came back with, "I thought maybe you had fallen and cut yourself.  Stitches kind of creep me out, if I ever have to have stitches I'm afraid I will just pass out."  I guess I should have worn a hat - I'm glad she didn't pass out though.

My dispatcher was glad to have me back at work - he commented that most of the guys on his board would have milked this surgery out for about two or three weeks of being off work.

My friend Brett Aquilla commented about me getting right back to work on Trucking Truth with these remarks:

Hey that's awesome news! Man, you sure don't like to sit around much, do ya? A few days after cancer surgery and you're like, "These loads aren't gonna deliver themselves!" On go the work boots and out the door you go.
I love to see that kind of tenacity. Another great story the grandkids will have about their grandad. Of course twenty years from now it will be:
Yeah, and then he punched the surgeon in the face, took out his own stitches, used them to fix the surgeon's face, and said, "That's what you get for trying to hold me back!" and drove over 10 cars with his big rig on the way out of that hospital! The cops didn't even try to chase him because they knew they were in for it if they actually did catch him, which they couldn't have cuz he was already doin' 90 through Louisiana before they knew what happened!