On Marketable Skills, Arts Education, And Why Photography Is Important

Garage-fb.png

In addition to all the reasons I gave in my last post about coming off the road, there are two more reasons that I didn’t mention.  One is rooted in my personal life, and I’m not going to share that here.  But the other is very public, and I wanted to talk about that for just a moment.

I realized how important my photography is to me.  And it was killing me that I was not accomplishing as much as I would have liked while on the road.

A few people have asked me about CDL school; how did I feel about spending money on a school to only be in the job for five months?  I tell them that I spent over 5 years getting a Bachelors Degree in Art that I’ve never really done anything with, so 1 month of training for 5 months of employment is the best ROI I’ve ever gotten from education.

I have two competing views regarding my choice to major in Art.  On the one hand, yes, it was a bad decision. Obviously.  My mother was a CPA and she always said that I should have been one as well.  Said I would have been good at it.  And I probably would have been. But, more importantly, it would have given me a marketable skill.  My mother could say that she was an Accountant.  I know people who identify themselves as a Nurse, or a Teacher, or a Welder, or even a Truck Driver.  Being able to say, “This, this is what I do” is a solid place to be, especially when looking for a job.  Which is what I’m doing right now.  Again.

In times like these, yes, I regret making that decision.

However, then I think about this in other ways. I think about how maybe, just maybe, the purpose of education should not be solely for monetary gain.  We should strive to educate ourselves not only to be good employees, but to be better people. The prevailing attitude that education should serve a utilitarian function that only makes kids into wage earners rather than well-rounded adults is extremely dangerous.  Knowledge of the arts, of music and dance and theater and literature should not be looked at as folly that will never enrich our bank accounts, but as fundamental to our growth as better citizens within our society.

The fact that I can appreciate a painting by Caravaggio or Picasso has done zero for me financially over the years.  But when I look at Caravaggio’s The Calling Of Saint Matthew, I see a dramatic struggle between light and dark, between being caught up in your mundane duties and being made aware that I am called, we are all being called, to something greater than just sitting inside at a desk counting money all our lives.  Or, when I look at Picasso’s Guernica, I see the horror of war made with a visceral impact that simple realism could never match.  And it makes me want to fight harder than ever to end violence and war, at least as much as possible, in this world.

Art, real art, great art, tears at our chest, touches our heart, confounds our brain, makes us sympathize with the lonely and desire to love with the lovers.  Art celebrates beauty, and challenges everything. This all sounds pretentious and overblown, I get that.  It doesn’t stop me believing that majoring in art, while never enriching my wallet, made me a better person.

I’ll never say my art is equal to Caravaggio or Picasso.  Hell, I doubt I’m even a good a photographer as Ken Rockwell.  But, being creative is a part of me, and has been from my earliest memories.  And photography has become a true passion, one that I’m determined to pursue.

You’re probably saying, “Yeah, you said that about truck driving, too.”  Fair point.  Here’s my response.

I’ve told this story before, that after my mother past away in 2011, we divided up her belongings into two separate, distinct categories. There was the stuff, mostly junk, that we ended up either giving away or throwing away. And photographs.  When my dad passed away in 2014, we repeated that process.  My wife’s father passed away this year.  Most of what he owned has been sold off or thrown away.  What did my wife save, carefully pack and bring back home with her?  Photographs.  Stacks of photographs.

When I go, my memories of sunsets, and movies, and laughs with friends and family will be gone too.  But, hopefully, my photographs will continue to be around.  Hopefully someone will collect my work, the way Carole and I have collected our families photographs.  And maybe, just maybe, my art will inspire others in ways similar to how other artists inspired me.

 

 

 

Off The Road

img_1515

The most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my life was on Highway 495 heading northbound into Towaoc, Colorado. There were colors shimmering within the clouds that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before. The light was magic, and fleeting. Even if I could have pulled over to snap a few photos I doubt I would have been able to capture the experience.

I’m sure I’ll see more impressive sunsets somewhere, but probably not from the seat of a big rig traveling through Colorado.  As of this writing, I’ve been off the road for almost a month.  I initially intended to take only one week off to meet my wife at the airport as she returned from being abroad for three months.  A few days to clean our house which had essentially been unlived in for three months, and a few days to catch up with my love after being apart all summer.  That was the plan, anyway.

It is a bit complicated how that one week turned into four, then turned into maybe forever.  The very short story is that my father passed away a few years ago, and his estate has been stuck in probate for most of that time.  Concurrent with my wife coming home, we finally got a hearing in probate court.  After sailing through that, I made a decision to stay home to finally close accounts, transfer titles and shuffle all the paperwork that had remained unshuffled these past years.  Hello Notary Public, I haven’t talked with you in a while, here’s the newest stack of forms we’ll need to go through.

That said, I will be honest, I have not been that excited about truck driving for a while.  I know it’s only been five months.  The shine came off that rose awfully fast.

Here’s a quick sample of some the reasons I didn’t want to continue to be an OTR trucker after only five months:

  1.  I like sleeping in my own bed too much.
    • That’s not to say I had bad nights in the truck, often I slept really good.  But if you look at trucking like you are camping out every night, which essentially you are, it becomes a drag.  And, it’s nice not having to walk the length of a football field in the middle of the night just to go to the toilet.  Or, having to piss in a bottle.  Which brings me to….
  2.  Truck drivers are disgusting.
    • I don’t want to come off all Felix Unger here, but there’s only so many times you can brush your teeth in the same sink that a hundred other truckers just spit into that morning.  Or, you know the thing where someone plugs up one nostril to blow snot out the other?  Then cough and hack up phlegm into the same sink. Then I’m supposed to brush my teeth and/or shave in this same sink that Patient Zero just used?  Pass.
  3.  The money wasn’t really that great
    • Don’t misunderstand, the money was good, and that was just starting out.  And from everything I know, the money in transportation only gets better, often much better.  But….
  4.   I got tired of working 14 hour days
    • And that was the rub.  When you factor in working constant 10, 12 and 14 hour days, and begin to actually look at it with a “per hour” metric, with no overtime ever, then it really was a poor return on your work day.
  5.   I never want to be stuck in L.A. traffic ever again
    • Never.  The 60, the 710, the 210 and the 405 freeways can all go rot as far as I’m concerned.  And I promise never to complain about “traffic” in Vegas ever again.
  6.   I wanted to get off the road before winter
    • I’ve never even driven a car on a slick, icy road in winter, let alone a 75,000 lbs big rig.  And don’t even get me started about my lack of understanding about chaining tires.  No.  Just…no.
  7.   I’m a big pussy
    • Without question, no argument here.
  8.   I love Las Vegas
    • This is the one that surprised me the most. Everywhere I went wasn’t home.  I visited some very cool places, and some that I will actively try to visit again soon, but over the months, I began to live for those days when the assignment finally took me back to Las Vegas.  Back to home.  I never thought I would feel this way about this city.  And I’d rather just stay here.

What’s next?

I’m on the job hunt again.  I have my CDL, it’s still in good order, so I’m primarily looking for local driving jobs.  The catch is that most require at least one to two years experience.  We’ll see what happens.

I think I might evolve this into a “job hunting” blog, actually.  The trials of a 48 year old with only a Bachelors Degree in Art and outstanding Excel skills who is just trying to make his way through a stagnant economy.

Turn all the wheels, indeed.

 

 

 

About Time

For most of my life, and I would argue most of anyone’s adult life, we are used to compartmentalizing our lives into basically two factions: work time and non-work time.

Trucking completely obliterates that wall between those two. Since I’ve started in trucking, I’ve been trying to fit this job into that paradigm, and it just doesn’t work. Trucking devours your life in ways I’ve never experienced before.

I used to go to bookstores. I used to go to the movies, and to Starbucks. Photography used to be a huge, necessary, part of my life. I know I speak poorly of my previous job, but I’ll give it this one thing; the hours were pretty great. I had weekends and holidays off, and work rarely encroached on my non-work time.

It could be argued that I didn’t really think this career transition through. That would be a fair argument. Know this, however, I would prefer to never go back to any office job. I like driving this truck. There is something unique about it that I enjoy.  And, more than that, those times when I’m cruising down some deserted highway, no other vehicles around me, and just a ribbon of quiet highway ahead of me, that’s just poetry. No other way to put it. I know that sound ridiculous coming from someone with only four months of driving experience but, like love, you know it when you feel it.

Here’s what I don’t like. Truck stops. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s easy to get discouraged when you have to brush your teeth in a sink where a hundred other truckers have spit in, coughed up into, or did that thing where you plug up one nostril and blow out all the mucus from the other nostril right into the sink. I mean, right into the sink with their rocket propelled snot. It’s horrifying.

Next, having time totally dominate my life. The weekends I am home, my time gets filled running errands and taking care of tasks that I usually can’t get to when I’m on the road. Every calculation I make anymore is directly connected to time.

Lastly, these last few weekends I’ve been home, I’ve barely gone out.  And, if I do, it’s just to run errands, not to see people, or visit places I haven’t been in a while. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to avoid the Vegas heat.  Or, more likely, that I just really need to rest and recuperate before I go out on the road again.

Anyway, it’s a drag.

On paper, I have no reason to complain, really. This job ticks most of the right boxes. I mean, really close to perfect. After being stuck in a windowless office getting yelled at by customers for 5 years, what did I want?

1) To be outside. See the sun set. Not be stuck behind a desk all day.
Done.
2) To not get hassled by people.
Done.
3) To be left alone to do my work.
Done.
4) To travel.
Done.

So, why am I not happy? Well, Doctor, do you have a lot of time? I mean, that’s a pretty loaded question.

We’ll come back to this.

One story before I close. I’m driving southbound, I-5 through central Oregon. On the side of the road in the distance I see a pickup truck that has broken down. I see the driver get out and walk towards the back of the truck, facing oncoming traffic. He’s about six foot, burly, big long beard, and when he gets to the back of his truck he plants his feet. I mean, does the full planting motion for both feet. And, with a deadly serious look points to my truck. Just planted his feet, froze and pointed straight to my truck.

Wait, what?  Was I supposed to stop, I’m thinking?  Is planting your feet and pointing the universal signal for stopping?  Should I have know that?  I drive past, obviously, because I’m going 55 mph and it’s tough to stop on a dime when you’re at 75,000 lbs.  But, I panicked a little.

There are so many things they don’t teach you in CDL school, it would not surprise me that one of the lessons they left out was that you have to stop for Oregon Wizards in broken pickups when they plant both feet and point to your truck.

I watch him as I pass.  He looks at my truck, then points directly to the car behind me, who also doesn’t stop.  OK, that’s good, I think, because if that car had immediately stopped, then I knew I would have been in trouble.  Word would certainly get out that there is this newbie driver who doesn’t know to stop for Oregon Wizards in broken pickups.  But, maybe it’s a truck thing.  Maybe it’s only trucks that are required to stop.

I’m serious, these thoughts actually went through my head.

At this point, I can still see him in my mirror, and there is one other big rig a few vehicles behind me.  He points, but that truck doesn’t stop either.

Thank the Lord, I’m safe.  I actually exhale a small sigh of relief.

Trucking messes with your mind.

 

 

Three Days In Phoenix And One Last Night In Fontana

Phoenix

I feel ya, Bobby.

I rolled into our Phoenix Operating Center on a Sunday afternoon, and didn’t leave until Wednesday afternoon. I’ve rarely been more miserable in my life.

The Schneider Operating Center in Phoenix, Arizona will eventually be a brand new state-of-the-art complex with all the necessary driver amenities, and hopefully will be open by next year. The current Phoenix OC has no showers, no wi-fi, two bathrooms (one per gender, truckers tend to be pretty cis that way), no drivers lounge, no laundry, not much of anything, actually.  It’s a poor place to do a 34-hour reset, and worse to do a 34-hour reset in the middle of July.

On Monday, I had the day to myself so I bought an all day bus pass and tried to do some sightseeing around downtown Phoenix.  However, all the museums are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  And, well, that was it, really.  Downtown Phoenix is, hands down, one of the most boring places I’ve ever been.  But, I had Starbucks, which I am very grateful for these days.  I’m sure Phoenix has some lovely areas.  Maybe I’ll see them, someday.

I was in Phoenix because, as I had mentioned in my previous post, my truck needed to go into the shop for its quarterly maintenance, and I was scheduled for my three month evaluation.  I will skip to the good stuff, my eval went swimmingly. They had printed out some of my performance stats, some were outstanding, some had room for improvement.  One time I took a freeway on-ramp marked for 20mph at 25mph, they dinged me for that.  It was a wicked decreasing-radius turn that caught me off guard.

I thought I was going to get a driving test, too.  Instead, they took me to their training yard, made me hook up to a trailer, drive around once, back into a space and uncouple.  That’s all, that was the review.  They gave me some good advice (no sarcasm, I had picked up some bad habits that they pointed out), and we’re done until next February.

In a weird way I get the feeling that I’ve slipped through the cracks.  But that feeling is a direct connection to my work history.  In most office jobs I’ve held, there are usually a myriad of middle-managers micro-managing your every move.  Here, I get my assignments over the truck’s computer, I go where it tells me.  I tick off the tasks listed on the computer, and when I’m finished, the computer magically generates another assignment.  I go where it tells me.  Who generates these assignments I have no idea.

Mongo just pawn in game of life.

I shouldn’t read too much into it, though.  Obviously, they are ok with my performance, so I should be, too.

After I left Phoenix, I arrived at the soon-to-be-closed Operating Center in Fontana, California.

Schneider has almost totally removed itself from California.  Some would say that is in response to California’s tough business climate, but losing big money lawsuits because of dodgy labor practices probably doesn’t help, either.  Regardless, SNI is closing this O.C., and thus will have no more Operating Centers in California.  It is slightly worrying to mostly run in the very state your company is reducing its presence in.

Fontana is set to close by the end of July.  All the furniture had been stacked up, or moved out already.  It was a ghost center.  Empty.  Haunted, surely.

I believe I spent my last night there.

There was a cluster of three for four remaining trucks parked near the O.C. building, but I chose to park out in their huge empty yard, my lone truck and trailer quietly settled in the massive sea of concrete once marked by the noise and bustle of a busy transportation company.

Most trucks have privacy curtains that you close when you sleep, to keep sunlight out, and to also keep out the many wandering eyeballs from transient populations of truck stops.  Here, on that night, I did something I’ve never done before; I left the curtains open. I laid on my bunk and watched the warm California sun set calmly in the west, the sky blending shades of orange and dark purple through my dusty windshield. The silence of the early evening enveloped me as I nodded off.

My last night in Fontana may well be one of the best night sleeps I’ve ever had.

Barstow Revisited, Broken Computers, and How Attitude Is Everything

In the interested of fairness, I must mention that I recently spent another night in Barstow, but at a different truck stop. It did not smell like ass. It was quite lovely, actually.

So, maybe all of Barstow does not smell like ass. Just so we’re clear.

Moving on.

I want to apologize for taking so long to post. I am working on a longer post, and need to make sure that I word what I want to say very carefully.

Hopefully, that post will be finished soon. Stay tuned.

Remember Martha, my Driver Business Leader? Yeah, I kind of forgot about her, too. Turns out she is actually in the Army, but in something different than just the Reserves, maybe the National Guard? She had been gone on a deployment for the last 4 weeks. Now, I come to find the Army called her back for another deployment, and she’ll be gone for another month. I had to learn about this from Chet*, who is temporarily taking over from Martha.

Way to communicate, everyone.

My truck was in the shop again. This time it was the on-board computer. It kept saying it wasn’t receiving any satellite signal, so my on-board computer, including my GPS, would randomly shut down and reboot while I was driving. No bueno. This has been going on for a while, so I had actually bought a Garmin Nuvi as a backup GPS. It’s not a truck specific GPS, so it keeps tempting me to drive down leafy suburban streets. But, the plus side is that I now have a GPS for my personal car, which is nice.

After my truck was in the shop to fix the GPS, I come to find that Chet, my temporary DBL, has actually scheduled my truck to go into the shop AGAIN next week, because it’s due its quarterly maintenance.  Way to communicate, everyone.

Also happening in this coming week is my 3-month newbie evaluation.  Which is funny because I’m well into my fourth month with Schneider.  What happened was another newbie driver got into an accident, and so they scheduled his newbie evaluation before mine.  Because, obviously, accident.

Bottom line is that I’m low on miles last week, and I’ll be even lower this week. No bueno.

One quick story: I was tasked with picking up a loaded trailer to take to a warehouse for unloading.  The company is a big one, you would instantly recognize their name.  It was late in the day and I only had about 3 hours left on my clock.  I arrived early hopeful about getting an early start.  I approached the door leading to the shipping office, buzzed the intercom, and the voice asked when my appointment was.  “Five”, I replied.  It was just after four in the afternoon.  “We’re really busy, come back at five.”

I’ve only been doing this for a few months, but I’ve not met a receiver who didn’t like their shipments to arrive a little early.

Five finally rolls around, I buzz the intercom, and get let into the warehouse.  The person who checks me in is terse, distant, and borderline rude to me.  I say can you unload me in under two hours?  “We have a two-hour window”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”  “We have a two-hour window.”  “You mean, two hours to start?  Or you are required to be finished in two hours?”

Giving me the Death Look.  “We have a two-hour window to unload you.”

Holy crap.  I go out and talk to some of the other drivers who uniformly agree that everyone who works in this warehouse is an asshole.

An hour and a half into their two-hour window, and nothing has been unloaded.  I have 30 minutes before I have to leave or else I’ll be out of driving hours.  I talk to the same person, let them know that I need to leave soon, and nothing has been unloaded.  After rolling their eyes and exhaling loudly, they call over warehouse supervisor to talk to me.  This person is even more dismissive and rude to me.

“We can unload your trailer in a half hour.” “Really, because in 30 minutes I’m driving off.” “No your not.”  Well, I better drive off now then, and come back in the morning.

Now everyone is looking at me like I had just kicked their dog.  Holy crap.  This company is horrible, everyone who works here really is an asshole. I’m never buying this product again, I think to myself.

I drive off, and return at opening hour the next morning.  I get let into the warhouse immediately, and the morning shift desk person is attentive, polite and professional.  They call over the forklift driver who will be unloading me, he smiles and says “Good morning.”  I back into the door, and after one hour (I knew it couldn’t be done in 30 minutes), he lets me know it’s all finished.  I promptly get my paperwork and I’m wished a good day as I leave.

Holy crap, this company is amazing, everyone who works here is really polite and professional.  I’m recommending this product to everyone!

Attitude is everything, friends.  It’s a lesson I’m too often forced to relearn.
_____________________________________________________________________________
*Like Martha, not his real name. But I’ve met him, and he reminded me of the older brother Chet from Weird Science, so that’s what I’ll call him.

I Love L.A. Mostly.

On Monday, July 4th, I had to drive from Fontana, California to Carson, California.

I started by taking the 10 westbound to the 15 south to the 60 westbound until I hit the 605 south, to a quick jaunt on the 105 west to the 710 south to finally the 405 north.

If you’re from Los Angeles, that seemingly random enumeration of numbers and directions might strike dread into your heart, especially if you had to drive that route at 7:30 in the morning. This, however, was the morning of July 4th, America’s Independence Day. Nobody had to go to work and everyone was still asleep.

I set the cruise control and hardly touched the brakes. It was glorious.

I had to do almost the exact same route today, Wednesday, July 6th. It was an entirely different experience. All the normal traffic was there. It was slow, confusing, frustrating, and far from glorious.

Certain freeways in the Los Angeles basin I know will always be difficult. The 210, especially through Pasadena is usually a parking lot. The 60, pretty much anywhere, will normally have slowing, and for absolutely no apparent reason whatsoever.

I was in Wilmington today. Wilmington is down around the ports near Long Beach, with the city of Carson to the north and San Pedro to the south. It’s an older, industrial city with lots of oil refineries. Which I love. I’m a sucker for that kind of complex industrial aesthetic. I saw one guy just cruising down the road in a late 70s Cadillac convertible, top down and rolling.  You would think that would be perfect for cruising Route 66 through the desert, but actually in the warm California sun, rolling past deteriorating storefronts with huge port cranes in the background, it fit perfectly. And became even cooler.

I was born in Los Angeles and raised in the L.A. suburbs just east of downtown. I understand when people dismiss Los Angeles as having no depth, no culture, nothing of interest. I get it, but I’ve never agreed with it. For me, Los Angeles is just a completely different entity than the normal places people usually associate with “culture”. It’s like saying that pizza doesn’t taste good because it’s not a 7 course meal served in a French restaurant. It’s nonsense. L.A. is its own thing, has its own vibe, makes its own rules and while you are wallowing in six feet of snow for your “culture”, we’re wearing shorts, cruising with the top down, looking gorgeous, having fun and basking in light.  Sure, we can be vapid and one-dimensional, but you say it like those are bad things.  Sometimes the glorious facade is the art.

The downside is the traffic. It’s always been the traffic. Los Angeles used to have one of the most comprehensive public transportation systems in the United States.  But, since the 1950s, it’s been all about the automobile.  We created car culture.  And we paid the price.

It’s funny how people react to L.A. traffic.  I talk with other truckers about driving in L.A. traffic, and you would think they were talking about having their teeth pulled out with rusty pliers.  I get that.  My father worked downtown at the phone company, and drove in from the suburbs for many years, until he bought himself a bus pass.  Became a new man overnight.  I, myself, have raged against the slowing of the freeway many times.  My wife still refuses to go with me to Pasadena because of how I behave when I’m stuck on the 210 westbound.  I turn into an animal.  Or, I used to.  I’m getting better.  Getting paid has forced me to adjust my attitude.

Then there are the trucks.  So many trucks on the road. There are alternatives, though.  For the 1984 Olympics, the City of Los Angeles implemented traffic reduction measures including a ban on trucks on the freeway during rush hours.  During the two weeks the truck ban was in place, it led to a 60 percent reduction in congestion, and truck traffic was down by as much as 16 percent during peak periods.

Then, obviously, there’s this alternative.

trucks

I’m just sayin’…..

The Heat Is On

 

Last week I spent a night at a truck stop in Barstow. The whole place smelled like ass.

Though, to be fair, I don’t know if it was the truck stop or just Barstow.

Barstow, California has my favorite city motto. I’ve always been intrigued by city mottos, because I find them to be uniquely pointless. Merced: Gateway to Yosemite. That tells me absolutely nothing about the city of Merced, only that it’s in close proximity to a different place. Did you know the motto for Sacramento, California is “City Of Trees”? I would have thought, maybe, Thousand Oaks was the city of trees since, you know, they have a lot of oak trees, apparently.

The motto for Barstow is “Crossroads of Opportunity.” Notice, it’s not the stopping place of opportunity. No, merely the “Crossroads of Opportunity”, the place where Opportunity arrives, looks around, and asks, “How the hell do I get out of Barstow.”

I imagine the crossroads are Interstate 15 north or south, Interstate 40 east, and State Highway 58 going west.

I’ve been on the 58 a lot recently. I like it. Going west out of Barstow you drive through Hinkley (if you’ve watched Erin Brockovich, yes, that Hinkley), through colorful Kramer Junction, through Boron, it’s Twenty Mule Team Road and home to the largest borax mine in the world, then deep into the high desert, past Edwards Air Force Base, Mojave, and into a whirling forest of windmills attached to the golden highlands of Tehachapi before the 3,500 foot decent into Bakersfield. That road has a lot going for it. Someday I’ll get some time to stop and photograph some of it.

The time I’ve been spending alone in the truck might be starting to get to me. I had a full blown argument with my GPS recently. You know the movie Castaway, and how Tom Hanks talks with Wilson? That was me. I was heading to the Schneider drop yard here in Vegas, on the 15 south coming back from Cedar City, Utah, and the GPS was directing me to exit onto Tropicana. To hell with that, I’m getting off on Russell. Trop is way to crowded, tight, and too many weirdos, especially just west of the 15. Russell has nice big lanes, less traffic than Trop, it’s just a better choice. I was explaining all this to my GPS, until I realized I was explaining all this to my GPS.

Frightening.

As the title of the blog says, the heat is on. Some nights are unbearably hot in the truck. I normally complain about the noise from truck stops because everyone idles there engines at night so they can keep their A/C on. It makes no sense when it’s in the 60s, but when it’s over 100 degrees, I totally get it. Schneider has incorporated an idle cut-off on their trucks, so mine won’t idle all night. I have a fan, though. It’s good for blowing the hot air around the cabin. It’s something.

Can we just pause to remember Glenn Frey?  In any other year, the death of an Eagle would have been on everyone’s mind months after it happened.  As we all know, however, 2016 isn’t like any other year, and I fear his passing might have been forgotten already.

As I’ve said before, most nights I stay in noisy, smelly, horrible truck stops. But, once in a while, i get lucky. Goodnight from somewhere deep inside the Tahoe National Forest.

 

Tahoe Forest

Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked

This song is my alarm, I wake up to it every morning.

Whenever I feel like not getting out of my bed, the lyrics motivate me to get my ass in gear and get out there to do work.

Oh, there ain’t no rest for the wicked
Money don’t grow on trees
I got bills to pay
I got mouths to feed
And ain’t nothing in this world for free

Indeed. Except for this weekend. I arrived in Oregon on Friday afternoon, and Saturday morning I received a message over the truck’s computer that “The market in the Pacific northwest is soft this weekend, and we don’t have a lot of loads, if any, before Monday morning,” so go ahead and shut down for a 34 hour reset this weekend. Dammit. I was doing so well this week, too, running hard, gearjammin’, going from state to state, haulin’ freight and not being late. Then, all of a sudden, the planners hit the brakes.

Well, as Hyman Roth said to Michael Corleone, “This is the business we’ve chosen.” Hopefully I’ll get layover pay. We’ll see. In the meantime, rest for the wicked is in order.

I’ve spent most of this week in Washington, which is gorgeous. Green, like Oregon, but with more character. Driving through the Snoqualmie Pass was an epic experience. The only thing is that it has been cold. Now, when I say “cold”, I’m talking low 40’s Fahrenheit. Which, I know, isn’t cold for most people. But, unlike Elsa, the cold always bothered me, anyway. It’s why I love living in Las Vegas. 100 degrees? Yes, please.

I am not looking forward to driving in proper winter conditions.

Favorite story from this week. I’m at a Costco Distribution center. Now, I like going to large distribution centers like Costco and WalMart because they have their act together. Two different times this week I went to pick up loads at small companies and I swear there was not one sign indicating where the truck entrance was, and absolutely no signage for the Shipping and Receiving office. Nothing. I keep having to track down random people just to find the right doors. It makes me wonder how you run the rest of your business if you are that lackadaisical about basic property management.

Not so with large distribution centers. These operations are enormous in scale, but everything tends to be well managed, and certainly without any of the guesswork you find at smaller businesses. There are large signs directing trucks to exactly where they need to go, and plenty of space to move. Love it.

So, I’m at a Costco Distribution center, and I’m waiting for my delivery door to become available. There is a truck being unloaded and I’ve staged myself in front of it ready to back up into the open slot as soon as they’ve finished and departed. But, because I’m new, I’ve not perfectly positioned myself, I’m skewed off to the left a bit. No big deal, though, I’ll correct it when I back up.

The truck I’m waiting on drives out, and I’m up. I start backing towards the empty door, but the no-big-deal backing doesn’t go as smoothly as I had planned. I have to stop, pull up, and attempt to reposition myself. Again, large distribution center with acres of concrete means lots of room for this kind of maneuvering. However, the guy in the truck next to my empty space can immediately smell that I’m a newbie, gets out of his truck and starts yelling at me, “Oh no, you’re not going to blind back into my truck. Go out, come back around, do a proper 90 degree back and put it in there like a white man!”

Wait….what? Put it in there like a white man? I’ve thought about that phrase all week and I still don’t know what that means.

One of the things I’ve noticed about trucking is actually how ethnically diverse it is. I see Hispanic, African-American and Indian truckers every single day.  I’d like to know some actual figures on how diverse the industry is, because it certainly looks like we have all the colors of the rainbow. I’ve always wondered how many bitter, angry white guys are still out there, though. I guess I found one.

Turns out he was finished getting unloaded about that time, so while I’m pulling up for another go, Angry Guy rushes back into his truck, and burns rubber getting out of there and away from the dangerous newbie. A few trucks down, another guy was watching all this go down. After Angry Guy left, he walked over and calmly help guide me into my space. With no yelling.

Funny old world, innit?

Home Time

I’m sitting in a restaurant with my wife and daughter.  It’s a nice restaurant.  I know this because it has those heavy napkins.  Not common paper napkins, but clean white napkins made from cotton linen, hemstitched and wrapped around real silverware which also feel heavy in my hands.  These are some of the clues you can use to identify posh eateries.

I’m at home, I’m on home time.  I’ve parked the truck, kissed my wife, thrown all my clothes in the laundry and spent twenty minutes in the shower scrubbing off several thousand miles of road grime.  Now my wife, daughter, and I are out for a nice meal.

Here’s what I notice.  First of all, there are women in this restaurant.  Like, lots of women.  There is one table in the corner that is exclusively female.  Wearing nice dresses and make up.  I notice this because it is such a different picture than what I’m used to seeing.

Trucking; what a sausage fest. I am slowly realizing how few females I come in contact with during a normal week.  This is strange for me because most of my previous employment has been in office environments, where my Y chromosomes have been in the minority. I’m used to being the odd guy out, literally.

Why don’t more women enter the transportation industry?  Discuss.

Other things I’ve noticed while I’ve been at home.  How much I miss toilet paper.  The good, 3 ply paper, on rolls so big and soft you can use them for pillows.  You know those small, flimsy dryer sheets that gas stations and rest stops pass off as toilet paper?  Imagine using only that for weeks on end.

It’s also nice being in one place.  Being over the road, by definition, means that you are always headed somewhere.  That is what they are paying you for, to move stuff from one place to another.  As such, you are never here nor there, you are always in transit.  It’s nice to just arrive.  And stay arrived for a day or two.

Finally, it’s good to be home.  When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was get away from my house.  Now, all I can think about is getting back home.

Be careful what you wish for.

And, as soon as I’ve got the laundry done, the grime washed off, and my stomach filled with hearty, non-truck stop food, it’s time to pack everything back up and get on the road again.

Maybe there is no difference between the time we have, and the time we spend waiting for the time we want.

 

 

 

College Reading, Light Industrial Buildings and More Advice for 4-Wheelers

In college I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. As you do. It’s part of the unofficial required reading list when you get to college, along with The Autobiography of Malcolm X, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and pretty much anything by Ayn Rand.

Zen

I was disappointed it wasn’t actually about motorcycle maintenance. No, seriously, I fully expected to be able to lube a chain or replace leaking fork seals by the end of that book. I was very disappointed. For those of you who haven’t read it, the book is about….well, I still don’t know what this book was about. I’m sure there was a motorcycle towards the beginning. And something about a road trip between the author and his son. But, that’s about all I remember. Nothing about actual motorcycle maintenance, though.

I mention this because I want to quell people’s expectations about this blog. I originally started this as a day-to-day diary of my time in CDL school. I never expected to continue this after I had finished those four weeks of training. However, because I received such a positive response, I just continued writing. I’m a creative person, and I’m always happy to have another outlet for expression. What I’m saying is that I don’t have a plan, I haven’t written a mission statement, for this blog. It will be what it is.

My last post contained much self-reflection, and maybe was kind of a downer.

Know that I’m not apologizing, I’m just saying it is what it is. Sometimes I’m going to post funny stories from the road. Sometimes I’m going to post searching, questioning thoughts born out of hours of quiet self-reflection. Sometimes I’m going to post my photographs of light industrial buildings for no reason other than I think they’re cool.

Light Industrial sm

It will be what it is.

I will, as always, be thankful for anyone and everyone who reads my humble blog. Your support of this project is very much appreciated. Thank you for visiting, and I hope you get as much from reading my entries as I do from writing them.

And remember that I have no idea where all this will end up. Just so you know.

I’ll end with what I hope will be a continuing segment here on Turn All The Wheels, which is my advice for 4-wheelers. In this context, “4-wheelers” isn’t referring to off-road vehicles, but to anyone who drives a regular car, truck or SUV. I have 18 wheels, you only have 4. Deal with it. If you drive a car, truck or SUV, please:

1: GET OFF THE CELL PHONE!
Seriously, I hate sounding like a government shill or stale public service announcement, but I see this every day, people who are distracted by staring, for long periods of time, at their cell phone. I’m driving in the right hand lane, which is ending soon. I’ve got my turn signal on to move to the left lane when a car had pulled up to pass me. Instead, they just stay beside by my drive tires while they check their cell phone. They should have passed me, or moved to another lane, but no, the driver is staring straight down at her cell phone. I actually had to use my air horn to get her attention. Incidents like this happen every day. Please, I beg of you all, put the phones away.

2: If you are a passenger, nobody wants to see your nasty bare feet on the dashboard.
Maybe because it’s summer, but I’ve seen more and more passengers with their feet up on the dash. No socks or shoes, just bare feet right up there near the windshield. I assure you, nobody wants to see your feet as you drive by. Put them in the footwell, where they belong.

3: When you are entering a freeway, please ACCELERATE to get into the flow of traffic.
This one isn’t unique to trucking, I’ve had the complaint for many years. I am tired of people driving up the on-ramp into freeway traffic, see my truck, then do nothing more than to match my speed. Or even slow down. Like, they are waiting to see what I’m going to do. Listen, I’m rolling with 70,000+ lbs, and more than likely I’ve got other traffic to my left so I’m not going to change lanes for you. You need to go faster.
OK, let’s do this. If you drive a car, raise your right hand. Good. Now, use your right hand to touch your right leg. Now, at the end of your right leg, which you’ve obviously just discovered, is a pedal. That pedal is called an ACCELERATOR. If you are entering a freeway, please press down on it very hard. Maybe even down to the metal. Got it? Good.

That is all. Until next time, drive safe out there, friends.