Breakdowns, Bees, and Death Drives A Flatbed

My truck was in the shop from Thursday afternoon until Monday afternoon. I spent that extended weekend in a hotel.

Self Portrait Woodburn fb

I will always appreciate one night in a hotel. You get a shower and a comfortable bed, I’ll never turn that down.

Two nights is still ok. But by then it was the weekend, and nobody was going to work on my truck until Monday. Saturday morning, I was afraid I would start going stir crazy, but I was rescued by another road angel. This time, in the form of an old high school friend who had moved up from California to Oregon. She was not far from me, and with her husband and youngest kid, scooped me up and spent the afternoon showing me around downtown Portland. It was fantastic, and yet another example of the kindness I’ve been shown on this journey.

Portland 01 fb

On the Sunday I went for a long walk, took a lot of really great pictures, and felt the stir crazy settling in.

Jessie Settlemier House sm

Oregon is indeed beautiful, but I needed to get out by that Monday. Luckily, by the end of business the shop had replaced the bad fuel injector, patched everything back up and said I was free to go. You bet I put the pedal to the metal and flew out of there.

In trucking, if the wheels aren’t turning you aren’t making money. I’ve said multiple times that I didn’t go into this business solely for the money. But I didn’t do it to be a pauper, either. I got breakdown pay, Schneider has been good about that, but it’s a shadow of what I could have been making driving actual miles. I was grateful for the next load that got me out of Oregon.

Back to the daily grind.

Then there was the time a bee flew into my cab. Northern California, beautiful morning, and I see something swoosh quickly past the front of me as I’m driving.

I usually drive with the window down. I like the breeze, and it helps me with listening to the truck. I don’t like being shut in with all the windows up and the A/C on. It feels like I’m separate from the experience. The downside of an open window policy is that nature sometimes encroaches into your personal space.

Was that a bee? I though. No. Yes? I was looking around the cabin while trying to keep my eyes on the road. I didn’t see anything at first, must have just been a fly or something. That’s when I looked down and saw a bee resting right there on my steering wheel. Right at the top of the wheel, 12 o’clock with my hands squarely at 9 and 3.

I froze. I’m not allergic to bee stings, so I didn’t panic. But I almost panicked. Ok, I sort of panicked.

My immediate thought was to pull the truck over, stop safely on the side of the highway, then get out and run screaming down the road. Instead I just stared at the stationary bee as it rested on my steering wheel. It didn’t move for almost a solid minute.

Shit. I’ve got to do something. I reach over to the passenger seat, pick up some paperwork and try to shoo the bee back out the open window. I get as far as the shooing, but it immediately flies towards my face then lands on my leg. I legitimately panic at that point, and nearly lost control of the truck.

In hindsight, yes, I should have just pulled over. Trust me, lesson learned.

Now it’s on my leg. Shit Shit. I reach back over to grab an empty water bottle. I only drink water when I’m driving. Ironically, since I started driving a truck, I’ve almost totally giving up coffee. Weird, huh? Anyway. Open water bottle, and I manage to trap the bee inside the bottle. You’re probably hoping that when I had stopped for a break, I gladly released the innocent bee back into the wild. But, nope, left him in the bottle.

No regrets.

Speaking of death, I think I passed Death, today. He was driving a flatbed.

I was driving over the Grapevine, Interstate 5 in California, southbound, just north of Valencia.

Schneider trucks are governed, meaning they can’t go over a certain speed. And, normally, I stick close to the speed limit anyway, which means most of the day other trucks pass me. I always try to look over to see who’s passing me. Most of the time I get a friendly nod, or even a wave. Trucker to trucker, the kinship of the road.

Until Death passed me.

Have you ever seen the movie Christine? John Carpenter’s criminally underrated adaptation of the Stephen King novel about a demon possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury. The old man who sold the titular Plymouth to the unsuspecting kid, that what this driver looked like.

Roberts_Blossom_1

Only his eyes were even more hollowed out, and his face was even more gaunt. And he gave me the death stare.

Not the usual death stare, like, “What the hell you think you’re doing, idiot” stare. No, I am a frequent receiver of that look, I am familiar with it. This was something different, something…other. For a brief second, it was like he looked into my soul. In that instant, I felt cold, and placed outside of time.

He most certainly knew about the bee.

He then broke the stare, passed me and continued on driving down that highway. I’m positive it was Death. In a purple long nose Peterbilt, pulling an empty flatbed.

Cruising towards the City Of Angels.

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Mud Flaps and Engine Lights

I spent the night at a brothel.

Well, not inside the brothel, but parked outside.  The Area 51 Travel Plaza in Amargosa Valley, Nevada, just off US 95, has a brothel attached to it.  And from what the sign said, they have free tours.  Support Nevada businesses!

Amergosa fb

I wasn’t supposed to stop there.  I was supposed to be much farther north.  But my trip was delayed by a mudflap.  One stupid mudflap.

This is, for me, the worst part of this job.  I can do this job, I know it.  I can keep the truck inside the lines, mostly.  I can hook and unhook trailers.  I’m doing better on my trip planning. The individual elements of truck driving are, honestly, not that hard.  If all I had to do were those basic elements, then I’d be a rock star.  And I might still be a rock star.

But it’s more complicated than that.

All I had to do was drop off an empty trailer and pick up a loaded trailer.  It should have been simple.  But it wasn’t.

“Your trailer should be over there, that’s where all the loaded trailers are.”   After walking up and down the row of loaded trailers, I concluded that my trailer was, in fact, not there. I then walked over to where the empty trailers were parked, and saw my loaded trailer.  Halfway through a quick walk around, which I do every time before I hook up my truck to a trailer, I saw the driver’s side mud flap lying nice and neat on the ground at the back.

Was it ripped off while on the shipper’s property?  Probably. Did the trailer arrive that way?  Possibly.  Either way, I had no proof, and no clue what actually happened.

It should have been easy. I was supposed to just hook up to a trailer and be on my way.  Easy.  Easy peasy.  But no, now I have The Mudflap Issue to deal with.

Trailers need two mudflaps, it’s a DOT violation without them.  I can’t just throw the flap in the truck and go.  I need to deal with this.

I call Schneider Emergency Maintainance.  This is one of the perks of being a company driver, something goes wrong, there is a full support team there to help out.  “Yeah, there’s a truck shop not far, we’ll set up an appointment to get that sorted.”  Perfect.  I hook up and finally go.

And stop.  I check into the shop, they let me know it’ll be a few hours.  A few hours?  All I need is one mudflap attached.

Let me deal with what you are thinking right now;  couldn’t I have just bought a mud flap myself and put it on?  Yes, probably.  I actually tried to take off the bolts on the bracket, but they were mostly rusted on, and after a few minutes using my meager tools I knew I would cause more problems than I would solve.  Besides, it’s not my truck.  There are weird written and unwritten rules about company drivers working on company trucks.  I’m still figuring those out.  So, yes, if I had the right tools, and this was my own truck, this would have been a very different scenario. C’est la vie.

I sat in that shop for seven hours waiting for someone to take twenty minutes to attach a mudflap.

Guess where I am now?  A different shop.  I made it Oregon, after being delayed those seven hours, and after putting the pedal to the metal I made my appointment.  I was a rock star yesterday.  Today, I’m back in the shop.

I was supposed to just hook up to a trailer and be on my way.  That was this morning.  Different load.  Different trip.  However, this time, instead of simply picking up a loaded trailer, I was going to have to wait for them to load an empty trailer for me.  I didn’t budget any time for that, but what can you do?  Oh, and then as I was backing up to the dock, I got a “STOP ENGINE!” light.  Not just a regular “Check Engine” light, but a full on, fire-engine red light that said, “STOP ENGINE!”, complete with loud ringing throughout the cab.  Holy shit, what did I do now, I thought.

I call Schneider Emergency Maintainance.  This is one of the perks of being a company driver, something goes wrong, there is a full support team there to help out.  “Yeah, there’s a truck shop not far, we’ll set up an appointment to get that sorted.”  Perfect.  I get loaded and finally go.

And stop.  I check into the shop, they let me know it’ll be a few hours.

I knew I wanted to get another blog finished soon, but I didn’t want it to happen this way.  Not like this.

Not like this.

C’est la vie.

Oregon, Photography, and Who’s the Alpha Male Now

I didn’t take many pictures in Oregon. It was green, that’s all you need to know, really. Very green. Look at something green, maybe has a few different shades of green. Stare at it for a while. That’s what Oregon looked like.

The other big impression Oregon made were the radio stations. I haven’t heard radio that cool for years, maybe even decades. Indie, but not hip trendy indie, or at least not what I would traditionally think as hip, trendy indie. I mean, proper obscure but brilliant bands getting airplay. Not too much talk and great music. If it wasn’t for the weather I would move to Oregon just for the radio stations.

I was only in Oregon for 4 days, two days up from California and two days back south, through the eastern tip of California and back into my beloved Nevada. Back to the desert.

I’m convinced that there are people who are genetically adapted to different environments. In Oregon, I saw mountain people. I didn’t even have to talk to them, I knew they were people who came alive in the presence of mountains and trees. I’m a desert person. Give me 100 degrees and zero humidity and I’m smiling all day. So, Oregon was nice, especially in May. But I’m glad to be writing this back in the Vegas valley.

Camper

What I was able to do when I got back into Nevada was take pictures. Whatever I didn’t take in Oregon, I made up for in Nevada.

Tippin

Turn To Jesus

Volkswagon

So much so that I’ve been inspired to bring an actual camera on the road with me next week. Because I’m still in the experimentation stages with all this, I’ll be taking my smaller back up camera, not my big expensive full-frame camera I would normally use. Which is fine, you honestly have to be a pretty keen pixel-peeper to really notice the difference.

We’ll see what happens.

The load I picked up in Oregon I eventually delivered to North Las Vegas. From there, it was just a few blocks to my old workplace, the office where I had served five years. I knew they had truck access, so I rolled in to keep in touch. And maybe brag a bit. Pulling up to your former employer in an 18 wheeled big rig lets everyone know who the Alpha Male is now, does it not?

Three separate people (three!) initially commented on how much I was smiling. That was their biggest first impression after not seeing me for four months. I was smiling. How messed up is that? Was I that miserable, that angry, that dour? Apparently so. I mean, I knew it was bad back there, but I didn’t think it was that bad. But, that’s what happens when you stop getting yelled at by angry customers every single day. You’re world brightens up.

The other thing they noticed was how much weight I had lost. I have lost a lot of weight since February. I call it the “Not Eating” diet. You wake up, don’t eat breakfast, just get on the road and go. Then skip lunch, just keep going. Eventually you get something light for dinner. Rinse and repeat. The “Not Eating” diet, everyone. But I drink a lot of water, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I’m getting better at this, honestly, I’m starting to figure out how to bring more food with me on the road. Details on that later.

As I said, I’m on home time this weekend, back out on Monday. A whole new adventure awaits. Stay tuned.

On Signs, and Signs Of Human Kindness

“No Truck Entrance” the sign said.

What a stupid sign.  “No Truck Entrance.” It is right in front of place where I need to make my delivery.  Right by a gate clearly large enough to accommodate a commercial vehicle.  Why isn’t that a truck entrance?

Signs are my Achilles Heel.  All throughout my training, instructors would ask, “We just passed a sign, what did it say?”  Shit. “Nope, didn’t catch that.”  I would never even try to fake it, I always just owned up and confessed that I had missed it.  I have since learned that signs will save your life.  Quite literally, especailly if you are a trucker.  Signs are important.  However, there’s too many.

We have too many useless signs, pointless signs on our roads.  Here in California, it is the worst.  “Report Drunk Drivers” is an oft repeated sign.  Well, duh.  What about sober people who still drive like maniacs, shouldn’t we report them?  That guy who passed me doing 100 mph, can I report him too?  No?  Just drunk drivers?  Ok, fine.

All the useful, important signs are being crowded out by silly, unimportant signs.  I don’t need to know this is the “Randall Q. Whomever Memoiral Highway.” I’m sure Randall Q. Whomever was a swell guy, but his sign is distracting me from the signs trying to give me crucial information.

“So, where is the truck entrance?”  I was yelling from across the street where I had stopped.

The guy looked like Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, if ZZ Top had been formed in the 90s.  He had that long beard, but it was almost black, the Leonardo DiCaprio haircut from around 1995, and sunglasses that I know I saw in Spencers Gifts.  He didn’t say anything, just looked straigh at me, then pointed back towards the sign that said “No Truck Entrance.”

“So, where is the truck entrance?” I yelled again.  Still not saying anything, he pointed back in the general direction where I had just came from.  Then he got in his car and drove off for lunch.  Brilliant.  All I saw back where he pointed was a small street with a sign that said it was an entrance for a steel manufacturing firm.  Which was not where I was supposed to be delivering to.  I had stopped right in the middle of the street, and by the time 90s ZZ Top guy had driven off, there was a stack of cars behind me.  I put it in gear and managed to park a quarter-mile up the road.  I got out and walked back to try to talk to someone, anyone, about what I needed to do to get into this place.

“Yeah, that small street, it looks like it’s the entrance to that steel plant, but you go in there, towards the back, cut right across the railroad tracks, then come down a little road back up to here.”  Luckily, there was another truck driver there who shared the secret Indiana Jones style pathway leading to the receiving dock.  All I needed to do was make a delivery.  Somehow, I ended up going on an adventure. “Yeah, there’s no signs.”

This has been the theme of my week.  Simple tasks, made difficult by fate.  And people.  And traffic.  And weather.

Friday should have been a good day.  In fact, it was mostly a good day.  I finally made that delivery, then picked up another load in Chino, California to go up north again. I was early, and that was good, because then I could shut down early for the night.  But, no.  Fate, and weather, had caused mudslides going over the Grapevine, which closed the I-5 northbound.  I had given myself a margin of 4 hours to get 100 miles.  I ended up sitting in the I-5 parking lot for 3.5 of those hours.  The CHP rerouted everyone over through Lancaster.  I didn’t have the time on my clock to drive through Lancaster.

But, I didn’t have time to argue with the CHP officer, either.

I ended up following everyone down this lonely two lane highway, my driving clock running ever closer to zero.  In my truck I shouted a stream of profanity that would have made a merchant sailor blush.  I had done so well, budgeting my time. Bugger.

Suddenly I spot this little country store.  I’m sure they were used to having 12 customers a day.  But that night, a good portion of I-5 traffic were crowding out their place of business.  I grabbed a Mountain Dew and waited in line.  “Hey, man, I’m a truck driver, is there a place around here I can just stop for the night?”

He could have easily said, “Nope.” and sent me on my way.  In fact, that’s what I was steeling myself for.  But, nope, he smiled and said, “Over on the side is a big dirt lot.  It’s all ours.  Go ahead and park there if you want.”

“Really?”  I just needed to double check I heard that right.  “Sure, not a problem.”

You, friend, just saved me from a DOT violation.  You just saved me from having to drive through Lancaster.  You are an angel.

Another road angel.  I keep meeting them, people who share kindness as easily as exhaling air.  When I started this career-changing journey I didn’t know what to expect.  I certainly never expected to meet so many wonderful, kind people.  There is good in this world, don’t be fooled, or manipulated into thinking there is not.

I had talked before about truck stops being noisy.  That spot next to the country store was the quietest night I have had in a very long time.  And then I woke up to this sight through my windshield.

Neenach

What an adventure.

 

Good Thoughts

“Never take stool softeners before you go on a long road trip.”

Solid advice.  Pun intended.  Thought certainly not what I was expecting to hear as I stopped at a rest area for a quick bathroom break.

The man was tall and rail thin.  He had a bushy salt and pepper mustache and was wearing a worn denim jacket over a messy shirt, and worn jeans.  His clothes looked worn, and he looked worn.  “I just got out of the VA hospital, I had ear surgery and they gave me stool softeners and, man, they really do you in.”

I didn’t ask where he was going, I should have. But I’m sure that if that is what the conversation was at a brief encounter at rest stop sinks, I can’t imagine what thousand tales he would tell if anyone had asked.  I should have asked.

But, the freight must flow.  No time for chit-chat, friend, I got an appointment to keep.

Truck RV Wash

Tonight I’m at a small truck stop in Orland, California.  They advertise 75 spaces for overnight parking, it looks more like 12.  I was lucky to get in.  The nice thing about the small space is that it sounds pretty quiet.  Last night I was at a huge truck stop just outside Bakersfield, the place looked like they had a thousand spaces.  It was so loud, everyone was running their engines.  I hardly slept.  I’m looking forward to a good night, for a change.

I also had a shower tonight, first one in three days.  The shower at this stop would rival a five-star hotel, probably one of the top ten best showers I’ve ever had in my life.  Hot water, almost boiling hot, and water pressure that will tear your skin right off.  Clean, spacious, well appointed, everything I want in a shower.  Well, not everything, but this is a family friendly blog so let’s just leave that thought by the front door, agreed?

Living on the road, you certainly garner a greater appreciation for normal things like daily showers.  When I was home this last weekend, it was nice to get up from bed and go to the bathroom without having to get dressed and walk the length of a football field.

They have me running the I-5 corridor, from the Inland Empire in Southern California to the Sacramento Area in Northern California, and back again.  Up and back.  Suits me.  Familiar roads, long straight runs.  Not too much traffic, only at the beginning and end.  I departed from Pico Rivera, near Los Angeles, at late afternoon and was stuck in the parking lot of L.A. freeways for an irrational amount of time.  I love L.A., it’s my hometown and will always hold a special place in my heart, but it can take that traffic and suck it.  I don’t miss that at all.

I’ve been watching trucks pull in, circle around and leave.  I am lucky.  And blessed.  I’m off to bed now, good thoughts to end the day on.

 

 

Enjoy The Silence

It is strange how little I listen to the radio when I’m driving. In a car, I will blast the radio, or a CD (yes, some people still listen to those), from the time I reverse out the driveway until I reach my destination. Sure, I’ve even been known to cruise around the block once or twice if the right song was on.

In the truck, however, I would rather just listen to what’s happening around me. In part because I want to listen to the truck. Since I’m new, I’m absorbing all the sounds, listening for any rattle, any air leak. Or, a tire blowing out. But also, frankly, I’m not that interested. Like Depeche Mode, I enjoy the silence.

There is something to watching the miles roll by. Being in the moment, even if that moment is just landscapes and cityscapes rushing past at 60 miles an hour.

I remember reading a post on a trucking message board. The thread was started by someone interested in trucking, and wanted to get peoples opinions. There are copious threads like these, at least one a day, and as such, the responses were the same as well; be prepared to be away from home, long hours, low pay, over regulation, etc. However, one person responded by saying, “You really need to know if you are comfortable being with yourself, for long periods. Just you and your thoughts. Some people can’t stand their own company.” I thought that was interesting. And true.

I bring this up because today was mostly about me being alone. I set out in the morning, the Qualcomm (the truck’s all seeing, all knowing, computer) gave me info on what trailer to pick up and where to deliver it. Which I did. Then the next assignment came over, and I’m currently in the middle of that run. Tomorrow, hopefully, the magic box will again give me a quest to go on. A mission to accomplish.

The last two weeks I was on the phone with my DBL Martha daily, several times a day, in fact. And look where that got me. A lot of frustration, that’s where. Today, I communicated with her mostly through the magic box. I’m sensing she would prefer that. Suits me.

I’ve said that I got into trucking to get away from people. Be careful what you wish for.

However bad it got over these last two weeks were, at least nobody ever said that eternal, glorious phrase, “I’d like to speak to your manager.”

One of the few people I did manage to dialogue with was an extremely smug security guard. I won’t go into the details, but basically she laid down the law, the governing principle of her barren, concrete fiefdom, and I was forced to obey. That was the one time I called Martha today, hoping that she would flex her supervisory muscle and make something happen. Alas, she acquiesced to the guards demands. Actually, she folded faster than Superman on laundry day. As I went back to complete the task that I was hoping to get out from doing, all I could see was that security guards smug smile, her victorious smile. Great, lady, you just gave some random trucker another half hour of work. For essentially no reason other than to flaunt your own authority. Congratulations, and well done.

I had some brief home time this weekend, hopefully I’ll try to write more about that later. Also, I’m trying out some different food choices for the road. It doesn’t make sense to eat out every night on the road, I’m spending money as fast as I’m making it at that rate. I bought some bread, peanut butter and jelly, and some snacks. Ritz crackers and Pop Tarts. I’m such a child. I’m open to ideas, please feel free to leave eating suggestions in the comments. Please note, however, that I don’t have a fridge, or a microwave. This is roughing it, people. It’s worse than camping.

In general, as I enter this third week, I think I might be over the hump. Everything started making a strange sort of sense today.  Or, better, I can at least start to see how the pieces fit together, instead of just seeing them fall clumsily to the floor, with no understanding of what I’m supposed to do with them. Or even how many pieces I should have in the first place.

That said, it is only Monday. And you know you can’t trust that day.