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.

The Lonliness Of A Long Distance Trucker

On Wednesday, June 1st, 2016, I interacted with only three people for the entire day. And two of them worked at Subway.

I started the day early. I woke up in Tonopah, Nevada. As you do. Not at the famous Clown Motel, unfortunately, though I am determined to spend at least one night there at some point. No, I was at a Texaco Gas Station/Truck Stop. I spent the night there after picking up a load from Kingman, Arizona.

Even the previous day, my most memorable contact with another person was at the shipping office where I picked up my load, a heavy set, bearded young man wearing a t-shirt that proved he was trying way too hard to be hip, gave me attitude as he pushed the paperwork over to me. I had some questions about the information on the bills of lading, but he shrugged them off and gave me a look like I was encroaching into his World Of Warcraft time, so I just grabbed the paper and left. Enjoy your gallons of Code Red Mountain Dew, dude.

76 sm

The Texaco in Tonopah isn’t really a truck stop in the modern sense, it doesn’t have showers, loads of truck parking or a fast food joint attached. I imagine it harks back to the mom and pop type truck stops from not that long ago. So, when I walked in at quarter to six in the morning to use the bathroom it didn’t surprise me that there wasn’t anyone at the front counter. Or, anyone in the store at all, it seemed. I used the facilities, brushed my teeth and then walked out of the bathroom to see the owner standing by the register. My guilt immediately kicked in, obviously, because I parked at that nice man’s truck stop, used his toilet and only had bought one soda the night before. And, because I usually don’t eat anything in the mornings, I wasn’t buying anything else. I sheepishly muttered “Good morning” under my breath as I rushed past the counter to the exit. He summoned up a half-hearted smile, nodded, and that was that.

Human contact number one.

I did my pre-trip inspection of my truck and trailer and got underway.

Hours of driving north up Nevada highway 95, through little nowhere towns like Mina and Luning which are nothing but a sprinkling of houses and nothing else for literally a hundred miles. What happens in these towns? Who lives here?

Then there is the desert. My beloved desert which just rolls on for miles and miles. And hours and hours.

I get to Fernley, Nevada, just east of Reno, where I have to stop for fuel. But, you do everything at the pump, no need to talk to anyone. I filled up, parked, went to use the facilities again. Usually this is where random people strike up conversations with me, but not this time.

After I got myself sorted, I got back into my truck and got underway.

Next stop, Klamath Falls, Oregon. More miles roll by, more hours pass by. This time, through the lazily rolling hills of north east California.

At the end of my day, I arrive safely at the Pilot Travel Center (see, they’re not even called truck stops anymore), I pull into one of the few open spaces left, set my brakes and let out a huge sigh, thankful that I got through another day in one piece.

Post-trip inspection, then use the bathroom (again, nobody there to share their random stories with me), go back and change out of my “work clothes”, and go to Subway to get something for dinner. The first person asks what kind of bread I would like for my Subway Club, and what kind of veggies they can put on my sandwich (my standard response, “No cucumbers, no pickles, everything else”). From there I pay the cashier (“Would you like to make it a meal, with chips and a drink?”), sit down, and eat.

Human contact numbers two and three.

Later, I’ll get a shower, which is available from a kiosk inside the store. No interaction with anyone needed there, either.

I post this because I say that I got into trucking to get away from people. Be careful what you wish for.

I post this because I had been miserable at my previous job. Every phone call devolved into an argument, every customer at the front counter seemed adversarial. I would hang up the phone and say out loud, “I hate people.” And it was true, I did. And I hated that I was hating people so much. I was frustrated and scared about the person I was becoming. I wanted to tell everyone else in the office, “You know, that’s not really me. Not really.” But, sadly, it was me. I would like to keep denying it, blame it on the situation or other external factors, but the cold, hard reality is that all that darkness that surfaced came from somewhere within me.

I had this vision of myself ten, twenty years down the road as someone who was just as angry and miserable as the people who I was tasked with trying to serve. So, I left for a job with minimal human interaction.

Be careful what you wish for.

Slowly, I’m coming to the realization that maybe the final destination isn’t about landing a perfect job. Maybe it’s trying to find happiness in whatever situation I find myself.

But, who knows how long that road is.