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.
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*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’…..