Posts Tagged ‘home time’

Understanding the New Hours-of-Service (HOS) Rules

June 17, 2013

Confused over the Hours-of-Service rules

Photo by jonny goldstein via Flickr

Unless you’ve just beamed in from another planet (or you’re a non-trucker), you’re probably aware of the new Hours-of-Service rules that are looming. But do you understand them fully? From some of the feedback I’ve been getting on Twitter and the blog, I’d say there’s still some confusion out there. The Bible flat-out says that all Christians will be persecuted. Well, I’m pretty sure some Bible-thumper at my company has been Skyping with God on my behalf. You see, my company recently decided that I would be one of the lucky ones who got put on the new Hours-of-Service rules a few weeks early. You know, just to try it out. *sigh* Well, I guess this kind of persecution is better than being around when Nero was kabob-ing Christians to light his garden parties. So thanks for that, God. (Read or listen to the full article)

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Oh Boy. Another Birthday. Yay.

August 23, 2011

My birthday was August 19 and this year it came up on me like the Millennium Falcon would come up on a Yugo with bad spark plugs. It passed just as quick. As usual, it was nothing special. No big party. Nothing to write home about; although I could have, since I didn’t even manage to be home on the big day. I’m a truck driver, which means I spent the day driving. Happy happy, joy, joy. That’s not at all how I’d planned it.

As some of you know, I’m trying to get off the road so I can go back to school. You might ask, “What’s wrong with trucking?” Well, trucking in general certainly has its share of problems. For instance, as of now no one has given me permission to yank my e-log unit off the dash, smash it with a 10-pound sledge, and take a leak on it for good measure. That’s a problem in my eyes. Nor has anyone made a new rule that if a driver sits in a dock for more than two hours, they’re allowed to walk up and kick the loader in the junk. *sigh dreamily* Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Still truck driving isn’t all bad. As a matter of fact, certain aspects of it rock harder than a Pantera concert. As an over-the-road trucker, I don’t know the meaning of 9 to 5, other than it’s an old movie about giant boobs… or something like that. I always get distracted from the story line. In other words, there is no such thing as a set schedule. I kinda like the variety that brings.

Truckers also have some of the best scenery of any job. Looking out at snow-covered mountains or a valley full of fall foliage sure as heck beats staring at a cubicle wall covered with Dilbert paraphernalia while secretly planning the perfect murder of the annoying co-worker in the next cell block.

Yes, being a truck driver is a fine job to have, but there is also what is known as too much of a good thing. Take Skittles as an example. I love me some Skittles, but if you made me eat them every day for over 14 years, I’d show you daily how I “Experience the Rainbow” in the form of violent outbursts of colorful vomiting.

Now with that being said, here’s why this birthday sucked more than a big rig sucks fuel. I wasn’t supposed to be out here on the road this birthday. You see, The Evil Overlord’s (my wife and ex-codriver) college courses started back up today and I was supposed to be beside her to make her look good. Okay. Maybe that’s the other way around. Yet here I am, still in the truck.

Back at the beginning of the year, my plans were to quit my current job a couple of weeks before school started. That meant I’d be at home for my birthday and in time to get settled in for classes. I was still holding out for a miracle, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t drop the classes I had booked until a week before school. I kept hoping something would happen that would get me out of trucking for good. It didn’t.

You know, with my purposed schedule consisting of Trigonometry, Calculus I, Chemistry I, and Zoology, you’d think I’d be happy to be driving instead of studying, yet sadly I’m not. I’d much rather be at home tonight, mumbling under my breath about what I’d gotten myself into.

If I’m honest with myself, I could have guessed I wasn’t going to make it. We haven’t been paying off debt as fast as we had planned. For one thing, I haven’t been making the same kind of money that I used to. I blame some of that on e-logs. There are other causes too, but I think I’ll blame the rest of them on e-logs too, simply because I can. I also had an unexpected hospital bill pop up.

But perhaps most of all, The Evil Overlord has had our three nephews and their bottomless pit stomachs most of the summer. How the heck do you people afford kids? We didn’t really choose this, we kinda had to do it. Their mom and dad just got separated and it was best to remove the brats from the situation. But that’s over now.

Much to their chagrin, the little dorks are back at school and are now back with their parents (well, one at a time any way). That means that we’ve started the crackdown on the bills again. Once again, I’ve set a goal to start school in the spring. Still, I’ll have to admit that I was still a bit skeptical whether we were going to be able to pull this off by then. But perhaps my fears were unwarranted.

To my utter surprise and delight, The Evil Overlord has decided that even if the bills aren’t completely paid off by spring, she still wants me to come off the road. She figures that at some point you just have to dive off the cliff and hope you don’t lose your Speedo when you hit the water. I’ve been thinking the same thing lately.

Now I know some of you are thinking that it’s irresponsible to quit a good-paying job when you’ve got debt, especially in this job market. I know where you’re coming from. Heck, that feeling is exactly why I’m sitting here in this truck right now. Never you fear though, I’m not throwing all caution to the wind. I’d never quit this job until I had another one lined up.

After much discussion, it’s been decided that if we still have a lot of debt come springtime, I’ll just get a local job doing whatever makes the most money. If that’s working on an assembly line, fine. It’s nothing I haven’t done before. Shipping/receiving job? Been there, done that. Even if it’s a local driving job, that’s dandy too. At least I’ll be home more often and I’ll feel like I have a place in The Evil Overlord’s world.

Granted, we all know I’ve made plans like this before and look where that’s gotten me. I’ve had two similar school deadlines come and go and I’m still looking at 11 hours of driving tomorrow. So who knows? Maybe I’ll be out of trucking by Christmas. Maybe I won’t. Until then I’m going to try to act like these are my last few months on the road while I keep working to make it a reality. I’m going to try to keep a more positive outlook on life.

Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re thinking again. I said I’m going to try. TRY! No guarantees. After all, it’s kind of hard to keep a cheery attitude when your low-budget diet consists of tuna salad, peanut butter, and canned soup. Maybe the occasional bag of Skittles would help?

Hell Week 2: The Sequel

July 13, 2011

Photo by designshard via Flickr

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may as well admit you knew this was coming. Heck, @darkstaff said as much in a Tweet. Even stranger, that weirdo even said he was looking forward to it. 😉 So now it’s time to spread the joy in a blog post. Something that future generations can read and marvel at the intelligence of the writer. Oh hush.

As I typed “Hell Week” as the title, I had a sense of deja vu. Sure enough, a search of my blog confirmed that I had already done a “Hell Week” back in September of 2009. So I took my cue from the extremely creative Hollywood movie studios and created a wonderful new title. Hope you appreciate all the thought I put into it.

As I mentioned in my last post, “Post-Hell. Pre-Hell.”, I had a good time the last time I was home. When I hit the road again, I was totally kickin’ butt in the miles department. I had delivered in Dallas and immediately grabbed a load heading to Denver. Now at that point, I should have known to expect the worst. The only good thing that’s ever happened to me in Denver is meeting @alanqbristol and getting treated to some excellent pizza. Denver just so happens to be the city that hosted my only two preventable accidents. And they both happened on the same day. That story is reserved for another day. And that’s what lead up to the doom that loomed.

So, finally on to Hell Week. As Glenn Frey said on the “Hell Freezes Over” album, “And here’s how it all started…”

Friday

I was sitting in Denver, CO waiting for a load when the hell started. I received the load info for a run that picked up immediately. Or so I was told. I started my day on my *&$#ing e-logs and drove .8 miles to my shipper. I dropped my trailer as instructed and checked in. They proceeded to look at me like I was from Neptune and told me the load wouldn’t be ready until Saturday. I called my safety department to ask if they could ignore me starting my day since I’d only done a pre-trip inspection and drove .8 miles. That’s POINT 8. Not even a full mile! I don’t even know why I asked. I knew the answer.

What’s worse is by the time I went to go pick up my empty trailer, the yard jockeys had already grabbed it and stuck it in a dock. I asked to get it back, but they had already begun to load it with product that another driver was taking. Grrr.

Surprisingly enough, I got another load about 3 hours later. I was shocked to see it picked up 538 miles away in Omaha, NE. Hey, it doesn’t matter us company drivers. We get paid for every mile, whether loaded or empty. So ff I went.

Saturday

It was just after midnight on Saturday morning when the attack came. A deer came out of nowhere and we collided with both of us at full speed. I pulled to the shoulder to assess the damage. The grill was gone. My left headlight and signal lights were out. My bumper was cracked and was stuffed with deer hair. Or is it fur? Heck, I’m no outdoorsmen. I checked the rest of the truck and didn’t see a drop of blood anywhere, but I knew the deer was history. I could see where the antlers hit the radiator. It was pretty hard to miss with the coolant gushing out.

Okay, now I’m in a hurry. No time to go back to check on the deer. Besides, that’s a few weeks of supper for some redneck family. Don’t thank me. I just like to do my part to help society. I’m very giving like that. Anyway, it’s too bad my truck is speed-limited. I had about 8 miles to get to the next truck stop; about 20 to get to one with a shop. After calling my maintenance department, my goal was the shop. I got about 4 miles before the engine overheated and shut itself off. I coasted to the shoulder shaking my head in disgust.

My plan was to let the engine cool and run again until I got to the shop. I went to open the hood to help the motor cool, but it felt like it was going to come off the hinges. I rethought that strategy and left it in place. The last thing I needed was a hood lying on the highway. Unfortunately, I had to readjust my plan when it took an hour to cool down enough to run again. Now my goal was the first truck stop. I had gone 4 miles the first time, so I figured I could make it with one last 4-mile sprint. I had gone 3 miles when I saw the flames. Yes, I said flames.

Wouldn’t you know it? 2 A.M. in the middle of Nebraska and this is where a big rig catches on fire? I pulled to side of the road again, watching my e-log count down. If the road didn’t clear soon, I’d have a log violation on my hands. Then again, at least I wasn’t roasting marshmallows on my truck. I finally pulled into the truck stop about 10 minutes after my log ran out. Of  course, there wasn’t any parking so I had to go across the street and park in a hotel parking lot.

I called maintenance again and they asked if I wanted to get a hotel room there. Since the weather was nice and cool, I passed. I think me not wanting to go to hotels is a remnant from days past when The Evil Overlord was out here with me. I HATED having to pack all her crap and lug it to the hotel. I will go to a hotel if the weather sucks, but only then.

The next morning I found a spot at the truck stop and called in again. I was informed no one would be towing me until Monday morning, mainly because the local International dealer was closed on the weekends. While that wasn’t exactly happy news, at least I had access to a shower and a microwave so I wouldn’t starve or smell any worse than I normally do. I didn’t even ask for a hotel room. Why doesn’t my company love me more?

Sunday

To my surprise, the tow truck driver showed up on Sunday afternoon. Apparently he’d been having Sunday lunch at his mother’s house, which was close to me. I sat in my truck the rest of the day outside International dealer. Thankfully, there was a convenience store right across the street. I worked on my new Web site all day and got a lot accomplished for once. Had a lot of good Twitter time too. Thanks to everyone for keeping me in a good mood that day.

Monday

I checked in at the shop as soon as the door opened. By noon they had evaluated the damage. Apparently, there are only two styles of radiators used in that year of truck. They had one in stock. Of course, it wasn’t the one I needed. This is Hell Week, you know. It was going to be Thursday before they got the part. And that decided that.

I had been planning to stick with the truck, but with that bit of bad news I elected to hitch a ride from another company driver to the nearest company terminal. Then the plans changed. I’m quite convinced I would’ve had a Half Hell Week if that hadn’t happened. Instead they sent a different driver to haul me back to the Denver area to pick up an abandoned truck. My first thought was,“Great. If a driver is a big enough jerk to abandon a truck, I wonder how nasty it’s gonna be.” My fears would soon be realized.

A driver named Danny picked me up and we were both grateful neither of us smoked. He was funny and just as talkative as me, possibly more so. Ha, ha. Very funny. I know what you’re thinking. Anyway, after a quick stop for coffee, we were on our way.

Tuesday

We arrived at the Flying J in Aurora, CO about 3 A.M. and I went inside to get the keys from the cashier. Supposedly, they had been left there, but the cashier couldn’t find them. Well, that’s just fabulous. We began looking for the truck. We found it and the door was locked. Grrrr. But then I noticed the windows were rolled down. I told Danny, “This guy must’ve been a real jerk to leave the windows down.” He agreed. I stood on the running board and reached inside to unlock the door. That’s when the face popped out from the bunk area. Holy crap! I wasn’t prepared for that! The driver was still in it. What the heck? I thought it was abandoned?

Okay. First off, I could smell the cigarette smoke when I was standing on the running board, but didn’t notice the butt funk until I was throwing all my stuff in the bunk area. This truck smelled horrible. I mentioned the smoke to the driver, but didn’t mention the B.O. issue. Aren’t I sweet? Like all smokers, he didn’t think it was all that bad because he smoked with the windows roll down. Oh boy. I won’t get started down that path.

Now here’s a reminder to everyone that there are always two sides to a story. The driver’s girlfriend would be there to pick him up in a few hours. Since I wasn’t going to sleep while he was in there and he didn’t appear to have any intention to get out of the truck, we chatted. Naturally, I asked him why he was quitting. He told me he got another job and had put in a two-week notice. That was three weeks ago and his dispatcher had just given him another load to Wyoming. Problem was, he lived in Joplin, MO. That’s near my home and the opposite direction from Wyoming. Small world, huh? And that’s why he was “abandoning” the truck. Two sides, folks. Two sides.

Turns out his apartment building was one of the many lost in the recent tornado. I felt sorry for him… but not for long. The job he got was my dream trucking job (if there is such a thing). FedEx had hired him to drive from Joplin to St. Louis and back 5 days a week. Home every day. I’ve been looking for something like for years, so I asked him how he landed a sweet gig like that. He said, “Every single time I was home for the last 4 years, I went into the FedEx terminal and asked ’em for a job.” Okay. Clearly this guy deserved it more than me. Kudos to him… and curses.

The driver’s ride finally arrived and I rolled out my sleeping bag. I wasn’t going to get any of my real bedding out as I had no intention of staying in that truck. Having a kick-butt dispatcher, she called me first thing that morning and asked me about the condition of the truck. When I told her what a pig sty it was she said, “Okay. I’ve already started looking for a load to the yard.” No argument at all. I really wasn’t expecting that.

I got a load and as I was loading it I talked to another driver. Would you believe it? His family was from Joplin and his mom was in the hospital at the time when St. John’s Hospital was hit. The world keeps getting smaller and smaller.

When I took off, I discovered that Mr. B.O. liked to idle his truck… a lot. As some of you know, our truck’s speed is determined by idle time. This truck was at 54% idle time. Any trucker will tell you that going 60 mph sucks. However, it’s amplified to the tenth power if you’re going 60 mph across the flat lands that is I-70 in Eastern Colorado and nearly all of Kansas.

The load delivered near St. Louis, but my goal for the day was Kansas City. Since my company doesn’t allow certain toll roads, I had to bypass the Kansas Turnpike between Topeka and KC. The first leg of US-40 is lined with trees and is as dark as Satan’s closet. I was only going 45 mph when I came within 20 feet of hitting another deer. Had I not hit the brakes HARD, Rudolph would’ve been toast. About five miles further, I came about 50 feet from taking out all of Rudolph’s relatives.

Wednesday

It was just after midnight and time was ticking down on the ol’ e-logs as I was pushing it to get to KC. I was planning on pulling into a Quik Trip I knew of and grabbing some hot water for some ramen noodles, then booking it to a little parking area just west of KC before my time ran out. Being the bonehead that I am, I was thinking the QT was on I-435, when it was actually on I-635, so no hot meal for me.

After my mandatory 10-hour bunk time, I finally caught a break. My dispatcher had been looking for a relay that would get me near our yard and she found one going directly there. So by Wednesday night, I was waiting at the yard for the shop to open Thursday morning.

Thursday

I was waiting with bells on Thursday morning. I asked for a new truck and of course, was told there weren’t any available. They offered to clean the smoky B.O. truck. I told them I’d give it a shot, but I wasn’t holding my breath. I mean really, I’d already been holding it for a couple of days.

I was right. After the cleaning, it simply smelled like an orangy, smoky, B.O. truck. Time to go see the boss. She said the same thing. The only trucks available were reserved for the new hires. Okay. That’s when I got a bit hot.  I said, “So basically, the new hires are more important than someone who’s been with the company for a year?” She went back and talked to the guy in charge of tractors. After a long time, she came back and told me to hang out and they’d find something for me. They finally did.

This truck didn’t smell at all like smoke when I got in it the first time. And since it’d been sitting in the hot sun all day, I thought I had a good one. However, the longer I’m in it the more I notice I can smell it sometimes. It’s very faint and it comes and goes, so I’m not going to pitch a fit about it… for once in my life. HA! Beat you to it.

I got a load to the Texas Panhandle and after picking it up, I noticed that my e-logs where acting funky. I called and to my delight I discovered that my new truck was one of a handful of trucks that was testing a new version of software. Oh boy. It was still buggy and required me to call the Safety Department for corrections nearly every time I picked up or delivered a load. The bugs are still there. And that really “bugs” me.

Friday

Just before I got to Amarillo, I blew a trailer tire. I had planned on delivering the load by midnight since that was the end of the pay period, but now that wasn’t going to happen. With the Hell Week I was having, I needed it. Alas! Another ray of light! I called night dispatch and asked them to include the load on that pay period. Amazingly, they agreed. I’d asked them numerous times before, but this was the first time they actually did it. I knew those jerks were always lying in the past when they told me they system wouldn’t let them. Grrrr.

And for good measure… an extra day: Saturday

I was on my way back from Texas when I noticed a lump on a trailer tire. That’s not all that strange, except it was night and I was moving at the time. The lump was that big. I stopped to check it out and I was shocked. It looked like a cantaloupe was trying to bust out of the sidewall! I considered letting some air out to alleviate some of the pressure, but quite frankly, I was scared to get any closer to it than I already was. By the time I got to Joplin to get the tire fixed, the bulge had actually gone back down. There was a rip in the sidewall, but miraculously, the tire was still inflated.

Anywho, a mere 5 hour wait for the tire to be fixed and I was on my way again. And thus ends Hell Week 2. Got a Hell Week of your own? Or how about a Hell Day? Click on the comment button and let’s hear about it. I’ll bet you can do it in waaaaaaay less than 2882 words. Heck. You could probably start a new country and write your own Constitution in fewer words.

Post-Hell. Pre-Hell.

July 1, 2011

Photo by DVIDSHUB via Flickr

Many of you know that my entire family lives in Joplin, Missouri. And that means they recently went through the tornado. Here’s an update on my last home time. It wasn’t all devastation and destruction though. Oh. And this post has got absolutely nothing to do with trucking. Other than the fact that it had me 1400 miles away when the tornado touched down.

With Taco Bell in hand, The Evil Overlord and I dropped in to see my mom and brother after they lost their home to the tornado that ripped Joplin, Missouri to shreds. And for those of you wondering about that living arrangement, I assure you that my older brother isn’t a serial killer. He has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). And not the cute kind you see in the movies. The real kind. God bless my mom. Hey wait a second, serial killers always turn out to be “such a nice man.” Hmm. I better keep an eye on him. LOL

Over the undefinable goodness of Mexican Pizzas, they described what they remembered of the actual event, which was surprisingly little. Mom said she wasn’t particularly worried about the tornado warning because she’d been in so many before and nothing ever came of it. I’ll bet she’s not the only one who’s been through a tornado that had those thoughts. Tim was getting concerned and was trying to decide whether he should head to the bathtub or not. When a tornado is on the way, I’m guessing it’s not a very good time to have OCD. Not that there is a good time for it. Mom was in her bedroom and remembers looking out the window and seeing a branch blowing violently. That’s when it hit.

Tim remembered a window shattering. Mom remembered getting throw down at the end of the bed. They both said it sounded like the loudest freight train in the world. Since that’s pretty much how everyone describes it, that didn’t exactly surprise me. Next thing they knew, they were both buried in rubble, mom with her heavy sewing table forming a little roof over her head (thank God for old-fashioned, well-built furniture) and Tim was buried in an awkward fetal position with his arm behind his back.

They have no idea how long they were buried before some neighbors came calling. After they got unburied, they were on their way to a neighbors place when the authorities came and told them to go down the street to a safe haven. They were concerned that the gas lines might ignite. Yikes! That’s when my sister (Angi) and her husband (Mike) showed up and took control of the situation. Thank God my sis is good at stuff like this, because I was in Vermont at the time. Mom and Tim stayed with them for the next few days while they sorted through the rubble.

Here’s the thing. This devastating event once again confirms why I’d like to give every member of the media a shoulder ride while walking under a running helicopter. There was lots of reporting on the looting and other horrific stories, but very few reports of the good deeds that were done. Everyone remembers the “Christian” wacko that predicted the rapture the day before. Very little was said about the real Christians who helped in the aftermath of the storm.

My family said that every single day they were going through the debris, a church group (Christian) came by and offered food, drink, and sometimes even gift cards to help the survivors. One man came by and asked Mike if he used to live there. Mike explained that he owned the house, but mom and Tim lived there. The guy handed him a $200 gift card and walked away.

Now I don’t know if this guy was a Christian or not, but I’m gonna go ahead and claim him as one of ours. That sounds like something Jesus would do. Even if he wasn’t, where were this guy’s good deeds on the news? Where were the stories about the Christian churches that helped? If a “Christian” church shows up to protest a soldier’s funeral or tell a town that their city was hit by a tornado because they’re a bunch of sinners, the media is all over it. An act of kindness? Well, that’s not good TV. Grrrrr. Anyone got a helicopter handy?

Okay. Off the soapbox. Now for the positives of the aftermath. Although the house was leveled, they somehow managed to salvage a lot of their belongings. They were going to need new beds and living room furniture, but not because they were blown away by the 200 mph winds. It was the rain that fell nearly every day for the next week that ruined them.

Luckily, that home was a rental (unluckily owned by my brother-in-law and sister) and mom and Tim’s old place hadn’t sold yet. So at least they had a home to go to. Many Joplin residents are still holed up in hotel rooms. Angi and Mike set them up with beds and a new TV. An uncle provided a nice leather couch. It seems that when the new wife doesn’t like it, it’s gotta go anyway. The washer and dryer survived. Even a delicate vase of moms managed to survive. Now their minivan had a metal stake through the headrest, but a fragile vase survives without a scratch. Tornados are weird like that. Even the majority of Tim’s vast music collection was saved. His cassettes are probably ruined by the rain, but his CD’s and vinyl records seems to have survived.

Their only physical damage was cuts and bruises. They said mom’s face displayed every color of the rainbow over the course of two weeks. By the time I got there two weeks after the storm, they were both pretty well healed up. And for the record, my sister told me not to come home early to help. She said they were limited by the rain as to how much they could actually do. I did have dispatch head me back closer to home and run me around there just in case they needed me.

All said and done, they came out of this with more emotional damage than physical or monetary. Sure, they lost some personal stuff, but the most important stuff survived: them and all the family photos. And that’s pretty darn good considering an F-5 tornado went right over their heads.

The part I regret most was the fact that I didn’t manage to go into Joplin to see the damage firsthand. I’m told that it’s eerie to stand in the middle of the rubble and look off in the distance at the now visible hospital. All the trees and houses blocked the view before. Everyone says that TV images and pictures just can’t do it justice. I had planned to drive up there before I left, but as is typical, the nephews were a handful to put to bed the night before and no one woke up in time. Speaking of those pesky nephews.

The next day was a fun day. Jacob, my 12-year-old nephew had 10 bucks burning a hole in his pocket, so good ol’ Uncle Todd took him to Wal-Mart. He bought a Super Soaker pistol for $7 and realizing that wouldn’t be much fun by himself, he tried to talk me into buying a couple more for the other two boys, Jared, 10, and Joel, 6. I did what any good uncle would do. I put a guilt trip on him. The Evil Overlord had told me not to spend any money so I said, “You realize the more money I spend, the longer I have to stay out on the road?” End of discussion. He didn’t want that. Isn’t that sweet? The little fart-knocker.

That’s when he saw the water pistols for $1 each. He grabbed three of them, two for his brothers and one for me. He then remembered taxes and deduced he didn’t have enough for the third gun. I convinced him I could afford the taxes on $10. And by the way, thank you China for making water guns that leak before you ever even pull the stinkin’ trigger.

Once home, you can probably guess what happened. As we were filling up the guns with the water hose, Jacob told hold of it. Before any of the guns were filled, everyone was soaked to the skin. What was I thinking handing the hose to a 12-year-old boy? I used to be one, for crying out loud.

Well, we had a lot of fun until things got out of hand. I hadn’t realized how powerful the stream from the water hose was until I took a direct blast to the face. I thought it was going to shove my eyeballs back into my skull and out my nose holes. A stern warning from me about spraying in the face and the soaking resumed.

Although there was some intense duck and cover Army tactics going on, the majority of the drenching consisted of standing in a line while one person soaked down the rest with the fire hose. The hoser got to shout out, “TURN!” and we all had to obey. Again, being boys, this basically involved frontal blasting while the targets covered their eyes with one hand and their “junk” with the other as the hose-holder took careful aim and laughed maniacally.

Of course, Jared eventually couldn’t resist the urge to blast me in the face when I wasn’t expecting it. And there the fun stopped. Why do kids always push their luck? When The Evil Overlord saw us all dripping at the front door, she sent us packing down the road to dry off first. I’m pretty sure she was trying to peter them out. Possibly me too. It sure worked on me. Not so much on them. Young boys are like monkeys on Red Bull.

So this home time involved mostly good news. That seems odd to say when it involved a tornado and taking fire hose blasts to tender areas. Still, it was good that I had some good news and some good times; because in a few days it was all going to go to hell in a hand basket. Stay tuned.

Guest Post: This is the Life. We All Have to be Somewhere. This is My Life. By Jean McHarry

May 26, 2011

Hey! Todd here. Yes. I know you were expecting me, but I won’t be the one entertaining you today. Let me explain. You and I both know I’m a blabbermouth, but sometimes I just don’t know what to say about a particular subject. I had one of those cases back in July of 2010 with a post called Riding Along with a Trucker.

This post was written due to a question I got from Lucinda, a woman who was planning on riding along with her trucker husband, but only as a passenger. She was asking for advice. Well, I’ve never done that and neither had The Evil Overlord, so I enlisted the help of a couple of Twitter friends. Patty, a.k.a. @luv18wheels and @CB_SnowAngel (who apparently has given up on Twitter) gave some sound advice, but I knew I’d want more eventually. That’s how we arrived today at my first guest post.

I don’t plan on doing this a lot, but I thought I knew someone who could both answer the question better than I could and reach meet my required level on the Snark-O-Meter. Recently, I decided to hit up Jean McHarry, a.k.a the infamous @raysunshine77 on Twitter. She’s a first class smart aleck on Twitter and she always cracks me up with her sarcastic sense of humor. I’m also beginning to wonder if she’s a long-lost sister of The Evil Overlord. After much manipulation (I lied and told her I liked her), she finally acquiesced. I think you’ll be glad she did. She did a bang-up job on what she admitted was her first writing assignment since high school. I’ll let her introduce herself. That’s her standing next to her devastatingly handsome husband. Love that macho mustache. Hey, wait a second…

This is the life. We all have to be somewhere. This is my life.

By Jean McHarry

Don’t call me a seat cover! Don’t assume I’m a lot lizard! Don’t disrespect me because you don’t want women taking away a man’s job! Don’t accuse me of not having knowledge of this industry because I ride! Don’t ask me to run away with you cause you have a bigger, badder truck! And for the love of all that is chrome, don’t ask me to move the stupid truck!

I have driven, I’ve dispatched, I’ve loaded and unloaded trailers and I’ve run a truck stop. DOT assumes I’m a driver and will sometimes ask for my log book. I have to produce paperwork to show that I am allowed to be here, that I won’t do anything that would be considered work and I pay for this privilege. I love my life, I love being out here on the road. I enjoy every aspect of being a truck driver except I don’t drive the truck and let’s make this clear, I don’t want to drive the truck and no one is going to make me.

My husband has diesel running through his veins. He says it’s all he ever wanted to do (that’s a small lie, he also wanted to be a train engineer or a boat captain) and I believe it’s all he’ll ever do. I enjoy being out here. I love going new places, meeting new people and just being a little bit of a gypsy. Waking up someplace new and not knowing where I’m going to be tomorrow is a thrill that I truly appreciate. I am a passenger. That’s all I want to be.

I call myself a rolling assistant because I do more than just sit here and look pretty. I spend about a quarter of my time playing navigator. Between maps (both truck and city versions), a functional GPS, the company’s routing, the local directions, and my notes on the local directions, I can tell where we’ve been, where we’re at, where we need to be going and just how long it should take to do it all. This knowledge also helps me with keeping an eye on the weather. Twitter really has been my best friend in this endeavor. Those up to the minute updates that tell me it’s raining in Texas helped a whole lot when we were dealing with blizzards in Buffalo. I keep track of loads and payroll, keep up on all relevant news and generally just keep him company.

I cook. That sounds so simple when you type it. Is there any way to make it simple in the truck? We don’t have a refrigerator, so storage of perishables must be done in a cramped cooler that also holds our water. Canned goods have one cabinet available to them and it can’t be opened without something landing on a foot or head. I carry a crock pot, a lunchbox (it’s shaped just like those old lunch boxes your dad took to work and functions kind of like a crock pot) and an electric skillet. One of these days when I find room, I want a rice cooker but at this point something else has to move out for it to have a home.

We try to eat out of the truck for 18 out of 21 meals. Sometimes we accomplish this, most weeks it’s closer to 14 out of 21. Sometimes, we just need out of the truck. It’s not like eating dinner at the house. Imagine you had to eat every meal with your spouse in the bathroom (just throw a mattress over the tub and put the lid down on the toilet). At some point, you would need a break. Restaurants have so much more space and other people to help carry on conversations. These two luxuries can make a really long day seem like a vacation. Because when there are just two of you, there is only so much to be said and quite frankly if he asks me one more time “whatcha doing?”, I might hit him with a tire thumper.

I clean. That’s another one of those things that sounds so simple but is never as simple as you want it to be. Mirrors need to be cleaned. Glass on both the inside and the outside. Dusting (I hate dust and in a truck, the stuff just reappears the moment you knock it off). To sweep and mop (something I try to do every other day) requires half the truck be picked up and put someplace else while I accomplish such an easy task. The cooler (loaded down with ice, half a case of water and whatever perishables have been purchased for the week), the crock pot, the lunchbox oven, the trash can, 4 pairs of boots, 3 pairs of tennis shoes and the rugs. They must go somewhere. I just wish I knew where. The bed is already loaded down with luggage, a shower bag, my purse, laundry baskets, and a dozen bags of other stuff that one of these days will eventually find a home. Once the floors are all pretty, it all has to be put back. At least until bedtime. Then everything has to be moved back up front so we can sleep.

My goal is to try to make his load a little lighter, especially since I increase the weight of the truck (I have to bring a lot of stuff). Didn’t you see all the stuff I just mentioned? I’d like to have so much more, but there will never be room and I probably wouldn’t use it if I finally got it in here. My resolution each year is to try that whole minimalistic lifestyle. One of these years, it’s gonna happen. Trust me.

I spend my day trolling for news articles to read to him. I download podcasts that we both enjoy to kill the hours of driving. There is only so much music and news you can listen to in an 11 hour day. Even less now, since every hour the whole thing seems to repeat. We joke, we tease, we argue, we repeat.

I spend a huge chunk of my day online. I harass people I’ve never met (and some I never will) on Twitter. I stalk people I do know on Facebook. I farm and tame the frontier. I troll truck driving and cooking forums. He used to complain that I spent most of my day on the computer and phone. He’d ask what could I possibly be doing that would waste 7 hours a day. Why wasn’t I looking at the beautiful scenery and enjoying just relaxing while he drove? Why wasn’t I paying more attention to what was going on around us? That’s what he does. Why couldn’t I do that? I tried to explain.

From my side, with no vehicle to control, just looking at scenery that I’ve seen 100 times isn’t entertaining. It’s like staring at a wall. Now when we go home, I drive. That’s 8 to 12 hours, depending on who we are going to visit. He whines the whole time that he’s bored. I tell him to relax and enjoy the scenery, pay more attention to what’s going on around us. That’s how I get new toys.

I’d like to say we are unique, but that wouldn’t be true. I know plenty of couples out here that are in the same boat we are; one drives and one rides. Anybody that has met him will ask how I spend 24/7 with him. I am heavily medicated. All kidding aside, we love each other and we take care of each other and we are co-dependent on each other. We’ve spent time apart. I didn’t like it. He didn’t like it. I respect couples that team. I respect women that stay at home while their husband is out here on the road. I’ve been there, done that and I don’t plan on going back.

*Todd here again. Please leave your comments and/or questions here and I’ll make sure Jean sees them. You can also contact her directly through Twitter @raysunshine77, email her at janedean77@yahoo.com, or check out her Facebook page. I hear she also doesn’t mind the occasional stalker. ;-)*

Truckers vs. Cops vs. DOT vs. Carriers

December 21, 2010

Photo by davidsonscott15 via Flickr

There is a constant unseen battle going on in the trucking industry. It’s like the movie “Alien vs. Predator,” only with two more factions that rear back their butt-ugly heads and roar. Perhaps someone should make a massive online video game about it.

It could be called Truckers vs. Cops vs. DOT vs. Carriers. I’d ask all the geeks to play as the Trucker faction. That way the proper groups would receive the bloody slaughter that they deserve. Let me explain what brought this blog post to fruition.

I was sitting at a truck stop in Birmingham, Alabama when it all started. I had arrived there on a Saturday night and was still 150 miles away from my delivery location. The load didn’t have to be there until Monday at midnight.

I could have had the load to the receiver by 9 AM on Sunday, but I was planning on delivering it by 9 AM on Monday. Now why would I do that? My trucking readers already know the answer, so let’s get the unwashed masses of non-truckers up to speed.

Truckers can only work 70 hours within an 8 day period. This is called the 70-hour rule. This includes driving, loading or unloading, fueling, inspections, dropping and hooking trailers, etc. Anything that takes up time to do your job goes against the 70 hours. Enter the 34-hour rule.

The 34-hour rule says that if a trucker is down for 34 straight hours (either off-duty, in the sleeper berth, or an uninterrupted combination of the two), they can reset their 70-hour work week. But why is this a good thing? Because after 7 days of driving, we only get back the hours that we ran a week ago. So if I only ran 3 hours last Wednesday, that’s exactly how many hours I would have available to work this Wednesday (providing I max out my hours every day). It’s a bit more complicated than that, but you get the gist of it.

Every trucker and dispatcher knows that the week before Christmas is busier than a Las Vegas pimp. There are lots of dropped loads, relaying with other drivers, and cancelling or switching of loads, all in the name of getting the driver home for Christmas. Seeing as how this all happened the week before Christmas, I wanted to be able to run as hard as possible that week. And that’s why I elected to do my 34-hour restart instead of delivering ASAP.

That’s when my Qualcomm beeped at me (that’s the satellite communication thingy-ma-bop; yes, that’s the technical name). Weekend dispatch had a preplan for me and needed me to call in. After viewing the load on my Qualcomm, I figured up my logs and realized that I couldn’t finish my 34 hours and still deliver my current load and pick up the preplan on time. I’d have to leave at about the 32 hour mark to do it legally.

I called in and asked if I could finish the 34 hours and pick up the preplan 1-2 hours late. Some customers allow late pick ups, but of course, this wasn’t one of them. I was told that the 34-hour restart is a luxury, not something that is required. He was right and I knew it. Still, most dispatchers would work with you. He said I was the only one in the area that could do the load. Yea, I know drivers, we’ve all heard that a million and one times.

I accepted my fate and figured I’d go ahead and deliver ASAP instead of waiting. That way I could deliver, drive to the pick up point, and get in a 10-hour break before my appointment time. Once loaded, I’d have a full 11 hours to run. That was my plan anyway.

After driving 3 hours to deliver the load, I heard another beep. Assuming it was my load information for this all-important, cancer-curing, God-ordained preplan, I eagerly read the message, only to find out the load had cancelled. I mumbled something not print-worthy, took a few deep breaths, and called in again.

I was told that the load had been double-booked. This means that two drivers had somehow managed to be issued the same load. When I expressed my frustration of being pulled off a 34-hour restart to cover the load, all I got was, “Sorry.” Being the completely unselfish guy that I am, I asked why I was pulled off the load instead of the other driver, to which I got the intellectually-stimulating answer of, “I don’t know.” Good answer, Crap-for-brains.

Now to find a parking spot. There was only one tiny little truck stop with no real parking, and it was already jammed with trucks. I pulled out of the lot, hit my flashers, and pulled onto the edge of the road. Keep in mind, this is a side street, not a major corridor. Seeing as how my Qualcomm doesn’t work when the truck is moving, I had to stop to send a message relaying my intention to drive to the next town to look for parking.

I had been there for approximately one minute (no exaggeration) when a car pulled up with its headlights pointing at me. As I hadn’t blocked the driveway, I figured the guy was just being a jerk. I went about typing my message. When he continued to sit there I began to wonder if it was a cop. No lights or any decals were visible, but just in case, I held up my keyboard to show him what I was doing. He continued to sit there.

Just as I was ready to get out to see if it was a cop, he pulled around to the driver’s side, got out of the car and yelled, yes, yelled at me, “You’re parked in the street!” I said, “My keyboard doesn’t work when the truck is moving. I was just sending a quick message and I was just getting ready to leave. I’ve been here less than a minute. My brake isn’t even pulled.” He yelled yet again, “Why didn’t you move when I was sitting there?” I said, “You were pointed straight at me with your headlights on, you’ve got no lights on the hood or on your dash, and no visible decals. How was I supposed to know you were a cop?”

That’s when he got the look. It reminded me of Martin Lawrence as he’s about to go into his, “Is this because I’m a black man?” tirade that is present in everything he does. I don’t mean this to be racist, but that’s exactly what it reminded me of. Again, a yell. “Give me your license!” I was waiting for a “boy” to finish out the sentence, but it didn’t come.

I handed it to him and he got back in his car. He immediately got back out and yelled again, “Get out of the street!” “Where am I supposed to go!” “I don’t care! Just get out of the street!” He followed me as I pulled around to the fuel bay and within 10 minutes he was back at my door with a ticket in hand. Once I figured out I was getting a ticket, I figured, what the heck Todd; give him a piece of your mind.

In a calm voice I said, “You know, I have a lot of appreciation for the job you guys do, but clearly you don’t have any appreciation for what truckers put up with. I’ve got all these guidelines to follow and no one cares as long as I’m following theirs at the moment. My load unexpectedly cancelled and I was looking for a place to park. As you can see, there aren’t any spots here. Since I can’t drive around without telling my company what I’m doing, and I can’t use my satellite unless I’m sitting still, I pulled to the side of the road. Yes, I know I should’ve pulled back into the fuel bay, but I was just going to be there for a minute or two.”

He said, “That’s not my concern and as far as the rest of these truckers, I’m fixin’ to go move them too.” What a set-up he had just provided. I said, “There’s another thing. DOT has regulations too. If you wake those drivers up and make them move, most of them will be violating the DOT rules. But why would you care about that? If they get caught driving illegally, it’s their license and money that’s in jeopardy. But again, that’s not your problem, is it?”

By this time, he was getting quieter, but he managed to say, “That doesn’t change the fact that you were still breaking the law.” I responded, “Yes, I admit that. But you could have just as easily considered that I was only there for a minute and let me off with a warning. But no…”

He handed me my ticket and told me there was a small place to park about a mile up the road. Being the snarky kinda guy that I am, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to say, “Gee. Would’ve been nice if you’d told me that BEFORE giving me a ticket. I would’ve been happy to move. That’s all I was looking for was a place to park.” I confess that I was overjoyed when I managed to kick up a bunch of dust on his car as I left.

So that’s the battle. The Cops, the DOT, and Carriers all have guidelines that Truckers need to follow. Each thinks theirs is the most important. As long as the driver is complying with their rules, the world is a happy land of fluffy bunnies and chocolate streams. And why not? The driver is the only one taking the risk. Things are just as they should be.

To end this on a somewhat happy note, I called the Chief of Police the following morning. I explained that the officer hadn’t identified himself until he pulled around. I then relayed the rest of the story and asked if I was supposed to be able to read the officer’s mind. He chuckled. The chief realized that I had a good point. He apologized for the incident and asked if I would mind paying court costs if he could have the ticket reduced to a non-point violation. Of course, I agreed. Nevermind that the court costs on a $30 ticket are $101.50. Sheez Louise. Are these people cops or robbers?

*Please leave your stories of your battles with inconsiderate Cops, DOT, and Carriers in the comments for all to enjoy. And don’t forget to give a star rating at the top of the post.*

A Trucker’s Home

December 6, 2010

I’m 42 years old and The Evil Overlord has been 29 for several years now. We live with her parents. How pathetic is that? Well, according to many of the truckers I’ve spoken with, it’s not pathetic at all. Well, at least it’s not that uncommon anyway.

I was reminded of this again yesterday when my company asked me to pick up a driver whose truck had broken down. He needed a lift home and they needed me to rescue him and the load he had been hauling. I’d be willing to bet that they were more concerned with the load than the driver. Carriers are “family-oriented” like that.

I knew immediately that Clint was a non-smoker. If he had been a puffer, all his stuff would’ve smelled like smoke and it would have taken a week or two to fumigate my truck after the 4.5 hour trip to his house. I did, however, put my foot down when he tried to bring his 13-gallon trash can into my cab. That would be the one that was caked with Skoal spit. *shudders* I was also grateful to discover that he wasn’t one of those annoying drivers. That would have made it seem like an 8-hour trip.

As we talked (and no, I didn’t do all the talking), I discovered that Clint was an avid sportsman who loved hunting and fishing. Well, there’s two things right off the bat that we don’t have in common. I’m certain that I don’t have the skill to shoot a fish or cast far enough to snag a deer.

As the conversation progressed, I discovered that he was a 41-year-old single guy who had never been married. After serving a couple of terms in the Navy, he got his CDL (Commercial Drivers License) and moved home with his dad. His father had recently passed away after a nightmare called Alzheimer’s disease.

I asked him if he had moved in with his dad because of the Alzheimer’s, to which he said, “No. He got that years later. I drive a truck. I’m never home. What the hell do I need a house for?”

Good point. While it may be pathetic for most grown adults to live with their parents, I believe that truckers might be one of the exceptions. People with special needs such as physical or mental disabilities would be understandable too. Now that I think of it, a lot of truckers might qualify for the mental side of that.

After The Evil Overlord and I got married, we moved to Dallas where I attended The Art Institute. During that time, we rented an apartment and suffered through life as most poor, uneducated, newlyweds do. They were some of the best years of our lives. Doesn’t everybody say that?

After graduation, we came back to Missouri and moved in with her parents until we could get our lives in order. We got into trucking after discovering that my degree was a worthless as a bartender at a lemonade stand.

As truckers, we stayed out on the road for 3 weeks at a time. Many drivers stay out much longer than that. When we did get home, we were only there for 3-4 days at a time, so we never really saw the need to get a place of our own. Her parents were happy to see us when we got home and they had an extra room to spare, so what the heck?

Years later, we got the itch to own a home. Since we were making good money, we thought we’d build a house that we could enjoy when we finally quit trucking and came off the road. We built that beautiful house, but there was one big honkin’ problem. We didn’t see any immediate end to our trucking careers.

I’ve got to tell you, it really sucked paying a large mortgage payment on a place that seemed to only be good for doing your laundry when you came off the road. It didn’t take long before we sold it and moved back in with her parents.

Fast forward to present day. The Evil Overlord is no longer driving. She quit for a while, then came back for a year-and-a-half, then quit again. Fickle woman. This time it’s for good though. Now she’s back at school and living with her parents while I’m out here on the road. And that is why we’ve put a deposit down on one-half of a brand new rental duplex.

Parents are fine. Actually, they’re more than fine. Without those two people feeling frisky at least once in their lives, you wouldn’t even exist. We should all thank them for doing the nasty for us. Still, they aren’t someone you want to live with for the rest of your lives. That’s why the Bible says to “leave your parents and cleave to your spouse.” God knew even back then that your parents would eventually drive you bonkers.

After The Evil Overlord put the deposit down on the place, she gleefully called me up to ask me if I was excited. I was less than enthused and she was perplexed. I explained that, while I understood her giddiness, I was still out here on the road for 3 weeks at a pop. She was happy to be getting some personal space and that was understandable. Since I’m rarely home, all it does for me is make her happy. And after all, I guess that’s part of a husband’s job. I’m sure I’ll enjoy getting back to the way it all began. It’ll be just me and The Evil Overlord again. And those pesky nephews, I guess. Unfortunately, my glee will only last for 30-40 hours a month.

My point is this. You’ve got good reason to raise your eyebrows when you meet a grown adult who still lives with his/her parents, but if you find out that person is a trucker, give them some slack. Would you want to spend a good chunk of your monthly income to own a home or maintain an apartment that you rarely get to visit?

*Please leave a comment with your thoughts on this subject. And if you’re feeling particularly nice, go up to the top of the post and give it a star rating. Thanks.*

How Much is Too Much?

November 25, 2010

Photo by MyLifeStory via Flickr

I’m fixing to kill two birds with one stone. As if I could even hit one bird with a stone, let alone two. Heck. I once missed a squirrel from 20 feet with a 12-gauge shotgun. Seriously. I’ve got no hope with a freakin’ stone.

Any-who, for those of you who don’t know, the carrier I drive for has made a lot of changes to company policy lately. I’ve been rather vocal about these changes, both online and off. This prompted me to write a letter to the head of our safety department. Not an e-mail, an actual letter; with a stamp and everything. Perhaps I should address it with giant block letters, that way it will for sure get noticed. Nah. I don’t want to have the HazMat folks evacuating the building.

I’ve decided to post this letter on the blog because it speaks to a subject that every driver has to face. What exactly are you willing to give up in order to get something else? Maybe it’s a nicer truck or the opportunity to be home more often? In my case, it’s higher pay that causes me to make sacrifices. But where do you draw the line? How much is too much?

Also, this letter will show you hot-headed drivers how to write a respectful letter to an employer, a government official, or a retailer who has given you bad service. Not that I’m an expert on the subject, but I know that some of you psychotic drivers out there think everything can be solved by cramming your fist down someone’s esophagus. While that’s a temptation we all want to give in to, a little respect goes a long way. So here goes.

The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Also the company name, the address, and the pay rates. And before anyone asks, I’ll say it again. I DO NOT reveal the name of my company. This is to insure that my butt keeps it’s job. Also, the formatting of the address looks funky on here. I assure you that it looks beau-tee-ful on the actual letter.

November 24, 2010

Mr. Q.B. Cull

Turtle Trucking

10-4 Drive

Freightville, Hawaii

Dear Mr. Cull,

I trust that I have sent this to the appropriate party. If not, please pass it on to the correct individual or department.

In light of some of Turtle Trucking’s recent decisions (and some older ones), I felt the need to voice my opinion. According to many of the other company drivers that I’ve spoken with, I’m positive that I’m not the only one who is concerned.

We all know that Turtle Trucking charges its customers a premium price for excellent service. According to the company line, none of this is possible without top-of-the-line drivers. I fear that these policies are going to start affecting the quality of drivers that are attracted to Turtle Trucking.

I don’t actively recruit drivers, but I have plenty of them ask me about the company. The first thing they ask is if the 3 cents per mile is true. I have to tell them that pay rate was before the bad economy hit, and that it’s now 2 cents. Still, I assure them that the money and the miles are there to be had.

Next, they ask me how I like the company. I tell them that the company is efficient and the money is great, but that they will have to make some sacrifices for it. The first thing I mention is that no inverters are allowed in the truck. They always ask about the cigarette lighter kind, to which I say no. 9 times out of 10, they walk away.

If that didn’t scare them off, they usually say, “That’s okay, I’ve got one of those cooking devices that plugs into a cigarette lighter.” Now I have to tell them that they can’t have those either. I’d be willing to bet that they’ll walk off too. Every Turtle Trucking driver I’ve spoken with is livid about this new rule.

Drivers only have a few things that make their life on the road bearable: a paycheck on Friday, a hot shower, and a hot meal. Turtle Trucking pays more than most carriers, but now if I want a hot meal I have to spend that hard-earned money to eat in restaurants. If the health and efficiency of the driver is truly a concern for Turtle Trucking, this can’t be a good thing. Not to mention, hot meals cooked in the truck are $2-3, and the cheapest you can walk out of a truck stop restaurant is $10.

I spoke with a couple of 10+ year Turtle Trucking drivers and some maintenance personnel about the inverter issue. It seems that they were banned after a couple of drivers misused their inverters, which caused their trucks to catch fire. I can only assume that some drivers recently showed poor judgment using their cooking devices too.

It’s disturbing to me that a few drivers with poor judgment can affect company policy so much. If a driver is found to be an unsafe driver, you don’t put the truck out of commission; you get rid of the driver responsible for the behavior. Why punish all the drivers who still use common sense? Clearly, these devices couldn’t be sold if they were unsafe to operate. It’s the idiotic driver who is at fault.

Next up: idling. While I personally think the new idling policy is fair, I’ve had many-a-driver walk away when I mention it. Most say it wouldn’t be an issue if we had APU’s, but as you well know, Turtle Trucking hasn’t decided that they’re cost effective yet.

E-logs are another matter. I know every carrier will eventually convert to E-logs, but I also know from talking to drivers that most want to avoid them as long as possible. Therefore, many won’t even be considering Turtle Trucking.

Despite what the company posters say, all the Turtle Trucking drivers that I’ve spoken with don’t like them. At worst, one company driver was going to retire early because of them. At best, the remaining drivers say that they don’t like them, but that they are “tolerable.”

Lastly is the fact that you have to turn your truck in if you’re going to be out of it for more than 3 days. I know it used to be 4 days. One of those 10+ year Turtle Trucking veterans said that it was 5 days a while back. While this rule won’t affect drivers who live near a yard, it will certainly affect those of us who don’t.

In order to keep my truck, I used to be okay with the idea of taking only 4 days vacation instead of 5. Now, if I want a week’s vacation, I’ll have to drop my truck at the Honolulu yard and drive home 7.5 hours. When I’m ready to come back, it’s another 7.5 hours. That’s one full day of my vacation wasted driving to and from a yard. I understand that you need to utilize your trucks, but how can you expect to keep drivers long-term if they can’t make their vacation time worth their while?

To sum up, I, and every other Turtle Trucking driver I’ve spoken with know that we make sacrifices for the higher pay that Turtle Trucking offers. The question is this: In an industry where many carriers are striving to provide better conditions for drivers, how will Turtle Trucking fare when it comes to hiring and retaining quality drivers in the future? And how long before the extra pay isn’t worth it?

Sincerely,

Christopher T. McCann

Okay. Don’t be laughing at the first name. Don’t force me to cram a fist down your esophagus.

I know what some of you are thinking, and you’re probably right. I don’t expect this letter to change any of our company policies, but hey, you never know. The engine with the low dipstick gets the oil. And since I’m so slick… uhhh, wait… or am I the dipstick? Oh, shut up and eat your turkey…Turkey.

*Please leave a comment with your thoughts. And if you can stir up the energy to move your mouse to the top of the post, please give this post a rating.*

Really? A Good Dispatcher?

November 17, 2010

Photo by mboperator via Flickr

Yes, I know that’s a rather comical statement for us truckers, but hang on and I’ll make my point. But first, let’s start this out by explaining something to my non-trucking readers. You drivers out there can zone out for a second. As if you weren’t doing that already.

When you drive a satellite-equipped truck, here’s the way the dispatching process is supposed to work.

  1. Your satellite unit beeps at you. If your company believes you to be incapable of reading a short message and hitting a few keys while you’re driving, then you pull over. If they actually treat you like a professional, you can do the remaining steps while you drive.
  2. You examine your load information, which includes a load number, the shipper and receiver, their addresses (and sometimes phone number), the pick up and delivery times, possibly some fuel stop and/or routing information, and any additional information you might need, such as pickup and delivery numbers,  weights, piece counts, etc.
  3. If everything you need is included in the message and you have the hours to run the load, you respond with a canned message that says you got the info and you accept the load.
  4. You pick up and deliver on time.
  5. You wait for the next beep.

That’s the way it works if you work for a normal company. Now I swear I’m not going to start another whine-fest, but I’ve got to explain what happened this morning to get to my point.

I had set my PTA (Projected Time Available) for 1:00 p.m. So naturally, I get a beep at 10:30 a.m. I’m not exactly shocked about getting woke up. The message says to call in for a “verbal.”

As long as I can remember, there has always been a need for verbal dispatches. Maybe the load is too complicated for a satellite message. Maybe it requires special instructions; like you have to go to a different location to weigh your empty tractor-trailer before you go into the shipper. Maybe it’s a high-value load. It could be a lot of different things. These loads are fine for verbals. They’re actually appreciated because they shed light on a confusing situation.

However, lately, nearly every load I get requires a verbal dispatch. I don’t know why and according to every one I talk to, they don’t know either. Basically, everyone is just repeating something that someone else has already said, which just so happens to be the exact same information that is included in the satellite dispatch. Take this morning for example.

I call in and my dispatcher tells me where and when the load picks up and delivers, including the extra stop. She tells me to call another phone number. I call that number and the woman tells me the EXACT same information. Then that woman tells me that I need to call yet another number because there is 19 pounds of HazMat on board. That’s hazardous materials for you normal folk.

Okay. First off, 19 pounds isn’t even a reportable quantity. It still has to be listed on the Bill of Lading, but it doesn’t require any other special handling. Secondly, I’ve been hauling HazMat since 1997, so do I really need to be told to keep the papers in the side door or on the seat when I’m not in the vehicle? Thirdly, I’ve been woken up early and told to call three different people. Lastly, I think the stupid beep interrupted an especially interesting dream. I’m assuming that because I woke up grumpy, and frankly, that’s just not like me. Unlike The Evil Overlord and the wrath of her mornings, I usually wake up in a decent mood. Not today. Which brings me back around to the point. Yes, finally. Hush.

When I called the HazMat guy, I said these exact words: “Hi. This is truck #### calling in for a HazMat verbal, because clearly I haven’t learned how to do HazMat loads in the 13 years I’ve had my HazMat endorsement.” Okay. I admit that it was dripping with sarcasm, but it was in no way said with a mean or violent tone. I’d be willing to bet that if he would’ve laughed, I would have too. But that was not to be.

His response? “Do you have a problem.” I said,“Well, yes. This does seem a bit ridiculous, don’t you think?” His reply? “I can always route you to a terminal if you’d like to turn your truck in.” After a moment’s pause of disbelief, I said, “Wow. This company sure has changed for the worse.”

Now I realize that he didn’t deserve my sarcasm, but I didn’t deserve that kind of threat either. That’s like giving your pal a friendly punch in the arm and getting a swift kick to the nuts in return. I think he realized that immediately, because he started explaining that he had a job to do and that he didn’t make the policies. I apologized for the sarcasm, but again explained to him that this kind of nitpicking does nothing to make us drivers feel like the professionals that they claim us to be.

And now to my point. Yes, I know. It’s about freakin’ time. You know, I’m fully aware that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I just prefer to get from point A to point B like an alcoholic wastoid trying to walk a white line on Cops. (sings Bad Boys)

I immediately called my dispatcher to tell her what happened. I explained to her what I had said and how I had said it. Knowing me fairly well, the sarcasm bit didn’t surprise her much. Still, she said that the HazMat guy shouldn’t have said that to me. She said she was going to turn him in, but I asked her to give the guy a break. Who knows what kind of day he was having and our conversation had ended on a friendlier tone. I suppose my forgiving nature might have had something to do with some unnecessary sarcasm, too. Just maybe…

After that, I went into a mini rant about how things are changing at this company and where I thought the company was heading if they continued to treat experienced drivers like 4th graders. Although she’s heard similar rants from me before, she calmly listened, agreed with certain points, and disagreed with other points. By the end of it all, we were laughing as usual. And that, my friends is the key, and the point B at the other end of my oddly shaped line.

Sure, a dispatcher needs to know what they’re doing. They need to know the rules. They need to try to fight to get you pulled off the crappy loads. They need to try to get you home when you requested. But that’s not what makes a great dispatcher. First and foremost, they need to have the ability to listen, understand, and remain calm; even when you aren’t. Some examples? Glad you asked.

  • When the person on the other end of the line is having a hissy fit, they need to understand that life on the road isn’t a picnic. The Bible says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” It’s true. When she’s calm, it always calms me down. If a dispatcher gets combatative back at you, it’ll only cause things to escalate. My dispatcher is always calm. Even when she’s having a rough day, she always manages to stay cool with me.
  • When you call to inquire why you only got 1500 miles last week, they need to understand that you’re not staying away from your family for weeks at a time just so you can sit at a truck stop while you wait on a load. Not to mention, poor miles make them look bad. My dispatcher comprehends this.
  • When you call complaining about some stupid policy that you both know will never be changed, they need to realize that you just need to blow off some steam. My dispatcher always has an open ear.
  • When you get woken up, causing you to cop an attitude at them or someone else, they need to understand that a trucker’s schedule is as wonky as SpongeBob on a Peyote vision quest. My dispatcher understands that I don’t hold the same hours as she does. She always apologizes when she has to wake me up to pass down the holy orders from the trucking gods.

Now I fully understand that truckers haven’t cornered the market on crappy days. I have no doubt that working in an office must really suck. I know that dispatchers have bad days too. But what a good dispatcher must realize is that at the end of the day, they get to go home and relax, while we’re stuck in our truck waiting for the next beep and our next idiotic verbal dispatch. And we’ve still got a week-and-a-half before we’ll see our family again.

So drivers everywhere, if you’ve got a good dispatcher, hang onto them. Tell them you appreciate the fact that they understand your life on the road. Maybe even get them a gift card this Christmas.

If you’ve got a crappy dispatcher, ask for a new one. And if you can’t seem to get rid of them, I’ll be barreling down I-29 tomorrow. Just bring them out and shove them into my path. That oughta do the trick.

*Please leave a comment and give this post a rating. Feel free to lie and give me 5 stars. ;-)”

Funkin’ Truckin’

November 8, 2010

If you’re here looking for a happy-go-lucky attitude, perhaps you should go see if Elmo has started writing a blog over at Sesame Street. As long as he’s not doing an audio blog, you should be able to visit without causing any permanent hearing damage. What you’re going to get here is what I call a “funk.”

Everyone gets the funk. Now if you’re George Clinton or Dr. Funkenstein, that’s a good thing, but for the rest of it, it’s a funking drag. The funk happens when you think your life sucks. Perhaps your life has always sucked, but you’re just now noticing it. In my case, I don’t really know how the funk crept on me. It just hit me one day.

I know my life doesn’t truly suck. For one thing, I have a wife that I don’t want to murder every day. Now The Evil Overlord may be thinking just the opposite, but as long as she doesn’t follow through with it, I can live with that.

I also have my health. I’ve got an immune system that could fight off the Bubonic Plague or a mean case of cooties. But if I wanted to show off my six-pack abs, I’d have to commission an artist to whip out the body paint. And so what if I can’t run 1/4 mile without coughing up blood and wetting myself? While that is kinda lame, at least I can walk into a truck stop without panting, and although I’m not exactly ripped, at least I can still look down and see my light saber (that’s for my perverted 😉 Twitter buds, @Dean0806 and @raysunshine77). Those are two things many truckers can’t do.

And then there’s God, who loves me and forgives me, even when I don’t deserve it. Thoughts of eternity, world-wide suffering, hunger, and disease helps to remind me that all of my problems really don’t add up to a hill of beans. I mean really, at least I’m not getting raped in Africa right now. I’d say that’s something that I’m pretty happy about.

And then there’s my job; truck driving. It may not be the greatest job, but in this economy, I shouldn’t be complaining. There are many who would love to have my income right now.

So, if I know all of this, why am I in a funk? What could possibly happen that could cause such a funk? No one close to me is dying. No one I know personally is going through anything that they haven’t been battling for years. It’s nothing really, yet it is.

As many of you know, The Evil Overlord is attending college again. I feel her stress as she studies day and night for her Anatomy & Physiology class. It’s kicking her butt, but she’s managing a decent grade. This class is all-consuming. Which makes her other two classes harder to keep up with. She’s making it, but her heart isn’t in it. And there is the crux of the problem.

I don’t know how The Evil Overlord and I managed to hit our mid-life without having any passions. It’s depressing to think that we are both trying to attend college for careers that we aren’t passionate about. Now I’m fully expecting everyone to tell me that I shouldn’t go back to school unless it’s something that I’m really gung-ho about. That’s easier said than done.

If The Evil Overlord and I had our way, we’d probably both be freelance writers. She’d go with fiction and I’d do non-fiction. That would be all fine and dandy if we were younger, but we’re a couple of old turds who have little experience as writers. Well, I guess officially, she’d be a turdette. Anyway, when you’re young, you can take a chance on a freelance career with unsteady income.  But when you’ve been a money moron all your life, you need to find a good occupation with steady income. Something that you can do until you’re an old fart who farts with every step. You old farts know what I’m talking about.

So let’s say we both start writing for a living. Everyone knows it takes time to become a good writer, and even longer to get noticed. How do the bills get paid all that time? How do we save money for retirement? How do we afford health insurance? Even worse, what if neither of us ever gets good enough to make a living out of it? I’m not a big fan of government-run old folks homes. Too many weird smells for me. And this coming from a guy who is locked in an enclosed truck with himself all day.

So, it’s off to school to pursue careers that we can tolerate. Quite honestly, it wouldn’t take much to top trucking. Just a job where you’re home every night would do the trick. You can say “Pursue your dreams” all you want, but in the end you have to do what is practical for your future. And without any true passions…

Now back to funky subjects. The Evil Overlord and I are both in a funk due to our lack of direction. Add to that, the fact that we are apart. Add to that the fact that I haven’t had more than 42 hours off in a row. Add to that, my company is installing e-logs.

Now tack on the fact that my company has recently banned all cooking devices from our trucks. All because of a couple of drivers who are dumber than a retarded camel. We already couldn’t have inverters. Now, it’s nothing but cold foods if we want to save money by eating in the truck. Now if we want a hot meal, we’ll have to eat fast food, or spend even more money to eat in the truck stop restaurant. Neither is good for your health or your wallet.

That’s not all. They have a policy that if you are going to be out of the truck for more than four days, you have to turn your truck into a yard. It used to be five days. Recently, they changed it to three days. The problem is, I live about 7.5 hours from the nearest terminal. That means that if I ever want a vacation, I’ll have to waste 15 hours of my vacation time driving to and from the terminal. Nice. How do they expect to keep any long-term drivers? I guess they just assume that everyone will move close to a terminal.

Let me ask a favor here. From the policies and new rules I’ve described here, if you work for the same company that I do, you now know what company I work for. Please don’t say the name of the company if you know who it is. I know a driver who was fired from this company for posting this kind of information online. The difference is, that driver mentioned the company name numerous times and I haven’t. Let’s keep it that way. Thank you.

I’ve voiced my opinion to my boss about e-logs, the banning of cooking units, and turning the truck in. I even moved above my fleet manager and spoke with her boss. When I asked to speak to the Operations manager, I was told I didn’t want to talk to him. I said, “Why? What’s he going to do? Fire me for voicing an opinion?” The answer: “Maybe.” Again, nice.

This is not the company I worked for in the past. But it is the one I’m stuck with for now. With school in sight, it’s not worth quitting and finding a new company. I’m not saying anything new. This was all covered in Sucking it up a while back. Problem is, I’m not doing a very good job with that title.

I’m not through yet. Sorry. To add to the funk, I recently had a load to Miami, FL, which is a place I loathe. I got reloaded quickly, but I knew I’d be back to the shipper. 45-46,000 pound loads of sugar can’t be loaded all the way to the trailer doors. Any experienced trucker knows that. Unfortunately, the entire non-English speaking staff at the shipper couldn’t understand what I was saying. A long trip across Miami to the nearest scale proved me right.

As I was heading back to get reloaded, I got a call from my boss telling me that these people didn’t understand English and even the Spanish-speaking drivers had been having trouble with them. Luckily, when I arrived back, I began talking to another driver there and he explained that it was Spanish, but it had a Puerto Rican accent that was hard to understand. Since he was Puerto Rican, he explained the situation to the shipper and I got reloaded.

When I reexamined the load, I saw that they had only moved the freight a couple of feet forward. That wasn’t going to cut it either and I had everyone at the shipper mad at me when I refused to move from the dock until they reloaded me according to my specs. They finally did, and after another drive across town to scale, I once again proved to myself how truly cool I am. Hey, it’s my story. So 5.5 hours from the start of my day, I was under way. As I pulled out, all I could think was, “Good thing I’m not on E-logs yet.” *evil grin*

To cap this all off, I just got a call from The Evil Overlord informing me that my ticket for being on a restricted road in my truck had finally been settled in court (the signs were only visible AFTER you were on the road with no place to turn around). I didn’t get any points, but the $150 ticket ended up costing me $372 plus the $100 lawyer fee.

All the above is what put me in a funk. When the combination of crappy things pile up on you all at once, funk ensues. I’ll drag myself out of it eventually. I’m not looking for sympathy. That’s why I stayed offline for the past week or so. We’ve all been through rough patches in our lives. This is no different.

It might help if I had something to look forward to, but for now I’m just going to try to make myself feel better. Since I don’t cuss anymore, I think I’ll start my journey out of funkhood by saying, “Funk lawyers.” Well, it’s a start anyway.

*Please leave your funky comments and click the pretty “Like” button. No sympathy please. I’m giving myself enough for all of us.” 🙂


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