Posts Tagged ‘truck stop’

The Driver’s Seat Phenomenon

May 28, 2013

The truck driver's seat

Look at them butt-prints!

If you’ll remember from the last podcast called Honor Among Truckers, I mentioned that if you were to drive around a truck stop parking lot, you’d see lots of drivers sitting in their driver’s seat whiling away the hours. They’re talking on their phones, doing paperwork, people watching, playing with their laptops, turned around at an awkward angle watching their TV, or even weirder, staring off into space with a blank expression. I just don’t get it. And since the word “phenomenon” makes anything sound more mysterious than it actually is, I’ve chosen to call this one “The Driver’s Seat Phenomenon.” (more…)

Hey everyone. Another friendly reminder to go and resubscribe to the new blog/podcast if you haven’t already. Thanks!

The Trucker Dump podcast is available in the iTunes Store, on Stitcher and TuneIn Radio, on Podcast Gallery, or in the Microsoft and BlackBerry podcast directories.

Or simply enter http://abouttruckdriving.com/truckerdump.xml into your favorite podcast app.

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Honor Among Truckers

May 6, 2013

Truckers have to trust each other every day

Truckers have to trust each other every day

Have you ever watched a movie and heard the bad guys talking about the concept of “Honor Among Thieves?” Every time I hear it, I think, “What the heck is up with that crap?” I mean, clearly if you’re a thief, your moral compass must’ve fallen out of your pocket while you were hiking out in the woods. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Honor Among Thieves concept, it’s basically saying that there is an unwritten code that even an untrustworthy group of people can abide by to get along. I’ve know for quite some time that there was something similar in the trucking industry. An Honor Among Truckers if you will. (cont.)

Guess what? If you’re reading this right now, you’re getting another one of my blog posts late. I will once again remind you that I won’t continue to post these reminders here forever. I am trying to give everyone a chance to get over to AboutTruckDriving.com and resubscribe over at my new site. That link will take you to the subscribe page. If you want to be notified via email, just type your email address into the subscribe box on that page. Dang. Now I know what my teacher felt like when she was scolding me for putting gum under my desk. 😀

Follow me on Twitter at:   https://twitter.com/ToddMcCann
Read or listen to the Trucker Dump blog/podcast at:   http://abouttruckdriving.com/
The Trucker Dump podcast can be found in the iTunes store, on Stitcher and TuneIn Radio, Podcast Gallery, and in the Microsoft and BlackBerry podcast directories.
Or you can simply enter:   http://abouttruckdriving.com/truckerdump.xml  into your favorite podcast app.

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Guest post: You Can’t See America from the Trucker’s Lounge. By Kevin McKague

November 26, 2012

Where there’s a will, there’s a way
Photo by Kevin McKague

Hey there, folks. Todd here piping in with a few words before we get started with today’s guest post. As many of you already know, I use my blog as a venue to share my thoughts about things related to trucking. I save the deep, insightful, well-researched articles for those other Web sites. But every once in a while, I want to cover a subject that I know precisely diddly-squat about. This is one of those times.

After following the adventures of Kevin McKague on his Twitter account, I approached him for the job of covering for my ignorance of exploring as a trucker. He rose to the challenge. Not only did he turn out a heck of a blog post, but he’s also one of those nice guys on Twitter who can make you laugh, even if you totally disagree with the subject of the tweet. That’s a rare thing, so if you all aren’t following @KevinofMI on Twitter, you should start cutting yourself in shame right now. Or you could just click the link and avoid the inevitable pain. I hear blood stains are a bear to get out of clothing.

Since I’m a lazy bum who rarely goes exploring, I doubt I’ll be back after his post with any of my own thoughts. After reading this post, I will say that I felt more of a desire to see what I’ve been missing all these years. I’m not sure if I’ll follow up with any action, but hey, at least it tempted me. Maybe one day I’ll go out on a limb and try something I’ve heard about in the past. I think they call it “taking a walk” or something like that. I trust that y’all will enjoy this guest post as much as I did. So with that, I’ll shut my turkey-hole. Take it away, Kevin.

You Can’t See America from the Trucker’s Lounge. By Kevin McKague

I became a truck driver in my mid-thirties, after years of hating my career in retail management. I wanted a job that offered more security, that could withstand the ups and downs of economic tides, and that couldn’t be outsourced. Most of all, I wanted more adventure. I had always loved to travel, but I didn’t enjoy the kind of travel arranged by travel agents and tour guides. I love spontaneity, and the serendipitous moments of finding things you didn’t know existed. I love getting on a highway and literally taking the road you’ve never taken, just to see where it went.

I often run into drivers who believe that it is impossible to really enjoy a spontaneous travel experience while behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler. While it’s true that many places are off limits to us, (you won’t find truck parking or any truck routes to the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty) you can find plenty of adventure if you are willing to walk a few blocks from the truck stop Subway shop. These opportunities are not hard to find, if you want to find them. In the days before smart phones, I would simply consult my Rand-McNally truck atlas, and start walking towards the closest interesting looking town or neighborhood whenever I was stuck in a truck stop for 34 hours. Today, there are apps for that! By the way, the Google Maps mobile apps include a lot of trails, and the “directions for bikers/pedestrians button” can point you towards them. Or if you don’t have a mobile device, AllTrails.com is an excellent way to find places to explore.

Western Maryland Rail Trail
Photo by Kevin McKague

One of my favorite stops along my current dedicated run is the Western Maryland Rail Trail in Hancock, Maryland; just off of exit 3 on I-70. Park at the Liberty Truck Stop, and walk across the street to the C+0 park entrance. You can also access the trail at exit 12. Look for the brown traffic signs by the side of the freeway stating “Rail-Trail access”. There you will find over 20 beautiful miles of paved trails built on a former rail line that travels along the Potomac River. I carry an inexpensive bike in the passenger seat of my truck for such a location (see the picture at the top of the post). The trail has plenty of wild life, in fact, twice while riding I’ve been joined by deer that have come right up to me when I wasn’t looking. One fawn ran alongside me for a few yards and then sped off into the woods as soon as I looked directly at him.

Casinos offer another opportunity for side trips. Even if you don’t like gambling, many casinos offer truck parking and shuttle buses. The drivers of these busses, by the way, don’t know or care if you don’t actually stay in the casino. Once during an extended layover in Moline, Illinois, I took advantage of a shuttle offered by the Rhythm City Casino in Davenport, Iowa, just across the Mississippi River. There I found walking and biking trails that followed the river, and crossed over in two spots allowing you to shop and eat in two states. The Davenport casino is also within walking distance of Modern Woodmen Park, the home of Minor League Baseball’s Quad Cities River Bandits, an affiliate of the Houston Astros.

The Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, Missouri offers truck parking, and while walking nearby I noticed that the parking lot is right next to the Katy Trail, another rail-trail that runs across nearly the entire width of Missouri. To the south of the casino is a nice wooded area with smaller dirt pedestrian trails that remind me of something Huck Finn would’ve found comfortable. Just to the north about a block is the historic city of St. Charles, with some good food and interesting architecture. Next to the Missouri River in town is a sign marking the location of an early campsite of the Lewis and Clark expedition. I don’t normally gamble, but the casino offers free fountain drinks inside (DIET COKE? Yes, please), and a cool Dean Martin themed slot machine that plays “Ain’t that a kick in the head” when you win.

In 2011, just a few days after we killed Bin Laden, I visited the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The official memorial site had not been built yet, but was completed in time for the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, and I’ve been told that trucks are still allowed in on weekdays. As always, I would recommend that you call first to make sure this policy hasn’t changed before making the trip in. The roads to the site from the Pennsylvania Turnpike are legal for trucks, but depending on which way you come in, some are very hilly and challenging for those with heavy loads. If you’re comfortable with dropping your trailer, there is a truck stop with a big lot in Somerset, at exit 110, (look for the National Memorial signs off of the turnpike) so you can bobtail in. Somerset also has plenty of good restaurants and some nice architecture. I recommend the Summit Diner, on 791 North Center Avenue, just a short walk away from the truck stop. If you feel comfortable approaching the subject with strangers, most of the people in Somerset and the surrounding areas have stories about what they saw the day when the world almost literally fell on them; 9/11.

Don’t forget to consider using mass transit when you can. Los Angeles offers a $5 pass which allows you to travel any city bus or subway (yes, LA has subways, who knew?) for the entire day. Early in my driving career, while stuck near Commerce City, a simple call to the LA Metro office got me all of the info I needed to get a map and make my way down to Long Beach. There I found plenty of nice restaurants, shopping, and beautiful boats to look at down by the docks. The beach there is sandy and clean, and it’s a good spot to have a picnic lunch while watching boats and tourists. From Long Beach I went up to Hollywood to look at the Walk of Fame. Like the casinos, Hollywood was never on any of my lists of things to do or places to visit, but once I got there I had a blast.

Now that the T/A Travel Center in Nashville, Tennessee has been re-built after that devastating flood in 2010, you can park there, walk across the pedestrian bridge, and visit one of the nicest, most entertaining cities in America. Even if you’re like me and don’t like Country music, it’s quite a different thing to see an up-and-coming artist live. By all means, just walk into the first bar that has live music drifting out of the door. Many of these shows are free. (Stick to the Diet Coke, you have to drive in the morning.) The library has a nice art display and will allow non-residents to use their computers and Internet. The State Capitol allowed me to roam freely when I was there. I wandered onto the House floor and into the Supreme Court Library. Ask the guard about the marble staircase handrail with the bullet hole. I won’t ruin the story for you, but let’s just say there is more than one way to stop a filibuster.

The key here is to expect the unexpected, and look for adventure each and every time an opportunity presents itself. Use your smart phone apps, and maybe keep an extra fully charged battery with you in case you get lost. The older I get, the more I have come to understand that the sayings that sounded like silly clichés when we were young are true. You truly only live once. While you’re sitting in a truck stop listening to drivers complain about the same things you heard drivers complain about in the last truck stop, eating yet another Subway sandwich and watching another repeat of Law and Order, you could be discovering something.

By the way, what is it with Law and Order? Is there a 24/7 Law and Order channel? Does the Department of Transportation actually require that Law and Order play non-stop in every single truck stop in America? But I digress.

This is a beautiful country we live in, my friends, it would be a shame to only see it from the freeways.

Kevin McKague is a father of three and a truck driver, and is probably somewhere between Flint, Michigan and Baltimore, Maryland at this very moment. He is a recovering elected official, having briefly served on the Davison, Michigan, city council. He is a media junkie, a social-media addict, avid reader, traveler, and optimist. He does not want to buy anything from you. He can be found online at Twitter.com/KevinofMI, at Flickr (http://flic.kr/ps/wg49J), and his Instagram ID is Kevin_McKague.

Guest post: Benefits of Semi Truck Weight Compliance. By Noble McIntyre

September 12, 2012

Photo by Linda N. via Flickr

Hello, one and all. First, a quick update on the status of the new Web site. Things are coming along slowly, but surely. I recently fixed a major problem I’ve been having; so that’s good. But I’m still missing a major component, so you’re gonna have to control your giddiness. I’m sure you’ll manage somehow. Still, I have a feeling that I’m eventually going to have to crack this sucker open to the public with a few lingering quirks. It’s like choosing someone to marry. If you’re waiting for perfection, you’re never going to do it. The Evil Overlord is the exception to the rule. She really hit the jackpot there.

So what’s this about a guest post? Well, if you remember correctly, I told you in our last visit that I was working on providing a couple of guest posts to fill the Sandra Bernhard-sized tooth gap between the posts I’ve written.

Today’s treat is brought to you by a gentleman named Noble McIntyre. Now I’m not positive, but I think Noble may be a bit clairvoyant. A while back, I began playing with the idea of asking for submissions for a couple of guest posts to fill in the gaping hole that the blog was becoming. Not long after, I received an email from Noble asking if I accepted guest posts. I’m telling you people… clairvoyant. I’m guessing that skill comes in handy with his day job. You see, Noble is an attorney. That’s gotta be pretty darn handy to get into the minds of the opposing counsel. And before you say it, yes, I know it’s hard to believe a lawyer was perusing my blog, but that’s just further proof that I rock. I’ve been telling people that for years, but no one ever listens.

So let’s get on with today’s submission. Afterward, I’ll be back to share my thoughts on the subject. Here we go. And oh yea. You ladies may want to check out Noble’s picture at the bottom of the post. He’s a handsome devil, he is. Hands off though, ladies. He’s already been snagged off the market. Sorry to disappoint.

Benefits of Semi Truck Weight Compliance: by Noble McIntyre

It’s human nature to want the most benefit for the lowest cost. It may seem more efficient to load a semi truck to maximum capacity—or more—in order to transport more merchandise in fewer trips. That works in theory, but not always in practice. I’ve taken on semi truck cases that came about when someone was injured due to some sort of negligence on the part of a truck driver or a trucking company like, for example, overloading a truck. And accidents involving a semi have the potential to do much more damage when the truck is heavier than is legally allowed.

Surpassing truck weight limits can also cost more in fees and fines when trucks don’t pass inspection at highway weigh stations. But additional costs in fuel, maintenance, and safety must be considered as well. Here are a few of the ways ignoring trucking weigh limits can increase costs, and affect the safety of not just the truckers, but passenger vehicle drivers.

Road Fatigue

Highways are built to withstand a lot of wear—vehicles driving over them, harsh weather, heat, cold. They’re also constructed with certain weight limits in mind. When those limits are surpassed, the road suffers and begins to wear down more quickly than planned. This not only makes for uncomfortable driving, it increases road maintenance costs for the states the highways run through, and those costs are passed on to the taxpayers. By complying with weight limits, truckers and trucking companies can help roads last longer, and reduce maintenance costs, thereby saving states money that can be put toward other public needs.

Wasted Fuel and Time

It comes down to simple power-to-weight ratio—the heavier a truck is, the more power required to propel it. When a truck is loaded over its maximum weight, it will require more fuel to travel the same distance at the same speeds as a lighter truck. In addition to wasting fuel, this will also translate to higher costs for the trucking company because of the need to buy fuel more often. It also means lost time to stop for those fueling needs. Those costs are most likely passed on to the consumer. By adhering to weight limits, truckers can save time and money both for the trucking company, and for the people who buy the products being transported. For those of us concerned about the effect high food costs have on our communities, it’s frustrating to know that some of those costs could be more reasonable if weight limit regulations were strictly followed.

Safety

When loaded to maximum weight, the stopping distance for semi trucks is roughly 40 percent greater than that of regular passenger vehicles. This is assuming fair weather and road conditions. That distance will increase when roads are wet, for example, or when the truck is traveling above the speed limit. Now imagine how the stopping distance is affected when a truck is carrying more than the allowed maximum weight. Even in good weather, the distance is increased, not to mention, a heavier truck will do more damage to other vehicles and to property should an accident occur. Weight compliance promotes safety for the truck, its driver, and other drivers on the road. I would be more than happy to accept a reduction in the number of clients I have if it meant fewer people were being injured in trucking accidents due to poor practices.

The trucking industry remains the most effective tool in transporting goods from one location to another. There is plenty of room for improvement, to be sure. But until technological and mechanical advances come about that improve efficiency, current safety standards must be maintained. The benefits simply outweigh the costs.

Noble McIntyre is the senior partner and owner of McIntyre Law, a firm staffed by experienced Oklahoma City truck accident lawyers.

 

 

 

 

 

Good stuff, Noble. Thanks for entertaining and informing the peeps. Now from a trucker’s view, let me add a few thoughts of my own.

For quite a while now, my company has been sending out a satellite message about once a week reminding us to route around the Pawtucket River Bridge on I-95 in Rhode Island. It seems that about once a week one of my highly intelligent co-workers gets a ticket for crossing the bridge. You know, the bridge that has been marked as truck restricted since 2007. The one marked by those bright orange signs that are really hard to see. Yea, those. I just don’t get it. If a bridge is clearly marked as illegal, why would anyone cross it? Why not take the marked route? It’s not that far out of the way. Yet the coppers in Rhode Island have been picking trucker’s pockets clean for years. These fines aren’t cheap either. We’re talking maximums of $2000 plus. Ouch-a-mundo! But then there are times when things aren’t quite so clear-cut.

Now there isn’t a trucker out there who hasn’t come across a situation that can’t be avoided. Sometimes by the time you see the weight restriction signs on the bridge, you’re already crossing it. Oops. But hey, when you looked at the trucker’s atlas during your trip planning, the road was clearly marked in orange! For you non-truckers; roads highlighted in orange are supposed to be open to trucks. Most of the time, they’re right. But some of the time they neglect to mention that it’s okay to run the road, providing you’re under the weight limit. That would be the weight limit that isn’t posted anywhere in the atlas.

Other times, you find yourself stuck between an FMCSA rule-maker’s head and a hard place. There you sit, staring at a weight-restricted bridge in the dead of night. You followed your company-supplied directions to the letter. Yet there you are. You’ve got no place to turn around. What now? I wrote about this exact scenario in a blog post called Trucking in the Northeast. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I find that prayer helps.

But what about running with an overweight load? Truck drivers do it all the time. But why do we do it? Because your dispatcher says to do it? Sorry dudes and dudettes, but that crap ain’t gonna fly here. Drivers, you’ve gotta think about this. It’s your license. It’s your ticket. It’s your money that’s gonna pay the fine. It’s not a point of pride to say, “I can find my way around any scale.” Okay great.

What good does it do? It takes more fuel to go around the scales. The back roads always take longer too. So why do we do it? Yeah, it’s a pain to take the load back to the shipper for reloading. Yes, it’s annoying to stop five times to fuel in a 600 mile trip just to keep your load legal.

But notice I kept saying “we” truckers. Yes, @DriverChrisMc, I just called myself a trucker again. Mark it on the calendar. The thing is, I’ve done all this myself. I routed around all the weigh stations once a long time ago. I found it stressful and never did it again. Sort of. What I will still do is route around ONE scale if I know I can burn off enough fuel before I get to the rest of the chicken coops (weight stations–a little trucker-speak there). But why even do that?

Well, I know why I do it. Because the places where I load, you either take that load or you sit and idle your truck until you burn off enough fuel to run the load. I’ve asked the company to cut the load. They won’t. I’ve asked to deadhead to get another load. Nothing else in the area. That’s not hard to believe when you’re in the wasteland known as North Dakota. And this is why I NEVER fill my fuel tanks any more. 3/4 max for me. Less if I’m anywhere in the vicinity of one of our 46,350 pound sugar loads.

I guess if you’re an owner/operator, I can maybe see the point of dodging all the scales on an entire trip. Maybe it was “take the load or don’t get paid.” That’s your choice I guess. Just remember that not only are we all breaking the law, but we’re also defying every reason that Noble just laid out. And shame on us all for dissing the Noble.

No definition found.

A Trucker’s Thanksgiving

November 21, 2011

Gobble, Gobble

Photo by r_gnuce via Flickr

Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s time to slap-fight your siblings for the drumstick and have spoon duels over the last dollop of Cool Whip, because we all know pumpkin pie just ain’t right until you can’t see the plate beneath the pie.

More importantly though, it’s time to look around us and give thanks for everything we have. For being blessed with an annoying brother who called dibs on the drumstick before you. For your superior health, which enables you to punch him hard enough to leave a giant bruise. For the job that you hate. You know, the job that put that turkey on the table. The job that paid your bills all year. The job that the dude in the unemployment line would kill for. Yes, I know I’m among the guiltiest in this regard. Thanks for pointing that out. Now shut your face.

So that’s what I’m here to do today: count my blessings. And since I’m such a ooey-gooey, touchy-feely, sentimental kinda guy, I’ll do so in my typical fashion. Here are the things that this trucker is thankful for. As expected, let’s start out with:

  • Thanks to the inventors of electronic logs for wasting my valuable time. As if my trips to the mall with The Evil Overlord weren’t enough torture for one man.
  • Thanks to the driver who insists on going the speed limit in the fast lane. I hadn’t realized it was your job to police me. Thanks for keeping me in line.
  • Thanks to all those drivers who slow down when you see a cop, even when you’re not speeding. I hear that if a cop sees you do this, he’ll pull you over and give you an ice cream cone.
  • Thanks to all you good folks who overspend your budgets. Your greed = my freight.
  • Thanks to all the credit card companies who promote this overspending. May your consciences be clear as you sleep on your $800 pillow lined with kitten fur.
  • Thank you to the medical profession for extending life expectancy. It’s going to take every last second of life to pay off these stinkin’ credit cards. Dang. My balance just went up again. Who knew there was such thing as a badmouthing fee?
  • Thanks to all the rubberneckers who bring traffic to a near standstill, even though whatever is happening is on the opposite side of the highway.
  • Thanks to that police officer who issues me a ticket for having a light out. You know, one of those three tiny, but extremely crucial clearance lights that are above my trailer doors. Whew! Did you see that? That airplane almost rear-ended me!
  • Thanks to all the drivers who try to close the gap when I flip my turn signal on to switch lanes. No worries. It’s not like I can’t take the spot after you pass. Aw crap. The next guy punched it too. And the next… And the next…
  • Thanks to all the truckers who tailgate 4-wheelers. Nothing says “professional” quite like a rear-view mirror full of grille.
  • Thanks to the woman who puts on her makeup in 65 mph rush hour traffic. We all know how important it is to look pretty when there’s an open casket.
  • Thanks to all those 4-wheelers who like to hang out in a trucker’s blind spots. Oh well. Out of sight, out of mind. Never you mind that pesky turn signal light that’s making the side of your face glow.
  • Thanks to the driver who locks up his brakes in front of me because he missed his turn. I’ve really been needing to check the integrity of my brakes. Too bad they work.
  • Thanks to the DOT, the FMCSA, the CSA, and all the other organizations who love truckers enough to regulate them. It’s nice to know that you can make me log it if it takes more than 7 minutes to pee, but you can’t make a receiver unload me in less than 3 hours.
  • Thanks to the trucker who parks in front of the fuel islands for extended periods of time. Yes, I know you had fuel card problems. I saw your fuel receipt through the Subway bag with toilet paper stuck to it.
  • Thanks to all the drivers who figure out where the gas pedal is after I start to pass you.
  • Thanks to all the 4-wheelers who go 5 mph under the speed limit on 2-lane highways. It’s a good thing I’m not driving this truck to make money or anything.
  • Thanks to the driver who writes SHOW YOUR HOOTERS in the dust on the back of the trailer. Public opinion: 1 Trucker’s reputation: 0
  • Thanks to the truck who parks crookeder than a homemade TV antenna. I hope you weren’t emotionally attached to that side-view mirror.
  • Thanks to the state of California for making us truckers stay in the far right lanes. It’s not like that’s where all the other vehicles are trying to enter the roadway or anything.
  • I’d also like to thank California for making trucks go 55 mph. We all know how dangerous those tumbleweeds can be.
  • Thanks to the driver who pulls out in front of me from a side street. I’ve been meaning to work on my slalom skills.
  • Thanks to my company for banning all cooking devices from my truck. There’s nothing quite like a cold bowl of Captain Crunch on a blustery winter’s night.
  • Thanks to the inattentive or unyielding trucker who won’t back out of it for two seconds so a slightly faster truck can get around him quicker. I’m sure all those drivers stuck behind you will be talking about the nice trucker when they get to work.
  • Thanks to the DOT for their hours-of-service rules. How would I know when I’m tired without your infinite wisdom?
  • Thanks to the drivers who feel the need to go 25 mph in a 45 mph construction zone. Good thing you’re clairvoyant. Those construction workers are always putting up the wrong speed limit signs.
  • Thanks to all the businesses who put up NO TRUCK PARKING signs. I nearly forgot that my money is less valuable than everyone else’s.
  • Thanks to all the worthless pile of dung truckers who use these parking lots as trash bins and toilets. I’m sure that has absolutely nothing to do with those NO TRUCK PARKING signs.
  • Thanks to all you 4-wheelers who are so kind as to allow me to hang out in the fast lane after I’ve scooted over to help you merge onto the highway. Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were on the phone.
  • Speaking of on-ramps and phones, thanks to the driver who can’t be bothered to put away his cell phone as he’s barreling down the on-ramp. I guess the two cars to the left of me forgot to use their X-ray vision to see you trying to push me over. I know, right? What a waste of super powers.
  • And yet again, thanks to all those wishy-washy 4-wheelers who can’t make a decision when they get to the end of the on-ramp. Yes, I know being 3 car-lengths ahead of me will make it an impossibly tight fit, but why don’t you try anyway.
  • Thanks to the Christians who write Bible verses on the bathroom walls. Nothing says “Jesus loves you” quite like vandalizing someone’s property.
  • Thanks to all the shippers and receivers who value my time so much. Everyone deserves a 5-hour nap in the middle of their workday. Right?
  • Thanks to the soccer mom who cuts across three lanes in front of me to get to her exit ramp. My doctor has been saying I need to increase my heart rate more often.
  • Thanks to the person who flips me the bird for riding out in the left-hand lane. Clearly I misread that sign that read, TRUCKS LEFT LANE ONLY. My bad.
  • Thanks to all the good citizens who vote for anti-idling laws for trucks. While you may not die from harmful gas inhalation, you’ve dramatically increased your shot at getting run over by a trucker who was unsuccessfully trying to sleep in a pool of his own sweat.
  • And finally, thanks to the truck stop owners who wants $37 for a small bottle of Pepto-Bismol. When you’re looking for your place of torment in hell, just follow the signs that say, EXPLOITED A DIARRHEA SUFFERER.
Well, there you have it; a list of things to be thankful for. Yes, I know. Heartfelt is my middle name. That’s just me.
So, what are you thankful for this Turkey Day? As soon as you get done clobbering your brother with that drumstick you stole, why don’t you pop on over to the comments section and leave your thoughts. I’d appreciate it if you’d wash your hands first. I don’t want you touching my comments sections with those greasy turkey fingers. I swear. We can’t have anything nice in this house.

Arguing E-logs

October 28, 2011

Unless something unprecedented happens in the near future (my company changes a policy for the better), this should be the last in a long series about e-logs. Now I know that you’re probably already in the midst of doing a happy little jig about this wonderful news, but let me explain why this should be the last. I can do so in one sentence. Nearly every argument I make against e-logs is comparing it to the illegal ways I can manipulate paper log books.

I’ve had questions about electronic logs before I even got them. Check out Fear and loathing of electronic logs for my initial thoughts. Turns out, most of my fears were warranted. For example, let’s take a brief look at my first run that I took while sneering at my shiny new e-log unit.

Basically, I was pissed because I figured my time wrong (a rookie mistake) and therefore delivered my load late (details in E-logs: My first impression). If I’d have still been on paper logs, I undoubtedly would have taken off a bit earlier because I knew I could fudge the log book a little bit. But the unrelenting clock on the e-log system doesn’t allow that.

Now, would I be hurting anyone if I left an hour or two early so I could avoid being in a rush and possibly have a chance at delivering early? I don’t think so. I’d had plenty of sleep. I’d been off-duty way longer than my mandatory 10-hour break required. This all makes sense to a truck driver, but try arguing this point to the authorities and you’re talking to the wind. That’s because leaving early and marking your log book after you get somewhere is illegal.

Here’s another example. One of the things that most makes me want to hand my e-log unit to my youngest nephew (that kid can destroy anything with the slightest touch) happens when I’m trying to find a parking spot late at night (find a perfect scenario in E-logs: Do they really increase driving time?).

With e-logs you have to start looking for a parking spot earlier than most drivers would like because you have to be parked when the e-log clock clicks down to zero. That means I have to start looking for a place to park at about the 10-hour mark. But on paper logs, I can utilize more of my drive time by pulling into a truck stop when my 11 hours of driving is up. If I can’t find a spot there, I just show stopping there for the night and I drive on to the next available parking. If it took me another 30 minutes to find parking, I’d just leave 30 minutes later the next day. Again, this is illegal according to the folks who supposedly know what’s best for us truck drivers.

What about how e-logs keep on counting down your time when you’re in rush hour traffic? I really hate that because when I was on paper logs I could just show that I stopped at a truck stop to wait out rush hour. I mean, what’s the difference? Either I’m creeping along in rush hour or I’m sitting in a truck stop for an hour. But again, logging yourself at a truck stop while you’re sitting in traffic is illegal.

So there’s my point. I’m trying to convince everyone that e-logs suck because I can’t run illegal like I used to do. Regardless of the fact that these illegal acts don’t really hurt anyone. That’s really what it boils down to and ultimately why all arguments against e-logs will fail worse than a 98-pound sumo wrestler.

Now here’s another side of the coin. Sometimes I’ve wanted to prove a point about e-logs, but I can’t because doing so would backfire like Elmer Fudd’s shotgun when Bugs sticks his finger in the barrel. Usually it winds up being a case of “logging it as you do it.”

First up is how we drivers log at customers (shippers and receivers). Every company I’ve worked for has crammed the phrase “log it as you do it” down my throat. Yet without fail these same companies have told me to log 15 minutes of On-Duty time (mandatory by most carriers) as soon as I get there or just before I leave. Why then? Because not doing so could totally screw up a 10-hour break and make me as inefficient as scraping your windshield with a nickel. Let me explain.

Say I pull into a receiver at 2 AM and I log myself in the Sleeper Berth. My appointment is at 8 AM. So if I’m “logging it as I do it” I should put myself on the On-Duty line for 15 minutes at 8 AM while I check in to the office and back into the dock. Then I’d put myself back in the bunk. But that would interrupt the “continuous” 10-hour break that the law requires. That means I’d have to start my break over again. So by “logging it as I’m doing it” I’d have to be shut down for 16 hours instead of 10; that’s 6 hours before I checked in and 10 hours after.

The company doesn’t want this and neither does any trucker. So in this case, I don’t want to go in and call the company’s scruples into question by saying, “Hey, Mr. By-The-Book! How come I have to log it as Driving while sitting in a traffic jam, but I don’t have to log it as On-Duty when I bump a dock in the middle of my 10-hour break?” Talk about shooting myself in the foot with an elephant gun! What if they thought about it real hard and decided I was right? Which policy do you think they’d change? Yea. That’s what I thought too.

How about the fact that the company only requires me to log 15 minutes to do my pre-trip inspection? What if it takes 30 minutes? Or 45? Well, I don’t want to waste my valuable On-Duty time, so I’m not going to “log it as I do it” in this case either. The company may say that they want you to log it correctly, but they don’t really want you eating up your hours either. Fine by me.

There is, however, one thing I won’t give up on. There is absolutely no reasonable excuse for not making e-logs editable by the driver. Most carriers realize this and have given their drivers a big ol’ pink electronic eraser. Not mine. They’ve set them up according to the DOT “suggested guidelines.” I have no words for how stupid this is.

On paper logs, we could make changes and initial them if we screwed up. With my company e-logs, changes can only be made by a member of the safety department. If no one is there to make the changes until the next morning, I’m still required to “electronically” sign my logs as “accurate” at the end of the day. Since the only button available is to “okay” it, if I choose not to sign, I choose not to move. Even if I’m fully aware I’m signing a log that I know the safety department will change in the morning. And yes, I’ve brought this fact up to the safety director. All I can say is he’d make a good politician. I still don’t have a satisfactory answer.

Am I nitpicking? Yes I am. But a driver’s log book is a legal document that can and will be used to protect or defend us in a court of law. What happens if I have an accident causing a fatality before the safety department changes my log? Yes, the chances are slim, but it is a possibility. The fact is, I shouldn’t even be put in this position. Yet I am. Okay. Now that my blood pressure is testing the integrity of my veins, I’ll just suck it up and accept the fact that my company are boneheads when it comes to e-logs. If it weren’t for the money. . .

Now let’s close this sucker up. You can now see why I’m bringing my unhealthy obsession with e-logs to a close. I just can’t win. Most truckers would agree with everything I said, but throw the argument against e-logs at the lawmakers and I’d end up looking dumber than. . . well, dumber than I actually am. And quite frankly, that’s pretty freakin’ hard to do.

*What do you think about e-logs? Have I missed something? Please leave your comments and give this post a rating while you’re at it. Thanks.*

Doing Dallas

September 10, 2011

Photo by dave_hensley via Flickr

I’ve got an odd relationship with the city of Dallas. In my pre-trucking days, I loved it… well, most of the time anyway. Now that I’m a trucker, I like being in Dallas almost as much as I like being in the middle of West Texas when I have a surprise attack from the Kingdom of Diarrhea.

My first trip to Dallas holds special meaning. It was November 19, 1993, and The Evil Overlord and I were standing in the courthouse sporting a lot of hair and a pair of rings that cost $50. Dudes, I gotta tell you. Getting married in jeans and flannel ROCKS! Yes, I eventually wound up in a penguin suit when we had another ceremony for the family and friends, but the first time was a lot more fun.

We were moving from Missouri to Dallas where I was going to be attending college. For The Evil Overlord, it was a return to where she lived during most of her wild teen years. These first few years are what every married couple considers “the good ole days.” Granted, at the time they sometimes didn’t feel like much fun. Although we both worked, we were usually broke and were sharing a crap-hole apartment with a large family of cockroaches. But when you look back, they were definitely good times. I know the cockroaches partied nearly every night.

Eventually, The Evil Overlord got a job as a leasing agent at an apartment complex and she started making more money. It seemed that she could sell hamburgers to cows when she put her mind to it. Once we had a little more money, we started enjoying some of the things that you can’t get in rural Missouri. Hockey games, sightseeing, museums, and lots and lots of nightlife.

In my opinion, Dallas also has one of the coolest skylines at night. Reunion tower is probably the most unusual. It looks like a giant microphone with a lighted ball on top. You can’t see it from the ground, but there’s a restaurant inside that spins 360 degrees. Pretty cool, but waaaaay out of our price range. We used to take visitors to the observation deck though. Check it out if you get a chance.

Another standout building is a skyscraper outlined in neon green lights. It looks wicked cool at night. Another building has a giant X on the side and a cool-looking tower on top. The Evil Overlord informed me that Metallica lived on the roof of that building. I’m thinking there might have been some funny smelling smoke coming out of her beat-up Honda Civic when that idea came to fruition. Ya think? Her and her friends were kinda naughty back then. Funny, now she can barely drink a glass of wine without turning beet red.

So you can see, Dallas holds a lot of “firsts” for me. My first hockey game. Ah yes. A little tip from your Uncle Todd: it’s not wise to wear a St. Louis Blues jersey to a Blues vs. Stars game, especially if you can’t fight your way out of a soggy paper bag. Luckily, the Blues lost. Whew!

Other firsts: I visited my first real museum. I went to my first piano bar. Funny stuff! I had my first Shiner Bock. Yummy! I went to my first gay bar. I went to my first Major League Baseball game at Rangers stadium. I had my first I-Max experience. Heck, I even got my first wife there. If I ever need another all depends on how long The Evil Overlord can tolerate me.

What? What are you stammering on about? One at a time please. I can’t understand when you’re all talking at once. There. That’s better. Oh… I guess I should explain that trip to the gay bar, huh?

The Evil Overlord had leased an apartment to a gay couple she nicknamed “The Homies.” Don’t worry, The Evil Overlord wasn’t being insensitive. She has a long history with gay guys and these guys loved it and her. One of her best friends in high school was a guy who turned out to be gay. Funny thing was, she knew he was gay long before he did. Anyway, these new friends of hers asked her to go to the bar with them. She asked me if it was okay if she went with them.

Now why wouldn’t she ask me to go along? Because she knew me… or she thought she did. You see, I grew up in a small town without a lot of diversity. We had a few exchange students, but most of the town was caucasian. NO ONE was outwardly gay. Heck, I found out a close high school friend of mine was gay about two years after graduation. I figured that out when he hit on me. Yikes!

So when it came time to go to a gay bar, The Evil Overlord naturally assumed I wouldn’t want to go. My initial reaction, was “HELL NO, I don’t wanna go,” but I started to think about it more. I was in a big city and knew I wouldn’t live there forever. I knew I wasn’t gay. I knew “The Homies” and they were okay. I was even getting used to their wolf whistles when they caught me walking down the hallway. And best of all, I had an experienced guide. The Evil Overlord was a veteran of gay bars because she attracts gay men like dogs are drawn to crotches. So what the heck? Life is about experiences. Right?

Well, it was an experience all right. Once at the club, our first stop was upstairs where there was a drag show complete with guys, errr, gals, errrr, whatever, lip-syncing to “Son of a Preacher Man” and every song ever sung by Whitney Houston. As we were walking back downstairs a guy coming up the stairs ran his hand down my chest. Now THAT gave me the heebee-jeebees, and The Evil Overlord and “The Homies” fits of laughter!

Really, a gay bar is pretty much like a regular bar, except there are mostly guys and they’re dancing with each other to lots of disco hits. They’re also doing pretty much everything else that goes on at a regular bar. Lots of grinding, fondling, and necking take place. The later it gets, the crazier it gets.

At first it was a little creepy, but like anything, I got used to it fairly quick. Although I have to say that I never really got used to the G-string clad guys that were paid to dance on a ledge around the edge of the dance floor. Especially since one of them clearly had a thing for me. I’m also pretty sure he had an elephant somewhere in his family tree. Perhaps the best thing about that night was that for the first time, uhhhh… ever, I got more attention than The Evil Overlord. Granted, it wasn’t exactly the setting I would’ve preferred. Hey, when you’re me, you’ve gotta settle for what you can get. And no, you pervs. I went home with The Evil Overlord.

So now that that’s explained. Let’s move on to the present. I really can’t stand Dallas now that I’m a trucker. I still have a few good memories as I drive by the glowing skyline at night, but they vanish quicker than a glass of milk at an Oreo convention as soon as I start looking for a parking spot.

Most of the large truck stops are all within a few miles of each other on a stretch of I-20, just south of Dallas. I wouldn’t exactly call this a “nice” neighborhood either. First you drive around in the parking lots hoping to find a spot while you dodge the NASCAR wannabe trucker that keeps doing laps in the parking lot at 30 mph. If you don’t find a spot there you move to the next truck stop. When (if) you finally find a parking spot, you can’t go through the night without at least one knock on your door. It’s either a beggar/junkie or a lot lizard… /junkie.

Take last night, I circled the Pilot parking lot three times looking for an empty space. Twice I had to hit my brakes hard as the Jeff Gordon wannabe came screaming around a corner. I finally gave up and headed out. As I passed a tiny truck stop about a block down the road, I noticed a couple of open parking spaces. I whipped in and nabbed one. Two hours later, the cashier comes out and asks for $7 for parking. I told him I hadn’t seen a sign. He pointed to it, but I still couldn’t see it since there weren’t any lights in the lot. I would have left, but if I had it would have broken up my 10-hour break and I couldn’t have delivered my load on time. Not to mention, the later it gets, the less chance of finding an empty spot. So I paid up.

Next, I wake up about 11 PM and hear someone yelling outside my window. “C’mon, back! C’mon! You got it! Bring it! You got it!” I guess the guide had to yell because the parking lot was as black as a bat’s bedroom. Still, that’s kinda rude for a driver to do that to another driver. He had to know there where drivers sleeping.

The next time I woke up was at 3 AM. This time it was a Latino lot lizard. Now I have to admit, she was kinda good-looking. She was thin, had make-up on, her hair was fixed, and she was nicely dressed. I waved her away and immediately heard another knock on the truck next door. Before I could crawl back into bed, she had crawled up into my neighbor’s cab and slammed the door. You know what came next. Yep. A driver who needs to spend a little time greasing his truck shocks better. Now see, if I were allowed to idle my truck without consequences, I wouldn’t have had to listen to all that.

Now it’s 5 AM and I hear another knock. I think, “Great, she’s forgotten that she’s already hit me up.” Nope. This time it was a woman who I can only describe as, “The human race is doomed if the apocalypse comes and it’s just me and her left.” Talk about nasty. She was a black woman who looked like she’d just crawled out of bed. Now that I think of it, she probably had. Great. Now I’ve got the heebee-jeebees again. Her hair was all messed up, she was overweight, her clothes were all tattered, and she had a gap between her two front teeth that I could’ve backed an over-sized trailer into. I waved her off and went back to bed. Not that it mattered. I’d been awake since Lady Latin knocked.

This isn’t just Dallas we’re talking about. When it comes to trucking, the names of big cities are interchangeable. Whether you’re talking about Vegas, Newark, the outskirts of L.A., or Dallas, your experience will probably be similar. Fight traffic, fight for a parking space, fight off lot lizards and beggars, and fight for your sleep.

And guess what? When I got up at 7 AM, I saw Miss Latin Lot Lizard 2011 and yet another lot lizard trotting across the parking lot and giggling. Well, I guess I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get any sleep.

*Please rate this post and leave a comment about your worst night in a truck stop. Let all those non-truckers know I’m not full of it. Well, not about this anyway. ;-)*

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.

The CSA (Crappy Sucky Administration)

June 10, 2011

As if the title didn’t tell you all you needed to know, I’m not a big fan of the new CSA rules that the trucking industry is dealing with. In fact, I’d rather jump in the cage with one of those MMA fighters. Being the wuss that I am, it’d be almost as painful as dealing with the CSA, but at least I’d be unconscious in a matter of seconds instead of enduring the never-ending torture that the CSA promises the truck driver.

Okay, so what is the CSA really? CSA stands for Comprehensive Safety Analysis. Now that’s about as technical as this article is going to get. You see, for a change of pace I actually went and tried to do a little research into the CSA before I started writing this article. I gotta tell you, if someone told me my job for the rest of my life was going to involve researching subjects that I care nothing about, I might just join a terrorist group and sign up to wear a bomb vest. Only once I was suited up, I’d walk up and give the head terrorist a big hug, step back, grin, and hit the trigger.

In a nutshell, here’s what the CSA is designed to do. It’s goal is to identify unsafe drivers and carriers. They mean to accomplish this by assigning a “safety value” to both. Basically, anything that a driver can get ticketed for has a value assigned to it. Speeding tickets, parking tickets, driving without your license, equipment violations, preventable accidents, etc.

The carriers get their scores from the drivers who work for them. Any CSA points that a driver receives goes against the carrier too. Now if a driver had collected points while working for another carrier, they don’t transfer to the new carrier when the driver switches jobs. So that’s at least one thing that the CSA got right. The CSA points do stick with the driver through the job change though. They’re like herpes, meaning you’re just stuck with them.

What this means is that drivers are going to be scrutinized even harder when they’re being considered for a job. As if the DAC report wasn’t enough (it shows the history of the driver), now you’ll also have to maintain a good CSA score to be worthy of hiring.

I really don’t have any issues with “grading” a driver, but they should only be graded on things that are under their control. If a driver is speeding, feel free to nail him or her with some points. That makes sense. Clearly if a trucker is intoxicated while driving, they deserve some points… and perhaps a few kicks in the ribs. But what about things that you have little or no control over?

In my 14 years of driving, I can’t honestly remember one time that I went to bed with all my lights working and woke up with a burned out light. There are three situations when I’ll discover a burned out light. One is during my pre-trip inspection when I’m picking up a different trailer. The second is when I’m driving and another driver tells me over the cursed CB radio that I’m “missing an eyeball” (one headlight is out). The third is at the end of a leg of my journey. Maybe I’ve stopped to take a whiz and noticed a dead tail light. Or maybe it’s at the end of my driving shift when I’m doing my walk around.

The point is, lights burn out. Wiring goes bad. Heck, sometimes they just fall out. When does this happen? When you’re driving. So how am I supposed to know exactly when a light burns out? I could do a pre-trip inspection and have a light burn out as I’m driving out of the truck stop parking lot. A cop pulls me over and says I should have done a pre-trip inspection. I did, but how can I prove it? The light was good 3 minutes ago. Am I expected to pull over every minute and check my lights? Uhhhh… no. And that’s just the lights. I haven’t even mentioned air hose leaks and tires with slow leaks. My company has suggested that I should pull over and do an inspection any time I’m getting ready to drive through a weigh station. Really? That’s getting a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? Still, every point I get goes against my record and my future job prospects.

Now some of you may be saying, “Well, usually a cop will let you go get it fixed.” Okay, I’ll give you that. I have been released to get a light fixed, but I’ve also been told to call a repair vehicle to get it fixed. And this leads to another point. What if the cop is trying to be nice by letting you go with a warning? That’s good, right? Well… maybe. It all depends. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know where this is going.

I was cruising around the I-495 loop east of Washington DC and trying to figure out if the FMCSA’s building was within hand grenade distance, when I got pulled over by a couple of Maryland State Troopers. Seriously though, I had seen the smokey sitting in the median as soon as I topped the hill. I glanced at my speedometer and saw I was doing 60 mph. Unlike some of you idiots out there who feel the need to mash the brakes every time you see a cop (even if you aren’t speeding), I just kept tooling along. I knew the speed limit was 55 mph, but I also knew a cop rarely looked at a truck going 5 mph over the limit. That logic is fine, but it kinda gets tossed out the window when his laser gun says I was going 67 mph.

Okay, first of all, I’ve never claimed to be any smarter than a trained cockatoo, but I am smart enough to avoid going 12 mph over the speed limit around the DC loop. I told the cop as much and he said the laser didn’t make those kind of errors. I implied that maybe the operator did. After all, there were plenty of cars screaming around me at 65 and 70 mph. I was expecting to catch attitude then, but I didn’t. Both officers were surprisingly calm at my insinuation.

I went on to explain that my truck was speed-limited at 62 mph at the moment. He said I was going slightly down hill. That’s when I told him that after 14 years of driving, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t dumb enough to let myself go 12 mph over the speed limit. I told him he could tell me I was going 67 mph all he wanted, but I would never believe him. I admitted I had my cruise control set on 60 mph and if he wanted to give me a ticket for that, then I’d accept it without a word.

Maybe he thought I’d fight the ticket, or maybe he just wanted to be nice. Who knows? But after a Level I inspection (that’s just a walk-around and driver credentials inspection), he handed me a clean inspection report and a written warning for the “speeding.” I thanked him and went on my way. Maybe I shouldn’t have thanked him. Here’s why.

I later found out that the CSA gives the same amount of points for a warning as they do a violation. As if that weren’t bad enough, here’s where it gets screwier than a screw-driving contest. The thing is, you can fight a ticket. If you win, you can petition the CSA to remove the points from your record. Great! But how exactly can you fight a warning? You can’t. So in essence, getting a written warning is worse than getting a violation. Will there come a day when we drivers are begging the officer to give us a ticket instead of a warning? Lord, I hope not.

Other than the CSA points themselves, what bugs me most about this is that it goes against the officer’s intention. They wanted to be nice by giving you a warning. They’re saying, “Hey, I could’ve nailed you, but I’m going to give you a pass this time. Be sure to watch yourself in the future.” So what has to happen to fix this? Do you think cops will someday realize that they’re screwing us worse by giving us a written warning? Will they eventually learn that they need to give us a VERBAL warning to be nice to us? I doubt it. Most of the cops wouldn’t know a log book violation if it reached up out of the log book and socked them in the kisser. How are they supposed to follow all the regulations of the CSA?

There is possibly some hope for the CSA. They’ve already shown to retract things that weren’t working or didn’t make sense. So they’ve scrapped the whole system and started over. Kidding. Wish I wasn’t. For example, earlier this year they retracted all points having to do with overweight tickets. I’m not sure what they didn’t like about the criteria, but whatever it was, it was enough to make them give it a second look.

The way it was explained to me was that the entire incident came off the CSA record, but @MightyDeno proved me wrong when he told me that his points had been removed, but the violation was still listed on his record. As another Twitter friend (whom I can’t remember) pointed out, that left it wide open to add the points back in later when they worked out the bugs in the system. Looks like they could eventually get you either way.

So what does this mean for the truck driver as we go forward with the CSA program? Well, for one, I’d say we’ll lose some experienced drivers over this. Whether it’s by their own choice or by bogus CSA points from things out of their control is left to be seen. For those who remain, we can plan on being in the dark for quite some time. Very little is explained to us and not many of us want to dive into research and figure it out. Heck, most drivers I talk to still don’t understand the 14-hour rule correctly. And that rule was issued in 2003. The CSA rules are just as confusing, possibly more so. And you can bet they’ll be changing them on and off to confuse everyone even more.

Recently, another driver and I were looking at the latest statistics issued by the CSA and realized that neither of us knew what the criteria for the results were. We asked dispatch and they didn’t know either. The safety department might have known, but they were gone for the day.

One thing is for sure, my safety director will be getting yet another call from me soon. The latest CSA stats showed that we’ve been surpassed by some companies in the HOS (Hours of Service) category. That category just so happens to be the one that has to do with the cursed e-logs. I’ll be asking him to explain why our company, which doesn’t let their drivers edit their e-logs, has been passed by some companies that I know for a fact have editable e-logs. This is going to be a fun phone call.

*Please give this post a rating and share it with your weirdo friends. Also, leave a comment with your thoughts about the CSA. May as well make up your own name for them too.*

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. ;-)*


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