11
Sep
09

And the second

7/18/09

It was a long drive and a weird day. My sleep schedule has been wonky all week- I will sleep immediately after a shift, while Jer is driving, with the understanding I will have to drive again when his shift is over. Lately, though, at the end of his shift is a big long wide awake wait, and by the time it’s my turn to drive again, I’ve been up (or trying to sleep) for 12 hours and and not doing so hot. I drove us out of Dallas, but only made it two hours before I had to stop for a nap. An hour nap turned into three hours, which turned into five, then Jer decided he’d drive instead, since he’d been sleeping the whole time. I slept almost twelve hours total. Jer decided it would be best if I drove, rested, then drove without him driving in the middle since he would get a “restart” and his legal hour count would go back to zero. Long story involving federal regulation of our driving time. N-e-who, I got us past Phoenix which was the goal. Phoenix has a jackass no idleing law that makes me want to punch old people and politicians. There are two problems with it- First, that truck drivers can only drive certain periods of time. You can drive 11 hours a day, within a 14 hour period. After that, you absolutely MUST stop the truck for 10 hours. Very easily it can work out that you are “stuck” in an area because if you were to move your truck out of say, Phoenix , that god forsaken hell hole, you would be subject to huge fines and tickets. You could very likely lose your job, as your company would be fined to hell if they are audited by the DOT (pronounced Dee-yo-tee) and might not appreciate your behavior. As a team we usually don’t have that problem. But, as life goes, we got stuck the last time through Phoenix, that god forsaken hell hole. Big no idleing signs all over and cops patrolling every so often to come bust your ass if you try to sleep in a reasonable temperature. It got up to 106. If you were to put a dog in a car in those temperatures, even with the windows down, you would be cited for animal cruelty in most places. But a trucker, who is legally required to sit still and has no place to go, no options, can go straight to hell. It’s extremely likely he is under a load or appointment, and will have no choice to start driving after his ten hour break. The road is cracking her whip and you only get paid for moving. Jer was incredibly sweet and sat up with the truck running, shutting it off when the cops rolled around so I could sleep. What is a single driver to do? He can either 1. Get a ticket and maybe sleep a little 2. Try to sleep in hideous temperatures, fail to sleep, then crawl out of his bed exhausted and then operate 80,000lbs with impaired function. It’s so some politician can say “We’re working on our pollution problem!” without shutting down the factories puffing out thousands of pounds of emmisions. There are little side units you can buy for your truck for environment control, but they cost close to eight grand. Since it’s illegal to keep a dog in a truck like that, we decided we would start a dog rental business. Get old, sleepy dogs that just lie around so truckers can say “I have to run my truck, officer, or the dog could suffer!” as a way out of a ticket. At that point the dog would be trained to look sadly at the officer, and possibly whine a pathetic whine. I saw a guy driving shirtless and hairy and fat today and it made me gag a little. After I gagged I wondered if the seatbelt chaffed his nipples, and if maybe he had a little stripe of less-hairy area where it got worn off, like a Miss America sash. Then I gagged again. I also saw a roadrunner, super focused with his head bent down and running. It was a moment of ridiculous looking seriousness and it made me laugh. While I was parking, a German shepard puppy in a neighboring truck watched me with intense interest, like he was grading me on this and was surprised but not impressed with my “pull way forward and then back it in” technique. Sassy son of a bitch, and all with his eyes. Speaking of eyes…there are a lot of lonely men at truck stops. Some feel dangerous, others just lonely. There was one tonight that was my perfect definition of dork. I hate it when men think that if they don’t turn their heads, you won’t notice there eyes following you. I want to tap them and say “Hey, that only works if you have dark sunglasses” but think that would only confuse them. It always makes me think they are stupid, besides leering and piggish. It’s a lack of overall social awareness, I think, and it bothers me. I hate how what they say is rehearsed, illtimed and someone awkward sounding. I can just see him in a mirror practicing to get the tone right, but the phrasing is too unnatural for it to be spontaneous. I was waiting behind him in line, and he turns very quickly and says “They have manners in my state” and motions me to go forward. I’m pretty sure it was so he could look at my ass but it was three in the morning and I just wanted done. Step forward to pay and now it’s time for the awkward, unfunny joke. Why do dorks always have to quote things? Things out of context that are naturally poor quotations. Anything two people jokes are not funny as a quote. Cartoons are not funny quotes. Walk out the door and its all over. Everytime one of these desperate men oggles it is mostly surprising. Showers come generally several days apart while we’re on the road. My clothes, baggy and unflattering to start with (comfort is king, children) are usually worn to the end of good sense and dirty. I’m cranky, bleary eyed, not wearing make up, and have put on a good twenty pounds since we started trucking. There are a group of men that wink and leer with consistency, and to me it is a great example of the lonely frustration innate in trucking.

8/20/09 I’ve wanted to write, thought about the stories I would tell. We have been so short on time. We’re not getting the work we want, and the hours are there, but I spend almost all of them sleeping. I’m always ready for more sleep, and think about sleep while I drive. Each day I get more used to the road, the truck, the lifestyle. Still, the minutes for personal time are very short and always I feel like I’m stealing them. A few minutes of a book or magazine that doesn’t have to do with school, a few minutes of email or facebook before bed. I have a hard time writing my brother, and it is only a letter a week, at most. He’ll be home soon and I feel it will be all the harder knowing my long missed friend will be home, but I won’t be able to spend time with him. It will be one of many things that will make it hard to stay on the road. The hopeful adoption is making it easier. I feel strongly that it is what I need to do, and it is very much what I want to do. Jer says he is more comfortable since seeing a couple in our ward who adopted an AA baby but I’m forbidden to say why, as thinking anything is cute is apparently a slight to his masculinity. Or something. I don’t understand the mucho macho side of things. I was actually kind of relieved to get back to the truck. I love my brother and his family, and they are kind and sharing. The bottom line is that I feel (even though we are paying rent) like a mooch, and feel I am killing their privacy as a family. It was nice to get to the truck and know that this was my space, and I wouldn’t be stepping on any toes (except Jer’s, in a literal way) by being awake or asleep at certain times, etc. The guard at the fiber factory- “security” on the road in general. Construction. Short, horrid loads. We picked up for the second time at a factory that, as far as I can tell, makes some kind of fiber. Possibly for food, possibly soluble, but our only information is what we can make out from an oddly worded shipping manifest and the sheer, ridiculous bulk of the containers. They are all very top secret and hush hush and I’m too lazy to google the company, so it’s just “fiber” as far as I care. The best, and most sadly hilarious part, is the guard. Her teeth were rotted out but her appearance otherwise was well kept- hair done neatly into a braid, clothes crisp and tucked. It’s her attitude that was the problem. I pulled up to the gate, trying hard to see the hinges and figure out if it swung out, in, or pulled back sideways. It’s somehow important since the “almost get smacked by a gate gotta back up super quick” incident. It was sideways. In my efforts I missed a sign saying “don’t pass this sign”. I should have seen it but lets be serious- there feet makes no difference. I wasn’t going to hit the fence, and if I wanted to bust in and do some…here I draw a blank. Industrial espionage? Crazy James Bond antics? Blow it up? Explosives were the only thing were three feet made a big difference, and if that were the case (I like to think like a rebel) I could easily ram the gate, charge to a closer spot and then kerplowey! Weighing close to 80k lbs would make the gate fold like butter and if I’m batshit insane enough to want to blow it up, disreguarding a sign and gate crashing present no moral obstacle. This means nothing to Miss Vigilant, and she jumps out of her little shack screaming at me to back it up. I do, because I have no plans for anything crazy, I just want to pick up a bunch of things and then move them somewhere else, like I do every day. I walk inside to check in, where she takes huge pride in telling me that if I have lighters or flammables of any kind, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cameras or camera phones I was to surrender them. Most of things make some paranoid kind of sense, but chewing tobacco? There is something about zealously enforcing arbitrary and meaningless which makes a person look stupid. After honestly giving over our phones I mutter an angry mutter and wait to be allowed in. We finally get inside, drive the few hundred yards to the shipping building, trade trailers and we are on our way. The kicker is that we live in a tiny apartment. It’s supposed to be semi-private, in that most shippers will post notice that by being on their property, you and your truck are subject to search, and by signing for your CDL you imply permanent consent for law enforcement to search your vehicle at any time. As far as I can tell, it is only done if they have reason to suspect tom foolery, or are otherwise feeling like a jerk. We have never had even the suggestion put to us the entire time we have been driving, and I have not heard of other people (besides suspected DUI or drug use) being searched. We could have had an entire news crew crammed into the back, and she wouldn’t have known. This leads me to the inherent problem in a broad honor system of security- it doesn’t work. Most of the time, we are given a seal to put on the trailer, so the shippers can insure the food wasn’t tainted or stolen during shipping. It’s usually a uniquely numbered device that is designed to only close once, and then must be broken, cut, or clipped off. As an idea this is great- often they are difficult or impossible to tamper without destroying, and the number and singularity of it will insure they are not simply putting a new one on. The problem is that no one, on either the shipping end of the load or the receiving, will do the follow through. It is handed to the driver, in 8 out of 10 cases, and the driver is to bring it in, or leave it on the floor of the trailer after opening the trailer doors. No one checks wiether you put it on, and no one checks that it is still in place when you arrive at the end stop. Most places you could simply pocket the seal, drive to a truck stop, and loot your load. Fasten the seal on afterwards, and very very likely the shipping personelle will be blamed for loading you incorrectly. Because it was sealed. Few people seem to notice or care that without doing it themselves, or supervising the driver, the seal system is completely meaningless. I have an unbearably noisy conscious and wouldn’t do it, even if I were guaranteed not to be caught. I like to think about being criminal (when traveling I wonder how I could smuggle drugs and get away with it) but when it comes down to it I would be ashamed if someone though I was dishonest. A local driver (a man whose job it is to do short mile delivery and pickups in a specific area, usually so it is easier for long haul drivers to pick it up at their leisure later) for our company explained how if he had known we were coming, he would have stolen us some shrimp off one of the trucks, or steaks if we wanted. He was in charge of sealing them after picking them up, and since he was even further removed from the “where did our crap go” inquiry from shippers later down the line it is very likely he would never be caught. A box here or there is not abnormal and probably wouldn’t be looked at too hard at any rate. I was a little surprised by how blatent he was about it, but something about him being drunk didn’t help. He got behind the wheel to move a trailer, and we had to call him in. Trucking is absolute zero tolerance for alcohol, no matter how much you drank or where you are. Being in the truck with alcohol, just sitting there, is a DUI. If you could consivably get access to a key, anywhere, it s a DUI. Blood alcohol content is usually legally limited to .08 if you are driving. In a truck is no content- if you just got minty fresh and your mouthwash sets it off, you could get a dui. You could probably ask for a retest fifteen minutes later when it was gone and get out of it, but that would be a crappy fifteen minutes. According to our trainer, even having alcohol in the truck (not under manifest, such as when you are hauling beer) is a DUI for a trucker. This man wasn’t buzzed, he was drunk, and he was talking about driving the 200 mile ride home in a few minutes. He had no business behind any wheel and we called him in, to the company and to the police. I feel a little bad, if he was caught and they followed through he very likely got fired and convicted, and wouldn’t be able to drive professionally again for at least five years. On the other hand he made a poor decision, and he is risking the lives of everyone on the road doing it. I think of my family, my sweet nieces and nephews, and think of how devastated and angry I would be if they got hit by a drunk driver. This man could hit someone elses nieces and nephews, or wife, or mother, or father. Five years of no trucking vs killing a person is no contest.  Unpleasant but necessary, as is all trucking.

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16
Jul
09

And here’s the first

I’ve decided I have to write a blog. I need the practice before I start the meat of my book. I need the escape from this 8 foot Kenworth box, and somewhere to file all the nonsense. I’ll think better when it’s safely down on paper, not waiting for “someday, when I’m a writer”.

I asked my dad once, when I was very young and still trusted his judgment, why artists made art.  All he said was “They’re driven.”  At the time I didn’t understand it, and I have my doubts as to if he did either.  Yet in my heart is the constant ache for words, my mind running in an unbroken stream of written narrative, and the meaning of driven, of the idea, makes more sense now.  Only time will tell if I’m being driven blindly or if what I say is worth reading. And, of course, you.

7/4/09

It’s the Fourth of July and everyone is celebrating. Not me, of course, or the seventy other trucks in the oil stained parking lot.  The aerial demonstrations look small so many miles away, and I’m just noticing that it is not the pops of color I like about fireworks, but that whooshing KABAM of sound that makes my heart jump.  From here, deaf and without the smell of fire, the blinking of light are more like the pixilated “Congratulations” on the final move of the old Solitaire games. Hoo-ray independence.   I am seeing the country at least, if I can’t celebrate it. Driving through Nebraska today and the afternoon brought a creepy cheerfulness of scenery.  Chubby, opulent clouds bounced around a cartoon blue sky. Grass, unnaturally green through my sunglasses, waves and has prudently grown over a sign I know says “Outlaw Sodomy”, having read it other times. The sun is out behind me and makes an oh-so-chipper rainbow.  It’s like a Care Bear coloring book, and drenched in the oppressive mechanics of driving it makes me angry. This happy picture is the sun, the planet, the world. This reality is so far from where I am, what I’m doing, it just seems stupid.  I can’t smell the grass. I can’t touch the flowers; the sun is not warming me.  I can and must keep driving, smelling stale sweat and dirty laundry and candy. I can wonder how much longer I’ll drive before my legs start to get aching numb from sitting too long. I can’t think about the real big questions right now, the when-do-we questions with all the power to destroy my future, or secure it.  I get worked up, heart slamming and ears roaring, in tears at any provocation. It confuses Jer. I’ve got anxiety problems and if I chew the ‘what if’ fat too long I’m liable to panic. Too many variables, too many things can go wrong.  I like making plans but I have little hope in them.  Like this plan- we were going to be truckers for three years, make lots of money, and buy some land and maybe a house. We could finish our degrees online; we were already enrolled in a reputable school.  All of those could work, still.  I am losing my grip on my mind, though. It’s like watching the hand of a friend slip out of mine, knowing they will be hurt or killed if I can’t will them to safety.  My mind has no hand which makes it all the trickier. More on that later.

It’s at the end of my shift now, and I’m sitting in the blessedly empty parking lot of an off brand gas station wondering if my wonky parking job will irritate or amuse my husband when he drives out of here. Probably irritate, he hates bad parkers.  There are no lines and I’m in no one’s way so I plan to leave it. I had to drive 50 miles of state road and I’m glad I didn’t hit a deer. They are more plentiful and more spastic on state roads, most of the time. They are just as liable to jump into the light as away from it, once panic sets in. I have an hour left of legal driving time but there aren’t many stops, and the next place may have no parking so here is where I’ll cool my wheels.  I’m next to a marshy field and some chubby, long legged birds are screaming swears and poxes on me for crimes I am not yet aware of committing. Too close to fuzzy, clumsy babies most likely.

I miss my family. Tonight we usually go to the neighbors, a tradition started when their son and Jose and I realized that with the buying power of two families, we all get to watch more fireworks if we join forces. Two families turned to a dozen and now everyone brings casserole, or something. There are always cherries, and for the first few years we’d throw all the fireworks, duds and all, into a big flaming pile when they were done instead of throwing them away. The duds would KERPLOW the whole pile every couple of minutes, which was extremely dangerous and amusing.  This year, my nieces and nephews, the older ones at least, would have probably wanted to pick which fireworks to light next.  Someone would have been scared of the noise and gotten upset.  Adults would gasp when enthusiastic fire dancers got too close to another fire dancers’ face with a hot sparkler.  The show is modest, but a good time.  The best fireworks are at the city rodeo, of course.  The entertainment is half the fireworks, and half watching the field next door to see if this year, once again, the residual sparks will float down and light the whole damn thing on fire.  The fire department keeps it fun and good naturedly acts like it’s a surprise every year.  Most likely I’ll miss that too.  How people do this their whole lives is not within me to understand.  It’s late, and the twin bed I share with my sweet husband is calling.

7/7/09

It’s been a long, sweaty day in the south.  We made a delivery (of cheese, perhaps?) to another set of surreal caves. There are two shipping yards that I know of, both in Missouri that are made out of old mining operations. The temperature is cool and consistent underground and theoretically cuts their cost.  For the first, the cave is only slightly taller than the truck, maybe 14, 14 ½ feet. The parking and docks are relatively tight to get into, and miscalculations can smash you into walls and pillars. It feels a lot like walking into a closet, shutting the door, and trying not to touch the clothes.  The second we have been to once and the most recently. It’s much, much bigger. I estimate the ceiling to be roughly “3 trucks” tall, or about 50 feet. There were massive draping curtains in part, closing off pillars and passages ways and dwarfing everything around them.  Semis are pretty big and they look more like Tonka trucks inside a toy box in comparison to the huge arching pillars and walls. We had to pick up and drop the same trailer there three different times though; once in the yard, taking it from the yard into the caves, then going back into the caves to get it out again. Hooking up the trailer is a three step process, all very tedious.  We did buy some deliciously illegal fireworks though, and if I had a grand to blow I’d have bought a lot more. As it is, we have enough to blast our fingers into stinging euphoria and still get away from la policia before they track us down…absolutely the best amount to have. We delivered the cave load (we dropped and loaded there) to Georgia, and then picked up another in Alabama. All hot and bright and humid.

It was finally time for a shower and I’m left wiping down with a community towel, the omnipresent smell of old bacon fat, wondering how many burly BO ridden men have used it before me. Hopefully they use a very strong detergent to wash these in but I doubt it.

7/15/09

It’s been a slow week. We’ve spent a lot of time waiting for loads, waiting for people we’re “rescuing” to show up, etc. We had another run in with the Mile Pirate. At least I think it was him, it sounds like his special brand of douchebaggary.  Our initial run in with him was as follows- we pickup in Cincinnati, OH and drive into the first part of Nebraska. That’s a rough distance of about 800 miles. This guy picks up in mid-Nebraska, and 30 hours later is 100 miles down the road to where we are. What the hell he was doing and why he only drove 1 ½ hours in as many days is beyond me. He says “Hey, you can just have my miles” and some other things that say he just wants to trade loads straight off, and not each get paid for the miles we drove. The stunning 8:1 ratio makes this the brainchild idea of a drunk, besides the fact it’s not possible, the company keeps track of things like that. Maybe it is possible. The point is the jacknob tried to steal my damn work, and spent nearly two days in a truck…for what? I mean, it’s like living in a waiting room. It’s relaxing for ten minutes, then the boredom seeps in.  Like I said douchebaggary.  Anyway, this week we had to save a load that was already saved. The original owner (who I suspect is the Mile Pirate) sat in a parking lot with his load, not moving it, for two of the three days he had to drive it from Denver to Portland. Surprise surprise he can’t make it, so a second driver takes it to Salt Lake City, where we pick it up and drive. The beauty of it is, we drove nonstop and still couldn’t get there on time.  Stupid freakin’ Mile Pirate.

The plus side was that going to Oregon got us a load to pick up in Seattle and delivered in Illinois. I-90 baby! I-90 runs through Coeur  D’Alene, ID, where my sisters live.  We spent a lovely afternoon barbequing on the river.  Grant, my three year old nephew, loves to fish but has the wild enthusiasm and coordination of a drunk.  My sister had tied a bright pink plastic worm to his fishing pole, which seemed the perfect solution- it was soft, and could do only negligible damage to eyes.  At some point, though, Grant started to sense some kind of hole in the plan. “Mom, can you tie me one of those?”  he asks, pointing to a lure. “This worm is not very sharp.”  We played with immensely satisfying Missouri fireworks, including ones called “Zips”. It’s basically like a Flower, except the last two seconds it shoots violently into a random direction, usually flying about 40 feet into the air. Not the time in zipped its way to the watching crowd, pinging my sister, niece, and nephew. Who needs depth perception when you’ve got fiery entertainment for a buck?

I-90 also runs through Montana.  We haven’t been on I-90 many times, and each time previously I had been asleep or it was dark. HOLY CRAP IN A PITA I love Montana.  I’m fairly jaded to beautiful scenery and it literally took my breath away. I’ve been debating since if I have the cajones to tough out the damn-near-Canadian winters and live there. Hmmmm…..Good place for a ranch, yes?

07/15/09

The mechanic decided it was not a big deal the engine break seems to be failing and shakes the whole truck every time we use it. Jer also thought it was not a big deal, I am of the opinion it is a terrible thing and it should be fixed. But, if we are to make enough money before we head home for our break I’m going to just have to suck it up for a while.  Only dealerships, not mechanics, can work on these problems, and it’s hard to find ones that aren’t booked through the next week. We’re stuck in Dallas so that’s a bad plan. We’ve been in the parking lot for about an hour and have already been begged for gas money, and best of all Jer was sloppily propositioned by a lot lizard, or trucker specific prostitute. Her knocking on the truck was annoying, and when Jer went to see what was going on (I was doing homework on the bed) she asked first for money, then food, then money for food, then asked if she could “come in and cool down.” Since there is a nicely air conditioned building thirty feet away and Jer (I’m assuming, here) isn’t in to middle aged desperate beggars, he just gave her some cans of food and that was that. I’m probably going to check the trailer to make sure it wasn’t disconnected or the tires flattened, both things rumored to happen by turning them down. Who knows? Dallas is supposed to be bad for hookers and theft. Gladly we are leaving in the morning, to Anaheim. Also known for hookers and theft, but at least the weather isn’t quite as hellish- It’s 2 am here and the asphalt parking lot is holding at a pleasant 95 degrees.  Often, especially with the big heavy trucks, the asphalt gets hot and soft, and the trucks smash great big tire trenches into it like it was a wet dirt road. The worst I’ve seen in Continental Divide, NM. The trucks crushing down into the hot asphalt makes a difference of almost 18 inches between the bottom of the ridge and the wavy arch above it. Definitely need to stay in the right tire path if you don’t want a rough ride. The things you learn, eh?




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