Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Day in the Life

Four weeks into our journey as a team, we have covered over 23,000 miles and close to 40 states, and have found teaming to be a lot like we thought it would be -- and a lot different.  In general, things are going well for us -- we are getting lots of miles, good money, and we are getting to see the most beautiful parts of this great country.

For this entry, I thought it might be interesting for those of you following the blog to cover a 24-hour period of life on the road.  Of course, no day is typical, but the 24-hours from yesterday (Friday, April 20, 2007) contain many elements that are common to many of our days.

To give you some context, I am writing this on Saturday evening just after we changed shifts at the Schneider Operating Center in Edwardsville, Illinois, just across the river from St. Louis.  We are driving through St. Louis headed for southern California -- our third trip there since starting our adventures.  Of course, my perspective is my own, and I will emphasize things that Terry would not, and he would focus on things I will not.  You know that, but I'm saying it anyway.

Friday, at midnight, finds Terry driving through Pennsylvania on I-80, on our way to deliver a load in Massachusetts (oh yay!) later that day.  We had picked the load up in Michigan Thursday afternoon.  Terry started driving Thursday afternoon in Seville, Ohio.

I'm sleeping in the bunk.  I usually do more napping than sleeping, but my sleep has gotten more restful and I'm sleeping for longer periods the longer we are on the road.  I usually wake up a couple of times, and sometimes I'll come up front and ride for a while.  

I think some of our best interaction as friends (not as members of a team working together; that's different; I'm talking about the dimension of our friendship that stretches back over 20 years, not the working element that goes back only a month) happens during these late-night stretches over open road.  We share our thoughts, concerns for those we love, solve the world's problems (if only they were awake to listen!), delve into those deepest waters that only those who have known each other in terms of decades can explore.

As I type this, I am imagining Terry's description of that paragraph:  "Sometimes Allan wakes up, stumbles up front -- why, I don't know -- and interrupts the perfect quiet of my solitude with half-asleep rambling that doesn't make a lick of sense.  I grunt 'uh-huh' every few moments and think about the woman I saw in the laundrymat the other day in Dallas . . ."

By midnight, Terry has already driven several hundred miles.  He usually stops a couple of times for short breaks to stretch his legs, and sometimes stops for a meal if he can find a place to park in those wee-morning hours.  He spends some of the night in quiet reflection, and some of it listening to whatever appeals to him on XM radio.

Around 4:30 in the morning, he has been at the wheel between 9 and 10 hours and has driven somewhere close to 500 miles.  We are in New York state on I-84.  He knows it's time to switch shifts.  I've been awake for a little while, and have slept about as well as I ever have in the truck.

We usually take a little time to change shifts.  There is paperwork to do, coffee to buy, things to switch around (my stuff from the passenger side to the driver's side and Terry's stuff over there), inspection of the truck and trailer.  There is more to driving a truck than just holding the steering wheel and watching out for people in four-wheelers (what we call anything that isn't a truck) who can't drive.

It's funny how naturally we all fall into our little routines and habits.  After only a month on the road, I have certain places I like to have things, certain things I like to do and in a certain order. I have my coffee (properly sweetened and flavored with French vanilla creamer if I can find it wherever we are stopped), my diet soda for later, some things within reach to munch on, and perhaps most important for me, the XM radio tuned and my mp3 player ready to play some tunes.

In about half an hour, we are rolling.  Terry usually goes right back to the bunk and quickly falls asleep.  He has gotten into a good pattern of sleeping in the truck, and usually gets some good solid sleep in one stretch of time.  He will usually wake up sometime before noon and stay up for a little while before going back to sleep for a while.   At some point, hot coffee becomes a large part of the equation for him in getting fully awake.

It takes me a little while to get into my groove driving.  Maybe half an hour or so.  Then (usually) the miles pass quickly.  Before I know it, I'm passing through Hartford, Connecticut, during morning rush hour (it's not too bad, and that part of Connecticut is beautiful).  Somewhere soon after 200 miles (some days more quickly, depending on how I'm feeling), I stop for a break, possibly refill my coffee or soda.  If there is a Subway or something where I stop, I'll sometimes grab a sandwich during that first break.  I walk around and stretch a little bit just to loosen up.

After a few minutes, it's time to roll again.  

Late morning finds us in Massachusetts -- Norwich.  I've driven a little less than 400 miles.

Earlier that morning, we had gotten our next load assignment on the little terminal attached to the satellite in the truck.  We were supposed to go up to New Milford, Connecticut, to pick up a load going to Green Bay.  The load couldn't deliver before Sunday morning, and we would arrive in Green Bay early Saturday afternoon, so we were looking forward to a little break and some downtime Saturday night.  We were already planning our things to do while we were there.

The directions we were given by Schneider's computer have us going down a very narrow residential street to get to the place we were supposed to deliver.  A couple of times, I was a little leery of some low-hanging wires, and I thought, "trucks were never meant to be on this road."

When we got to the place we were delivering, I asked the lady who was checking us in if there was another way out that was better for trucks.  There was, thankfully.

By this time, Terry's been up a while, and we are talking about our downtime in Green Bay this weekend.  It's about 11:30 or so if I remember correctly.

It was about 150 miles to New Milford, Connecticut, where we were picking up the load going to Green Bay.  Or thought we were.

We had been to the place in New Milford about a week earlier in the middle of the night, so we knew where it was.  That always makes things easier.

We got there and I went inside to find out which trailer we were supposed to take.  The only thing I had was a number that the folks in the shipping office would use to give me the information I needed.

The man in the shipping office looked up the information I had given him on his computer, looked up at me a couple of times, and then asked if I could repeat the number.

I knew we were going to have a problem when he asked me to repeat the number.

I did, and it was what he had pulled up.  That load, he said, wasn't even scheduled to leave until Tuesday of the following week.  

So all we had was a number to take up to Green Bay.  I'm not sure they would have been happy with that, so we called Schneider to see what was going on.  

You would be surprised (unless you are a truck driver) how much of a truck driver's life is spent waiting.  Just waiting.  Waiting in traffic.  Waiting at shippers.  Waiting at deliveries.  Waiting on the phone to talk to someone at Schneider.

You either learn to wait or you get very frustrated and will probably find something else to do besides drive a truck -- or at least something else to do besides wait.  

The wait for someone at Schneider actually wasn't that long, but it seems longer when all you've got to show for a 150-mile drive is a useless number, no trailer, and nowhere to go with what you don't have.

We were able to verify that the load details had indeed been changed (the shipper evidently decided to do that and didn't inform Schneider), so we were not going to Green Bay after all.  

So we waited for our next assignment to come across the satellite to the terminal in the truck.  It didn't take long.

We were to go to Fair Lawn, New Jersey, to pick up a load going to (yay!) California!  Over 2800 miles one way -- just the kind of load we love.

If you look at a map, you can see where New Milford, Connecticut is, and where Fair Lawn, New Jersey is.  The shortest way to get there is through New York City.

And so it was that on Friday afternoon, during rush hour, our orange truck was crossing the George Washington Bridge to get from New York City over to New Jersey.  

Are we having fun at this point in our little adventure?  The correct answer is:  no, not really.

For the time of day and where we were, we actually made pretty good time through NYC and New Jersey.  We got off the exit on I-80 where we were supposed to go pick up our trailer.  

The directions we were provided by Schneider worked great until we got to the part of River Road (aptly named, it turns out) that was closed due to flooding.  There was a barricade in front of us, and large DETOUR sign pointing to the right.  Of course, that was the only sign and there was no mention of where to take a large truck in this situation.

After about half an hour of driving around and a call to the place were going, we finally made it to the place we were supposed to be.  It was getting too late in the day to be stuck in a strange place -- especially if that place is called New Jersey.

We unhooked from the empty trailer we had brought with us and found the trailer we were supposed to take.  Loaded with almost 37,000 pounds, one of the first things we discovered was that one of the tires was flat.  

This is the point in the story where you go and wonder if being a truck driver is really fun after all.  And you wonder, after thinking about where you are, if New Jersey is really the place you want to be as it gets dark on a Friday night.  You don't waste a lot of time wondering about these things.  You can wonder about them after you are away from New Jersey and New York, back in a tamer part of the world.

We decided that we could make it to a truck stop up the road to have the tire repaired.  It's funny how the sun going down on you in New Jersey can help you reach such a decision.

So, we are driving away from the customer following the directions on the computer in the truck since it didn't have us going on the road that was flooded.  

However, after a few blocks, we ran into another problem.  The directions we were given had us on a road.  In front of us, several blocks ahead, is an overpass.  On that overpass is a big yellow sign warning people (especially people in big orange trucks with heavy trailers that have a flat tire just before dark on Friday during rush hour) that it is only 12 feet 6 inches tall.  

How tall are we sitting up high in our big orange truck?  Hmmm . . . 13 feet 6 inches tall.  

That is too tall to fit under this overpass we are staring at, even in New Jersey on Friday during rush hour as it's getting dark.  Maybe especially then.

What to do?  

Terry, ever the able navigator, especially after having his coffee, has the solution:  "Turn here and see where this goes."

So that's what we do.

By the way, we also have a GPS navigation system that is usually helpful -- except in New Jersey when you are in a truck and not in a car.  But at least, we knew generally which way to go to get back to I-80 and the way (O Happy Day!) out of New Jersey in the falling darkness.

One such road we turned on after narrowly escaping finding out just how tall we were was blocked up ahead with an accident.  There was a nice New Jersey police officer (yes, they have them there) who told us where to go.

It just so happened that this was exactly the road we needed to be on to take us to I-80.  And we took it.

Fast forward about an hour to the TA truck stop in Columbia, New Jersey -- just four wonderful miles from Pennsylvania.  It is about -- well, it's dark.  I'm tired.  Terry is tired.  We cross the scales to make sure our weight is evenly distributed (we are okay) and then Terry takes care of arranging to have the tire on the trailer repaired.  

It is time for our shift change.  Well, I was ready for our shift change as we crossed the George Washington Bridge with all nice folks from New York and New Jersey.

Anyway, by about 9:30 pm, the tire is fixed, and Terry is ready to take us out of New Jersey.  So, he gets behind the steering wheel, and I climb in the bunk and dream of being in hell.  I don't know why.

Midnight finds Terry driving once more through Pennsylvania.  To California.  And away from New York and New Jersey.  That guy's got a great sense of direction.

Now you've spent a day in the truck with us.  Oh, we're in New Jersey already -- I believe this is your stop.  Thanks for riding with us today.

Until next time . . . keep the wheels rolling -- west . . .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Un voyage se passe de motifs. Il ne tarde pas à prouver qu'il se suffit à lui-même. Certains pensent qu'ils font un voyage. En fait, c'est le voyage qui vous fait ou vous défait.
A journey does not need reasons. Before long, it proves to be reason enough in itself. One thinks that one is going to make a journey, yet soon it is the journey that makes or unmakes you. (Translated from L'Usage du monde)