Monday, July 30, 2007

When the joke's on me . . .

It may be funny now -- it wasn't funny at the time.  At the time, I was more stressed and frustrated than I have been in a long time driving a truck.  

Terry was asleep.

When he woke up and I told him about it -- all seriousness -- he laughed harder than he's laughed in a while.

And -- after a while -- I laughed too.

It all started about a week ago, on a Sunday.  We delivered a load early Sunday morning to a Sears warehouse in downtown Dallas.  If you know either of us, or have read this blog much at all, you know that we love going to "The Great State of Texas" (to borrow a statement from the President), and especially Dallas.

A bit of a detour from the story here:  we exited off I-30 in downtown Dallas at Ervay Street to get to the Sears warehouse.  It was like coming full-circle for Terry and me, because we first met just a few blocks north on Ervay back in July, 1986.   We met when he came in to take over at the job I was just leaving.  We went to college together, and did similar work with inner-city kids, and now, 20 years later, we're back there, still working together (with a 20 year break in between of course).  It's odd the turns life takes sometimes.

Okay, now back to our original story:  when we are in Dallas, several times we have gotten what's known as an "expedited load".  

Originally, we thought, "Oh boy!  A chance to deliver some really valuable freight on time and show them how well we do this job!"  

Now we know the truth:  "expedited load" means a whole lot of hassle with no extra reward.

We always get these "expedited loads" from the same place, and the loads are either going to California or up to Louisville, Kentucky.  At least the load going California has the miles to make the hassle a little more tolerable:  we get paid for the miles and we end up in Southern California -- a place we like to go almost as much as "The Great State of Texas".  But loads to Louisville have all the hassles and the miles are short, so we're not making that much money -- and, nothing against Louisville, but it's not a place I just long to go to.

Okay, here's how these "expedited loads" work:  first of all, they are live load and live unload.  And the place that we pick up the load in Dallas doesn't know what "expedited" means.  Every time we go there, it takes forever, and twice -- TWICE -- we have had them put the wrong stuff on our trailer, only to have to take it back off and reload it.

The security is so tight, it would be easier to get into the White House -- and yet they can't do the basic job of keeping things in their warehouse straight!  It would be laughable if we weren't so irritated at the long wait -- it takes about 30 minutes to load or unload a full trailer with a skilled forklift driver, but it takes the "expedited load" folks anywhere from 2 to 7 hours to load our trailer.  This is time that we are largely uncompensated for -- well, we start getting paid a nominal hourly rate after we wait over a certain amount of time, but it is a fraction of what we would make driving.

Once we get the trailer loaded, the hassles really begin:  we cannot stop for any reason for the first 250 miles (due to the possibility that someone would try to hijack the load for theft); and after that, whenever we do stop, for any reason, for however long (and it can never be for too long), we have to send a message to someone on our satellite unit that we have stopped and why, and then send another message when we start moving again.  There is also the very real possibility that we could be followed by someone the shipper contracts with to monitor load security to make sure we are following all these procedures.  

Before we leave (this is when we are at the shipper waiting until we are almost old enough to retire to be loaded), someone from that company "interviews" us to make sure we understand all the rules.  (There is one woman who does the interviews about our age that I love being interviewed by; the other guy there I have nicknamed "Lurch" because he's tall, thin and reminds me of the guy on the Addams Family a little bit.)

So, this Sunday about a week ago, we get a load from this place to the place in Louisville.  You could have heard our groans from wherever you were -- and I'm sure you did.  You thought someone around you had indigestion, didn't you?

We get loaded, and deliver the load right on time on Monday morning.  Monday afternoon, we drive north about 50 miles up the road to Seymour, Indiana, and get a Walmart load (drop and hook on both ends -- yay!) that's going back down to Palestine, Texas -- oh, good, we're going back to Texas!  Hooray!

Wait a minute -- not so fast!  The next load (by now it is early Tuesday morning; you almost have to buy a program at the box office to keep up) is in Dallas -- good so far -- and it's from (say it isn't so, Auntie Em!) that place!

Double GROANS this time!  It's going to (please say "California") Louisville.

All of that to tell you the story of what happened in the middle of the afternoon last Tuesday.

On all the loads we've had from Dallas to Louisville for these clowns (except for you, E!), the place we have been told to stop is in Prescott, Arkansas, which is roughly 241 miles from the place we pick up in Dallas.  But since we were told it was okay to stop there several times, we just figured it was close enough for the people so worried about their precious stuff.

So, I've been driving several hours, from Dallas to the first place we can stop -- Prescott.  I decide to go to the TA truck stop at exit 44 off I-30 in Arkansas.  I'm hungry and I've really gotta go -- worse than I can remember in a long time.

Of course, I've got to send in a message letting the folks know what I'm doing.  Well, I decide to be funny -- I do this all the time, and if you know me at all, you know I am telling the truth.  

So instead of a boring message like "Stopped for break" I type something like this:

"Stopped for break because there has been too much flooding in this area already."  

You probably know that there has been much too much rain in the southwest, especially Texas, Oklahoma, and parts of Arkansas.  I thought (erroneously, it turns out) that someone would read that and make the connection to the joke (so clear to me when I typed the message) and that I was stopping for a bathroom break.

They didn't.

Anyway, while someone up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is reading my little message and not thinking it is a joke, I am blissfully ignorant, going into the truckstop and taking my little break.  Once I made sure that area would not be flooded any more, I sat down to a meal in the restaurant.

One thing I thought I would do while I was stopped was turn in the paperwork from our last load.  Paperwork we turn in to Schneider is proof that have made the delivery, and it's the basis for how we get paid for the loads we have.  We have these envelopes we put paperwork in called "Trip Pak" envelopes -- it's a service similar to Federal Express or UPS -- they deliver paperwork the next day to Schneider.  Trip Pak has drop boxes at most truck stops.

They didn't have one at the TA in Prescott, Arkansas, however.  They just had a regular blue mail drop box from the U.S. Postal Service out front.  But no Trip Pak.  No problem.  I'll just drop it in West Memphis (Arkansas) when we fuel at the Schneider place there.

I have it at the table with me in the restaurant when I'm eating.

Finish my meal and go out to the truck, taking my time, plenty of time on the load to get it there, Terry's sleeping, I'm feeling good (now that I have been able to do the whole flood-prevention thing), ready to drive on down the road.

I get in the truck, hear Terry turn over and start snoring again (acutally, he and the truck engine sound very similar sometimes), and I pull out of the TA and on to I-30.

That's when I notice two things -- two things that would become very important to my little peaceful day right away:  (1) I notice that the Trip Pak envelope (the one with the paperwork that is how we get paid for that load) is not with the book I was reading.  Book is in the truck; envelope is not.  I know I didn't drop it in the box, because it wasn't there.  It must still be on the table in the restaurant.  (2)  At the same time, the little satellite unit goes *beep* to let me know that we have a new message from Green Bay.  I've turned around at the first exit so I can go back to truck stop and rescue our envelope, so I stop and read the message.

"Can you tell us which road is flooded and more about the situation about why you stopped?"

I was so irritated -- at myself for trying to joke around and at these folks in Green Bay for not getting my joke, for taking it so seriously.

I sent a message back that said something like:  "I stopped to use the bathroom and to eat."  

Okay, if you want to know the stupid little details, I'll tell you.  Do you want me to let you know when I breathe in or out, when I tilt my head more than 10 degrees in any one direction (probably to look at . . . scenery), when I change channels on my XM radio, when I last changed my socks . . . ???  (That's just me ranting about it; I didn't say any of that to the fine folks up in Green Bay -- YOU, dear reader, aren't taking me too seriously, now, are you?)

By now, I'm stressed out about leaving the envelope (that's our money!) in the restaurant, and I'm stressed that my attempt at a joke fell flat (something that has happened so many times in my life, I've lost count).

I get back to the truck stop, run inside the restaurant (if you know me, you know it takes a lot to get me running, and how funny it looks -- you can hear the chip-pa-pum chip-pa-pum chip-pa-pum as my extra weight bounces back and forth from the ground to hit me in the head -- I am borrowing that from an old Mike Warnke comedy routine -- hilarious when he does it), go to the table I was at before -- there is someone else there already (the place wasn't even that crowded) and the envelope wasn't there.  The guy sitting there hadn't seen it.

More stress.

Find the server.  Ask her:  has she seen the envelope?

Yes.  She has.  She helped me out by just dropping it in the box outside.

Not the Trip Pak box -- remember, they didn't have one.  She dropped it in the U.S. Postal Service box -- the envelope has an address, but no postage.  

I don't know what I'm going to do, but I can't break into the post office box, and I'm blocking traffic at the fuel lines, so I have to run back out (again, me running is a rare event, and funny in its own right -- chip-pa-pum and all that) to the truck.

I get in the truck, start it up, and notice the little red light on the satellite unit -- I've got a new message.  By now, I know that any message from Green Bay is not going to be good.

"Why did you stop before 250 miles?  Customer is concerned.  Please explain."

Remember:  I've done this very same load, Dallas to Louisville, three times, and we have stopped in Prescott each time.  And that's where, several times, I was told to stop!  And, in any case, remember, it's 241 miles.  And now, it's not far enough?

You can imagine what went through my mind at that point to tell them in response, but because my mom and Terry's mom read this blog (Hey Mama!  Hey Pat!  We both love you guys and appreciate you more than you could ever know.  And I will state for the record that my warped sense of humor does not come from my Mama -- she trained me right, or tried to.), I will not print what it was I was thinking.  I'm sure you can imagine.  They weren't warm and fuzzy thoughts of endearment.

I stopped the truck (I had started moving back on the road), and called the nice folks up in Green Bay.  The lady I talked to was very nice, and I found out what happened on the other end when I was in the truck stop just enjoying my book, a nice meal, and losing my envelope.

When the person in Green Bay got the message I sent, they thought I meant that I was literally stopping because there was flooding where I was, so they called the customer (oh no!), the customer (who is uptight anyway, remember) checks the weather on our route, sees that it is nice and clear -- no rain anywhere around, and no flooding problems right that moment, especially on major interstate routes, and they are a little nervous thinking maybe I've stopped the truck, and am selling their stuff out of the back to the highest bidder.  (Well, if I was going to do that, almost any place would be better than Prescott, Arkansas.  I mean, really!)

Then the customer gets a little more uptight because we've stopped before we were supposed to -- well, actually, as I said, we stopped exactly where we were told to, and stopped the same place (or town) all three times we've had that stupid load.  

I apologized profusely (something I'm about as good at as trying to play jokes, probably because of all the times they backfired) for starting the whole thing in the first place, and then got grumpy and told them that I stopped exactly where I was told to -- ("I stopped where the guy I call 'Lurch' told me to stop."  At least that got a chuckle out of the young lady in Green Bay -- and alas, the only number I have for her is this toll-free number that goes to Green Bay *sigh*) and suddenly everything was okay again.

"It's all straightened out she said."

Well, not quite everything.  There's still that Trip Pak envelope in the U.S. Postal Service mailbox.

To be continued . . .

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