Saturday, January 26, 2008

Thawing Out in Big D

Thawing out in Big D. Last time I wrote, I was FREEZING in the nation's capital. And that was the last time I had my laptop cracked open until today. I was just too cold or too tired (or both) to get it out the past week.

Anyway, I'm in Dallas until in the morning, and it's been close to 60 degrees today, so it seemed like a good time to get online and check e-mail, pay my bills, and write in the blog.

After I finished being unloaded in D.C. last Friday (not yesterday, the Friday before, in case you didn't notice the date on the last entry), it took a while to get my next load. Well, I couldn't just sit there at the Air Force Base, and there is nowhere that I know of in D.C. to just sit in a parked truck. I didn't know which direction I'd be going, but I knew there was a rest area not too far into Virginia, so I took I-95 south to there, and just took a nap while I waited on my next load.

The next load came eventually: I was picking up a loaded trailer in Chesapeake, Virginia, and taking it to a Wal-mart distribution center up in Woodland, Pennsylvania. I'd been to both places before. The load wasn't going to be ready until early the next morning (Saturday), so I drove just a few miles down to shut down at the Flying J truck stop in Ruther Glen, Virginia.

I picked up the load the next morning (I didn't leave too early, because there was the possibility of some winter weather, and I wanted to do most of my driving in the daytime). I do recall that I got a great night's sleep – which has been one nice thing about driving solo, even while I miss Terry and teaming in many ways.

It's not that far to Woodland from Chesapeake, but I had plenty of time on the load, and I was in no rush. I could have driven farther on Saturday, but by the time I got back to Ruther Glen on my way back up, I was ready to stop. So I shut down at the Flying J again, and made the rest of the run on Sunday.

I will say that on the way up to Woodland, I somehow took the wrong exit off of I-99 (which is still under construction, and isn't that long anyway), and ended up going over a fairly big mountain in Pennsylvania on a two-lane road that a truck shouldn't have been on – it was narrow, and had some steep places with plenty of switchbacks. I was glad there wasn't too much traffic on that road on a Sunday morning.

Even with that, I got back on the right road after a while (and went back over the same mountain on the better road), and got to Woodfield with no more problems. By the time I got there, I had my next load: picking up a very heavy load of paper rolls (45,000 pounds), in a small town in Maryland whose name I have forgotten at the moment, and delivering up to Livonia, Michigan, which is close to Detroit.

I picked up the load on Sunday afternoon, and shut down at a Pilot truck stop (where I had to scale the load I had to make sure the weight on each axle was legal) in Pennsylvania on I-68 (forget the name of that town also).

Monday morning, I woke up really early because I was due up in Livonia at noon – or so I thought.

Something I forgot to mention about this load: I picked up the load on Sunday afternoon about 2:00 pm, and when they sent me the load, they told me it was due for delivery up in Michigan Sunday afternoon at 4:00 pm. Of course, I told them that unless they were going to replace my truck with a teleporter (or install a warp drive engine in the truck), I couldn't be there in two hours. Ha! Almost 500 miles (if I remember correctly – all my load info is in the truck, and I'm in the cafeteria/driver's lounge of the OC here in Dallas).

Anyway, I told them I could be there at noon on Monday, so I roped myself into having to leave about 1:30 in the morning.

No problem.

The first part of my drive was on interstate (I-68 to I-79 north to I-70 west to Wheeling, West Virginia). But, once I got to Wheeling, my routing from Schneider had me taking US 250 all the way across Ohio up to US 20, and taking that west to Toledo, where I'd hop back on interstate.

I don't know what you think of when you think “West Virginia”, but one thing that should be near the top of the list is “mountains”. And, if you are on US 250 in a big truck, it means miles and miles of narrow road, sharp switchback curves on steep hills and mountains, average speed of 25 miles per hour because of the curves (lots of 90 degree turns in addition to the switchbacks) with deep ditches right off the pavement (meaning: at 3:00 in the morning, when you can't see diddly out your right side mirror as you go around another switchback, you hope you are far enough out in the turn to not have the trailer go off the road into the ditch and not so far that if someone comes from the other side you hit them head on).

That is one time that driving is not the pleasure that it is most other times for me. And it's a time that driving solo feels really ALONE and LONELY.

Thank goodness for XM radio.

I made it with no problems, even though taking US 250 is not something I'll do again even if it means going some miles out of the way to stay on the interstate (Schneider routed me that way because they don't pay the toll to go across Ohio on the toll road there – which is I-80 and I-90 – they run together most of the way across Ohio) and even if I have to pay tolls out of my own pocket. With the mountains the first few hours, and the small towns I had to go through every few miles the rest of the way, my average speed was around 40 miles per hour.

About 10:30 am, as I'm still rushing north in Michigan on I-75 to get to the place I'm delivering to, I get a message that my delivery appointment is at 8:00 pm that night, not at noon. No problem, except that 8:00 will be when I have to legally be shut down for my 10 hour break. No way I can deliver at 8:00 pm.

So they tell me to drop the load at the OC in Woodhaven (it's a Schneider facility on I-75 just south of Detroit). Someone else will take it to the place that night.

So I drop the load, and go to bed right away, because it's cold (the theme of my life the past couple of weeks, it seems).

Wake up and have a message that I'm delivering the load I just dropped earlier at 6:00 am Tuesday morning because they couldn't find someone to relay the load Monday night. So, I hook back up to the load. Start on the 30 mile run over to Livonia.

Just after I start out, it starts snowing as badly as I've ever seen (except for several storms I saw when I lived in Chicago). It was snowing at a rate of several inches an hour. Still dark. Roads are really messy, and the morning rush is starting. I'm driving really slowly, can't see the road very well (the lines for the lanes are all covered up, so it's easy to lose your bearings), and am glad I have a heavy load (a heavy load helps with traction in some conditions).

Get to the place (which is a place that prints advertising circulars for newspapers) and they get me unloaded pretty quickly.

My next load is a live load not too far away in Walled Lake, Michigan. It's going to Chicago, to the railyard there. The trailer will end up going to a K-Mart distribution center in Sparks, Nevada, but it will travel most of the way on a freight train from Chicago. It will go to a railyard somewhere out west, and another Schneider driver will go there and take it to its final place. It's fascinating how the stuff you buy everyday at Wal-mart or K-Mart get there, how many steps are sometimes involved.

I get loaded (it's a load of plastic toys) and stop in Gary, Indiana, at the Schneider OC there. It's by far the largest and busiest of all of Schneider's OC's. Most of the large OC's dispense about 5 million gallons of diesel fuel per month – Gary dispenses over 9 million gallons. That should give you an idea of how much larger it is.

My favorite OC (as far as driver amenities) is Indy. The best food, in my opinion, is the OC in Fontana (LA), California.

The worst OC, as far as parking and lack of amenities, is probably either Atlanta, Columbus, Ohio, or some other place I can't think of right now.

I know you will sleep better tonight knowing my opinion of the various Schneider facilities.

So, Wednesday morning, I head into Chicago, where I used to live when I lived and worked at JPUSA. That's where I met my ex-wife also. When I lived there, I rarely drove a car. Most of the time I took the train or the bus anywhere (Chicago has an excellent transit system and the coolest library downtown I've ever seen!).

Of course, driving in Chi-town in a truck is a lot different than driving anything else. But I made it to the railyard (near 26 th street on the south side) with no problems. Dropped the load of toys, and went on my way.

My next assignment was to go about 10 miles west of Chicago to get an empty trailer at a grocery warehouse, and then go up to Woodstock, Illinois, for a live load. That load was going to Fort Worth, Texas (which is how I ended up here in Dallas today and tonight).

I got loaded, and then ran into some really bad winter weather. I stopped not too far down the road in Rochelle, Illinois, at a Petro right off I-39 there. The temp that night got down to -19 degrees. Talk about cold – with the wind chill (wind speeds were about 20-25 mph), it was supposed to be like -40 to -45.

I was looking forward to getting down to The Great State of Texas (as I am any time), and warmer temperatures. Then I checked the weather for DFW for Friday (when I was delivering this load), and saw they were getting sleet, snow, freezing rain, ice, and all sorts of nice things, just in time for my arrival. {sigh}

I made it as far as Strafford, Missouri, Thursday night, and then drove the rest of the way to Fort Worth yesterday (Friday). The weather wasn't too bad by the time I got the DFW area. I just had to take it slow and easy. Made a wrong turn and got lost (the directions told me to turn at a stop light that wasn't there any more, so it wasn't totally my fault).

I decided since I was here in the area anyway, and my car is still here in Dallas, I'd go ahead and just take a 34 hour restart. I didn't exactly need it, but I figured after all the winter weather I've been in and the stressful driving I've had to do the past couple of weeks, I would just take some time to relax and get some things done. I was able to do laundry, get some stuff out of my car to put in the truck, make a run to Wal-mart, and that sort of thing.

Oh – and get out my laptop.

Terry. Terry and I talk most every day, and he's doing okay. He is currently in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has a live unload Monday morning up in Yonkers, New York – might as well say New York City. And, the job that Mayor Giuliani did there notwithstanding, that is a loathsome place to have to go in a truck. He's not too happy about that.

I'll keep you posted on how he is. He's still part of this whole thing, even if we are not teaming right now.

I'm lovin' I Love Lucy. Since it's been so cold, and I've been so tired when I shut down much of the last couple of weeks, I've been watching lots of video. Mostly, right now, I'm watching the first season of I Love Lucy , and am enjoying them very much. I also watched the movie Open Range, and enjoyed that immensely. Kevin Costner produced and directed it, and stars in it with Robert Duvall (his character, Boss, in this movie, as well as his character Gus in the Lonesome Dove mini-series are two of my favorite western characters ever. What a great actor he is.).

If you haven't seen Open Range , and you like westerns, I'd recommend it.

At the Petro the other night, I walked into the movie theater (most Petros have those – a very nice thing) in the middle of 3:10 to Yuma , which Terry and I saw in Bethalton, Illinois, last year, and I enjoyed seeing it again. That's a great movie also.

As I write this, I still don't have my next load yet, but I told them I'd be available in the morning, so I should have something soon.

In any case, that's about all I have the energy to write for now (and I'm sure I'm past your energy for reading this blather long past).

Until next time . . . keep the wheels rollin' . . . hopefully in warmer temps . . .


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