Monday, February 11, 2008

Chillin' In Checotah

Chilling out in Checotah. Last time I wrote, a few days ago, I was in Des Moines, Iowa. I had picked up a load going to Danville, Illinois, which is near the border with Indiana. I delivered to an AutoZone distribution center there. No problems. I shut down at a little truck stop there in Danville. No restaurant, but there was a small deli with some decent lasagna and a cute girl. A good combo any time.

Saturday, I spent all day running trailers all around Illinois. First, I had to take the empty trailer I had about 100 miles to drop it at a place there. Then, I bobtailed (which means driving a truck with no trailer) 150 miles north to a K-Mart distribution center (forget where it was, sorry) to get another empty trailer, and then take that 150 miles to Peoria to pick up a loaded trailer. So basically all I did Saturday was to move empty trailers around, but I'm paid the same for all those miles, so it really didn't matter.

I picked up the load in Peoria at a place that makes steel wire in very heavy coils. I had 44,785 pounds which brought the total weight of my truck (with a full fuel tank) to just over 79,000 pounds. The legal limit is 80,000, so you can tell it was close in any case.

I went a few miles from Peoria, to Morton, Illinois, where there was a truck stop and scaled the load to make sure all the axles were within legal limits. The trailer axles were about 2400 pounds over. When that happens, you have to “slide the tandems”, which means that you have to slide the trailer axles either forward or backward to shift the weight. I had to slide the tandems back to the 17 th hole (some states have limits on how far back the tandems can be slid; California is most restrictive at the 5 th hole). I prefer having the tandems as far forward as possible, usually between the 5 th and 8 th holes, because it means a smaller turning arc getting around corners, and it's generally easier backing into spaces at truck stops.

Anyway, now you may consider yourself a little more educated on the art of balancing loads on a truck. Sometimes, you can't legally balance the load. You have to go back to the shipper, and have them take something off, or reload it. That's something no one wants to do.

Or you can drive with too much weight. And if I choose to do that, I pay any fines (which can be hundreds of dollars). No thanks, I'll pass.

This load was going in the right direction: The Great State of Texas! Always a great choice for me. I'm delivering to Sherman.

Sunday (yesterday), I made it to Joplin, Missouri, before shutting down.

I didn't realize it until after I was shut down, but the nice sunshine, clear skies, and temps in the mid-40's I was enjoying yesterday in Joplin were to be replaced about 3:30 this morning by the sounds of hail dropping on my truck, followed by several hours of an ice storm, punctuated by rolling thunder.

It was bad enough to cause me to delay getting on the road until just past noon, and moving my delivery time up 24 hours to tomorrow. By the time I was rolling, the temps had gotten up to around 31 or 32, and the roads were just wet, and it was raining a little bit. Not too bad.

I made it to Checotah, not very far, but I wouldn't have been able to make it to deliver this load today before the place closed, so I decided to just shut down here.

Tomorrow, I'll deliver this load in Sherman, and then go on down to Dallas. The truck is due for an oil change, and there are several other things that need to be fixed (including an electrical short), so it will be in the shop for a day, maybe two or more. I won't know til I get there and see how far behind the shop is.

I've also got to get my annual DOT physical, so I'll do that while in Dallas.

I've got some other stuff to do also, including gathering up all my logbooks and stuff to send to Georgia so my Mama (bless her heart for all she does for me in helping me take care of stuff there in Rome; if it weren't for her keeping tabs on my mail and taking care of these important matters, it would be much harder for me to be on the road the way I am. So, thanks Mammy. I appreciate it – and you.) can drop all that junk off to the folks that do my taxes, and I can collect my loot from the IRS.

I had thought about trying to get my car from Dallas to Atlanta during the time my truck will be in the shop, but have changed my mind (what else have I got to do all day besides think, come up with plans, and then change my mind?).

If the truck will be in the shop longer than I want it to be, I might use the time to drive up to the Paris area and see my good friend, Billy Day. I'd like that very much.

Seeing Terry in St. Louis. It just so happened, to the surprise of us both, that our paths crossed just east of St. Louis yesterday. We were able to meet going opposite directions at the Pilot truck stop in Troy, Illinois, and see one another for the first time since we officially stopped teaming back in January. We enjoyed a very nice visit. We both miss our teaming days in many ways. We could not have planned it any better, and it just happened sort of on its own. I'd known he was going through St. Louis, but I thought he'd be long-gone by the time I got there.

But he wasn't. And I'm glad.

People in my world. Driving a truck, especially without a wife and kids to go home to, is a very solitary life. And I like it that way. If I didn't like it, I'd do something else, you may be sure. I drive a truck because I want to.

And yet, even in that ocean of solitude, there are moments when I cross paths with others. Usually, it's just for a moment at a shipper or consignee, picking up or delivering a load, someone in a truck stop, a restaurant, sometimes as simple as a wave from another Schneider driver or a kid who pumps their arm in a passing car in a “Blow Your Horn” signal. Sometimes, it's a pretty girl who smiles as she passes, or collects money for a bottled water. Sometimes, it's a girl named Heidi in a sports bar in Chesapeake.

I love those moments of connection, interaction, even if it's only a few seconds. They lend variety to the stark landscape of driving alone across this beautiful country of ours. They remind me that I'm still part of a larger fabric of people, and all those people have their stories.

I share two such moments from the past week: in Des Moines, when I was in the Flying J sitting with my laptop, checking e-mail, writing in this blog, and listening to music, a guy came in with his laptop, and sat at the next table facing in my direction.

He started talking to me, asking me about how I connect to the net, how I liked it. Then we started talking about computer games (he likes to play World of Warcraft, an online game with literally millions of active players who interact with each other on an incredible level), and then it graduated to more personal stuff.

He recently divorced, and just came back on the road after driving a truck locally for 16 years. He has kids, and told me how much he misses them. He talked about how much driving over the road had changed since he left that world so long ago.

I talked about my own divorce, and how driving a truck after that horrible time let me grieve and begin to heal my heart in a unique way.

We connected, and I think if were just guys who lived in the same town and worked regular jobs, we could probably be friends.

But, two hours or less after crossing paths, we went our separate ways. But I think we were both richer for the experience. I know I was.

Another path-crossing: when I delivered the load I had last Friday to the AutoZone in Danville, Illinois, I backed into the dock they assigned me, and took my paperwork into the office. Another driver, from a local company, was already in there. He had been in there a while, and I could tell he was very frustrated.

He saw my cap with the “Schneider” logo on it, and he asked me how I liked driving for Schneider, and how long I had been driving for them. I told him that I liked driving for Schneider. I told him that if I wasn't happy with Schneider, it wouldn't take long for me to go somewhere else.

He told me that he had been with Schneider for seven months, including going through their training in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In his words, “and every single day of that seven months was horrible.”

I told him that it probably wouldn't have taken me seven months of “ horrible” days to jump ship. He told me some of his experiences. Some were really bad.

But I also quickly realized that his own disposition and perspective probably had as much to do with his unhappy experience as Schneider did.

A few minutes later, he was on his phone talking to someone in his family, or a friend, complaining about his experience at AutoZone, and several times he said, “I'm about ready to walk out of this place!”

At that time, another Schneider driver came in, and started talking about the intricacies of how the military sets up explosive charges, for much longer and in much more detail than I was interested in hearing about. I didn't care how long the fuse had to be with an explosive charge that was so large. I just wished he'd shut up.

The reason he launched into his one-man guest lecture at the Explosives Institute annual conference is because warning signs outside the AutoZone had warned drivers that “No Weapons, Explosives, Firearms Allowed on This Property”.

Those signs are for the same people who need the warning on hair dryers to heed: “Do Not Use in Shower or Tub”.

Talking to the guy who had the bad experience at Schneider (and probably many other places in his life) reminded me of my own conviction, from recent years especially, that any person's happiness has as much to do with the choices they make, the attitudes they adopt, the perspective they have as any circumstances they are in.

Most of the time, when I hear drivers complain about their company (and drivers of every company complain), I think to myself that those people would not be any happier working for a different company. At the same time, I think it's true, in general, that someone who's happy at one company could probably be happy at most any company.

For much of my life, I was in an attitude of waiting, hoping, searching, praying for the next thing that would be the key to contentment and happiness in my life. When I was in college, I was looking forward to the day I could be in full-time ministry. When I was single, I was looking forward to the day I would marry the girl of my dreams. When I got married, and started working in the financial industry instead of going into some type of ministry job, I kept hoping that the real thing would come along at the right time. And I kept hoping that some major areas of my marriage would fix themselves.

Then, I got sick, and lost my health, my nice job, and much of what I viewed as my life at that time.

I became frustrated, angry, and bitter that so much of the things I had been waiting on, looking for, believing for, praying for, had either not come or had been taken away from me. I thought my life was over.

Piece by piece, my life felt like it was being ripped from its moorings, the anchor that had held me in place. This all occurred over a period of several years. I ended up getting my health back, but ended up losing my marriage and my faith was in tatters.

Slowly, over a period of days, months, and years, I was able to let go of my anger and bitterness, though sometimes reluctantly. It's a despicable twist of either human nature, or my own personality, that I'd rather be able to blame someone or something else for the way my life has turned out. It's too scary to take responsibility for my choices, good or bad. It's a horrible weight to bear.

But, at some point, I realized that I wasn't waiting on something to happen, someone to come, some place to go or task to perform. I wasn't waiting on God to come riding in on a white horse to deliver the miracle that would make everything all right.

I realized that I am responsible for my life, for the choices I make, for good or ill. I had to face the daunting, horrible, wonderful, terrifying truth that had eluded me most of my life, usually wearing the cloak of my faith: I am the steward of my life, the gift that has been given to me, responsible for making choices consistent with those values, goals, truths, and gifts that I choose to embrace.

There is no one to blame for how my life turns out; there is no one who is going to come magically rescue me from the task before me to make choices, and take responsibility for the life I live.

So much of my life, I searched outside of myself for the approval that would validate what I was doing, how I was doing it. I sought it, craved it, from my parents, then from my friends, from my precious wife, and God.

The awful secret and the trap that suddenly sprang shut upon me when my life started crumbling was that searching outside myself for what I felt was lacking, for approval or to be completed or whatever, was never going to work. I could never be enough, do enough, be good enough. It was an impossible burden.

And the burden I had placed, unknowingly to them, upon others was also an impossible one. No one can be responsible for the happiness, freedom, existence of anyone else.

What a wonderful gift to realize at last that I am responsible for my life, my choices, my happiness, my security. No one else. Nothing else.

I am thankful every day for the blessing of that gift.

I live out my realization of this gift imperfectly – it's still so easy to fall back into old patterns, old habits of thinking, behaving, relating. But I'm learning, growing, every day, and every day I am appreciating in new ways the wonder and power, and responsibility, that stems from this gift.

You may find your path different than mine. Probably do. But I hope that whatever path you are on, it is one that you have chosen, one you have taken responsibility for, embraced, wholly, good and ill, and that you are trying to make choices consistent with that path and its journey.

In that spirit, until next time . . . keep the wheels rollin' . . .

Allan, who is currently listening to some Resurrection Band

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