Monday, March 10, 2008

In Florida With Georgia On My Mind

Hello from Florida! I am currently just north of Lakeland, Florida, after delivering a load of bottles I picked up in Pennsylvania to a juice plant of some kind down here. My delivery appointment was so late, I just told them I'd be available in the morning. As of right now, I don't have my next load yet, so I don't know where I'm heading to next.

It is so warm out in the truck right now, especially with Daylight Savings Time now in play, that I retreated inside the truck stop to do some reading and catch up on e-mail and blog reading, do some banking, and some other things. I'm thankful for the cool air in here.

It's not horribly hot outside (certainly not as hot as this summer will be), but it's still too stuffy to be comfortable in the truck without idling and running the air conditioner.

Since last time. After I delivered the load I had to Charlotte last Monday, I got a load to take down to relay in Beech Island, South Carolina, which is just across the state line from Augusta, Georgia.

From Beech Island, I picked up a load at a Kimberly-Clark (the folks who make Kleenex and hundreds of other things) that was going up to Pittston, Pennsylvania (I was just there, it seems), right next to Scranton.

From Pittston, I went north up to Elmira, New York (a beautiful area of New York State just west of Binghamton), to pick up this load of bottles I delivered here to Lakeland this afternoon.

And here I sit.

Terry update. On my way up to Pittston with the KC load, once again I was able to see Terry, in Wytheville, Virginia. He was on his way down to Atlanta, and from there he was going to Arkansas for some time off. We didn't have much time, but it was enjoyable. We had lunch.

For quite a few weeks, Terry has been looking for an opening at Schneider that would let him have a more predictable schedule, and possibly more time off so that he and Kelly can work on furthering their relationship. Schneider has a nice program called Home Run in which three drivers share two trucks; each driver stays out on the road for two weeks, and then is home for a week. The primary requirement, of course, is that the drivers all live close to a central location.

Each time Terry has tried to explore such an option out of either West Memphis or Little Rock, there has been no success. But last week, in a moment of inspiration, he decided to look at the job postings for the first time in quite a while. There it was: an opening for a Home Run team out of West Memphis – just what he had been looking for!

He called the number for information about the situation, and he is supposed to start his first rotation on that team this Wednesday.

And, so, the Lonesome Dove Xpress rolls on for Terry.

Books and vids. I seem to have started a regular update in these blog ramblings (quite by chance) on what I'm reading and watching. Quite trivial information, I realize, but those things comprise quite a large place in the small universe of things available for me to do when I'm shut down at a truck stop. And, since it's part of the lifestyle I'm living inside my little orange world, it seems appropriate to write about it as the mood strikes.

I finished the Peter Jenkins book I was reading, Along the Edge of America , and enjoyed it very much.

Since then, I have started reading a group of books that I bought several months ago up in Michigan, at a truck stop just south of Detroit (called the Detroiter Truck Stop) that had hundreds of books of every sort (mostly old) set up for sale on about 20 long folding tables. I looked for a long time, and ended up getting quite a few books for not very much money. They are all in a stack with the other books I have in the truck, just waiting to be read.

The first book I pulled out, and which I have already finished, was a book of short stories by Andre Dubus called The Times Are Never So Bad. I had never read anything by Dubus, though I had heard of him before from somewhere. This collection started with a novella, “The Pretty Girl”, and finished with several short stories, all of which were well written and engaging. I really liked them, especially the novella, and the stories: “A Father's Story”, “Leslie”, and one more about a young, unassuming woman who helps her boyfriend rob a drug store, and what happens afterward. I just can't remember the title. But they are all good, and this book guarantees that I will read more of Dubus. He passed away in 1999.

Currently I'm reading Annie Dillard's first book of prose, Pilgrim At Tinker Creek , written back in 1974, and for which she received a Pulitzer prize. It's been a long time since I read anything by Dillard, and I'm enjoying this Walden -type book immensely. I'm not too far into it yet, but it's already captured my interest.

Of course, I'm not always reading when I'm not driving. Sometimes, I'm doing what I'm doing now – writing, journaling, reading e-mail, reading blogs, doing online research, playing games on my laptop.

And most of the other time I'm awake, I'm watching videos or listening to XM – very rarely regular TV, although when I can get a FOX station I try to watch American Idol when it's on.

I finished the first season of Everybody Loves Raymond , and just last night, finished the first season of The Sopranos. What a change of pace from ELR to Tony Soprano and the grit of that excellent series. I loved it as much as I thought I would. Very intense, but the acting was superb, the photography was a work of art, and the music (when present) was outstanding. They used music sparingly, but in a way that reminds me of one of my favorite shows from the '80's, Miami Vice. Many times, the music in Vice became another one of the characters – my favorite episodes in that vein were when they used Phil Collins songs.

I enjoyed it so much, I've already ordered the next two seasons, even though I have tons of others stuff I haven't watched yet. Sometimes, you just have to live on the edge.

I think I've got The Departed cued up next. I saw that in the theater when it came out (I was still living in Rome), but I'm looking forward to seeing it again. Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Leonardo DiCaprio are all outstanding in it.

This truck-driving life. I know that most every entry I detail where I've been since the last time, usually as more of a list of places than anything else. But, it occurs to me to write an experience from the past few weeks that fleshes out with some finer tones some of the things that can happen as I'm driving from place to place.

The last time I was going to Illinois, just south of Chicago, I had stopped because of weather about 550 miles from Joliet. That meant that I had at least 10 hours of driving if I could average 55 miles per hour. The legal limit for driving is 11 hours. And the weather the next day was potentially going to be messy again. In other words, it was going to be close to be able to get the load delivered on time.

I knew I would have to shut down right after delivering the load to Joliet. There was a truck stop not too far up the road – about 10 miles west on I-80. So I planned on going there and shutting down. I thought about going back to the Schneider OC in Gary, Indiana, about 40 miles east of Joliet, but I had to come right back to Joliet the next morning to pick up my next load, so I wanted to get closer if I could.

I made good time the next day, and delivered the load with no problems. I had exactly one hour of drive time left, and I was also close to the limit on my 14 hour day (at the end of 14 hours, you have shut down even if you have only driven 30 minutes).

Go down the road to the Pilot Truck Stop. It's about 6:30 local time. There is not one single place to park. It is totally full.

The clock is ticking. To me, it sounds like the heartbeat Poe describes in “The Tell-Tale Heart”.

There are no other truck stops close by. I can't park at the Dollar Tree distribution center where I just delivered (I checked).

If I drive the 50 miles back to Gary, I will find a place to park, but I will bust my 14 hour clock, and maybe my 11 hour limit also. Not good. And, it means that I will be going 80 miles out of route to get back to Joliet in the morning.

Schneider keeps up with how many miles I drive, and if the miles I drive are a certain percentage over the miles they calculate for a load, then it affects my quarterly bonus. And the loaded miles on this load were only 43, since I was only taking the load back to Gary to relay to another driver. That means 130 miles (give or take) for a 43 mile load.

All this stuff flashes through my mind as I sort through my options.

The ticking grows louder. tick-tick-TICK-TICK – T – I – C – K

I didn't feel like I had any other safe options, so I chose to go back to Gary. I was tired, irritated, stressed, and knew I needed to shut down as soon as I could. And, of course, the recriminations of “if I had known this was going to happen, I would have just gone back to Gary in the first place.”

Made it to Gary. Exactly 11 hours of driving. But I had busted my 14 hour clock.

At least I was safe, in a place that's as close to home as I'm going to have outside of my truck on the road, and I could unclench and relax after unwinding for a little while.

The ticking finally stopped.

Georgia on my mind. I've finally put in for my time off in Georgia, and will also be able to bring my car from Dallas to Georgia at the same time. I'm shutting down in Atlanta on the 18 th , renting a car to take to Dallas, and then bringing my car back to Georgia. On the way, I'm planning on stopping to see my friend Billy, the Big Wheel From Dallas. (That's a joke only Billy will understand, should he ever read this entry.)

The last time I was in Georgia to visit my family was October of last year. I'm really looking forward to some time with people I love, and just being out of the truck for a few days.

But at the end of the time, I'll be ready to get back home to the truck, refreshed. I guess when I stop being ready to get back in the truck, I'll find something else to do.

Thanks for the memories. Every time I come to Florida, especially if I come through Orlando (as I did this morning), I think of people I know here – some of whom I have loved, some I have worked with, and some I am blessed to still count as friends.

Charlotte, of course, comes to mind; my mom-in-law; David (with whom I used to work at Schwab in Orlando; we were both stockbrokers and then senior account administrators there, and he is the only one of my friends from those days I still keep in touch with – or with whom I keep in touch, if you have your grammar-check antennae up); Faye (with whom I used to work at the Health Department – which I started calling the “Hellth Dept” just before I left – and who has proven to be a good friend since those days, keeping me company on the road with regular e-mails, which I appreciate).

Memories, unbidden, rose up through the music I had going on XM, past my concentration on I-4 traffic in Orlando and around Disney, parted the curtain, and took the stage.

My memories of 10 years living in Central Florida are mostly good, tinged and subdued by the intensely painful memories from the last three years I lived here, as I recovered from illness and saw the spiral downward of my marriage, ending in an unfortunate divorce.

The first memory, a happy one, and prompted when I saw the small number of buildings that comprise downtown Orlando, is from the time Charlotte and I came down to visit in September, 1994. We were engaged, still living in Chicago at JPUSA, and considering moving to Florida, mostly because Charlotte felt like she wanted her time at JPUSA to be over, and her parents were down in Central Florida.

The first full day we were in Florida on that visit, we decided to drive down to Orlando, 30 miles away, and just check things out. Neither of us had ever been there. So we drove down US 441, and knew that according to the map, we'd pass just west of downtown when US 441 turned into Orange Blossom Trail.

When we'd driven about as far as it was supposed to be, we looked around for the city, downtown. We couldn't find it. Charlotte got out the map, and we realized that we should be right there. According to the streets we were crossing, we were about to pass downtown – it should be right here, but where?

Neither one of us could believe we were downtown Orlando – where is the city? Where are the buildings?

Then, it hit me. This was it. This was all the city we were going to see of Orlando. There was nothing more.

Charlotte and I both cracked up laughing when we realized that after being in Chicago for several years, our perceptions about what a city was, what it looked like, had changed. That was a running joke of ours every time we would go to Orlando in following years – where is it?

Of course, after living in small-town Lake County for ten years, Orlando became a much larger city to us, and our perspective shifted yet again.

And today, as I passed through, I laughed to myself when the memory came – and wondered, for old times' sake, where it was.

I didn't have time on this load to stop and visit any of the people I know down here in Central Florida. And, in most respects, that's probably good.

The flashbacks that started in Orlando just confirmed that.

I'm not ready to drive down that road yet.

Until next time . . . keep the wheels rollin' . . .


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