Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hello From Columbia, South Carolina

Since last time. In the last week and a half, I have been bouncing between north and south in the east like a big orange ping-pong ball. When I first got back home to the truck and road, my first load was to pick up a load in Rome, Georgia, which had never happened before. I got to see Mama and Cindy for a little while that first night. That load was delivering up near Buffalo, New York. When I got to Buffalo, it was cold and snowing.

I mentioned in the last entry that I was on my way to Memphis with a load I picked up in Buffalo.

Then I went up to Wisconsin, to Green Bay, where Schneider's headquarters is. I always like going up to Wisconsin. My Daddy was working in Chicagoland that week, so on my return trip through there with a load going to South Carolina, I got to stop for the night at the Schneider OC in Gary, Indiana, and Daddy came over, picked me up, and we got to go out to eat and spend some good time together.

My next load was to pick up an empty trailer at the Kimberly Clark I had delivered to Saturday in Graniteville (just across the state line from Augusta, Georgia) and drive about 150 miles over to Bennettsville and pick up a very heavy load of paper rolls going up to Du Bois, Pennsylvania. It proved to be a very tiring and frustrating day, largely because I made it so.

The Kimberly Clark facility didn't have any empty Schneider trailers, so they sent me to a Target facility in Lugoff, South Carolina. No problem. When I got the trailer, I inspected it, as always, and it was a newer trailer that just had its annual inspection in January, and there were no problems that I could see with it. So off I went to Bennettsville.

I had planned to get loaded and then make it as far as I comfortably could, probably 200 or 300 miles, before shutting down. The load had to be in Pennsylvania the next day by midnight, and at almost 600 miles, it was easily done the way I had projected things.

Then there's that old “the best laid plans of mice and men” thing that kicks in sometimes. Sunday was the day for it to kick in for me.

I got to the shipper where I was going to pick up this load of huge paper rolls (they stand about 9 feet tall and are about 6 feet in diameter and are very heavy). The trailer was dirty with trash and debris from past loads, so I got in the trailer to sweep it out. I had my flashlight, and when I got to the nose of the trailer, there were some places where small puddles of water had collected in the corners. It had been raining heavily the past few days in South Carolina, and it was obvious the water came from a leak, though I couldn't see any holes or gashes (part of the regular inspection of a trailer is looking for those, and I hadn't seen them when I picked up the trailer; and I also didn't notice the water in the front of the trailer – it couldn't be seen without getting up in the front of the trailer, which I had not done when picking it up). The shipper wouldn't load the trailer with a leak, of course.

So I got on the phone with Schneider's weekend support shift (notorious among drivers for long wait times and incompetent help) to tell them what was going on and find out what they wanted me to do. As I was sitting there for 30 minutes on hold (not an unusual occurrence), I saw the plans I had made for getting pretty far up the road evaporate.


I was told to take the trailer to the Charlotte OC, 90 miles away, and leave it so the maintenance shop could repair it. Then, I was to go about 20 miles over to Holly Hill, North Carolina, to pick up another empty trailer, and return to Bennettsville to be loaded.

That was not a problem in and of itself because I was being paid for those miles to move the trailers, and miles are miles are miles. If I'm rolling, I'm generally seeing dollar signs coming from it.

There were two other problems, however, that were coming up for me: (1) by the time I drove on all the little two lane highways, little towns with speed traps, scores of traffic lights, and tons of traffic (especially for a Sunday), to Charlotte, Holly Hill and then back to Bennettsville, and finally got loaded, I would be close to my 14 hour limit for the day. And there is nothing around Bennettsville as far as a place a truck can park for 10 hours. (2) My route up to Pennsylvania was largely on US highways and state highways, with only about 200 miles of interstate going up I-81 through Virginia. With 600 miles to go, in the rain, it would be impossible to legally make it in one day.

So, when I got to Charlotte, I called the weekend shift at Schneider central command once more to try to get a solution (my solution was to move the pick-up or the delivery time back a day). The person I spoke with told me they wouldn't change the pick-up or delivery time. When I told her I'd be at the shipper out of hours to legally run, and nowhere close to go, she suggested that I got down to Florence, South Carolina, almost 30 miles away, to a truck stop there. That was not a practical option, because that would have put me even further away from where I was going.

So I was basically on my own. That's not a good feeling for a truck driver to have.

I got the empty trailer in Holly Hill and trudged back to Bennettsville. I planned to ask the place I was picking up (a paper company) if I could park on their property to take my break. If they said “no”, I didn't know what to do but drive over to Florence and see if there was any parking left that late in the day (there probably would have been at the time I would have gotten there).

Thankfully, the security guard at the gate told me it would be no problem if I parked for my break on their property (basically on the side of the large driveway leading up the front gate, which had plenty of room). Relief. One problem solved.

I got loaded with no problems, and I didn't go over my 14 hour limit for the day.

I still had the problem of having to go 600 miles on horrible roads (as far as speed and traffic were concerned) in the rain the next day.

I woke up early the next morning (this past Monday) and started as soon as I could legally. I decided to do the best I could, and when I got to a good spot to stop on I-81 in Virginia, I'd be able to more accurately gauge my progress and the possibility of getting the load delivered on time (legally and safely). I stopped up in Greenville, Virginia, to scale the load (I was so close to the legal limit, I thought I might be overweight on one of my axles, but I was 200 pounds under, so it was okay) at a Pilot truck stop there. I had made better time than I thought I would, but it was still going to be close.

By the time I got to I-70 in Maryland, I realized I wasn't going to be able to make it. I still had 150 miles to go, and only 1 and a half hours of driving time left out of my 11 hours. No way I could make the Lonesome Dove Xpress average over 80 miles per hour.

So I called my new regular dispatcher. A little background: when Terry and I quit teaming in December, I was assigned a new dispatch team based in Charlotte. The woman with whom I dealt most of the time (the few times I talked to her) was new, and it wasn't long before she left, leaving me to deal with her immediate supervisor, a man named Michael who had a personality and manner that was very brusque and (to me) arrogant. I just didn't like him, but it wouldn't matter most of the time unless I needed to interact with him directly, a very rare event. When I got back to the truck after my time in Rome, I had a message on my satellite unit that told me that I had been assigned to another dispatch team.

I called the new team to introduce myself, and talked to a lady who was very friendly, and I could tell I would like this board better already. The person I will deal with most of the time, Steve, has proven to remind me of the guy Terry and I dealt with in Memphis, Julian (a stellar member of Schneider's team in West Memphis). He has been great, and I love being on this new team.

So I called Monday afternoon to explain the situation, and also to let him know that I had tried to solve the problem over the weekend with the support folks to no avail. I told him I would need to push out the delivery time and the reasons why. He was very supportive and understanding and told me to do whatever I needed to do to be safe and legal.

So I sent in a satellite message telling them I'd deliver the next morning as soon as I legally could get there. Problem solved.

I stopped for the night in Breezewood, Pennsylvania, at a truck stop I'd never stopped at before. It's a TA truck stop (not usually my favorite place to shut down), but this one was very nice and had lots of nice facilities for drivers. I found a lounge upstairs (designated “Quiet Lounge for Professional Drivers” by the sign outside the door), comfortable, large, and quiet. There were hundreds of drivers at this place (it's very big), but there was no one else in there. Perfect! I spent some good time in there on my laptop, reading, and just relaxing outside of the truck.

I was on the road by 2:30 yesterday morning and delivered the load an hour before I told them I'd be there. I was unloaded in less than 30 minutes, and then drove over to Blawnox, Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh, to pick up the load I have now that is going to Macclenny, Florida, just west of Jacksonville. After the harrowing from the last load, this load was a welcome one. Plenty of time and I'm going down south again.

I don't mind going from north to south and back again (the bad winter weather is pretty much gone, and I love the still-cool temperatures up north), but I already miss Texas and the west. It's been a while since I've had a nice load out west. It will come eventually. I just have to be patient.

At this moment, I'm shut down at a Flying J truck stop in Columbia, South Carolina. I have about 320 miles or so to get to Macclenny tomorrow. I drove through some beautiful mountains in West Virginia (I have not seen a place in WV that is not beautiful) today, through mostly sunny skies and nice running. A great day for driving and being on the road, home.

Terry. I have not spoken to Terry in about a week (we don't talk everyday when he's not on the road). He comes back on the road today, so I am looking forward to rejoining our regular conversation. I'll let you know how he has been doing when I do.

Reading, Listening and Watching. I regularly update what I've been up to besides driving in this life I live on the road. If it doesn't interest you, you can always move on to something else.

Books. I think last time I mentioned what I was reading, I was reading the excellent Annie Dillard book Pilgrim At Tinker Creek. Excellent book, and provoked lots of thought.

After finishing that, I read the Anne Tyler book Accidental Tourist . I like everything I've read by Anne Tyler, especially Breathing Lessons, which I read back in the 1980's. Tourist was enjoyable as well. It's about a man, Macon Leary, who just goes through life haphazardly, letting life happen to him, carry him along, and his journey to get to the point when he begins to take responsibility for his life, to make choices, and begin to live his life. The theme resonated with me on several deep levels, because I've been on such a journey myself the past few years.

I'm currently reading, primarily, the Journals of Lewis and Clark , a book I found at a used bookstore when I was in Rome (thanks Mama for taking me there). I love reading journals and memoirs, and this one is fascinating, detailing the journey of Lewis and Clark across a new nation from 1804-1806. I'm almost done with it.

I'm reading a few other things, a couple of books on philosophy, some things online, but those are more casual pursuits, taken at a more leisurely pace. I usually have one thing I focus on more than the others, and that's usually what I talk about here in this blog.

XM radio. Lately, I been listening to a channel on XM that features various audio books, and I'm loving it. I haven't really listened to it all that much before, because every time I tuned it, they were in the middle of something, and I hate picking things up in the middle. In my methodical way of thinking and arranging things in order, I don't like coming into the middle of anything, especially a movie or something.

But I came in one day when they were reading a history of Charlemagne, who ruled the Franks in the ninth century. And I was hooked. Currently, I'm listening to reading from such books as these: Age of Innocence, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, March of the 10,000, Great Expectations, The Poison Study, and a couple of others. It's very cool to be driving down the highway reading a book, learning, being entertained, and being challenged to think.

There is also an excellent program on the weekends on XM Public Radio that Terry first told me about, This American Life . An awesome show I'd recommend to any of you. Click the link for more info.

Video. Last time I talked about what I was watching, I was in the middle of Lonesome Dove. Since coming back on the road after being in Rome, I have been watching the following: some episodes of The Rifleman I had recorded over a year ago when I was still living in Rome, from a 24 hour marathon on the Encore Western cable network. Excellent show I've always loved, and I enjoyed watching several hours of shows. I had also recorded Vertigo about the same time, and finally got around to watching it again. I always enjoy Alfred Hitchcock movies. Currently, I'm watching the first season DVD's of The Big Valley , which has always been one of my favorite westerns. It is worth watching for the fact that lovely Linda Evans is in it, as well as the superlative Barbara Stanwyck, one of my favorite actresses.

The end. There is always more to write, but I will save more for later, on down the road a ways. Until then, be well, live your life, making choices and taking responsibility.

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



Mark Krusen said...

Gentlemen, I enjoyed your accounts of your trips.I put you on my favorites list. I hope to check back in from time to time.

Allan Mills said...

Mark . . .

Thanks for your comment and kind words. Safe travels!