Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Waiting -- and Pictures From the Road

Currently. After spending the past week and a little more in Texas and the west, I'm on my way back east. At I write this, I am sitting at a small truck stop in Brush, Colorado (on I-76 just east of Fort Morgan, about 85 miles east of Denver), on my way to Minnesota for a delivery Friday morning near Minneapolis.

If you have read this blog any length of time (or have backtracked to earlier entries), you already know that I love running out west – would run out west all the time if I could. So, this past week and a half has just been like a vacation to me. I always love driving, the lifestyle it involves (with rare exceptions that are made up of frustrations that come with any job), but driving out west, I think I am happier and more content than any other time on the road.

Since last time. Last time I wrote from Kingsville, Texas. Much of the past week since then, I've been waiting. But it hasn't been too bad, and I don't mind downtime occasionally.

Man From Rome. Right after finishing my writing last time, and going back out to my truck, there was a truck parked next to me where one hadn't been before I'd gone into the truck stop. I noticed on the door that the trucking company was located in Cedartown, Georgia, which is only about 15 miles from my hometown of Rome.

The driver was sitting in his truck on the phone. When he got off the phone, I rolled down my window and waved at him to get his attention. I told him I noticed his trucking company was located in Cedartown, and wondered where he lived. (I figured if anyone drove for a company in Cedartown, they had to be from around there.) He told me he lived in Rome, and told me his name.

I asked him whereabouts in Rome he lived, and when he told me, it was the same road that all of my grandmother's side of the family is from. When I told him that I still had a great-uncle and some cousins living on that road, and mentioned the name Dowdy, he starting reeling off names of many of my cousins. He knows quite a few folks in that side of my family, and lives within site across the road from where a cousin of mine lives.

From that beginning we talked for about 30 minutes. He is 68, a little older than my Daddy, and told me he's been driving a truck for over 44 years. Longer than I've been alive. Talk about perspective. For a while after we stopped talking, I sat in my truck wondering, even as much as I love trucking and this life on the road, if I could imagine doing it for 44 years. My mind couldn't even wrap itself around the thought.

He was a super-nice guy, and it was so eerie to run into someone in the middle of The Great State of Texas from my hometown – and even more, knew many of my extended family. It's times like that when I realize that as vast as this beautiful country of ours seems sometimes, especially in the wide-open spaces out west, that it really is a small place, and the most common connections can crop up in the most unexpected places. Like going to China and running into your neighbor down the street in a local restaurant.

I wish I had been able to talk with him a little longer about his trucking experiences. I think I would have learned a great deal.

Waiting, Part I. The next morning (this would have been Tuesday, April 15, if you care to keep track), I delivered the load I had to Weslaco. By the time I was done there, I still didn't have my next load. I was able to park at the warehouse I delivered to for a little while, but after an hour, I decided to go ahead and find another place to park so I wouldn't wear out my welcome. I finally found a Flying J a little bit north of Weslaco, in Edinburgh, Texas. I went there to wait.

Waiting is part of every truck driver's life: waiting on the next load, waiting to be loaded or unloaded, waiting to get a truck or trailer repaired, waiting in line to fuel, waiting in traffic because of accidents or construction, waiting on bad weather to clear out. Just waiting. I have often thought during my 3 years in a truck that if someone can't wait well, trucking isn't for them.

I don't know that I'm any more patient than anyone else, but my passions and interests are inclined for such an environment. If I have a book to read, a laptop to use, a video to watch, I am content. So downtime just means time for me to pursue those things that I love to do anyway. I cannot remember a time since I first learned to read that I haven't habitually carried a book with me most everywhere I would go.

My earliest clear memory of this is when I was about nine years old, going over to Nanny and Boe's house (my grandparents, where I spent about half the time), or to visit my Daddy for a weekend, I had a little gym bag, packed with my books and always a notebook for writing. My Nanny used to call it my “satchel”, and remarked often, laughing, that she did not believe it would be possible for me to go anywhere without it.

I can hear her even now as I write this: “You're just like Uncle Andrew, sittin' in the middle of your suitcase.” (I never met Uncle Andrew – he had died before I was born --, but he was my grandmother's uncle, and I know him well through my grandmother's awesome stories.)

Anyway, back to what I was talking about: waiting. One advantage of driving for a large company like Schneider is that waiting on a load isn't usually something that happens. Maybe I have to wait several hours for a load, but never before have I waiting in terms of days.

But, when you go into areas where freight is soft for whatever reason, sometimes you have to wait. And so it was for me in south Texas last week. It wasn't until the next afternoon that I got my next load. But it was more than worth the wait!

I was to pick up a loaded trailer in Laredo, and take it to Oxnard, California! Further west, including west Texas! I'll wait anytime for that kind of load.

So, last Wednesday saw me driving up to Laredo. I had to be in Oxnard by Saturday night. 1800 paid miles (which meant about 1900 or more real miles). Plenty of time. I could leave early Thursday morning, take my time, and enjoy the drive.

Waiting, Part II. So, you've got it all planned out, do you, Allan? Leave Thursday morning early, take your time, huh?

Not so fast.

I got to Laredo, found my trailer, and noticed a tag attached to the front of the trailer. Usually those tags indicate a trailer with a major problem. I got out and looked; sure enough, it had a problem. In big block letters on the tag was the warning: “DON'T MOVE”.

Part of the main support frame of the trailer, between the two axles on the driver's side, had a big crack in it. Not good.

The Laredo drop yard has a small maintenance shop for working on trailers (lots of trailers coming across the border have problems), but they were closed when I got there. I had to wait until the next morning at 7:00 for them to come in.

No leaving early for California. The trailer had been there for a while, and someone had obviously noticed the problem. Why hadn't they already repaired it, I wondered. No answer came.

Thursday morning, I talked to the mechanics, they told me to bring the trailer over to the shop so they could look at it. Repairing it would take some major welding. And time.

So. I'm waiting again.

Like I said: I don't mind waiting. But with a load to California, waiting meant the clock ticking, giving me less time to deliver the load on time. Instead of taking my time, I'd be rushing, trying to make up for starting late.

Finally, about 1:30 that afternoon, the trailer was repaired, and I could leave.

I stopped the first night at a rest area on I-10 in west Texas, about 15 miles west of Saragosa, Texas. Friday, I made it to Eloy, Arizona, between Tucson and Phoenix. I made the delivery on time in Oxnard on Saturday.

I had been to the same place in Oxnard back in February, and had found a small place I could park that wasn't in any of my truck stop guides. It only had four spots for trucks, so I was hoping it would have room for me, since I'd told Schneider I'd be available on Sunday morning. The only other options I had were to drive to the Schneider maintenance facility just south of downtown LA or the Operating Center in Fontana, 60 and 100 miles away, respectively.

I found room at the little place in Oxnard, and still didn't have my next load. So I settled in to wait.

Waiting, Part III. Sunday morning came. Still no load. Sunday afternoon came. Still no load.

Late in the afternoon, my satellite unit started beeping. My next load.

Pick up an empty trailer at the same place I'd delivered on Saturday (they didn't have any when I was there the day before), and take it to the LA maintenance yard. Drop the empty trailer, and pick up a loaded trailer.

It was supposed to be unloaded Monday morning in Commerce, California. That's 7 whole miles. Wow. Don't know if I can make it 7 miles – let me plan my driving schedule for this load.

My plan mostly involved getting to LA Sunday afternoon, and commencing to wait some more. Til Monday morning.

But, I'm in southern California, perfect weather, I'm out west. So waiting isn't a problem in the same way it would be if I were waiting in Newark, New Jersey, or some equally awful place (though it would be hard to beat NJ for awful quotient in my opinion).

No more waiting. I delivered that load Monday morning, and then got my next load. I was to go down to Otay, California, to the Schneider drop yard there (Otay is just southeast of San Diego, right on the Mexican border), pick up a load going to Bloomington, Minnesota. That's the load I'm currently under.

I picked up the load on Monday, and shut down in Fontana Monday night. Yesterday, I drove north on I-15 through Las Vegas, into Utah, where I-70 begins, and made it as far as Richfield last night. And now I'm in Brush, Colorado.

I-70 through Utah and Colorado is one of my favorite stretches of road, especially going through Glenwood Canyon. The weather was good, traffic wasn't too bad, and the drive was beautiful.

For the first time in a while, I took some pictures. I'll post them below.

Pictures from the road: Richfield, Utah.  The view from the truck stop I was at last night.

Pictures from the road: Vail, Colorado.
  I took these pictures just east of Vail at a rest stop on I-70 today.

I suppose that's enough for now (or more than enough for some of you, I'm sure).

Until next time . . . keep the wheels rollin' . . . when you aren't waiting . . .


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The pictures are wonderful but you are going to cause me to come after you!!! Love Ya! KJ