Wednesday, August 6, 2008

From Binghamton, New York: Hello

Binghamton, New York. I'm sitting in the Wendy's restaurant in the Pilot truck stop in Binghamton. I started the day in Findlay, Ohio, this morning, and in the morning am continuing on to Brattleboro, Vermont. Every time I come up to New England, I enjoy the scenery, curse the four-wheelers who don't know how to drive or are rude (a quality you don't have to special-order up here; it comes standard delivery at birth, I believe; there are some exceptions, but you could tell blindfolded if you were in the north or the south after 10 seconds in most places), and pine for the roads I love most: Texas and the wide open West. It seems ages since I've had a load out west, though they did tempt me with my first load after my last time off: a load to Dallas.

This load I'm on now is an excellent example of just how much variation I can have in my work schedule in a very short time. I picked up this load yesterday afternoon in Leipsic, Ohio. By the time I got to the interstate, in Findlay, it was late afternoon, and the time most truck stops in the north and east begin to fill up. So I scaled the load (to make sure that my weight on all my axles was within legal limit – it was) and then shut down for the night. I was about 720 miles from my destination in Brattleboro and I have to be there at 7:00 am Thursday morning.

I had to plan to start my day early enough today to finish early enough to be able to start driving at 2:00 am Thursday morning. Truck drivers always have to keep in mind the fact that our lives are governed very strenuously by strict rules concerning how many hours we can drive, how long our break must be, and all kinds of variations.

Getting here at 4:00 pm today (which I had planned on, hoped for) will allow me to start driving exactly at 2:00 am in the morning. Can you YAWN wide enough for that? I don't usually love starting that early, but I like doing that much better than driving late. For some reason the darkness of the early morning doesn't affect me the way darkness of the evening does as far as my fatigue levels driving. It's probably because all of my life I have, by nature, been an early morning person.

At any rate, if I leave here at 2:00 am, I should be able to make it to Brattleboro about 6:30. The place I'm going to is a grocery warehouse, which means that I will likely be there all day long. Some grocery warehouses routinely take 12 hours to unload a trailer – and I have been to none that take less than 6 or 7.

At the end of that time, I will be close to the limit of hours I could work before having to take a break, so I just told Schneider I'd be available next at 7:00 am on Friday. That way, whenever I'm done at the grocery warehouse, I can take my break, and not get stuck rushing to try to pick up my next load, looking for a truck stop where there isn't one (there aren't very many good places to park a truck in the northeast), and then getting stuck on a night driving schedule for a while.

Perhaps that was boring to you, but I just thought this load was a good illustration of a time when I have to work very weird hours.

Changes at Schneider. Monday, while I was getting a load west of Chicago, in Aurora, I got a message over my satellite from my dispatcher to call him when I got a chance. Of course, that's like in school when they call your name over the intercom to come to the principal's office: I started wondering what in the world was wrong.

When I called, my dispatcher, Steve, who used to be a driver, and with whom I've had a great relationship the past few months, told me that he's leaving to go back on the road driving because the money is better. I will miss him, but am hopeful that my new dispatcher (Marcia) will prove a good fit for me going forward. More than any other single factor of driving a truck, I'm convinced that it's the driver's relationship with his or her dispatcher that either makes this job a joy or a tremendous challenge.

Happy Family News. I spoke with one of my cousins yesterday and got caught up on some news about folks in my family, some of it not good. There are several situations in my extended family that are heartbreaking to me.

However, this afternoon, just after parking here for the night, I got a call from another of my cousins, Dewayne, who told me that he and his wife, Carla, are going to be welcoming a baby into their family. Great, good, joyous news, especially for a couple who has been wanting another child for quite a while (they already have a son, precocious and delightful, Jacob, whom I call Fish Boy – but that story is for another time, perhaps).

Congratulations to you (whether you ever read this to know I wrote it or not)! Your news brightened my day.

Terry. Terry has been on vacation for a week. He has decided to get out of the Home Run program (a program Schneider has that allows drivers to be out on the road for two weeks and then home for a week) and go back on the road on a more regular schedule. Being off one week out of three just doesn't work as well where finances are concerned. He's also considering other options, including working more locally.

Should he leave driving over the road altogether, I will miss our daily talks about all things trucking. It will probably be the closest thing I felt to being lonely in a long, long time.

Writing. As I mentioned last time, I've been writing more regularly working on one of the stories that will form a collection when I'm done. I am gratified that just a few days ago, I finished the first part of a three part series in that collection, that may well turn into a novella before it's done.

When I say I “finished”, that only means that I finished a rough draft, which is akin to getting the framing done on a house; the basic structure, the skeleton, is there, but it is far from being complete. But even getting to that point is a milestone I mark with celebration, because it means that I'm writing creatively again, and am enjoying it very much.

Tonight, I'm planning to start on the second part of the story. Hopefully, it won't take five years to get a rough draft done.

Books, books, and still more . . . well, you know. As I alluded to in the last entry, I'm enjoying reading more books (and I'm including audio books I hear on XM radio or on tape in that) than at any period I can remember in my life. I was reading that huge Life of Johnson for so long, now it seems that the books I'm reading now are almost too short.

Since finishing the biography of Samuel Johnson, I've read the following books (with a rating of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best):

The Year of Living Biblically – 4 – a very entertaining and engaging (at times hilarious) book about a man's desire to follow the precepts of the Bible literally as much as possible for one year.

At the Mountains of Madness and Other Stories – 4 – these stories by H.P. Lovecraft were some I hadn't read before. I always enjoy Lovecraft's writing. He's so creepy!

Dive From Clausen's Pier – 4 – a wonderful story by Ann Packer that I had heard part of on the radio, but missed enough that I bought the book so I could read the whole thing. The premise of the story is this: a young girl, Carrie, is engaged to her first and only sweetheart, Mike, but for months has been feeling uncertain about the relationship, and is considering breaking things off. However, one day at the lake, her fiancĂ© dives off a pier into the lake and breaks his neck, paralyzing him. Now what does she do? Does she put aside her own misgivings from before out of duty to Mike? Or does she go ahead and follow her heart, wherever it leads?

Running With Scissors – 4 – a memoir about the boyhood of Augusten Burroughs, who has a tragic childhood (that is tinged with hilarity nonetheless), but manages to overcome his obstacles through making choices and taking responsibility (my own mantra for my life). It is worth reading to get to know the Finch family, a really crazy family of a psychiatrist he lives with for a time. It is quite graphic with some depictions of sexual matters, so those squeamish about such things, beware.

Currently reading: House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III, whose father, Andre Dubus, wrote a book a short stories I very much enjoyed several months ago.

Their Eyes Were Watching God – 5 – heard this one on XM. It's by Zora Neale Hurston, written in the 1930's. The audio book was read by the very talented Ruby Dee. As a matter of fact, if I had my preference, I'd hear this book rather than read it just because of the great job that Ruby Dee does on it. But, however it's read, it's a classic by any measure.

A Farewell to Arms – 5 – this Ernest Hemingway classic is one of my favorite Hemingway novels. If you haven't ever read it, or haven't read it since it was assigned in high school or college – what are you waiting for?

Other books I'm currently listening to, either on XM or on tape: Villette; War and Peace; Hannibal Speaks; The Island of Dr. Moreau; The Painted Veil; The Runner; and The Namesake.

On my Palm, I also have books, which I read mostly after I lay down for bed. Currently, I'm very slowly making my way through Homer's Iliad . I just finished The Epic of Gilgamesh last week. First time I'd read that.

The question might come: how can I keep up with so many books at once, or so rapidly?

Answer: I'm a truck driver; what else have I got to do besides count the number of white lines on the interstate driving through each state?

If you hate reading or books, this must seem the most useless blog entry you might imagine. It's a good thing you can skip what you want to, isn't it?

And that, my friends (a phrase that has probably been trademarked by John McCain), brings us to the end of this ride. Thanks for coming along. I look forward to our next little journey together.

Until next time . . . keep the wheels rollin' . . . making choices and taking responsibility . . .


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