By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/21/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 274
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Friday, September 13, 2002

So I have this really long run to make, from Oakland to Laredo, TX. Finally! And it isn't even a particularly tight schedule—I have, according to my calculations, about 36 spare hours.

Except I receive a message on the Qualcomm that it is time for my truck's PM.

"PM" stands for planned maintenance. Now, remember, my truck was in the shop for repairs the day after I got it. But it wasn't quite ready for PM yet. The computer wouldn't allow the mechanics to do that work until it was time—and it was now time.

The traffic in the San Francisco area was as brutal as it had been the day before, so it took me two and a half hours to get out of Oakland and into the San Joaquin valley. By now it was getting dark, and I was still hundreds of miles from the Fontana OC, where they wanted to perform the work. I had expected to pull over soon for a well-deserved nap, since there was plenty of time to deliver my load.

But the PM was scheduled for 5 am.

If all went well, I could make it. If any didn't, and that included slower-than-planned-on traffic, I couldn't.

I gave it a shot. Pedal to the metal—of course, in Schneider trucks that really means turning on the cruise control and strolling along at 63.5 mph—I passed through the farmlands of the San Joaquin valley, ran the Grapevine from the north, this time (but still in darkness—so I still haven't actually seen it), and of course had to slow down for the greater L.A. area.

I made it to the OC at 6:20 am. However, fortunately, they had not yet given away my appointment; so the truck went into the repair bay and I went into the cafeteria for breakfast.

My STL, Larry, came to work around 7 am so I dropped in to see him. I asked for some motel time while the truck was in the shop. After all, it was past time for my DOT break. He's new, so he had to confer with his fellow STLs; but finally agreed and gave me the ComCheck number I would need. I took the shuttle to the Days Inn and, gratefully, crashed.

When I awoke it was evening and I called to see if my truck was done. It was, so I again rode the shuttle. But when I arrived at the OC, it turned out that the truck was repaired only in the computer. It was, in fact, still in the repair bay; the computer only allows so much time but, since I had arrived late, the mechanic was trying to get everything done in spite of the computer's orders. So I got some dinner from the little Caf and sat to eat it. And who should I spy but Wayne!

"What're you doing here?" he asked. "Are you still here?" The last time I had seen him, half a week earlier, we had both had our trucks in the shop for repairs. He had left ahead of me, so it was a reasonable question. It seemed he was back for a minor repair as well. The guy at the fuel desk called over that my truck was, finally, truly, finished and waiting for me in Bay 1. He gave me the repair report, which was interesting as much for what they didn't fix as for what they did. For example, a hissing sound I had noted didn't show up without the trailer attached, so they hadn't done anything about it, figuring, as I also suspected, it might actually be a problem with the trailer.

Wayne and I went together to look at my truck. I showed him how I had arranged my stereo speakers and he traded a trick he had learned: Hanging a plastic grocery bag from the upright armrest of the passenger seat for garbage. There's actually a slide-out waste basket thing built into the center console. But it's an awkward shape for a plastic liner, meaning if you actually use it for garbage, you also have to empty and clean it by hand. Besides, the one in my truck is stuck on something; I can't slide it open at all. So the grocery bag trick was a good one—and will give all those grocery bags my mom saves, a purpose.

Saying goodbye to Wayne, I again hit the road, hoping to make Phoenix by 4 am, when I had told Michael I would try to be there. I still had one minute left on the TracFone (my pre-paid cell phone), so I had told him I would call when I got into the area, if he'd leave his phone on.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Problem is, I don't sleep that well during the day. I had only slept about six hours in the motel. And, by the time I got to Quartzsite, I couldn't keep my eyes open. So I took a two-hour nap, then continued on my way. That meant I got to the Phoenix area around six in the morning. I called Michael, only to find he was groggy and upset.

"Where were you?" he asked. "I waited for you from 3:30 to 5:30, and finally gave up and went home."

"You weren't supposed to wait for me," I said. "Just come when I called."

"You told me to wait for you," he maintained.

We have this kind of confusion all the time, so I didn't bother arguing. "Well, look, just go back to sleep and I do the same. I can sleep here as well as anywhere. Just come back when you wake up. Bang on the truck door." And I shut the phone off and collapsed back into my bunk.

Around noon, there was a banging on the door—but it wasn't Michael. My daughter, Karen, and grandson, Zachary, had come to get me. Zachary is three-and-a-half, and very much wanted to see Papa's truck. So we let him look inside. He was very impressed with the idea that I drive my bed around with me, but even happier that I was here so I could swim with him.

Today, though, I had to run errands so I took Zack with me. Michael was preparing for our monthly group birthday party, so it was just Zack and me.

Although I really needed to leave about 8 pm, the party was a good one and I stayed a little later. The September birthdays include our friends Tallulah (Mom's roommate in the hospital when she went to deliver me, and now Michael's shopping partner); Kelley, an artist friend; Jock, my writing partner; both Barbara and Peter (Michael's attendants of honor at our wedding), and my daughter Jenny and ex-wife Mary. So it was quite a group (even though Jenny didn't actually show up, claiming excessive homework).

So, I didn't actually get going until 10 pm, and I was already tired. But I made what mileage I could, following I-10 through eastern Arizona and into New Mexico. I had to fuel in Las Cruces, so I shut down there for the night.

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Today was pleasant as I drove through the deserts of New Mexico and western Texas. The land began to get greener as I continued eastward. I had to leave I-10 for the older, US highway system at Fort Stockton. The roads were under construction in many places but I was still able to make pretty good time. I passed a breathtakingly beautiful area, the Amistad National Recreation Area, and wondered if it was named for the ship—or vice versa? Certainly, we were nowhere near the sea. However, shortly after, I crossed the Rio Grande, which runs through a fantastically-shaped canyon at that point. I made a mental note to stop there in the future, when I had more time.

Finally, having run out of legal driving time, and no rest areas being available, I parked on the shoulder of a side road and went to sleep.

Monday, September 16, 2002

My load wasn't due to be delivered until 4 pm, local time, but my calculations showed I should be there a little earlier than that. Still, I went as fast as I could—legally and safely—through the farmlands of what is officially eastern Texas. The road follows the border between Texas and Mexico fairly closely, making me wonder if I could see Mexico on the horizon. If I could, well, it looked the same as Texas from where I sat.

I had to stop at a couple of Border Patrol stops. They never asked to see the inside of the trailer, just asked me if I was a US citizen and then let me continue on my way. I'm sure that if I had answered in an accent, or I'd been any swarthier, they'd have wanted to see my identification.

Finally, I arrived at Laredo. I still had plenty of time left, and I was filthy dirty; it had been two days since I'd had a shower. So I stopped at a Pilot truck stop to take a shower. I was prepared to pay for it, but another trucker said he had a spare coupon in his truck—and insisted on running outside to get it for me! I was very grateful, but he told me to "pass it forward", and I promised I would.

Finally, armed with the directions to the client on the Qualcomm, I carefully followed them to the client site…and found myself at the end of a dead end street. Trapped. I carefully re-checked the directions, but I had followed them perfectly. So I turned to my computer map program, and tried following the directions there. Turn left…turn right…turn left… Suddenly, it became clear: The official directions told me to turn left when I should have turned right.

The street was too long and had too many parked cars and trucks and too much traffic for me to straight-line back all the way down (besides which, doing so is against Schneider policy). U-turns are also against policy. With two policies to break, which do I choose? The least dangerous one. Anyway, a real U-turn was out; there wasn't enough room. So it was back-and-forth, back-and-forth (Walnut Creek flashback!), until I was finally headed in the right direction. Elapsed time: an hour-and-a-half.

I was late to the consignee, and they refused to take me until morning. I could hardly blame them; they were closing for the day.

So, now I had to find a place to stay. The Pilot seemed like my best bet, so I headed back there. I was also low on fuel, but Schneider's preferred fueling stop is TA (Truckstops of America). So I called my STL. Larry didn't answer, however; it was Laura, one of the other STLs on the same "board". I've been told to treat them all the same; so I told her my situation.

"Is this an approved fuel site?" she asked.

"It's not a TA," I replied, "but there are no TAs in the area." I had asked; amazingly, for all the trucking activity n Laredo, there was only one major truck stop in the area and this was it.

"Then Schneider won't approve you fueling there," she said. "Have a nice day." And hung up.

That left me with a problem, because this Pilot was so busy that they had an entrance gate and tickets. You were allowed to park for free for four hours, but if you wanted to stay longer you had to either buy something or pay. The ideal was a purchase of at least 50 gallons of fuel, in which case you could park for 48 hours! But I sure as heck wasn't going to pay for that fuel myself.

And the odd thing was, the place was crawling with Schneider trucks.

So I spent the night, and paid $5 out-of-pocket in the morning to leave.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Now that I knew where it was, I drove quickly to the client site—it wasn't far—and, while they unloaded the trailer, I sent a message over the Qualcomm with corrected directions to them. Out of curiosity, I asked for directions to the shipper of my previous load; those directions had also been wrong, and I had sent a correction. As I suspected, the directions had still not been fixed. I sent a message: "Are all the directions wrong? I just checked, and directions I corrected a week ago are still not updated. Why should I bother to correct them? In fact, why should I bother asking for them if they are mostly wrong?"

A half-hour later, I received a reply: "I agree with you. You should complain."

I thought I just had.

And then, I received my next load. I was to drop my empty trailer, and pick up a loaded one in…the Laredo OC.

I didn't know there was a Laredo OC! I would have spent the night there, instead of the Pilot if I had known! It wasn't marked on the fuel map.

What's more, when I arrived there, it turned out that they didn't sell fuel. They aren't really a full-fledged operating center, yet, though they are constructing to be. They have showers, phone hook ups, and lots of place to park. It's also quieter and a lot more pleasant than the Pilot.

I asked the guy at the desk where we go to fuel. He told me, "There's a Pilot off I-35, at exit 13…"

I wasn't happy with Laura.

And I still didn't have my next load. "Sorry," the message from my STL read. "Laredo is short of freight just now."

So I spent the night, again, in Laredo.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

I finally got a load…an exciting one! I dropped my empty trailer, and found the loaded one I was supposed to take to Tacoma, Washington. A real long trip! I was very excited about making it, and I had until Monday to get there. But, in inspecting the trailer, there were two problems: Missing air line seals, and the license tag light was out.

The missing seals weren't a problem. I'd been told that Mexicans sneak over the border and steal the air line seals from all the trailers in Laredo. It sounds preposterous, but most of the trailer seals area missing; and the guy at the desk had given me seals in advance, certain I would need them. Popping them into place was easy. The tag light was trickier. It seemed to be a sealed assembly, and, not being mechanically inclined, I couldn't figure out how to take it off.

I sent a Qualcomm message explaining the situation. I got no reply. I tried telephoning second shift support; they told me to send another macro. When there was no answer from that, I started asking drivers. They recommended calling Green Bay directly and to use the telephone menu system to get Road Repair. I did, and that guy told me to go to "TIP" which, he said, was located next door.

I didn't recall having seen it, so I asked at the desk. "No, they aren't next door. They come here. In fact, they're here now."

"They are?"

"S, in white trucks with small trailers."

Sure enough, out in the yard were two of them. I asked about the light, and they said I should get one from the office, and how to put one on. "It's easy," the man said. "Just insert a screwdriver into this slot," he explained, showing me. I went to the desk again, and the guy handed me a new light assembly. When I returned to the trailer, I found the old assembly had already been removed for me. I popped the new one in, and sure enough, it worked. I was ready to go to Tacoma!

I pulled up to the exit gate and the guard took my information. I was about to leave, when another driver, who happened to be there, said, "Say—what's that hiss?" The hissing sound I had complained about, had not been connected to the trailer I was pulling—because I was now pulling a different trailer, and the sound was still there. It seemed to only occur when the trailer brake was released, and didn't seem to affect the air pressure beyond legal limits. "Doesn't matter," the driver told me. "That's a DOT issue. They'll fine you if they hear it."

Oh…that made it a different story. The guard said, "Why not let the mechanic look at it in the morning?"

"There's a mechanic here?" I didn't realize the OC was that far along; certainly there were no repair bays.

"Oh, yes, but he's here only in the day."

So I pulled around back into the OC, parked for another night, and sent a message about the delay. "Advice in the morning if this will impact your on-time delivery," was the reply.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

I got up and showered, then asked for the mechanic. The guy at the desk pointed out one of the TIP trucks in the yard. I walked over, found the mechanic, and started to ask him about my hissing sound.

"This is on your trailer?" he asked.

"No, the tractor."

"We only fixed trailers. We are only authorized to fix trailers."

I sent a message to my STL, who responded there was nothing he could do—I had to send a different message to road repair. So, I did; and, after about an hour, got this reply: "Try this. Turn off your engine, tap on the air governor, wait fifteen minutes, then start it up again. Pressure should build up normally."

Was this an answer to my question? I sent a reply: "Tap with what? My finger? A hammer? Tipper Gore? And the problem isn't with getting pressure; it's with losing air."

There was no answer. After an hour, I tried calling Road Repair again. (And what happens if I am on the road, no where near a phone?) After a lengthy hold during which I was entertained by Soft Hits of the Eighties, I was told to bring the truck down to the local Freightliner repair shop, just a mile or two away.

I didn't want to lose my airline seals again, so I pulled the trailer with me. Besides, I was hoping they could fix it right away and I could leave from there. For Tacoma!

However, when I got there and gave the folks my information, I found a drivers' lounge filled with men who looked as if they had no hope. Sallow complexions, sunken eyes, sagging jowls all reminded me of men waiting for the gallows.

There were no seats left, so I waited in my truck. I had been told it would take about an hour to get to me. So I took a nap. When I awoke, it was getting dark and they were closing the shop. I ran in. "Did I miss my turn?" I asked breathlessly.

"No, you would have been next. But we're closing."

"So, you weren't really serious about seeing me an hour after I arrived?"

"An hour? Who told you that?"

"You did."

"Oh. Well. Sometimes it takes longer."

I sighed and shrugged. "So, when do you open in the morning?"

"Eight o'clock," he replied.

"Will I have to get back in line?"

"We already have your paperwork," he said. "We'll see you first."

And so, I got to spend another night in Laredo.

Friday, September 20, 2002

Today, finally, they fixed my truck.

They also took the Tacoma load back. It was now too late for a solo driver to get it there on time. It was paper towels, but the consignee deemed it a critical delivery and so it was turned over to a team who would be able to get it there by driving non-stop until they arrived.

So, I got a couple of short runs instead. I took the towels to San Antonio, meeting with the team who would take it the rest of the way. They, too, had been on the job just two weeks; but since they were a team, they had a truck in better repair than mine. At the same location where we met, I picked up an empty trailer and drove it a few miles to the Union Pacific facility, where they made me sweep the thing out before I could leave it. Fortunately they had a broom they let me borrow, or I'd have had to use my toothbrush. I then bobtailed back to Laredo.

My next load, to be picked up at the Laredo OC, was to go to Long Beach, CA. It has to be there Monday, according to the message. However, Larry added another message stating I didn't have to be there until Tuesday. "Spend some hours at home," he said. "Have a nice weekend."

By now, I had made the six-hour round trip to and from San Antonio; I had also swept out a trailer and gotten up early for repairs. So I was already tired. But I didn't want to spend yet another night in Laredo, as much as it was growing on me. So I headed north, determined to get at least a few hours away.

Finally, around 11:30 pm local time, I pulled into a picnic area off US 277, near Eagle Pass, TX. It was quiet, it was dark, and seemed ideal for a good night's sleep.

During which I prayed that I was finally out of Repair Hell for good.