|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 2/28/2020
||Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving||Page Views: 260|
|An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal|
Sunday, December 8, 2002
After spending a day at home, I was at the "secure" drop lot in Phoenix when I had to step aside to allow another Schneider truck to pass me. There were two guys inside, grinning and laughing, obviously happy to be in each other's company and about to hit the road. The driver waved cheerily at me and stopped. "How's it going?" he called.
"Great!" I said, checking out their truck number. It wasn't that much higher than mine. "You guys a team?" That wasn't quite as stupid a question as it seems. The passenger might simply have been a passenger; after five months and with permission, we are allowed to take passengers.
"A-team or C-team?" C-teams are low-intensity teams in which each teammate remains awake while the other drives. They therefore average ten hours driving a day. An A-team is more demanding; the truck is expected to run nearly constantly. I thought they might be a C-team because of the age of their truck. One of the advantages of being on an A-team, supposedly, is that you get a brand-new truck. These guys were not in a new truck. As I noted, the number showed it was not much newer than mine; and there were places where slabs of paint had peeled off and not been replaced. In fact, it looked pretty shabby.
"Oh, we're A-team," the driver assured me.
"I thought A-teams got new trucks."
He shrugged. "So did we. But, what the hell!" He grinned, his teammate grinned, and they rolled on past me to the street and the highway and the world beyond.
I finished loading my freshly-cleaned clothes and sheets and new batch of books-on-tape from the library, started the engine, let it warm the required minute, and followed in the same direction.
Did I want to team?
Someone else wanted to team with me. I had received a Qualcomm message a week or so before from Josh, another STL in the same group as Larry (my STL), telling me that someone named Michael wanted to team with me. I called him and he corrected the name to "Steve", then back to "Michael" in the course of the conversation. This caught my attention as a Celestine Prophecy-style coincidence, since my husband's name is Michael and my ex-boyfriend's name was Steve (and, presumably, still is). But Josh said that Steve/Michael still needed some time as a solo. The odd thing, though, is that this fellow, whatever his name was, had just finished training and had told Josh, "I'm teaming with Paul Cilwa" as if he and I had planned on it—and I had no idea who he was.
So, that got me thinking about teaming; and I let Larry know I would consider it with the right person.
Teaming is tricky. You've got two people occupying an area not as big as some walk-in closets, for very nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There's no escaping their body smells, personal habits, voices, need to listen to the radio while you sleep or need to watch the TV while you drive. In many ways, it's closer than a marriage. In fact, it has many of the disadvantages of marriage but few of the advantages (like sex). So, you've got to be sure you are hooking up with someone who's compatible, before you ever get in the truck together.
If you're already pals, that helps a lot. I certainly could team with Jack, my second training engineer. I'm pretty sure I could have teamed with Wayne, my buddy from training, if he hadn't been a smoker. Of everyone in my class, he's the only one I'm sure of. Many of the others, I'm sure, I could not team with.
One was Ron. Ron was also from Phoenix, and he had attended classes at Schneider itself, while I was at USTDS. We had met just the final days of Jump Start. He seemed pretty quiet; and, while he wasn't much older than I, about 60, he seemed to be much older. The only reason he came to my attention, is that Larry told me, a few days after I started driving on my own, that Ron had specifically asked if I would like to team. At the time I said "no" without hesitation, for two reasons: 1) I wanted to get some experience as a solo driver first, and 2) It just seemed too likely that I would have to administer CPR to him one morning when it was his turn to drive.
But now I found another message on the Qualcomm, with Ron's name and phone number and a request to call him about teaming. I had ignored the first one, so I felt that I needed to at least call so as not to be rude. Besides, it was Sunday and the cell phone call wouldn't cost me anything.
I waited until I was headed north on I-17, well out of the city and into the eternal desert. The sun hung behind my left shoulder, lending a golden glow to the cacti and scrub and the sky was its usual shade of absolutely-perfect blue, with little streaks of white that looked as if they'd been painted there. Yes, I'd gotten a late start but it was a perfect driving day.
So, I called Ron. He didn't answer; so I left a message on his voice mail and, in an hour later, he called back.
I had been trying to think of the most important points to cover. I expected to lead the conversation, since Ron had been so quiet in class. Obviously, the most important point was the fact that I'm gay. If Ron had a problem with that, better to get it out now than to waste a lot of time trying to find if we were otherwise compatible.
However, Ron surprised me. "What are you looking for in a team?" he asked, getting right to the point.
"Well, I'm not completely certain I want to team," I hedged. "If I do, it would be for two reasons: first, there's supposed to be a little more money. Second, it might give me more time for writing." I explained that, by the time I had finished driving for ten hours, I had to get right to sleep and that didn't leave a lot of time for writing. I thought that, while my teammate was driving, I might have more opportunity.
"Do you mean writing with a pen?" he asked.
"No, I have a laptop," I explained. "I'm actually a published author."
"Well, forget it," Ron said flatly. "I have a laptop, too, and the truck bounces far too much to be able to use it while it's moving. You can't even leave it turned on; you'll ruin it."
That was odd to hear. My laptop is on all the time, displaying a map or the electronic driver log or even playing music or reciting a book-on-CD that I've ripped and stored on the hard disk for easy access. I told him so.
"You can't do that," he insisted. "You'll ruin your laptop." Here was a warning sign. I had just explained my experience, but it didn't change his viewpoint whatsoever. Moreover, if he'd said something like, "I wouldn't dare do that with my laptop," I wouldn't have had a problem; but Ron was insisting on what I can and cannot do. That's an indication that he doesn't have clear boundaries between his experience and the experiences of others.
"How many miles do you cover a day?" he asked.
"Well, the most I've covered has been a little over 600," I told him. "But often it's way less than that, because I've had a lot of repair issues with the truck. And a lot of bad directions. And, of course, driving through a city like L.A. or San Francisco can really slow you down and you run out of hours."
"Schneider expects an A-team to be driving 1100 or 1200 miles a day," Ron stated.
"But, how can you do that if you're in a traffic jam or climbing a lot of steep mountains?" I protested. "Once you've run out of hours, you can't legally drive; you have to stop."
He snorted. "What you do is, you log miles, not hours," he said. "At the end of the day, you figure how many miles you've gone, divide by 65, and that's the number of hours you log."
"In other words, lie."
"It's not exactly lying," he said.
"What, exactly, is it?" I asked.
"It's presenting a believable reality so you can make your miles."
I wondered if he wasn't retired from Enron, but kept that thought to myself. "I won't lie on my log," I informed him. "I have done so once or twice, when I had screwed up and I was a few minutes short of getting to the customer on time. But if the mistake is Schneider's bad directions or traffic or a truck breakdown, and I run out of hours, I just inform my STL and let Schneider make new arrangements with the customer." I took a breath. "I will not pay for a ticket out of my own pocket, for running too many hours, driving when I'm tired and therefore dangerous, and then getting caught by the DOT during an inspection."
There was a pause. I apologized for not getting around to calling him months ago when I was first given his number. He explained he had had a teammate since then. "But he's been fired," Ron said.
"Really? Why? Who was it?"
"He trained a week after us," Ron said, omitting the man's name (which did show a little more class than I had in asking for it). There were a lot of problems."
"He was a slob," Ron said. "He never swept the floor of the cab, left it littered with urine bottles. I got tired of having to step over his urine bottles whenever I got out of the driver's seat."
I agreed that would be a problem.
"But the biggest issue," Ron continued, "was that he wouldn't work the hours we'd agreed on. When you first start teaming, you sit down at a table with your teammate and your STL and make out a contract stating what your agreements are. What hours you will work, and so on. Schneider recommends you do two 12-hour shifts, running from 2 to 2. That way, each of you gets some daytime driving and some nighttime driving."
"And eating? Going to the bathroom?"
"You plan on what truck stop to stop at, one person fuels while the second takes a fifteen-minute shower; then the first showers while the second picks up some food to go and then you get the hell outta there."
I envisioned this schedule, kept up week after week. "That sounds like such a joyless existence," I said.
"I'm not looking for an adventure," he responded. "I don't like driving and I don't want to 'see the country'. I just want to get my miles and get paid for it. I'm here to cover as many miles as possible and make as much money as I can."
"Ah." I mulled that over. "But what happened to the contract?" I prodded. I thought I knew where he was going with this. I've heard several stories of teams in which one member found he was doing more than half the driving, because the other got tired or otherwise wouldn't or couldn't carry his share of the load. I figured Ron was going to tell me his sloppy, urine-bottle-retaining teammate wouldn't drive the ten hours Ron demanded. I was wrong.
"When it was my turn to drive," Ron said, bitterly, "he wouldn't give up the wheel. He insisted on driving during my shift. I don't know what he put on his log, but he typically drove eighteen hours a day."
What, I wondered, would cause a man to drive 18 hours a day rather than let his teammate take over when it was his turn? And the only answer I could think of, was, the teammate didn't trust Ron's driving.
Of course, that might have been the teammate's issue. Ron's driving might not have been at fault. But why take a chance for the opportunity to spend 24 hours a day with a joyless driving machine whose primary—no, only—motivation was money?
"How did he get fired?" I asked.
"He didn't actually have a home," Ron said. "He lived in the truck. And he got in trouble for having his girlfriend and his dog visit in the cab of the truck."
I didn't have to ask how Schneider had learned of this aberration. Let's just add "snitch" to Ron's set of attributes.
"Well," I said, "let me tell you where I am right now. I'm in the hills just south of Flagstaff. The sun has set, and the stars are emerging from a blanket of deep, deep blue that lightens slightly toward the west. They outline the pine trees that top the lines like a lace fringe. It's exquisite, and when I get to the top of this hill I may well pull off into the Scenic Viewpoint parking lot and spend a few minutes gazing at the Big Dipper and the Pleiades and the way trees have a glow of their own when the sun has set and the moon hasn't yet risen."
Ron said nothing, shocked, perhaps, at the blasphemous words I was uttering—blasphemy, that is, to the altar of the Almighty Dollar he appeared to worship.
"I really think you'll want to keep looking for a suitable teammate, because I don't think I'm it. I am looking for adventure, and I love seeing the country. It sounds like I would drive you crazy in no time."
He agreed in a friendly manner, and we terminated the phone call.
I didn't stop at the top of the hill, because the view from within the cab was so exquisite; and the road was smooth and the sound of the wind whooshing past the truck was so pleasant. And, later, when I hit fog on western New Mexico's I-40 I thought, how beautiful that looks! —with the snow, piled on the sides of the road, barely visible through the ghostly blanket. At this hour, there was little traffic and it was easy to reduce speed a little and monitor the other vehicles around me. Easy now, but not if I'd been driving twelve hours to maintain a 65 mph average speed on a falsified log.
I may well team someday. But, if I do, it will be with the right person, someone who also enjoys driving and seeing the country and sees life as the adventure it is.
Life's too short to throw it all away on the pursuit of money.