By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/5/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 279
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Sunday, April 6, 2003

I don't like to awaken to the alarm clock. I've studied the human sleep cycle a bit, and experts agree that if you have to be awakened, you didn't get enough sleep. People can build up a sleep deficit of up to 14 hours; after that, it comes out of your health and creativity. I don't have enough of either to spare; so I make sure I get enough sleep.

And why do they call it an "alarm" clock, anyway? Who wants to be alarmed when they awaken? I'd rather buy a "gentle awakening" clock, if I could ever find one.

Anyway, having arranged to pick up my loaded trailer this morning instead of last night, I saw no reason to hurry. I had breakfast, finished the drive to Salt Lake City and the shipper, dropped off the empty, coupled to the loaded trailer, and was on my way. I probably hit the highway about one o'clock, with a 771 mile drive ahead of me. Too much for one day; but the scheduled delivery wasn't until tomorrow at 3 pm.

And the day was bright and beautiful, just as the weather radio had promised. I popped a Lord Peter Wimsey murder mystery into the cassette player and drove.

It wasn't long, though, before the weather began a repeat of the wintry blasts of the previous night. I had to turn the tape off to concentrate. It wasn't weather like I'd ever seen before. I've lived in Vermont, Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida and more; I've experienced hurricanes, tornadoes, thundershowers, and blizzards.

It always tickled me, as a kid watching Star Trek and Lost in Space, that the writers found it necessary to invent extraterrestrial weather. The characters would invariably be on a planet earthlike enough to support human life without space suits; yet it never just rained or snowed—they had to have "magnetic storms" or "ionic turbulence".

This weather, though, looked as unearthly as anything the Robinsons ever had to contend with. There would be a dense cloud surrounding the truck, blasting it with icy sleet and blanketing it with fog, while at the edges of my vision I could make out the sun shining on distant mountains.

And, of course, it slowed me up. I began to wonder if I'd be able to make an on-time delivery at all. I began to worry that I couldn't even make Reno, my planned night stop, before I ran out of hours for the day.

I sent messages to Customer Service explaining the situation. Ray, a Customer Service guy I'd worked with before and liked, apologized for the fact that the customers weren't actually open on Sunday; but he urged me to drive safely and let the regular daytime folks handle rescheduling in the morning.

I appreciated his concern but I've never understood why people tell truck drivers to "drive safely." Everyone does it, even other truck drivers. Even clerks taking my money at truck stops, where I've just bought a quart of Diet Coke in a mug and the Warehouse Bag of Cheetoes, will remind me to "drive safely." As if I had planned to drive unsafely, and this little reminder would cause me to rethink that approach. Meanwhile, my real danger—that of swelling to the size of the Hindenburg from all that soda and snack food—is never addressed.

Would a woman leaving a dress store appreciate being advised to "dress stylishly" on her way out the door? What would that make her question her purchases? Should folks leaving a tobacconist's be reminded to "inhale shallowly"? Why not instruct a shopper about to leave the grocery store with their bags of hot dogs, buns, mustard and beer, to "eat nutritiously"?

Anyway, as I said, I did appreciate Ray's concern; and I understood that he was really telling me it was okay with him that I put my own safety ahead of concern for the timely delivery of the load.

It was wrapping paper, for heaven's sake. I do not intend to die for wrapping paper.

I did get a chuckle shortly after crossing the Nevada border from Utah. It was a highway exit sign for a place called "Independence Valley". A second, smaller, sign shared the signpost: "Prison Area," it said. "Hitchhiking Prohibited." Now, that, I thought, is a textbook example of irony.

Driving the truck, and being required to read all the signs (some actually have instructions for trucks), we truck drivers encounter a lot of bizarre juxtapositions in signage. They aren't all ironic; some seem sarcastic, some are wry, and some just plain eerie. But I like the ironic ones the best. A famous one is on California's Highway 99, just south of Sacramento. To appreciate it, though, you have to know that truckers use a lot of euphemisms, and one is "hammer lane", which is the passing lane on the highway. It's named that because, when you are trying to pass a car, you have to "hammer" the accelerator all the way to the floor. Another thing you have to know is that California has very strict rules regarding which lanes a truck is allowed to be in. With rare exceptions, in California, trucks are not allowed to be in the passing lane.

So, now you'll get the joke. On Highway 99 is an exit sign for a street actually called "Hammer Lane". And, on the same signpost, is a smaller sign: "Trucks Not Allowed".

Continuing on between blasts of winter blizzard and sunny, clear air, I spotted another sign, a billboard. This one advertised the approaching town of Battle Mountain. The sign bragged that, according to the Washington Post, it had been named the "Armpit of America". It then urged me to make Battle Mountain my "pit stop". Not ironic, but certainly wry.

The sign originally caught my attention with its beautiful painting of a cowboy on a bucking horse. There was nothing else on the sign to suggest that Battle Mountain had anything to do with cowboys or horses, other than the fact that it was in Nevada, and Nevada has known its share of cowboys and horses. But if that was the only justification, they could as legitimately used a painting of a dead settler with hands frozen to the reins.

Which thought brought me back to my predicament. As night fell, the patches of blizzard and spring weather continued to alternate. Not even the chat over the CB in Winnemucca, of a professional lady trying to convince a trucker that he should take advantage of her establishment's "four acres of truck parking!" and varied personal services could keep my mind off the endurance run to Reno.

I did make it. I pulled into Alamo Joe's about 11 pm, parked, and went to sleep.

Monday, April 7, 2003

I awoke about 7 am, fueled and took a shower before leaving. I pulled out just about 9. I knew I wouldn't have time to make Half Moon Bay, California, by 3 pm; but it had been clear yesterday that we'd have to reschedule that arrival.

However, about 9:30 my cell phone rang. It was Debbie, my dispatcher. "Why aren't you moving?" she cried in distress. "You have to be in Half Moon by 1500, and you aren't going to make it!"

She had brought up two points in one sentence, and both needed addressing. This always throws me. "I am moving," I said.

"The computer shows you standing still for ten hours," she stated.

"Well, I'm not," I insisted. "Can't you hear the road noise over the phone?"

"The computer shows you standing still," she maintained.

"Well, I'm not," I insisted again. "And I know I can't make the delivery on time; I sent a load of messages to that effect yesterday."

"Hold on," she said. In a moment, another voice, a man's, replaced hers.

"It's Yancy," he said. I didn't know him, though I'd seen his nameplate in the Operating Center. He wasn't my dispatcher's boss and I had no idea why he was talking to me. "You sat still this morning for two hours. If you miss your delivery, Customer Service will call it a service exception."

Service exceptions are serious. They cancel a driver's bonus; they even kill his passenger privileges. I didn't want a service exception.

"I sent messages all day yesterday that they would have to reschedule," I pointed out.

"But you sat still for two hours after your break. You didn't move for ten hours."

"Yes, I did. I'm moving now." And I wish I was dragging you behind me, you twit, I thought.

"But you only have five hours of driving to do," he said. "Why can't you get there by 3 pm?"

Oh, so that's what it's about, I thought. The message I had sent with the estimated time of arrival. "It's only five hours of driving," I said, "if you live on the fantasy world where there's no traffic in San Francisco." This is an ongoing peeve of mine. Schneider has one, simple formula they use for all situations: 50 mph. It doesn't matter that you are driving in a snowstorm, through rush-hour traffic in L.A., or up the Grapevine trying to pull a heavy load with one of their underpowered tractors.

"If you had trip-planned," Yancy chided, "you would have known you needed the extra time and would have left earlier."

"I couldn't leave before my break was over," I said.

"But you've waited over two hours after your break!" he insisted.

"No, I didn't!" I cried. "I'm moving now!"

"The tracking system doesn't lie," he said.

And my cell phone chose that moment to disconnect us. I swear, I did not help it do so. But it was just as well.

I spent the next hours fuming. The issue was, I had driven in the Bay Area on several previous occasions and I knew I would need about three extra hours, in addition to the mathematically-correct five, to reach Half Moon Bay. If I'd left at exactly the moment my break ended, I'd still be an hour late. So, why kill myself? I took a shower. Sue me.

I knew what he was trying to do. He was trying to goad me into speeding. I could make up the lost time by driving 64 mph before I got to the Bay Area, even though in California the truck speed limit was 55. If I got a ticket, of course, he would deny having said any such thing. And, in fact, he didn't. But he didn't tell me to "drive safely," either.

I determined I would not speed, or do anything else differently. I would get there when I got there. If I wound up with a service exception, I would bring it before the Fair and Equitable Committee.

Except, a miracle occurred. There was no traffic in San Francisco. I sailed through town on I-80, then US 101, then I-280, without having to so much as slow down except once to pay a toll.

Half Moon Bay is on the edge of the Pacific, and the approach to it is beautiful. I must admit I got a little nervous at the turnoff for route 92, where the sign says "Trucks Not Advised." The road itself, was a winding, hilly country road you might use to try out your new Mazeratti. But I made it to the consignee without incident…and two minutes before 3 pm.

The annoying thing was, Debbie was now going to be convinced that all my talk about heavy traffic slowing me up is untrue. And, as far as I knew, Yancy still thought I was in a non-moving truck in Reno.

The consignee turned out to be a fertilizer company. And Yancy, whoever he was, was ready to give me a service exception for not getting wrapping paper to a fertilizer company on time.

If that isn't irony, I don't know what is.