By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/5/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver Page Views: 273
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

About six months ago, I was picking up a load from Reckitt Benckiser, just outside of Phoenix, when my attention was drawn to a beautiful, shiny, blue Volvo truck. Its driver was coupling to a trailer next to the one I was getting. The driver, a dark-haired guy in his thirties, I guessed, had a few white streaks in his hair and a four-inch long goatee. We got to talking, and talked for almost an hour-and-a-half, about UFOs, mostly—he had seen one with his brother, in an episode that included some missing time—but also about his kid, and ex-wife, and my kids and ex-wife, and my husband, Michael, and the fact that he didn't want a partner, and so on and on. This was his first week driving for Schneider, and he was interested in whatever insights I might have into driving for the company, though I'd only been there a couple months, myself. By the time I finally returned to the office for the paperwork I needed for the truck, the woman there thought I had experienced missing time. "Where the heck were you?" she asked. "I thought you'd left without your paperwork."

Although the guy, Greg, and I had exchanged names and email addresses, I didn't really ever expect to see him again. Truck driving is full of these little encounters. You meet someone, you spill your guts to him or her, and that's it—the relationship has played out. Sometimes, I'm told, sex is involved—usually between male and female truckers, but not always—but, even so, that's it. The relationship that begins with a chance encounter and ends with teaming, any kind of teaming, happens; but it's rare.

I find it odd that, after years of meeting new friends on the Internet, some of whom I later met in person, and some of whom have become life-long, real-life friends—now that I'm back in the "real world" and meeting people, the relationships are so ephemeral.

Anyway, today I was just outside of Sugar Land, Texas, with a load due tomorrow morning and needing fuel tonight. I intended to stop at the Rip Griffin's Truck Stop that is on Schneider's approved fuel map; and I did take the correct exit off the Interstate. However, somehow the roads looked suddenly confusing to me and I missed the one that would have taken me to the truck stop. It's not easy to turn around when you're towing a 53-foot trailer; I had to follow what turned out to be the frontage road to the next on-ramp; then take the Interstate to its next exit; turn around to take the Interstate back where I came from—and then I discovered there was no matching on-ramp in that direction, due to construction in the area. So I had to go to the next exit, turn around again, take the proper exit again, and this time try to not get confused and wind up on the frontage road. I didn't, and moments later Rip Griffin's was, finally, ahead of me.

Years ago, I would have been terribly upset with myself for missing the original turn, and wasting about twenty minutes trying to recover from my mistake. Now, I recognize the actions of the Universe when they happen. There was no reason for me to get confused about the road I was supposed to take. I wasn't tired, or on drugs; nor had I been drinking. I recognized that, for some reason, I had been delayed. I knew the delay was important, and I also knew I might never know what it was for. I have faith that such delays might cause me to miss the scene of an accident that won't occur because I'm not there; or they might cause me to be present when someone else needs to simply see me or the truck at a certain time. The Universe is an incredibly complex place in which, I believe, apparent chaos is really the sophisticated workings of a dynamic, controlled series of interrelated patterns. In this world-view, everything is as it is supposed to be—and there are no real mistakes. As long as I keep myself rested, well-informed, and clear, I can do my best. And when the occasional, apparent mistake occurs, I know it isn't really a mistake; and I don't agonize over it.

So, instead of being upset, I was mildly interested to see if the reason for my delay would become known to me.

I pulled into the fuel islands, chose a vacant set of pumps, got out and looked for a fuel card reader. There wasn't one. Instead, there was a phone; I picked it up and was automatically connected to the fuel desk. They took my information and activated the pump, and I began fueling. While the pumps whirred, I cleamed my windshield and then stood idly by while waiting for the fueling to complete. I noticed the truck in the aisle next to mine. It was a beautiful, shiny, blue Volvo. I then noticed that it pulled a Schneider trailer; and then I saw the Schneider logo on the door. I wonder if this could possibly be Greg from Reckitt Benckiser, I thought, not expecting it to be. The truck's driver walked around from the far side of the truck. He wore a four-inch goatee. We locked eyes—and grinned. It was him!

If I had not missed the road, the first time around, I would have been fueled and gone before Greg ever got to the fuel pumps.

We shook hands; I asked about his kid; he asked about Michael and Zachary, my grandson. We both finished fueling at the same time, and continued to talk as we went in to the fuel desk to complete the transactions. The woman behind the counter handed me a coupon good for "half off" a meal, if taken that evening at the truck stop's restaurant. Greg, whose tanks hadn't been as empty as mine, wasn't entitled to a coupon. "That's okay," the woman said. "You're co-drivers, right?" She winked, and gave Greg a duplicate coupon, then lowered her voice. "It's really illegal for me to give you that," she said, "but you won't tell anyone, right?"

"It may be against company policy," I pointed out, softly, "but I doubt if it's actually illegal in any state to give someone a half-off coupon." She laughed, startled and uneasy, which made me wonder how strict the management was at this place.

Anyway, I hadn't planned to eat here at all; but with a half-off coupon, how could I not? And so, Greg and I wound up having dinner together.

I ordered a steak, and Greg ordered breakfast. Truck drivers run such crazy schedules that truck stop restaurants always serve breakfast 24 hours a day. I commented on it.

"Well," said Greg, "breakfast, lunch, whatever. I've been driving for twenty hours, straight, so my stomach doesn't know what time it is."

"Twenty hours?!" I exclaimed. "How can you get away with that?"

"Easy," he dismissed. "I keep three different logs." He emptied his cup of coffee in a single swallow, and motioned to the waitress to bring another.

"And Schneider lets you get away with that?"

"They don't care, as long as I get the loads on time."

"And you have enough miles to fill that time?"

"I guess!" he laughed. "I could drive 24 hours a day if I was willing. I don't need much sleep, but I do need some."

I cut a piece of steak, put it in my mouth, and tried to chew it. It was very tough and stringy. This is why many truck drivers refer to the chain as "Rip-Off Griffin's". Finally, I swallowed. "I'm not getting so many miles," I said. "I haven't even been able to cover the rent, most weeks."

"How many are they giving you?" he asked.

"I average around 2100, 2200 a week," I replied.

"You're running legally, aren't you?" he said, draining his second cup of coffee and motioning the waitress for another. She returned with a pot and set it on the table.

"Yeah. Pretty much so," I admitted.

"Schneider has to tell everyone they want legal running; but, if you can figure how to get away with running over hours, they like it better—as long as you don't get caught. Then, it's like Mission: Impossible—they deny any knowledge of your wrong-doing."

I shrugged and nodded, unable to speak because I had another rubbery piece of the steak in my mouth.

"So," he continued even though he was inhaling his fried eggs while speaking, "they give me lots of miles because they know I'll run 'em. They get a lot of income from my truck. But you, you run legal—so they don't give you many miles, figuring you'll quit at the end of your year, making room for someone else. That person may be a legal driver, out in a year, like you; but it might be someone like me—and that person'll stay. So, eventually, Schneider will be staffed with drivers who run illegally and get away with it; and they can quit training new drivers."

I swallowed with effort. "They won't stop training," I argued. "They make too much money training new drivers. They get paid by the government to do it; I looked it up."

"Well," Greg amended, now chewing his toast on one side of his mouth while he spoke through the other, "maybe they won't shut down the training. Actually, having all those students you're telling to drive safely, and having some drivers that do drive legally, probably makes the whole company look good. But, trust me—drivers like me are hauling most of the freight."

I shook my head, giving up on the meat and deciding to try the vegetables. "I don't know how you do it," I said. "I can drive ten hours in a day, but barely. I need my sleep. I drove two ten-hour shifts a few weeks ago, and slept fourteen hours the next day."

Greg drained his third cup of coffee in a single swallow and replied, "Not everyone's cut out to be a trucker." He glanced at his watch. "Well, time for my four hours of sleep."

"Four?" I smiled weakly. I know how I feel after only four hours of sleep.

"I can't sleep longer than that. I get fidgety." He held out his hand, which trembled like an autumn leaf. "I gotta keep moving, man."

"You don't suppose it's the coffee, do you?"

He looked with surprise at the pot of coffee on the table, frowned, and shook his head vigorously. "Naw," he scoffed. "I been drinking coffee since I was six. My old man useta give it to me."

"That's your old man who was a truck driver, right?" I remembered from our first conversation.

"Yup," Greg admitted. "Taught me to drive, too. He used to work three jobs. He got me and my little brother to drive him from one to the other so he could nap in between."

"Sounds like quite a guy. He still driving?"

"Naw. Dead. Car accident, ten years ago." Greg poured and swallowed a final cup of coffee, this one with extra sugar—"Desert!", he joked—and shook my hand. "It was great seeing you again," he said. "Hey—when we're outside, let me show you how to disconnect the lead to the Qualcomm so you can idle all you want without it being reported to Schneider."

I laughed hollowly. "Uh, thanks anyway," I said. "But I like to sleep without the engine running. Especially now that it's spring."

He shrugged. "Suit yourself," he grinned. "I also know how to disconnect the governor, so you can drive as fast as you want."

I stared. "You did that?"

"Didn't have to," he admitted. "The Volvo isn't governed anyway. That's why Schneider wants it back, but I won't let 'em have it."

"Isn't it yours?"

"No. I'm not an owner-operator," he added. Owner-operators own their own trucks and simply use Schneider to find them loads to tow. "The Volvo used to be an owner-operator truck, but the owner defaulted on his load and Schneider had to take it back. I'm a regular van driver associate, just like you."

"Oh," I said.

"Anyway, see you around." And he was gone, off to catch his mini-sleep before the caffeine awakened him for another race down the highway and another game of musical log books.

I had paid special attention to this conversation, because it was clear to me that this was why the Universe had gone to so much effort to make sure Greg and I met at the pumps that evening. Greg's information was important to me, for some reason. But, why? Was the Universe suggesting I start keeping three sets of log books? I have enough trouble finding the one when I want it. I'm a pretty smart guy, but I don't think I can juggle three different books. I don't think I could juggle two.

If I start drinking coffee, will I be able to drive more than ten hours? Will I be able to do so safely? Will I be able to dispense with sleep altogether, as Greg seems to have done? Certainly, he's making more money than I am. In fact, abusing one's body this way may be the only way to make money in this field. But, in that case, is it worth it?

I resolved to re-examine my willingness to fudge my logs a little. In the future. The Universe can set up these conversations, but it can't make me understand them. I have to do that on my own.

I decided I would consider driving at least a little more each day. Consider it. I had not yet made up my mind to do it.

I would have to sleep on it, first.

I would first have to get out of my head the old joke about a taxi driver who, by coincidence, drove a blue Volvo taxi in New York. A passenger got in one day and asked why the taxi was blue instead of yellow, as are most New York taxis. "My brother and me, we got our own taxi service," was the reply. "So we call it the Blue Volvo Taxi Service instead of Yellow Cab, see? We each drive blue Volvo taxis, and that distinguishes us."

The passenger was about to say he understood, when he saw that the light ahead was red and the driver wasn't slowing down. In fact, he sped up, and tore through the red light like it wasn't there. The passenger gasped, and continued to gasp as the driver took advantage of the void in traffic ahead and ran through three more red lights in succession. Finally, the passenger managed to choke, "Red lights! You're running red lights!"

"Oh, I never stop at red lights," came the reply. "Relax. My brother and me, we always drive this way. Other cars always take a moment to get going when their side of the light turns green, and we take advantage of that. It gets us to our destinations much faster!"

Ahead, the next traffic light turned green, though; and the driver unexpectedly jammed on his brakes, sending the passenger flying forward against the back of the front seat. "You run the red lights and stop at green! What's that about?" he demanded.

"Well, my brother's out here somewhere…and I gotta stop at green lights to make sure there's no blue Volvo's coming the other way."

I know I'm going to be giving blue Volvo trucks a wide berth from now on.