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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Hellish Detergent

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 7/22/2024
Occurred: 2/21/2003
Page Views: 1602
Topics: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver
Driving truck means never having (time) to say you're sorry.

Friday, February 21, 2003

I was in Salt Lake City. My assignment was to drive to Huish Detergent for a 3 PM appointment. I was already anxious, even before getting there, because the assignment estimated a seven hour load time. (Remember, I don't get paid while waiting for my trailer to be loaded.)

And then there had been a call with Michael on my cell phone. Schneider had deposited only $157 into my checking account, after a week's worth of work. Michael, himself looking for work, hadn't yet heard from the hospital at which he'd applied, even though they'd promised to give him an answer two days ago. It was the same old conversation; and, when I pointed that out, Michael said I was saying the same old things, too. I knew we were both frustrated over the lack of money and the best move was to end the call. I quickly said goodbye, then turned off the phone.

As I approached the address (and the directions were wrong, as usual; I had to call the shipper to find out where they were really located), I found truck after truck parked along the side of the road. Wow, I thought, there must be a lot of shipping done around here. That's not unusual; typically, there will be a lot of shipping done in a particular area. However, I soon realized that all these trucks were waiting to get into Huish's yard. I had to park in the street, too, in order to go in to the shipping department window. When I got there, five other drivers were ahead of me.

Finally, my turn came. I have good news and bad news, the clerk said. The good news is, you're at the right lot—you don't have to go to one of our other three buildings. The bad news is, it will be at least two hours before I can assign you to a door. Come see me at five.

So I tried to take a nap, but I was still upset over the call with Michael and sleep wouldn't come. So I got out, wandering around, talking to other drivers. Everyone was tense. Huish, it seemed, did not have a well-organized docking system. The biggest problem was, there simply wasn't enough room. There was inadequate space in front of the bays to turn and back into them; in front of them were grassy areas with big boulders placed to discourage trucks from using the grass to maneuver. I understand not wanting the grass destroyed by trucks; on the other hand, what was the building's primary purpose—to load trucks or to serve as a park?

Damn! a driver yelled. Trying to back into a door, he had caught his Fiberglas fender on one of the boulders. The fender was now scratched and dented. The driver, who had been trying to back into the bay for at least ten minutes, got out and kicked the rock. Fortunately, he was wearing a steel-toed shoe. Still, the rock was unfazed. Angrily, he got back in his truck, still trying to dock, but now moving even more erratically. When he finally contacted the dock bay, he did so with such vigor that I was surprised he didn't crack the wall. And, though he didn't, on closer inspection I found the wall did contain evidence of previous enthusiastic collisions.

I found myself talking with Sean, a freckled redhead with piercing blue eyes and powerful biceps that I couldn't keep my eyes off of. He shook his head ruefully. I can't believe the way this place is arranged, he said. This is the third time I've been here, and every time it's like this.

I can't believe the schedule, I contributed. Seven hours here? Then, I don't have to deliver in Reno for two days—but then, four hours after I deliver in Reno, I'm supposed to have a second stop in Stockton. And that's after a three-hour unload! It's not physically possible.

I think the smell of detergent gets to them, or something, Sean said. They're nuts. That's why I call it 'Hellish Detergent'. He laughed, and I laughed with him.

Well, I sent a message to my dispatcher warning that I couldn't possibly make an on-time delivery. He just responded, 'Do the best you can.'

Whatever you do, don't fake out your log book, Sean warned. I was surprised; it was rare that a trucker told me I should log accurately. You know those overhead boxes at the weigh stations? I nodded. They query your Qualcomm, so the computer systems know exactly when you went through the weigh station. Later, if they check your log, they can compare it to the weigh station visits and it had better match—or you've got an expensive ticket.

Noted, I said, gratefully.

I don't think all the states use those electronic units. Some of them may enter the information manually as you're crossing the scale.

I know Oregon checks permit information by computer, I contributed. I got caught by that a few months ago.

The good news is that the states don't share information. So, if you're in Utah and you drove too long in Colorado, Utah won't have a way of finding that out.

We were interrupted by a German-accented voice belonging to a ruddy man charging out of the shipping department door. I von't do it! he declared. I just von't do it! He scanned the area, apparently looking for someone to complain to, and his eyes locked on ours. I told them, let your hustler do it, because I'm not going to! And they weren't happy about it, but he's going to do it.

Do what? I asked.

Back that trailer into that hole, he snarled. Look at that! No room at all, specially with that fucking boulder there. Who would put a boulder right in front of a loading dock? These people are fucking crazy! He stormed off and proceeded to uncouple his tractor from the trailer.

What's a hustler? I asked Sean. I mean, I know one definition, but it doesn't seem to apply here.

Most people call 'em mules or yard dogs, Sean replied. Sure enough, a small tractor darted out from the back of the building and rapidly coupled to the German's trailer, backing it easily into the dock. No wonder he didn't want to do it; there was a pickup truck parked right next to the dock.

I pointed to it. That guy should move, I said. He's asking to be hit.

No way, Sean replied. The employees here park any damn place they want, and management allows it. There's not enough parking for them, either, see.

Finally, 5:00 PM came and I re-entered the shipping clerk's office. Where have you been? he asked. I've had a door ready for you for the past hour and a half!

You told me to come back at five, I pointed out. And here I am.

The clerk grimaced, as if he'd just found a pebble in his mouth. Door 13, he said.

Great. Stuck in between doors 12 and 14, which already had trucks in front of them.

Sean helped guide me into the space, so it only took about fifteen minutes of slow, laborious, back-and-forth, to-and-fro. There was a boulder directly in front of me, with a trail of bare dirt to one side of it, and a pile of grass sod on the other, demonstrating where that other truck had moved it.

To my surprise, it only took about an hour and a half to actually get loaded. The weight, according to the bill of lading, came to just under 36,000 pounds. But I didn't trust them. I'd bonded with enough weigh station employees to last a lifetime. So, when I left, the first thing I did was find a truck stop and weigh the load. Almost to my surprise, I was legal, and ready to go.

Saturday, February 23, 2003

I spent the night at a truck stop in Tooele, Utah, just west of Salt Lake City. In the morning I tried calling Michael again. He sounded better and apologized, and I meant to apologize, too; but somehow it just came out like I accepted his apology. These extended periods of separation, during which we have nothing to talk about except financial problems, can't be good for a relationship. I drive along, thinking about things I want to share with him, but when I call he's watching a movie or working on the computer and his mind is on something else. And, when he calls me to share something from his day, it's invariably when I'm right in the middle of backing into a tight dock or shifting as I climb a steep grade, and I can't pay proper attention to him, either.

The scenery of the Nevada desert was spectacular, of course. I knew there was quite a snowstorm going on to the east of me—it had rained during the night, hard enough to awaken me—but, as usual, I had managed to miss it entirely.

It takes ten hours to get from Salt Lake City to Reno at truck speed (Schneider trucks are governed at 63.5 mph, though I can get mine going a little faster downhill), and I managed it so that I arrived in Reno at 8 PM. That was by design, because my delivery appointment was Sunday at 8 PM. I sent a message via Qualcomm to the weekend support shift people, telling them I would be in Reno and ready to deliver at eight. As I expected, I never got a reply. But that's okay; since I will have been here 24 hours between arrival and actual delivery, I am supposed to qualify for layover pay of $80…something I will bring up Monday, when my regular dispatcher gets in.

Sunday, February 24, 2003

Since I never did get a rescheduled delivery appointment, 8 PM tonight holds. Immediately after, I will have to run up Donner Pass for Stockton. I cannot make it by the 1 AM appointment time, of course; but I will make it when I make it. And I've already gotten my next work assignment, a short run back to Reno.

The good part about Reno is I get decent Internet access at the Alamo truck stop, which, this being Nevada, is also a casino.

Now, if only I can figure out the best time to call Michael…