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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Back to Work

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 5/27/2024
Occurred: 8/4/2003
Page Views: 2988
Topics: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver
I couldn't take forever to recover. Well, I could have, but I didn't.

Monday, August 4, 2003

Two days ago, I completed my one-year sentence—excuse me, obligation—to Schneider National. That puts me in Phase 2 Level 1, even though in fact I've been unable to drive a truck since mid-June.

Today, however, according to my surgeon, I am ready to return to work. She actually saw me last Wednesday and made that pronouncement, based entirely on the condition of my stitches and not at all on how I might feel, which question she did not ask. She informed me she would fax a statement to the effect that I could start work the following Monday, which is today. She also noted that Robin, the Schneider Workman's Comp liaison, wouldn't even be in to work until today. Apparently, Robin's been on vacation. I found it interesting that Dr. Timbadia does so much surgery for Schneider Workman's Comp cases, that she knows the liaison's vacation schedule by heart.

I tried calling the office, as they had asked me to. But Erin, the other sub-dispatcher in Jay's pod, told me to relax; they would call me.

So I hung around the phone all day waiting for that to happen.

Late afternoon, I finally got a call from Jay. He said he understood I was fit for work; he was happy to have me back; and he even had a truck for me to drive. First, however, was the little matter of getting re-certified to do so. I am to go to CSK tomorrow morning, where one of the drivers will put me in a truck and evaluate my ability to drive. If I haven't forgotten everything I learned over the last year, I will be put back behind the wheel in the afternoon.

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

I showed up at CSK at 8 AM, as instructed. Gummy, the person who was to test me, wasn't yet there. And I had mixed feelings about that. Actually, what I had mixed feelings about was Gummy being the one to test me. On the one hand, he's a perfectly nice guy, as I had learned during my Lite Duty time there. On the other hand, he has the most horrendous body odor. He certainly does not bathe in the morning. In fact, it's possible he doesn't bathe at all, leading to his nickname, which I assume comes from the fact that anything he touches tends to stick to his skin. I only know this from observation, since I've never touched him. But here and there you can spot bits of gravel, small pieces of paper, parts of dead birds, and so on; and these things tend to travel with him throughout the day. And, sometimes, the following day. So you can imagine that I was not looking forward to being trapped in the cab of a truck with him for any length of time.

In the old days, that is, before my surgery, I would have marked this time on my log as Off Duty. However, during my convalescence, I had occasion to actually read the DOT regulations. Oh, my! Schneider had omitted quite a bit. One of the things I discovered was that all waiting time goes on Line 4, On Duty Not Driving. The DOT figures, and rightly so, that waiting is tiresome; and doing it for 15 hours does not mean a driver is refreshed enough to drive. In fact, it almost certainly means such a driver is an accident waiting to happen.

The other reason, of course, that Schneider and other trucking companies discourage drivers from making Line 4 entries is that doing so reveals how very little money we make per hour. We get paid by the mile, so time spent waiting for loading and unloading, locating trailers, and so on is a freebie we give away. Logging these activities on Line 4 will not, in itself, get us more money; but if everyone logged accurately (or even if most drivers did), it would quickly reveal to the world the dangerous racket in which the trucking industry is engaged; and laws might be passed to change it.

So, I logged my waiting time on Line 4—On Duty, Not Driving. My log shows that I finally got behind the wheel of a truck at 10:15 AM.

The truck was bobtailed, and Gummy didn't see any point in coupling to a trailer for this little test. Privately, I thought that if I were to have forgotten anything in two months, it would be how to tow a 53-foot beast behind the tractor—especially making sharp turns without clipping the curb or taking down stop signs. But I, too, wanted to get this over as quickly as possible; so I didn't say anything.

We drove around the block or a couple of blocks. I was being tested in a Kenworth, the first one I'd ever been in, and had a little trouble shifting at first. But the rest of it had never left me. We returned to CSK and Gummy informed me I had done fine, and he would send the message to the powers that be that I was ready to return to driving.

I only had to wait another hour—logged on Line 4—for another driver to take me to the Phoenix Drop Yard, where my new truck was supposed to be. Jason, the driver, informed me as we started on our way, that this was his second day at work. Previously, he had spent eight years as a cab driver—coincidentally, for the very same company I had tried driving for, before I went to work for Schneider. (I should add, I didn't make any money at that, either.)

I wasn't making money when I quit, either, Jason admitted. I did pretty well there for a few years. I specialized in the druggies and the hookers. You would always find me on Van Buren, he added, naming the most notorious of the downtown Phoenix streets. But then 9/11 hit, and everyone stopped traveling, and eventually the pinch even hit the hookers. When the druggies started sounding like they were going to rob me, I decided it was time to leave.

By now it was approaching noon and the temperature was already 105°. Fortunately, perhaps thanks to his experience as a cab driver, Jason thought to check the drop yard to make sure my truck was there; because it was not. He called the office; Gummy looked it up (why hadn't he before?) and found it was around the corner at a truck repair shop. So that's where Jason left me.

When I walked into the office at the repair shop and identified myself as a Schneider driver, there was great rejoicing. It seems, that truck had been repaired weeks before, and they really wanted someone to take it off their lot. And the trailer, too, one of the mechanics begged. I hadn't been instructed to get a trailer, but I was sure no one at Schneider would mind if I towed one from here, where no one would ever think of looking for it, to the drop yard where it belonged.

First, though, the mechanic had to charge the batteries, which took about a half hour. And, even then, he advised me to not turn the truck off for at least half an hour if I wanted to be able to start it again.

So I thanked him, said goodbye, coupled to the orphaned trailer, and towed it around the corner to the drop yard. In so doing, I discovered that the air conditioner didn't work. So I called Debbie from my husbands's cell phone, which he had loaned me.

It's going to be 120° in the desert, I pointed out. I am not going to drive that in the daytime. People get killed that way.

But we have to get it to Fontana to be fixed! she protested.

That's fine; I'll take it tonight, I offered. But you really can't expect someone to drive without air conditioning across a desert in 120° heat.

Since this truck had been assigned to me, its Qualcomm contained my first assignment. It began with a pickup in Goodyear, a few miles west of my current position. But it didn't need to be picked up until tomorrow evening. Debbie agreed to find out if, by any chance, the load would be ready for me to pick up that night. It would be, we discovered.

So I drove, bobtailed, to the Pilot truck stop at the 101 Loop and parked, then called my husband, Michael, to pick me up. I would be able to have dinner at home and even go for a little swim with our grandson before heading off into the desert.

I showed up at Rubbermaid at 9 PM, as promised. There was some difficulty actually finding the trailer, which wasn't where I was told it would be. But, hey, that's par for the course. By 10:00 o'clock, after having been up since 7 am, I was heading westward; tired, but aware that if I didn't want to drive the desert in the scorching heat of daytime without air conditioning, I would have to make it through in one shot now.

And, even at night, it was intense. I had thought it would cool down when I left the Valley, where most people believe that trapped traffic fumes are the explanation for why it doesn't cool down at night like it used to. But it didn't cool down at all. It was still well over 100° at Chiriaco Summit, and at that, the air felt almost cool compared to what it was at lower elevations.

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

It was 4:30 AM before I shut down for the night in Fontana. There, at least, it was cool. Safe in the Fontana Operating Center, I left my windows and vents open, hoping to keep the cab cool as long as possible. Alas, that wasn't very long. By 9 AM I awoke in a pool of sweat, gasping for air. After only four-and-a-half hours of sleep, I didn't feel much like resuming my trucking career. But I staggered into the Operating Center with my gym bag; and I did feel somewhat improved after a shower and breakfast.

I visited Jay, my lead dispatcher, and Debbie, the sub-dispatcher with whom I communicate the most, back in the nice clothes part of the building. They had me turn in the air-condition-less truck I had ferried across the desert; and Debbie got the ID of another truck to replace it. I went to the fuel desk, had them write up the problems with the first truck, and obtained the key for the second. Diana, the beautiful blonde at the fuel desk, offered to make a copy but I advised her to wait until I was sure this truck was drivable. It's a good thing I did, too. Its air compressor system was faulty; it failed the pump-down test on the brakes. And, yes; it's a good thing I tried the pump-down test. It would have been most inconvenient to have the brakes fail when I needed them to slow down for a highway mishap.

So, it was back to Debbie and the obtaining of yet another truck ID; back to Diana for another write-up and another key to the newest truck. Again, I inspected it thoroughly. It was a 1999 model Freightliner, older than the Jeff Roadworthy which meant I was back to hand-crank, roll-up windows. On the other hand, it was immaculately clean. It had been driven over 700,000 miles—not new, certainly, but not as far as the Eric Idle had gone when I turned it in. Not being able to find anything wrong with the new truck, other than its age—it was new only to me—I let Diana make me a duplicate key, drove it up to the wreck I had just driven across the desert, and transferred my stuff, which I had cleverly not unpacked, into it.

I was, I admit, a little annoyed. When I was in training, Chuck, our instructor, had told the class that if we managed to drive for six months without an accident, we would be assigned newer trucks. That hadn't happened. In fact, Noel, the Team Operations Manager, told me that Chuck had not said any such thing. Even though he hadn't been there, and I had taken notes, and other people in my class remembered hearing it. This had been, in fact, one of the first examples of my being told that what I had or was experiencing, was not so. (And not only in Schneider; in my life. I am not accustomed to having my experiences questioned. And I've had some doozies!)

And so I had held out hope that I might get a decent vehicle after my second six months. And here I was, with a truck more used than the last one I'd had.

So far, this was certainly bearing out the theory that Schneider wants its drivers to quit after their first year, to make room for more students (which bring in millions of dollars in tax breaks each year, not to mention drivers who drive for fewer cents per mile).

Oh, well. I decided to go to sleep. I had a 4 AM delivery of the Rubbermaid load I had brought from Goodyear. Debbie had actually had to relay the load so the trailer could be assigned to the new truck. I wondered if I would receive relay pay (an extra $15) for it.

As I went to sleep, I realized I didn't yet have a name for the new truck. I usually wait for a name to suggest itself. But, this time, I had a name ready.

I was about to embark on my second year of driving…in the Richard Gear.