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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Tuck and Run

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 6/20/2024
Occurred: 8/25/2003
Page Views: 335
Topics: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver
Truck driving is costing me an arm and a leg. But I met a guy who only lost an arm.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

As I drove from Delano, California, to Phoenix, Arizona—a distance of approximately 502 miles—I had plenty of time to think about this whole trucking experience.

Unlike some of my fellow drivers, I hadn't always wanted to drive truck. In fact, I had come to this out of some degree of desperation, having been unemployed for over a year. I won't deny that there were many aspects of driving that I enjoyed very much. Mainly, it was the driving itself. Waiting at the loading docks, trying to locate customers with badly written or incorrect directions, struggling to communicate with mentally deficient dispatchers—these were not parts of the job that I enjoyed.

But the main problem was the money.

There wasn't any.

Schneider's promises of what I would make in my first year were grossly inflated, based on my driving about 3000 miles a week. While I had proven I could drive that many miles if I were assigned them, I had rarely been assigned as many. And now, particularly after I had passed my one-year mark (and the government had given Schneider the $5000 tax rebate for training me and keeping me for a year), the longer trips seemed to have really dried out. I hadn't been to Oregon or even Colorado in months. I had never been sent to Montana, except once in the whole year. Now, I was shuttling things between Southern California and Phoenix—and the assignments I was given, almost always ended in an unchangeable appointment that occurred the morning after I arrived, thus wasting even more time and guaranteeing another low-paying week.

Yancy, my dispatcher's new boss—call him the lead dispatcher (the actual title is STL, service team leader)—had promised me better utilization of my time. I had promised to give him a shot. That was two weeks ago, and I was still waiting for an improvement.

Take today's delivery. It sounded good on paper: 502 miles for running from Delano to Phoenix. But the schedule was an impossible one; the previous customer had taken too long to unload; there'd been an accident—certainly not Trip Planning's fault, but it's always something and I was getting tired of their always being surprised by the unexpected. And so this trip, which included a 7 AM delivery time, could not possibly be made in the time allotted.

I did what I have done so many times before: notified, via satellite, both Debbie, my dispatcher, and customer service, as I had previously notified Yancy. As usual, Debbie was at a loss. I suggested that, as I would be passing through Fontana, why not relay the load to someone who was just coming off break and could therefore deliver on time? Debbie asked what time I expected to arrive in Fontana, and I responded about 7:30 PM. There was no other response from her. I found out later, 4 PM had arrived—her time to go home—and she had done so, without advising anyone else that there was an outstanding problem to be solved.

And so, the load arrived late. 11:30 AM, to be exact.

Sears' loads come in two parts. The first part is to be delivered to the main store, and employees there unload their portion. The remainder is then moved across the parking lot to the auto parts store, and the driver is expected to help unload. This unloading generally consists of rolling tires out of the trailer and into the garage.

If I had arrived at 7 AM, as I was intended to, the unloading of the first half of the trailer would have gone smoothly, taking about three hours. However, by 11:30, most of the morning crew had gone home. So the unloading instead took eight hours. Unloading the tires at the auto parts store took another three. So I spent eleven hours unloading, for which I didn't get paid (except a few dollars for rolling the tires, about $20). And I didn't drive, so I didn't get paid for any miles.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

I received a work assignment that at least had a little variety: A load from near Flagstaff to California. As I trip planned, however, I realized this would be another challenge. The problem this time: I did not have enough hours to make the trip.

The 70-hour rule says that we cannot work more than a total of 70 hours, driving and non-driving, in seven days. Many drivers circumvent this rule by falsifying their logs: They say they were sleeping when they were, in fact, loading or unloading a truck. I do not believe this to be moral or legal, and don't do it. My feeling is, if the industry is structured so that one can not make a living without breaking the law, then there's something fundamentally wrong that needs to be changed, not bypassed.

If my unloading at Sears, yesterday, had taken the amount of time it should (which it would have if the previous customer had not taken too long to unload), I would have had plenty of hours to make this assignment. However, as it was, I had spent several hours waiting at the dock for the Sears employees to complete the unloading and that time had to be logged as on duty not driving, according to the law. So, now, I didn't have quite enough hours to make the assignment.

I sent Debbie a message explaining the situation. As usual, she tried to convince me I was wrong. But then, Yancy solved the problem by canceling the assignment altogether.

Unfortunately, I had already started on my way. So I had to park at Anthem, a small community just north of Phoenix whose primary source of employment is an outlet mall. I napped; otherwise, waiting for an assignment would also count against my available hours. After lunch, one arrived: A load from Phoenix to Los Angeles…another 350 mile waste of time, ending with a 3 1/2 hour unload.

Los Angeles loads are very expensive to drivers, because we are paid by the mile whether we can drive sixty miles in an hour or twenty. In Los Angeles, we are usually lucky to get ten. We try to arrive or leave in the middle of the night; traffic then is still heavy but at least it moves. During the day, you don't know just where the traffic jam will be—but you know there will be one. Somewhere.

Add to that a 3½ hour unload, and you have five-hour block of time in which you may make $10 altogether.

Add to that a 6:30 AM appointment, and you have many hours in the evening during which you could be driving and making money, except you can't—you have to wait for the appointment. Oh, sure; you can try to arrange a relay. But if there is no freight that hasn't already been turned over to owner-operators, who get first choice, then you simply have to wait…something that's been happening to me with increasing frequency of late.

As I drove once again across the Mohave desert, I began to wonder, again, why the hell I was doing this at all. Or, for that matter, why would anyone do it?

And so, as I passed through Fontana, I stopped at the operating center and located Sabrina, the beautiful office manager. Any chance of my taking my vacation next week? I asked. She tapped a few keys on her computer and told me there was, if I wanted to. I had her lock it in. This would be my first vacation since coming to work for Schneider, unless you count the two months I spent recovering from my double-hernia surgery.

I intended to spend it job hunting, unless the next couple of days gave me a reason not to.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Today's assignment was a run from the Los Angeles area Kimberly Clark facility, to Wal-Mart in Buckeye—a town just west of Phoenix. As I dropped my empty trailer in their back lot, I found myself talking to Tuck, a one-armed old timer who'd been driving truck since 1947.

I've done a lot of things, he said. I can paint, mend fences, repair motors. But when I'm in the driver's seat of a truck, I come alive.

I looked around. Where's your truck?

He shook his head sadly. Can't drive any more, he said. They retired me three times, but the last time stuck. So now I just maintain this yard. Part time, he added, shrugging. But it keeps me close to the trucks.

Tuck had been married three times, he said. My first wife was a beauty, he confided. That's a bad thing when a man ain't home. She had three kids, I thought they was mine, but they wasn't. The law still made me support 'em, though.

His second wife was his favorite. We drove together, he said, before a lot of couples was doing that. She was a spitfire, that one! Could hold her own on the C.B. with anybody, no matter how foul-mouthed, she could out-swear 'em. However, Tuck, explained, she had died in the same accident that had taken his right arm. Ice, he said, without elaborating, except to say that it had happened in Wyoming and he had spent two freezing nights in the overturned cab with her body, before rescue came.

The last one, I married just because I had too much money, he said, wryly, not lingering on the tragic loss of his beloved. I figgered she'd run off with it, and I was right. Don't get married, son, he added seriously. Not if you love to drive. Unless she does, too. And even then… he lost himself back in the memory of wife number two, and shook his head sadly.

I shook my head, too, for a different reason. How did you get too much money driving truck? I asked. I can't even make the rent.

He shrugged. Well, you know…back in the old days, there was no log books, no rules that said you couldn't drive until you was a zombie. Drug testing? Hell, in the old days, they used to give us drugs, a bag of 'em, and say 'Get it there!' Now, it's all commercialized and civilized. And you know what happens then? No one makes any money except the corporations that own the trucks.

There are still owner-operators, I pointed out.

Tuck spat. Owners? That'd be the corporations that get their truck payments! They do their own financing now, ya know. A real owner can't make any money; the corporate carriers can under price everyone of them with their novice drivers that make a crummy quarter a mile and their truck-rail shipments that cost a dollar less a mile than a real driver costs, even at that price. Do you know, your company, Schneider, is still paying drivers the same as they did in the seventies?

I nodded. I knew. But the other training companies aren't any better, I pointed out.

And that's a good thing? But then, the air sort of went out of him. He shook his head again. Sorry for ranting, he said. A man should be able to do the things he loves without losing everything. And now I wasn't sure if he meant money, or wife number two.

As I drove the load back across the Mohave to Arizona, I thought about Tuck and his story. I was not in a position to understand what karma was his, that he and his beloved had to be separated for the last years of his life. But I did agree, the Universe should support our doing what we love. Tuck loved driving. I like driving, but I can't say I love it. What I love is going to new places and seeing new things. Truck driving gave me a few months of that, but it was just a taste. Now it had gotten stale, and by underpaying me besides, it was basically giving me the message that it was time to move on.

Friday, August 29, 2003

I delivered at Wal-Mart, then continued on to Tolleson where my next assignment awaited. The long-hoped for Big Trip? Nope. Of course, my vacation will start in two days, so I can't really expect it. It turned out to be a very short run—from Tolleson to the Phoenix drop yard. That was it; at that point, my vacation began. I made arrangements for Michael to pick me up.

Give me a call next Friday, Yancy had said. I'll let you know whether there's any point in going back to your truck on Sunday. If there's no freight, you don't need to be sitting there all day. Vacations at Schneider, at least, for drivers, begin on Saturday and end on Sunday. Yancy was telling me there was a chance I could get an extra day. Of course, I wouldn't be paid for it, whether I went to the truck or not. We are only paid to drive.

Michael was filled with plans for the week. Our friend and boarder, Celeste, had decided to move out and he had promised our help. Other friends, Peter and Barbara, had just unexpectedly bought a house and also needed help moving. Still others, Jock and Diane, needed help with their computer, which had been infected with a virus. My son, John, was trying to fly West with his wife and new baby, whom I'd never seen. Our grandson, Zachary, was looking forward to showing me how well he could swim and wanted to come for a slumber party. And, of course, there were the endless bills to go over and prioritize, to see which would be paid and which could be put off for yet another month.

I realized, the lack of money was only one of the costs of driving. Another was losing precious time with the people I love. Tuck had lost his wife in an accident, but is it any less of a tragedy to have one's loved ones keep living, yet be inaccessible? By spending my time in the truck, I was losing the most precious commodity of all, time.

And I wasn't even making a decent salary for the sacrifice!

Something. Would. Have. To. Change.