By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 10/22/2018
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver Page Views: 922
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Monday, September 30, 2002

So, there I was, driving down to Los Angeles from Portland, OR, enjoying my day. Looking at the amazing scenery, seeing Mt. Shasta from the north side, and wondering if I might ever get tired of seeing it. Knowing I would never rest until I had a chance to backpack a little of it.

I navigated Grants Pass, this time pulling my heaviest load yet—43,000 pounds of wrapping paper—so I was forced to take the hills very slowly, around 25 mph, with my flashers on. I considered that, at 25 cents a mile, averaging 50 mph I make $12.50 an hour—but when I'm driving 25 mph I only make half that. Barely minimum wage.

And then I get to the Oregon weigh station in Ashland. Now, this is not my first Oregon weigh station. I went through the northbound Ashland station when I entered the state, and was weighed just out side of Portland after I had taken on this load (so I knew it was of legal weight). So, as I slowly crept over the scales, I was startled to see the green light turn red.

Did they really mean I should stop? Why? The other signs said to keep moving over the scale at 5 mph. Maybe it was a mistake? All this while, I kept creeping forward; my reverie was abruptly terminated by a pound on the passenger door. I jammed on the brakes and a blonde head came 'round the front of the cab and to my window.

"Don't tell me you didn't see that red light!" the woman who owned the head warned me.

"I saw it," I explained. "I just didn't know if…" I went through all the thoughts that had gone through my head, finally ending with an apologetic smile and a shrug. "I haven't been doing this very long," I added.

"Well, you're over-thinking it," she said (which is not the first time I've been accused of that). "Red lights here mean the same as anywhere else. Stop."

"Okay," I said. "I'm sorry. What do you want me to do?"

"Park over there," she said, pointing, "and come in with your permit book."

When I entered her little building, I found her seated at a computer screen, watching the weights of the trucks slowly rolling past her as they appeared: Steer wheels weight, drive wheel weights, tandem weights. She turned, though, and immediately gave me her full attention. "Let me see your Oregon Fuel Mileage Tax Permit," she said.

I opened my permit book, which is supposed to have every permit I'll ever need for every state in the Union, and Canada, alphabetically ordered. It had been in the tractor when I was assigned it, and Paul, the STL who interviewed me because Larry was spending the day actually riding in a truck, had looked it over and pronounced it complete. I turned to the Oregon section and asked, "Is it one of these?"

"I doubt it," she said, but looked anyway, then shook her head smugly.

"How did you know I was missing it?" I asked.

"I entered your license number into the computer when you came through, and you weren't listed."

"Oh."

"I always check Schneider trucks," she continued, "because for some reason Schneider doesn't want to spend the $5 per vehicle the permit costs. They wait until a truck is coming to Oregon for the first time to do it. I get them every time!"

"They didn't tell me about it," I said, as she handed me the ticket.

"They'll probably cover this for you," she said.

"Can't I just get one now?" I asked.

She shrugged. "I don't sell 'em. Normally, you would have bought yours when you first came into the state."

"But they didn't stop me," I explained.

She shrugged again. "Well, now it's too late. Give Schneider a call."

Which I fully intended to do.

From the payphone thoughtfully provided outside the weigh station.

Of course, I got put on hold for awhile, listening to Soft Hits of the Eighties while I tried to plan what I was going to say.

Finally, someone picked up and I barked my driver number, knowing that nothing else could proceed before that was done. The person said, "Hi, Paul. How are you doing?" He didn't really know my name, of course. We give them the driver number first, so they can look us up on the computer and create the illusion of actually knowing who we are.

"I need to speak with Larry," I said.

"He's at lunch right now. This is ———. Can I help?"

I'm not being discreet by not repeating the guy's name. I honestly didn't hear it, but I didn't care who he was. "You can try," I said. "Why the hell did Schneider send me to Oregon without a needed permit?" I proceeded to tell him the story in, I thought, a manner which conveyed the seriousness of the situation while maintaining a light touch so he wouldn't think I had lost my sense of humor.

"Remember who you're talking to," he said. "This is not my fault, so don't take it out on me."

Sometimes my humor can be a little too edgy.

"We'll get you out of this, so relax." We went into the details of what had transpired. I was on my way out of Oregon now, so I didn't really need the permit instantaneously. But I would need it, because now I had this ticket, which the woman had told me might be for a s much as $290. "Green Bay'll probably pay it," the STL assured me, although the level of assurance wasn't as positive as I would have preferred.

He told me the permit people would get the appropriate paper faxed to me immediately; I gave him the fax number at a TA in Redding, CA, where I planned to buy fuel.

So, conversation over and on his promise that he'd get the permit people working on this and would notify Larry, I hung up and started boarding my truck. I noticed another Schneider truck coming through the scales; its driver waved at me and I waved back, but was wrapped up enough in my own affairs that I didn't try to recognize him. I just hoped to God he already had his Fuel Mileage Tax Permit.

Two hours later, I pulled into a rest area and the other Schneider truck followed me in. To my surprise it was Ken, from training! He was the former trucker who had specialized in driving rock 'n' roll groups for shows, Icecapades and that sort of thing. We shook hands and marveled at how we might meet this way by chance. It was especially odd, I thought, since I had run into Wayne, my other pal from training, just the morning before, in Portland.

I complained about my ticket; Ken complained about the guy in small car who had caused his first accident. The guy had been cited by the police, so Ken was not in any trouble. "But it'll probably be awhile before they give me a newer truck, and I've got the oldest one of anyone in our class as it is!" And, sure enough, he had a 1997 where I had a 1998.

In truck years, they both should be dead.

I told him that, if we were actually going to being seeing each other occasionally, I should set the record straight about something. I told him I was gay, and the spouse I sometimes talked about was my husband, Michael.

"I thought you might be when we first met," he said. "Remember, I used to drive for the Icecapades. All male ice skaters are gay, did you know that?"

I wasn't sure how to respond to that, but he continued, "It never bothered me. In fact, sometimes we'd room together. It makes no difference to me."

After a chat that somehow took two hours, we said goodbye to each other and I continued on to Redding.

When I found the TA, I pulled right up to the fuel island, hopped out and ran my fuel card through the reader. "Driver number," it asked, and I typed that in. "Truck number", it asked, and I typed that in. "Mileage." "Trailer number." "Tractor license." "Tractor license state abbreviation." And on and on. Finally, at the last screen, it said, "Fueling denied. Driver call company."

I stared at it. It seemed pretty specific, without actually telling me anything. I mean, the problem didn't seem to be that I had mistyped my driver number or anything. Somehow, Schneider had reached out from Green Bay and now I couldn't fuel.

And, obviously, this had to have something to do with the ticket I had gotten.

What did they expect, that I would stay here with no fuel until they relented? Or the fine was paid?

And they hadn't even sent me a message on the Qualcomm!

I parked the truck, stalked to one of the payphones in front of the store, and dialed the number. Of course, now it was after 4 pm and Larry was gone for the day; but second shift would be there. Except…more Soft Hits of the Eighties, interrupted by the occasional reassurance that my call would "be answered in the order received."

I hate not being able to get through on the phone.

Once, years ago, shortly after my divorce from my first (and more conventional) spouse, I was teaching a class in New Jersey and had called my Mom at home to make sure she was doing all right in my absence. "I'm fine," she said, "but Jenny called and someone slashed her at the beach."

"What?!" I cried, horror-stricken to think of my little baby girl being sliced by some knife-wielding madman while sun bathing. Of course, she was now an adult but that didn't make the prospect any more acceptible. "Is she all right? Did she have to go to the hospital?"

"I don't know," Mom replied, "I know she had to go to the police department to identify the man who did it."

Well, if she was able to make it to the police department, she couldn't have lost too much blood. Still, the thought of that innocent little back scarred for the rest of her life chilled me to the bone.

Of course, I tried calling her home in Florida immediately, but got no answer. And I had to go to class; the students were waiting for me.

All day, during each break, I tried calling again. No answer. Was Jenny in the hospital? How many stitches did she have to have? Why on earth would someone do something like this to my baby?

Finally, at the end of the day, I got through to someone: Jenny's boyfriend, Jimmy. "How is Jennifer?" I asked.

"She's fine," he said.

"Did she have to go to the hospital?" I asked.

"No—why? Is something wrong?"

Eventually we got our stories straight. It turned out that Jenny hadn't been slashed at the beach, after all—she had been flashed at the beach, at which point Jenny took one look at the guy, burst out laughing, and said, "That looks just like a penis, only smaller!" The poor man had a nervous breakdown on the spot, was carted away by police, and Jenny later had to pick him out of a lineup.

Mom, not knowing the word "flash" in this sense, had adapted the story so it made sense to her.

Anyway, my reverie was interrupted (after forty minutes) by a ring and, finally, a second shift support person named Tad. I explained what had happened; he checked on his computer, and said, "Well your fuel card's in good shape, so it isn't that. Where are you?"

"The TA in Redding," I answered.

After a pause, he said, "Well, that's the problem. That TA isn't an authorized fuel stop."

"It's not? It's on the fuel map!"

"It's a green dot. That means light maintenance, not fuel. You'll have to go down to Corning for fuel."

"Green dot?"

"Yeah, that map sucks, doesn't it?"

Fortunately, Corning was only another half-hour or so down I-5, and I had the fuel to make it.

So, what lessons have I learned today?

  • Don't expect to have all the permits I need, or anyway of being warned in advance that I might be missing one
  • Don't expect that being passed by one scale in a state means you're actually legal there
  • Don't assume the fuel map's purpose is to actually tell me where I can buy fuel

More than ever, I wonder if it will ever be possible to "get" all this.

But, it will certainly be challenge to try!

It looks just like a job, only bigger.