By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 1/17/2018
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 723
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky,
Stormy weather
Since my babe and I ain't together
Seems it's rainin' all the time.

I received my assignment days ago: a load of electronics from the Schneider Border Drop Yard in Otay, California, to a warehouse in Sparks, Nevada. However, the starter on my truck gave out and had to be fixed. I recommended to Debbie, my dispatcher (they call them STRs but I'm about ready to give up on all these acronyms—truckers seem to be worse than programmers in that regard) that she relay the load to someone us. Unfortunately, there was no one else—not a single unoccupied driver within a hundred miles, so she said. I was sent to the dreaded Days Inn motel while they worked on my truck, where I realized I had forgotten to bring my contact lens cleaning kit. So I had to sleep in my lenses and hope I'd be able to open my eyes the next day.

It was not an auspicious send-off. It was, in fact, pouring rain, something that I had on good authority (Albert Hammond's) never happens in Southern California. I had to wade across the Schneider Operating Center yard to my truck, had to re-couple it to the trailer in the rain, during which I managed to get a blotch of trailer grease on the back of my jacket. That meant I had to take it off before getting in the truck or I'd get grease on the back of my seat and that would get all my shirts and jackets greasy. So, when I finally set out through L.A. traffic, which isn't pleasant in the best of weather, I was completely drenched, chilly, greasy, and not in the best of moods.

Just as I was leaving, I overheard one trucker tell another on the CB that there'd been a mudslide on I-15. That was the route I had intended to take. I sent a Qualcomm message to Debbie telling her about the mudslide and asking her to give me a routing point through Sacramento since that's the way I'd have to go. Expecting to get confirmation shortly, I headed in that direction. However, she gets off work at four; and as four approached and I hadn't heard anything from her—by now I was on I-210 heading towards I-5—I called her on my cell phone. "Oh, no," she said. "The mudslide is on I-5. You'll have to go on I-15."

"But I'm already on I-210, almost to I-5."

She got out her map and gave me an alternate route that would get me back on I-15 without going too many extra miles: CA 14 to CA 138.

But the traffic was barely moving. I drove for four hours at 4 mph, getting almost nowhere.

Eventually, I got to CA 14 and even that was packed. The traffic began to ease after I got on CA 138, but the road undulates and each depression was filled with water, some more than others. It wasn't much of a problem for my big rig, but four-wheelers were lying scattered, here and there, having lost control and spun into ditches, and I had to dodge the tow trucks that had been dispatched to get them.

Michael called on the cell phone to mention that I had forgotten our anniversary the day before. It was in February of 1997 that I had proposed to him during a sunset cruise off Key West. I gave him a ring and everything, and the other passengers—straight couples and families—applauded when he accepted.

It was hard to remember when I had been that romantic. I didn't feel at all romantic now, still damp from my soaking that afternoon, with grease on the back of my jacket, and day-old contact lenses in my eyes.

Flash flood warning signs had been knocked down by, presumably, flash floods and sections of road were covered with mud, sand, or silt. These sections came on me unexpectedly because I couldn't really see them through the fog. Visibility varied between 50 feet and none. (Remember, my trailer is 53 feet long; I couldn't see the end of it, just a hazy glow from its taillights.)

I-15 was clear enough; my next exit was US 395, where I got back into the flood/mud/fog routine. I still couldn't drive at even the 55 mph maximum that California allows.

And my delivery was supposed to take place at 6:30 the next morning!

Well, that wasn't going to happen. I sent in a MAC 29, the message that says when we expect to get there really as opposed to when they wanted us there. I announced that I could make it by 2 the next afternoon, if there was no more rain, snow, fog, mud, or ice. I then pulled over, it now being almost midnight, and went to sleep.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

The morning dawned, but it did not do so brightly. A heavy layer of cloud hung overhead, and I knew there'd be fog and probably worse up ahead. Still, there was no point in sitting where I was. For one thing, I was hungry.

I stopped in Lone Pine, a small town on US 395 that I'd stopped at before. I got a Diet Coke and a ham and Swiss sandwich at the deli—as close as I was to come to breakfast on this day. As far behind as I was, I had to eat while driving. I had already sent in a new MAC 29 with an estimated delivery time of 4 pm.

Although there were still sections of fog, when it isn't thick it isn't really much of a problem in the day. The fact that I was now wearing dry clothes and was rested also helped my mood. And the fact is, US 395, which follows the Eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains, is a spectacularly beautiful route, no matter what the weather. There were sections where fog banks roiled behind the hills near the road, but still couldn't completely hide the great peaks that rose behind them. There were even places where the sun shone, though they never lasted long.

In Bishop, Debbie had urged me to stop at a Danish bakery there that she loves. Unfortunately, there was neither time nor parking space to do so. You have to pass up a lot of cool stuff in a big rig simply because there's nowhere to park it.

The altitude began to rise, bring the Eric Idle and me closer to all these heavy clouds. Soon, it again appeared to be fog but now rain precipitated from it and then big, fat snow flakes as we rose above the snow line. Fortunately, it wasn't sticking to the ground, yet—but I could only imagine what it would have been like if I'd reached here at 3 or 4 in the morning, which would have happened if I hadn't pulled over.

I had never driven the length of US 395 before, just short sections. Now I got to Lee Vining, a town I had visited with my son, John, back in 1995 when he and I visited Yosemite. This town is noted for a spectacular body of water, Mono Lake. In the summer, you can rent kayaks and canoes and paddle around the lake, visiting the strange mineral formations that decorate it. This time of year, however, everything was closed—even the Burger Barn.

The lake itself was stunningly still, reflecting everything in it and past it as if it were actually made of silver. If there were a lake on Mars, one suspects this is what it would look like. And, considering that the lake covers far more area than Lee Vining, it simply underscores the winter isolation of the place.

Which brought me back to my missed anniversary. I hadn't planned on being home for it; I have a guaranteed time at home planned for March 5-7, when my Mom is coming for the summer and my sister and her husband are accompanying her. I'll also be missing Michael's birthday, though only by a week and we plan to celebrate it when Mom gets here, anyway.

And this is only an anniversary, anyway. It's the anniversary of when I proposed. We also have an anniversary of when we met (in November; we're both fuzzy about the date but it was on a Thursday—we watched Star Trek: Voyager together) and, of course, our actual wedding anniversary on August 12. In previous years, we celebrated minor anniversaries like this with a special meal and maybe watching some classic movie together. Now, I couldn't even remember what I had eaten on the eleventh, just that I'd been in the motel while my truck was being repaired.

And yet, the scenery I was passing was so unbelievably beautiful that I kept finding myself compelled to pull over and take quick shots out the truck window. Not even a warning that this was an avalanche area could completely dampen my spirits. I was alone, yet I was alone with a whole planet and its hard to feel lonely with a trillion animal and plant companions at hand.

Besides, in spite of the sign, it was clear there wasn't enough snow built up for an avalanche. In spite of the weather through which I was now driving, there really hasn't been enough snow around here to be dangerous, except to the bottom lines of the local ski resorts.

And so, after driving through rain, mud, fog, flood, and snow, I finally arrived at the warehouse in Sparks, at 4 pm as I'd promised. "You'll have to make another appointment," the guard told me. "No one's here."

"I didn't have an appointment for 4 pm?" I asked.

"No, your appointment was for 6:30 this morning, and you missed it."

So, in spite of my keeping the folks at Customer Service advised of my estimated arrival time, they had never bothered to notify the actual customer.

As I retraced my tracks a few miles, intending to fuel up and sleep at the Alamo Truck Stop in Sparks, a message arrived on the Qualcomm: "Your appointment is scheduled for tomorrow morning, 2/14/03 at 6:30."

Great. Valentine's Day. I haven't even sent Michael a card.

Talk about stormy weather…