By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 8/21/2018
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 963
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

This morning's delivery was scheduled for 8 am, near the Fontana Operating Center. It came from Phoenix, and I was supposed to have started out with it around ten in the morning. But I got a late start, having to fill my high blood pressure prescription before I left town; and then, after I did get started, I couldn't resist stopping at the El Dorado Hot Springs in Tonopah for a quick soak. So, by the time I got to Fontana, it was 1:30 am. Legally, I was required to shut down for eight hours. But, since my log indicated I had arrived at 11:00 pm the previous night, reality and fiction collided once again and I pulled into the consignee's yard at just 8 am—still needing a couple hours' more sleep. I figured I would get it while they unloaded my truck, which was estimated at two hours.

The consignee was Big Lots, a dollar store gone corporate. I still remember the Five and Ten Cent Stores, though by the time I was old enough to shop there was nothing but candy bars that sold there for a dime. Now, dollar stores are the rage, another sign of creeping inflation.

I was delivering a truck load of toilet paper, another irony. We humans are the only species on the planet that needs toilet paper, because we're the only one that eats foods that aren't good for us. Specifically, processed sugar in the diet is the only reason we had sticky stools that need to be wiped off. Indigenous peoples, before the missionaries get them hooked on sugar, don't use toilet paper (or leaves) and have no need to. They also don't get diabetes or tooth decay. Neither dentists nor toilet paper were needed prior to the 1700s, when the processing of cane sugar by slaves made sugar available to the average Westerner.

(There were dentists, of course; but they doubled as barbers since very few people's teeth became decayed enough to need pulling.)

Docking the trailer was a nightmare. There was an unfortunately positioned flatbed trailer right in front of my assigned dock. It wasn't docked or even parked; just kind of sitting on the pavement. I mentioned to the yard dog, who was flitting around in his little tractor, that it would be nice if he could move it to an appropriate parking space. He replied that I had plenty of room to dock and, if I were any kind of truck driver, I wouldn't need the obstacle removed.

Fuming, I backed into my dock. It took twenty minutes of back-and-forth, back-and-forth; but finally it was done and I was in place. Time for my nap.

Except the Schneider driver from the next truck wandered over to say hello. He was a nice enough chap and we chatted for a bit. I was sleepy, though; and it wasn't that interesting a conversation. The only high point was when I mentioned I hoped to go to a convention in Tennessee in the spring. "What kind of convention?" he asked.

"Well, it's a gay truck drivers' convention," I explained, tapping my finger on the rainbow sticker on my window.

He didn't bat an eye. "Cool!" he said, easily, and continued on with his next topic, something about the Super Bowl.

We had talked for the whole two hours when he decided to go check on his load. I was, frankly, hoping mine wasn't done yet—another hour would be nice. I quickly moved back to my bunk, so my head wouldn't be in the window if he returned for more conversation.

And I slept, and woke around noon. Actually, the reason I woke was the loud thump in the trailer behind me. They were still unloading! I glanced outside and found my friend had gone. Well, he had arrived ahead of me. I shrugged and went back to sleep.

I woke again at two; they were still unloading. And the reason I awoke, this time, was because someone was pounding on my door. "Yeah?" I asked, moving into the front of the cab, and looking outside into the face of the yard dog.

"I'm going to have to ask you to uncouple," he said. "I have to move a trailer into the dock on the other side of you, and it's a long one."

I looked over to the empty dock to my right. This was a dreadfully arranged warehouse; docks were placed as if they had mostly been afterthoughts. Still, now that he had moved the flatbed that had been blocking me earlier, it didn't look like it would be that difficult to get in.

"If you were any kind of a truck driver," I said, grinning, "you'd be able to back into that hole whether I was here or not!"

He looked at me, startled. "Is that you?" he asked. "You're still here?"

"'Fraid so," I replied. "Any idea how much longer?"

"People stay here all day," he said. "Please, can you uncouple?"

I did so, and it was still hard for him to get into—and I don't know why; I could have hit that particular hole easily. I suppose we each have our specialties, and that particular approach must not have been one of his.

Afterwards, we chatted a little more. "I used to drive for MS Carriers," he said, referring to a company that has since been bought up by Swift. "I hated coming here to Big Lots. I used to call it 'Big Waits', because of the time unloading always took them."

"Then, how did you come to work for them?" I asked, surprised.

He shrugged. "I was waiting here so long, one day, that I filled out an application just for the hell of it. They had completed my background check and decided to offer me a job before they were finished unloading! So I took the job. I figured, I could drive for MS Carriers and not get paid to wait for unloading, or I could work here, and get paid for the same time. So, here I am!"

It was 2:30 pm before I finally got the green light and was able to leave. I returned to Fontana for a shower and lunch. While there, I walked back to the offices and looked up Larry, my old dispatcher.

"Hey, Paul!" he called in good humor. "What can I do for you?"

"I was wondering," I said, "if you could tell me why I didn't get my bonus last quarter? My new dispatcher tells me that I have to ask you, since I was working for you at the time."

"Well, let's see," Larry said cheerfully, leafing through a computer printout that had been on his desktop. "Yeah, here we are. Looks like you over-idled."

I stared at him. "That's not possible," I said. "You told me to report my idle hours to you and I did, every one of them. I never missed one, never. So, unless you didn't back them out as you said you did…"

"No, I backed them out," he said. "Are you sure you didn't miss any?"

"Positive," I said. "Check my Qualcomm messages. I sent you my idle hours every weekday, reporting the weekend hours on Mondays."

"I will look into it," he promised.

Back in the cafeteria, I ran into Bob, my JumpStart instructor. I told him about the missing bonus. "Have your Qualcomm checked," he advised. "When I was driving, my Qualcomm was defective. It was reporting every minute that the truck was turned off as idle time. The way I finally proved it, I had them print out a list of all my data points. It was easy to show that the truck reporting idling all day on days I was actually at home, not in the truck at all."

I thanked him for the information, and ran back to Larry, passing it on to him. "So all you have to do," I said, "is get a printout of all my data points for the quarter. You see I have more idle hours than engine hours."

"Well, I'll pass that on to Tom," he said. Tom is Larry's TOM, or Team Operations Leader, a convenient conjunction of name and acronym. "I told him about the situation, and he took it over. But I gotta tell you," Larry added with a wry tone, "this will probably take a long time to research. I mean, a long time." He stretched the word out, emphasizing its meaning.

"A big wait," I said, to show I understood.

"Big wait," Larry agreed.

After my shower, belated lunch, and downloading of my email, I got back in the truck for my next pickup. It, too, was around the corner from the Operating Center; the load was supposed to have been ready at noon. However, when I got there, the paperwork had not yet been printed out. "But the truck was ready at noon," the shipping clerk was quick to point out. Without the paperwork, the truck's having been loaded meant nothing. I still wouldn't have been able to take it away.

An hour or so later, though, the paperwork was complete and I was on my way to Central California with a load of Kleenex. I had gone from toiler tissue to nose tissue, which at least seemed like a step up.

All I need to do, I thought, as I drove slowly up the Grapevine, is figure out a way to pass them time during these long waits. Something useful. Of course, I write during most of them; but I'm not always in the mood for writing. I need to do something non-writing, non-cerebral. I thought of lifting weights. If I had a set of dumbbells, I could lie in my bunk and work my biceps, my chest, even my abs if I did crunches. Of course, they couldn't be big weights; I couldn't afford to add hundreds of pounds to the weight of my tractor. Everything in the tractor: me, my CDs, even my cans of fruit and spaghetti, are included when they weigh the rig. It would be embarrassing if my weights caused me to get an overweight ticket.

But maybe I could use littler weights.

Of course, I wouldn't need them at all if I could figure out a way to have littler waits.