By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 7/14/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 1663
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

I had asked for a guaranteed time at home. This is somewhat different from "time at home", which we also have to ask for. If I request time at home for, say, next weekend, I might get home on Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday, or even Monday. Time at home is approximate.

But guaranteed time at home is supposed to be different. It's used for doctor appointments, or court dates, or birthday parties. Schneider drivers are limited to six of them a year. I'd had one back in January or February for a doctor appointment. Now, I asked for another one, for May 16th, for two reasons: Michael had to be back home in time for his first class at Glendale Community College on Monday, and our grandson, Zachary, was having his fourth birthday party.

His birthday would actually not be until May 22nd; but since that's in the middle of the week we all agreed to celebrate on the weekend before.

And, to maximize the usefulness of the precious guaranteed day, I also made a follow-up doctor's appointment for Friday.

Now, Michael and I had come to Oregon, and expected my next assignment would bring us home. We certainly had plenty of time to make it.

And the assignment arrived. Bring an empty trailer down to the Eugene area, and have it loaded with particle board to be taken to Phoenix. Our pickup appointment at the lumber yard was at 7 pm, and if we hurried we had time to make it, which would work out perfectly.

So we picked up the empty trailer, and pulled into a Pilot truck stop a few miles from the lumber yard for fuel. Since we were in a hurry, Michael ran in to get us soft drinks and something from the built-in Wendy's while I fueled. I finished before he came back, so I started the truck and pulled ahead so the truck behind me could fuel while I was waiting. I engaged the brakes and stopped the truck again. Finally, Michael returned and got in. I started the engine, released the brakes, and tried to move forward.

Nothing happened.

I re-engaged the brakes, then released them again, and again tried to move forward.

Still nothing.

I checked the tractor brakes alone, then the trailer brakes. It appeared the problem was with the trailer brakes. I hopped out to make sure the air line hadn't come loose or broken. It hadn't, but I could definitely hear the hiss of air coming from somewhere.

So my truck, the Eric Idle, was broken down again.

I sent the messages. Michael ran back to tell the driver behind us that he'd have to back out of the fuel island, and then to block the island with a garbage can so no one else would get stuck there. After the usual hour delay, a message came from Road Repair telling me it would be another hour before the repair people could arrive.

So much for making my appointment at the lumber yard on time. According to the work assignment, they weren't open all night, either; I would now have to wait until morning. Assuming we were running by then.

When the repair people showed up, it turned out they were located on the grounds and would have been there sooner, but had only just received the call from Schneider. The problem was, indeed, in the trailer brakes but they weren't sure just what was wrong. Finally, they forced the brakes to release and then they worked perfectly. Unable to recreate the problem, the repair folks told us we were good to go.

But go where? I was in favor of staying right at the Pilot until morning. Parking spaces were filling up fast, but there still were a few. However, Michael was developing an allergy to diesel fumes and was vehement about not staying there. The map showed a rest area between the Pilot and the lumber yard, so I reluctantly agreed to try for it.

As I'd warned, all the regular parking spaces were filled. However, there was room on the exit ramp for a truck, although it wasn't quite level. There were trees around us, though; and it was quite and peaceful. By now, Michael was coughing and choking. I offered to sleep in the top bunk, since he claimed his ears were so stuffed his balance was off and he might fall if he tried to climb into it. I knew it, I thought. I just knew I'd wind up in the upper bunk before this was over.

And, because we weren't level, we both spent the night drifting into the bulkhead by our heads, and having to half-awaken and scoot back down toward our feet again.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

In the morning, we hurried the remaining few miles to the lumber yard to pick up our assigned load…which, when we got there, I found had been given to someone else. "They just left with it," the shipping manager told me, as if a near miss would be less annoying than if it had gone out the night or a week before.

So I trudged back to the truck and sent the appropriate messages. Three hours later, a new assignment came in. Same particle board, same amount, but going to Sacramento instead of Phoenix.

While they loaded the empty trailer—and why couldn't they have done it earlier, since all the loads had the same contents?—I contacted Debbie, my dispatcher, via the phone. "What about my guaranteed time at home?" I asked. She had to look it up, after entering my driver ID wrong twice, as usual.

"We might have to relay your load," she admitted after a moment.

"No shit," I agreed.

It was mid-afternoon before the loading was complete. There was one false alarm: The guy loading it said he was done, and had me leave the dock and take it to the yard's scales. Then he said, "You have room for more. Return to the dock and I'll load it for me."

For me? I was the one person not benefiting from the additional cargo. But I did as he asked, and finally, around three in the afternoon, Michael and I started on our way. But not before a wind filled the tractor cab with sawdust, which further irritated Michael's lungs.

The drive over Lake Shasta and through the exquisite wonders of Northern California was missed by Michael, who spent most of the afternoon sleeping, or trying to—he has always said he can't sleep in a moving vehicle, but he tried.

Much later, as we approached Sacramento, a revision came in to my work request. We were, indeed, to drop-relay the particle board load, and to bobtail over Donner Pass to Fernley, Nevada, for a Honeywell load that would take us to Phoenix.

But it wouldn't be in time. There was now, no legal way for us to get to Phoenix by Friday. Zachary's birthday party was scheduled for Saturday, anyway; but my doctor appointment would have to be postponed.

We wound up spending the night at the 49er Truck Stop in West Sacramento. I had hoped to be able to get up to Donner Pass, but by now Michael needed frequent visits to the little boy's room and I was beat , anyway.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Michael felt well enough to appreciate the scenery along I-80 as it climbs to over 7,000 feet at Donner Summit. But he was still coughing and blowing his nose. Whatever had gotten his sinuses, had gotten them good. He isn't really accustomed to breathing fresh air (he lived most of his life in New York City, where they don't have any) and it might have been as simple as that.

In any case, we were now supposed to pick up an empty trailer, which was specified, in Sparks, Nevada, on our way to Fernley. That was fine; I knew where the drop yard was. However, when we got there, the trailer I'd been assigned, was not there.

Okay, so another delay. I sent the appropriate message. Two hours went by with no reply. I sent another message. I tried calling, but after 30 minutes on hold on my cell phone I gave up. Another hour passed. I tried calling again, and this time I got someone who was willing to release one of the other empty trailers in the lot to me. It was now clear that we would not be home on Saturday, either, and would miss Zachary's birthday party.

With the empty behind us, we changed for a loaded trailer at Honeywell—an operation that went smoothly, thank God—and headed south through the rolling hills of Nevada and past beautiful Walker Lake. I would love to spend the night there, sometime; but for now we pushed on, spending the night on a mountain summit north of Las Vegas. Along the way, we managed to get in touch with Zachary's mother, who agreed to postpone the party until Sunday. Since only family members were attending, that wasn't such an imposition as it might otherwise have been.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

We drove through Las Vegas, and Searchlight (trucks can no longer driver over Hoover Dam), and Kingman, and along the Joshua Tree State Highway, US 95, in Arizona. I played a book-on-tape on effective listening that Michael had brought. But I didn't hear any of it; I was too concerned over all the delays we'd experienced, hoping there wouldn't be any more. It was late night when we finally arrived in Phoenix. This load, too, had been set up for relay so I was able to bobtail to the parking lot near my neighborhood where I park the truck when it doesn't have a load. Michael and I agreed to postpone unloading until the next day.

Michael's trip, his vacation, his trucking experience, was over. I hoped he'd be glad he went if he recovered from his pneumonia, or whatever it was he had.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Finally, finally, we met for Zachary's party. It was held at one of those places where you buy overpriced pizza and watch the little ones play games. Here, the one thing that caught Zachary's attention was one of those giant tube-climbing things like they have at McDonald's and Burger Kings. Those are free. This one had to be paid for, but Zachary was having a great time.

Having only a four-year-old's patience, he had already opened his presents. He'd waited almost until we got there. I thought, here's a kid with a future in shipping. I could picture that lumber yard shipping manager saying the same thing when he was four.

But a high spot of his birthday was getting to see Papa's truck.

Zachary calls me Big Papa, and Michael, Baby Papa. We don't really know where he made these names up from. Well, the Papa part comes from how he pronounced names when he was two. If it had two syllables, he would simply say the last syllable twice. So Grandma became Ma-Ma, and Grandpa became Pa-Pa. He needed to distinguish between Michael and me, and he may have heard me call Michael "Babe", which is our term of endearment for each other. It certainly isn't a reference to our relative sizes, as Michael is taller than I. (I won't say wider, only because he will be reading this. But look at the photos of us on this site.)

Michael and I had already unloaded the truck, done the laundry, and re-stocked it for my next trip out. Zachary got to sit on the bunk, pretend to sleep, sit in the seats, play the radio, and look out the upper windows from the upper bunk. Finally, he gave me a big hug and said, "I love you truck, Papa!"

But then a sad look crossed his face. "You not go away, Papa."

"Well, I have to, but not for a few days."

"Why you go?" He almost looked like he would cry. "I not like you be gone."

"I don't like to go, either," I said. "But that's my work. You know, like Mommy has to go to work, and Mama, and Daddy." Mama, as I said, is his grandmother; and Daddy is his Aunt Karen—he started calling her that after someone at his first school apparently told the kids that mommies take care of the house and daddies go to work. But he knows everyone has to go to "work", including him—he calls his pre-school "work".

"Remember my old work?" he asked, suddenly, his eyes brightening.

"You mean, the Montessori school you went to when you were very little?" I was surprised he remembered; he'd been two when my daughters had changed him to another pre-school called "La Petit".

"Daddy found me a La Petit closer to home," he explained. "Maybe Daddy can find a La Petit for you."

I was so touched, my eyes stung. This four-year old was trying to find a solution to a problem—the problem being, the amount of time I was away. Not only that, but given what he knew of the world, it was a workable solution. My daughter, Karen, had found him a place to "work" that was closer to home, so why couldn't she do the same for me?

"Maybe I can find work closer to home," I said. "I can't promise, but I'll look. It might take time, though." I picked him up and kissed his cheek. "And, meanwhile," we can go swimming. Okay?"

He grinned and hugged me and we proceeded to put on bathing suits and head for the pool.

Later, when it was time to say goodbye, Zachary began to cry. I hugged him, and said, "Why are you sad?" though I knew.

"I not want you to go," he wept.

"Here, let's try something," I said. "Close your eyes." He did so, and I tapped his breastbone with my index finger. "Under here," I said, "is your heart. I want you to take your mind and put it in your heart, and find where I am. Because I am in your heart."

In less than two seconds, the little boy laughed out loud. "I did it!" he cried, happily, and opened his eyes.

"Now, whenever you are lonely and you miss me," I instructed, " I want you to look inside your heart and find me, okay?"

Zachary grinned and hugged me. "I loves you, Papa," he said.

"I love you, too, Zachary. But I won't miss you while I'm gone, because you're in my heart, too."

The time off, shortened because of the bad trailer, assignment mix-up, missing trailer, and so on, would seem all the shorter now. Yet I couldn't afford to take extra days off. I was torn between wanting to spend more time with Zachary and the rest of my loved ones, and getting back to work to pay the rent.

Fortunately, I know where to find them all.