By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/20/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver Page Views: 1411
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Friday, May 30, 2003

In the beginning, man (and woman) didn't need machines. Our ancestors did just fine, thank you, with the occasional twig or rock. As she does for all her children, the Earth provided all we could eat, just for the picking. "See the lily of the field," the Gospel says. "Not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as finely as one of these." But that didn't stop us from trying to gild the lily.

Clothing, probably originally adopted in mimicry of the Nibiruan visitors (if this is an unfamiliar topic to you, see Genesis Revisited on this web site), made it possible for us to live outside the climate zone normal to our species. But then, we quickly lost the ability to live in any climate zone without them, creating the thriving textiles and fashion industries. Even nudists dress for dinner.

Fire also made it possible to survive long winter nights we had no business being in. It was 700,000 years before an odd adaptation of fire, electricity, produced the air conditioner that allowed us to survive hot summer nights in climates we also have no business being in. (I am thinking, here, of Phoenix, where I live when I am not driving the truck.)

Which brings us to trucks, and the question of whether or not to idle.

Summer is hot. Especially in Arizona, where I had picked up today's load, from Reckitt Benckiser. Last week's load from there came in a damaged trailer and almost caused an accident. This week's was less dramatic, but I slept in the same place, Tonopah, having gotten the same late start; and the nighttime temperature was over 90. I idled in order to run the air conditioner. I'd have gotten no sleep, otherwise. As it was, I tossed and turned, concerned over the possible loss of my bonus for idling too much.

The rules of last year changed in January. Now, we are allowed to idle 15% in the spring and fall. That's 15% of the engine time. If we spend most nights in the north, where idling is usually not necessary, 15% should cover those evenings when we are in the south. I hope. At least I can monitor my idling percentage; it's one of the features of the Qualcomm.

This load is a humdinger: It has three additional stops, besides the final one. The first two stops are in the Portland, Oregon area. The last two are in Bellevue, Washington. All four stops are scheduled for June 3, four days from now. The trip has a lot of miles, 1472 to be exact, which is a good thing. I need them. And, since the first delivery is scheduled for 5 am, four days for the trip is not unreasonable; the last day will be spent just making deliveries.

The problem is that stop two is scheduled at 10 am, and is expected to take three hours to unload. If it does, I will not be able to get to Washington in time for the 5 pm stop three unload there. I send a message over the Qualcomm notifying my dispatcher of this fact. Usually when I send this sort of message, I get a response to "do my best". I always wonder what this means. Do my best at violating the laws of physics? Do my best to be at two places at once? In any case, this time I don't even get a response.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

In the Jeff Roadworthy, the loaner truck I am borrowing while its regular driver is recovering from a hospital stay, there are a bunch of gadgets I, myself, can't afford and so do not have. Laine, the truck's regular driver, has XM radio, a TV/VCR combo, and other things. This will give me a chance to try out the stuff, so I will know how badly I am missing out.

Because I could play with it while driving, I decided to start out with the XM radio.

XM radio broadcasts are transmitted via satellites so there are no local stations to fade out or lose as one drives. The signals are digital and oversampled so that there is no static whatsoever. They are also buffered, so that if one drives through a short tunnel the music continues to play. (It only seems to buffer about ten seconds; after that, the sound switches off until one re-enters the outside world.)

There are over 100 channels to choose from, which is almost too much. They are organized pretty well. There are channels devoted to music from each decade from the 1940s to the present. There are channels devoted to current hit music of every genre. And not just one each—there are three country music channels. There are two classical music channels, and one that plays music from motion picture soundtracks.

Now, I have all this music—all that I like, anyway—on my laptop already. And I'd rather play what I want to hear, than accept what XM wants to send. So I concentrated on the other channels.

There are three comedy channels. I spent most of today playing them. Bill Cosby, Bill Engvall, Jeff Foxworthy, Bob Newhart, Chris Rock, Henny Youngman…comics, new and old, racy and family-oriented, non-stop. I found myself literally laughing the miles away. Until they started repeating. After about eight hours of constant comedy, I began hearing routines they'd played hours earlier. Apparently there aren't quite enough hours of recorded comedy to support three 24/7 channels of it. Perhaps they should add some Presidential speeches to the mix. President Clinton's "I did not have sex with that woman" speech is always good for a laugh. Too bad President G. W. Bush's facial expression as he tried to pretend the attack on the World Trade Center was a surprise to him, could not be seen over the radio.

Another trucker favorite on XM radio is Coast to Coast. This used to be the Art Bell show. Its host, no longer Art Bell, interviews UFO abductees, experts on ghosts, and the like. Everyone says I must love this show but I generally find it rather boring. The information is stuff I work with every day; I don't find it unbelievable or astonishing or even cutting edge. So I tend to tune out quickly.

And, of course, there are no end of news broadcasts. You would think that truckers, switching from one to the other, would get suspicious that they all have exactly the same news. Surely, in matters of world affairs, there must be some room for difference of opinion? But all the news channels, CNN, MSNBC, and so on, are owned, ultimately, by the World Bank and serve to spoon feed the world's population with exactly the disinformation the Bank wants us to have, so that we, as a group, will mostly do what they want us to do to further their own profits. And so all the commercial news is exactly the same. Do you like your lies served up by Tom Brokaw, or do you prefer them from Peter Jennings? Because that's the choice you have in commercial news.

The World Bank is horrified by the Internet. It never saw that coming. In a few clicks you can get opposing opinions on anything. Some of them are bogus, of course; and some are the rantings of idiots. But many of them are thoughtful, challenging, frightening and enlightening. Some of my favorites are:

But, you can't get any alternative information on XM. Even Coast to Coast is so sanitized as to be useless, which is why it doesn't really interest me.

In addition to buying the XM radio receiver itself, you would need an XM antenna. You would also need some way of hearing the broadcasts. Laine used a fairly typical setup, a cassette-shaped adaptor that plugs into the XM radio receiver and allows it to play through the truck's built-in radio. This is the same technique I use to play music from my laptop.

But, once you have purchased the hardware, you still aren't through. XM radio is available by subscription only. You have to pay about $10 a month to be able to play the thing. This is more than I want to spend on music I already have, "news" that is merely government-sponsored disinformation, and comedy reruns. So, while I did enjoy it today, I doubt if I'll turn it on again.

Sunday, June 1, 2003

After spending the night at the Avenal TA truck stop, I got an early start and continued my trek north. I was still sleepy, though. Too much comedy, or not enough sleep? I don't know; but I had plenty of time so I took a three-hour nap along the way.

When I got to the "view point" parking lot across from Mt. Shasta's north face, I stopped to take a breather. There was one car parked there ahead of me, its owner taking photos of the huge, snow-capped volcano. I joined him, though I didn't bother to take another photo—I've already taken half-a-dozen from this vantage.

The sun was just setting, casting a pink glow to the mountain's western side. A plume of smoke drifted, as usual, from the hidden caldera near the peak. The plume picked up tones of pink and blue, like a blanket for a baby whose gender has not yet been ascertained. The slopes, so far from us yet absolutely distinct in the crisp, dry air, seemed to pull us in. I so want to hike that mountain.

The guy next to me lowered his camera and shook his head, as if stunned. "It just makes you feel so insignificant, doesn't it?" he said.

"Insignificant? No," I disagreed. "Why would you feel insignificant?"

"Well," the guy said, "it's so big. I'm so small. It's a mountain; it will last forever…and I'll be gone and forgotten in a few more decades."

I nodded. "Well, size isn't important. An atom is a lot smaller than that mountain, but without atoms there would be no mountain. As far as being gone and forgotten…have you no family, no friends? No one whose life you've touched?"

"Well, I have kids…"

"Don't you think they'll remember you?"

"Well, sure…"

"And haven't the things you passed on to them, won't the effect of those things be with them for the rest of their lives, and go on to affect their children and their children's children, even down to generations that truly have forgotten who you, as an individual, were?"

He thought about this. "Yeah. I guess. I never thought of it that way. But, still—we're each just one cog in the wheel, aren't we? If I weren't my kids' dad, some other guy would have been. What's the difference?"

I nodded at the mountain in front of us, quickly becoming a deeper blue as the sun set, except for the summit, which remained brilliant gold. "It is beautiful. But it's a mountain. It can't think. It can't appreciate it's own beauty. That's what we're here for. We're the eyes and ears of the Universe. We're its consciousness. And every one of us has his or her own unique point of view. You and I, we're standing in front of the same mountain; yet you see it from the standpoint of your history, attitudes, and emotions and I see it from the standpoint of mine. Our perceptions of the mountain are quite different. You express insignificance; I feel joy at sharing the same space and time with the grand old lady."

"Really." He seemed to try on my point of view for size. "Interesting viewpoint. But, if everyone has a viewpoint—well, we're still just cogs in the machine. What's one more viewpoint, more or less?"

I borrowed a line I once read in a Star Trek novel. "'Imagine a mine full of diamonds. There might be a million diamonds there, or a hundred million. Pick any one up. It's still beautiful. It's still a diamond.' Friend, it doesn't matter how many people there are. Each one is beautiful, and beauty is its own justification."

I left him, then, knowing I had just a few hours to get to McCredie Hot Springs, where I wanted to spend the night.

Monday, June 2, 2003

Officially, I arrived at the hot springs today. Actually, I got here last night. I simply marked on my log where I ran out of hours, as if I stayed there. I could do this, because I was reasonably sure there would be no policemen asking to see my log on this country road. I would do it, because I was the one who wanted to sleep at the springs.

Note to the DOT: Remember, this is a work of fiction. I would never falsify a log in real life!

But, now, I could spend the whole day at the springs, because my deliveries did not start until tomorrow morning.

I soaked, ate, napped, soaked some more. People came and left. It was wonderful to be able to listen to birdsongs and the laughter of water without having to strain over the roar of a diesel engine.

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Okay, here's the big day. A day full of deliveries.

I left at 1:15 am for Clackamus, Oregon (a suburb of Portland). My first delivery was scheduled for 5 am, and I got there exactly on time. I napped in the sleeper while the nice customers unloaded for me.

The next stop wasn't until 10 am in Milwaukie, Oregon, just a few miles from the first stop. I parked at a Sears in Milwaukie and napped again until 9:30 am.

This one turned out to be a problem, though. The directions to it were wrong, and, in following them, I found myself driving through a mountainous residential section that was not intended for 53-foot trailers. It twisted and turned; I had to take up both lanes to make turns. And then I came upon some road construction that had closed half the road. How I got by, I'll never know. But that did give me a chance to get directions to the highway.

So, I arrived half-an-hour late. But the customer was cool and didn't care. Again, they unloaded; again, I napped during the process. And then they were done, and I had to get moving to make it to Bellvue, Washington in time for Stop 3.

Except I couldn't and I knew it. In fact, I was afraid I would run out of hours before I actually reached the customer, because I had spent so many driving the back roads of Greater Portland. So I sent a message to my dispatcher:


In English, that's "I may not have enough hours to make the final stop on this load." I then continued, explaining tersely that I had driven around trying to deal with incorrect directions, and so on. It was an hour before I got the reply: "DON'T UNDRSTND WHY NO HRS LEFT. U JUST TOOK 8 HR DOT BRK."

After a couple more unsatisfying exchanges, I pulled into a rest area and telephoned. (My cell phone had been disconnected, since the calls to Schneider, including half-hour concerts of soft hits from the seventies and eighties, enjoyed while on hold, had taken me so far above my 400-minute limit that I owed $260 to Verizon.)

When Debbie, my dispatcher, finally answered, I gave her my driver number, which she got wrong twice, as usual. On the third try, she got it right and her computer told her who I was. "Oh, Paul," she said. "You sound different, for some reason." She says this every time I call. "I show you started a DOT break at 5 am," she continued. "It ended at 1 pm, so you have plenty of time for the remaining stops."

"That was not a DOT break," I said. "I had a delivery at 5 am and again at 10:30. I sent a message from each of stops one and two, so you know I did them both."

"My computer shows you were stopped all that time."

"Well, I wasn't. I have signed bills of lading from two locations to prove it."

"I don't know what to tell you," Debbie said, obviously frustrated. "The computer shows you took your DOT break."

"First of all, the computer can only tell you, at best, whether the truck is moving or not. It has no way of knowing whether I was resting, unloading the trailer, or plotting a terrorist attack. Secondly, we've known it to be wrong in the past. Remember when it said I wasn't moving, while I was driving up Donner Pass and letting you hear the road noise in my cell phone?"

"I only know what the computer tells me," Debbie maintained. And, suddenly, I found myself speechless with shock. She was telling the truth. Bless her dim little soul, she truly had no knowledge of her own. She wasn't willing to deduce, for example, that if I had sent "arrived and departed stop off" messages from two places, that I must, in fact, have been to those two places…and that, if I had been to two places, I must not have been sleeping, nor was I in a motionless truck at the time.

"I only know…" Debbie had embraced the promise of certainty embodied in her computer program. I've known, before, people who are so unsure of themselves that they cling to the first authority they encounter and never let go. These people are at what I call the Second Level of Awareness. In Debbie's case, the authority she clung to was a computer program that claimed to know where I was and what I was doing. The fact that it was flawed—that it didn't accurately report where I was and could never know what I was doing—was irrelevant to Debbie. She couldn't grok it. Her acceptance of this authority left no room for question or doubt.

Oh, I tried. I tried to bring her, step by step, through my day. I referenced the messages I had sent, that she also could access on her computer. I tried to make her answer the question of "how could this happen?" But it was no use. Every time we approached the irrefutable fact that the program in which she had placed her trust had failed her, she would snap back to her original position. "I only know what the computer tells me."

So, I gave up. I was making good time, and the possibility existed I wouldn't miss my appointment, anyway. Besides, I had been to this place before and I knew they would make me wait for hours—unpaid, of course—when I did get there.

So I let it go. And I did, in fact, make the remaining stops on time. But, while I was waiting to be assigned a dock door for unloading, I took a moment to ponder the whole "man vs. machine" concept.

The phrase implies that there is a battle. I don't see that there needs to be. Why can't machines simply serve us, as they are apparently intended to do? The threat isn't that machines might take over. It's that people like Debbie will abdicate their responsibility to think for themselves to the first pretty machine that comes along. Machines don't have to take control, in other words, if we give it to them.

More subtle is the danger that familiarity with machines allows us to imagine that we are machines or, worse, parts of machines. "Just cogs," as my nameless friend at the Shasta scenic parking lot had repeated. It's as if we've forgotten who made these things. They seem to have taken on a life of their own, as if they had created themselves and were not our servants. People listen to radio or TV news and imagine that it must be true, just as Debbie cannot imagine the computer lying to or misleading her. People forget the original purpose of these things, and imagine they actually do what we wish they would do: Tell us the Truth. But wanting that, can't make it happen.

The only way to win the battle of man vs. machine, it seems to me, is to never forget…who created whom.