By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/5/2020
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #TruckDriving #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver Page Views: 1602
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

It was another of those drive-all-night-for-early-delivery runs I hate. From Phoenix the day before, to Santa Fe Springs, one of L.A.'s many suburbs. The delivery appointment was scheduled for 6 am; it couldn't be earlier or later. I got to the Fontana OC at 1:30 in the morning, fueled up, and slept for a few hours. At 4:30 am I awoke and drove to Santa Fe Springs.

The customer site was fairly easy to find, in spite of its being badly marked, and I was officially "there" at 5:45. I asked one of the workers to direct me to the dock foreman; a gray-haired man stepped up and told me that it would be "just a while" before I could back into the dock, and someone would knock on the door of my truck to let me know. So, I went back to the truck and went to sleep.

About 8:00 am I got up to check. New trucks that had not been there when I got there at six, were now docked at the doors. When I asked about this, I was told it would be "a while more". They would knock on the truck door to let me know when. I returned to the truck, sent in a "delayed" message, and went back to sleep.

I woke again about 11:00 am. Now, I decided, it was time to complain. I marched to the dock, as best I could in aching feet—more about that, shortly—and found a guy I hadn't seen before. It was he, it turned out, who was the dock foreman. "I've been waiting since 6 o'clock," I announced.

"You should've been here at six o'clock!" he growled, unpleasantly.

"I was here at six o'clock," I maintained.

"I didn't see you," he said.

"And I didn't see you," I agreed. "But the older, gray-haired guy said—"

"What gray-haired guy?" he shouted. I was keeping calm, but he had been angry when I came to him, and now he was about to explode at any trigger. "There's no one with gray hair here!"

"That guy," I said, pointing. Instantly, the foreman deflated, and muttered quietly, "He don't know nothin'. I'll get you into the dock next." I found out later, the gray-haired guy was the foreman's boss. But, obviously, the two of them had a communication problem. Or a lack of communication problem.

The yard in front of the docks was very crowded, with piles of pallets, and boxes lying around; and a good chunk of the area was taken up by a visiting repair guy who was fixing some equipment. His truck, tools, and the equipment all took up room that I would need if I were to back into the dock next to the other truck that was already there. My patience was also running out as I reported to the foreman that, unless the crap in the yard were moved, I would not be able to back in. However, he was much friendlier now—I think he had received a call from Schneider, in response to the messages I had sent them about being held so late—and ordered the boxes moved, and even told the visiting repair guy to retreat for a few minutes. (Pulling out is a lot less work than backing in; the repairman wouldn't be in my way when I was leaving.)

It took a good fifteen minutes, but eventually I was backed into the dock. It was now 11:30 am.

This being a Reckitt Benckiser load, they would pay for a lumper if I needed one. But, at first, the foreman said I didn't. "It's all on pallets," he pointed out. "We'll just use the forklift to pull 'em out." But, minutes later, one of the lesser lights on the dock, a young man I'd seen scurrying around all morning, trotted out to the cab. "You need to re-palletize your load," he said.

"Re-palletize?" I echoed. "What's wrong with the pallets the stuff is on, now?"

"They are stacked three boxes high, and we need them stacked four boxes high."

I frowned. "You know, Reckitt Benckiser doesn't waste pallets. If they only have the boxes stacked three high, it's probably because the boxes themselves won't support any more weight than that."

The kid shrugged. "We can't accept them unless they are stacked four boxes high."

"Okay." I shrugged, too. "Let's get a lumper."

"Oh, the lumper's gone."


"Yeah, he left about an hour ago. It's really late in the day, you know. We are usually done by now."

Great. I was going to be given the joy of re-palletizing God knows how many pallets of taco sauce and mustard so that, some day, there could be an accident when the lower boxes collapsed under the weight of two many boxes above them. I only hoped no one would be hurt. Or get in my way, because I was definitely not in a good mood.

The forklift ran the offending pallets into the yard. So, now, not only did I get to re-palletize, I got to do it in the blazing Southern California sun, instead of the shade of the dock. I could only guess the foreman had found a way to get even with me for existing on a day when he was in a bad mood.

About a month ago, Schneider invited us all to a "Spring Training" session. I understand special training for winter, when slippery roads, sub-zero temperatures, and chain law requirements put a lot of additional responsibility on the shoulders of the driver. And, living in Phoenix, I can even understand special summer training, when arid deserts and fantastically high temperatures—it can easily reach 120 F in Arizona—tax the truck's engine and can kill an unwary driver who breaks down and doesn't know how to survive the heat (get outside of the truck, stay in the shade, and drink lots and lots of water). But Spring? Well, Schneider was offering the training and they give us a $5 coupon towards lunch, so why not?

This time, though, they gave us more than that. I've been complaining that they did not give us tandem pullers; and this time, they did. It was "assigned to the truck," not us; so if it were missing from the truck when we turned it in, we'd have to pay for it—but I didn't care. Lots of people get injured wrestling with the tandem release arm, and a tandem puller is potentially a big help. In fact, I'd used it several times by the time I got to Ala Foods, and it was useful (though not the miracle worker I'd been led to believe—I'm glad I didn't buy one).

And they gave us the shoes.

Even during training, it had been recommended to us to wear reinforced work shoes. And I can't argue with the premise; I know my toes are more exposed to danger on a loading dock than on a hike through rattlesnake country. But I have picky feet. It's very hard for me to find shoes that don't hurt almost as soon as I put them on. I'm 52 years old, and I've been barefoot or in sandals more than half the hours in all those years. Probably more than three-quarters of them.

I can get away with well-supported sneakers, some of them. I wore black track shoes with my suit, when I was teaching computer programming, and no one ever complained. But those shoes concentrate on protecting the sole of the foot, and the arch; they don't really provide a lot of protection for the toes.

So I went to the Shoe Trailer, set up for a month in the yard at the Fontana OC (and, I understand, other Operating Centers, as well). I tried on every pair, and selected the least painful, hoping I would grow into them. After all, other people wear work shoes. It's not like they were designed for some other species. I got a pair that measure correctly, and I prayed they would break in, or work out, or do whatever it is shoes do when people breathe a sigh of relief and say, "I love these shoes!"

Granted, I've never seen anyone do that outside of a TV commercial, but they must be based on some semblance of reality, right??

So I threw my old track shoes out right there in the Shoe Trailer—the soles were peeling off, anyway—and walked away in my brand-new, totally butch, leather uppers and rubber-soled, laced and fastened work shoes.

Okay, I didn't walk away. I limped away. But I don't think anybody noticed.

And I wore them all that day, and the next, and the next. And by then, I was limping so badly I began peeing in my empty soda cup even when parked at a truck stop, rather than have to walk all the way to the rest room inside.

When I spent a couple of days at home, barefoot or in sandals, by the time I was ready to leave, the limp would be almost gone. But, after three days in the shoes, as I began to think of them, I'd be limping again. My right hip, especially, hurt like hell and I felt more and more like Walter Brennan on The Real McCoys, limping across the farm while muttering "Dag nab it!" under my breath.

Now, as it happened, the weekend before this trip, I had spent at home. And, somehow, I had left my sandals in the truck. So I had worn the shoes every day of the weekend. Now, I could hardly walk a step.

And I was expected to re-palletize a load. In the sun. In the shoes.

So, I limped over to where they had brought the pallets and began the job. It isn't really a hard job; it's just annoying. Tedious. Especially with the noonday sun glaring on where you used to have lots of hair but now, as it turns out, don't. There were four pallets of bottled taco sauce. The plastic bottles, institutional sized, were in boxes, three to a box. The boxes were stacked three layers to a pallet. I had to restack them, so that there would be three pallets with boxes stacked four high. As I said, not a complicated job. But tedious.

I broke the cellophane wrapping on one pallet, and picked up a box of taco sauce bottles. It was heavier than I'd expected, but not that heavy. I walked it over to another pallet, and laid it on top. Then, back to the first pallet and repeat. If my hip and leg hadn't been in such pain from the shoes, it would have been a breeze. But, because I had to move so slowly to keep my leg from hurting worse, it was taking forever.

Lift, walk, place, back. Lift, walk, place, back. And now I began to notice a new sensation. Something was stuck in my shorts, poking me in the stomach. I tried wriggling but it only made the poking worse. Then, adding insult to injury, the kid who informed me the re-palletizing had to be done, approached from the dock area. He watched me limping and wriggling for a moment, then said, "The foreman wants to know why it's taking so long. We need to clear the dock."

I took a deep breath. This kid is not the problem, I thought. Don't get mad at him. I placed the box I was carrying on its designated pallet, and pulled the top of my shorts an inch away from my waist, so I could locate whatever it was that was poking at me. "If you had a lumper here, it would be done now," I said. "I'm a driver, not a lumper. This isn't my area of expertise, so if your foreman wants me to do the job, he'll have to allow me to do it in my own time." Unable to find the offending stick or whatever in my shorts, I looked down for the first time to see what the thing was.

And saw that my navel, which had always been an "innie", was now an "outie".

It took me a moment to realize what I was seeing. And, when I did, I just said, "Oh, shit."

"What is it?" the kid asked, showing genuine concern.

"I think I just got a hernia. I'm going to have to call my office, and your foreman is just going to have to wait." I limped up to the payphone and dialed. After nearly fifteen minutes of listening to Soft Hits of the Seventies, I got Shawn, not my dispatcher but one who has shown himself to be competent, especially in the last few weeks. I explained the situation to him. As I did so, the kid interrupted to tell me he'd gotten permission to do the re-palletizing himself. Okay, that hurdle was crossed but my mind was on what was, potentially, a far more serious problem.

Shawn asked if I could drive. As far as I knew, I could. I wasn't doubled over in agony or anything. My stomach just felt like there was something poking me, even when nothing touched it; and my innie was now an outie. Shawn directed me to a nearby medical facility, one of those places that my sister, a nurse, refers to as a "doc in the box". This one, Shawn said, was used frequently by Schneider for on-the-injuries.

By the time I was off the phone, the kid had finished re-palletizing the fateful load of taco sauce. He ran up to the truck about the time I staggered to it. By now, between the pains in my hip and my abdomen, I felt like Night of the Living Dead but he was focused. "When we do the lumper's work," he said, "we usually get paid the lumper's wage to do it. After all, that's not really my job."

"How much?" I asked, dully.

"I don't know," the kid admitted. "How much will Schneider pay?"

"I'm pretty sure you'll have to name your price, first. If it's too much, they'll let me know."

"Oh, you can't just pay me cash?"

"No, it will have to be a ComCheck, which is as good as cash and what the lumper would have gotten if he hadn't gone home for the day."

"Oh, he didn't go home for the day," the kid remarked. "He just left for the other warehouse for an hour or so." As I glared at him, he added, "Okay, $120."

So I had to get back to the pay phone. (My cell phone had been deactivated a few weeks earlier, when the charges for listening to Schneider's Soft Hits had exceed $300.) I didn't know whether the hernia was affecting my leg, or the leg was just going out of service for general reasons; but the walk was agony and took forever. Standing there waiting to be reconnected to a dispatcher wasn't fun, either. Eventually I got one, explained the need for a ComCheck, waited for Customer Service to be contacted (which includes the dispatcher listening to Soft Hits for awhile, while I listened to them again), and finally, got the express code that makes the ComCheck work. Then, staggered back to the truck, feeling more and more like the monster near the end of Frankenstein when his neural pathways start breaking down and he can no longer sing Puttin' On The Ritz.

Under those circumstances, pulling away from the crowded dock area, normally not a problem, was more of a challenge. My abdomen felt strange and unsettled as I applied the brake or the clutch. I knew this was the time I really had to concentrate—this is when accidents happen, when something unrelated to the truck goes wrong and takes your mind off your driving.

Technimed, the facility to which I'd been directed, did not have room for a fifty-three foot trailer in its parking lot. So, I'd been sent first to SNI's Los Angeles maintenance facility—basically, a drop yard with a repair shop—to drop off the trailer, first. Now, bobtailed, I pulled into the parking lot and, luckily, found two open slots adjacent to each other. Carefully, I backed in. I stuck 'way out, of course, like a motorhome trying to fit into the compact car section of an airport garage; but there was room to get around me so I locked the cab and hobbled into the office. The receptionist gave me the usual clipboard of forms to fill out, which I did, then sat down to wait to be seen.

Amazingly, the decor seemed to have been designed by some demented former trucker. The walls, all of them, were plated metal of the sort that decks of warships are constructed. The floor was the same pattern, but in rubber. There were fluorescent lights, of course; but there were also decorative wall lamps that looked like old fashioned truck or railroad head lamps. There were quite a few patients waiting in another room; the reception area didn't seem to actually be the waiting room but it's where they made me wait, anyway. There were no chairs there. There was a metal grill bench, painted white, with no back and therefore no support. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that the hernia was made worse by making me sit on that bench. The wait seemed interminable.

When, finally, a doctor invited me into an examination room, he asked me something. I had to ask him to repeat it. Apparently, he had not graduated first in his English As A Second Language class. In finally figured out he was asking, "What is wrong?"

I said, "I think I got a hernia lifting boxes." I tried to explain about the shoes, but most of what I said seemed to go over his head. He asked to see my navel, by pointing. He looked at it, and said, "You've got a hernia." He didn't examine me farther, didn't touch me, didn't ask me how I felt or why I was limping. Instead, he got an attendant to wrap me in a girdle—I had a moment, there, where I thought it might be a strait jacket—and sent me home, telling me not to lift anything more than "fifteen pounds."

I weigh more than fifteen pounds. Did that mean I shouldn't walk? But we had reached the limits of the doctor's memorized English phrases, and there was no more information to be obtained from him.

Not having any other direction, and not having any assignments, either (withheld pending an assessment of my condition), I drove to the Fontana OC. There was a lot of traffic, and I had to dance with the brake and the clutch more than in usual, non-rush hour, over-the-road driving. By the time I reached the OC, there was a pretty strong pulling feeling in my gut. It didn't hurt, exactly, but it was uncomfortable.

And, it was after four o'clock and my dispatcher was gone for the night. I ate, took a shower, and climbed back into my cab for some sleep. First, though, I took off the shoes. "Ah," I sighed. "I love these shoes…off!"