By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 8/21/2018
Topics/Keywords: #18-Wheeler #BigRigs #Schneider #TruckDriver #TruckDriving Page Views: 929
An entry from Alternate Roads: Paul S. Cilwa's Truck Drivin' Journal

Thursday, August 7, 2003

I made my delivery, on-time, at 4 am in Signal Hill, California. The location would have been dreadful at any time, but especially so early. The loading docks were located under a roof, supported by iron I-beams. I had to navigate between the I-beams, which were barely wide enough for the trailer alone—but, of course, I had to do it with the doors open, which made the whole assembly even wider. Add to that, this was my first delivery in a new truck, and you have a recipe for disaster.

The doors on the trailer, a very old one anyway, were so stiff, I had to ask for help to get the right one open. It took three burly dock hands, working with me, to yank the thing open. And then, on the way back, I discovered, too late, that this truck seems a bit sluggish on the steering. I kissed one of the I-beams and, I found out later, pulled the right door even further out of true.

They didn't make me unload, but they did make me watch. I dutifully logged this activity on Line 4 (On Duty Not Driving).

And then, when it came time to leave, I discovered that I couldn't close the right trailer door. At all. Three burly dock men, thirty burly dock men, would not have been able to do it. I fastened it as best I could, sent a satellite message to road repair to "TBO" the trailer, and that I was taking it to the Schneider Los Angeles repair facility, which was just over 20 miles away.

"TBO" stands for Trailer Bad Order; I understand it is an old military term that has been adopted by the trucking industry (or, at least, by Schneider). Schneider does not provide a very good means of TBO'ing a trailer. In theory, you simply send a message #4 on the Qualcomm; but message #4 only provides blanks for a few common problems (like bad tires) and no place to describe other damage (like bent door hinges).

The drive to the facility was a nightmare. Fortunately, it was still pretty early and the worst of the traffic hadn't yet choked the freeways. Everyone who passed me, blew his or her horn to let me know I had "forgotten" to close one of the back doors. Worse, the only thing I had to fasten it with was a bungee cord; and the wind caught the door and blew it maybe two feet away from the trailer wall as I drove. This can't be legal, I thought, frantically; and, even if it was, it shouldn't be, because it was dangerous. I turned on my flashers and slowed to about 35 mph. By some miracle no police car stopped me. When I finally arrived at the facility, I was shaking and sweating. I also had nowhere else to go; so I showered there and settled in to take a nap.

The Qualcomm soon awoke me with my next assignment. I was to drive, bobtailed, 60 miles to Oxnard, to pick up a load going to Chandler, Arizona. Chandler is one of the towns in the "Valley" that includes Phoenix, so this meant I was going home! I called Michael with the good news, then sat down to plan the trip. If I left right away, I could get to Oxnard all right, no problem. It was mid-morning, as good a time as any to drive through the L.A. area. The problem was the drive to Chandler. The load was supposed to be delivered at 9 am the next morning; but it couldn't work out that way. Given the amount of driving I'd already done that day, and the number of hours it would take to get to the Valley, I would have to insert a DOT break in there, somewhere. And it didn't matter when I did it; I couldn't make the delivery at 9 am.

So, as I drove to Oxnard, I sent satellite messages to this effect. Finally, on the way back east, I received a reply. I would stop at the Fontana Operating Center and relay the load to another driver, there. That way, the load would make it on time and I would be able to take my break.

But I also would not be going home. And I would not be driving as much as I am capable of.

They did send me a replacement load. This one sent me back into L.A., meaning more dense traffic and few miles-per-hour, and then north to Delano, California. I didn't have enough hours to get all the way to Delano, either; but I pulled into the rest area off I-5 at Lebec before midnight. Total miles for the day: 377.

Friday, August 8, 2003

Today I completed the delivery to Sears in Delano. They had me pick up an empty trailer there, and run it back into the L.A. area, where it was loaded with vertical blinds headed for Douglas, Arizona. They didn't have to be there until Monday at midnight, so that meant I was going home, after all—just a day later than I had originally hoped. However, out of hours again, I first had to spend the night in Fontana. Miles for the day: 286.

Remember, a person can only make a decent living driving a truck if he or she drives 500-600 miles a day!

This is, in my opinion, poor utilization of a driver. I realize that there are loads in densely populated urban regions that must go out or be brought in. If such loads were distributed to all the drivers evenly, I suspect our average miles per day would rise. Alternatively, why not hire special urban drivers by the hour to pick up and drop loads that are relayed through outlying areas? Such drivers would quickly learn coping skills that would let them do that part of the job more efficiently; and, in return, they would get a living wage and every night at home—an appealing combination. The over-the-road drivers, on the other hand, could concentrate on making miles and covering the distances, actually loading and unloading only in non-urban areas where the unpaid time loading and unloading would not be compounded by the low-paid time idling at stop lights and in traffic jams. Everyone would win!

Saturday, August 9, 2003

I arrived at home, or rather, the Tolleson Pilot Truck Stop at I-10 and the 101 Loop, at 5 pm. I stop there when I'm under load for two reasons. One: It is safer than the Schneider drop yard, which is located in a sleazy and high-theft part of Phoenix; and, two, it is about a half-hour closer to my home.

Michael picked me up. We went swimming with Zachary, our grandson; I made dinner; we walked the dogs, and went to bed. In other words, we did the sort of things that normal people (those who aren't over-the-road truck drivers) take for granted.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

I had intended to leave today for Douglas. My load was supposed to be delivered by midnight tomorrow. But by the time I had dropped Mom off at church, and gone through my mail, and posted another journal entry, it was so late that there seemed to be no point. After all, I knew from past experience that if I delivered early on Sunday in Douglas, I would be spending the night there, anyway. I decided to get an early start tomorrow.

Monday, August 11, 2003

In the morning, as I was abut to leave for Douglas, my mother ran into the bedroom. She's 91 and only runs when she has seen something delightfully depressing on the TV, like a hurricane or a terrorist attack (even one in another country will do). "President Bush is in Tucson!" she chortled. "The roads are all closed! No one can move!"

Now, I've never been in Tucson at the same time as a President. But I have experienced Newark, New Jersey when President Clinton was there. And it was true; the roads were literally closed. Traffic sat for hours, unable to move because of the heightened security. Trucks, especially, were suspect.

"Did the TV say when he will be leaving?" I asked.

"Not until this afternoon," she replied. "Around 3:30, I think. He's there to inspect the fires." Apparently, as Mom knew and I did not, there had been a particularly damaging fire in the Tucson area. Now that it was safely out, the President, who has had absolutely no training in this field, was here to assess the damage.

So I decided to hang out until the roads cleared. After all, what was the point in leaving now, only to spend the day—and precious driving hours—sitting in a truck parked on the highway?

And, besides, my load didn't have to be delivered until midnight; and it was only a six hour drive there. I could make it on time if I left any time before six in the evening.

However, Michael's cell phone rang about 2:30 in the afternoon. It was Debbie, my dispatcher. "Why has your truck been sitting in Avondale for 44 hours?!" she screamed into my ear.

I am starting to learn that, when Debbie asks one of these questions, it is not, in fact, central to the reason she has called. It may not even be peripheral to the reason she has called. It's her way of knocking the person she's called off-balance, so she can more easily move in for the kill.

My reaction, when people are wallowing in their emotions, is to become Mr. Spock. "My truck is not in Avondale. It's in Tolleson."

"I don't even know where that is!" she cried.

"Well, you should," I replied. "It's across the street from Reckitt Benckiser, at the Pilot Truck Stop that's on our approved fuel map."

"Well, I didn't know that," she said, crossly. "It's never been there before."

"Debbie, I park it there whenever I'm under load and stopping by the house."

"Well, I didn't know that."

"You would if you'd checked the transponder logs for my truck," I pointed out. "They tell you wherever the truck is. That's how you know where it is now, in fact."

She harrumphed—not a pretty sound when made by a woman. "You've never had your truck there before," she proclaimed with certainty.

So, again, I have someone who has never been in my truck, or possibly any truck, telling me where mine hasn't been. "Check the logs," I said, trying unsuccessfully for patience. "Or take my word for it, but don't tell me that what I know isn't so."

Finally, it seemed, she got to her point. When I had Time-At-Home scheduled, I was supposed to park at the Phoenix drop yard. I tried to explain that this wasn't scheduled time at home, since I was under load; I had simply chosen to spend a couple of days in Peoria instead of sweltering at the Mexican border in my truck.

"That delivery time was a 'BY'!" she cried, upset now on a new topic. "It doesn't mean you can't deliver early!"

"It does in this case," I said. "The work assignment says the load must go through Customs before delivery. And Customs isn't open on the weekend."

"I don't know that," she declared primly, as if that settled the matter.

"Well, I do!" I returned just as primly. "I've been there before. When's the last time you were in Douglas, Debbie?"

"That doesn't explain why you aren't there now!" she insisted, ignoring my jibe. "They're open today, aren't they?"

"Yes," I replied. "But President Bush is in Tucson, and the highways are closed until he leaves."

"Oh, Paul," she said, changing tone. Now she was speaking to a recalcitrant five-year-old. "You know you can't not drive just to avoid a little traffic!"

"This isn't a 'little traffic'," I said, wondering if it would be possible to slit my wrists while holding a cell phone. "This is 'roads closed' due to a Presidential visit."

"Now, Paul," she continued, as if she didn't understand a word I'd said—which I'm certain was the case. "It's just like L.A. or San Francisco. You just drive around the blocked roads."

"Debbie, for God's sakes, look at a map! Arizona is not California. It's desert, with a single highway running through it, and the occasional city blooming around the highway. I-10 is the only way into or out of Tucson, at least, heading the direction I'm going."

"I'm not going to say any more," she declared. "I'm just talking myself in circles. But you'd better get in that truck and moving!" And she hung up.

So, I grabbed my stuff and got Michael to drive me to the truck. It was late enough now, anyway, that the roads in Tucson should be clear by the time I got there.

And they were. I passed through the place without incident, continued on to US 191, turned south, and presently was in Douglas at the Customs building.

Which was closed.

I knew they were closed on the weekend; I didn't realize their weekday hours were limited as well.

I sent messages to Customer service, found a secluded spot, and shut down for the night. Just before I fell asleep, the Qualcomm beeped. Delivery to the consignee had been pushed to the following midnight.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Well, here it is—Michael's and my wedding anniversary. And he's at home, and I'm in a truck in Douglas, Arizona, waiting for the Customs building to open up.

Which it did, at 8 am. However, after I had backed into the dock, I was stopped by a representative of the Arizona DOT. "I am going to perform a Level 1 inspection of your truck and trailer," he said. "It shouldn't take more than an hour. Or two."

I shrugged; you can't argue with these things. Besides, the Richard Gear did not have an inspection sticker on it; better to have this inspection now, than some other time I was really in a rush. I turned in the bill of lading to the Customs folks, then found a telephone and called Debbie to let her know this latest turn of events. She was still upset, it seemed, over my having spent the weekend in Peoria.

I told her I had always done this before without anyone being upset. I reminded her that Customs was closed on the weekend. I pointed out that, if I had known the President was coming to Tucson on Monday, it would have made sense to leave on Sunday—but I didn't know; such visits are never pre-announced, for security reasons.

None of this seemed to get through to Debbie. It was like trying to argue with a recorded voice: "Press 1 if you are not on time. Press 2 if you will be late," and so on.

Suddenly, she took a new tack. She began crying. "You may not understand this," she sniffled, "but it…hurts me when I have to issue a service exception."

"Oh, for Christ's sake!" I cried. "Grit your teeth and do it! The client isn't upset, and I did the best I could with the information I had. If you want to make a service exception out of it, do it."

"I'm just asking the questions Yancy will ask me!" she wailed.

"Yancy? What's he got to do with this?"

"Oh, didn't I tell you? I've been transferred to Yancy's pod, and all my drivers have come with me."

My main memory of Yancy is having an argument on my cell phone with him some months before. He was informing me that my truck wasn't moving, even while it was, in fact, hurtling up Donner Pass at 55 mph.

So, either Jay had informed his boss that either Debbie left or he would, or he had run screaming into the highway after one of these fruitless exchanges with her. And she had been transferred.

"And it was important that you stay in your truck over the weekend, in case we had a change of plans for you. As it is, I had to track you down."

"Which you did, by calling me on the phone number I gave you for me. You had to press ten buttons. And what change?"

"Look at your Qualcomm," she directed. "There's another assignment on there for you to go to next. Yancy wants me to make better utilization of your time than I have in the past. That way you'll get more miles and make more money. And isn't that what it's all about?"

There hadn't been any new assignments that morning. But I returned to the truck and, sure enough, I was supposed to take an empty trailer from this morning's consignee and drive it several hundred miles to Yuma. I called Debbie back. "I can't make that trip," I said. "I can make it to Yuma, all right. But I'll have to get in a DOT break before the schedule delivery in California." Was this her idea of "better utilization"? The delivery was at a Toys'R'Us, and specified a seven-and-a-half hour, driver-assisted unload! This, for a driver who was just out of surgery for a hernia repair??!

For a seven-and-a-half hour driver assist, Schneider would pay me $15.

If this was Debbie's idea of better utilization, I was in trouble.

Meanwhile, the Level 1 DOT inspection had escalated. They were now going to perform a "narcotic burn". For this, I and all other non-government employees had to literally leave the compound. I was advised to wait "in the shade" outside the chain-link fence, which I did. The procedure took an hour and a half. I've got your narcotic burn right here, I thought.

But, finally, I was ready to go. I drove the inspected and narcotically-burned collection of vertical blinds to the consignee, three blocks away. And now, I had a new new assignment to replace the trip to Yuma: I had to run two more trailers from the consignee, through Customs. The boss was a nice guy named Jose, but he was very upset with Schneider. "The other drivers," he explained, "dropped their trailers here this weekend without going through Customs. How could they? Customs is closed on the weekend!" But, when he found that I would be running the trailers through for him, his mood changed to one of gratitude. "Gracias!" he exclaimed. "You are a good man!"


After running through Customs—two hours each—with Jose's trailers, I got a new assignment that, again, began with my picking up an empty trailer from Jose's yard. "But there are no empty trailers here!" he exclaimed. His facility was using Schneider trailers as temporary storage units. I sent a message on the Qualcomm explaining this. An hour later, I sent another. I received a reply that Jose had empties. I double-checked with him. "Lo siento mucho," he apologized. "Not today. Maybe maņana."

So I sent another message. Finally, the directions were modified to send me bobtailed up to Casa Grande to pick up a loaded trailer full of potato chips, which were to be delivered to Las Vegas. I checked my map and my log, to make sure I could make it. Then I called Michael. "I can spend the night," I said. "But I'll have to park in the Phoenix drop yard."

"Yay!" he applauded. "Except for the drop yard part. But let me know when you're here."

So, now that Debbie is under instructions to make "better utilization" of me as a resource, what do I have to show for it? An entire day spent going through Customs, which might have earned me $45 total. And why? Because, presumably, other drivers she had talked into making weekend deliveries had been unable to go through Customs when they got there.

By the time I got to Phoenix, I realized I had spent the previous six hours fuming over Debbie. This can't be good for me, I thought. Obviously, I'm going to have to talk to Yancy and see about changing dispatchers.

Or lie down in the middle of the highway until someone runs over me.