Monday, June 30, 2008

Going what? Where? Already?

FONTANA, CA - Well, damn. Werner has all of a sudden decided to get shit together and find me a trainer. I'm leaving for Idaho tonight. Idaho! Tonight! Pulling flatbed trailers, apparently? Whatever. I only have a week and a half worth of training left to do, so hopefully I can just get that shit overwith.

Vaya con Dios, amigos!

E.T.A. @ 10pm: Oh, but it really couldn't have been that easy. What my new trainer failed to mention when he called me at noon and told me to get over to the terminal ASAP was that the truck was in the shop. We sat and waited for it until 9:30, then went back to the hotel. It's supposed to be ready in the morning, but I'm not holding my breath.

Highlight of the day: listening to a driver from southern Louisiana talk about the best way to cook roadkill armadillos. Apparently, you turn the armadillo on its back, split it open from the stomach, scoop the meat out of the shell, marinade it in vinegar, then cook in a crock pot. Learn something new every day...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

All hands on deck at dawn

STOCKTON, CA - Hello? Is this thing on?

I've been home on a leave of absence from work/the road for a month. Tomorrow morning, I am getting on a bus heading back to Fontana, CA, to resume training for Werner. More adventures and desperate Twitter posts from far-off lands will resume shortly.

I appreciate the comments and other calls of concern during June's radio silence. I just sort of needed some space from Internet-land, you know? I've done a lot of sleeping and reading and cooking and eating, spent a lot of time with people I care about, applied for some local jobs that I didn't end up getting, and am now falling back on the Original Plan B of truckin' across the USA. Lots of mixed feelings, still, but for now I've gotta finish what I started.

If you go out right now and get into any moving vehicle headed in an unfamiliar direction and blast this song, you'll get an idea of how I'm feeling.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

I've been traveling so long, how am I ever gonna know my home when I see it again?

STOCKTON, CA - You read that right, I'm back to the home base. Finally, after two full days on a Greyhound bus that followed three days of no sleep on a truck. This is gonna be a long one, kids.

The first issue at hand is that my beloved state of California, bless its heart, has screwed up royally by not sending me a permanent copy of my CDL. All this time, I've been trucking around on a temporary one, a print-out from the state saying that I was in fact a licensed commercial driver in wait of a new and shiny permanent copy. The temporary expires on June 2 (tomorrow, as of time of writing). The last couple weeks my roommate has been texting me status updates when he came home to check the mail - still no license. Each time I called the DMV, they'd tell me something ridiculous and apologize and say it would be in the mail that very day, but obviously they are a bunch of stinking liars.

With the expiration date so close at hand, Werner started getting worried about my driving status. When I was assigned a new trainer, they told me we'd get routed California-way immediately so I could either pick up my license or be dropped off to take care of this issue.

And in comes my third trainer, Dana, who is by far the best one of the lot. She and I get along great, and we hit the road on Tuesday once her truck gets out of the shop, with a load destined for Red Bluff, CA. We barely get an hour outside of Dallas when it becomes apparent that the truck was not really fixed, even though this was the truck's fourth time in the shop for the same problem - the AC freezing up. It works fine for the first hour or so after starting up, then either stops blowing air or starts blowing hot air. At that point, the only thing one can do is shut the truck down, pop the hood, chip off the LARGE CHUNKS OF ICE that have formed on the AC pipes, and wait at least 15 minutes for the system to thaw. Obviously, one can't make very good time stopping this way.

So here we are, driving through the desert with no AC. This is bad enough for driving, but absolutely unbearable for sleeping, because the sleeper windows don't actually open and the space heats up exactly like you'd imagine a closed metal box to heat up. Dana calls in an emergency maintenance request and dispatch tells us to go to a Peterbilt dealership in Albuqurque. We spend the entirety of Wednesday there. In the meantime, the company sends another driver to come get our trailer, since we obviously can't make it to the destination on time. We get out of the dealership by nightfall with the lead mechanic promising up and down that the problem is fixed, and are promptly dispatched to El Paso to pick up another load.

Imagine driving around El Paso, TX, where the weather is a temperate 110 degrees (yes, really), lost as hell trying to find a warehouse, with hot air coming at you from the windows AND the AC vents. Obviously, the problem was not fixed. Dana, completely fed up and angry at this point, calls dispatch and tells them that she's taking the truck back to Dallas (which is her home terminal) so they can give her another truck, since this one appears to be irreparable. They proceed to tell her that plenty of drivers do just fine without AC, and that she's just a silly lady driver who should quit whining. Eventually, her intention to trade in the truck turn into an intention to turn the truck in and quit the company. So we spend Thursday driving from El Paso to Dallas in the horrid Texas summer heat, stopping frequently to chip ice off.

Remember how I've said before that Texas is pretty much its own level of hell? Yeah, that. I drove the night shift, which was still hot but somewhat more bearable, but every time I stopped for ice-chipping I was attacked by legions of gigantic weird bugs. Have I mentioned yet that I hate Texas? Oh, and the load we were taking back was destined for Quebec. Last I checked, Quebec was sort of in the opposite direction and a different country from California, making it very hard for me to get my license issues taken care of, and far enough that it would be illegal for me to operate a truck by the time we got there.

We spent a few hours sitting at the truck stop just outside the Dallas terminal as Dana argued with dispatch. Finally, we took the truck into the terminal, cleaned it out and went our separate ways. I'd already requested to take home time by this point, since it was clear that my license was not on its way. My options at this point were to let Werner pay for a Greyhound bus ticket, or put a plane ticket on my credit card in hopes that the company would later reimburse me, which I honestly don't trust it to do.

Got on the bus in Dallas on Friday afternoon. Bus promptly broke down in Abilene, leaving all of us stranded in a roach-infested station for five hours until another bus came and retraced the roads I'd driven the night before. I slept, woke up, cursed the world for making Texas so damn huge, many times over. Several crazy people who talked to themselves sat next to me. Some guy tried to pick me up in Phoenix by saying, "Do you got a baby daddy?" Another guy tried to pick me up in Bakersfield by saying, "Where are you headed? Are you going home to see your kids? That's what I'm doing. I just got out of prison. Do you have a boyfriend?" The highlight of the trip was a three-hour layover in LA early Sunday morning, where I ordered an egg sandwich at the station cafe and almost cried from happiness when I saw the cook crack an actual egg on the grill because that's how long it's been since I watched real food be prepared for my consumption. Got off the bus in Stockton Sunday afternoon, filthy and braindead.

The interesting thing about Greyhound buses is that they are arguably the least pretentious way to travel. There are no excuses or apologies made for the lack of good service, comfort, or promptness, because let's face it, if you're taking Greyhound you're letting the world know that your ass is flat broke but you still somehow need to get from point A to point B, so you obviously can't afford to complain.

I am pretty sure at this point that I will not be going back to Werner. I haven't decided yet whether I want to keep driving trucks or not. I need to gather my thoughts here, sleep in my own bed, see people I love, eat real food, figure out what happened with my license, and process all that's happened in the past six weeks. Stay tuned.