Friday, August 22, 2008

G is for Garbage

PORTLAND, OR - I've had so many crises of faith, so many emotional/mental/psychological blocks throughout the last few months. But what pushed me over the edge and made me turn my truck in and finally quit Werner was a physical issue.

Thursday morning I got an assignment to pick up a trailer full of scrap, mostly old pallets, and take it to a waste management facility 20 miles away. I groaned at the shortness of the run, but whatever. Go pick up the trailer, take it where it's supposed to go. Which turns out to be the city dump. The city dump does not usually get semi trucks, and they're not sure what to do with me, and they're not even sure they can take the specific kind of checks that trucking companies use to pay for services (in this case, the fees for dumping stuff into the landfill). So I sit at the dump for about four hours while they decide what to do with the checks, until they finally decide that yes, they'll take it. And they send me up.

Mind you, I'm at the city dump. There are no docks, no forklifts, no one to help me unload the stuff. I mean, I'm at THE DUMP, where garbage truck drivers back up to the edge and tip their trucks up so all the junk just falls out. I don't have that kind of mechanism on a dry van trailer. My dispatcher confirms that yes, I am supposed to unload it. Open up the trailer door and find that most of the pallets are oversized ones, huge and heavy. And there's a big steel platform in there, and I can't even lift one edge of it by myself. I drag one pallet out, and call my dispatcher to tell him that I am physically incapable of doing this work, and whoever heard of a long-haul driver being sent to the city dump to hand-unload a trailer full of trash, anyway?

His first question: "What, are you real small? You can't lift pallets?" It's not a question of my size, idiot, it's a question of this kind of work being completely beyond my job description, as well as a question of the trailer contents being too heavy to lift for any one person, no matter how big and buff. In a fit of rage, I shoved two more pallets off the trailer after getting off the phone, then went back into the cab and started making panicked phone calls to non-idiots, like my old trainer Dana, who suggested I call my dispatcher's supervisor, who in turn gave the same bullshit that my dispatcher did - sometimes these loads are necessary, I guess we'll have to send a guy on this load instead.

I didn't get to leave the dump until about 4pm, after spending about seven hours there. I wanted to drive straight to the terminal and turn in my truck, but thought I'd sleep on it first. I did. Then drove to the terminal first thing in the morning and turned it in. The response from the guys at the terminal: this is a ridiculous ordeal, why didn't Werner just contract a waste disposal company to do this? Because drivers, especially rookie drivers who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, are so much cheaper. I mean, I made about $40 that day, all in all. This shit is not worth it.

I'm spending the weekend with my Portland friends, who were thankfully willing to pick me up from the terminal and put me up for a few days. Then I will take the bus back to Cali and try to get my head together, figure out what I'm doing next. Maybe another trucking company, maybe not. Right now, there's a cup of sludge-thick Pacific NW coffee calling my name somewhere around here, and it holds more promise than anything that's happened over the past week.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Trying to get up that great big hill of hope

EUGENE, OR - Damn, it's been a seriously screwed up five days. My nerves are shot, yet I'm only 600 miles away from home.

Got back on the truck Thursday morning, picked up a trailer headed into the Bay Area, had to drive on a road where trucks were heavily "not advised" because of 10mph switchback turns and one-lane bridges, backed a trailer uphill and around a curve on a one-way street with cars on both sides in downtown San Francisco, sideswiped a pole and knocked my right-side mirrors off, got lost trying to get to Oakland to get that fixed, spent the night parked down the street by the Oakland Coliseum, woke up every time I heard footsteps or voices outside. At dawn I opened the curtains to a pale gray street and saw an old homeless man stumbling down the sidewalk draped in a dirty white sheet, like the last of the night's bad dreams succumbing to the sobriety of morning.

Drove up to the North Bay to get my next load, and when I got there found that one of my trailer tires was shredded. Spent five hours waiting for someone to come fix it. Delivered 30 miles away (which is bullshit - I am not supposed to be a local driver!), learned that my next load wasn't till morning. Learned that the Bay Area has basically no truck stops, which explains why Central Valley truck stops are always so packed (yo, Record peeps, I smell a story here), called the only truck-stop-ish place in the East Bay I could find, had them tell me they're closed for renovation but the cops don't bother trucks that park on the street next to the truck stop-to-be. Drove there. Passed it, since the whole place is tarped over. Found myself in a clearly unsafe area with nowhere for a big truck to turn around. Pulled over, called 911. Several times over. Kept getting busy signal. Had mini nervous breakdown. Found my way back to the highway, and then the shuttered truck stop. Parked underneath a BART overpass, prepared for another sleepless night of listening for voices outside.

Then my boyfriend came over, braving the Oakland scariness to spend the night with me in a much-appreciated show of chivalry, and I slept better that night than all the other nights in the truck combined, and wished more than ever that I hadn't gotten myself into this crazy endeavor.

But a resolution is a resolution, so I went and picked up a trailer bound for Portland on Saturday morning. Walked around and inspected the trailer, everything looked fine. Drove more than a hundred miles north, stopped for fuel, and discovered that the trailer door was not latched all the way, so the contents -- 34,000 pounds of building insulation -- was straining at the top of the right-side door, pushing the door out a good six inches. Definitely not safe or legal to drive that way.

Yes, I know it's a classic rookie mistake - check your trailers better. This mistake cost me three days, because that's how long it took Werner to find a local towing company that would come out to the truck stop with a forklift and help me re-work the cargo so the door could be properly shut.

I spent that three days convinced that I was done with this whole endeavor, that as soon as I got up to Portland I would head straight for the company terminal up there and turn in my truck. Hence the doomy Twitter updates (naturally, I got stuck at a truck stop with no Internet access). And then I had a long talk with my dad, who reminded me to think about all of this in proper perspective, and told me to relax and drink some beer and take advantage of the down time. So I did. And on Tuesday morning the towing company finally came and fixed the mutinous cargo and properly latched the door, and I drove through some very pretty mountains to Oregon. And I still have no idea what I want to do, as always. Does this matter? Of course it does, of course it doesn't. I don't know.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ten hours of driving will make your mind kinda numb

RENO, NV - The wind blows hot and relentless across the desert, nothing in its way to block or slow it down so it picks up speed until it's strong enough to blow anything down. Driving on I-80 today, I watched a cloud of dust rise up and turn into a dust devil as I approached it. It picked up twigs and carried them into the road, spinning its own mini-apocalypse right on the blacktop. So I slowed down, made sure no one else was around me on the road, braced myself, white-knuckled the steering wheel, and drove through it, because there was nothing else to do. It blew me clear to the edge of the left lane with its sheer force pushing against the trailer, a terrible vibration through the whole truck, the trailer fishtailing a little as I tried to steady it all back to the right lane. Hours later, I'm still a little on edge.

And that's what it's been like, emotionally. No matter how much I brace myself and try to prepare for what the days bring, it just bowls me over, leaves me edgy and exhausted. Lots of "Oh god what have I gotten myself into?" moments on all those long and lonely roads, when friends don't pick up their phones and those hours just stretch on and on.

For the five days I've had my truck, I have not stopped running as hard as possible. They way the company has been scheduling me, I have barely had time to stop for the federally mandated 10-hour sleep breaks before hitting the road again. Ten hours is just barely enough to sleep, eat, and shower. This also means that my sleep breaks come at different times each day, not letting me get on any sort of regular schedule. So I drive for 10 hours, then stop and eat crappy truck stop food because I need a real meal and I can't bear to be in the truck anymore, then I crawl back in the sleeper and pass out, get up, start all over again. No real downtime at all. Like right now: I pulled into this truck stop at 5pm local time, and in order to deliver this load on time I'll have to get out of here at 3am. It's still light out and I can't sleep, hence the Internet-time.

I've been told that usually drivers that just get out of training get pretty easy loads with big windows of time, but this has not been my experience. And this kind of frenetic scheduling was one of the things that made training so hellish for me. I know that this sort of running is the only way to make money in this business, but my sanity can't handle it.

There are a lot of things I've learned about myself lately. About my own limits, physically and emotionally. And I'm discovering less and less of a need to prove things to myself and the rest of the world, and trying to figure out what that means for me as a truck driver.

I'm supposed to be home starting this weekend for five days, and I'm already dreading getting back on the road. Five days doesn't feel long enough to make up for the last five weeks.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I've got this rig that runs on memory

IOWA 80 - I've been a bona fide qualified solo truck driver for two days now. I think I like it, but I haven't stopped for long enough to really figure it out.

I was assigned a truck on Friday, and it spent two days in the shop. It's better now. I like the truck itself - it's a long nosed model, which I really didn't want, but at least it's better than some of the trucks I drove during training. Shifts well, accelerates well, brakes well. And it's super roomy inside, which is also nice. (For those of you who know about trucks: I'm driving a Freightliner Classic.) I'll post pictures when I get the wherewithall to take some.

Sunday night I drove from Indy to Detroit, or rather to a company drop yard close to the Canada bridge, where loads stay before and after border crossings. Monday morning I was sent to pick up a load of salt on the other side of Detroit. All fine and good, except that I-75 is completely closed through the middle of the city. So I took some detours, ended up getting lost in some charmingly bombed-out section of South Detroit, made some probably-illegal turns, finally found I-94 and was finally on my way again. And then my phone rang, and it was my dispatcher telling me to forget about the salt and go back to the drop yard to pick up a trailer that was already there and take it to California. Mind you, that particular trailer had been there since last week. There was absolutely no need for me to drive around South Detroit for two hours. Gah.

Chances are that I'll be swapped off this load because at this point, only a team truck can get it there on time. Either that, or they'll need to push the delivery appointment a day back. This load delivers about an hour from my house, so obviously I'd like to keep it so I can actually go home.

More about how I actually feel about being out on the road by myself at a later time. Like when I actually have time?