.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Trucker's Journal

I've been a trucker since November, 2004. Before that I was an accountant for many years. I'm having fun and actually making more than I did before. Go figure....

Location: Midwest, United States

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Yes, I've fiddled with the picture to make me and the truck less identifiable. Don't complain, it might be all you get :)

Greedy chipmunks and hungry birds

Greedy chipmunks and hungry birds

Truckers are governed by many rules and regulations. Some say too many, but that's another essay here. One of the rules governs how much you can work. It takes many pages to list them all, but suffice it to say that you violate them at the risk of heavy fines and penalities. Plus, I work for the only company which utilizes electronic logging (a hint to those in the know!) so I can't even think about cheating on my log book to go just a little bit farther.

Yesterday I arrived at a shipper with only 4 hours left to work (drive or be "on duty") and it took them more than that long to get to me. So, when they finally finished loading me, the only thing I could do was pull away from the dock and park on the side of the street for my mandatory 10 hour break. To add insult to injury, this was out on the edge of town in an industrial park, so there wasn't anywhere to walk for a meal, which would have been my one and only meal of the day. That doesn't count the Coke or honey-buns about 11 hours before that. So, I walked inside and sweetly inquired of the shipping clerk if there was a local pizza (or other) establishment which delivered. Wouldn't you know it, she had the pamphlet in her desk and let me look. She then even dialed and ordered my meal from Mario's. Yep, you guessed it--Chinese food! No, I'm joking, I ordered the 10" All-Star Pizza which included green peppers, onions, pepperoni, mushrooms, and linguisa. Of course, I had to ask what it was. My first thought was that it was tongue (lingua being Latin for that anatomy as well as the root for language) and I have never eaten that meat before (make your own - http://www.emerils.com/recipes/by_name/linguisa_sausage.html). She didn't tell me what it contained, so I might have had tongue last night, but she did say it was a spicy Portuguese sausage loved by the area of South Massachusetts which has many of that ancestry. It wasn't too spicy, at least I could tolerate it. It was good even if slighly greasy. I could have eaten every crumb of it, but had been sitting watching a couple small birds scavenging the ditchline where I was parked, and one was even taking something to a baby sitting in the bushes. I'm compassionate (even if not conservative!) and thought I'd share the crust of one piece with the birds. So, when I finished all but that one crust, I stopped eating and placed the box on the ground next to the truck for the birds to eat. I was planning to retrieve it and deposit in the trash, but events to be told later prevented that.

It took only about 30 seconds for a previously unseen bird to fly in and start investigating. He (or she?) landed on the box which immediately tipped slightly and scared the bird off. It was about the size and shape of a robin, but was all gray except for a brown head and black tail feathers which shone slightly blue with irridescence in the setting sun. It returned almost at once and started pecking at the crust, gorging on the liberated crumbs. The smaller bird (wren or sparrow?) which had prompted me to make the sacrifice was watching and got impatient and flew down and alit next to the box. The gray bird squawked and spread its tail feathers in a display of dominance, making the smaller bird leave temporarily. When the gray bird finished, the small one went over and pecked loose crumbs several times, filled its bill and fed the baby, returning again and again.

All at once, something crawled out of the weeds and evicted the small bird! It took me a few seconds to realize that it was a chipmunk. I figured with the size of the crust and the size of the animal, he/she would eat a little bit and leave the rest for others. It sat there and ate quite a bit, then showed that we humans aren't the only ones with a propensity toward hoarding things we can't use now. It carefully tried picking up the entire crust in its mouth, having trouble until it happened to figure out the physics of the fulcrum point and bit it in the middle so the weight was evenly distributed and ran into the bushes with it. The small bird came back and pecked around on the cardboard for a few minutes, gleaning everything possible, then left. I was going to then get the carton and throw it away but as I neared, I noticed on closer examination that it was now covered with ants. Well, I'm no expert on them, but I know some of them bite and/or sting and it's painful, so I decided to leave it there. I normally don't litter, but if you had seen that ditch, you would have thought that it was on the same level leaving it there as throwing one grain of sand on a beach, so I didn't feel as badly about it.

The chipmunk and gray bird mentioned. The bird waits while the crust is stolen.

Good intentions

Good intentions

I recently drove through Virginia and North Carolina and noticed that in parts of those states, highway beautification is going full force on the interstate system. Spring and the imminent arrival of summer shows a profusion of planted flowers, both of the cultivated and "wild" variety. One section in NC, I believe, was extraordinarily nice. The northbound and southbound sections were separated by a small hill so the median was all that was visible beside the highway. One portion could be called a meadow and was covered with brilliant red poppies. In the center of those wonderful blooms was a fawn, still covered with the white spots/stripes characteristic of the young of the white-tailed deer. It seemed oblivious to the traffic as it munched on poppy greenery. (I wish I had been able to get a picture of it, but my camera takes about 5 seconds to "warm up" sufficiently to snap, so by the time I saw it and tried to turn on the camera, I was a quarter mile down the road. Alas....) The thought crossed my mind that it was on its way to becoming addicted to opium, courtesy of a political subdivision of the same country which pays other countries *NOT* to plant poppies.

You see, the red poppy (first Google link I found - http://opioids.com/poppy.html and another - http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/p/popwhi64.html) growing there is the same poppy as those grown by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and by countless others in countries around the world. They harvest the raw opium and convert it to morphine and/or heroin for shipment to the United States and other countries where there is a demand. But, it's not illegal to grow those same poppies in the US. There is no USDA program similar to the "don't raise pigs or soybeans or (insert crop name here) and we'll pay you money" that is one of the mainstays of our convoluted farm subsidy program. You may plant as many as you wish, if all you do is enjoy the blossoms. I've been told, but haven't verified, that until you have the INTENT to harvest the raw opium from those plants, there is no crime. You don't even have to do it, just have intent. Talk about your "thought crimes"! (Another Google link which contains a "Laws" subsection - http://www.erowid.org/plants/poppy/poppy.shtml which says it's illegal to grow for the opium but questionable for ornamental use.)

"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Quick quiz: who said that? When asked, many people believe it's from the Bible. BZZZT--wrong! It's not 100% documented, but many scholars lean toward Karl Marx as that quote's author. Others (http://www.samueljohnson.com/road.html) say Samuel Johnson. Intentions are slippery things; does that fawn have the intention to partake of the opium in those poppies? If so, it's on the road to prison, if not Hell.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Sirius radio

I took the plunge and spent $99 (with $50 mail-in rebate, which I *must* send in soon, net cost $49) for a Sirius radio for the truck. Yes, it's a subscription service costing $12.95 each month, but I figure I'm in the truck 24/7 for 7 of every 8 days, and I need reliable entertainment and news programs. There are lots of channels I don't like and will never listen to, but there are still some I haven't sampled yet. So far I've not strayed far from the news and talk with the occasional foray into music. Channel 10 is "The Bridge" and is light (as opposed to heavy metal) music of my generation including Jimmy Buffet, James Taylor, The Eagles, etc. There are classical, blues, jazz, etc., also, and I'll get there eventually. I did listen to the trucker's channel (138) and got into a talk show where they were berating "some crackpot who doesn't like our President" and said "he actually believes our government would hide information from us about 11-Sep-01 and other things", both comments which turned me off. I might sample it again, but will be on the lookout for stuff that doesn't agree with my worldview such as that.

Yes, I've spilled the beans, I'm a Democrat and a Liberal. I'm avoiding the "right" (as in right and left, not right and wrong) talk channels and concentrating on Air America, NPR, etc. For news, it's NPR, PRI, BBC, etc. Fox News (motto: "We distort, er, report, you decide") has an audio channel on there, but it was the first experiment I performed on blocking a channel so I won't accidentally tune it.

If you have Sirius or the rival, XM, let me know how you like it and what your favorites are. Channel listing http://sirius.com/pdf/channelguide.pdf and you must have the Adobe reader to view it.

This is not a great photo, but I'll share anyway. You can see dead bugs and wiper smears, but the man with the hard hat is standing on the first car of a train at a steel foundry where I had to deliver a load. The strap across his shoulder holds a small box which is a remote control for the locomotive behind him. I watched him push a button and the horn blew, then he moved a joystick and the train started. There are times I wish I could sit at home and run this truck by remote control, but that system isn't available...yet.

Here's another view of the St. Louis Arch. The black spots to the left of it are not UFOs, merely the remnants of unlucky bugs which met my windshield at a high rate of speed.

I had to go through Indianapolis on the Memorial Day weekend and saw a blimp which was probably televising the race that Sunday.

I spent the night on the Illinois side of St. Louis and this is the Gateway Arch as seen over the spectator stands of the Gateway Raceway. They were having drag races there the next day and my time sleeping was interrupted numerous times with the noise of 15 seconds of roaring as they did practice runs. It wasn't a lot of fun sleeping 27 times for 10 minutes each.

This sign is on the I-270 loop around Columbus, OH. The first time I saw it, I misread it as "Turtle" and thought that the signal lights on that road must take a L-O-N-G time to change!

Mosque just South of Toledo, OH. It's a beautiful building which I got most of while driving down I-75.

Unusual truck warning signs

Unusual truck warning signs

I've started watching signs intended only for trucks. Many are very self-evident, but there's one that still mystifies me when I see it. Well, not it as in single, since this involves two or more in a series. Picture yourself driving a tall vehicle down a limited-access road such as the US Interstate system. Bridges will for the most part be labeled with the vertical clearance. It is a major disaster if you try to pull a trailer under an overpass of some sort that is not quite tall enough. The standard trailer height is 13' 6", but different states have different labelling rules, so that you often see those signs for higher clearances. The mystery to me is why state highway departments waste signs in a situation involving two bridges/overpasses where the second one is higher than the first and there's no place to enter the highway between them. Maybe that doesn't make sense, since if you see a 14' sign and can clear it, do you really care if the next one is 15' 10" since you know you will clear a higher one if you already went through a lower one. The opposite way, yes, both are needed, but the way I described it, there's no way the truck can grow 1' 10" taller in between them without some very highly unusual circumstances.

Speaking of bridges, I believe New York is the only state which doesn't follow the method other states use. I've been told two different explanations for their system, and am not sure which one is correct. Number one says they measure from the center of the axle, which is approximately one foot. The other says they have planned their system so that if there is one foot of packed snow on the road, the sign will still show a correct clearance. Personally, if there's a foot of snow packed down into an icy sheet on the road, I really don't want to be driving on it. But, back to my New York bridge story. I was making a very early morning delivery in the Buffalo area and there was little traffic as most hadn't started going to work yet. I had some incomplete directions which only told me which street to turn on without a direction such as "left" or "West". I got the the street, mentally flipped a coin, and turned left. Uh oh, almost immediately I saw a bridge labelled 11' 8". Following the rule I just gave you, since there wasn't any snow, I mentally added the foot and thought that my 13' 6" trailer wouldn't fit under a 12' 8" bridge. I stopped, put on my 4-way flashers to alert other traffic, and had my cell phone in my hand to call the police to help me turn around. The company for which I work forbids U-turns unless under the direction of a police officer, and I really couldn't do it without backing up a good distance since there was a concrete divider between the two directions of traffic. I was poised to call when I heard a horn sounding very close to me, so I looked. Directly on the other side of that barrier was a man in a small pickup truck yelling at me. I rolled my window down and he told me I could make it. I asked how he knew and was informed that he drove a large truck for a local delivery company and came through here all the time. I pointed to the sign and asked how I could clear. He told me to look closely and notice that the underside was arched, and that it was measured at the lowest point over the traffic lanes, near the edge. He told me to get as close to the barrier as I could and go through slowly and I would make it. I pulled up very close and started edging forward slowly. At the point where the tractor was under but the trailer wasn't, I stepped out and looked and sure enough, I had inches to spare! Thanks to the good samaritan I was spared the laughter of a police officer when he told me the same thing and watched me drive under.

I have gone under several marked 13' 6" and looked overhead and seen concrete missing or shiny spots on exposed metal which leads me to believe some tried it with too much snow pack, or hit a bump which caused a bounce. I've never hit anything overhead except for overhanging tree branches. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the future.

Truck drivers as ballet stars

Truck drivers as ballet stars

Have you ever watched a ballet? I confess I've never seen one live, only portions on television. But, I'm sure that most truck drivers are really failed ballet stars. We are forced by Federal rules to take a 10 hour break after driving up to 11 hours, and I don't sleep 10 hours, so the rest of the time is spent eating, showering, computering (is that a word?), or just sitting around watching the sights in the parking lot. Most truckers prefer to back into a spot rather than pull in, and it's fun to watch the different techniques used. In a small lot with little traffic, it's all solo action. When you get into a larger lot with heavy traffic, there are always many trying to park at once--in different spots, of course. Each of them becomes a prima ballerina and it totally unchoreographed in relation to the other drivers. The most intriguing ones to watch are the ones with supreme self-confidence who make it seem so simple, and who can do it in one perfectly seamless motion with no corrections or repositioning pullups. The most fascinating to me are the ones who pull up and look at the spot, then immediately start making a large tight turn away from the spot. The tractor will at times make a 90 degree (or more) angle with the trailer, and you will only be able to see one side in your mirrors. They can position their trailer so that it's almost lined up for a "straight back" which is the simplest time. They will then, if there is enough forward room, straighten up the tractor and trailer and smoothly enter the empty space. There are other varieties of backing into a spot including the 45 and the 90, named for the angle of the trailer to the empty hole when the backing process begins. The 45 wasn't taught to me in driving school since it's not covered on my state's CDL test, but it's much simpler than the 90. There are times when the 90 is the only choice you have and is the most difficult one to do, but can be mastered with enough practice. But the simplest parking place to occupy is the "pull through" where there aren't two rows of tractors and attached trailers back to back between two traffic lanes. The pull through can be tricky if there isn't enough room to swing wide while lining up with it, but since it doesn't involve backing, it's the spot of choice for most truckers. As I was taught in school, the first rule of backing a large 70 foot combination vehicle is don't do it unless you have to!