While I was driving, I spent a good portion of my time lost. Dispatcher directions are not the best in the world. That’s probably because none of them can read a map.
I’ve been lost in LA, lost in Chicago, lost in the Bronx, lost in Laredo. You name a city that I drove to, and I’ve probably been lost in it.
Chicago can be a real bitch for a truck driver. Heavy traffic, narrow streets and the fact that it has countless low overpasses add up to driving nightmares.
In October, 2002, I got a two-drop load from Massachusetts to Illinois. I had three sets of directions to this place, a specialty foods retail outlet in Downers Grove, IL, west of Chicago. One set of directions came from my office, one set came from a driver at my pickup location in Taunton and one was gleaned by yours truly from my Atlas. The set from the other driver contained too many toll roads, so I held them for an emergency. The set that I got from my Atlas looked too simple, given the complexity of the other two. I went with my office directions.
My directions took me north on I-55 to its junction with I-90/94 north. I was to get off at exit 50 onto Ogden Avenue, west – the street my drop was on. I was to follow Ogden Avenue 4½ miles and the store would be in a little strip mall on the right. The mileage total was right at 60 miles.
I followed the directions, missing only one turn which cost me about ten miles. I found exit 50, got off onto Ogden Avenue and into a pretty run-down neighborhood just west of downtown Chicago. About three miles after I left the interstate, I encountered something Chicago and Boston are both famous for in the trucking world – a low-clearance underpass. It was 13 feet on one side and 12 ½ feet on the other. My truck was 13’6” tall.
I pulled to the curb, set my brakes, definitely locked my doors and headed to a Burger King across the street. Normally, fast food workers are not the best at giving directions – or even knowing where they are at any given moment - but I lucked out. A Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy was standing in line. I apologized for bothering him while he was on break, and asked him where Downers Grove was. “Let’s see,” he said. “From here you’re about 25 miles from there. You drivin’ that semi?” I assured him that I was indeed driving that red monster. “You’ll never get under that bridge,” he informed me.
“Yeah, I realize that. How do I get to Downers Grove if I can’t go that way,” I asked? “You got me, man. You better call and find out.”
Great idea, but I did not have their number and they weren’t listed in the Chicago book. I was just preparing to go back to my truck, release the brakes and lay down under the trailer tandems, when a black man coming out of the burger joint asked, “Where ya lookin’ to get to, driver?” I told him. “Shit – take a right at this light, go to 31st Street and hook a right, go to California Avenue and take a left – there’s a sign for 55. That’ll put you on 55 south. Go to Route 83 north – it’ll take you right into Downers Grove.”
I should have figured that. Those were the directions I had taken from my Atlas, and would have saved me 40 miles and a ton of aggravation. I followed his directions, sort of. Someone had removed the sign for I-55 at the intersection of 31st and California. I couldn’t see the street sign until it was too late to make my turn, so I headed further down 31st to find a place to turn around.
All the side streets were too narrow for me to loop around with right or left turns, so I kept going. Needless to say, that was not where I wanted to be. I passed through a large
Hispanic/Asian neighborhood and ended up at Cicero Avenue. To my right was a large vacant, gravel lot, used as a flea market/farm market during the warmer months. That day, it was vacant.
I made a right onto Cicero and swung into the lot. There was plenty of room to turn around, but getting back out onto Cicero and into the left turn lane was a bitch. Chicago has almost as many drivers as LA.
I finally got out into traffic, made my turn, found California Avenue, I-55, I-83 and Ogden Avenue in Downers Grove.
I located the drop, and pulled behind their strip mall. I was two hours late and expected to get some shit about it, but everyone was cool. A young fellow came out through the back door with a hand-operated pallet jack, and we proceeded to unload half my trailer – about 10,000 pounds. When we finished, I reaffirmed my directions to their Glenview location, and hit the road.
About five blocks down the street, just before I was to get back on highway 83, my truck lurched and I heard a loud “whooshing” sound. An air-line on my trailer had blown, locking down one set of trailer wheels. I pulled slowly into a parking lot, located the line that was leaking by the sound of escaping air, shut the air off to my trailer brakes and messaged road service.
Four hours later I was back on the road, already four hours late for my delivery, with an hour’s drive ahead of me. It took about five minutes to repair the air line, but the service man had gotten lost. It must be something about Chicago.
I arrived at the second drop at 2330, expecting to pull behind their store and sleep until they arrived the next morning. Believe it or not they were waiting for me. It seemed road service had called them, and after explaining my plight, they had agreed to wait until midnight for me, “but not a minute later.” We had the other 10,000 pounds of foodstuffs off-loaded by 0030, and I was on my way back to our drop yard. It turned out to be a 23-hour day, but my log only showed 8¼ hours of it. I made it to the bunk and don’t even remember hitting the pillow.
Next up – Lost in da Bronx. Stay tuned.