Friday, October 21, 2005

The Joy of Trucking (Part 1)

Truck driving is similar to serving in the Army. Most of the job consists of, “Hurry up and Wait.” If I dropped a load at 0800, I’d get another load assignment at 0815 that read, “Next pickup @ 0845 in Bumfuck. High priority load. Must be on time.”

No matter that the pickup was over 100 miles away and the directions sucked. I could message dispatch that there was no way I’d make it on time or that I was about out of driving hours for the day. The return memo would read, “Do the best you can.”

I’d bust ass to get to the pickup and guess what. The load would not be ready for another two hours. I hurried, now I’d wait.

At the other end of the run, the delivery, it would be a repeat performance.

Many a night I sat in a WalMart distribution center for 6, 8 or even 10 hours while they fiddle-farted around unloading 6 pallets from my trailer. Then I’d wait another hour while they processed the paperwork and got the signed bills of lading back to me.

It didn’t take long for my attitude to shift from, “If it’s due at 0800, I’ll be there at 0630,” to, “I’ll get there when I can.”

Yes, truck driving is a joy.



Friday, October 14, 2005

Fall is Here

Fall is here. The leaves are beginning their magical transformation from green to yellows and reds then to withered browns. Everyone knows this change takes place every year, but they need to see it for themselves – over and over again.

Businesses in the western North Carolina region depend on tourism for a good part of their annual income. The most profitable season is fall. “Come see the fall colors in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina. Spend lots of money while you’re here.”

We may be hurting this year, though. Gasoline prices are through the roof, and while they are under $3 per gallon, they still ain’t cheap. Petroleum prices in this area are some of the highest in the nation. Why? Who the fuck knows.

The old logic was that North Carolina has high gasoline taxes. Of course we have good highways too, paid for by those tax revenues.

Added to this, as the legend goes, it costs more to truck the fuel up the mountains. It must be true. All you need to do is drive 30 miles down the mountain into South Carolina and gas is 10 to 15 cents less expensive. Drive another 60 miles to Georgia and the prices drop another 10 cents.

The real question is: Why did fuel prices jump from $1.50 a gallon to $3.50 a gallon in a month? “Oh,” you say. “It was because Hurricane Katrina knocked out so many Gulf shore oil refineries.” So what? All that did was make fuel less plentiful, not more expensive.

OK. So if there’s less fuel, then the oil companies are going to make less money. That makes sense. They’ve only been posting 300 to 500% profit increases each year for the past few years. They need to jack prices up so that their upper management people can still afford their luxury condos and BMW’s.

I guess it’s comparable to me selling bubble gum. My supplier had a fire in his production facility, so I won’t be getting any bubble gum for a month while he retools. If I’m going to maintain the lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed, I need to triple the price of my gum. I don’t need to worry about my customers not buying, because everybody loves bubble gum. They can’t live without it.

But you know what? They can live without it. They can just say, “Screw you. When the price comes back down, which we know it will, we’ll start chewing gum again. You can sit on what you’ve got, and throw it away when it gets stale.”

People can live without using so much fuel, too. First off, get rid of those gas guzzling fuel hogs that we’ve named SUV’s. Who, besides the military, needs a Hummer? Next, quit making 15 trips to the grocery store when 2 or 3 planned trips would be more convenient and a whole lot cheaper. Lastly, look into those “hybrids.” They are the wave of the future.

The only people I feel sorry for in this whole mess are truck drivers. Not the company guys, but the ones who own their own rigs. Fuel costs come right off their bottom line.

My neighbor still drives, and owns his truck. He’s leased out to a large company, but still buys his own fuel. I spoke to him last weekend and he told me that his fuel cost went from $1600 a week to almost $3000.

That’s a hell of a cut when he still has a truck payment, maintenance and repairs, taxes and a mortgage to pay. Yeah, independent truckers make a lot of money. But by the time all the overhead and expenses come out, it may get to the point that it’s just not worth the aggravation any more.

Then watcha gonna do for that gallon of milk or loaf of bread or that new storm door. Most of our commodities are still delivered by trucks.

Be back soon,


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Drinking and Driving

Watched the football game last night – Steelers won!!! I had a few drinks and fell asleep at the beginning of the fourth quarter. When I woke up, the damned news was on.

While I was driving a truck, I didn’t drink much at all. I’d get home every three of four weeks and do my share then. When I was on the road, I didn’t drink at all. It’s difficult to do your best at a dangerous job when you’re hung over. Once or twice when I knew I wouldn’t get a load for a day or two, I bought some beer and drank a few in my truck.

Prior to that I was pretty much a functioning alcoholic. Who you gonna kill managing a restaurant? If I was working nights we closed at 2 a.m. I'd kill a few at the restaurant after the paperwork was done, then head home for a few more. Shit, I could sleep until 2, then head to work again.

I don’t know how I got through all those years without either killing someone or getting a DUI. Many a night I arrived home not knowing how I got there.

When I split from my first wife, I stayed drunk for a solid year. I lost my job, a good one, and ended up working in a gas station for three bucks an hour. Quite a comedown from a job that had afforded me an upper-middle class income.

I found that the best way to avoid a hangover was to stay drunk. For about six months I wore sunglasses with blue lenses, day and night. The world looked so nice. It was soft and warm and furry. Everything was a bathed in a hazy, shadowy blur. I loved it.

No matter that I rolled my future wife’s car one night. I had taken her home after a night of partying and immediately headed back to the party. A little more beer, a little more grass and I was ready for the ride home. I lost it in a curve on a rain-slicked highway, spun several times, hit a road sign and flipped it into the median.

With the help of a passerby, I got the sports car back on its wheels and drove the bitch home. I called the future Mrs. and told her that I had gotten out through the top door. “My car doesn’t have a top door,” she screamed.

“It did tonight, sweetheart,” I said.

That’s why I don’t drink and drive anymore.

Another entry soon.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Rain, Rain

It’s raining today, the first time in what seems like months. Just a nice, steady drizzle that all the house-plants on the deck will enjoy.

When I was driving for a living, I hated rain almost as much as I disliked snow. If I saw snow on the road I knew, along with most other drivers, that stopping would be more difficult. It’s not quite the same with rain.

Most non-professional drivers think, “Shit – it’s just water. No problem.” They’re wrong. Water on the road can be as dangerous as snow or ice.

Coming into Knoxville, Tennessee from the west on I-40 one rainy Saturday around noon, this theory was proven. Five cars, all sporting orange UT banners, had attempted to occupy the same piece of the Interstate at the same time. There’s some law of physics that says that can’t be done, and these drivers found out it’s true.

Two vehicles ended up against the right-hand guard rail, two more landed in the median and the fifth had rolled and was on it’s side in the middle of the road. Vehicle “pieces-parts” littered the highway and stunned occupants were either sitting in the median or standing next to their wrecked rides.

No more than a mile down the Interstate, two more cars and two big trucks had suffered the same fate. Damage to the automobiles was extensive. The drivers and passengers looked shaken, but unhurt.

All because of a little rain, a little hydroplaning and the urge to beat everyone else to a college football game.

More to come,


Friday, October 07, 2005

My First Big Truck

I was an over-the-road trucker for two years, and worked for two companies during that time. The first company didn’t pay for shit, but they did have nice equipment.

My first truck had all the bells and whistles.

A massive amount of storage space helped since I was on the road for a month at a time. That meant a lot of clothing, unless I wanted to stop to do laundry every week or run around the country in dirty, smelly clothes. There are drivers who do that, but I wasn’t one of them.

It had a bunk warmer that ran off the battery so the truck didn’t need to idle while I slept in cooler weather. Of course, when the weather got downright cold, the truck idled anyway to keep the engine and fuel warm.

There were bunk lights, reading lights and a skylight to brighten the inside of the living area. I had a roll-out desk, with storage, for doing my paperwork, a space for a small refrigerator, a nook for a TV set, a cupboard for my food supplies and a night stand for my alarm clock.

The dashboard featured an outside-air thermometer, readings that showed my fuel miles per gallon, a cup holder, a four channel stereo with a CD deck and yet more storage above the windshield.

The second company paid much better, but made up for it by equipping their truck with the bare essentials. I had half the storage space that I was accustomed to, no desk, no space for a refrigerator, no night stand and the dashboard basically showed me how fast I was going and how much fuel was in my tanks.

I stuffed my fridge into a closet and did paperwork on the steering wheel. My alarm clock rolled around on the floor. If I wanted to use my laptop, I balanced it on my knees and worked until it got too hot for my kneecaps.

It was a strange way of life, but I got to see most of the country over those 23 months. I drove over 213,000 miles and saw 47 states. Some of them, like West (by God) Virginia, I saw more times than I wanted to.

California was – interesting. LA was a nightmare as was Chicago. California’s freeways are a bitch – so crowded that you can’t move and under-marked. Chicago is notorious with truckers for having a lot of low-clearance underpasses. I spent more time lost in those two cities than all the others I delivered to.

But the job did afford me the time and subject material to write a book. I dictated notes into a mini-tape recorder as events happened, then later transcribed them and fleshed them out on my laptop.

After another 18 months of rewriting, editing, rewriting some more and a whole lot more editing, I sent it off to an agent. Soon, I hope, I’ll be able to call myself a published author.

The name of my masterpiece? It’s Mother*ucker, Life on the Road.

I'll be back,


Thursday, October 06, 2005

Time Flies

Is it possible? It can’t be. I’m not that old, am I?

It’s been 50 years since James Dean died in a car crash on September 30, 1955.

I saw Rebel Without a Cause as a teenager later that year and knew I wanted to see more movies by that guy. He was great. So hip. So cool. So rebellious. And he could act too.

He wore clothes that made him look like we all wanted to look. He drove the car that we all dreamed of owning. His girlfriend in the movie(Natalie Wood)was our dream girl. He was my new hero. My first hero had been Hopalong Cassidy.

When I got home later that afternoon, I announced to my parents that I’d seen a great new actor – James Dean. I told them that I was going to see all his future movies as soon as they were released.

Then my father told me the news. “Son,” he said, “James Dean died in an automobile accident a few months ago. I don’t think he’ll be in many more new movies.”

I was crushed. How could this be? My new hero was now my new dead hero? What a kick in the nuts.

But he was in one more new movie. Giant. And what an epic performance. Still cool. Still hip. Still a rebel. I don’t remember how many times I went to the local theater on Saturday afternoons and watched it twice.

I do know that even though Rock and Roll was becoming THE music of my generation, the song that stayed in my head for months was, “This land is Texas – Lone Star State of Texas – Land I love.”

James Dean epitomized the phrase, “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse.”



Wednesday, October 05, 2005


OK…OK. Enough already. Hundreds of you have sent comments asking about the “freak” accident mentioned in my first post – “The Journey Begins.” Well, not yet you haven’t, but I’m sure you will, so I’m saving you the effort.

In my second post – “My Agent” – I mentioned that I have, on occasion, zoned out. Well, the accident happened at one of those times. Timing is everything.

It was the day after Thanksgiving. After lunch, my son-in-law Greg and I went to the local Home Depot to pick up some plywood for a home project. We loaded it into my pickup truck along with a few other things we spotted as we roamed through the warehouse. “See that? Man, I just gotta have one of those.” Yep, the old impulse buys.

Here’s where the zoning out starts. We put the 4X8 sheets of plywood into the truck, and I placed the other purchases on top of them. “Yeah, that’ll hold the wood down,” I thought. “No need to tie it down.” Zone out # 1.

As we left the parking lot, I took a wrong turn and headed toward town instead of the Interstate. “No problem,” I told Greg. “It’ll just take a little longer to get home this way.” Little did I know long it would take. Zone out # 2.

As we stopped for a traffic light in downtown Asheville, the driver behind us blew his horn. “Asshole,” I thought. “The damned light is still red.” As I turned around to give him the finger I saw that he was trying to warn me. A stiff breeze had come up and the plywood was lifting out of my truck.

By the time Greg and I jumped out of the pickup, both sheets of wood were on the pavement. He grabbed one while I got the other. Now, this is where it gets more like a cartoon than real life. Not funny, just sort of surreal.

Greg had thrown his wood into the truck’s bed, but just as I lifted mine up in front of me a huge fucking gust of wind blew down the canyon created by the cityscape.

I was lifted several feet off the ground, blown across two lanes of traffic and deposited in the gutter. I could see where I was about to land, but there was nothing I could do about it.

The next 30 minutes were a blur of concerned passersby calling 911, cops, EMT’s, ambulance drivers, backboards and finally nurses trying to remove my clothing with scissors.

Following a brief exam by an ER doctor, I was off to X-ray where we discovered that I had fractured my pelvis in several places and had too many breaks in my left elbow to count.

Wheeled back to my little curtained cubicle, I watched as doctors, nurses and other ER personnel stopped to look at my X-rays. They were posted on a viewer just outside my room. One doctor even stuck his head through the curtain and said, cheerfully, “Very impressive.” I was not amused.

To make a long story short, three surgeries, eight pins, a long screw that looks like the big brother of the ones I built my deck with and assorted Teflon wires later, my elbow doesn’t work for shit. The prognosis for returning to gainful employment was, “a minimum of 6 months, if ever.”

All the bones in what was my elbow have been moved around. They stick out at weird angles and the head of the screw that runs from my elbow down into my forearm is sticking out. The screw was supposed to hold everything together, but it doesn’t. The bone that was the point of the elbow keeps moving around. That’s a great feeling.

On the subject of feeling; there is none on the outside of my forearm from elbow to pinky finger.

Now, I ask you, does that qualify as a “freak” accident or what? Rick James could have written a song about it.

Oh, have I told you that my agent wants me to write more?



Tuesday, October 04, 2005

My Agent

My agent says I need to write more. About anything. He doesn’t give a shit. “Just write,” he says. Maybe it’s so he can make money if I come up with something good. I don’t know.

It ain’t as easy as it sounds, though. I think, “OK. I’m gonna write something – at least start something - new today.” That’s the kiss of death right there. Thinking about it.

Maybe if I could just make my mind blank for an hour or so, I could come up with something. I’ve been accused, on more than one occasion, of “zoning out,” losing all touch with reality. But, I can’t seem to do it at will.

Maybe if I got really, really drunk it would work. No. My spell checker would probably have a stroke and die.

Maybe if I closed my eyes and meditated. Chant a little or sit cross-legged on the floor. Touch my “fuck you” finger to my thumb and say, “Ooooooommmmm.” Then, I’d just fall asleep. Another hour or so wasted.

I know what doesn’t work. Just sitting here thinking about what to write. My mind does go blank, but when I come to there’s still no idea dangling at the edge of my consciousness.

It must be nice to be Robert B. Parker. Able to write 40 or 50 novels, most about the same characters. All set in the same city. Double-space them, leave wide margins and six inches of blank space at the top and bottom of each page. If a 300-page Parker book was printed the same way that a James Lee Burke book was, Parker would be down to about 100 pages. The problem is, I read every damn one of his books and can’t wait for the next. Burke affects me the same way. Carl Hiassen, too.

I’m not that much dumber than those guys. At least I don’t think I am. I worked on my first book for three fucking years. I wrote it, then I revised it, then I edited it, then I revised it. Three years. I got sick of the damn thing. I got to the point that I couldn’t stand to read it any more. It bored the piss out of me. So, I sent it to an agent. He seemed to like it.

Did I mention that he wants me to write more?


Monday, October 03, 2005

The Journey Begins

Hot damn - six months ago I didn't know what a blog was and now I are one.

I'm a first-time author, attempting to have my baby published. I have an agent, and the blog was his recommendation.

The first-person narrative follows my life for two years. It begins in January, 2002, when I attended a 17-day school for prospective truck drivers.

I began the project not as a future book, but simply as a diary of my adventures, writing things down so that I could relate them to my family and friends when I returned home. The deeper I got into it, the more I thought that much of the information contained in my notes might be of interest to others. When I showed the project to my wife, she agreed that there might be a book in there, somewhere.

Chapters relate my experiences on a month-to-month basis during training and later on the road as a professional driver.

Truckers are seen by the general public on a daily basis, but are a relatively unknown breed. Long hours, solitary meals and weeks away from home are the norm.

The people I met along the way are a large part of the story, as well as the places I visited, the sights I saw and the mistakes I made. And there were mistakes.

This monthly diary reveals my experiences both good and bad. It follows me back and forth across the country many times while I visited 47 states and racked up over 213,000 miles in 23 months.

It ends with a non-driving, non-work related freak accident that left me unable to work and on disability.

My agent likes it, I like it and hopefully you will to. With luck, it will be published soon.

I promise another entry soon.