Monday, December 29, 2008


I finally was able to get Miss Velvet out of the garage Saturday, and back on the road once again. For the past month, the weather has been sucky every time I was at home, leaving little opportunity to ride her. I'm not going to go out into the rain, unless I get caught in it while I'm out, and I have a rule that if it's cold enough to see my breath in the air, it's too cold to ride. On top of all the financial woes I've faced this past year, getting pneumonia and knocking myself out of work for a couple of weeks sure won't help matters at all, so I'll avoid any possibility of that, thank you. 

Okay, okay -- there were a few milder, unrainy days when I could have ridden, if I'd pushed myself a little, but I didn't. Other matters intruded on me and by the time I'd ridden any distance at all, it would have gotten dark. Once night comes, at this time of year, the milder daytime temperatures begin to drop rapidly. I get my buns frozen often enough in my trucking job, operating "up nawth." To subject myself to that misery deliberately, on a motorcycle, seems idiotic to me. So, I declined it. 

I rode to a relative's home, out in the countryside, visited awhile with them, then headed back into town. It was a nice ride, on a nice day. Temperature was almost 70 and it was mostly sunny, with only a few afternoon clouds. The perfect riding day I'd been waiting for. The stuttering, rumpety-rump sound of Velvet's Harley exhaust was music to my ears after such a long layoff and I relished the deep, throaty tone of her pipes as we rode along. A man and his beloved machine, out on a beautiful day! What more could one ask for? Riding temporarily separated me from all my worries. Who cares? Just me and the breeze, cruising along. If I could spend my whole life like this, I would. Too bad I can't; each ride has to end, sooner or later, my euphoria rudely interrupted by this thing called "reality." But at least I do have Velvet; she's my escape valve and there will be other rides taken, in the future. 

Took a detour by way of my favorite hangout, Coyote Joe's, on my journey home, perhaps to prolong the pleasure as long as possible, perhaps to socialize with some acquaintances. Or, maybe because I was hungry. Ya think? The lot was full of bikes, as I rode in. Everybody was out on two wheels today -- the nicest one we'd had in ages. It looked like they were having one of their famous (and notorious) summer blowouts, but I knew that was still months away and the only party scheduled anytime soon was on New Year's Eve. So, it was just everyone out enjoying the nice weather, I assumed. I parked, got rid of my "brain bucket," went in and ordered up a cheeseburger platter and a bottle of brew. Only a couple of people there I knew at the time, and they were with some other friends, so I watched the TV and glanced at a biker magazine on my table. I traded text messages with a trucker pal of mine, who was braving the snow and ice out in the Wild West, where he was hauling a load back eastbound. Told him about the nice weather we were having locally, but if he was envious of my good fortune, he didn't let on at all. I guess he was too preoccupied with getting down those snowy 20-mile-long downgrades in the mountains out there in one piece. I know I would be.

After eating and a couple more brews, I paid up, fired Velvet up again, and headed back home. It was night by then, but still mild, temperature-wise, due to the unusually warm weather. I'd worn my half-helmet and the only goggles I had with me were my wrap-around sunglasses. Unsuitable for use at night, so I had to make do with just my prescription lenses for eye protection. Not enough, as my eyes began to water a little, from the effect of the wind. It didn't get bad enough to really hamper me, though, and I made it home all right.  Sunday morning it was raining again, so I plugged Velvet's battery tender back in, so she'll start right up whenever I ride her again. Today it's nice again, but no time to ride, as I have to leave back out later this morning. Back to the road, back to making what money I can, back to the grind once more. There's New Year's to come yet, of course, but the biggie, Christmas, is over for another year. I have a doctor appointment on Jan. 5th, so I know I'll be back. But not for a whole week, like last week. Can't afford too many unpaid "vacations" like that one. 

I owe, I owe, so it's back to work I go. . . 

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Author's Note: The following tale is an original fictional Christmas story that first appeared in this blog a few years ago, when it was on AOL. Now that the blog has been evicted from AOL and moved here, I have several new readers who haven't read it before, so I'm presenting it for an encore performance here. If you have read it previously, I hope that it will be worth re-reading again. -- L.J.W.


The familiar voice of Crankhandle's dispatcher came through the cellphone. "Deagan. What can I do for you?"

"Hey, Mike. This is Crank. You asked me to call, so what's up?"

"Oh, yeah, Crank. Uh -- hold on just a second, okay?"

Crankhandle shook his head. "All right." What else could he say? He whistled tunelessly to himself as he waited on hold. Listening intently, he could make out voices talking in the background in the dispatch room, back at the yard, but wasn't able to make out any words. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel for a moment before Mike's voice spoke again.

"Uh, Crank?"

"Yeah. Still here."

"Okay. We want you to relay your load to another truck at the truckstop in Fairfield. It's right on your way home. The load you're swapping for will still get you home for Christmas, so there's no problem there. Other driver's load is out of route for him to get home and, uh, well, he needs to get there for the holiday. Is the swap okay with you?"

"Crap, Mike!! This load gives me a long holiday at home. Been out for almost three weeks now and I've really been looking forward to the downtime, y'know? Ain't there anybody else who can swap with him?"

"Nope. You're the only truck anywhere near the other driver that has a load that'll take him home. Look, I understand his kid's sick or something and he really needs to be home."

Crankhandle let out a long sigh. "Hell, why me? Why does this always happen when I get a good load??" He paused a moment, his shoulders slumping in disappointment. "Okay. Yeah, I guess I'll help him out. When does the load I'm getting deliver?"

"The day after Christmas. I can set the eta up in the afternoon, so that you don't have to leave out at dawn, but it's gotta get there that day. Best I can do."

"Double-crap!! There goes my extra day off! Oh, man!! Okay -- all right. I'm rollin' soon's they get me loaded. Probably another hour."

"Sounds good. Let me know when you get to the truckstop. I know you'll beat the other driver there by a few hours. He's not even at the shipper yet."

"Wonderful!! Got any more good news for me?? No, never mind! I don't want to hear it. I'll talk to you later, Mike."

"Merry Christmas, Crank. "

"Yeah. Right."

Fuming as he drove, Crankhandle headed for the truckstop as soon as he left the shipper. Dammit, it seemed like something like this happened every single time he got a good load that would give him extra home time! Aggravating wasn't even the right word for it! "Bah! Humbug!" he snorted. His Christmas cheer was definitely gone now and he was truly feeling like a real Scrooge.

It took him about two hours to get to the truckstop, which was about halfway between the shipper and his hometown. At this relatively early time of day, he had no trouble finding an easy pull-through parking spot and he braked to a halt, popped the parking brake handle, and got out of the truck, heading inside for a cup of coffee. He got back in the truck and sipped the coffee, surfing the channels on his satellite radio set until he found one he liked. It wasn't playing Christmas music. He was definitely in no mood for that now. After awhile, he called his girlfriend and unloaded on her, telling her about his woes. She didn't want to hear his complaining.

"Cheer up," she told him sternly. "You're still getting home. That's the main thing. You did the right thing. Heck, you might need another driver to do you a favor sometime! Now get over it, get it done and get here as soon as you can!"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. What goes around, comes around, right?"

"That's right. Now put a smile on your face and be glad you'll be home with me on Christmas."

He ended the call and settled down to wait. He nodded out briefly, then woke back up with a start when some asshole let out a long blast on his air horn. "Got no respect for anybody!" he growled. He looked at his watch, then typed out and sent a message on the Qualcomm unit beside his driver's seat. 'Got any idea when the other driver will be here?' He waited patiently for more than ten minutes before the reply came through. 'Probably another three or four hours.' "Great!" He slumped against the steering wheel in boredom and frustration. "I need my head examined," he muttered out loud. "Why in the hell do I do these things?? I must really be a soft touch!"

"No, Crank. You're a really good person, down inside. That's why you do it." The voice came from the passenger seat and Crankhandle's head immediately whirled in that direction. A distinguished-looking man, dressed in spotless white clothes sat there. He had a short beard and had the most piercing eyes Crank had ever seen in his life. The figure looked to be older, in his 70's maybe, and the hair on Crank's head stood up as he realized he could see the truck's door panel dimly through his strange visitor's body.

"Who the hell are you?? How'd you get in here? I know that door over there is locked. It always is."

"I don't have to open doors," the figure replied. "As to who I am, let's just say I'm a sort of -- teacher. That's close enough for introductions."

"Teacher?? And just what do you teach?"

"Life, Crank. Life."

"And what about life?? What the hell can you teach me that I ain't finding out for myself, the hard way?? It's a bitch, that's what it is!"

"Oh, I can teach you many things, Crank. Things that you can't see or hear otherwise, but true nonetheless. Things that might help you live a little better."


"I see you're skeptical. Very well. Consider the other driver whom you agreed to trade loads with -- the trade that's made you so mad and aggravated. Do you know why that man has such an urgent need to get home this year?"

"Uh -- well, Mike said something about a sick kid at home. But that kid'll get well, with or without his dad there. I just don't see why it's so desperate a thing. Maybe Mike was trying to make me feel sorry for him, to get me to swap. That makes me feel like a fool. Playing on my sympathy."

"No, Crank. You're no fool and nobody's playing you for one. I want to show you something. Will you come with me? It won't take long and it'll make the waiting go faster. I promise."

Crankhandle thought about it a moment, then shrugged. "Hell, why not? Where we goin'?"

"You'll see. Come along then." With that, the figure slowly waved his arm in a circle. From nowhere, a cloud of fog seemed to fill his truck's cab. It was so dense, Crankhandle could barely see his own hand on the wheel. He had a momentary whirling sensation as well, before the fog began to clear around the area of the windshield. The glass cleared, but the familiar sights of the truckstop's parking lot was gone. Instead, Crank was looking into what was obviously a hospital room. The small figure of a young boy lay in a bed with a pretty, but very weary-looking young blonde woman sitting in a chair beside it. The boy looked like he was perhaps six or seven years of age and his head was completely bald. Not a single strand of hair. When his eyes slowly opened, Crankhandle noticed a drugged glaze in them. This kid was obviously very, very sick indeed. The boy looked at the woman expectantly.

"Has dad called?" he asked, in a weak voice. His eyes were filling with tears. "I want dad to be here for Christmas, Mommy!"

The boy's mother leaned over the bed and brushed her son's cheek. "I hope he'll get here, honey. He's doing all he can to get his load swapped so he can get home. If some other nice driver will swap with him, he'll be home to spend Christmas with you and me!"

"I hope and I pray, Mommy."

"So do I, honey. You don't know how much I've been praying. Look, I'm gonna go get some coffee. I'll be right back, okay?"

"Yeah, okay. You gonna call dad?"

"No, he'll call if the swap comes through. Let's give him a little time, all right? These things don't happen that fast."

"All right. Hurry back, mommy."

"I will."

The woman left the room and Crankhandle could see that she didn't go to the coffee shop. Instead, she made it as far as the nurse's station counter, where she broke down, leaning on the counter with her head in her hands, sobbing. The head nurse, whom she knew well by now, heard her and came over, sympathetically cradling the woman against her shoulder, letting her cry it out and patting her back. The nurse's eyes grew damp as well.

"He'll be here," the nurse reassured her in a comforting tone. "I just know he will! Don't you worry none!"

"I -- I just -- I hope he will. If only they can find someone to swap loads with him. That was the only load anywhere near Danny's truck and it wasn't routed through here at all. Stevie's -- well, you know. . . This is probably his last Christmas, from what the doctor told us. The cancer's inoperable and he doesn't have long. Just a shame if he can't see his dad for the holiday. God, I hope they find somebody!!! This means everything to Stevie!!!"

The woman bent over as the sobbing began again and the nurse continued trying to calm her as best she could. "Please, God," she prayed in a low voice. "Help Stevie's dad get home!" The nurse was by now crying openly as well.

Their tears were interrupted by the ringing of the woman's cellphone. Sniffing and drying her eyes, she yanked it out of her purse and flipped it open, hoping against hope. It was Danny, her husband, and the driver Crankhandle had agreed to swap with. As they spoke, the woman's face brightened and the tears turned into a smile.

"They found a driver to swap with you?? Oh, Danny, that's wonderful!! Stevie'll be so thrilled!! I want to know who that driver is, so that I can thank him personally!! Find out his name and how we can contact him, okay? You're on your way now? Great!! Call me when you've swapped and let us know when you'll get here! Okay -- love you too. Bye!"

The woman darted back into her son's room, almost knocking the nurse over in the process. "Stevie!! Guess what?? Daddy's on his way home! Another driver's swapping with him. He'll be here as soon as he can!!"

If Crankhandle had ever wished he had a camera at hand, it was at that moment, when he saw the grin come over Stevie's little face. The boy was beaming, with probably his last wish coming true for him.

"You made that happen, Crank." His visitor spoke again and suddenly, the cab of his truck was normal again, with the scene on the truckstop lot filling his windshield. Stevie and his mom were gone from his view. "You made a little boy's dying wish come true. How do you feel now?"

Crankhandle hung his head and wiped a tear from his own eyes. "Like I'm a class-A asshole for the way I acted about it," he confessed. "I'm not feeling very good about myself right now."

"But you agreed to the swap, Crank. That's the important thing here. Have you learned anything?"

"Yeah, I guess -- don't second-guess anything or question the reason for it. Just do it willingly and quit feeling sorry for myself so much."

"There you go. Good lesson for you. You are a good guy, Crank. A real good guy who plays by the Golden Rule most of the time, anyway. You just needed a little polishing up, that's all."

Crank slowly turned his head toward the passenger seat again. The figure was now dressed and looked exactly like Santa Claus. "What the hell? Santa Claus?? Hey, who are you, anyway?? Are you Santa Claus?"

Crank's visitor laughed long and heartily. "I can be anyone I want to be. I'm a spirit, you see. Let's just say that I'm the Christmas Spirit." The figure winked at Crankhandle. "Merry Christmas, Crank."

Crankhandle grinned broadly. "Merry Christmas! And Merry Christmas to Stevie and his family!"

"NOW you've got the spirit!"

Copyright 2005, Larry J. Wayland   All Rights Reserved


I got some good news this past week -- and some that wasn't so good. I also had some rare good luck and got a trip down to Mississippi, where it was in the 70's in some places, so I didn't have to freeze and could shut my truck down without doing so. I had gone down there in really nasty weather; a mix of snow and freezing rain -- slushy crap that turned a thirty-mile portion of Interstate 55 in Arkansas into a skating rink for cars and 18-wheelers. Fun! But my trailer stayed behind me, where it belongs, and I made it out of that mess. Further south, it was like taking a mid-winter trip to Hawaii, compared to what I'd been through.

It never lasts forever, though, because what goes south will inevitably move north once again. Back into the cold again. No more snow this time, but it dropped more than thirty degrees in a little more than two hundred miles as I moved north of Memphis again. I was by now down to running the engine while I slept, and only running it intermittently while sitting out the remainder of my break period. Run it enough to warm up the cab, then shut it down until I started shivering again. I was getting somewhat used to it, and could stand it longer, so long as it wasn't down into the teens, temperature-wise.

On the way back up to the area of our terminal, I got a fleet message that looked ominous, after a bit of thought. Instead of dropping our trip pack envelopes in the familiar yellow boxes at the truck stops, we were now to take them into the fuel desk and have our paperwork scanned directly to headquarters, in the same manner as owner/operators transmit their bills, receipts, and other important documents to their leasing companies, or customers. On the surface, this was obviously a cost-cutting measure, aimed at bypassing the UPS fees for the trip pack courier service they now provide, as well as bypassing the third party they hire to scan our paperwork and transmit it to Morton. More work for us drivers, but quicker pay as a result, as they get the payroll information in a couple of hours, as opposed to the next day (or a couple of days on the weekends). Only drawback is that now we have to keep and collect all that paperwork, and hold it, as per FMCSA regulations, for 45 days before we can toss it out. Well, hell -- maybe all that paper will help insulate my truck against the cold air, I thought. However, with loads and miles at a premium nowadays, I doubted that I would generate enough "insulation" to help much.

Deeper thought on that subject revealed a disturbing and scary reality, though. My company was getting deeper and deeper into financial doo-doo, if they had to resort to this. A friend jogged my mind on another, more important, reason they were doing this: they need that revenue as fast as they can get it, to pay their bills. Push is coming to shove with my trucking company. Other rumors I'd been hearing from other drivers came to mind. They'd had one CDL training school stop sending them their graduated trainees because of money they owed the school that hadn't been paid. Brand-new 386-model Peterbilt trucks were sitting on the lot at the Peterbilt shop in Morton (which exists solely for our fleet), not being put into service because they can't afford any new leases at this time. That same lot sitting full of older trucks whose leases have expired, which are not being replaced. The third shift in our shop being eliminated completely. All signs of a company in financial trouble. Not the only one that is, by any means, but this is my company, for whom I've driven for almost eleven years of my life. My job. My sole source of income. Now it was personal. A feeling of dread began to settle in my gut. My company isn't perfect -- no company is. Yes, I've had reason to cuss them, for things they've done in the past; the aggravations that go along with working for someone else for a living. We've all been through that, many times over. But this is all I have. This is it. As they go, so go I. This is serious stuff! My livelihood is now under threat of possible extinction and it is very, very disturbing, let me tell you all.

When I got back to the yard, after delivering my load nearby, I took my truck into our shop, to have my batteries checked out, since I'd had one no-start and almost had another one the week before. It was there that I got some good news. The batteries and charging system checked out okay and the mechanic told me he thought the combination of my cooler and CPAP running at the same time, with engine shut down for several hours in cold weather, had been draining them. He advised me to run the engine on my breaks (as I'd already started doing anyway) and that my scheme of running it intermittently when waiting for extended periods was a good idea. Great! There was "shop recommendation" to run my motor and not freeze my buns off in the cold. When I went to see Safety, to get my new fuel permit, I asked an old-timer over there, whom I know well, about it. He agreed with the shop. Just use common sense, he told me, and shut it off as much as you can, to keep the idle as low as possible. Nobody expects you to freeze to death. That much was a huge relief.

But that was all overshadowed by the signs of my company in trouble. The shop office was practically empty. Only one clerk, sitting at one desk in there, when there had been three of them before. The dayshift crew in our shop looked like a skeleton crew, compared to the past. The mechanic who worked on my truck was formerly the head of the new truck get-ready department and was the absolute whiz on the Qualcomm satellite units in our tractors. Now, with few, if any, new trucks going into service, they moved him to the main shop, after laying off several mechanics on both remaining shifts. I learned that the company has laid off more than two hundred drivers, thus explaining why the tractor lot is sitting full of unassigned trucks. The trailer lot has been full, the last few times I've been up there, indicating the lack of loads to be had. Only ten newbie drivers joined us this week; an all-time low, for an orientation grad class. They just hire enough newbies now to replace enough of the ones who inevitably quit, to keep our driver force at a pre-determined level. I heard there were many more trained newbies sitting at home, awaiting their truck assignments if business should pick back up in the near future. I also heard that third shift dispatch *may* get the axe next and not to be surprised if there's another shuffle in dispatch after the first of the year as a result. If that happens, it will leave drivers cut off, from midnight until seven A.M. the following morning.

Caterpillar, our biggest customer, has fallen on very hard times of late, with cutbacks and layoffs at almost every plant. The big tractor facility in East Peoria is giving workers a "mini-layoff" over the holidays, similar to what the Big Three automakers are doing in Detroit. As goes Cat, so goes Star, because we are one of the main OTR carriers for their parts and material supply chain. I waited almost all day for the load I brought home and it wasn't a Caterpillar load, which is almost always the norm, when drivers visit our yard. I deliver it Monday, at a USDOE facility in nearby Oak Ridge, TN. After that, this close to Christmas, I don't know what to expect. I might get sent back home for the holiday. The prospect looms that many of our drivers, myself included, might see a "mini-layoff" of our own over the holidays, completely unpaid. This, of course, has me worried; as I've previously mentioned, my miles have fallen so low lately that I can barely pay my bills, and I'm already a month behind on one auto loan payment. Add to that the worry that I may not have a job at all, in the near future, and it's definitely not something that helps you get to sleep at night. My already grim situation is getting steadily grimmer.

And, if the worst should happen and my company goes under? What then? Well, there's still some room for hope there. The best I can hope for is that a larger company, with more operating capital and a larger customer base will buy us out. There's plenty of reason to think that might happen, too, as there are likely many other companies that would like to take over our contract with Caterpillar. These hard times won't last forever; they never do. Eventually the economy will pull back out of the mess it's currently in and things will resume more or less as normal again. It's just a question of how long this will continue and how well people can survive it.

If you're religious at all, pray along with me. I sure am.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


With that thought, I leave you readers for another week, while I go play Eskimo for awhile.

That's the final line of my last blog entry, from a week ago. Little did I know that my pronouncement would prove to be prophetic. I did, indeed, play "Eskimo" last week and will endure it all winter long, or so it seems. Misery has raised its ugly head, stared right into my eyes, grinned slyly, and said: "Hi there! Remember me?? I'm baaaaaaack!!" I was wisecracking last time about the government turning off the heat, but my trucking company has beat them to the punch. They turned off our heat last week.

The latest edict of my employer came in the form of a fleet message that each dispatcher sent out to all the trucks under their control, but the message was merely being relayed by them from the Powers That Be in those upper executive offices. The message dictated two things: First, that idle percentages must be kept at 35% or below, and that drivers in violation would be brought to the yard for "disciplinary action," if those parameters aren't met. Secondly, we are no longer allowed to use our tractors for personal transportation at all. Not even to run between the truckstop where I've been dropping my trailer for the past several years and my house, and then back to the truckstop when I leave out. My company has now entered "Maximum Fuel Conservation Mode." And they've done it at a time when fuel prices have fallen as close to rock-bottom as they're likely to get. Never heard a word about this when the prices were up to the ceiling last winter and spring. They wait till the prices are way down and cold weather has set in, before they spring this on us. How much sense does that make?? Not a lot, on the surface.

My idle percentage has been hovering somewhere in the 50-65% range, give or take. This is because it is winter. It is cold. And idling my engine is the only means I have of heating my truck. Some other outfits give their drivers APU's (Auxilary Power Units) or little bunk heaters that use a tiny amount of diesel fuel to heat the cab and bunk, without running the big engine, but not my company. They begrudge even that miniscule amount of fuel when it's not being used to actually move the truck down the road. They nixed the idea of APUs when they had it on maybe a couple dozen or so trucks. Claimed they didn't save anything with them. My company has about 700+ active trucks. How can they know something like that, with the things installed on that few trucks? Sure beats me. Danged if I know. I don't think I could tell jack, until I had them on at least half my fleet.

Translation: "We don't want to spend the money on them." That might sort of make sense, in a way. Don't spend the money on creature comforts for drivers when half of them will just quit after three or four weeks anyway. Of course, they aren't concerned about why that many drivers quit; they plan the whole operation around the turnover and indeed have problems when drivers hang onto their jobs and don't quit in droves every week. And they never think about the all-too-few experienced drivers who are still there after ten years, either. But then it would look like favoritism if they treated us differently, wouldn't it? So much for loyalty. We get to freeze our buns off, too.

Thirty-five percent idle means just what it says -- that the truck cannot idle more than 35% of the time during any given week. And, yes, they can tell how much we idle; it's all done via some high-tech electronic gadgetry known as "Sensor Tracks," which is incorporated into the Qualcomm satellite system, along with the GPS function, which tells them where every truck is located. With that magic, they can snoop on us full-time, 24/7/365. Well, it's their truck, after all. They own the thing, so I've never argued with that; in most ways, it's good security for any company. But you can't cheat. Big Brother at the yard is watching you!! Don't that give you a warm and fuzzy feeling? You're never really alone at all. They just don't have any security cameras in the sleepers and cab. Yet, anyway. But I'll shut up now. Don't want to give them any ideas, should some trucking company bigwig happen to read this.

Thirty-five percent idle isn't the lowest parameter in the world, but it's pretty stingy, especially in cold or extremely hot weather, when you need the heat and air conditioning the most. They equip all new trucks with both of those items, standard, but now comes the catch-22 -- we aren't allowed to use them very much, for very long. Eight hours, while you sleep?? Out of the question. You'll overshoot your percentage in less than two days. Staying warm while you're waiting to be loaded, unloaded, or dispatched on a load? Disallowed. Ditto. So, you sit in a cold cab, bundled up in your heavy jacket, just like you were working outside. Write in your logbook with your fingers so stiff from the cold that you can barely hold your pen, or press the keys on your calculator. You watch the vapor clouds when you exhale fog up your window glass. And when you do turn in, it's hard to sleep, because you're shivering and your teeth are chattering. If you have sleep apnea, as I do, you sleep in a nasal mask and it's like breathing in icicles after a short time. Not to mention the fact that the current draw from that machine is playing hell with your batteries. And all this is at just 33 degrees last week. I shudder to think what it will be like when I'm inevitably sent to Minnesota or Iowa, where the temps routinely fall into the single digits, or below zero at times (usually at the time I'm there, with my luck)!!

I stood it as long as I could -- about four hours -- then "SCREW THIS!!" I got up and fired that mother up. Got some heat in there and let it run until I was warm again. Then shut it back off until I again couldn't stand the cold any longer. Repeat as needed. I can't sleep anyway, when it's that cold, so I got what I could during my "warm spells." My idle will likely be down next week -- will show some improvement -- but I'm still expecting it to be over the Magic Number they've given us. One problem is that I was totally unprepared for that edict that came down from on high last week. Got to gather up some warm things while I'm at home this weekend. Long johns, see if I've still got that old sleeping bag around, sweat pants. And may put a bill off and look at those propane camping heaters they use inside their tents in cold weather. If it's safe in a tent, it'll be safe in my sleeper. Buy my own damned bunk heater, since my company won't meet us halfway.

It's either that, or eventually get hauled in for that "disciplinary action." Oh, I know what that will likely be, since they have to bring me to the yard. Maybe a written warning and a butt-chewing session with a Safety official the first time. The second time, they'll bring me up there and put me on a 3-day suspension. No roll, no miles, no paycheck, to amount to anything. And they'll also likely confiscate my keys, so that I can't start it up for the whole three days I'm there.

But it will never come to the third offense, which is likely the firing of the driver. Not with me. First time I'm suspended will be IT!! I'll be home, either on a truck, or via a Greyhound bus, and will be carrying what I can of my things with me. I will be temporarily unemployed. Being disciplined in such a manner because I will not voluntarily subject myself to frostbite conditions is just far too much crap to take. I have my limits. DON'T push that button! That's all I can say about that. It's not my fault the economy sucks and you're having financial problems; I've been having them all freakin' year long!!! It's gotten so I can make just as much at a minimum wage job as I can trucking anyway. And I mean that quite literally. It's really that bad right now. My back's already to the wall and I can't be pushed much further. Read it and heed it. There are heart attacks that aren't as serious as I am right now. I am a human being; don't fold, staple, spindle, or mutilate me.

Hopefully, it won't come to such an ugly scenario as I've just painted. Other unhappy drivers like myself might start defying the policy. They can't fire all of us, can they? Maybe I can get an exception of some sort because of my apnea and the need to run the machine I use. Maybe things will get better reasonably quickly (although I'm not holding my breath on that one). Maybe the government will bail out the trucking industry, since they're bailing everyone else out! There's always reason to hope for the best, and I certainly do. For now, I'll comply with it as well as I'm able to and see what happens next year. This sorry excuse for a year is almost over now. Good riddance! When you're down as low as you can go, the only direction left is up.

We'll see.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Twenty-seven freakin' degrees this morning -- geez, but it's cold!!! Cold enough to set me to laughing out loud when Al Gore starts babbling about "global warming" again. I live in the south and it's been colder than is usually normal this time of the year down here lately. I'm beginning to feel like I live in an ice bowl.

I am a warm weather person. I hate cold, I hate snow, I hate ice; in short, I despise all the miserable crap that comes with the winter months. Give me green grass, green trees, warm breezes and shirt-sleeve weather all year long and I'm in my element, functioning properly, running on all cylinders.

So, naturally, guess where I get to go, right off the bat this week? The Chicago area. Yep, up in the Frozen North, where Accuweather said it was snowing and would continue to pile the frozen white stuff up overnight. The temperature there, the last time I looked, was a balmy 18 degrees. I am not happy, but I will go; it's called "forced dispatch," which means that you go where dispatch sends you. Period. Like it or not. They changed my load over the weekend, which would have put me in the vicinity of our terminal on Tuesday. Instead, I get to travel even further north.

I'm not forgetting to wear my boots this week. I absent-mindedly went out in my regular shoes last week. I did go to our yard then and found that it had snowed there recently. I spent an interesting fifteen minutes skating and sliding around on a patch of ice, trying to unhook my trailer, so I could bobtail over to the tractor parking area and catch some sleep. Every time I tried to pull out the release on the fifth wheel of my tractor, I slid forward on the ice and went crashing into the side of the trailer. After French-kissing it four or five times, I finally managed to get braced sufficiently so that I could yank the release all the way out. The soles of those shoes are made for dry pavement, not ice, as I quickly learned, so they'll sit this week out at home and I'll don some more suitable footwear. Once again, I have to reluctantly prepare for (ugh!) winter operations. Against my better judgement, let me tell you!

And now, with the frosty weather down here (but no snow, so far), there's not much to look forward to when I eventually do head back south again. You just go from "Colder" mode back to the regular "Cold" setting. The Democrats won the election, so now they've turned down earth's hidden thermostat, to offset the global warming they're all so worried about. At least that's my theory. Hey!! Turn it back up!! I'm paying my "rent" (taxes)!!! I'd LOVE to have some global warming right about now. Heck, I'd even settle for regional warming!

With that thought, I leave you readers for another week, while I go play Eskimo for awhile.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


As most of you already know, about a week or so ago I created a new primary e-mail address and departed AOL for good. Although I still have my free account there, I plan to use it only as an alternate e-mail address in the future. I had been an AOL member since sometime in 1999; I can't recall the exact month I first signed up for that service. That's a long time to spend with one internet service provider, but I was used to AOL -- knew how everything there worked and had no reason to leave until about two years ago. Since then, I had been growing steadily fed up with them.

When I first signed onto AOL, they were about the only game in town, really. It was still the dial-up era back then, and you had MSN, one or two other ISPs, and AOL. They ruled the internet world in those days. But things do change and the internet was changing almost daily. When the new millenium began, in 2000, it would soon usher in a new era of high-speed broadband service. This brought the giants of the telecommunications industry onboard the internet provider train and that was the beginning of the end for AOL. I don't expect them to survive much longer. I predict that they will either be gobbled up by another internet entity, like Google, or they'll simply cease to exist altogether in the next year or two.

I, like millions of others, switched over to broadband. I already had my cable TV service through Comcast and they offered a fair price to add internet service to my account. I've never looked back on that decision with an ounce of regret. As a trucker whose downtime is so limited so often, high-speed internet is a godsend. With it, I don't have to spend what seems like three hours, waiting while ten e-mail pictures download on a slow-ass dial-up connection. I don't get booted offline anymore, while I'm reading my mail, or writing an entry like this. I don't wait eight hours while downloading a critical software update. Dial-up sucks, and I was glad to be done with it. So were millions of others like myself.

But the explosion of broadband service wasn't the best news AOL could have received; in fact, it was the worst news they had ever heard. They weren't in a position at all to compete with telephone and cable companies; AOL always was, in fact, dependent on the phone companies, to provide their services. They had no telecommunications infrastructure of their own at all. It's fair to say that they were doomed from the outset of the broadband expansion. Oh, they hung on desperately, for as long as they could; you've gotta give them an 'A' for effort on that. They tried a gimmick in which they would provide the DSL high-speed service for you, through your local phone company. That one went nowhere, though, because people quickly discovered that their local phone company most often featured rates much cheaper outright than what AOL was charging for it. So, they ordered DSL and cable broadband hookups in droves and discovered that all of the new ISPs had some sort of internet interface portal of their own, which utilized Internet Explorer, which is an integral part of the Windows OS platform; it's built right into it. What's the point in paying AOL for a second browser, when I already have one? People asked themselves that question and answered it by dumping AOL. Also in droves.

I hung on AOL, paying them for only one reason: the extra storage space they gave me, to upload and store the music and pictures I used on my AOL journal. But AOL was headed down, down, down. First came the Great Advertising Debacle, around two years ago. Ads began appearing everywhere on AOL, as they tried to make up for the revenue they'd lost when their former customers began dropping them. Those ads angered many more AOL'ers, especially those who had blogs. I had a blog myself, but I also have the gift of Obstinate Sales Resistance; I could totally ignore the ads, like they weren't even there at all. Others couldn't do what I did, so AOL lost many more customers because of that.

AOL came up with a second browser, almost a copy of Internet Explorer, which was intended to give IE users an interface that looked familiar, if they'd try out AOL. That flopped. Why settle for a copy, when you can just use the real thing? Every effort they made to attract new customers failed miserably. Finally, they caved to the inevitable and began offering the AOL service free, to people who already had broadband providers. This was in hopes that those people would bring in revenue by subscribing to other AOL services. That also flopped. Not many, if any, took them up on it.

Then, this year AOL began downsizing, cutting their costs to the bone. First they eliminated AOL Journals, where I'd had a home for the past five years. I was angered, but evicted anyway. I moved my blog to Blogspot, which is owned by Google. Next to get the axe was AOL's You've Got Pictures, then AOL Hometown went on the chopping block, and finally the FTP space, where all my stuff had been stored. At that point, what was I paying for? Damned if I know. So, I went to the free version. They begged and pleaded with me, stopping just short of finding me a good-looking hooker to bed down with, and paying for her services. I turned a deaf ear to it all and went freebie. Everything I'd been paying for was gone. The provider I'd been with for nine years showed every sign of filing for an impending Chapter Eleven. They looked weaker than the Big Three automakers in Detroit are looking these days.

AOL has had it. Its days are numbered and it will surprise me if it's still around, at least in its present form, by the next election cycle, in 2010. Those of you who are reading this and are still on AOL should think about it carefully. Consider this: broadband, whether cable or DSL, has become so affordable nowadays that almost anyone can get it. If you already have broadband, then get used to Internet Explorer. You'll soon need it. If you don't like your provider's interface, you don't have to use it. Use Google for an IE homepage, like I do. Create a Gmail account. It makes accessing Google easier. Google ain't going anywhere. They'll be around for the foreseeable future and the way their technology is advancing, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that Google IS the future.

It was fun while it lasted, AOL, but you just ain't what you used to be anymore.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


They call many custom and show bikes "Trailer Queens" because they ride everywhere on a trailer behind a car or truck and aren't ridden very often, if at all. You see them all summer long, being towed down the freeway, enroute to some rally or bike show somewhere. Some of those creations, in fact, are virtually unrideable anway, due to extreme fork rake angles, ultra-low ground clearance, wild exhaust systems that would tend to fry a rider's right leg, and the fact that so many of them have old-style hardtail frames (no rear suspension, otherwords). Hit a pothole while you're leaned over in a turn with one of those puppies and you'll likely end up riding the pavement on your butt!!

Well, my first two-wheeled love, Miss Velvet, is definitely of the very rideable category, but only for one short trip on this long holiday weekend, unfortunately. The reason for that is that the weather here sucks. I had every intention of taking a longer excursion yesterday, but when I raised my garage door, the 48 degree temperature, coupled with a cold-ass rain made me rethink those plans. I got into my 4-wheeler when I went out and Velvet became a Garage Queen for the rest of this weekend. Ah, yes -- it is that season again! Late fall/early winter, and the weather is going to continue to suck quite a bit until spring gets sprung next April or thereabouts. A downtime for bikes and bikers, except for what few milder, sunny spells might come our way in these parts between now and then. What we call "Cage Weather" is upon us.

The vast majority of bikers tend to hibernate in winter. Not that we're asleep, like some animals are, it's just that we resort to 4-wheeled vehicles, which are warmer, drier, and safer to operate in sucky weather conditions. Not many bikes on the roads at all. Just a scattered handful of the hardcore types and the high-mileage H.O.G. touring fanatics, who I think would try to ride in a blizzard, if they thought they might set a new record of some sort.

Not this Dawg. I won't ride in even rain, if I have a choice. Getting caught out in it is one thing; every motorcyclist goes through that many times over. But deliberately riding out of the garage into a rainstorm? Nope. I may be a little crazy -- I do drive a truck for a living, y'know -- but I'm not totally insane!! I prefer to stay dry and pneumonia-free as much as possible. If I want to take a shower, I want warm water, not soaking rain in 40-degree temperatures, with a self-generated wind chill that feels like about 20 degrees. A polar bear I most definitely ain't!!

The biker hangouts are quieter, too. Coyote Joe's bike lot was empty this afternoon, when I stopped there to down a burger, fries, and a couple of brewskies. Not a single bike was present; everyone was in a cage. Same place, of course; same friendly barmaids, posters and signs on the walls, TVs on four different channels at the same time, and jukebox blaring, as always. The crowd was smaller than it typically is in warmer weather; half the tables and booths sat vacant. I paid my tab and left after my meal and two beers. No one there that I knew at all. There will still be some parties, particularly around Christmas and New Year's. I might attend one, or both of those, if I have the opportunity and enough extra bucks to spare. But it's not like it is in the summer, during those big weekend blowouts, when everyone shows up, at least for a beer or three.

"If you can't ride, polish." That's my motto, but I haven't started on that yearly winter ritual yet. Saving that for the really cold weather that will come next month, and in January. Something to do on a cold and gloomy Sunday afternoon. By next spring, I'll have Velvet gleaming, with her yearly makeover beauty treatment. I gotta put money back to take her in for her first 1,000 mile service, too. That's required, under the terms of my warranty. After that, I'll likely do my own oil changes, but I'll pay for the intial service, to keep the warranty active. Gonna set me back over $200, but it's a thorough servicing; they go over the whole bike, tighten and adjust everything. A nice tax refund would help with that -- ya hear me, Uncle Sam??

The winter biker's blues are upon us now. But I prefer to think of it this way: every day that goes by is one day closer to spring, when we can all hit the road again!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


This hasn't been the best of years for me.

Soaring fuel prices earlier in the year, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, a misguided (in my opinion) trillion-dollar bailout, tight credit everywhere. An economy in the toilet, people tightening their purse-strings, an automotive industry struggling to take its last gasps of breath, production down almost everywhere else as well, dwindling loads and miles, equally dwindling paychecks at times. A summer that seemed like a mid-winter -- sitting, waiting to be dispatched, not rolling equals no money earned. Bills coming due, as always, and the money not there to cover them more than once. Overdrafts, bank account penalties, late payments and one or two that I missed completely. Late fees charged. Trying to pay off my debts and wondering all too often how I'm going to do that at all, with these unaccustomed cash flow problems. All-in-all, a very trying and aggravating year for this Dawg. I won't be a bit sorry to see 2008 end; it's been a struggle for me.

Nobody ever said that life would always be easy; there are NO guarantees and you can only do what you can do and hope for the best. Maybe hitch your wagon to Lady Luck now and then and do better, but you go on anyway, taking what good you might find along with the bad. You don't have a choice. Like that old song says, nobody promised you a rose garden. If anyone did, they lied to you.

In spite of all that's gone wrong this year and in spite of that evil Mr. Murphy and his damnable law, on this Thanksgiving Day I look around and assess my situation and find that there is still much that I can be truly thankful for. When I put aside my personal woes and look at the Big Picture it becomes clear that I am truly blessed in so many ways.

I am in reasonably good health. Some are not.

I manage to eat well. Some are starving.

I am of (more or less) sound mind. Some folks aren't.

I have a job. Although it's not the best it can be right now, others can't find work at all.

I am single. Only myself to provide for. I know many drivers with families who have struggled even harder this year than I have.

I have a home to come back to when I come off the road. Some are homeless.

I can step outside my house without fear that some stranger will shoot me dead. Our troops overseas don't have any such assurance.

I have the assurance that a loving God walks beside me through this life. Non-believers are completely alone.

I know human love, with relatives that love me and care about me. Others have no one at all.

Yes, in spite of all my problems, I am blessed. So on this day, I pause to give thanks.


Sunday, November 23, 2008


North Little Rock, Arkansas

Not at home this weekend, after a long run through Texas and back up here, enroute to a delivery later tonight outside Memphis. Hopefully, I will make it back to the Dawg House for the holiday Thursday. We will see.

I was in Saint Anthony, Texas (more familiarly known as "San Antonio") on Thursday and Friday morning. I've been there once before, but that previous trip was probably some eight years ago. On that last trip to Alamo-land I hauled a light appliance load, but on my most recent journey there I lugged a 40,000 pound anchor behind me for almost 1100 miles; a load of diesel engine cylinder heads, which originated at a plant about 25 miles from our terminal in Illinois.

Hauling a heavy load that far aggravates me to no end. I know, I know -- many truckers (reefer drivers in particular) haul heavyweight loads almost constantly, so they would tend to laugh at my griping. However, they don't drive for my company, which tends to haul much lighter loads in general, and sets our trucks up for more moderate loads. When you do get a "lead sled" to haul, with one of our trucks, it's like trying to pull the Queen Mary behind a Volkswagen Beetle. You will see your speedometer begin to run backward on the slightest uphill grades and on the steeper ones, you scratch and claw your way up, with the truck wheezing and gasping all the way, seemingly. You can easily expect to drop as many as four or five gears on a moderate grade and on a steeper one, you might end up with the tranny back in low range again. And that's with thirteen forward speeds, to boot. Grind, grind, grind -- I think I can, I think I can!! Maybe. But somehow, you'll make it to the top, moving at a brisk 20 mph or so, with a whole conga line of angry car drivers backed up behind you. You learn early-on to ignore the sound of auto horns in those circumstances.

"Yeah??? Really?? Like that's gonna speed me up!!" you yell at them, although they can't hear you.

Fortunately, there weren't that many steep hills on the route I took, and it wasn't mountain country at all, really, as I skirted most of the Ozarks. Just a few moderate grades, mainly in Missouri, then onto the relatively flat terrain of Oklahoma and East Texas. Hauling that weight that far takes its toll, though, because watching that speedometer reverse itself seems so counterproductive. You pass a slower truck, go back into the right lane again, then hit a little hill and watch helplessly as your speed falls off and he comes right back by you again. Once you top the hill and get back up to speed, you're running all over his slow ass again! Sighhhhhhh. Repeat this, over and over, for 36 hours and more than a thousand miles and you'll start to see what I mean. It's frustrating. Give me a light load any day!! I soon began to get antsy about unloading my "anchor" and being able to pull a hill at more than walking speed.

The day came. Thursday, and I got to the customer early. Didn't have to wait that long to be unloaded and then felt free as a bird. But I wasn't going anywhere right then; I was totally out of legal hours and more than just a little tired, from the ten-hour jaunt down there from the northeastern corner of Oklahoma. Texas is a humongous state in size. To give you some idea, it's three-hundred and thirty-one miles from the Texas/Oklahoma state line, to San Antonio, traveling straight down I-35. Once you get to San Antone, there's still more than 150 more miles before the interstate dead-ends into a traffic light in Laredo, just a mile or so from the Mexican border. The mile markers on I-20, at the Louisiana line, are numbered with 600-something, and count down as you travel west. It's similar with I-10, which meanders more than 800 miles through the state, before you cross into New Mexico at El Paso. Everything is truly bigger out there.

It wasn't that far through San Antonio, though, down to I-10, and the truckstops that abound down there. I decided to take the "scenic" route, right through downtown, in order to get another glimpse of that historic old shot-up Spanish mission, namely the Alamo. I had passed by it when I was there before, but that was early in the morning, and I got just a passing image of it, lit up in the darkness. Now I could see it in daylight hours. It sits alone, in a square, surrounded by modern high-rise ofice buildings, a stark contrast of old vs new that brings to mind similar mixtures such as you will see in Philadelphia or Boston. Part of the wall that surrounded it back in 1836 has survived all the years, and part of it has been painstakingly reconstructed by various historical societies and by the State of Texas as well. Parts of the mission's familiar arching facade have been reconstructed as well. It sits there, perhaps a mile or so off of the freeway, and I slowed as much as I could, getting a good "mental snapshot" of it. Too many curves and way too much traffic to get a real and clear pic of it, so my description will have to suffice.

The way the Alamo looks today is a pretty accurate representation of what it looked like back in the summer of 1836, when 189 brave defenders held off the entire army of Mexican General Antonio de Santa Ana for an incredible thirteen days, before finally perishing in that final, fatal assault which took place in the pre-dawn hours. Every single defender died that morning. Even from the distance I was at, you get the feeling that this is hallowed ground; from those heroic efforts rose a new republic, which became the state I was now in, only a few years after that ill-fated seige and battle. Here was where Col. William Travis was one of the first to fall; where a desperately ill Col. James Bowie, the co-commander, killed three or four of the invaders from his sickbed, before he was himself bayoneted to death.

Here was also where Tennessee legend David Crockett met his fate. Mexican records have revealed that Crockett didn't die in the battle itself; he survived it, along with nine others, who were all executed after the assault had ended. Crockett was likely defiant to the bitter end, although he was a victim of his own fame, as much as anything. "They can go to hell," he said of the constituents who wanted him to run for another term in Congress, "I'm going to Texas." He went there, believing that the war for Texas independence was over and that he could settle on land there and retire, to hunt and farm for the rest of his life. He found himself caught up in the struggle for independence when he arrived there, however. It most definitely wasn't over. He volunteered to join the others at the Alamo. His fame had preceded him and although he had bargained for none of what followed, he was unable to back out, without totally disgracing himself. Honor being of the highest order in those times, Crockett died a hero, spitting in Santa Ana's direction, when he offered to let the former Washington politician go free.

The sacrifice of those 189 men paid off. It bought Gen. Sam Houston, another transplanted Tennesseean, the time he needed to put a volunteer army together and get them trained. Two weeks after the fall of the Alamo, Houston's army surprised the encamped Mexicans at San Jacinto and routed them completely. Santa Ana surrendered Texas to the new Texans and returned to Mexico in disgrace. Texas at first became an independent republic, then a state a few years later.

As I looked over at that old church standing there, I marveled at the bravery of those men, who were so desirous of freedom and independence that they would all stand together for those thirteen desperate days, knowing fully well that they could not even hope to win, against the army of 5,000 Mexicans that opposed them. The amazing thing is that they were able to hold on for as long as they did -- almost two full weeks, against such overwhelming odds. What it must be like, knowing that you're not going to come out of the struggle alive, but so believing in what you're doing that you carry on, doing what you can and letting the chips fall where they may.

That's a breed of hero that we have very few of, these days. We have gotten soft and take our freedom for granted. Nowdays, our leaders would be more likely to try and negotiate with Santa Ana, rather than fighting him. They would never gain freedom, because everyone who ever did had to fight for it. And fight to maintain it. Too many among us now don't seem to understand that at all, and it's worrisome to me.

"Remember The Alamo" is more than a battle cry; it's a lesson that modern Americans need to re-learn. Before we lose the freedom we've always known.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Cold in K-Town this weekend. The temperature in only in the upper 40s. I found some new fuel line, banged around in my "man-cave" (garage) awhile yesterday and got my leaf blower running again. It hadn't been used in several years and the fuel lines were completely clogged up with dried-up gas/oil mix goop. Flushed out the crud in the tank with fresh gas and filled it with new gas/oil mix. It started up quicker than I'd thought it would and after the initial blue cloud of two-stroke smoke cleared up, it was running strong. Ready to perform its task. Next time I store it I might remember to drain the damned tank and fuel lines out before I put it away.

Blew the leaves off my driveway, especially near the bottom, where they'd piled up good and thick, then been rained on, run over with my 4-wheeler, spun my tires on them, etc. Wet leaves and motorcycles don't mix and crashing a bike sucks, so it's better to do a little work and get the slick-ass things out of the way. But then it got dark and Mother Nature turned off the heat (what there was of it) so I said to hell with it and went back in the house.

This afternoon I started Velvet up and rode out to check out the performance of the new quieter baffles I put in her mufflers two weeks ago. It was a SHORT ride, in 46 degree temperature, let me tell you, but it seemed to run fine. I was bundled up in a sweatshirt, leather jacket, heavy jeans, leather chaps, winter gloves, my full boots, a balaclava over my face and my 3/4 helmet. No wind got to me in that jacket and chaps, but it was still cold. By the time I got back home, I think my butt was frozen to the seat and my face, in spite of the helmet and balaclava, felt like I had stuck my head in a freezer for a couple of hours. The problem was that there's a stiff wind blowing today, gusting smartly at random. It almost caused me to change lanes unwillingly a couple of times. That wind, coupled with the wind chill you create when the bike is moving, is what did me in. You can ride comfortably in colder weather, properly dressed for it, but it's best to pick a calm day and today wasn't one of them. So much for my polar bear experiment. Score: Wind -- 24 Dawg -- 0.

Now, I have an announcement to make. Due to circumstances beyond my control, namely the economy, which is still in the toilet, I *may* be changing to another trucking company by the first of next year. Don't quote me on that; it's not chiseled in stone quite yet, but I am shopping for a gig where I can get better, steadier miles and make more money. We've been hearing "change, change, change" all through this election cycle and I'm now seeking some change of my own. The kind of change I'm seeking is definitely good change, if all works out in my favor.

I've been doing too much sitting and not enough driving throughout this past year. The past summer was almost like a mid-winter at times -- sitting for hours on end, witing to be dispatched on another load and then half the time that not coming until the following day. I'm not trashing the company I've driven for the past ten years -- not at all. Maybe things are beyond their control, too. I know that we lost a major contract with a shipper and that hurt. But it does seem that we have twice as many trucks as we do loads, far too often.

I am paid by the mile. That means that when I'm sitting there, I ain't making a dime. Yeah, there's layover pay, but you have to sit 24 full hours without a load before you can get it and then it's not nearly as much as you'd make if you were rolling. I'll take it, but it's not enough. I have been late paying my bills many times this past year and even missed one payment on my personal vehicle because there wasn't enough money in the bank to cover it. I had to defer that payment, so now I'll have to pay an extra month before the loan is finally paid off next summer. Assuming I don't go in the hole again on another payment, that is. I can't keep a bank balance now, like I used to, to save my life. When the miles are down, the paychecks are smaller, and many of mine have been meager this past year. My back is to the wall, financially, and I've got to do something to help myself. I don't believe in handouts; I created my debts and it's up to me to pay them.

So, I'll do whatever I have to do. There are obstacles, such as my health insurance. I can ill-afford to go without medical coverage for three months until another company's insurance kicks in, and especially prescription medicine coverage. I can't afford to buy my medications out of my pocket. So, I'm going to have to see about insurance carryover, or getting under a new company's insurance right away. There are also things I'm giving up, like the 3 weeks of vacation time I've built up with my present company. No vacation for a year. Start all over. It's no picnic, when you look forward to that time off. However, I'm in the position where I've got to do something that will improve my financial standing. I have to make keeping my bills paid and having enough left to live comfortably a priority.

I'll be talking to a recruiter tomorrow. I met one of this prospective company's drivers at my favorite biker hangout, Coyote Joe's, about three weeks ago and we got to talking shop, after admiring each other's bikes. He asked me how I was making out and I told him not too good, lately. He told me that he sits very little and that his company has plenty of loads to keep drivers rolling. Before we parted company, he took my name and address and told me he would give my name to his recruiting department. Last week, I got a letter from them in the mail. I checked out their website and found that they have the regional driving gigs which I have wanted to get on for years. They have a terminal in Kingsport, TN, about 80 miles from Knoxville. That's sure convenient for me. So, I'll talk to him and find out more.

Stay tuned on this one. I'll let y'all know more when I do.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Impressions: Rolling Into New Orleans, Three Years After Katrina

Road construction everywhere, orange barrels lined up like toy soldiers. New bridges being built. Some roads resurfaced, others resemble washboards, crumbling, truck bouncing under me like a bucking bronco. Yee-haaa! Ride 'em, cowboy!!!

7:30 A.M., CST. Morning "rush" hour?? Traffic is light, ten, five, three miles out of town, becoming heavier only as I enter the inner city/downtown area. Definitely not what it once was, in pre-Katrina years. Starting to see abandoned buildings, ripped-up roofs, some still covered with blue tarpaulins. Glass broken out in forelorn-looking windows. People once shopped here, ate here, lived here. Not anymore. By some estimates, roughly half this city's population is gone -- moved elsewhere. Houses off the freeway -- waterline marks on some, and on a few, the infamous red 'X' marks, denoting that someone died there, now slowly fading in the Louisiana sun.

Passing the Louisiana Superdome. The Saints are playing there again now, and it's been refurbished, from the human mess left there when the levees went down. Downtown N'awlins is still intact. Blown-out glass now long replaced in most of the structures. French Quarter still alive, as it should always be. And the famous restaurants have remodeled and rebuilt, open for business again. Normality has resumed here, for the most part, but there are still signs here and there. Abandoned warehouses and shops, some with storm damage still visible. But there will always be a Mardi Gras in February -- as there always should be -- just fewer visitors nowadays.

Jefferson Parish, on the west side of the Mississippi, where my load delivers. This area was one of the hardest hit, back in 2005, and it still shows. Abandoned houses and buildings, mixed with small mom 'n pop businesses that have reopened, especially the bars. Reckon they all needed a drink or two, or three, after that one hit! Alcohol still flows here like the river, just like it always did. I pass an entire abandoned residential block. Faded siding, bare joists showing in the roofs of some, like a pine skeleton, more blown-out windows. I slow down a tad, taking it in, and I feel very sad. It is impossible to view those sights without being moved emotionally. People lived there and their homes, years of life there, memories and dreams vanished in the great wind that blew through this place. Gone in the space of a few hours. Now the reminders sit, rotting away in the sun. It is sobering. It is touching.

Being unloaded and looking out of the passenger side window at the levee on the riverbank. They move a lot of water through this town. They always have and always will. An employee tells me that this levee held, as all the river levees did, but the storm surge topped it. Eight feet of water was once where I was sitting, 3 years earlier. Millions in damage, he told me. Brand-new appliances ruined and unsellable. Junk. Insurance covered it all and the premiums doubled. But they stayed and re-opened. The look in his eyes said it all: This is home and always will be. Storms come and storms go, but home is always home. He knows the risks, but is willing to take them, for the sake of that sense of home. Can't blame him a bit. Roots are roots. And trees will grow back again.

There will always be a New Orleans; it's impossible to imagine America without it. There will be many changes, but this city is slowly rebuilding itself.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


I thought I was going to freeze early Thursday morning. I had two "reefer hour" deliveries in Durham and Raleigh, North Carolina. "Reefer hour" deliveries are those that take place late at night, or in the wee hours of the morning, for those of you who may be unfamiliar with my terminology. The time of night when only insomniacs are awake, and truck drivers -- especially the "meatheads" who drive the refrigerated freight. The ones who are perpetually cruising truckstop parking lots, and rest areas, which are all pretty much full at those hours, searching for anything that remotely resembles a parking space. They most often must get creative, to get a few hours of sleep, and have to endure endless abuse from other sleeping drivers who are awakened at 4 A.M. by a screaming refrigeration unit that is set to cut on and off every ten minutes. Those guys always have appointments at 2 A.M., or thereabouts, and last week, so did I.

My two stops went to two different bulk-quantity warehouse stores, owned by a huge national discount chain which I'm sure everyone is familar with, without me mentioning any names. Well, that Arkansas-based, Fortune 500 outfit is very socially conscious and very politically correct, buying into all the global warming nonsense, lock, stock, and barrel. You can't find a regular incandescent light bulb in their stores; only the Al Gore-approved CFL bulbs are sold. Who can blame them, really? What do you think they make the most profit from selling? A fifty-cent incandescent bulb, or a three-buck CFL? Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

Anyway, along with all the other PC environmental-friendly hoopla, they have instituted a "green" policy on all their property. That means, to cut to the chase, that trucks aren't allowed to sit on the property and idle their engines. That means, in turn, that when the weather's cold, a driver has to sit there and freeze their buns off, in the night chill. Running the engine is the only means I have to keep my truck warm. Ignore their policy? Nope. They will simply refuse to unload you until you shut it down and give them the keys. A truck that can't get unloaded can't pick up another load, thus greatly hindering a driver's ability to make a living. I greatly enjoy getting paid, so I reluctantly shut it down, in the 34 degree evening chill.

Now, 34 degrees may seem mild in the middle of January, in places like, oh, Iowa, for instance, where it routinely drops into the single digits and even negative numbers at night. But this ain't January; it's early November and I ain't USED to this cold crap yet!!! Plus, it was a danged damp cold -- the kind that penetrates and chills you to the bone. It wasn't so bad in Durham. I didn't drop a lot at that store, and they were done pretty quickly. At Raleigh, though, I was an hour early (where the hell else did I have to go at 3 A.M.?)

They are strict about their appointments, so I had to wait an hour before they would even let me dock. Then, they proceeded to take their time unloading me. One hour. Two hours. Going on three hours. I was shivering and I could see my breath in the cab. I put on my light jacket. Thirty minutes later, I swapped it for my heavy one. And my gloves. And I still shivered. My legs were like lumps of ice, and no relief for them at all. I couldn't feel my feet, after two hours. I finally went inside the driver's cubicle, used their toilet, and stood around in there, attempting to warm up a bit. I got away with that for twenty minutes before I was told to go back out to my truck and wait. Like a condemned man, I went.

Another thirty minutes before the light over the dock door changed to green, indicating that they had me all unloaded. Thank you, God! I went back inside, to get my signed bills and start that mother up, ready for some serious heat. But, as usual, there was a catch. They had to count everything they had unloaded, and I was told to go back to the truck again. The Eskimo Dawg trudged back to his 18-wheeled igloo once more. Finally, the guy who unloaded me brought my bills to me. I thanked him and twisted the key, cranking that diesel to life again. I slammed the trailer doors shut and tore out of there, blasting back to the interstate and running hard, trying to get my partly-cooled engine back up to operating temperature as fast as I could. Heater full-blast on "high," until it started to get warm in the cab again. About out of hours and no load right then, anyway (third-shift dispatch never has any loads at that hour -- you can count on it). I lucked out and found a space in a rest area a few miles east of Raleigh. My bunk had warmed up by the time I closed my eyes.

I sncerely hope I don't deliver another one of their stores this winter. Pretty crummy when businesses worry more about pollution killing a damned tree, than some driver getting frostbite in a freezing cab! Apparently, whatever your do in a truck, you pollute. You can't idle because you pollute and some counties in my own state think that truck speeds above 55 mph pollutes. Our illustrious state Supreme Court agreed with them and now lets the counties set the speed limits in their jurisdicitions, even on the interstate!

You just can't win, if you drive a truck, it seems.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Ever wonder how truckers cope with things like laundry? Well, I'm gonna reveal some of our not-so-secret (to truckers, anyway) methods. There are, of course, coin laundry facilities in most of the larger truckstop chains, but what if you don't have eight bucks or so worth of quarters? And change can be hard to come by sometimes on weekends -- the only time many drivers have the downtime to do their laundry. The majority of banks are locked up tight on weekends, and they get as many of the bullcrap holidays as the USPS does. Columbus Day?? Good grief! Can anyone tell me why Americans even have a holiday celebrating an Italian, who sailed in Spanish ships, and discovered South America??!!! The Vikings discovered this country, so why ain't there a Leif Erikson Day??

But, getting back to laundry. . . How do you think I dried out my soaked socks and shoes, during the monsoons I endured last week? Simple. Bungee cord hooked through holes in the passenger side step plates. Tuck shoes under bungee, tie laces to it. Drive and let the moving air current dry them in no time flat. And the same for my socks. Wring water from them, then crank down the passenger window a hair. Insert socks through opening in window,then crank window back up, trapping them with the glass. Drive and the breeze will dry them quickly. Okay, okay -- it might look like something out of the Beverly Hillbillies, but it works!!! Poor man's clothes dryer.

I have a younger friend, who drives for another company, and he thought that he had "invented" this little method. Ha! The joke's on him, because I've been doing stuff like that for ten years!! Heck, I've even seen women drivers use this method, and even for their, uh, unmentionables. I had a red Kenworth pass me one night not long ago, and it had a bra and two pair of cute little floral print panties hanging out the passenger window, flapping in the breeze. I couldn't resist -- got on the CB and said something to the effect that the driver was either a woman, or some guy got damned lucky and had one heck of a night!! Female laughter came across the airwaves and the voice of the driver was definitely a sweet-sounding lady. I laughed and complimented her on her excellent taste in undies. She laughed and we had a pleasant conversation for the next fifty miles or so.

Well, I have hung my own "unmentionables" out that window, too, when it was necessary and I'd run out of clean undies. Wash 'em out in a truckstop, or rest area sink (truckstop preferred, because they don't have those insane faucets that cut themselves off after a spurt or two of water). Hang 'em out the window, usually at night, when fewer people will notice and you won't have some smartass teasing you on the radio. In emergency situations, I have dried them in the daytime, and to hell with what anyone thinks. Just turn off the CB and cruise along. You get some weird looks from the cars sometimes, but I just grinned at them and trucked onward.

Where there's a will, there's a way, and when you're stuck in a truck all the time you often have to improvise. We've all gotten very good at that over the years.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Well, let's see how this looks. Testing. Testing. Testing. Writer in search of a font.

Oh -- hi, there!!! Still getting used to things, here in New Blog-Land -- just another AOL Journals refugee, getting used to the new system. Y'all let me know how you like the fonts, as I'll continue to experiment, each week. Then, as usual, I'll pick one I like anyway, but I thank you for your input, regardless!

Don't look like I'm gonna make it home this weekend. Got handed a nifty little 6-stop LTL-style run yesterday and toured EasternWisconsin pretty well. With the last stop in Dixon, IL (Ronald Reagan's boyhood hometown) and winding up, finally, in Bartonville, just a few miles from my company's yard, it took up the entire day. And, just as I'd suspected, as soon as I dropped my trailer and asked for dispatch on another load, I got the "no load" message on my Qualcomm.

Thursday is Rookie Driver Graduation Day at Star Central, and if the class is large enough, they tend to eat up all the loads. And so they did this week. Loads in general have been in short supply at times lately, anyway, and when you add rookie first-loads to the equation, the leftovers can be skimpy, or non-existent. It looks, on this Saturday morning, like most of the newbies have gone on their way already, so I'm stranded here with a few other unlucky late arrivals. Can't afford a motel, and since the one I always stayed in before now has a "smoke-free" policy, I'll decline that, rather than be miserable all weekend. If I have to stand outside half the time, in order to indulge my nicotine craving, then I'm just as well-off in my truck. If you're a smoker and feel threatened, rest assured that you are NOT paranoid. They ARE out to get you!! Quite literally. Bad habit, I know. And I should quit. But maybe -- just maybe -- I would have done so long ago, if I didn't feel like I was being forced into it against my will. There's something about being forced to do something that brings out my most mega-stubborn streak. I think it's a freedom and liberty thing. And we have less and less of that, as time goes on. Sadly.

In other news. . . I'm sick of freakin' rain!! That's ALL it's done, where I've gone, for that last three or four days. Sick of soggy shoes, soggy socks, soggy pant cuffs, and soggy jackets that I have to drape across my sleeper cabinets, to dry out. Sick of water on my glasses. Or, in my glasses! Has anyone ever figured out why, when a raindrop splatters on your eyeglasses, that it always manges to land on the inside of the lens??!! GRRRRRRRRRR! Maddening!! Next rain trip I make, I'm gonna pack my biker goggles!! I guess it beats snow, in that you can drive faster on it (assuming you can get the 35 mph scaredy-cats in the cars out of your way), but snow rarely, if ever, soaks you to the skin the way rain does. They're both differing forms of misery.

Sick of mudhole trailer lots, too. The back of my tractor looks like I've been in an off-road endurance race in a swamp. Dried mud, slung up there by my spinning, sliding drive tires, at least two inches thick. Absolutely sick of backing under a loaded box, opening up my door, and finding that I'm parked in the middle of a 3-foot-deep mini-lake!! Double-GRRRRRRRRR!! Splop-splot-splash! Hook up the trailer. Splop-splop-splash! Crank up the dollies. Splop-splop-splash! Adjust the tandems. Get back in truck. Remove shoes and socks. Wring half-gallon of water out of socks. Pour other half-gallon out of shoes. Set all aside to dry out. Drive in my sandals. Stub big toe on pedals. Curse fluently and frequently. Q$X&X#X#-ING RAIN!!!! Dump the cluch in the mini-lake and blast off with a pretty nice "rooster tail" from my spinning drives. Hell, yeah -- CLEAN the bottom of that trailer!!! Freakin' rain!!!

It actually looked like in might clear off while ago. The sun (remember it??) came out for a short time. But it was "just kidding," I guess, because it's reverted back to solid overcast again now. Hasn't rained a drop, so far, though. Just looks like it wants to. And it probably will, if I have to walk any distance at all. That's Murphy's Law, y'know??

Saturday, October 18, 2008



1. A bike doesn't get jealous when you look at other bikes.

2. A bike is ready to go anywhere you want to go, anytime, instantly.

3. A bike will never wake you up at 3:00 A.M. and ask you what you're thinking.

4. A bike will never ask you if the new saddlebags make its rear end look too big.

5. You can ride a bike all you want to, without spending a dime on it.


1. Ride a dirtbike under a neighbor's clothesline (actually happened to me, years ago).

2. Come home drunk at 4 A.M., miss the turn into your driveway, plow into dew-sodden grass, riding on street tires (might as well be on ice).

3. Stop on a steep incline and absent-mindedly put your foot down on the downhill side!!

4. Put your foot down in an oil puddle at a gas station pump.

5. Try to pop a "wheelie" to impress a girl and lose your grip on the handlebars.


1. Marlon Brando/Lee Marvin: The two stars of The Wild One -- the movie adaptation of the Hollister, CA incident, in 1947, that gave biker gangs (and bikers in general) a bad reputation, largely undeserved. Both actors actually owned and rode motorcycles in real life. Brando, in fact, rode his own personal bike in the film, a Triumph TR6 model. While the Harley that Marvin rode in the film was supplied by the film studio, he actually owned a Harley-Davidson of his own and rode quite often in his personal life. The main riding scenes in the film were shot with the actors actually riding the bikes, not stand-ins or stunt riders.

2. Steve McQueen: Ever seen the classic WWII film, The Great Escape, and the sequence in which McQueen's character is trying to cross the German/Swiss border on a motorcycle?? That was actually Steve McQueen on the bike, doing his own stunt work in the movie. McQueen was a successful motorcycle racer before he became an actor, so he had plenty of chops to do the job in the film. The bike he was using to jump over those barricades was in reality a 500cc Triumph, which had been cosmetically disguised, to make it look like a WWII-era German military machine. One of Steve McQueen's personal bikes, a pristine vintage Indian machine, is on permanent display today at the National Motorcycle Museum, in Anamosa, IA.

3. Peter Fonda/Dennis Hopper: The two stars of Easy Rider were also both real-life bikers, as well as actors. Both actors also did all their own actual riding in the film. Fonda's "Captain America" chopper, as well as the Harley bobber that Hopper rode in the film, were commissioned and created especially for the film and the American flag-themed chopper has since become legendary among motorcyclists all over the world. It currently resides in the National Motorcycle Museum, in Iowa.

4. Kyle Petty: The son of NASCAR legend, Richard Petty, is a long-time biker as well as a NASCAR star in his own right. His annual cross-country charity ride draws riders from all over the country, as well as from other nations. The younger Petty owns several motorcycles, mostly Harley-Davidsons, including some vintage machines. All proceeds from his charity events go to the camp he created, which gives aid to disadvantaged children.

5. G. Gordon Liddy: Radio talk-show host, actor, and Watergate "plumber" Liddy owned five Harleys at one time. His wife, Frances, made him get rid of all but two of them, as he related to listeners on his popular show awhile back. Liddy makes his pilgrimage to the huge rally in Sturgis, SD, every summer, and his show has been broadcast on location from there most years. An avid motorcyclist, Liddy also attends several other rallies during the season every year. Look for his famous "G-Man" helmet, if you go to rallies; you might just get a chance to shake hands with him sometime.

6. Jay Leno: The Tonight Show host and comedian has an extensive collection of classic and performance cars, as well as a motorcycle collection. Another avid rider, Leno can often be seen on the streets of L.A., riding one of his Harleys, or custom bikes around. He also shows up regularly at Sturgis, as well as many other rallies around the country. He was seen most recently in Milwaukee, WI, at Harley's 105th Anniversary celebration back in August.

7. Henry Winkler: The Fonz character he portrayed on the TV show, Happy Days, was a biker, but nothing could be further from the truth for the actor himself. "They (motorcycles) scare me," Winkler told an interviewer one time. And so, "The Fonz," who recently had a statue unveiled in Milwaukee, will always remain a fictional biker.