Saturday, April 26, 2008

SLEEP?? WHAT IS SLEEP??!! (Part 2 of 2)

Notes From The Debriefing Chamber:

My second "sleepless study" went a little better, in some ways, but I'm still almost brain-dead from lack of sleep this morning (Friday). The bed was a little better than the first time. At least I only sunk into it so far before it bottomed out. And I was better prepared in most ways, having been through it once before. This time, I shorted myself on sleep the day before, arising at 5 A.M. and not letting nyself give in to the urge to take a nap during the day, when I became drowsy a couple of times. My plan was simply to try and wear myself out, so that I'd be so tired that I'd sleep through anything. And it almost worked. Almost.

I was getting sleepy around ten P.M. last night. Quite sleepy, in fact, but two things hindered my somnolence:  (1) The fact that I left the house and forgot to take my own CPAP mask along!! Grrrrrrrrrr!! and (2) the inevitable wires, wires, and more wires. Plus two straps; one across my chest and another circling my abdomen (which kept slipping down to my hips every time I got up.) You ladies can likely relate well to the chest strap, if you've ever attempted to sleep wearing a tight bra! That only added insult to injury, discomfortly speaking. It wasn't enough that I have chronic allergies that like to stop my sinuses up so that I can't half-breathe. No, now they tighten an elastic band around my chest which further restricts that vital function!!

Then, the lights went out and the study began. I lay on one side, then flipped over to the other. Nobody told me to, this time around -- I did it on my own, trying to acheive some degree of more-or-less comfort and avoid being strangled by my wiring harness in the process. I got close to slumber, then coughed and woke myself back up again. This seemed to happen all night long. Get close to slumber and cough, cough, cough, then have a need for the bathroom twice. The tech has to come in and unplug you from the monitoring gear, so it's not a matter of just getting up and going, as you would at home. You learn very quickly to summon help early-on, before the urge becomes too critical, so as to allay the possibility of an unfortunate accident!

But the "loaner" mask proved to be the biggest single aggravation and my anger at myself for forgetting the one I use all the time, and am thoroughly used to, didn't help me get to dreamland any faster. First I played with the straps for what seemed like hours, trying to get it adjusted right. Then the nasal cushion kept rubbing my face, irritating the shit out of me! I pushed the mask back and forth around my face, trying to get the cushion positioned properly. I pulled that mask from hell all the way out, against the elastic straps, completely off my face, then let it snap back, like a rubber band! And at the same time, it was leaking air pressure upward, into my eyes, and I tugged and mashed around on it, trying to get it adjusted so that it wouldn't leak air. In retrospect, I think the thing was too large in size for the contours of my face, but that knowledge was little help in trying to live with it for several torturous hours.

At some point, or points, I must have slept a little, because when it at long last came to an end the technician told me I had slumbered enough for him to adjust the air pressure a time or two and get an idea of what permanent adjustments needed to be made. I was never even aware that he came into the room to make the adjustments, so I was out like a light for at least ten or fifteen minutes, seems like. So now they will analyze the study and my sleep specialist doc will make the final decision and issue an updated report within two weeks. I also know now that the increased pressure was likey what kept making it leak so much. Great to know, but I was still a walking zombie when I left the place earlier this morning. 

Well, at least it's over!!!! Now I need to stay awake, as much as possible, today, so that I can sleep normally tonight. I'm a trucker and that's an occupation where going around half-asleep is a way of life, as I implied in Part 1 of this saga. And that occupational dilemma is where the rest of this story kicks in.

The problem which leads to widespread and common sleep deprivation among truck drivers has nothing at all to do with any sleep disorder. The real root of the problem is in the Hours Of Service (HOS) regulations which our all-knowing, all-seeing government imposes upon us. The problem isn't that we don't need some regulation, because we certainly do. Dispatch and the customers would quickly run us into the ground without some sensible regs. We'd never get any rest at all without them. But the key word here is "sensible," and many of the regulations are anything but sensible. The problem, in a nutshell, is that the regulations are a "one-size-fits-all" package. They fail to take into account that everyone is a little different and they fail to provide any flexibility, which is badly needed. They are ramrod-stiff and totally inflexible.

With the advent of the new, "improved" regulations, in 2004, things changed. Then the situation became even worse when one of the regulations was again altered in 2005. Basically, you had 11 hours you were permitted to drive and a 10 hour mandatory break period. The total hours a driver was permitted to work (both driving and other, non-driving activities) was cut from 15 to 14 hours. The real problem kicked in the following year, when they changed the split sleeper rule from 5 on, 5 off (or any combination of split breaktime that totalled 10 hours,) to a rigid 8 hour and 2 hour split. This meant that now any sleeper berth time couldn't be counted as break unless it was 8 full hours. The two other hours didn't count as break without that mandatory 8-hour segment being taken.

Drivers were incensed in general. This made the 14-hour work clock virtually unstoppable, meaning that if a driver got drowsy on the road that he couldn't stop for a brief 2-hour nap, then resume driving. It couldn't be counted as break on a logbook unless it was 8 hours in length. This also meant that all waiting time, to be loaded or unloaded, couldn't be counted as break, unless you had to wait a full 8 hours. If the waiting time was under that, it counted as On-Duty, Not-Driving status. Otherwords, it counted against the 14 hour limit on your worktime.

Let's do some arithmetic here, so you'll understand where I'm coming from with this:  14 allowable work hours, minus 11 allowable driving hours, equals 3 hours left out of the 14. That's all the "cushion" a driver has -- 3 hours -- for any non-driving work activities, which now includes any and all waiting time under 8 hours in duration. You can kiss 30 minutes of that 3 hours goodbye automatically every single day, because of the 15 minutes of ODND that you must showfor a mandatory pre-trip or enroute daily vehicle inspection, plus another 15 minutes for the fuel stop that you will log almost every day. Sometimes you can combine them into one 15 minute stop, but not always. Anyway, you really only have two and a half hours to play with, and even less if you drop and hook a trailer once or twice, because you have to show a mandatory pre-trip inspection on every new trailer you hook up to. You can easily lose a whole hour, just for fueling and inspections, leaving you with only a two-hour cushion.

So, let's say you pull into a shipper to pick up a load and at that point you've driven 5 hours since your last break, and have used 30 minutes of ODND time. You have 6 legal drive hours remaining and a 2 1/2 hour cushion that you can wait for the load. But, the load isn't ready and you sit in the dock for 5 hours, waiting for it. Do the math yourself this time, and you'll see that instead of having 6 drive hours left, now you have only 3 1/2, because of the extra 2 1/2 hours you spent waiting. Any extra time spent waiting, under 8 hours, cuts into your remaining drive hours, because you can't stop the clock by counting it as breaktime, as you did in the bygone days of yore.

Ah, you say, but then you just start your break a little earlier, right? Well, that would normally be true, except that this load is set to deliver nearly 600 miles from that shipper, at 6 A.M. the next morning! And it's an appointment load, which means that you have to be there at that time and the appointment can't be easily rescheduled. You're looking at a ten-hour drive, at least, and it's now 3 in the afternoon, leaving you just 15 hours to take a 10-hour break, resetting your 14 and 11-hour clocks to 'zero' again, and make a 10-hour driving run. Mathematically impossible. You need at least another 5 hours.

Now do you see the dilemma these inflexible regulations force on truck drivers? The load has to be there on time, but you don't have enough hours, mathematically, to get it there legally. You're forced to "make" the hours, on paper, in order to do it legally, on paper, and pray that the DOT cops don't pull your ass in for a roadside inspection. You only show a minimum of waiting time on your logbook. Then you show starting your break much earlier than you actually do, so that  you can  come off of the break early enough to have sufficient drive hours to get the load delivered on time the following morning. If you do things right, you'll deliver the load on time and be perfectly legal, on paper, at the same time. And, after the fact, it's hard for the DOT to prove anything. They don't have the manpower nor the time to check things out that thoroughly, unless they suspect something. And it's usually the driver who gives them the reason to suspect anything, whether via attitude, or via glaring logbook mistakes.

But the downside of all that is that it deprives drivers of sleep on a routine basis. You, as a driver, have to deal with real time, of course, and not the artificial time you created in your logbook. This means that in order to come off your break and hit the road at the proper time, you'll only be able to get 6 hours of actual breaktime, instead of the full 10 that you've logged. It takes you the better part of an hour to unwind and get to sleep, so you actually sleep only 5 hours. Most of the time you don't get as much sleep as you want or need. This adds up within a week's time, when you're routinely shorted of sleep in this manner. You build up what the sleep specialists call a "sleep debt" and you're going around fatigued and not nearly as alert as you should be. As I said in Part 1, all the CPAP machines in the world won't do you a bit of good if you don't have the time to get all the rest and sleep that you need.

 Of course you won't always have next-day deliveries. Sometimes you'll get a load with a travel day built into it. This relieves the pressure a little bit and will let you get a little more sleep, but you still have to cover the miles and deliver when you're supposed to, so the pressure is still there, but just not as heavy as usual.

So often, though, the loads with that extra time will lead to the dreaded "shift-change syndrome" turn-around on the next load. For two days, you've driven during the day and slept at night, like normal people do. Then you go to pick up that next load and you're wide-awake, refreshed, and all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. You go into the shipper and proceed to wait all day long on the load, when you're not the least bit sleepy! You've got all that time spent waiting and it's wasted, because you can'tmake yourself sleep when you're not sleepy at all. You don't have a switch behind your ear which allows you to turn yourself off and on, although dispatchers apparently think you do! You'll get no mercy from them. All you'll hear is:  "Well, you had all that time you spent waiting! It's YOUR fault if you didn't get any sleep!"

This load, like most, has to deliver at dawn the next morning, 400 miles away, so you know you'll be driving all night, as the wait becomes longer and longer. You sit there more than ten hours; a full break, but you haven't gotten a wink of sleep, and now the load's ready, it's 9 P.M., and you have to hit the road. You're getting drowsy now, but you can't sleep. The load has to get there and you've just wasted a whole break and not gotten a bit of sleep. As a result, you're out on the road all night, fighting back sleep. You survive only because you're used to the routine and you know what to do in order to stay awake. But you're still nowhere near as alert as you need to be. The only thing in your favor is that traffic is so much lighter at night. During the day, the chances for an accident would increase tenfold.

What I have attempted to describe are the routine, almost daily pressures of my occupation. Add to that the stress of constantly being under loads that have to deliver at rigid pre-set times, while juggling logbooks and the equally rigid regulations, and it's easy to see why many truckers don't sleep well when they do sleep. I always sleep much better and sounder at the end of a week, when I'm headed home with a load. Then the pressure is off, with the knowlege that the load does't deliver until Monday. When the psychological stress is off of you, you tend to get more rest. I spend many weekends just recuperating from the previous week and that very often throws you behind on things you need to do at home. I've learned not to worry about that. Just do what I can, when I can. Real safety on the highway starts with a well-rested driver and I make that my top priority. Housework can wait until I have a longer weekend sometime.

I need my rest. Not everyone is the "Energizer Bunny" type, like some people I know, who just keep going, and going, and going, seemingly forever. People are all different, and with such inflexible schedules versus equally inflexible regulations, it doesn't allow for those differences. The old regulations were far better for that than these newer ones. Drivers actually got more rest then than now, because they could stop the clock and utilize waiting time for breaktime. They need to  put that back the way it was. Stop listening so much to the one-track-minded activist groups, like PATT, CRASH, and Public Citizen, and start listening more to the drivers, who have to live with the regulations!! And shippers absolutely need to have incentives to get us loaded faster and minimize the waiting time. Appointments need to be set to give drivers adequate breaktime enroute.

Until and unless all that happens, it will remain as it is now, I'm afraid.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Vacation time is the time for me to spend at least one week jumping through various medical hoops, like a trained dog, and this year was no different. In fact, the one week I wanted to take, turned into two when I visited my local Sleep Clinic. They are very good at hanging me up there, and they struck again. Now I'm forced to take BOTH weeks of my vacation, so I can do another sleep test tomorrow (Thursday) night. The doc I see out there don't think my pressure is high enough on my CPAP, so I have to go through all that baloney again that I went through three years ago, then come back in in two weeks or so, in order to get my machine reset, have a followup visit, and finally get a silly form signed that Uncle Sam says I HAVE to have signed each year, in order to stay medically qualified to work at my occupation another year.

And do you know what?? I'll get all that done, hit the road again, with my machine blowing air into my lungs harder, and still be sleep-deprived for half the week anyway!!! I've told that doctor before that my sleep apnea therapy only impacts the actual sleep I get by about 25% (my own estimate); the other 75% is the working conditions I endure on a daily basis and the normal stress of my occupation which, all too many times, actually reduce the amount of sleep I'm able to get. It ain't just a matter of strapping my mask on and drifting right off to dreamland on my break (assuming I'm able to even get a full break!) Not at all. Oh, do I ever wish it was that easy!! Apparently, though, because I haven't actually seen the doctor himself for two years, seeing his assistant instead, I guess he forgot about it. I didn't feel like explaining it all over again when I was out there last week. Maybe I'll print out a copy of this entry and give it to him when I do the followup visit. Or maybe not. Who knows? Sometimes I just tend to shrug and say, "What's the point?"

All I know is that my vacation is dead until next year. That second week that I wanted to take later, free of [Bleep!!] doctors, is being taken now instead of sometime in the near future. Oh, I could have reset the test for another day, even for a Sunday night, but that would have left me more than likely having to leave out on Monday with a probable accumulated 3 to 4 actual hours of sleep, if that much, and then, naturally, be expected to drive all day in that dangerous condition. So, in my infinite wisdom, I decided that just taking the second week and getting the crap over with would work out best, as I'd at least have all day Friday to recuperate. If there's something distasteful I have to go through, then I at least want it over with ASAP!

The task that awaits me tomorrow night is decidedly distasteful, namely because a "sleep test" is much more of a "I hope I can maybe sleep a little bit" test, in reality. For those of you who have never experienced one, allow me to enlighten you:

1.  For starters, you're sleeping in a strange bed -- not the one you're used to at home (or in the sleeper, in my case.) The one I had on my initial test reminded me of sleeping on a big marshmallow. Mattress was WAY too soft and I kinda sunk into it, like lying in quicksand. Could barely get back out of it on my own. It was worse than the worst $25 fleabag motel "sag-o-matic" bed that you could ever imagine!

2.  You're hooked to approx. 23,754 (est.) different wires, with sensors glued to your head and an electrolytic cream all sticky and gooey in your hair. When you're hooked up and attempt to speak, your words come out in full stereo and the gizmos on your skull can pick up radio stations 100 miles away. You could snap your fingers and light up your cigarette with the sparks (except, of course, you aren't allowed to smoke in there!) Okay, okay!! I'm exaggerating slightly, but you get the idea -- it AIN'T comfortable at all! And then you're expected to actually sleep, all wired up like that!! Yeah. Right. Tell me another one!!

3. You know you're being constantly monitored; that a technician is listening to every sound you make, to see if you snore any (one of the chief symptoms of OSA.) Er -- uhhh -- well, suffice it to say that this is NOT the best time to eat two plates of beans, or a big bowl of chili for supper on the night of the test. Stomach gas is a no-no here, definitely. At any rate, it makes it even harder to sleep, knowing you're being watched over by Big Brother in the next room (or Big Sister, as the case may be.)

4.  Then you do finally manage to nod out and . . . the @#!!!%&*!!  so and so's keep waking you back up!!!!!  It's like the late, great, Charlton Heston cried in Planet Of The Apes, "It's a madhouse!! A MADHOUSE!!!" The techs either wake you up coming in to adjust the air pressure setting on the CPAP you're using, or you'll hear a soft voice over the intercom system intoning, "I need for you to turn over on your other side, Mr. Wayland." or "I need for you to sleep on your back now." My back??!! I NEVER sleep on my back, normally! I am a confirmed side-sleeper, or sprawled out halfway on my belly at times, but never on my back. But since that's also the most apnea-prone position you can sleep in, they want to see how effective the new pressure setting is. And then of course, about the time you're really sleeping soundly and they leave you alone, they wake you up for good. It's morning. Test over. They take the wires off of you and you shower the goo out of your hair.

And, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, you walk out of the clinic, get in your car and drive to the closest Waffle House, to get some breakfast, with extra caffeine in whatever you drink. It's gonna be a LONG day!!! And an even longer wait to get the results of the test. Averages two weeks while they study everything there is to study. So, it'll be that long before I even get my machine turned up, and that has to be done by the technicians at the medical supply place that supplied the machine. Takes a special code sequence to get into the menus that allow you to reset it. Only the techs have those codes, so it's not a user-friendly deal at all.

Then I talk to the sleep doc again, and then, finally, get the signed FMCSA form I need, so I can give it to my regular doc when she does my DOT physical in June. That's all assuming everything goes well, of course. If it doesn't, I might get some unpaid vacation I definitely don't want and can't afford to take, what with all the bills I owe. Got my fingers and toes crossed as I do every year. All this, for one lousy piece of paper, in order to stay qualified.

The government gets involved and everything goes from bad to worse, as usual. If it moves, tax it; if it moves too slow, regulate it; if it don't move at all, subsidize it -- that's how the government thinks. I work in one of the most overregulated occupations in the world. It's supposed to all be about "safety," but in reality, only about 20% of the regulations have any direct bearing on safety in the first place. They're lightning-fast, jumping in on the medical hoopla, but, as I said above, the rigors of the job itself are more to blame for driver's sleep deprivation than any actual sleep disorder, or treatment thereof. And no one, seemingly, is interested in doing anything about some of the real problems in my industry.

More to come on that in Part 2, a little later.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Vacation wouldn't be complete without a party to go to, and one of those happened this past Friday and Saturday. Knoxville Harley-Davidson, the dealer where I bought Miss Velvet last year, held their 40th Anniversary celebration over the past two days and I was lucky enough to be able to attend both days.

I rode Velvet over there on Friday afternoon and drew for a chance to win a free Harley of my choice, out of four that were offered. I drew a yellow ticket, which qualified me as one of the 200 rollers who would compete Saturday. Great incentive to return for the second day, wouldn't you say? Not that I needed any such incentive. I intended to be there both days anyway, if for no other reason than to hear the live music, party with and get to know other bikers, and see the funny Sumo Wrestling match between the brothers Brown, who own both of K H-D's dealerships in K-Town, as well as enjoy the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) C.A.G.E. fights that were scheduled for Saturday night. The first bouts were for amusement, while the second ones would be the real deal.

After drawing my ticket and stopping to chat with some people I know, I went on out back to the tent area, where everything was set up. Food and beer was catered by Coyote Joe's, a local biker party spot, just up the street from the dealership. They had my favorite brand, Bud Light, on tap, as well as pork BBQ plates, complete with two sides for five bucks. The smell from the BBQ smoker grill they had set up was making my mouth water, so it wasn't long before I bought a plate, the first of two that night.

I was also trying to wait an hour (at least) between brewskies, as it takes that long for each glass to clear your system and I had to ride Velvet back home later that night. Been a long time since I rode a motorcycle half-drunk and I sure didn't want to crash Velvet on the two and a half mile ride back to the Dawg House. So, I took it as easy as I could, chasing the beer with an occasional soft drink and eating along with it. I listened to the band, which was called "Hanover Fist," for awhile, enjoying the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes they specialized in, and watched the C.A.G.E. people set up the fight ring.

Rolling Thunder arrived and set up theirbooth on the north side of the store. I talked to some of their members for awhile, and bought some windshield stickers from them, to support their cause. In case some of you don't know what Rolling Thunder is, they are formally known as the "Rolling Thunder Brigade." They are a national bike club, made up of military veterans, with chapters in almost every state. They sponser the POW/MIA charity, which is still searching for military personnel who are listed as Prisoners Of War, or Missing In Action in the Vietnam War. There are still several thousand of our troops unaccounted for, and POW/MIA is active in attempting to determine their whereabouts, so their families can at last know what became of them. To date, they have been successful in determining the final fate of some 2,000 soldiers and airmen and have brought the remains of many who are deceased home for their final burial. I fully support that cause, along with that of all the Vietnam veterans.

Rolling Thunder has also recently been in the news for their efforts at providing security for the families of soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some lunatic fringe anti-war types have tried to disrupt the funeral ceremonies and the Rolling Thunder members have been involved in several clashes with those over-the-top loonies. Unlike the enlisted military members who conduct the ceremonies, and aren't allowed to engage in altercations with civilians, the retired or discharged veterans in Rolling Thunder do take the overly zealous protestors to task, and sometimes severely so. They have assisted the police in keeping the crazies at bay and have been joined in some places by what's left of the old Hells Angels biker club, who have joined the cause. Wow! Hells Angels actually assisting the cops! My, how times have changed!

After hanging out with Rolling Thunder awhile, I went to one corner of the lot, where a local drag racing team had a "rail job" dragster and a stock-class bracket car on display. You'll find pictures of both above, as well as a close-up shot of that awesome alcohol-fueled engine. Chevrolet, of course -- the ONLY way to go racing (at least from my point of view)! Big block 454 mill, bored and stroked out to approx. 535 cubic inches. Estimated at 2500 horsepower (it's impossible to run one of those dragsters on a dyno, without destroying the dyno). Aluminum block and heads, full blower, fuel injected and enough computerized electronic bells and whistles to give Billy Gates a wet dream!! Nine-inch Ford "chunk" rear axle that started out life in some pickup truck and the most widely-used rear end in drag racing. Reason being that the old American iron is still the toughest stuff in the world, for racing purposes. You just can't tear one of them things up!  I took one look inside that roll cage, at the driver's cockpit, and told the cute gal minding the display, "Uh -- I don't think I'd fit in there without a MAJOR diet!!" She laughed and so did I, but man, that cockpit is tight, let me tell you! Military fighter jets have more room in them!

Five o'clock came, then six, and people began getting off from work, putting on jeans, jackets, boots and helmets, and riding in to join the party. By the time the main events got underway, the parking lot on the north side was three-fourths filled with bikes of every description. Mostly Harleys, of course, but with some rice-burner cruisers and crotch rockets thrown in as well. Danged Yama-Hon-Zuki invaders!! A couple of half-lit Rolling Thunder members chased a couple of the Jap bikers around the parking lot, just for fun. Everyone got a kick out of that! Even the four county mounties posted there for crowd control purposes had grins on their faces. The cops are pretty lenient at events like this, too. As long as a biker doesn't get involved in a major brawl and isn't too drawnk to stay upright on two wheels, they pretty much leave you alone and let you go on home when it's all over. There was none of that stuff either night. Just people having a good time, which is what I'd gone over there for.

A little past seven, the band finished up its final set and the Sumo events got underway. Contestants were dressed up in huge plastic and rubber suits, which made them resemble the gigantic sumo wrestlers of reality. They required assistance getting in and out of the garb, so a couple of "suit techs" were standing by. Those suits were so heavily padded that they couldn't possibly really hurt each other or themselves. Also, many of them could barely move, which is what made it so hilarious. The best match of the night was between two lady volunteers (although it seemed that one of them was more or less "volunteered" by a few friends). The gals were lighter than the guys and they went at it all-out, doing full-tilt "belly bumps" and wrestling each other to the canvas floor of the ring. Once down, neither of them could get back up on their own, so they rolled around, grappling and repelling each other, until the assistants finally got them back on their feet again. I laughed until I nearly cried, then cheered when they declared the match to be a draw. Two winners and both deserved it!!

After that came the main event between D.J. and David Brown. Dave Brown, who runs the West Knoxville satellite store, won it handily in two falls, totally upsetting his brother. After those girls, though, it was almost anti-climatic. They stole the show. At that point, it was over for the night and I walked Velvet out of her parking spot out front, put on my helmet, and fired her up for the ride back home. I was just a little tipsy from the beer, but not so bad that I had problems going home. Leaning over in the curves was, well, interesting, but I made it in fine fashion.

Saturday dawned with rain showers on and off all day. I decided not to ride over, opting for my dry S-10. In earlier years, I rode my bike everywhere, in all kinds of weather, because it was the only transportation I had. I can tell you that motorcycles are rideable in the rain, using the proper amount of caution, but having been caught in rainstorms in the past on one, I still don't recall ever being wetter, outside the shower or a swimming pool. And then there's that wind chill you create when the bike is moving, blowing on your soaked clothes! Brrrrrrrr! I have raingear I carry with me, but problem is, you're still likely to get well-saturated before you can find a dry place to stop and put it on! Uh -- I'll pass on that one, thank you very much!! So, I drove over in my trusty Chevy.

The joint was already jumping when I arrived. The south parking lot was filled with 4-wheelers, so many people besides me had opted not to ride over. Many more people were there than the night before, and many more were to come later. I chatted with some friends again, then headed to the tent, where I promptly grabbed a brew and a plate of BBQ. The band was already at work, but this was a different group than the one Friday. More hard rock-oriented, and calling themselves  "Kill Will." They were a trio -- guitar, bass and drums, and the guitarist was an Aussie (from Australia, that is) with tons of talent on display. As the sole guitarist, with no backup player, he had to carry rhythm and lead both, and did all the vocals as well. It takes a special talent to do that and this guy was excellent at it. He sounded more like Ozzy Osbourne on one number than Ozzy himself, and Tony Iommi, eat your heart out!! Great kick-ass band, if you like rock and roll. They lend credence to the knowlege I've had for years that the best musicians you ever heard are people you've never heard of. Nowhere near the superstar status of the big names, but with more pure talent in their little fingers than the superstars.

During the band's break, the dice-rolling for the free motorcycle got underway. I joined the line, checked off my name from the drawing sheet, signed on the dotted line and stepped up to the rolling table. Don't touch the table with your body. All dice must cross the line on the felt and yes, you can shake the dice around in the can and talk to them. Come to papa, baby!! I tossed the dice out of the cup and they all crossed the line and tumbled to a stop. The winner was whoever rolled the dice and had them spell out H-A-R-L-E-Y. I looked at mine. Close, but no cigar; they spelled out H-A-R-L-E-T. Crapped out by one lousy letter!! About the same luck I always have at Bingo -- get within one letter of having it and they'll NEVER call that letter, and someone else will win!! Never fails!! The "rollmeister" told me my roll was the closest of all, so far. "Does the closest one win, if nobody spells it out?" Uh, sorry, but no. If nobody rolls it, there is no winner at all. He told me to take a ticket. Everyone who rolls and don't win does get a raffle ticket, however. Prizes will be drawn later. I took my ticket and got another beer.

They had 200 shooters lined up from drawings at both stores. About fifty of them never showed up to roll, so it was over early. Nobody won the bike, that I heard about anyway. After the band played its final set, the raffle started. The prizes ranged from free parts, accessories, and service work, to chances to roll for the bike again. When they raffled off an expensive set of side plates, hardware, "sissy bar" and passenger backrest packages, they called my number. I stared at my ticket, unbelievingly, while the emcee was calling out, "Going once. Going twice. . .!" It's YOURS, you big dumbass! I told myself. Get your hand in the air, NOW!! I jumped up from the table, spilling my half-glass of beer all over the place, but not EVEN caring right then! "Right here!!" I yelled. "I GOT it!!" The emcee motioned me over and I walked up there, still not believing I'd won. My ticket checked out, of course, and he congratulated me. The store was closed by then, but he gave me a certificate that I'll take over there Monday and claim my prize. So, Miss Velvet is getting a sissy bar outfit free!! Wow!! I've never won anything in my life before and still am having a hard time believing it!!

I was on Cloud Nine the rest of the night. Got totally carried away with the beer and got completely wasted, for the first time in many years. What the hell?? I felt like it was MY party then and I didn't have to worry about riding my bike home. Let it ALL hang out, and I did!! Meanwhile, a second band began to perform. I never did get their name, but they went back to the Southern Rock I love so much and that made it complete! Pretty hot band as well, with a three-guitar attack. They performed the Lynyrd Skynyrd stuff even better than the band had on Friday. The beer was making my kidneys scream every ten minutes or so, it seemed, and the lines for the port-a-potties outside had grown longer, as many obviously had the same urges at the same time. Oh, what a blessing it would be to get home and have an entire toilet to myself!! But the main event hadn't even begun then, so I bucked the lines and hung around.

The crowd was huge by the time the C.A.G.E. fights began and I had lost my seat long ago, so I got as close as I could to watch, and get out of the light rain which had begun to fall again. Full-contact martial arts are illegal in Tennessee, but the fighters still managed to put on a good show, in spite of the restrictions put on them by my state. This wasn't some kung-fu movie, but the real thing, and until you've seen it live, you haven't really seen it at all. Even television can't do it justice. The speed is absolutely incredible, with lightning-fast kicks and punches. Hands and fists are a blur of motion and it's mind-boggling that the human body can be trained to move that fast. They block the kicks and jump out of the way as quick as you can blink your eyes. A lot of these guys are little and scrawny-looking, but they are incredibly tough and blindingly quick. I wouldn't want to make one of them mad at me, that's for sure!! A very enjoyable exhibition indeed!

It began to wind down after that. The band did a second set and I hung for a short time to listen to them some more. But soon enough, it was over and everyone was headed out. I joined them, stopping on the way home, to buy a burger. I hadn't eaten anything but the BBQ plate earlier, and I was hungry, to say the least. All good things must end, and so it did, but I have the memories of a fun weekend to look back on in the future.

I'm not so sorry now that I had to take both my vacation weeks off before I wanted to, because of some sleep center B.S.!! But that's another story, for another entry a little later on. Meantime, I can't wait to get that sissy bar on Velvet!!


Sunday, April 13, 2008



That subtitle above is an apt description, to be sure! I didn't have to wait long for the crap to come flying my way, either; it started on Sunday, when I left out, right off the bat. I hooked my trailer up early that morning, bound for a customer in southern Pennsylvania, where I was scheduled to deliver that same night. Do-able in 11 hours, barely. I put my truck in gear, headed for the exit, pulled out into the road, and all hell broke loose.

Suddenly, my speedometer just rolled over and died. Kaput. Non-functional. Etc. At the same time, my engine rolled over and died as well, at around 1300 rpm. Not nearly as much as I usually push it, winding through the gears. It got up to that point and just went "BLURP!" Nothing. Nada. Like it had hit the rev limiter (governor) WAY early! This resulted in a truck that wouldn't pull a greasy string out of a cat's behind, to say the least.

I was crawling down the road at 18 mph, shifting and trying to get some speed up. Frustrated cars blasted by me, with the drivers giving me some very hostile looks. I was wondering aloud, musing things like, "WHAT THE F***???!!!!!" and other assorted thoughts. I limped it onto the interstate entry ramp and drifted onto the shoulder, to let the frustrated cars go on by. I stopped, shut down the engine, counted off twenty seconds, then fired it back up. Let's try rebooting this electronically-controlled wonder! Garbage in equals garbage out.

It idled just fine, revved up normally, too. In neutral. Put it back in gear, put my signal on and eased the clutch out. BRMMMMMM--- BLURRRRRRP! "CRAP! DOGGIE-POOP!!" Etc. "Well, what the hell?? Cure it, or kill it!! Here we go!!" I stumbled and sputtered my way out onto I-40, giving it all it had (relatively speaking) in every gear, shifting as soon as it crapped out, and finally coaxed it up to 50 mph, in high gear. Once there, it slowly built speed until -- as suddenly as it had happened -- the truck gave a slight lurch and shudder, then picked up speed normally and went on as if nothing at all was wrong. Speedometer worked again, and everything! Hmmmmm! Some electronic glitch?? Working okay again now, so who knows?? Maybe it had the electronic equivalent of a "senior moment." God knows, it's got enough miles on it to get a little, uh, "forgetful" at times. It had been raining and maybe something got a little moisture on it inside that brain box on the side of the engine. But I wasn't going to worry about it, as long as it kept running as sweetly as it was right then.

It kept running normally, all the way to the customer. almost 600 miles away. I wasn't running normally myself, though. I had an upset stomach that had started the night before, resulting in a nice case of "Montezuma's Revenge" which had me running to the toilet all night and getting little sleep at all. Obviously, I had disagreed with something that ate me. God only knows what. So, I had dosed up with Immodium, laced with Pepto-Bismol, then hit the road. Truck drivers aren't allowed to get sick, in case you didn't know. That's a violation of DOT Code 1754.388, Paragraph C, Subpart 19D, of the federal regulations, I think. The only way you're getting out from under that load is to die, or be confined to a hospital, and I wasn't quite that bad off right then.

The OTC medication helped, but I still had to stop three times on the way up there. My GI tract was screaming for a bathroom when I arrived, but we were out in the driveway, a LONG way from the building. I would explode long before I got there, I knew. Finally, after pulling up three spaces and contacting the guard shack, he was kind enough to let me use the toilet in there. I'll be forever grateful to him for that, believe me.

I was out of hours anyway, so the wait didn't bother me at all. While in the guard shack, he'd told me that I could park and sleep at the driveway curb up top after I was unloaded. That finally happened after midnight. No load right then, just as I'd expected, so I settled down and finally got some sleep. My stomach had stopped cramping and I'd taken two more Pepto tablets for insurance on that deal. I adjusted the heat in the sleeper and went beddy-bye.

I woke up on my own the next morning. No Qualcomm nagging me to get my lazy butt up and grab another load as yet and I hadn't felt like dealing with my "Screaming Meanie" sleep timer the night before. I didn't need a heart attack on top of my upset tummy when that beast went off. So, I had some breakfast and went into "load waiting mode." It was early afternoon before they found me anything and it didn't pick up until the next day, in upstate New York, about 200 miles from where I was. So, I headed back to Harrisburg, to the closest truck stop, for the night.

I started the truck up, put it in gear and started out. BRRRRRRR! Up to 1350 rpm, then BLURRRRRRP! Crapped out again, just like the morning before. Heck, is this truck pregnant? Morning sickness or something?? I got up through the gears as well as I could, but the little ratty two-lane pigpath that led into that place was posted at 45 mph all the way back to the interstate, and the curves were frequent and sharp, so that's about all I could do safely anyway. But not being able to get it in high gear, it blurped and lugged all the way. I wanted to hit the Big Road, get it in high and see if it would revert to normal again, as it had previously, but no way on that road. It was a slow and aggravating 8 miles back to the freeway.

Hit the entry ramp and blurped my way down it, picking up a little more speed downhill, but I was still barely doing 45 when I pulled it onto the interstate. With an empty box I should have been hitting 60, normally. Flashers on till I got up to speed. Seemed to take forever, but it finally got to its limit of 65 mph. It cruised along well enough empty, but every little hill and it fell on its face. I was downshifting when I normally shouldn't be at all. This sucked, bigtime. And it didn't go away this time around, either. Blurp, blurp, blurp I went. Stopped at a rest area and called our shop. Told then what it was doing. They said to get the fuel filter changed. I knew it wasn't a waterlogged filter, but I also knew that drivers can't win arguments with the shop, ever, so I headed to a truckstop chain where we're allowed to have service work done on the road and had them change the filters. What the heck? It's their money, so let 'em waste it, I say!

Next morning, I topped off the fuel and headed north. Sure enough, it was still blurping, just like it had done before. I was sure something was wrong electronically, in the engine control system somewhere.It appeared to me that the speed control/rev limiter was all screwed up in some manner, but there was nothing I could do but press on and try. With an empty trailer it was bad enough, but I knew that with the heavy-ass load I'd be picking up, it would be a nightmare to deal with.

And on the trip up there, a new wrinkle appeared, as well. At one point, out of the blue, the temperature gauge shot all the way to full "hot" and idiot lights came on, as well as the warning beeper. It only stayed that way for a second or two, then went back to normal. Now, friends, I used to work on cars for a living. Twelve years of my life was spent in that occupation. I darn well know how a temperature gauge acts normally and that thing sure wasn't normal at all. False indication, I knew. Wasn't really overheating at all. Likely something in the electronic jungle under the hood setting it off in error. Computers can do bizarre things, believe me when I tell you that. Something was putting garbage into one end and it was spitting garbage back out. Typical of any computer control system. It would do that little stunt two more times that same day, as it turned out.

I got to the place, to get my load, and they promptly rejected my trailer. It had three holes in the roof that couldn't be seen from the ground at all, and I'd never been on a dock when they were loading me. I'd never known they were there. Until then. So, after consulting with our shop, consulting with the female guard, and making a few phone calls, I finally found a place about ten miles away that could patch it well enough to load. I drove over there and he had the work done in no time flat. Paid with a Comcheck and went back to get my load. Sat in line again, finally got docked and this time they loaded me up with the 45,000 pounds of salt I'd come to get. 

I pulled out of the dock, closed my doors, and couldn't slide the trailer tandem a bit! It was an older rustbucket and the emphasis belongs on the word "rust." The slider was jammed full forward and rusted up good, plus I was on a slight uphill grade. Worn-out, I gave up and left. Drove to the first rest area I saw, got out and saturated the slider and rail with penetrating oil, then got back in and hit the bunk. Let it soak overnight. In the morning, with the brakes cold, it'll probably slide like greased glass on ice.

At this point in my tale, I want to impart to you my secret for getting the New York State DOT to weigh you for free. First, you must park in a rest area that's designated as a portable weigh station, like I did. Then, you get up the next morning and discover them in there, doing their duty, which is weighing trucks. Start up your truck and let it warm up, while you climb out and pull the tandem release rod out. Lock the funky thing in place with vise-grips. Then slide the tandem to the desired hole you want it in, while a DOT bear watches you. Fiddle with it a little, then release the rod. Rock the truck until it locks. Walk over to the officer casually, greeting him in a friendly manner and asking if he can weigh you before you head out, to make sure your weight is okay and while you're in a good place to adjust it as needed. When he says okay, back your truck out of the parking slot, straighten it out, then run it across the portable scale. He gives you the "thumbs up" signal and you thank him, then go on your merry way. He's probably still scratching his head, wondering about that Tennessee hillbilly driver who actually requested to be weighed, when he could have gotten a Free Pass because he was already parked when they set up their scales! Will wonders never cease?? Ah, but I saved myself $8.50 with that little brainstorm, so there is a method to my madness!!

I hit the road again and the truck was worse than ever. Zero to 65 mph in 30 minutes, or thereabouts. I drove a few miles, headed toward I-90, where I would proceed west, through Erie, PA and on into Ohio. The load was bound for Georgia, set to deliver the next afternoon. Dispatch was getting me close to home with that load, so I could start my vacation, and I had every hope of being home Friday sometime. However, that didn't happen at all.

I'd made about 20 miles or so of progress when I hit a gentle, but long uphill stretch of road. About halfway up the grade, the temperature gauge did its thing again. Shot all the way to hot, with lights blinking and the warning beeper giving me a 21-gun salute. This time it didn't go away after two seconds, as it had before. I headed for the shoulder, knowing what would come next, and barely made it off the road before the computer killed the engine entirely. Dead. No power steering, etc. I tugged on the wheel, straightening it out, flipped on my flashers, and braked to a stop.

Got out, watching for the inevitable cars that don't know enough to change lanes when they see someone on the shoulder like that, and opened up the hood. No steam coming from any cooling system component. Hoses were normal temperature and the coolant tank was also normal. No signs of anything overheating at all, just as I'd figured. It looked like my truck had just gotten lazy and decided it didn't want to pull that hill. I threw a half-gallon of coolant in the tank, just to be on the safe side, closed the hood and got back in. Called the shop. Told them the fuel filters weren't the problem and I was taking it to the Peterbilt dealer in Erie, if I could get there at all. They said okay. Engine fired back up readily enough and I got back underway. I made it to Erie.

I spent the rest of that day at that Pete dealership. There was much talk about ECM calibration and other technical things that I won't bore you with. The bottom line is that the engine control system was all screwed up, just as I'd thought. By afternoon I was calling dispatch and letting them know that I was going to be, uh, a little delayed, to say the least. They took me off the load and assigned another truck to pick it up and bring me an empty trailer. I waited, txt messaging a pal, reading and watching sillly TV shows in the driver lounge upstairs. Closing time came at midnight. They still hadn't figured it out. I backed the truck outside and went to sleep.

The other driver woke me up at 4:30 A.M., wanting the bills on the load. I gave them to him and he told me I'd be taking a wrecked trailer back to Morton. Whaaaaat??? I dressed and climbed out to eyeball the situation. He wasn't lying. The entire top of that empty trailer was caved in, on the right side, with the front part of the roof almost torn off. That side was caved in as well. It had obviously been rolled over by some unknown driver. I got on the Qualcomm and night dispatch confirmed that I'd be bringing it back home, where the shop would decide whether to fix it or junk it. Looked like junk to me, but it's not my call to make, so leave it up to them. So, now instead of ending up close to home, I was in the Dawg Trashed-Up Trailer Rescue business!

I didn't bother trying to go back to sleep. They'd be open in an hour, so I had some breakfast and waited. When the time came, I pulled itback inside, then resumed my reading upstairs, taking up where I'd left off with the car magazine the night before. I went down to have a smoke (outside, of course) and noticed that they were out road-testing my truck again. While I was puffing, they brought the truck back and parked it outside. Fixed?? Yep, they confirmed. The mechanic said that they'd reset some of the parameters in the ECM (brain box) and that it was fine now. Hooray!!!! About an hour later, I pulled out of there and headed for Star Central. It was running normally again, finally.

Got to Morton the next morning, gave the shop the readout that the Pete dealer had sent, grabbed a few supplies, then got dispatched. Was told to pick the load up and head to St. Louis, where I would relay it to another truck. We met at a truck stop outside that city and I hooked up to a trailer that was bound for Greeneville, TN, 70 miles from home. They wanted me to drop it off Saturday morning and told me to bobtail home if there weren't any empties around on a weekend. There wasn't and I did, so here I am, finally, and Hell Week is over!!

A whole week off, dying to ride Velvet and wouldn't you know it?? Now we have a winter flashback the first weekend I'm off!!! I just can't WIN!!!


Saturday, April 5, 2008


You MUST CLICK for the song to play.

For some reason, I was in a prankish mood this past Tuesday. Hmmmmm -- I wonder if the fact that it was April Fool's Day had anything to do with that?? Anyway, since I firmly believe that the most effective way to deal with temptation is to simply give in to it, I did so. As long as it's relatively harmless, why not? My first victim was dispatch. I picked up my Qualcomm.

Dawg:  Probably going to be 4-5 hours late with the load.

Dispatch:  What's wrong?

Dawg:  May not even make it there today, in fact.

Dispatch:  What's the problem?

Dawg:  I'm right on time, but my truck's running late. It's several hours behind me.

Dispatch:  What you talking about?

Dawg:  All the truck's clocks are slow. I think it overslept.

Dispatch:  [Silence]

Dawg:  I gotta get into the yard ASAP and get all the clocks reset.

Dispatch:  Get that load there!!

Dawg:  APRIL FOOL!!!

Dispatch:  U want to go home this weekend, the load had better be there on time!!  

Dawg:  Yahwohl, Herr Commandant!!

I actually got the load there a couple of hours early, but it was fun while it lasted. A little later, I even pulled a mild prank on a friend, via cellphone. But the real killer came that afternoon, when I arrived at a shipper to pick up my next load. I outdid myself with  this one, I'll tell you!! It was the performance of a lifetime, for me!!

I smiled as the idea popped into my head and that little red devil sitting on my shoulder was urging me, "Go on!! Do it!!" The little angel on my other shoulder was scolding me, "No!! Are you nuts?! You can't do that to a good customer!!" But it was a no-brainer, really, in the mood I'd been in all day. I chuckled, shrugged the little angel off his perch, and said, "Hell, why not??" The little devil grinned slyly at me. "Atta boy!!" So, I rehearsed my lines quickly, practiced for a minute or so, then went inside to check in. A young black lady was at the desk in the shipping office. After a moment, she came to the window, smiled, and greeted me. I took a deep breath and launched into my act.

I answered her greeting in fake foreign accent, acting like I didn't quite know how to say what I wanted to say, as if a little confused. Just like someone not that familiar with English would do. Then I proceeded to fumble around in heavily accented broken English, trying to get across to her that I was there to pick up a load. I pretended to be struggling mightily with the words, to make her understand me. And it was working great, as she quickly began looking very confused herself.

"Uh, you want to pick up a load, right??" she guessed.

"Ahh, ohhh, yassss. Zat ess vhat I vhant, yasss!" I replied, letting my eyes light up with the revelation. [I can't really come close to the accent I was faking on paper, so you'll just have to use your imagination here].

"Okay, sir. What company do you you drive for?"

"Aaaah -- cohmp-an-yee? Zat ess. . . how you say? Eet ess. . ."  

You get the idea. And it went on like that for several minutes, with her asking questions and me fumbling for the right words. We wrangled for what seemed like an hour over the load number, which I kept repeating in such a heavy accent that she couldn't begin to understand what I was trying to say. I laid it on thicker and thicker as it went on. I had that poor girl so frustrated that I think she wanted to cry! Then she called another girl over and they were both soon going bananas trying to deal with the situation I had created!

It seemed to take another hour for them to get across to me what dock I was to put my empty trailer in and what dock my loaded one was in, but I finally granted them mercy and showed comprehension with what I was to do. The black girl handed me my bills to sign and with one last stroke of brilliance, I signed them "Yrral Dnalyaw," which is my real name, spelled out backwards. Just read each word from right to left, instead of the conventional way.

As I left the shipping office, I toyed with the idea of turning back and telling her, "April Fool!" But I had visions of her leaping through that window and strangling me to death, after what I'd put her through, and I chickened out. She would be within her rights to smack me for that one, and I can't say I wouldn't deserve it, really!! But it was fun as heck and I was still chuckling about it a day later. My aplogies go out to that unsuspecting young lady, if she should happen to read this, but it was all in fun and no real harm was done, so I'd hope she'd take it as it was intended.

But --hey!! Where's my Oscar nomination?? I think I deserve one, for that acting performance I gave. Does anyone agree??