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.