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.