Sunday, April 26, 2009


I actually got to participate in a motorcycle group ride yesterday -- one of the few I have been able to take part in. These group rides are held at various times, year-round, but I haven't been able to ride in many of them, because my occupation doesn't allow me the time to do so very often. But I've had nothing but time the past week, being laid off from work while I treated the Virus That Ate Me and started breathing normally again at last. And so, I was primed to go.

I didn't think I was going to go at all, for awhile there, as my mom wanted to do some of her laundry at my house, and how could I say no?? She got 'er done in time for me to ride west, to the staging area for the ride, where I barely arrived in time to lay down my $10 registration fee and get signed up, etc., etc. The ride was a memorial to Steve "Bo" Goins, a locally well-known member of our little biker community here, who was killed in a traffic accident a few years ago. He was stopped at a traffic light, around midnight, when a small pickup truck failed to stop in time and slammed into the rear of Bo's bike, ending his life at age 37. That incident shook our entire community, as it was so tragic, yet completely senseless at the same time.  

The Motorcycle Awareness Foundation of Tennessee (MAFT) stepped in and has hosted this memorial ride ever since Bo's death, in an effort to raise awareness of motorcycles that share the road with all other vehicles. It is a cause that concerns all bikers everywhere, no matter what they ride, because we all share the same streets, roads, and highways and we're all subject to the same traffic conditions. We all share the same common fear -- that some 4-wheel motorist won't notice us and will endanger our lives by doing something foolish. It's a very rational fear when you're up on two wheels, believe me. 

"But officer, I didn't see the motorcycle." 

That's what they all say, after the accident has happened and it's too late to save the fallen biker's limbs, skin, or even life. And it's the lamest excuse ever concocted by the human mind. There is no excuse -- repeat -- NO EXCUSE, WHATSOEVER, FOR FAILING TO SEE A MOTORCYCLE. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. It holds water like a seive. If you fail to see what is obviously there,  sharing the road with you, it's because YOU AREN'T LOOKING! And if you don't look for ALL vehicles in your path before pulling out, you aren't a competent driver and should have your license suspended until you learn to do so. 

If that makes some readers mad, then so be it. I won't apologize because that's honestly how I feel about it. YOU aren't the one sitting on that bike, watching everything around you like a hawk and thinking "what if?" every time you approach an intersection where there's a car sitting, waiting to turn onto the road you're on. You aren't the one having to wear hot leather clothing in the summer heat, in order to protect your skin when you end up riding the pavement because some apparently blind car driver pulled out in front of you, or cut you off, forcing you to lay your bike down hard. Most of us do everything we can to make ourselves visible and noticeable -- bright-colored clothes, hard-wired headlamps that burn all the time, flashing our brake lights, reflective patches and decals, loud exhaust pipes -- you name it and we've done it or do it, but some car drivers still say they didn't see us. 

Some states, including my own, aren't just taking that old, lame excuse for granted anymore. They are cracking down, pulling drivers over when their actions endanger motorcyclists and ticketing them. Some, including Tennessee, are imposing mandatory jail sentences for motorists whose poor driving habits result in the death of a biker. They are going all-out with advertising and educational campaigns, designed to raise motorists' awareness of motorcycles that are on the road with them. All I can say is that it's about time!!! It will make riding that much more enjoyable, if everyone in a cage is aware that we're out there and they watch out for us, like they do for other cars. 

There is no one as blind as someone who refuses to see. Open your eyes, motorists. Watch for motorcycles all the time, when you're on the road,   and especially in the warm weather months. 

The ride was a short one -- just through town, from our Kingston Pike starting point,  and out onto highway 25W (Clinton Highway). It went uneventfully. I was near the back of the pack, with the anchor riders, because I'm relatively inexperienced at group riding. This is something you need to tell the ride organizers when you go in the front door, so they won't mix you in with the more eperienced riders in the group. They keep you toward the rear, so that the anchor riders, who are often the most experienced in the group, can keep an eye on your riding and help you when you need it. I was helped several times with interpreting the common hand signals that are used in biker groups. I know most of the basic ones, but there are some specialty signals that I'm still learning about. One anchor rider gave me a complete run-down on it after the ride was over and gave me the address of a website, where they show all the commonly used signals.

We ended up at Coyote Joe's, for the post-ride bash. They had Bubba's (Coyote Joe's owner) famous Road Kill Grill in operation and I inhaled two loaded charcoal-broiled burgers, along with some great potato salad and Bubba's world-famous baked beans. Topped off with a Bud Light, it was a great meal. Only charge was a minimum five-buck donation to MAFT. I threw $10 in the bucket and got two burgers, four raffle tickets, and a bottle "sock" to put over my beer and keep it cold longer. Bubba finally opened up the outdoor patio bar and had the first live band on their outdoor stage that I've seen this year. It was a good day for it; sunny, with the temp in the upper 80's. The band was good, but the sound was a little bit bass-heavy; you couldn't half-hear the guitar. They played well, but need to work on their equalization a little bit, methinks. But what the hey -- live music is just that. Live. Sometimes, things get screwed-up. Like Jimi Hendrix was famous for saying:  "Only cowboys play in tune." I still enjoyed the music and hung out in the sun until they ended their gig and started packing up. 

By then, I had reached my four-beers-with-food personal limit when I'm on Velvet and sat in the sun, sweating it off until it was time to head back home again. I hated to see it end, but I know there will be more to come, later on this summer. 

Sunday, April 19, 2009


I got hit by a nasty bug back in March. A virus/cold/creeping crud condition which settles in your chest, making you cough in fits and making your lungs very congested. It was going around, as I knew several people who got smacked by it, including my mom and my special friend up in Kentucky. It sucks, it's miserable, and I still have it, a month later. Still congested and short of breath from being so stopped-up. That is my particular misery and I was plagued by it all of last week. Tomorrow, I will go to my doc and let her examine me and perhaps prescribe some antibiotics to knock this thing out for good, as well as some industrial-strength medication to relieve my congestion. To hell with my load. My health is too important. Let my company deal with that. I want to breathe normally again.

Trucking is a lousy occupation to be in when you get hammered by something like this. The problem is that you don't stay in one place for very long, like normal folks do. You're constantly on the move. For me, it's a typical south-to-north-to-south routing that has you running your heater one day, your air conditioner the next, and then back to the heater again. Constant abrupt changes in temperature means that your body never becomes acclimated to the steady climate in one region and it confuses your system. 

Add to that the unpredictable and often changeable weather in early spring and you're almost assured of being stuck with the crud for months, until it turns warm to stay everywhere you go.  You think you're getting over it, then you move again and the weather turns cool; you get chilled and you relapse -- it hits you all over again with a vengeance. Keeps your resistance low and allows the original virus to mutate to an even nastier form. It did that to me last week, hitting me with chest congestion and I was so short of breath from that at times that I couldn't walk across a parking lot without panting and gasping by the time I reached my destination. I also ran out of my allergy pills, couldn't find any at a truckstop, and so added nasal congestion and stopped-up sinuses to my misery. To say that it was a tough week is the understatement of the year. And I AM NOT going to repeat it, load or no load!!! 

At least I did have warm weather to be thankful for. I stayed south, where the temperature was in the 70's until the end of the week, when Mom Nature decided I needed to be cooled off again, and turned her thermostat down a few notches. I was in Florida and southern Alabama at the first of the week and ended up taking a tour of the Sunshine State that was  more like a forced march than anything. No vacation for me yet, it seemed. From Jacksonville, where I had unloaded on Tuesday, I traveled almost 300 miles down to the Tampa area to pick up my next load, then, after a break, I boogied almost 200 miles back north to I-10, then close to 400 miles across the panhandle and into Alabama, through Mobile, and 85 more miles up I-65 before I stopped for another break. By the time I reached my destination in northern Mississippi Thursday morning, the temperature had plunged back down into the 40s, forcing me to turn up the heat and bundle up in my hoodie jacket when I ventured outside. My allergies were going nuts and though my breathing seemed a little better that day, I was still puffing more than I do normally whenever I had to exert myself much. 

I was assigned a load which didn't deliver in North Carolina until Monday, taking me home and giving me some quality downtime at last. Our "mileage ticker" in the Qualcomm unit goes back to zero again around midnight on Friday of each week and I looked at mine before it clicked over that morning. It showed I had gone almost 2500 miles in just four days, since the last reset. Makes for a fat, healthy paycheck, so I was happy about that, anyway. But misery still loomed ahead, one last time, before I got back home. 

My congestion and breathing issues resurfaced stronger than ever Friday morning. I had to go inside the truckstop to use the bathroom and look for some more OTC medication for my ailment. I had parked as close to the building as I could get the afternoon before; it probably wasn't much more than 100 yards to the door. I started walking, slowly. By the time I reached the building, I was virtually gasping for breath. Sit down before you fall down and thank you, God, for making them put this bench right here! I plopped down on it and sat there until I was breathing halfway normally again, then made my way inside. Using the bathroom helped a lot. I found an allergy pill, like I normally take!! A single 24-hour dose. I bought it and some decongestant cough syrup, with an expectorant, to help me cough up the mucus in my viral-plagued lungs. Made it back to the truck much better than I had  going into the building, and dosed myself up all around. Self-medicating, without the alcohol. As it started to kick in, I nodded out and napped. Allergies can make it hard to sleep well, when they flare up. 

I made it home Friday afternoon, feeling some better, but still with the same problem. It has improved some while at home, but not enough to where I feel comfortable going back out, without seeing my doctor and getting some professional treatment for this bugaboo. I am a large, economy-sized person and that doesn't help me a bit. But you can't lose weight overnight and I'm not in an occupation which aids in weight loss to begin with. Sitting behind a steering wheel is lousy exercise, to say the least. I'm also a smoker, which also doesn't help things, but believe you me, something like this will strictly curb your appetite for cigarettes. I've probably smoked less in the past week than I have in months. I'm still trying to/wanting to quit, but that's something else that I can't do overnight, as cold-turkeying doesn't work for me at all. And even when you quit, it takes months to get rid of all the effects of smoking. 

But I'm confident that my doc will find some relief for me and I'll be back 100% very soon. I only hope I don't lose too much time off from work. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009


If a reader asked me why that little round slotted thingie mounted between the frame rails of my tractor is callled the "fifth wheel" they'd most likely get a blank stare from me and a shrug of the shoulders. If they pressed the issue, they'd get an answer suitable for the average three-year-old:  "Because!" Uh -- it really don't make sense at all. If you count the wheels on my tractor you'd get two steer wheels and one, two, three, four, five . . .  eight wheels on the two drive axles, adding up to ten wheels, total. So, that round slotted thingie which couples my tractor to my trailer is really the eleventh wheel. 

I think they named it that illogical name way back in trucking's stone age, in the early days of the 20th Century, when Big Trucks weren't all that big and they only had four wheels, like a car. It would've really been a fifth wheel in that case. That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it. 

Fifth wheels have been around for quite some time and they've pretty well ironed all the gremlins and goblins out of them nowadays. They function quite well and are a part of the truck that is taken for granted by most drivers. What the hell can go wrong with a fifth wheel? Usually nothing, unless, of course, it's the one on MY truck. I would have the one-in-ten-zillionth fifth wheel that gives trouble and acts crazy. At least mine did on Thursday of last week, and for the second time in three weeks. 

First off, the trailer's dollies were set a little low, meaning, probably, that the previous driver had set the box down in a pothole, or some other low spot in the ground. I got under it without dumping my rear air bags, but it was a tight squeeze. The dollies were then lifted off the ground slightly by my tractor's higher ride height and the full weight of the trailer and load were on my wheels as I backed under it. It was not as smooth as usual. It was more like a scrape-jerk-jerk-jerk, and as hard as I tried to ease the slot into the trailer's kingpin, it went jerk-jerk-K-BANG in spite of all my efforts to be gentle. 

After my head stopped bobbing to and fro and my eyeballs stabilized in my skull again, I put it in low gear and did the standard "tug" test to make sure I was hooked. I wasn't. The tractor shot out from under it and I tromped the brake pedal hard, to keep it from coming all the way out. Another jerk that left my head bobbing like one of those figurines you've seen on the rear parcel shelves of umpteen cars. I threw it in reverse and dumped the clutch. The impact with the trailer this time almost gave me a case of severe whiplash as my head was tossed around. When my vision cleared, I tugged again. STILL not hooked, as I eased out from under the box a second time. 

I shook my head to clear it and got out for a look-see. "What's WRONG with this [CENSORED] thing?" I asked, rhetorically. Was the kingpin missing off the trailer? Looked underneath. No, it was right there, where it belonged. By the process of elimination, that left the fifth wheel as the culprit. I scoped it out. Release handle still pulled out in the "released" position. Hmmmmm. Yanked and pushed around on it. Didn't budge. Leaned over the frame rails, trying to eyeball the locking jaw mechanism that secures the fifth wheel to the kingpin. Poked around on the locking jaw clamp. Got all greasy in the process. Pulled and pushed on the release handle again, to no avail. Meanwhile, another driver had noticed my difficulty and walked over. He was looking at the locking mechanism.

"It's released right now," he informed me.

"Coulda fooled me," I responded. "Damn thing does NOT want to lock on the kingpin!"

"Give it another try and hit it harder this time. Looks like there's some rust down in there." 

"Harder?!" I asked, looking at him like he was insane. "Heck, I hit it hard the last time. Any harder and I might end up in traction, in the hospital!!" 

"Sock it to it," he told me. 


I climbed back in the cab amidst visions of myself in a hospital bed, wearing a neck brace, and poking a cute nurse, when she was all bent over . . . well, let's not go there. Anyway, I sat back down in my seat and eased as far out from the box as I could. Then I closed my overhead cabinet doors, put the cap on my bottle of soda in the cupholder and generally battened down the hatches. "Brace for collision!" I yelled, as I pressed the accelerator and let out the clutch. "Ramming speed!!!" KA-WHAM! It was a collision this time, nothing less, and I think I pushed the trailer back a foot, even with the spring brakes fully applied.  I whacked myself up'side my head, then shook it briskly, to jar my brain back in place. I put the tranny in low again and eased out the clutch. Tractor no move. I did the same thing again, letting the clutch out a little harder this time. Tractor no move and I was thrown up against the steering wheel. Hooked at last!!! I thanked the other driver for his help, got my bills, and boogied out of there a few minutes later. 

I gotta get that thing looked at, next time I'm at the yard!

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Glad You Asked That (reader comment response)

To M88:

First off -- no, your question isn't stupid at all. It's a very good question and if more motorists would ask us truckers about these things, there might be fewer car/truck accidents in the future. You're doing the right thing by getting past the truck as quickly as possible and not hanging out in the "No-Zone," as it's called. The right side of any truck is called the "blind side" and for very good reason -- there are many blind spots on that side of a truck; the driver is seated on the other side and can't see out the window over there at all, leaving him only his mirrors to see what's over there. The most dangerous spot of all on a truck's right (passenger) side is when a car is right up next to the cab door, or right beside the truck's hood. The car will be totally hidden from the driver's view in these locations, and not visible in the mirrors at all. My truck has a "bus" mirror on the right front of the hood, but the way I adjust my seat for my height, I can't see that mirror over the dashboard without leaning forward. And that mirror is worthless at night, as it picks up nothing but glare from my own headlamp! So, be extra cautious at night, when you're on a truck's blind side. You're even harder to see then.

Yes, flashing your lights is a standard signal to a trucker that his trailer is clear of your vehicle and that he can safely move over into the lane you're in. Just be sure that the trailer is well clear of you before signaling him!! You don't want your bumper chopped off. Truck mirrors have a very narrow field of view and a driver has to pull out way ahead of a car he's passing before attempting to return to the proper travel lane. The standard rule of thumb employed by truckers here is "don't change lanes until you can see BOTH the headlights of the car you're passing." For that reason, you shouldn't hug the shoulder, either, trying to give the truck extra room; this makes it even harder for the driver to see if he's clear of you. Helping him out by flashing your lights is always a good idea and many of us will blink or flash a "thank you" with our 4-ways or marker lights.

Jackson, Georgia

Sitting in a Flying Bankruptcy (Flying J) truckstop here this weekend, instead of schmoozing it up at the Dawg House, as usual. This well-known travel center chain has been in Chapter 11 reorganization since last year, thus the pet name I hung on it. It's run by a group of Mormons out in Utah and I think that when Mitt Romney blew so much of his money in his presidential bid last year, that it also pulled the rug out from under the Flying Hook as well. I don't see many signs of reorganizing here, if this location is any example. Same-ol', same-ol', by the looks of things. So, I suppose all that Chapter Elevening is happening out in Salt Lake City, or Provo, or some other Home Office location.

How I came to be stranded here is another story for the annals of this blog, however. It was because of another blinkety-blank, freakin', [EXPLETIVE DELETED] shuttle run that I was saddled with on FRIDAY, of all the lousy days it could have been. Pardon me a moment, while I catch my breath and calm down a bit.

Ahhhh -- that's better. Now then, where was I?

Oh, yeah -- the shuttle run. I hate shuttle runs. They suck. I call them "One Day Wonders," because you have to pick up a load and deliver it on the same day, usually after you've driven all night and slept like crap and are half-past tired to begin with. And, of course, since these runs almost always involve our top customer in some way, they want the load to get delivered at least two hours before you even pick it up. Get the idea? They RUSH you to death, otherwords ["Lone Ranger Theme" in background here]. So add that together: Tired, sleepy, saddled with a load that has to deliver the same afternoon, and forced to bust ass through everything to get it there. Ah, yes -- that should be the formula for a good, safe truck driver on our highways!!! Just be glad that I'm experienced and fully qualified to drive in my sleep. Been doing it for years and no major accidents so far. I just put my brain on Autopilot Mode and go. That goes right along with the Cast Iron Bladder that all truckers have to develop over the years behind the wheel.

The run was from a plant 40 miles south of Atlanta, up to a customer in Welcome, North Carolina -- a distance of some 330 miles. Somehow, I always felt welcome there in the past. Wonder if that has anything to do with why they named the town that? So, got loaded in no time flat and motored my tired butt on up the road toward the destination. Everything went well until I hit the 5 P.M. Charlotte Crunch. Moving like molasses on I-85, for more than 18 miles, through all the suburbs and closer surrounding towns. Average speed -- 8 mph. "Oh, yeah," I commented to myself, sarcastically, "like I really need this shit right now!!" All that wonderful afternoon rush hour traffic, with cars running amok all over the place, and making a trucker have to be ten times extra cautious to avoid squashing someone. I just wanted to get my load there and find a place to crash out for a week or two, but I was going backward all the sudden. I was less than happy, but resigned to it.

I made it through it, eventually, and managed not to kill anyone, or terminally damage any 4-wheelers. I got to Welcome unscathed. I hadn't been there, probably, in five or more years and I promptly turned on the wrong street. Fortunately, I was able to loop back around and came right back to where I'd started. Found the right road this time and arrived at the customer. There I learned that I'd be dropping my loaded trailer, hooking to another loaded one at their dock, and hauling it right back to the same plant in Georgia. I hadn't been there in so long that I'd forgotten that this was a Merry-Go-Round Shuttle and now I faced the other end of it. I kissed goodbye the idea of getting home, or at least of getting any time to spend there at all.

It didn't surprise me at all that the customer knew more about where I'd be going than dispatch did. Dispatch's typical relationship with drivers is a case of the blind leading the blind, usually around in circles. Wanna drive a dispatcher crazy? Put him in a round room and tell him to go pee in the corner. Know what's long and hard on a dispatcher? Third grade. Anyway, I got dispatched on the return load, got hooked up to my new load and blasted out of there. I drove back toward Charlotte, the traffic by now having calmed down, found the closest rest area, parked and was sound asleep before my body plopped down on the bunk.

I had it planned out well yesterday, heading out in time to fuel my truck and get back south of Hot'lanta again, to the same Big Customer's plant. When I got there, right on time (as usual), I was told by security that the receiving department was closed on Saturday and that I'd have to deliver the load bright and early Monday morning. I duly informed dispatch about that -- something else they should know, but didn't, apparently. Well, they do now, don't they? I drove four miles down I-75 and here I am, publishing my thoughts to all of you once again. Be nice to see home again, when and if I ever do!!!