After visiting my tax guy last winter and seeing how low my low my income was for the third year in a row, I thought to myself, “Self, how much worse could I do on Social Security???” So I set out to discover the answer.
I grossed about $42,000 driving truck in 2014. After adding the Social Security my wife was about to start drawing; a retirement account I was eligible for from a company at which I was employed (inexplicably) for more than five years; and my own Social Security benefit I learned that I could make slightly more than $42k. Dayyum! Make about the same money – actually more because I wouldn’t have SSI or Medicare withheld – and not have to be gone for two weeks at a crack for mediocre miles and long periods of just sitting? Sold!
So the numbers shouted their message and the decision was made. I would embark on my last tour and draw my last check as a working man in September.
Of course there was good news and bad news. Bad news first – Social Security is paid in arrears. Actually, in my case, almost two months in arrears. My first check (actually automatic deposit) wouldn’t hit on the fourth Wednesday in OCTOBER. Also, if I made more than $1,310 in September I would be penalized. So I would have to go almost TWO months without income before I could start living like a retired man.
The good news – my wife would be eligible for an additional spousal benefit of almost $300 a month. All in all – YIPPEE!
Leaving Home for the Last Time
So I departed Houston the morning of Monday, August 10th. I knew this would be my last tour but thought I wouldn’t be getting back to the house until August 28th or even 29th knowing the tight “planning” our “planners” practice.
I would be loading at the worst shipper in the country. This plastics company abuses drivers worse than any other shipper I, personally, have seen. They take trucks on a first come, first served basis. Appointments? Mere suggestions. They make you wait for a minimum of two hours and then take another couple of hours to load you. During the loading part you may NOT stay in your truck. Even worse, you may not leave the truck running. This means that if it is 100 degrees outside, the interior of your truck will be 130 degrees-plus by the time you’re loaded and ready to pull out.
The last time I left after being at home I picked up at this armpit of a shipper. It’s a two hour deadhead from Houston and I had to wait for 3 1/2 hours outside the gate. No rest room. Only a port-a-potty – that was barely a hundred degrees. Thank heavens I didn’t have to Number 2. When the time finally comes you are not directed to the warehouse, you follow a pilot truck back to the appropriate building. Is it hard to find? NO! Left. Right. Left. You can see the warehouse from the parking area. But we obediently follow the pilot who then tells you to wait in parallel lines until you are given a dock number to back into.
This last time I got backed in fairly quickly but it took THREE HOURS to get me loaded. There are four doors so four of us poor sap truckers have to exit our trucks and wait in the warehouse. I was the only one who took in a bag with my “meltable” food items. For my load, they had to get the pallet loaded with 50 pound bags hauled to the auto-turntable where they carefully wrapped it with cardboard and plastic sheeting. Why they couldn’t do this in advance is a mystery, but trust me when I tell you after you see the first pallet full of bags of plastic pellets wrapped, the entertainment value is gone. Of course, the warehouse workers had to take a lunch break in the middle of my load which accounted for a wasted 30 minutes.
After I was loaded I had to wait another 30 minutes for the paperwork and then be piloted back to the front gate because, ya know, I totally forgot where I started a few hours earlier. I was scaled -empty -on the way in and then weighed again on the way out. It’s only for them. They won’t allow drivers to get axle weights because they only care about total weight. We are required to stop at a TA about 30 miles away before we can officially begin the drive to our final destination. Fine.
After scaling at the TA I was a bit heavy on my drives so I tweaked the tandems and hit the road … a whopping 40 miles up U.S. 59 to a Pilot where I ended my day around 15:30. Of course I had hours of drive time left but would have gotten to Houston in the middle of rush hour which would have wasted AT LEAST 90 minutes and pegged my blood pressure. Plus I wouldn’t have gotten to a truck stop at a decent enough hour to find a parking spot. Better to shut down early and get an early start.
A Short Ride to Laredo
However, that was last time. This time I went to the loading facility at Gate 2 which was a heckuva lot quicker, at least the last time I picked up at Gate 2. This time wasn’t quite as quick, but I was on my way down to Laredo, not the misery of Houston, where I would be dropping my trailer at our terminal and picking up another load from there. Based on my total weight and the approximate weight on my drives I adjusted my trailer tandems and headed southwest. No official truck stop scale. The route I’d be taking included no freeways and no Tier 1 Inspection or weigh stations. (Actually I just made that Tier part up, but I didn’t remember any big time weight stations between Port Lavaca and Laredo.)
Ending the day in Laredo usually means a stay at the company terminal which means a sure thing parking spot and the terminal offers a free IdleAir connection. So it was with this visit.
Before morning I had my next load bound for greater Kansas City. Since my route would take me through Joplin and I still had not been counselled for an incident in Laredo (a parked trailer at a forwarder’s lot – without warning – crashed into my passenger side rear view mirror – sigh) I was instructed to actually stop at the Death Star in Joplin so they could deal with delinquent me. (Bad driver. Bad.) I tried to beg off until the end of the month and thereby avoid this whole exercise in futility, but they didn’t buy it.
I hate going to the home terminal. It always costs at least half a day’s worth of driving. This time would be no exception.
At Joplin drivers are required to drive through the inspection building where they actually do a valuable job of inspecting your trailer and, to a lesser degree, your tractor.
But I digress. I was a full day on the road leaving Laredo and after more than 600 miles spent yet another night in the Loves in Eufala, Oklahoma. I was up before the sun and arrived in Joplin at 07:30. After a short wait at the inspection barn where the techs found stuff wrong with both the trailer and my tractor I dropped my trailer in Row 6 and drove the tractor to the appropriate building and stopped in the lead tech’s office to add to their fix-it list.
Last Stop at the Death Star
From there I trekked to the Death Star safety office where, for no apparent reason, I waited for 30 minutes only to be taken into a conference room where my safety advisor spent a grand total of six minutes telling me my incident wasn’t the end of the world and that I should head over to the Driver Lounge where other safety / training personal would try to reprogram my reckless ways, thus making me “wreckless.”
Once checking in with this new safety crew I was ushered into the training room where I was required to watch a video on – wait for it – backing.
Any new information?
Then I was introduced to a computer monitor outside the safety offices among the break tables used by other drivers just hanging out between loads or during the time their truck was being maintained or repaired. This means everybody walking by would see me at one of the “terminals of shame” and know I was nothing but a safety slacker who was doing penance. This video viewing was accompanied by a series of quizzes to make sure I was comprehending the material. Again, any new information? Nope.
I figured the time I was wasting was of no significance since I would otherwise spend the time sitting and waiting for my truck repair ./ maintenance anyway. As it turned out, my truck would remain in the shop for more than two full days. I spent the rest of the day hanging out, and …
… making contact with the company Workers Compensation specialist.
A Brief Digression
About five or six weeks earlier I was dropping and hooking in Cleveland, Tennessee and injured myself trying to reengage the trailer tandems lock after sliding them forward as far as they would go. This particular trailer was a newer one that had aerodynamic skirts and a pull-out release (or locking / unlocking rod) that either engaged or released the locking pins. Of course the locking pins were in the unlocked position and I had to lock them again, else the tandems would slide all the way to the rear as I was cruising down the highway. (This has happened several times before and it never failed to startle me just short of making me pee in my pants when the tandems slam against the backstop.)
The normal way to release this kind of lock is to pull out and up on the on the handle and it pops the pins right out. If the pin is aligned with a hole, the lock is complete. If not, you just have to leave the trailer brakes on and either back up or drive forward until the pin pops through a hold. Well it wouldn’t be that ease. With the tandems all the way forward I had to reach around the skirt to get my hand on the pull-out. And it was wedged pretty good. I could not move it. So I tried a little harder. Still couldn’t budge it because I just didn’t have the leverage or a decent angle. I gave it one more try and ERK … I felt something pop in my back between my shoulder blades. This pop was followed by a sharp, stabbing pain. Shoot! I retrieved my crowbar and just hammered the pull-out into the proper position. I was on my way in minutes with an incredibly full but exceedingly light trailer. (
Long story short, even this many weeks later, my back still hurt. Not all the time. Just when I hit a certain position. Or when I took a deep breath. I figured since I was in Joplin, with a little time on my hands, I’d get this pain checked out. I didn’t want to retire with an injury and, because I hadn’t gotten it checked out, be in pain for the rest of my life with a cracked rib or torn something. The Workman’s Comp specialist arranged a visit to the company’s occupational medicine where x-rays were negative and I was released to drive again but advised to check back if things didn’t improve over the next couple of weeks.
Once I knew I was likely going to survive I checked with the head tech who told me my truck would be in the shop for at least a day and a half and would be spending at least a few hours at a local Cummins dealer for a little recall work. He was sending me over to the motel for at least one night. Cool. Comfortable bed. Nice shower that I wouldn’t have to go outside for. And – bonus! – a hot breakfast in the morning. I gathered enough of my stuff to get me through the night and boarded the company shuttle that made the circuit to Walmart, a couple of restaurants, a couple of motels, and Sam’s Club.
My motel room didn’t start out cool -it being a west-facing room, it being 95+ degrees outside, and the AC being turned off – but after 30 minutes or so it became livable. I spent that time hiking a couple of blocks to the Sam’s down the street and by the time I got back to the motel I needed the cool that my room was now beginning to provide.
After a lazy evening watching a real (though low def) television and surfing the web on the motel’s wifi, I took a nice long shower and hit the sack. Breakfast the next morning was decent and I caught the 8:30 shuttle back to the terminal where I learned that not only was my truck not ready, it was likely to remain out of service for at least 24 hours. I was not shocked.
So I headed on over to truck assignments to see if there was a tractor I could recover, preferably in a galaxy far, far away. They found one. Unfortunately, it was at our terminal in West Memphis, Arkansas … my least favorite Con-way terminal of all. I’ve been through the place maybe 10 times over the last 12 months and never had a timely turnaround or clean getaway. The other downside of this retrieval was backroads coming and going. The driving to Memphis part would actually be a pleasure – it was a nice day and the route scenic. And I’d be in a RENTAL CAR. The return would be a bitch – lots of hills and a goodly number of small towns to drive through.
The recovery folks set me up with a nice Enterprise rent-a-car. They “picked me up.” Before leaving Joplin I first drove to my tractor, which was by this time parked in a Cummins (engines) dealer service bay located next door to our terminal. It was lunch time. I drove up to the open door. Retrieved what I thought I would need out of my tractor and was about to leave when I thought, “Hey, anybody could waltz in here and take whatever they wanted and no one would be any the wiser.”
So I walked to the shop office just to let them know I was here and what I was doing. I spoke to what I assumed to be the shop foreman who obviously didn’t give a rat’s ass whether I was there or not.
With (almost) everything I needed, I left Joplin and made my way to West Memphis with a single, quick stop at a Walmart in Pocahontas, Arkansas.
I was not paid for the miles I drove in the rental car – only for the hours driven at a whopping $10 per.
I arrived in West Memphis a little after 6:00. After transferring my non-meltable gear into the truck I would be retrieving and checking with the local dispatcher I passed through a Super 8 next to Southland Casino (no non-smoking room available) and found a room across I-40 at a Ramada. No hot breakfast in the morning but the room was decent and I was only a mile or so from the terminal.
The dispatcher had found a load for me to take back to Joplin but it wouldn’t be ready for me until late in the morning. Super. The West Memphis Curse.
I slept in and caught a lame breakfast in the motel lobby. When I got to the terminal I still had hours to wait before I had to leave for my pickup.
The only good news in all this low-grade misery was the recovery tractor was absolutely spotless. The interior looked like it had never been used. MUCH cleaner than my own tractor (although in my own defense this unit had obviously never had a dog on board).
I lolled around for a couple of hours and finally hooked up to an empty (that I had selected and swept out the previous evening) and made my way to the shipper where I picked up a load of paint (which is a liquid, therefor HEAVY) bound for Carthage, Missouri, a short hop from our Joplin terminal. Since the load wasn’t scheduled to deliver for a few days I was instructed to just drop the load at the terminal. Another (probably local) driver would get it to the receiver and I would be free to pick up another load.
Since I was driving back to the Mother Ship it really didn’t matter how late I got in. There would be a place to park and clean restroom facilities where I could end my day.
The pick up was a only slightly nastier than usual – tight dock; had to wait for the workers to get back from lunch; couldn’t keep the truck idling during loading (and it was hot with my windshield facing directly into the sun) – but I got loaded and set out for Joplin.
Uneventful trip back. I arrived after dark. My truck was fixed and waiting for me. I transferred my stuff and checked with local dispatch for my next load. Nothing available at that time, I was told, check back in the morning. Shortly after I got back to my truck and tucked myself in for the night I heard a message alert from my Qualcomm. I foolishly got up to see what had come in.
A Northbound Load
Yay, they found a load for me. (This would be the last “Yay” for awhile.)
Boo, the load didn’t pick up until late morning.
Let me reiterate on a continuing theme. I like to start early and finish early. This would be another load that would be late starting and force me to drive past the time when truck stop parking spots are readily available.
Boo, again. The load didn’t deliver until late morning two days hence – Monday morning so there would be no opportunity for early delivery – in Winona, Minnesota, a mere 595 miles up the road. I could’ve done it in a day. There would be more boos coming. This was after all The Last Roundup.
So I slept in for the third day in a row. I took a leisurely breakfast at the company cafeteria. I found out that my incoming load would be delayed until at least 13:00. Boo. I don’t even remember what I did for the day until I was finally able to hook up my trailer at shortly after noon. I figured I’d drive to a Pilot just north of KC and pack it in early. I’d then take off early and get to a small, no-name truck stop about 90 minutes from the final.
I might mention here – oh hell, I will mention here -the main reason I wanted to get my truck into the shop was apparently not yet fixed. I discovered this less than an hour into my trip. The check engine light had been on, pretty much non-stop, for the last seven or eight months. Joplin had had a go at it some time ago and the KW dealership in Laredo gave it a shot as well. In the word of a typical Laredoan, NADA. The light by itself wouldn’t have been a problem – to me, anyway. I mean it was usually off again most mornings, but after a few hours on the road, usually when climbing a hill, I could sense a loss of power and the light would pop back on. Other than a probable loss of fuel economy it was no skin off my back. Fuel economy. Hmmm. Remind me to return to this topic later.
Getting through KC on the early end of rush hour was untaxing and I pulled into the Pilot in Kearney, Missouri just after 16:00. Plenty of spots. Close to the store. It being shower night and me having plenty of shower credits I got clean and cuddled up with my laptop and the world wide web. I watched at least one movie on Netflix and listened to some classic rock on YouTube.
Since my next day’s driving would only amount to 370 miles I tried to sleep in. Sleeping in was getting to be very tiring. I was up before 06:00 and, with a 24 ounce Philmor cup of Pilot coffee in hand, on the road 3o minutes later. I looked for interesting places to stop. I felt a little bit like Jeff Gordon on his “last race at fill in the blank racetrack .” I felt imaginary people calling for me to stop at places I had driven by a dozen times but never stopped. The only new stop was at an Iowa Welcome Center off I-35 in south Iowa. Big whoop.
I hit Des Moines about right and fueled up at a Petro in Albert Lea, Minnesota. I’d stopped here before for a mechanical issue. It had real rustic-looking facade and was sparkling Minnesota clean. I would miss this Petro. Another hour and a little bit later I pulled into the Amish Market Square on the south side of I-90 in St. Charles, Minnesota. I had hoped to hook up with a high school classmate who was living in Rochester – not that far away – but he and his wife had plans.
I enjoy getting in touch with old friends and when I make initial telephone contact most of them say they would LOOOOVE to get together, BUT …
I get it. I am usually calling within 24 hours of getting to their town – this constitutes last minute and people do have plans. But dang, when I’m getting to town at 1:30 in the afternoon and my “friends” say they have plans for the evening, I think, I’m not necessarily interested in spending hours and hours in conversation and reminiscence. A couple hours of polite banter would probably be quite enough. As a rule, after a couple of even polite declines from friends from one of my past lives I’ll just stop calling. While I’d love to hook up and catch up, I’m really just a pussy who can’t take the rejection.
For those handful of old friends who did carve out a couple of hours to come and see me, I really, REALLY did appreciate it. Thank you (east to west) Frank, Cub Scout, Timmer, Bob, Deano, Don, Val, Gayle, Ty, Rudy, and Michael. Roald, I appreciate you too because even though I believe you sincerely wanted to get together, it was my fault we didn’t because I snagged a load that took me back out of Green Bay before we could hook up. Phil, you’re borderline (smile).
So I spent many hours at this tiny truck stop with a two-holer men’s room. I would’ve loved to walk to downtown, small town St. Charles but it was just too many steps away. I did take a little hike on a county road west of the truck stop. It was so quiet. And I gazed over corn fields as far as the eye could see. I also tracked a nice thunderstorm through the area. In fact, it was still lightly raining when I pulled out in the morning. The upside to my departure was the clerk in the truck stop waved me out with my coffee refill – no charge. Thank you clerk who may have been (but probably wasn’t) Amish.
I pulled into Winona a around 07:30 and made my way to the receiver on the industrial side of the tracks. My NaviGo wanted to take me down a “No Truck” residential street so I ended up snaking my way through the industrial area, criss-crossing railroad tracks to the poorly marked receiver.
When I arrived, it had stopped raining, but by the time I checked in and started to back my truck up to the dock 15 minutes had passed and it was pouring. After breaking the seal and opening the trailer doors I was quite moist. Before I could pull forward into position so I could back the last few truck lengths and bump the dock, a handicapped employee pulled into my rearward path and spent another 10 minutes maneuvering himself into his office after which his driver cleared the lane and I finally got back to the dock.
Of course at that moment it stopped raining.
Forty five minutes later I was empty and had collected my paperwork. It was 08:30.
Delayed Load Back South
My next pickup was less than two miles away with a pick up appointment scheduled for – wait for it – 17:00, eight and a half stinkin’ hours later. What could I do? No truck stops within 30 miles. I didn’t want to stay at the receiver. I couldn’t score a different earlier load. So I crept the almost two miles to the next shipper, parked in the street, clicked on my four way flashers, walked to the warehouse door, knocked and tried to charm an early load.
“Maybe,” they lied, but it would definitely not happen before noon. I had located a Walmart mile away so I parked along a side street on the north side of the building and hoofed it to my discount supercenter of choice. I didn’t need much, but I wasn’t ready for a nap and what else was I going to do? As a bonus there was a Menard’s Supercenter right next door to the Walmart. Again, I really didn’t need anything from Menard’s but they have tons of cool stuff and I thought one of their displays might trigger some ideas for post retirement projects.
An hour and a half later I was back at the truck and it was still only 10 a.m.
From what I could tell, out of the six warehouse docks, only two were being used. One for UPS and FedEx comings and goings. The other was for 18-wheelers who looked mostly to be loading. I can’t vouch for any activity while I was “meditating” in my bunk.
At half past noon I knocked on the shipping door again. Nope. They might get to me by 16:00. Sigh. Now I started sweating where I would spend the night. I didn’t want to stay at the shipper after loading – no facilities. The Amish paradise where I had spent the previous evening was starting to look pretty good even though it only had two holes. Then I remembered the Petro in Albert Lea. There wouldn’t be a traditional spot available but they had paid reserved parking. Hmmm. The other advantage of a night at the Petro was it was shower night and since I had just fueled there I had a shower credit. Bingo.
As I watched other trucks show up empty and leave full – they evidently had earlier appointments – I struggled to fight the boredom. Just before 18:00 I was finally called to back up to the door. And two hours later (TWO HOURS!!) I was finally loaded and after another 30 minutes(!) I had my paperwork and was ready to roll. It was so overcast that the streetlights were already on.
My load was due at the Lowes Distribution Center (LDC) in Mount Vernon, Texas whenever I chose to get there – a drop & hook – so I could get there when I got there. That part would not be a problem. I was already thinking ahead to what would certainly be an LDC pick up bound for a store somewhere south and west of Mount Vernon. Based on past experience I was hoping for McAllen or Brownsville although odds were it would be Bryan or San Antonio.
At any rate I fondly departed Winona in full dark. I wound my way back to I-90 in a light rain and an hour and a half later I was pulling into the rustic Albert Lea Petro. I had reserved a parking spot along the way so at half past 10 I parked in the nearest fuel lane and went into the fuel desk for my assigned place. A nice clerk took my payment and told me a nice lot attendant would guide me into my slot. Everybody was Minnesota nice in this Minnesota clean truck stop.Twenty minutes later I was rest roomed, teeth brushed, contacts cased and in my bunk.
To coin a phrase, I was TYE-ERD! It had been a long day and I was whipped, even though I just sat most of the day (and worked in an hour long nap). I have found that no matter what you do for a living, it’s more tiring to be bored and not working than steadily working – even for long hours. In other works, when you’re away from home, not driving is much harder work than driving.
The next morning after inserting contact lenses, brushing teeth and filling my coffee mug I went to the breakfast buffet to get my usual three dollah cheap ass to-go breakfast. Boo, bummer. Unlike every other Petro I had patronized over the last three years, this outfit charged the same for a to go as they do for a stay and eat all you can eat breakfast. Normally to go is sold by weight and is much cheaper for a reasonable quantity of food. But this Petro was Minnesota cheap so I returned to the food line and topped off my Styrofoam container. It would be good for a breakfast and one or two additional meals.
After a leisurely breakfast in my truck I fooled around until my 10 hour break was complete and drove south through Kansas City, southwest on I-44 at Joplin (no stop at the death star on this leg) and south on U.S. 69 at Big Cabin, Oklahoma. As the sun was sinking slowly in the west I pulled into a Flying J in Checotah, OK. The place was half empty and I found a nice convenient parking spot.
It was an unscheduled shower night. In fact I was showered on my way into and out of the store and slept that night to the patter of rain on my cab.
It was raining lightly when I woke up and after my morning routine I was on the road. It was still dark and as I passed the Love’s in Eufala, where I had spent many nights, when the skies opened up. South of McAlester I picked up the Indian Nation Turnpike that would take me to Hugo, OK, where I would wend my way to Mount Vernon via back roads. It was rainy and dreary but scenic in a rural Texas sort of way.
I pulled into the LDC a bit before 10:00. This facility is a fussy sort of drop in that you better get there at a time other than shift change. If your timing is off, coming or going, you just sit and wait for up to 30 minutes. It has only happened to me once and I have been at this facility a lot. I try to plan ahead. A safety vest is required and they have people who physically go to your trailer and break your seal. They assign you a specific slot for your loaded trailer and tell you what and where you will pick up an empty – or your next load.
The one helpful thing they were doing when I first went to this LDC was to display all the locks they had to cut off trucks in order to get to the loads. Because most of the deliveries are drop & hook, there were dozens of loads a month that got parked in their designated slots with padlocks still in place. Having part-timers disease myself, I have left a loaded trailer all locked up on four different occasions, two of which cost me money in replacing the cut off / destroyed / thereby rendered useless lock. The exceptions were:
- Naperville, IL – The receiver called Stevens which called me to tell me I had left the lock on a dropped trailer. I was 20 miles away but gladly returned to the shipper to retrieve my property.
- Lancaster, TX – I left a lock on a Con-way trailer I left at our terminal. Because they had the master key, they were kind enough to remove the padlock from the trailer and hang onto it until I passed back through the terminal 5 or 6 weeks later.
Since they were now dealing with the incoming seal I guess the would also catch a padlock so let’s call it square. But I digress from my parade of misery. Before I left this DC I got the good news and the bad news.
Good: Dispatch had a load assignment for me and it picked up at this DC.
Bad: The load wasn’t ready and besides didn’t deliver until 16:00 the following day in San Antonio, less than 400 miles away.
Screw it, I bobtailed to a Loves a couple of miles away and packed it in for the day. I would pick up my trailer in the morning and be in San Antonio by noon the next day. Needless to say, it being 20 minutes shy of noon, it was another looong day. Movies, nap, reading. Rinse. Repeat
Another Slow Motion Load Heading Farther South
At zero dark thirty the next morning I picked up my trailer, weighed it at the DC scale and arrived at the Lowes on the north side of San Antone by noon. The receiving crew was very nice and got me backed up to the dock within 30 minutes.This gave me time to walk to the HEB Supermarket next door and pick up a couple of bananas.
By the time I left I actually had my next load, livestock feed, picking up in Seguin, Texas – less than an hour away. And that was the end of the good news for awwhile.
The bad news was that it didn’t pick up until the next morning and involved three drops in south Texas, the nearest being an 08:00 a Tractor Supply 50 miles from the mill and the farthest being a store in Brownsville. I hate multiple drops. But it got worse which I’ll get to a bit later.
I tried to call the shipper on my way out of San Antonio but couldn’t raise anyone. Since I knew I wouldn’t be able to deliver early anyway, I drove as far as the Loves on the west side of Seguin. That would leave less than eight miles for my drive in the morning. Needless to say I had another long, boring afternoon at a truck stop. I had one last Loves shower credit left and I burned it so I was clean and fresh as I turned in at sundown.
Waking up before sunrise meant I arrived at the pick up before sunrise. It was a cold, wet morning and the feed plant had a dirt / gravel lot with very poor lighting. For the moment I was the only truck in town. (That wouldn’t last.) I spotted what I thought was the office and, leaving my truck in the middle of the lot, meandered in to see what fresh horror awaited me.
I knew I was in trouble when the “reception area” looked like a rustic tool shed and there wasn’t a sign of life – two-footed or four-footed. There were file folders arrayed in little holders on the wall. As I noted that each column of holders was hung under a different date and started riffling through the ratty things, another driver walked in. Fortunately, he had been here before and was able to get me started at least. He snagged his paperwork and was out the door before I had even found the paperwork for my first drop. I then spent 20 minutes looking for the other two stops. NUTHIN’.
I looked into the cavernous warehouse and still didn’t see any sort of human activity. But I did spy a buzzer. I leaned into it and after a few long minutes, an annoyed-looking dude in a white coat and hair / beard net walked up and started coaching me. He started walking away before I called out that there was no paperwork for my second two drops. He rummaged around a bit and looked at what I assume was his production / shipping schedule.
Final word? I would have product only for the first drop, the Tractor Supply in Kenedy. I would have to drop my empty and hook up to the loaded trailer, and it was pretty full. There wouldn’t have been much room for feed for the second two stops anyway. But this whole “half a loaf” situation meant that I would be empty by mid-morning with no next load.
On my way back to my truck I put a call into dispatch. At dark thirty I had no confidence that anyone at headquarters would have any kind of resolution to my problem. I just wanted them to know that I did NOT have any reason to drive all the way to Brownsville. My lack of confidence was rewarded with a lack of resolution. I finally found somebody to tell me I could get rolling to Kenedy, so out I pulled into the wet darkness. It was dawnishly hazy as I pulled into Kenedy and found a store that had an easy set up for docking. It was a bit after 07:00 so there was no one around, but my appointment wasn’t until 08:00 so I put on my patient cap and booted up my laptop.
No sign of life at the appointed time but I did see some activity at a quarter after. I got out of the truck and meandered around to the front where an older guy was messing around with what looked to be a security chain that was wrapped through half a dozen pieces of lawn equipment. He certainly looked like he knew I was there but chose not to look up or otherwise acknowledge my presence. I have to admit, it kinda pissed me off. Just what I needed on this FUBAR morning.
After a moment I asked, “Are you with the store?”
“Yep,” he replied. “You the delivery in back?”
“Yessir,” I answered.
“Appointment is for 9 o’clock,” he said, blowing me off.
I muttered something about my assignment saying 8 o’clock as I sauntered back to my truck
I assumed, correctly as it turned out, that this day was cooked.
Back at the truck I made another call to dispatch to see where I should head to pick up my next load.
They had no answer. The people they had to speak to at the feed company hadn’t responded to their inquiries yet and until they did I should plan on heading to stop number 2 on my load assignment and then to stop number 3.
But, I reasoned, I would be empty within a couple of hours and I doubted the other two stores would be on the lookout for a nonexistent delivery. Let’s just put a stake in the heart of this delivery and start over someplace.
Another admission: I was trepidatious about being sent to Formosa Chemical in Port Lavaca. In fact, I vowed then and there that on my next call I would inform dispatch that Port Lavaca would in no way be an acceptable load for me. What could they do to me? I was a short-timer on my last roundup. The only thing in question was the specific date of my last day. I almost looked forward to getting the assignment so I could cheerfully tell them where they could shove it.
The Tractor Supply guy rapped on my door at 10 minutes ’til 9. He had a whole new attitude. Must have been hidden somewhere on aisle 6 inside the store. He cut the seal on the trailer and helped get me backed up to their portable dock. An hour later I was empty, clean, and on the phone with dispatch. They almost wanted me to head on to original stop number 2. I said I would stay put for another hour and to please find me a decent load load that did not include the words “Formosa Chemicals.”
“Why?” they asked.
“Because I will no longer be subjecting myself to their form of driver abuse,” I replied.
“But if that’s the load we give you, you won’t have a choice. You cannot turn it down,” my dispatcher said smugly.
“Try me,” I said calmly. “There are a dozen places I could leave this truck within 50 miles.”
Telling me to stay put they disconnected.
Ninety stinkin’ minutes later I was told to deadhead down to Brownsville where I would pick up a load the next day due in Denton, Texas by noon (NOON!) the the following day. I’d been hoping for one final cross country run and ended up with an intrastate shuttle.
Another Non-Timely Load Even Farther South
It was barely 10 o’clock. A leisurely drive south even with hourly pee breaks would get me to town by 16:00. There looked to be a couple of truck stops within 25 miles of my pickup – one of them only four miles away. So I headed south. None of the route was new to me and I didn’t recall any sights I wanted to spend any time at. I stopped at a Flying J in George West (it’s a town – really – north of Corpus Christi) for a quick break and arrived at Stripes truck stop in Harlingen at about 15:00. The Android app on my smartphone told me it had parking for 25. Well 25 drivers had arrived before I did – there was nary an open spot.
Fifteen minutes later I pulled into the closer truck stop, also a Stripes, which had a whopping eight slots – two of which were open! So I got parked and prepared for a long evening. It was still upwards of 90 degrees and the sun was beating down onto the driver / front side of my tractor. The air conditioner, set on high, could barely keep up.
After my first visit to the men’s room I realized that, yes indeedy, I was in “Texico.” Far as I could tell, and I am pretty perceptive, I was the only one in the place who spoke English as a first language. I’m not saying that this was a bad thing, only that it was obvious I was but a few miles from the border. What did I expect? There were neighborhoods within 10 miles of my home in Houston with the same demographics.
Another pretty boring evening and it didn’t pay to wake up early since my pick up appointment wasn’t until 11:00. It was excruciating. Not even a strip shopping center I could walk to. The only upside was the food counter at this Stripes was serving barbacoa. Mmmmm, barbacoa.
Couldn’t Drive Any Farther South So …
I was up by 07:00 and could only dawdle until 09:3o before I felt the need to coffee up and creep on over to the shipper hoping against hope they would be able to load me early and send me on my way.
This was another pretty large Paccar (Kenworth / Peterbilt) facility (I’ve been to at least four around the country). I pulled through the front gate, parked, and waltzed through the door to be what appeared to be the office for the shipping / receiving office. I noted two trucks backed up to two of the half dozen doors along the front of the building. It being a weekend morning – possibly – there was no one to be found. I pushed a buzzer and no one responded to the buzz. I whistled half a dozen times. Nuttin’.
Finally a warehouseman came to the opening in the chain link and, I think, asked me what the hell I wanted. After giving him my pick up number he disappeared for a few minutes and returned. He directed me to the back side of the warehouse and instructed me to check with the hombre back there. He added that it was possible I would be loaded before 11:00 but not likely. Swell.
At the back of the building I parked along the driveway leading to two docks. There were eight empty(?) trailers parked on the grass out from the building and one backed in, doors open.. I walked up to the cab of that truck and seeing no driver, walked to the back of the truck and waited. Around five minutes later a forklift zipped out and the driver was able to tell me that I could be next. Yay!!!
A mere 45 minutes later, sigh, the truck in front of me was loaded and pulled away. It was a no-brainer straight back in and there I sat for 30 minutes. As I was about to get out and investigate, I felt a forklift trundle into the trailer. Phshew, finally! Yeah, right. After another 20 minutes with absolutely no activity, I made my way back to the dock and tried to track down the forklift driver. Within a minute he was tooling out of the warehouse, but rather than drive into my trailer he drove over to the side and deposited his load there.
I waved him down and tried to discover his plan, but the gentleman spoke almost no English, and with a bit of shrugging and pointing I figured my best course of action would be to shut up and go back to the sleeper for an early “meditation.” A full 40 minutes later I heard a knock at my door and my forklift hombre had me sign the paperwork. By that time there were two more trucks in line to be loaded.
I pulled away, closed and padlocked the trailer doors and prepared for my trek north. No indoor plumbing for us lowly drivers so I took a leak on one of the other parked trailers before I departed Brownsville. Probably for the last time. Ever.
It was elevenish on this hot, sunny Saturday. My load wasn’t due at the Paccar facility in Denton until Monday morning but since the deliveries to that facility were usually drop and hook I decided to get there by midday Sunday. I could almost make it by the end of this day but I figured there was no need to push it because the possibility of getting another load out of DFW before Monday morning was somewhere between slim and NFW. I took my sweet ol’ time and made it as far as the Pilot in Robinson, just south of Waco.
Easy park. Just after I backed into my slot two Cirque du Soleil rigs pulled into the Idle-Air on the east side of the lot. For the record I didn’t see a single itty-bitty person or juggler. (Although I thought I heard waves of soft, ethereal music through the night.)
It was shower night. So I showered. This Pilot is one of those truck stops with the professional driver facilities, including the showers, upstairs. The game room at this location is usually empty and I’ve never seen the tv room with more than a handful of people watching their usual NCI reruns on TBS. Maybe this is because all these luxuries require the climbing of stairs. There is an elevator of course, for the otherly-abled. Not sure, and not willing to waste any more thought on this lightweight mystery.
I wiled away the final hours of the day on my laptop and slept fitfully. I had pretty much made my mind up that the next day would be my last in a big rig … at least for a few months. I had hoped that I could score another load out of DFW that would rack up another 1,500 miles or so, but if I did, it wouldn’t happen until Monday which would mean sitting around for another day with the result being a piddling 700 miles over three days. Not worth it.
Last Day in the Trucking Biz
I was up, lensed, brushed, coffeed and rolling by 07:00.
I pulled onto the street outside the Paccar warehouse in Denton at around 10:00. I had made a couple of calls to dispatch along the way hoping to actually get the next load, but it didn’t seem like it was going to happen so I alerted my wife who was standing (sitting?) by in Houston. She would head up to the Con-way lot in Dallas to help me vacate my traveling condo and launch my retirement.
The second guy I talked to in the warehouse told me where to drop my loaded trailer and informed me they didn’t have an empty. He indicated that they’d probably have one at their other warehouse a mile away. So I called dispatch … again … to confirm that there would be no other load that I could bobtail to and whether I should pick up an empty. Response: No other load. Pick up an empty.
So I bobtailed the mile to the empties lot which is secured by two or three people with Uzis. Just kidding about the machine guns, but security is their job so it takes a while to get onto the property. This particular facility utilizes tracker thingies and while I didn’t have an empty trailer to affix the tracker to I would have to return the tracker on the empty I picked up.
I had learned over my three years driving to check out empties – inside and out – before hooking up. I don’t want one that’s too dirty or with broken lights or flat tires. I’ll also take a newer one over an older one. On this day I found a newer one with decent looking tires and no apparently broken lights. the inside was trashed but at this lot, with the trailer doors pointed away from the traffic, I could just crawl in and push everything out the back and onto the ground. If one of the trailer lights happened to be burnt out, no big deal. It was Sunday and I was heading directly to the Con-way lot. The odds of getting stopped were very slim.
The Final Leg of The Last Roundup
So I hooked up, slipped the trailer tandems all the way forward, motored to the gate where I stopped at the security hut to let them check that I was indeed empty and give them their tracking device. Once out on the street, I sent in the second to last QualComm message I might ever send and set out for the new Con-way lot a mere 40 miles away.
Well let’s call it 43 miles. This being my first trip to the new facility, and the facility showing a Miller Road address, I (foolishly) assumed that I would enter the lot off Miller road. Wrong. I needed to turn onto the side street just before the lot and enter through the control gate.
Since the neighborhood transitioned quickly from 18-wheeler to passenger car traffic there was no way to just scoot around the block so I had to tool down the road to another heavy commercial street and hope there was a something up the road that would allow me to get headed back in the right direction. Not really.
Nevertheless, I picked a street that was a cul de sac. It was almost big enough to allow a U-turn. Almost. This allowed me to mow down one more shrub and put a pair of ruts in the grass between the sidewalk and curb. I boogied out of there as quickly as I could. The last thing I needed was to fill out one last incident report. I believe I got away clean.
So after logging a few out-of-route miles I pulled through security gate of the new but still ratty terminal. And who was waiting? My wife. After dropping my empty against the north fence I pulled the tractor up near the gate where I would begin the move.
It was already almost 90 degrees. Of course I let the truck run as I started transferring my truckly possessions into my personal automobile. It took a stinkin’ hour. Sweat was pouring off my brow as I got into every nook and cranny of that Kenworth, and there are lots of nooks and crannies. The transfer of goods took a bit more than an HOUR, and I was far from loaded having offloaded perhaps a third of my stuff over my last two visits home. After I finally stuffed the last of my stuff into my car, I collected the remaining trash into a garbage bag and swept the cab out. I am confident that it was considerably cleaner than it was when I first “moved in.”
After parking the tractor against the east fence as instructed I took the keys, fuel card, and my ID into the desk dispatcher and got into my four wheeler, heaved a giant sigh of relief and drove to my daughter’s home in Roanoke, just north of Fort Worth. After we got there I realized I had left my $20 seat cushion in the truck. Damn!
Let me just quickly say that after six months of retirement I miss only three things about the trucker life:
- Listening to my audiobooks.
- Seeing the cities and countryside of this great country.
- The ability to spend at least some of my time in almost absolute solitude.
After a few more months of reflection and contemplation, I’m sure I’ll have more to offer. In the meantime, I’ve mostly enjoyed retirement.
Adios and stay safe out there.