So here I sit in the breakroom at The Yard in Dallas. The break room is empty except for me and the glow of my laptop. (Too poetic? I’ll scale back a little.) Allow me to recap the last few days.
Tuesday, October 23rd – I woke up at 5:40 in my third finishing trainer’s truck parked at the Garden City Travel Plaza in Garden City, Kansas. It was freaking freezing in the truck! Lowry, my third finishing trainer in three weeks, liked the cold. He was already out of the truck and had been for a couple of hours. My final training tour complete, I would be hopping on a bus at 8:00 a.m. and heading back to The Yard. I finished packing, grabbed my toothbrush and contacts and headed towards the building. It was a dark, foggy morning and the smell was BAD.
Garden City is surrounded by feedlots and when cows get fed they eventually have to poop. Well they evidently poop a lot and being surrounded by pooping cows means that no matter which way the winds blow, you get the the resulting smell. The fog seemed to make the smell wetter, and worse.
We had arrived in Holcomb, Kansas, the day before when we were scheduled to pick up a load of beef and truck it on up to Pennsylvania. The Tyson plant (which smelled even worse that feedlots) processes a lot of cows, but they had not yet processed the beef that we were supposed to pick up so we dropped our trailer at the plant and headed eight miles east to Garden City to hangout at least in the vicinity of creature comforts. We would be calling in every couple of hours to see if our load was ready, but they had until 6:00 p.m. this evening to complete the order. Since I was heading back to Dallas, Lowry would be making the trip by himself, unless he got another trainee.
After I popped my contacts in and brushed my teeth I went into the driver’s lounge to sit down with my Droid and peruse the news of the day in a warmer environment. Lowry was already in the lounge watching a rerun of Married with Children.
We went in and had breakfast and then returned to the truck where I waited another minutes for my cab ride to the bus station. Jim, the small town cabbie, was only minutes late and it was only a 10 minute drive to the station. The sun was up by the time we left and I had a nice, relaxing bus ride back to Dallas. The Kansas scenery was as flat as you would expect, but beautiful in its own way. We drove by and through small towns with churches and two block long block long business districts. The homesteads we could see seemed to be well kept. It was me and three hispanic passengers until we got to Dodge City where we picked up a few more passengers, including a couple of punks who got acquainted with each other n a loud, profanity-laced conversation. I can cuss as good as the next guy, I’m a truck driver, but I also know when to dial it down. These guys did not.
In Oklahoma City we had to change buses. We lost a few and picked up a dozen or so new passengers. There was a short white chick who was also a loud talker and had a smart comment and shrill laugh for almost every comment her new friends made. A lot of young, smoking, tattooed people, along with middle-aged and older men who looked like they had just gotten out of prison. Fortunately I wasn’t exposed to any extreme BO and didn’t even have to sit next to anybody. Thirteen hours after I got on the bus, I was able to stumble off the bus. I collected my bags and dragged them out to the curb where the Stevens-contracted van was to pick me up. I was back at America;s Worst and checked into my room by 10 p.m. All the outlets had power in this room. I was impressed.
I caught a 6:15 shuttle to The Yard and bumped into one of my buddies from Orientation 2 and we shared stories until Grad class started at 8:00. With eight grads in the room we were treated to a steady stream of speakers on topics ranging from Hours of Service (damn, is there a lot to remember and even more to get penalized for), to Produce (damn, is there a lot to remember and you don’t ever want a load to go bad), to Meat (ditto) to truck and driver manager assignments. By the end of the somewhat reasonable day, we had a pretty good feel for what we would be facing as a rookie solo driver.
We wouldn’t be able to see or get on our trucks yet. In fact, a couple of drivers would be traveling to recover trucks. These were trucks that were either abandoned or otherwise left in cities across the country. One of my buddies was going to HOUSTON(!), my town, to recover a truck. I later heard that they never send somebody to their home town to recover the truck because of the increased odds that they will never see that driver again.
On Thursday morning, after a presentation on the outstanding Stevens truck leasing program (the Alliance fleet) we went out to complete out Yard checklists and see about our trucks. I had been assigned a 2011 Peterbilt and one of the other guys had been assigned a 2011 Freightliner. We each wanted what the other had. The Peterbilt had 100,000 less miles but was super dirty. It was a master bath-sized ashtray. The Freightliner was super clean. And the guy still wanted to trade. So we went back into talk to the truck assigner, who pitched a low grade hissy fit at all the work that would require. We stayed silent and he took a couple of minutes and made the switch. It was done.
Of course, it wasn’t done. I went through that Freightliner like a dose of salts through a widow woman (a phrase used an old boss of mine – I have no idea what it means, but it sounds cool). In addition to the scrapes and scratches, I found that the headlights didn’t work, one of the tail lights stayed lit even with the ignition switch off, and the emergency flashers could not be turned off unless the ignition was off. Surely the crack technicians would deal with that problem in a few hours. Turns out they don’t have the diagnostic equipment required to deal with this kind of problem on a Freightliner. A Kenworth they could have fixed, but my unit would have to go to a Freightliner dealer. Sigh.
So I had to return to the ray of sunshine truck assigner and tell him I needed another truck. “See?” he said. Sigh.
So after spending two nights at the America’s Worst motel, it is highly likely I will be spending yet another night at that Minus Four Star establishment. Sigh.
I’ll let you know how things turn out.