It took more than a day to actually get a truck. The truck originally assigned to me was a disgustingly dirty Peterbilt. It was a Peterbilt sized ashtray. The driver was obviously a smoker who never saw fit to actually empty an ashtray. It reeked and was covered in a yellowish film of tar and nicotine. Another trainee had been assigned a shiny clean Freightliner. Almost miraculously, we had been wishing to each other what truck we really wanted. He wanted a Pete and I wanted a Freightliner. When we saw each other after finally finding our assigned trucks, we looked at each other expectantly.
“I got a Pete,” I said. “What did you get?”
“Freightliner,” was his one word answer. “Wanna see if we can trade?”
We checked each others truck out. He was okay with the Pete. He said that after they detailed it, it should be alright. Silly boy, silly boy, I thought. A leaf blower wouldn’t get that truck clean.
Then we looked at the Freightliner. It was spotless. A few blemishes on the exterior, but I wanted that truck.
We went back in to talk to the fleet manager. Who, like most of the personnel we had encountered, was an angry dickhead. He had several artifacts on his desk with bible verses or other biblical sayings on them. Yup, he was a dick.
We put forth our request and he told us that it would just be too much work to get it done. We both stayed silent and he talked himself through it and evidently couldn’t even make himself believe it would take more than a few minutes to make it happen.
So I had a Freightliner that was spotless on the outside and only lightly scratched on the outside. Upon completing the inspection checklist, everything seemed to be in order except the emergency flashers wouldn’t turn off unless the ignition was turned off. And the right rear taillight thought it needed to stay illuminated all the time. One last thing: while the bright lights shone brightly, the headlights did not. So I had to take it to the shop. It was early afternoon. The likelihood of the techs getting to my truck before the end of the day were somewhere between slim and ain’t gonna happen. This meant yet another night at America’s Worst. I could have stayed in the truck, but since the shops work 24 hours a day, it was highly likely that at some point during the night, there would come a knock on my door and they would have taken my truck into the shop. I never thought I would think or say this, but America’s Worst seemed to be the lesser of the two evils.
I fought my way onto the second shuttle bus back the the motel and took a nice stroll across the freeway to Wal-Mart and a little Mexican grocery store in a nearby strip center where I scored four tacos at 75 cents apiece. I was going to get a hot fudge sundae at the McDonalds, but it was being remodeled and only the drive through was open. I did without dessert.
When I got back to The Yard the next morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find my truck in bay number 6. I found the tech (turns out he was Lithuanian) who was working on my truck and asked him how things looked. He was not encouraging. He said it was an electrical problem and he had gone through all the wiring and fuses a couple of times already. As I stood there he diddled with a couple of wires and then looked up at the five amber lights over the cab. Normally they represent an all or nothing proposition. Either they’re all lit, or they’re all off. Now the middle three were illuminated and the outside two were dark. I don’t think that combination is possible. The young Lithuanian hung his head and shook it sadly. I felt his sadness.
“What’s the outlook?” I asked.
“I vill get another tech to help, and ve vill retrace all the vires. But if thees does not vork, then ve vill haff to send it back to Freightliner,” he replied in his accented English. (He sounded a lot like Chekov on Star Trek.)
I gave him another hour and checked in again. My truck was being backed out of the bay, with the right taillight still illuminated.
Knowing full well that an “I told you so” that was coming I walked back into the fleet manager’s office. He didn’t let me down. He “told me so” in spades and asked if I was pleased with my decision. I shrugged and asked if I had to wait for Freightliner to fix my truck or he would be finding me another truck. He said to check back with him at 1:30. I did. He takes lunch from 1:00 to 2:00. Cute. I wasted another hour before I checked back.
“Gimme another hour,” he instructed.
Along about 4:30 he had something for me: a 2011 Kenworth T700 with 242,000 miles on it. It was a clean tractor inside and out. I suppose I could have sent it up for the joke detailing that all truck got, but I took the unit as it was. I did a little remedial cleanup myself and told my Driver Manager, Bubbles, that I was ready to be dispatched. She told me to get with Dispatch and to get rolling. Dispatch said he had something to Colorado or something to Illinois. I figured going to Colorado would lead to a run to the meat patch and whatever delay that involved. I took the Illinois load figuring that there would be something that would get me back home to Houston in one or two steps. My strategy would actually work out pretty well. I would be getting started in the morning.
I stayed on the truck that night and took a shower and did my laundry before turning in. At 7 o’clock the next morning I reported back to dispatch and was instructed to go and pick out an empty trailer. All the empties were parked in a long line towards the edge of The Yard bordering Military Drive. I found one and coupled up. As I was going to hook up the glad hands, I heard the Thermo King unit kick on. What the h-
I scurried to the back of the trailer and opened the access door. This trailer was sitting in the empty trailer line, but it was not empty. Damn!
I unhooked and hooked up to the next trailer. As I was walking back to raise the landing gear I noticed the red tag. This trailer was awaiting repairs. So I walked the third of a mile back to Dispatch. Buddy said they were running low on empty trailers (no duh) and to find one that only had a red tag with “Tires” or “Body” problems. By the time I got back to the empties, the tire and body problem units were being hooked up by other drivers which left only “Mechanical” problem empties. That did not seem like a good option.
So I strolled yet another third of a mile back to Dispatch and asked for further instructions. Of course there was always a line of people waiting for their instructions. Even going to the express window took time. And I wanted to HIT THE ROAD!
Buddy asked for a few minutes and came back with an available empty down in Cleburne, TX, perhaps 30 miles away. He printed out the directions and bade me farewell. I topped off my truck with diesel and took my first solo exit from The Yard. Before I got three miles down the road my phone rang. I saw that it was Stevens but figured I wasn’t supposed to be talking on the phone while I was driving. A minute later it rang again and I answered. “Do not go to Cleburne,” the voice said. “An empty is waiting for you at Taylor Farms.”
I had been to Taylor Farms more than any other pick up or delivery point in the system. I knew right where it was so I dropped the hammer and went for my empty. I would have to pick the empty, go make two other pick ups within 10 miles and return to Taylor Farms for the last part of my load before leaving town. Of course, nothing is ever that easy.
When I picked up my trailer I took a look inside before I left. There were two load locks, a potential bonus, and a couple bushels worth of broccoli strewn throughout. I would have to get the trailer washed out before I could make my first pick up. I checked in with dispatch and was told to do what I thought needed had to be done. So I drove the 15 miles or so to the truck wash down on I-20 at Exit 472. I got there in an expeditious manner and found the closest truck wash to the freeway. After I exited the wash I wanted to move the trailer tandems up to the fifth or sixth hole. As I was so doing, a skinny black chick came up to my door and said (I think), “He’s coming.”
“Who? Jesus?” She was speaking very softly so I found it easier to ignore her. I wasn’t up to being saved. I had produce to pick up. She hung around until she said in a voice I could actually hear, “Need a little company?” Ahhh. She was a lot lizard who had ventured off the lot. Buh bye lot lizard.
I hustled up to my first pick up. I took a wrong turn but it ended up being a more elegant way to get to my destination and got backed up to the dock just as my daughter drove up with all the stuff she had been saving for me. The lumpers loaded my trailer as I loaded my personal stuff into the cab. Because of the delay in getting the trailer and then having to get it washed out, I was hours behind schedule. I said goodbye to my daughter and grandkids and hustled to my second pickup. I went to the wrong building first. The wrong driveway of the right building second. And finally found my way to the right side of the correct building. They weren’t ready for me and the lumper who was supposed to put his part of the load together was out sick. The fill-in had to gather the different products together and get me loaded up. It took almost three hours. Only then was I able to get back to Taylor Farms that had the last part of my load. They were SLAMMED. The yard dog had to move a few trailers around to open up a door for me. I finally got backed in, loaded up, and ready to leave town. It was dark already.
I made my way east on I-30 and north on U.S. 75. I stopped for a coffee refill at a Loves in Anna, Texas. I got a pair of hot dogs while I was stopped. I had always placed Loves at the top of the truck stop chains. This visit brought them down from their peak. The clerk was surly and charged me THIRTY FIVE CENTS for a little splurt of chili cheese. I had never been charged for that condiment before. I was in a hurry so I only had time to inform this clerk that this was the worst Loves I had ever visited. She was crushed. I could see it in her eyes. Not.
My trip plan had me getting to McAlester, Oklahoma, this night. I only made it to a Loves (great!) in Atoka. I packed it in for 10 hours before lighting out for Illinois. One minor issue: it took awhile in the morning for the secondary air pressure alarm to go silent. In fact, the red knob was popped out. Hmmm. Perhaps I pulled it out when I engaged the yellow knobbed parking brake. So I pushed the red knob back in, and kept it pressed until it stayed by itself. I got out and looked around and saw that the trailer suspension air bags were still flat. I got back in the cab and cranked up the engine to 1500 rpm for a minute or so. I got out again and by the time I got back to the drivers seat the alarm finally went off.
I had great weather all the way and no significant traffic issues. I was to refuel at the Prime Time Oasis, an AmBest truck stop in Richland, Missouri. So I did. Just a slight problem with my fuel card. While I was waiting for the charge to go through I decided to check the pressure in my tires. They were all down about 10 psi. Poop. Fortunately, the stop was not at all busy, and they had an air hose there for the using. I pressured up the driver side tires and decided to wait to get the passenger side.
Forty five minutes later, 30 minutes of it on hold with Stevens, and the problem was solved. I pulled back onto I-44 for last leg of my first delivery. I only made it as far as a TA in Troy, Illinois, a suburb of St. Louis. The stop was perhaps 80 percent full. I was lucky enough to find a pull through parking spot very close to the exit and not far from the main building. I parked right next to another Stevens truck that had pulled in minutes earlier. The driver was a young guy who adopted me. We compared notes, hit the mens room and returned to our trucks. I think he would have talked all night but I had other business and phone calls to make.
The next morning I went for my take out breakfast. Three fifty five for eggs, bacon, gravy and wedge of melon (which was excellent!). Upon starting the truck I had the same problem with the secondary air pressure but dealt with it the same way I had the previous morning. Heading north on I-55 I took the right exit to Taylorville, found the appropriate left to get me to the Jack in the Box distribution center and then drove past the driveway to the unloading doors. I walked about a half a mile back to the receiving office and got my door assignment. I then had to go back to my truck and find a way down the skinny two lane road I was parked on, through town, back west on the the highway I had come in on, and around to the warehouse again. I crushed one curb, knocked leaves off of numerous trees in the residential neighborhood I was driving through and almost scraped the landing gear off the trailer on a nasty railroad crossing. But I came around in one piece and found my door. Two hours later I had gotten rid of my load and received my new pre plan. I would be deadheading to Bettendorf, Iowa, and picking up a load back to Forth Worth.
My first solo delivery was complete. All in all it went pretty smoothly. A few minor wrong turns, some fuel card complications, but I was in once piece and there were no overages, shortages or damage to the load. I like this solo stuff. The whole truck all to myself. And nobody to make faces when I made my minor driving and backing errors. I slept more comfortably, which is not to say I slept better. I had a lot on my mind and wanted to make sure everything went well. For the most part, everything did go well.
I do believe I can do this.