It is Only a Hurricane

One Story from The Regional Life

Brian W. Porter
A driver must consider many factors as he shepherds his machine along the roadways of America. The trailer is one problem, and not only because of the difficulties maneuvering in tight areas. In a strong wind, an empty trailer can act as if it is a sail. Trucks have fallen over on straight roads because of the wind. In a very strong wind, like the gusts you find in a hurricane, the size of your load, or the lack of a trailer, does not matter. One Monday, I asked for that Friday off for an eye examination. On Wednesday, dispatch told me they had OKed my day off, and they gave me a load going to Wal-Mart in Sutherland, Virginia, for Thursday morning. Since I would run as far as possible Wednesday night, dispatch felt I should make it home Thursday night. There was one problem, however. Hurricane Floyd was due to hit the coast Wednesday and travel north on Thursday. I asked, "But what about Floyd? Nobody's going to work in a hurricane." "We called them and they said they'd be open." I was not sure Wal-Mart Distribution would stay open, but I agreed to go. The AmBest Truck Stop across from King's Dominion has the best food in the area, for a truck stop. Unlike many parking areas in New England, the parking area here is huge, which means there is always somewhere to put your truck. In addition, parking is free, unlike other places around the country. At fourthirty in the morning, during breakfast, I called Wal-Mart Distribution. The person I talked to in the receiving department said they were open and would remain so. At six, half an hour before the appointment, I pulled up to the guard shack. When you enter a Wal-Mart Distribution Center, you stay in the right of two lanes as you reach the guard shack. Between the in house Wal-Mart truck traffic, outside carriers check in with security at the main entrance, one truck at a time. This is when you are assigned a dock. Just to check in can take from five to twenty minutes, which is why my arrival half an hour early was almost a necessity. Once you check in, you drive around the outside of the property, usually a quarter mile trip or more, until you reach your door. If it is open, you can dock. During busy times, a trailer may block your assigned door, and you will have to talk to the receiving office on the CB so they can assign you another door. Once they juggle doors and you find an empty dock, you open your doors,

back in, chock your truck, unhook, and move to the bobtail parking area, where tractors without trailers wait. If they think you have too much freight, they will ask you to assist as they unload you, which you can usually get out of if you pretend to be asleep. Otherwise, you sit and wait until the receiver is finished, sometimes twelve or more hours. This is one of the many places where hourly pay is better than mileage or a percentage of the load. This load had over nineteen hundred cases stacked directly on the floor of the trailer, not on pallets. Wal-Mart called me inside, and the associate and I stacked cases on pallets as rain pounded the roof and wind rocked the trailer. A group of receivers walked past at about seven thirty and called to the associate that it was break time. He looked at them strangely, looked at the three quarter full truck, then nodded and began to leave. I told him I would be in the bunk of the truck when he was ready. An hour later, as I read one of my Science Fiction novels, the Wal-Mart Distribution Traffic office called over the CB radio, "All drivers please report to Transportation." Normally Traffic will call one or two drivers in so they can receive their paperwork and leave, or the driver can help unload. To call everyone at once was not a good sign. After we gathered near the office, the Shift Supervisor told us, "Drivers, we have a problem. All our associates went home because they were scared of the storm, so if your company has an empty trailer on the property, we'll let you switch trailers and you'll be on your way, or you can go to the truck stop just down the road and wait until we call you, or you can wait here. Second shift should be in around four. Those are your options." Now wait a minute. The receivers had just run home scared for their lives and second shift was going to show? Yeah. Right. One driver said, "I have one pallet to come off. Can I take it off and have you check it in and I can leave?" The supervisor allowed him to unload. "I'll unload my truck," I volunteered. None of the options worked since I had the next day off, and the company did not have an empty trailer on the property. The Supervisor thought for a moment, and then told me, "No, we don't have any associates to stay with you." Just then, all the computer monitors blinked dark, the fluorescent ceiling lights flickered off, the radio faded out, and the ventilation fans whined down to oblivion. The Supervisor deadpanned, "We don't have any lights, either." This was a new situation, one I doubted any of the dispatchers had run into before. I could reschedule the doctor's appointment if I had to, but I had not had an extra day off in months and looked forward to the extra relaxation of home life. I was not going to volunteer, but if I had to stay, this would be an adventure to tell my grand kids. The only light inside the building was what filtered through the small pane of the people's door, I carefully made my way up the first of two half-flights of

stairs. The landing was a U-turn that ended the indirect light. I felt my way up the second half-flight and turned right into the break room, a windowless area on the second floor with electric vending machines, electric lights, and the only phones and bathrooms available to drivers. Now in total darkness, I found the table under the pay phone with my thigh and dialed dispatch by feel as I rubbed my bruised leg. When dispatch answered, I said, "Brian at Wal-Mart. Got a slight problem." The dispatcher sounded as if he had already handled enough problems for a full day, and it was not yet nine in the morning. He asked, "What is it?" "I'm less than a third unloaded and everyone's gone home." This dispatcher, a former driver who understood the problems of the road and normally could joke a driver out of road rage, roared, "What do you mean everyone's gone home? They have to unload us." "They won't unload anyone. They have no power. There are no lights, no windows, nothing." "Forklifts have lights," he growled. "Everyone went home except the Super. I offered to unload myself, but they wouldn't go for it. No associates to stay with me." "Shit! Well, can you stay there tonight? Somewhere close? No, you're due off. Okay, hang on. Give us an hour or so to figure this out. You will come home--somehow." I went back to the truck and waited. Three hours later, around noon, I headed home without a trailer, a condition called bobtail since the spring axles on the cabovers from years ago would bounce severely when they encountered bumps. The whole trip north was one obstacle after another. First Interstate 85 had both lanes blocked by a landslide and I had to squeeze between the dirt and the center guardrail to get past. Interstate 95 had several problems through Richmond, but the police had closed the bridge over the James River on Intrastate 295, and now Interstate 95 was the only Interstate open. The broadcast and CB radio talked about accidents, power outages, and more bridge closings. I could picture all the problems and waited for them to happen to me. The wind was gusting hard enough to send trees across the road, and an inch or more of rainwater covered the pavement. When a truck runs bobtail it does not have any weight on the back of the tractor. Even driving well below the speed limit, the truck tried to fishtail on straight road, the drive wheels spun and locked up at a whim, and sometimes the steer tires would not steer. I began to think home was an impossible destination. Finally, the radio reported the west side of the Washington, DC, Beltway was open. While I drove, or almost water skied, around Washington, DC, I heard, "Now that's not the way I'd want to travel today. Where's your trailer, driver?" I had had enough problems already, and decided anyone crazy enough to

drive in these conditions needed some humor, including me. "Oh, it's there. It's just invisible. Saves money on tolls that way." "I'll bet it does. Do you still have the weight?" "No, I'm moving around pretty good, but not as bad as I would with a sail behind me." "I'll bet. How do you get one of those invisible trailers?" "Well, we do have invisible trailer paint that changes the frequency of light to ultra-violent, but it's awfully expensive, and you need special glasses to see it, but that's not what we did for this one. This one's magical. It shrinks as it's unloaded." The other driver sounded upset when he came back to me. "Shit! Damn! I just changed lanes. Friggin' wind just pushed me two lanes over, 'bout into the guardrail. Okay, have a good one, driver. I'm going to concentrate on staying on the road." I chuckled and said, "That might be a good thing." I also wondered if he surprised a four-wheeler who sat next to him. He chuckled, "That's about all I can do today." I traveled north slowly, every minute a bit closer to home. I hoped that the Susquehanna Bridge on Interstate 95 would still be open, which it was, luckily. Half an hour later, the broadcast radio reported that a jackknifed truck blocked it. Home felt good when I finally reached it, with plenty of time to sleep. *** Also by Brian W. Porter You Cannot Run From Yourself The Discovery of Tonylobons The Defense of Tonylobons Naming Tonylobons The Caterpillar Campaign The Regional Life The Traveler New Beginnings all found at *** Short stories, essays, and poetry from this author are available at

*** Copyright 2010 Attribution Non-commercial No-derivs You may share this work with anyone in any way with the following provisions. You must share the complete work, including the title and this notice. You may not make any changes. You may not use this work commercially or accept payment without the written permission of the Author. Any and all rights and credit are held by Brian W. Porter.

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