If it Wasn't for Bad Luck, I Would Have No Luck at All

A Trucker's Week that I Would not Wish on Anyone

Brian W. Porter
This has not been a productive week for the transportation of commodities, at least in my truck. This week I think I've wasted more time as I waited for someone else than I've spent driving. I started at the yard later than usual since I didn't end the week before until nine in the morning on Saturday, and in order to reset the seventy hour limit, I need to show thirty four hours off duty. At seven, after dinner, I did my pretrip and heard the linkage in the driver's door pop off again. Now the driver's side door would not open and I could only get in from the passenger side, unless I blocked the driver's door open, a DOT infraction that could put the truck Out of Service, one item of several the lease company had promised to fix two weeks before. I must explain that the passenger side of the truck is my office where I store all my paperwork, my briefcases, my clipboards, my coats, and almost everything else I use during the day. Every time I wanted to enter the truck I had to climb over the briefcases on the passenger side floor, not sit on the papers that lay on the passenger seat, and avoid the gear shift and computer that lay on the floor between the seats. The computer held my maps and played the more than twenty six thousand songs and albums stored on it. I finished the pretrip and headed out. Across the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the second longest twin span suspension bridge in the world according to their web site, is a Flying J truck stop where we are allowed to fuel. I pulled up to the fuel pump (like the one shown below), entered the

necessary information into the computer, topped off the two one-hundredfifty gallon fuel tanks, pulled forward as is courteous so another truck could fuel while I was inside, and closed the driver's door. Whoops, or maybe not when you consider the amount of foot traffic in the area. After I walked inside and printed out my receipt, I carefully struggled in the passenger's door, filled out the company's paperwork, put the papers where they belonged, and headed up the road. At ten forty-five I shut down for my ten hour break in Sloatsburg, New York. Monday morning I woke at my usual five AM, walked inside the service plaza building, and ordered two breakfast sandwiches from Dunkin' Donuts. When I looked at the receipt, the cashier had entered three sandwiches into the register, then given me the police discount of fifty percent. The price was close, so I let it go, walked back to the truck, struggled in the passenger's side door once again, and spent the next three plus hours on the computer as I finished the revamp of the Caterpillar Campaign. Finally my ten hour break was finished and I could travel. Half an hour later I reached my drop and hook delivery, checked in, dropped the trailer, carefully blocked the driver's door open, and searched for a clean trailer for my pickup, a process that takes about forty-five minutes. When I called in, I learned that I had guessed wrong and was not going to go into northern New Jersey to pick up a load of soda. I was told to go to a nearby drop yard, leave the clean trailer there, and pick up another load for where I had delivered just moments before. A fifteen minute trip to the drop yard, fifteen minutes to change trailers without a check-in and search, and a fifteen minute trip back, led to another forty-five minute exchange, a closed driver's door, and a not as clean empty trailer. That's when I was told to go to a stop an hour and a half away, and that I had an appointment in an hour. This practice is usual, especially if the company is busy. I hurried as much as possible and arrived close to my appointment time, but admittedly a few minutes late. Arrival, however, is not check-in. The building where I picked up is long, a good six hundred yards or longer, and the receiving door is near the far end. I passed the entry gate three minutes late, then drove along the drive, across the speed bumps, three quarters of the way to receiving where I found a Gordian knot of trucks. Every door was filled. Trucks were parked along the road, in front of

the filled doors, in front of empty walls, and in the driveway. I parked as out of the way as possible, noted the time, and walked about a thousand feet to the receiving office. Inside, I walked past the drivers who sat in nearly broken chairs on the left, and the wire fence and remote controlled gate on the right, to the receiving clerk's window, filled out the form, and handed it to the person on the other side of the window. By now I was more than fifteen minutes late, which was marked on the loading form. The receiver took my cell number and told me that she would call me when they could assign a door to me. I thought that I'd be there for four or five hours and, after I walked back to the truck and struggled in the passenger's door, I called dispatch to tell them. They said I should do what I could, and that I would get paid since they did not leave me enough time. This place is one of those known to punish you if you are just a few minutes late, for any reason. With signs that say No cell phones, No SLC, You Must Count Your Load and Sign for Pieces, Hair and Beard Nets Required, plus other rules, some more extreme than others, and a note that it is their pleasure to serve you, I believe they think that truck drivers are a necessary evil, scum that move their product and are otherwise undesirable, and they think we are too dumb to notice. Back at the truck I played with The Caterpillar Campaign and other files, and played a bit of solitaire, while I waited for the call. When it came, two and a half hours later, I knew I would have a hassle. The door I was assigned was six inches away from another truck on the left, with an almost cliff thirty-five feet in front of me protected by a chain link fence, and a building fifteen feet away on the right. I carefully maneuvered into the dock, sliding the tandems twice to change how the trailer tracked, dropped the trailer, and parked to the side. Then I helped another driver into the door next to the wall, a dock he would not have found if I stayed attached to the trailer. To make sure they remembered I was there, I walked inside to join other drivers who waited to get loaded. That's when I learned I might be here longer than I thought. "Been here since ten thirty," one driver told me, "and I'm supposed to be a drop and hook." "Got here at seven thirty," another said. Those statements did not bode well. I should be loaded by the time my fourteen hours are up at ten thirty tonight, I thought, and besides, it doesn't deliver until ten tomorrow morning down in Aberdeen, MD. If I leave at four in the morning, I could eat a quick breakfast and still arrive on time. We sat in the almost broken chairs and traded stories about loads we

had and places we went, both good and bad, while we waited for a loader to call us inside. We talked about what the rules changes would mean to us, how the rules did not work in the real world when they changed in 2004, and how the new changes would not help, especially the change that said we must stop everything once our fourteen hour day was finished. We laughed at what would happen at food warehouses when drivers stopped unloading their trucks or refused to move out of the door because their fourteen hours day had ended. One person described what would happen when everyone came off their thirty four hour break at six in the morning. We talked about why the loaders were slow today, how the company claimed they were overstocked and had to move pallets of product to find what they needed to load us. About four thirty that evening a roach coach arrived. I bought some chicken and rice from the lunch truck operator to tide me over until what I expected would be a late dinner. We stood outside and watched as more trucks arrived, as drivers tried to back into nearly impossible docks, or not so impossible in some places. I used the outhouse that stood halfway along the building toward the gate, the only facilities provided for drivers. We sat inside some more and waited for the loader to call. At nine thirty that evening I was told I was number four in line and I should go out to the truck. At ten thirty I decided to get some sleep, went out to the truck, and climbed in the passenger's door. Shortly after midnight something woke me and I went inside to ask when I would be loaded. I was told I was number three in line, walked back to my bed in the truck, and climbed in the passenger's door. About two fifteen in the morning I was number two in line. At five in the morning, my usual time to wake, I had one person ahead of me. I knew then there was no way I would make my delivery on time. At six thirty, when the roach coach arrived with breakfast, I was next in line. At seven, when the dispatch office opened, I called in and let them know that I had yet to be loaded, and that I would be very late. At eight fifteen, I followed a loader with a chock to my trailer and explained that I had unhooked so others could dock, and that he had the proper trailer. I quickly went inside, donned a hair and beard net, and walked to my door. Twenty minutes later the loader arrived with the first pallet. For each variety of product he would bring the first pallet or two after fifteen or twenty minutes,

followed by the third and possibly fourth pallet after two or three minutes, what I expected if the loader had to travel to another section of the warehouse. "They got us so full," he explained, "I got to move thirty or forty pallets just to get to what the computer says I need." After he put twenty pallets on the trailer, about forty two thousand pounds of Arizona ice tea that usually takes twenty minutes to half an hour instead of the two and a half hours it took to load me, I went back to the check in window, removed the nets to return to my usual Santa Claus look, and waited for my paperwork. About ten thirty, almost twenty two hours later, I climbed in the passenger's door and called the office already half an hour late for my delivery six hours away. "Well you're not going to get that off today," dispatch told me. "Just put it down at South Plainfield and pick up G2313 for Middletown. We'll talk to you up there." So much wasted time. So much time squandered by inefficiency, and now someone else would have to run the trailer down to the yard, and then someone else would make the delivery and explain why it did not get delivered on time, and if I had been loaded in a reasonable time I could have been unloaded early and on my way to other tasks. A few miles across route 80, and down 287 took me to South Plainfield, NJ. As I neared my exit I noticed that the DOT scale on the other side of the highway was open. My truck should not have any problems, and I definitely was not out of hours, but when I headed north I would have a trailer within a couple thousand pounds of the legal limit, and no way to check how the weight was distributed. At the drop yard, I switched trailers, checked the paperwork, noted that the shipper was a place that did not know how to load a trailer correctly, and that this was one of the trailers that would not adjust once it was loaded. With my luck, or lack of it, the axles would be wrong, so I used one of the roads through an industrial area to bypass the scale. As I traveled, I could feel how the trailer had a floating bounce and knew there was too much weight on the tail, or not enough on the nose. Once I was back on the interstate, it only took me an hour and a quarter to reach my destination, the place I had delivered to twice yesterday. This time when I dropped I only found loaded trailers. I parked my bobtail off to the side, called the office and told them, and learned that my delivery time was nine thirty that evening and that the manufacturer

would unload a trailer for me as soon as possible. After four hours of sitting around again, a trailer was finally empty. I hooked and called in. Dispatch told me, "Go on down to South Plainfield and drop it, then deliver G2201 to Perth Amboy at five in the morning." It could be worse. There is only one public place to park near Perth Amboy, the service plaza on the New Jersey Turnpike. I could stay where we dropped the trailers, however, drop the trailer and bobtail down the street to a small shopping center where there was a pizza place and grab some food, then go back to the drop yard and spend the night. It's not what I like to do, I'm not comfortable there and do not sleep well, but it would work. I woke at four, ate a bite so I could take my prescriptions, and waited until I was legal to head to Perth Amboy. At five in the morning, I stopped on the street outside US Foods in Perth Amboy, NJ behind a line of parked trucks with their lights on. These were all drivers who had arrived before me and waited for security to let them in. Curious about how many trucks were ahead of me, I walked past the five trucks parked on the street and looked at the line in the driveway. It stretched out of sight over a small hill and an unknown distance past there. This would take a while. I struggled in the passenger's door to wait for the line to move. At fifteen minutes past five the line began to move one truck length at a time, and occasionally farther as drivers woke and moved forward. Finally I reached the gate, grabbed the paperwork, climbed out of the cab and heard the driver's door close. Whoops, again. I was given a door three docks from the gate, broke the seal, opened the trailer doors, backed into the dock, locked the truck, and walked to the far end of the building to check in. When I stepped inside the receiving office I found four drivers ahead of me. I waited in line until I reached the window and handed the papers to the woman behind the glass barrier. She examined the papers, then told me, "I need a PO number. There's no number here." "It's a shuttle from your facility in Severn, so I doubt that it's been purchased." "I still need a number." My phone was in the truck, where it stays. I refuse to take it into restaurants or other places and keep it in my mobile house/office. I walked the length of the distance to the truck, climbed in the passenger's door, retrieved the phone, and walked the length of the building back to the

receiver. On the way, I called the office. "They need a PO number," I told my dispatcher. "Let's see what I got on my papers. I don't find a PO number. Nope, I don't have one, and the broker doesn't start until eight." I'd have to wait again. "OK, I'll see what I can do." As I stepped up to the window, the receiver said, "You're a shuttle. You don't need a PO number." After I walked five miles, OK, maybe a quarter mile, she tells me what I just told her. There are times I think these people just play games, but she probably just talked to her supervisor. I talked to the lumper service, who took my phone number and told me the load was prepaid and they would call me when the paperwork was ready. This was one of many docks were drivers without certification were not allowed At seven, two hours after my appointment time when I had arrived, I called in and asked for a detention number, a number to add to the paperwork that said I was on time, the place took forever, and my company needed to be reimbursed for that extra time. At eight forty-five I was empty and called in for my next assignment. Dispatch told me to pick up just down the road, a load of spice that would go to Salem, New Jersey. I checked out, closed the trailer doors after the guard had looked inside to make sure I didn't steal anything, and struggled into the passenger's door since the driver's door had closed. Less than fifteen minutes later I checked into my pickup. All their doors are tight, and made tighter by the overseas containers that are staged between the doors. I struggled back to the dock, not as hard as with my last truck since this one will turn tighter, and climbed down to place the chock. The driver's door closed. No matter. I had to go inside to sweep out the trailer, and learned that black pepper from India was on the way to the sterilization plant. After I swept, I again struggled in the passenger door and played on the computer for a time. After two hours I called in for a detention number, then went inside and watched as they loaded palletized towers of white sacks onto the truck. Three and a half hours later I was on my way to Salem, where it only took an hour an a half to unload me, a normal amount of time. On the way back to the yard I stopped for fuel, my first opportunity to grab a shower that week, paid twenty dollars to cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and changed trailers in the junkyard, the place we keep all our equipment. Dispatch told me I had another zero five hundred hour delivery in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, a place where there is parking nearby. I stopped at the office and exchanged toll receipts for money, then headed north with a stop

at the Delaware Service Plaza for some fried chicken. The next morning, I checked in at the K-mart distribution gate at five in the morning. This place is an easy delivery since you drive to a drop lot, unhook your trailer, watch a yard jockey take it away, and wait for him to bring it back. After two hours I called and asked for a detention number and was told that K-mart had three hours to unload me. Exactly three hours later, I let security look in my empty trailer, climbed down to close the doors, and heard the driver's door shut, again. After I regained the driver's seat, I called into dispatch and was told to deadhead to Havre de Grace, MD to pick up a load of cleaning supplies. There were other people closer, but I have a Hazmat endorsement and that amount of cleaner is considered hazardous. My company does not want us to pay the Delaware tolls on Interstate 95 when we can follow route 40 west that parallels the interstate, especially when we go to Havre de Grace since that town is just across the route 40 bridge over the Susquehanna River. For now, however, that bridge is closed to trucks except for a few hours at night, therefore I had to run route 40 to state route 272, where I had to travel a little over a mile and a half west to Interstate 95, cross the Susquehanna over the bridge where I was almost blown off many years ago, and run past Havre de Grace, travel two miles to route 40, and backtrack, more than seven miles total to reach my destination just off route 40. At my pickup, they loaded me quickly, I signed the BoL, and slid the placards they supplied into the holders. If I had the wrong placards, or no placards, that could be a $2,500 dollar fine for each placard that was wrong or missed, unless the fine has risen. With a placarded load I had to stop at railroad crossings, not park under or near bridges, park at least five feet away from traveled road surfaces, check my tires at certain intervals for flats and excessive heat, not cross certain bridges, and follow other persnickety rules that have been in effect for many years. The load went north to our yard, so I found Interstate 95 again, crossed the Susquehanna, paid the thirty dollar toll, said thank you as I bypassed the closed scale, followed state route 272 back to route 40, and headed north to the yard off route 13/40. After I dropped the trailer, I called in. Dispatch wanted me to go back to Havre de Grace, move an empty trailer from a drop lot to one company's dock, and pick up a load staged in the drop lot for Richmond, Virginia.

Finally. Today we operated normally, unlike the beginning of the week when I could do nothing but sit. I traveled southwest, played games with trailers, slipped around Baltimore, played in Washington, D. C. traffic, and finally reached Ashland, Virginia just as my hours ran out. I arrived at my destination at six thirty the next morning, half an hour before my appointment time. The receiver usually showed between five and five thirty, and he liked the drivers to arrive early also. If you were late for whatever reason, even by five minutes, he would refuse the load and send you home. Therefore I expected to see cars in the parking lot and trucks at the dock. This morning there were no cars in the parking lot, and the offices were dark. Usually, when my appointment was for five in the morning, the offices were lit, and two or three cars were already parked near the docks. The lack of people worried me. Something was not right. I wondered if I had made a wasted trip, run down here only to turn around and take this load back. That has happened before when dispatch has messed up or a driver has pulled the wrong trailer to the destination. I allowed the driver's side door to close since I was on the street and walked over to the building. On the receiving entrance door, a computer printed note said that the warehouse and office were closed for the holiday. Had dispatch played with appointment times and not checked? Would I have to drag this load back to the yard so someone else could deliver it next week? I called in and caught the on-call dispatcher as he headed toward the office. We agreed I should just hang out and wait, again, and he would find out what had happened when he reached the office. I pulled out my computer and started to play. Half an hour later the receiver pulled up to my truck and waved me in. I started the truck and simultaneously answered the phone. Dispatch told me that no one answered at the office, which I expected since no one was here, and I should wait some more while they figured out what had happened. I told him that the receiver had just arrived and I would call in when I was empty. Forty five minutes later I was on my way to another location in Richmond, a place I knew would not keep me long. The dock area was crowded, and I had to wait a few minutes for one other truck to leave, but I bumped the dock within a reasonable amount of time. As I had expected, I was only in the door an hour, but when I left I had that floating bounce that told me something was wrong, most likely too much weight on the tail. The nearest scale was where I had spent the night in Ashland, almost twenty miles north. Half an hour after I received the BoL, I pulled onto the truck scale, called in my tractor number, and the scale master weighed the

truck, then walked in to pay and learn the bad news. Although the gross weight was good, the trailer axles were almost fifteen hundred pounds overweight. The DOT scale in Virginia was always open, and this weight would result in a fine, if I didn't get shut down. Need I say that I struggled in the passenger's door and called the office to gain permission to head back down to the shipper and have them reload it. An hour and a half later, and two climbs in the passenger door, a reweigh confirmed the axle weights were under thirty four thousand pounds for both the drives and the tandems, and I headed north to end my week and have the door fixed, I hoped. *** Two weeks after my week of adventure, after three weeks of complaints, humorous digs, promises to me that the shop had ordered parts, and finally notes on my DOT logs in case I was inspected, the lease company fixed the truck. The door was the least of the problems, only an irritation rather than a true safety issue. There were safety problems that should have put me out of service, but then I would either not drive due to a lack of trucks, or I would drive a day cab, again due to a lack of spare trucks and not a good choice if you stay out all week. However, during a three hour wait on Thursday, I had my door fixed so I no longer had to struggle in the passenger side of the truck. I also had the driver's seat worked on, two air bags for the suspension of the cab replaced, and a marker light that had blown replaced. Before, when I set the parking brake on a hill, the truck would roll, not a good thing for any vehicle. They also replaced a brake chamber with a broken spring, which alleviated that problem. Now I can roll down the road and not worry about the DOT inspectors. If only I knew that the speedometer showed my true speed. *** Other short stories, essays, and poetry from this author are available at http://www.scribd.com/Brian%20W%20Porter. *** Copyright 2011 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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