End of the Road?

The idea of an eventual end to my career is something I’ve never really thought about. I mean, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else for the rest of my life. It’s nice to be home now and then, but there’s something liberating with just long winding roads ahead of me. Just me and my trusty, good ol’ workhorse. Even though this line of work can be quite unforgiving – there’s delays, traffic jams – sir Dave Dudley sang the words I live by: “I love my family and I always will but I’m just no good when I’m sittin’ still”. I’m getting up there in age but I try to keep an open mind.

Then I read something that threw me off guard and got me thinking about all this malarkey. Can you believe it? Robots replacing us? I know that there’s no stopping technology, I mean, I got a tiny robot that’s cleaning the air I breathe right next to me. But I never thought it would get this far, to a point where someone as important to the economy as a trucker could be expendable. I gotta admit, it’s not a nice feeling.

Just about every industry depends on trucking to get their materials from one place to another. In order for a product to get to the marketplace, raw materials must be brought to factories, the product itself must be delivered from point A to point B. Now that I said it that way, it does sound kinda simple, but there are many nuances. There are loading schedules, there are unexpected delays… No way in hell can a robot do all that better than me! I’ll tell you that much.

There are over 800.000 truckers in the States and we earn about $30 billion dollars together. All of that money goes back to the economy. I pay for my kids’ education, I buy things for my wife. We’re pretty large contributors and dependable providers if you ask me. A robot can’t replace that!

I would accept an option where they would simply cover driver shortage, since that’s becoming a problem that I can see. Not many have what it takes to commit to this way of life. But for that to happen, those self-driving trucks of theirs would need to learn how to be good samaritans in traffic too. Just the other day I saw a young man who had a flat tire, struggling to replace it by the side of the road. Would a robot stop to help? ‘Cause I did.

Anyhow, I’m gettin’ tired of all this rambling. Route planning and sack time for me.

Just a Regular Day

Today was a pretty typical day for me. I woke up at 5 – that’s 5 a.m., in case you were wondering – and got myself some breakfast and a to-go cup of coffee. I did my inspection on the truck and trailer to make sure I was good to go for the drive today. I had gotten a weather report already thanks to the TV at the truck stop, so I knew the roads should be OK in the direction I was headed. I confirmed the plan I made the night before, which I always do to be sure that there will be gas and a truck stop waiting for me at the end of the day and account for weigh stations along the way. Everything seemed to be in order, so I moved on to the next thing: making sure my log was up to date (it was). Then it was time to head out.

Since I’m doing a long haul at the moment, I needed to stop sometime around lunch to get something to eat and walk around. I might check the weather again if it is starting to look iffy, maybe look at the traffic reports during lunch, but everything seemed fine so I let it go. Occasionally if I’ve made really good time, I might investigate a local attraction, but there was nothing around so I checked in with the boss instead. After I ate and did another safety check, I topped off the gas – there was a few good stretches today of road and scrub and nothing else, and I wasn’t planning on running out of fuel somewheres — and got back out on the road to put in some more miles before rush hour.

Sometimes I am lucky enough that I’m not near a major city when rush hour starts and I’ll drive until it is quittin time, then eat. I try to plan it that way, but it all depends on where I need to go. Today I hit a decent sized city around 4, so there was no point to fight with people tryin’ to get home. So I headed to the place I’d planned to stop and got something to eat. Sometimes after that, if I have any time left over after most people are off the roads again, I’ll do a little more driving. But tonight, I was done.

I’m currently hanging out in my cab, trying to decide what I feel like doing now. We’ve got it better than the old timers – I don’t have to worry too much about how to entertain myself after working hours. Most of the truck stops I’ve been to have wi-fi, so I can hang out and watch something or play around online. If I’m feeling like I need some time away from the rig, I might hang out at the counter in the truck stop and shoot the breeze with some of the other truckers. I do all the necessary stuff like eat and shower. I plan my route for the next day so I know what time I’ll have to get up. Tomorrow’s wakeup time is 4:30, so I guess I better quit now.

Short Break From the Road

If nothing more, I will show that even a trucker can write and tell a story. Some unusual things happen between haul,s and it will be fun to relate the best of them. It is often about people and places, but sometimes ordinary household appliances get into the picture and keep me occupied. Recently, it was about a tankless hot water heater that a friend needed installed, but he didn’t have the money for a plumber. So instead of  professional job, it was to be a DIY project, headed by yours truly. I can’t imagine why he asked me since I have no plumbing experience. He just considers me a practical person with a good head.

My good head should have told me not to get involved, but as a good buddy, I had to give it a try. We unpacked the unit and looked for instructions. Yikes! They were in Japanese. Then we went online and found this blog post that looked helpful, although it was a bit short. Meanwhile, we lined up all the parts and cleared the closet where the appliance was to go.

Fortunately, a tankless water heater is not large given the absence of the obvious. It was easy to secure it to the wall, but then there was the problem of making an electrical connection and activating the computer. We plugged it in and pressed the “on” button. That wasn’t too hard. But the LED screen did not activate. We had to program the unit and set the desired quantity per day and average temperature. That took about ten more YouTube videos. Thank you, handymen out there, for your efforts in enlightening the DIY community at large. What would we do without the obsession with videos about everything?

It was a daunting task but we pulled it off in about ten hours. It would have been more cost-effective to employ a plumber. I could have taken another job and made some good money. But I solidified a friendship and went to bed happy that night.

Tips for Long Drives

Truckers know roads. We know long drives. So if you are planning a long trip, there is nobody better to get advice from than those of us for doing it for a living.

First things first: make sure the vehicle you’re taking is going to handle all those miles. Make sure the tires are OK and you’ve got a spare. Think about keeping a gas can in the back along with a blanket, a flare or some reflectors, as well as some water and a couple of granola bars or something in case you get stuck. Kitty litter is a good thing to carry with you too, in case you get stuck and need something to help you get some traction to get you back on the road.

Another thing to do before you go is to plan your route. I know you have a gps in your phone. But what if you run into a dead zone? Guess what – you are lost! Think about printing directions or even getting an actual map for the route as well. Check the weather along your route. Plan where you are going to stop and make sure they will have the things you need: if there’s gas, somewhere you’ll be willing to eat, someplace to stay if that’s what you’ll need. Think about where the big cities are that you’ll have to drive through and when you’ll likely hit them. Then you can think about driving around them when you have to or stopping for a meal (or even the night) when you get there to avoid stop and go traffic.

I also recommend packing and loading the vehicle in a smart way. Don’t just play Tetris with it all and shove it in the trunk. If you’re going on a road trip that takes four days, think about whether you want to lug your big suitcase out of the car every single night. If you won’t need some items until your destination, pack that in a different bag and put it at the bottom, in the back, so it isn’t in your way the rest of the time.

Once you’re on the road, remember that there is no reason to do it all at once. If you wanted to get there quickly, you should have bought a plane ticket. Driving takes effort and energy. Don’t wait until you are desperate for a break to stop. Most long-haul drivers will only go about three to four hours without stopping before they take a short break.

And speaking of breaks, if you’re looking for a place to stop and eat, think like a trucker. Fast food works if you need a quick bite or something familiar. When you want somewhere that you can actually sit down  – look for a place where all the rigs are. We know the good places. Find the trucks, you find the good eats. And If you’re nowhere near a motel or hotel and need to close your eyes for a while, find a well-lit, nicely trafficked lot to park in. Aim for somewhere like a Wal-Mart or a truck stop, like we do.

Stay safe, drive smart, and good luck!

Why I Love My Job

I love my job, I really do. Sure I would rather not deal with the traffic, the blown tires, the bad coffee and the even worse accommodations. But I am realistic. Everybody has parts of their jobs that they don’t like – maybe the commute, maybe your annoying boss, maybe it’s your crappy desk chair. You just have to find a job where those parts are still better than even the pros for other jobs. There is a lot to like in trucking. I like not reporting to an office every day, doing the same tasks over and over. I don’t have to write memos or emails to a boss who doesn’t care what I think. I’m glad that I sit behind a wheel and not in front of a computer. While I am not entirely my own boss, I have a lot of personal freedom. If I feel like taking my lunch at 11, nobody stops me. If I want to get started a few hours early so that I can clock out a few hours early to catch a ballgame, I can do that. And, even better, nobody tells me how to dress!

First responders and the military get a lot of recognition, and it is well deserved. Teachers should receive more of an acknowledgment, because they certainly have earned that as well. But truckers don’t get a whole lot of recognition, and that is unfortunate. It’s not running into burning buildings or performing life-saving surgery, I know that. We deliver the parts to fix the engine of the fire truck that’s going to put out fires in your neighborhood. We’re the ones delivering critical drugs to the hospital so that lives can be saved. We are the ones who take the food our hard-working farmers grow and get it to the grocery store so you can buy it. And we’re the ones who help stores all around the world stock their shelves and deliver their orders. Most people don’t think about how the shelves at their local store get stocked or how the items they buy online on the other side of the country get to their homes.

To have all that responsibility, and to do it safely, is a real challenge. It’s a big job. It takes a toll on your relationships and your health. The longer you haul, the more hours you log, the bigger the cost to you personally (even if the paycheck is bigger). There are a lot of factors to weigh when you go into this job. But for me, it’s worth it. I’ve been all over the country and seen some amazing sights. I have stopped in big cities and little towns that might not even be on your map. People have to take vacations sometimes to go the places I get paid to go. I’ve met people that I would never have come in contact with otherwise and made friends with people from all walks of life. I get on the CB radio in my rig and am instantly part of a family.

What I Think

Today’s post doesn’t really have a topic, sorry. I am feeling a little all over the place at the moment. There is a bit of an expression in this field. Truck driving is mostly boredom and about 10% wild stuff. Yesterday was the boredom part and that is OK – I almost never feel like dealing with crazy – but it does make the time pass quicker and give me better things to write about here. So this post is just going to be what’s on my mind.

To me, the worst thing about this job is not the long hours behind the wheel or the being away from family and friends. I have my days where that gets to me, sure, but I’d rather be doing this than just about anything else in the world. No, the worst part is all the crashes. I don’t mean I get into a lot of accidents. If I did, I wouldn’t have a job right now most likely. It’s the rest of you driving around in your cars, in such a darn hurry to get wherever it is you think you absolutely, positively, have to get to. Truckers have seen some nasty stuff. Cars on fire, cars flipped over, cars wrapped around trees, people not moving and a big hole in the windshield. Man, do yourself a favor and take the extra two seconds to put your seatbelt on. I don’t need to see your broken self all over the road when I’m passing through.

I’d like a pet but I don’t know what to get. It’s hard because I’m on the road so much, that makes things kinda limited. I can’t get something like a fish – imagine all the water splashing everywhere when I make a turn or something — or a reptile that needs to be a certain temperature all the time. I think I’d like to get a dog. It would give me a reason to stop every couple of hours and stretch my legs, and the dog could keep me company at night. I have met some other long haulers that have pets (usually dogs) but my boss is allergic so I can’t have them in the rig. Maybe at my next job. I’ve never been a real fan of cats, so they’re out. I’ll keep thinking about it. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

Did you know there are dating websites specifically for truckers? I heard there was one for farmers so I decided to check and see if they had one for truckers like me. Turns out there are a few! Trucker Personals and Meet a Trucker were the two I found right away, and that was enough for me to believe they exist. Dating sites, in general, can be kind of iffy so I wonder if these are any good, or if it is a bunch of crazy people looking for rest stop hookups. Anybody reading this have personal experience with them? I’m not looking for someone at the moment per se, but we’ll call it research. You never know when loneliness is going to hit you like a ton of bricks.

OK, I think I am about done with this brain dump. Time to do somethin’ else. I’ll write again soon.

Home for a Few Days

I managed to create a handful of days off in my schedule, which is both kinda rare and also great. I definitely need a break. When I am working long haul, I’m gone a good portion of the time. It’s good money and I get to see a lot of the country, but it is a tough lifestyle. I don’t really know the last time I made it home. Maybe it was two months ago? I am not sure. When your day is mostly wake up and drive, go to sleep, wake up and drive, the days and weeks sort of blend together.

It’s funny, I probably spend more time in my truck and on the road than in my actual house. The cab is as comfortable as a cab can be – it’s not a luxury hotel for sure but I know it’s better than the men and women in our military get, so you won’t hear me complaining. But home is home. Even though I am rarely here, there is just something about being home that feels so good. When I walk in the door, it is like I let go of a breath I did not know I was even holding. There’s room to walk around, it is where I keep all of my stuff, I get to sleep in my own bed. I’m not sleeping in a parking lot. I’m sprawling out on my couch with a meal I cooked in my own kitchen. I’m not waiting for my turn at the showers and drinking truck stop coffee that’s been sitting on a burner for too long. I take a real shower, at home, like a normal person, and have my own fresh-ground coffee waiting when I get out. I am not sitting at the counter in a middle of nowhere diner and chatting it up with people I will probably never see again. I am home watching a game – just about any game, really – with my friends.

Home is something I appreciate, maybe more than some people.

I have a roommate, who pretty much gets to live here on his own a good portion of the time, and in return I don’t have to worry about the pipes bursting in the cold or the house being taken over by an army of rodents while I am gone. It works out for everybody and it’s cheaper than me hiring a caretaker for the place while I am gone.

So I am going to log off the computer now and go play some basketball with an old friend. Tonight I will be eating a meal that my roommate is making – I am not sure what, but he swears it is going to be great and as long as it isn’t chicken fried steak I am cool with it. Then we’ll have a few beers at a bar nearby and see some old friends.

It’s great to be home.