Off the keyboard of RE
Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner
It’s hard these days to remember “life before the internet”, when if you were in correspondence with anyone, you generally would take weeks between exchanging letters. Now, if I don’t get a response to some email I send out to somebody or some corporation that screwed up on billing me for something by the next day, I figure I am either being ignored or it is a conspiracy or both. LOL.
I used to watch TV in those days though, so that filled the need for constant information input, and I didn’t get the Writing Jones until PCs were well into their development in the early 90s. I started but never finished a couple of Sci Fi novels before that and wrote some Poetry during my College Years, but writing wasn’t a big part of my life until the Laptops showed up and I turned Solitary as an OTR trucker.
The Internet was already in existence by then, although accessing it while OTR was pretty difficult. It was Dial-Up modems in those days, and I had to find access to a phone line with a Local Number I could call in order to stay online for anything more than a few minutes. Typical 800 Number charges were 10 cents/minute, $6/hr to stay online on the times I went that route. So in those days I would often compose as I am doing now in a word processor, copy into the buffer and then briefly sign on at some truckstop and paste my post into one of the yahoo groups I ran at the time, then sign off again. My email POP program would download messages I could read off the computer while not online in a few minutes, so for about $1/day I stayed caught up with my friends and net acquaintances that way.
A couple of years into my OTR driving years, a company called Park-n-View started providing Cable TV, Phone and Internet service to truckers right in your Truck, by connecting up with Phone line and Coaxial Cable to a Port that was installed in each parking spot for the trucks. It was a pretty robust port made out of heavy metal in case the truck tandems ran over it in parking, as they almost always did. It also had to be well shielded from the elements, and remarkably to me these ports worked most of the time. Hadda be hell for the guys driving the Snow Plows in those parking lots though during the Winter. I suspect they kept the Plow Blades up 2″ or so off the ground level to clear the ports. Well built as they were, at right is what they look like today. Nice metaphor for technology in general, and in a sense its just a miniaturized version of Detroit screwed right down into the pavement.
At the very end of my trucking years, rudimentary WiFi began to hit the scene, I got a Sprint Cell Phone I could access a dial up modem with, and had an Unlimited Minutes plan for this. It was mighty slow of course, but in those days it was all just Text, no Pics and certainly no Vids. I was off the road a long time before REAL High Speed WiFi started to be offered in all the Truckstops.
There were of course many hours/days where I had no access to a phone line or even a Park-n-View connection to check in on the net, check my email and so forth, stuck in a Shipper or Receiver waiting for a load or unload. To fill those many lonesome hours in the cabin of my Freightliner, I played on my laptop. I installed graphics programs and publication programs and database programs. I taught myself rudimentary database programming and started creating publications that incorporated pictures into them. I learned the basics of HTML during this time as well, though never have really become a super geek with the uderlying Code that runs websites like the Diner. All of what I did accumulate in knowledge during that time though I now use to make the Diner a lively looking and functional website, though the underlying code comes from Peter, not me.
Most of all though during those lonesome times, I wrote. Not about Doom though in those days, other topics occupied my mind back then. Still in the course of that writing I developed the Gonzo Style and “Atitude” I still use today in my writing, bombastic and over-the-top quite often.
As it progresses here to today, I find some things very interesting in exactly who you find on the Internet to chat with. It is very demographically skewed of course. Despite the prevailing zeitgeist that it is the younger people who are conversant with Computers and the Internet, you wouldn’t know that as you travel around the Collapse Blogosphere, that is for sure. The main Bloggers are just about all 40 & Up, and the older they are, the more Prolific they are in what they write. Likely because once Retired from whatever their normal job was, they have tons of time on their hands to write whatever comes into the Senior Mind. LOL.
Similar demographics in the Commentariat on these Blogs also, heavily weighted toward the aging population of Boomers & Silents. Almost everyone of these folks has developed a “Lifetime Philosophy”, which often breaks down to very conventional Political Classifications of “Socialist” or “Capitalist”. There are of course innumerable variations on these ideas, but basically it seems to me to come down to those who think the Individual is more important versus those who think the whole Community is more important. Individual “Rights” versus Social “Welfare”, that sort of thing.
It is not just in age demographics that you get a skewed perspective, it is also across cultural lines as well. Even though a good part of the “well-educated” of 3rd World countries speak English and can afford a Laptop and Internet connection, I have never had a Native Chinese or Indian or Brazilian or Russian show up on any of my blogs or forums, though I did run into a few Eastern Europeans on Peak Oil in the HOT years from around 2006-2010. Mostly though what you find on the Internet in the Collapse Blogosphere are people from the native English Speaking countries of the FSofA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. So is it just these English-speakers who are concerned with Collapse Issues? The Well-Educated of China and India and Russia have no interest in investigating this stuff and discussing it?
Perhaps on their own local net in their own languages there is something similar going on, but you know I really doubt it. I think the whole “contemplation of collapse” meme is pretty consolidated into a relatively small demographic of Boomers & Silents living in the 1st World English Speaking countries. Why is that?
First off, I think the theories put forth by folks like M. King Hubbert and Richard Duncan have been very poorly disseminated outside the English Speaking world, hell even INSIDE this world said theories are not well known. I think in most countries particularly in the 3rd World that the “Progress Meme” is still being highly promoted amongst the Intelligentsia, and these folks are more concerned with CATCHING UP ot the 1st Worlders than with Reverse Engineering their societies toward a low energy footprint society.
The “progress” or move toward Social Media as a primary function of the Internet is also IMHO in large part responsible for poor information dissemination in this area. The English speaking world got Computers and the internet early enough on in the game that your current 40-70+ year old class of people here have been researching and reading about these things for quite some time, at least the most active of them have been. for the younger folks, the Internet has become more of a Sound Bite medium much like Television, with the Internet mainly used as a Comunications medium between friends, not as a Research medium for Information. If ya can’t consolidate it down to a 3 line Tweet or a 2 minute Vid, you can’t get many people to pay attention to what is presented on the net. I certainly have been criticized ENDLESSLY for the fact most of my Essays and Articles run in the Nabe of 2000-5000 words as being just too LONG for people to read. WTF? How can you detail out any reasonably complex idea in much less than this? Books are much longer…oh but yea people don’t read them anymore either!
The upshot of all of this is that the truth about Collapse is very poorly disseminated information, both Globally across cultures and Demographically across age groups. It is most certainly NOT taught in the Schools ANYWHERE at all. What is taught and promoted is to take out huge loans to get an Engineering Degree which in all likelihood by the time the average 18 YO today graduates will be quite worthless. If even the “well educated” class of people with access to computers and the internet are systematically routed away from exploring these issues, it certainly makes it quite difficult to generate a new consensus. Is that a Purposeful Plan of the Illuminati? If not, then it certainly was a fortuitous outcome for them to have a generation of clueless people distributed around the globe just about everywhere.
Henry Ford remarked once that if J6P understood the Monetary System at all, there would be a Revolution the next day. Ignorance is promoted and promulgated by the Illuminati. Anybody SMART enough to understand any of it is Coopted into the Game, and becomes a Mid-Level “Successful” Apparatchik, and over time develops a Rationale which explains and justifies his “Success” to himself. In justifiying that success, the same person demonizes and denigrates those less successful than himself as simply too stupid or too lazy to be successful. These are the people who make our Enslavement possible, these are the people who have brought us to the Brink of Extinction.
This facet of cultural development represents the “Banality of Evil”. The apparatchiks aren’t the ones truly “running the show”, but they ARE the ones who make the show possible at all. In one respect or another, anyone who participates in the system as a middle level apparatchik ends up functioning to perpetuate the Evil we have before us. You work, you pay your taxes, you vote, all of this serves to perpetuate the system. Dropping OFF this system, or “Dropping Out” really is an extraordinarily difficult thing for most people in Industrial Society to do at all.
If you buy yourself a Doomstead somewhere to set up Permaculture Farming, you are going to have Property Taxes to pay, and it is quite questionable as to whether the farm can both Feed you and Family AND sell the excess produce to increasingly broke populations. Trying to go out Rewilding, you will find that nearly every spot on the Globe is “owned” by somebody, or by Da Goobermint which has restrictions on just what you can Fish or Hunt up and kill. More or less a version of the old “King’s Fox Hunting Ground”, nobody but the King can go there and shoot anything, all the creatures on that plot of land belong to HIM. You gotta go mighty far out in marginal territory to be let alone to hunt & fish and gather as you will, at least for now that is the case.
Here on the Diner, we engage in the process of “Work Arounds” for these many facets of the failing industrial economy and how you might negotiate the shitstorm to come. The FOOD problem remains of paramount concern to most Diners, as we are all aware that the JIT shipping paradigm that utilizes the kind of Big Rig I drove is amongst the most vulnerable of the systems we are dealing with here and if/when it fails can rapidly bring extreme Hunger & Starvation to the most highly populated neighborhoods in the industrialized world, the Big Shities as I refer to them.
Is there ANY reasonable solution which has some CHANCE at success? In fact there is, though hope is slim that it will be implemented on a large scale in a near enough timeline to ameliorate an extreme and rapid Die Off event for Homo Sapiens.
What IS that HOPE? It is Hydroponics, a means of growing vast quantities of food in a Water and Energy conservative manner that can utilize much of the flotsam and jetsam of the Age of Oil ALREADY manufactured to produce vast quantities of food in many locations otherwise unsuitable for typical Ag techniques, including Permaculture. Here on the Diner, you can begin your exploration of Hydroponics in the Hydroponics NOW! thread inside the Diner, along with numerous other threads devoted to this topic.
Is Hydroponics a FOOLPROOF Solution to the Food Problem we will face as the spin down progresses onward here? No it is not, there are many difficulties involved, not so much with the technology or even having available the varous plumbing stuff from the Age of Oil. Even though you can scale down to create a system just big enough to provide for our own needs as the above pictured setup does for Diner Admin Peter, you do face the problem of Have Nots, aka as “Zombies” who in all likelihood will resort to violent tactics to acquire the food you have or are producing. Although more secure than exposed plots of land, not that much more secure.
In more remote areas, you probably can pursue such a technique with reasonable security, but inside a Big Shity or Suburb, even hidden in a basement your neighbors will quickly recognize you are not getting so skinny quite so fast as they are. They will knock on your door to ask for food, and eventually at the Point of a Gun likely ask to search your premises for food.
So even though it is technically feasible to pursue Hydroponics as a Solo Adventure for yourself and family, this really is not the best route to go for most people in most neighborhoods.
Rather, instead of HIDING what you are doing, ADVERTIZE IT! Let as many people as you know in the neighborhood KNOW about it, and TEACH them to do the same thing.
Learning to do anything like this takes Time & Experience, and time you put in now to teaching yourself how it is done makes you a VALUABLE member of your Community. People will Look to YOU to HELP them, and you will have the means to do that. Not with Money, but with that which NEVER can be taken from you by Da Goobermint, what you KNOW HOW TO DO.
Will it be IMPOSSIBLE to do Hydroponics once JIT fails and the Parts you buy now are no longer available from the Big Box Stores by way of Slave Laborers working in China? Not at ALL, because just about ALL of it can be scavenged from the parts used to construct your McMansion and your SUV! What cannot be scavenged this way can be facsimilated from local materials. Even Timers and Pumps can be created locally out of available materials.
If like some of the Diners here you decide to try and build a Hydroponics grwoing facility in your McMansion or Garage or Basement, I urge you not to think of it as just a means to feed self and family, but rather as your autodidactic method of gaining the knowledge necesary to help everyoneelseinyour community do the SAME THING. So you do not need a HUGE setup for this, and a good beginner system can be set up at an affordable price. for all but the totally destitute already.
The Diners are here to help you. We are all in the same mess of course, and this is something you CAN DO. Wherever you live right now, even in a Big Shity it is possible. Perhaps, just PERHAPS it is possible to get enough of your neighbors to WAKE UP in time to stave off the Zombie Apocalypse. Is this the Picture you want for the Future?
Or is it THIS
You can CHOOSE right now to make the second picture the OUTCOME here. Or at least make the EFFORT at it. Even if you FAIL, at least you know when you Buy your Ticket to the Great Beyond, you did NOT quit, you did NOT go down without a fight, and you made your very BEST effort to….wait for it…
Save As Many As You Can
Off the Keyboard of RE
Read Over the Road Part I HERE
When I arrived at the gate of the Chicago Rail Yard, I was as Usual both Wiped Out and Pissed Off at the WORLD. Just about everything seemed to be Conspiring Against Me to lead a nice happy life on the Road delivering all the Shit everybody needs every day to make a go of life in this culture. My Dispatchers were Assholes, Shipping Clerks were assholes, receivers and lumpers (guys who hang out on docks to Unload trucks for a fee) were Assholes, hell even MOST Truckstop Waitresses were Assholes! I was Swimming in a SEA OF ASSHOLES!
It did not start off any better in the CRY when I arrived there either. I park my truck in the lot and I get in line behind some Rastafarian ASSHOLE who is engaged in a heated argument with the Receiving Clerk ASSHOLE over his Paperwork, which is apparently full of innumerable errors and quasi-legal problems. Over about 15 minutes listening to these two ASSHOLES hashing out why he is delivering on the wrong day, why they can’t accept the load because its a Hazmat (Hazardous Material) without the right Authorizations etc, I just get REALLY PISSED OFF. This is PAPERWORK ERRORS, IT’S OBVIOUS and I haven’t even LOOKED at the paperwork yet!
Now, RE can’t Back Up a Trailer worth a DAMN at this point and is so Fucking STUPID he drives 10 Miles up a Logging Road instead of just driving a few extra miles on the Interstate to a point he could turn around easily, but he is NOT so STUPID he can’t read shipping papers and scan for errors. So after cooling my heels for 15 minutes listening to these two ASSHOLES arguing with each other, I get REALLY PISSED and I go right up next to the Rastaman and I GRAB the Paperwork and say “Lemme see this!” The Receiving Clerk’s EYES Bug Out of his HEAD and the Rastaman himself looks ready to Cold Cock me for Jumping in on this one. It takes me about 2 minutes going through the paperwork to see 3 Hazmat Codes that are WRONG, and the fact the Delivery Date to the final Receiver and the Railyard were transposed.
I tell Rastaman at this point, “Call your Dispatcher and tell them these Paperwork Errors. Have them Fax you Corrected Paperwork to the Railyard Office here”. Rastaman and Receiver both look at me like I am from Planet X, but Rastaman DOES go over to the Phone to call his Dispatcher. At the time, most Drivers did NOT have Cell Phones.
Anyhow, this gets Rastaman out from in front of me so I can hand MY paperwork over to the Receiving Clerk ASSHOLE so I can drop my trailer in the CRY. This goes pretty smoothly since RE always checks his Paperwork BEFORE pulling a load out of a Shipper and scans for errors. Shipping Paperwork is always just CHOCK FULL of Errors,the people whopound this stuff out are paid minimum wage and generallyare thinking about their impending Divorce or their kid’s school problems much more than doing accurate work on Shipping Papers.
So I head out after this from the Parking Lot to try and find a spot in the yard I can SQUEEZE my 53′ Trailer into, but every “available” spot has like 2″ of room on either side to squeeze the trailer into. I spend a thoroughly frustrating hour or so trying unsuccesfully to back my trailer into one of these spots when who appears in the same Lane of parked trailers but the RASTAMAN! In the Hour I had spent trying to get rid of myTrailer, he had got his paperwork corrected. He proceeds to pick out a spot I ditched as Unparkable since MAYBE there is 1/2″ of room on either side of the trailer to SQUEEZE into. Rastaman NAILS this in ONE TRY, I swear it took him less than a minute to drop the trailer. Touches neither trailer on either side.
He sits and watches me STRUGGLE a couple more times, then he gets out of his Tractor Waving his Arms and YELLING at me to STOP.
“Maaan, what Da Fuck you DOING! You gots to TINK BACKWARDS! You Tinking FORWARDS Maaan!”
Rastaman then proceeds to direct me into the spot circling one arm to indicate which way to turn the wheel and when and using the other arm to tell me to move forward or backward. Trailer goes in the Spot CLEAN, takes about 5 minutes time. I am RELEIVED! Rastaman is NOT finished with me though. He makes me pull the trailer out of the spot and do it OVER and Over again with his directions probably 5 more times, and then EUREKA, it CLICKS for me in my head! I GET IT! Trial 6 or so, I back the sucker in there without his arm circles!
Of course, this did not make me instantaneously into the kind of Backing Expert the Rastaman was immediately, I still had a long way to go there. This occassion was not Blind Side Backing which is MUCH harder than that. In Blind Side backing, your obstacles are on the side of the trailer you cannot see because the Tractor is cocked off to the other side of the trailer. However, the lessons I gotfrom Rastaman taught me the PRINCIPLES of Backing well enough that thereafter I was NEVER AFRAID again to go into a Truckstop late in the evening to find a spot to Park so I could go inside for a “decent” meal and a Shower in the morning. It changed my life Over the Road IMMENSELY. Rather than the Road and Circumstance controlling ME, I was in control.
I doubt I would have lasted for my years driving OTR if it was not for the day I met the Rastaman. I have MANY stories of trying to maneuver around a Big Rig that came after that day, plenty of Hairy Shit no matter how good I got at it,and by the end I was pretty much as good as the Rastaman was. I nearly made 1M Accident Free Miles before I left the life of the OTR Trucker. I can put a 53′ trailer into the garage of your McMansion if the doorway is 13’6″ high now. If you have not driven one, you simply cannot IMAGINE all the problems you get trying to move that BIG A BEAST around typical roadways. The Interstate is more or less designed for them and long as you are on thoes roads you are pretty OK usually. Problem of course is that at the end of the line on MANY occassions, you will end up on the tiny streets of Chinatown in NY Shity, which were laid out LONG before there were Tractor Trailers running 70′long. Man, just driving an SUV down some of those alleys you are squished. Put a Freightliner with 53′ of trailer behind it on said stretch of road, you are in a World of Shit before you know it. Perhaps I will tell the Chinatown stories at a later date in another Episode of Over the Road. Not today though, today is my Homage to the Rastaman.
Alas of course, merely understanding how to Back a Trailer well or even understanding the Paperwork issues or how to Trip Plan and defend yourself from Time Abuse by Dispatchers do not end the many Trials the OTR Driver faces all the time. Loneliness is one of them, and that will be the Theme the next installment of Over the Road, when/if I get to it.
Meanwhile, I sure hope I run into the Rastaman again when I cross into the Great Beyond. I owe THANKS to that man beyond measure. No Woman, No Cry. Thank You Rastaman, wherever you are now. You Saved Me.
SAVE AS MANY AS YOU CAN!
Off the keyboard of RE
In this Chapter of the Over The Road Story, I will try to cover the Highlights of my Year of Indentured Servitude as a Company Driver for Schneider National Trucking following the 3 Weeks of Training I got before heading out on the Open Road of the Eisenhower Interstate to make my living as an OTR Trucker.
Why do I refer to this time as “Indentured Servitude“? Reason is the Contract you have to sign to get the “Free” Training. If you do NOT fulfill your full year of driving for Schneider at the Bargain Basement Price of $0.23 Cents/Mile rate, they tag you with a bill for the Training of around $6000, at least that was the number at that time. So Washing Out of the program once you begin can tag you with a pretty big DEBT if you are DESTITUTE, as I was when I signed up for this.
In fact, even if you do not washout during the Training Period and work for Schneider as an Indentured Servant for 11 Months before decide you can’t stand the life of an OTR Trucker and walk away from your Schneider Tractor, you STILL can be held liable for the entire Training Bill. No idea how often Schneider actually pursues this “Debt” in Court or how often Don Schneider actually can COLLECT on it, but regardless it still hangs over your head like the Sword of Damocles all the time for that First Year. If you do NOT make it through those first 12 Months, just about everything you might have SAVED during that time will be Clawed Back by Schneider in Court. So essentially, your ASS belongs to Don Schneider for that year, if you can make it through it anyhow.
In microcosm here, you see how the Capitalista Class preys upon the DESTITUTE by offering them Credit to hopefully improve their station in life and the society. A few Lucky and Resourceful ones DO make it through and Improve on their situation, I was one of the Lucky and Resourceful who did. Many MORE do not though, they at best end up in DEBT up to their EYEBALLS, or sometimes like my friend Lincoln, they only find their way out when they buy the Ticket to the Great Beyond. I doubt Lincoln’s Debt to Schneider for his 3 weeks of Training was ever collected on, even from surviving family members.
This of course is not a whole lot different than the Student Loans that recent HS Graduates who do NOT come from the Upper Class are forced to take out in order to get a Sheepskin not unlike a CDL which at least in the past would grant you Access to one of the better paying Jobs in the society. God forbid though you choose to study Art History or French Literature instead of IT , Accounting, Engineering or better yet do the Pre-Med or Pre-Law courses of study. Only the outrageously RICH can afford a Liberal Arts education which is not focused on supposedly preparing you for some Real World Job.
Fact is actually that even in such fields as Law if you studied that, you STILL don’t have access to the Super Duper High Paying Corporate Positions. Those are reserved for the graduates from the RIGHT Law Schools, Harvard, Yale, Columbia et al. Same deal with the MBA degrees. An MBA from Northwestern maybe got you into Management at some small to medium size company somewhere, but it did not get you an immediate Ticket into upper Management at say a JP Morgan or Merrill Lynch. For that, you need two things, first a Degree from the Right University, then some CONNECTIONS. Blythe Masters for instance got her position with just an Undergrad Degree in Economics from Cambridge. I got my position at Merrill because of a Columbia Degree and the fact the CEO at the time had gone through the same Executive Training Program my Dad the Pigman went through at Chase Manhattan in the 1950s. They were still good buddies at that time.
For most though, such positions were not available for the Common Folk. However, at least for a while they mostly did get you your Ticket to a Better Life, and not with TOO MUCH outrageous indebtedness. Not true nowadays of course. First off, the debt you need to take on unless you have a Filthy Rich Pigman for a parent is beyond belief now. Costs on this have skyrocketed too WELL into the six figures for even some State Universities, forget the Ivy League. Second, even if you GET the damn Sheepskin in Mechanical Engineering or some other technical field which takes good smarts to make it through, there just ain’t many JOBS out there for you in a contracting economy.
I digress. Back to The Road. As I mentioned in Part II, I was ill prepared and ill equipped for living the Mobile life when I got assigned my first IH Flattop Tractor. All I brought with me to the West Memphis terminal was a bag containing a few changes of Clothing.
The first thing I noted my Tractor did NOT have was a CB Radio. This essential piece of equipment was NOT provided by Schneider at the time,perhaps they do now, dunno. Reason for that from Schneider’s POV should be obvious, with many different Drivers being assigned to a Truck over time, some folks are not as careful with Electronic equipment as others, they BREAK the stuff and it needs then to be replaced. If the Drivers have to supply their OWN CBs, they are likely to be more careful with their own equipment.
Why do you NEED a CB in a Truck? It’s not just to do the “Breaker, breaker, pull back Good Buddy, them Smokies are on your tail” thing. At many Shippers and Receivers, you get your Call to the Dock over the CB, sometimes waiting for a full day for that to come while you Twist in the Wind in the parking lot. No CB, you gotta rely on the Trucker parked next to you, or run back and forth to the logistics office every 15 minutes to check on your status. I did both for my first Month OTR. When I got my first Paychecks and took my first Weekend Break, the first thing I spent my newly earned Buckolas on BEFORE paying back my Retired Mom was a Portable CB Walkie Talkie. Not too good for doing “Breaker,Breaker Good Buddy” while running the Interstate, but mostly pretty good for keeping track of calls to the Dock while sitting in the yard of a Shipper or Receiver.
I actually never did get into the CB thing of chatting with other Truckers while driving. Idiots pursuing Idiotic conversation mostly. I eventually did buy myself a first class CB setup with a Big Ass Antenna , SSB and more range than the Walkie Talkie, but in all honesty it was a Waste of Money, I hardly ever used it. The Walkie Talkie was perfectly good for most circumstances, and I did not have to be IN the Truck to hear it. Remarkably few Truckers have one of them though. The way I began to Communicate with others at that time to relieve the boredom and loneliness was over the incipient beginnings of the Internet, on AOL and Yahoo Chatrooms and Groups. That is it’s own Chapter in this story though, I will leave it for another day.
The CB was only one of NUMEROUS items Schneider neglected to mention you should carry along as your own gear, basic TOOLS for doing Minor Repairs on your Truck was another one. The Toolkit they provided had like NADA in it. Let’s not bog down here in Gear quite yet though.
It was easy getting into the 4 year old International Harvester Flattop that first time, since I only had One Bag, a fitted sheet for the Bunk and Pillow and Sleeping Bag. Threw in my Gear, did the Checklist Pre-Driving Inspection of the Truck and sat and waited for the First Load to come over the Qualcomm. By the end of my Trucking years, it took me a good hour to two hours to get into my truck and get all my gear set up for what usually was close to 3 months continuous OTR driving, punctuated by 2-3 weeks where I took time off. This did not make me exactly POPULAR with my Dispatchers. They LOVED me when I was inside the Truck running, they simply could not GRASP how I could stay out of the truck for such long times, which I was entitled to because the longer you stay out, the more time off you accumulate. You don’t get paid for it of course, but by my 3rd month out on the road I was already flush with savings, even at the Slave Labor mileage pay of $.023 Cents/mile. Schneider however feels they are LOSING money on you when you are not running, since you drive so much cheaper than their Experienced Company Drivers and WAY cheaper than Owner-Operators.
Reason I was so flush by then is simple. First off, I had declared Bankruptcy BEFORE becoming employed by Schneider, so I was free of Debt. Second, I had no Dependents I was supporting somewhere I wasn’t. Third I had no Rent or Mortgage Payment. OK, I had the $35/mo I was paying for a Storage Unit in Springfield which held stuff I couldn’t fit in the Truck and was important to me, mostly for Nostalgic Reasons, as it is to this day. My daily costs on the Road were minimal, 95% of the time I slept in the Truck in Free Parking either in Truckstops or Interstate Rest Areas, or sometimes just on the shoulder of On Ramps to the Interstate. VERY rarely when I was Out of Hours I would take a 24 hour Break in a Motel, and always then in Fleabag Bates Motels at around $35/Night at the time. My food costs even eating from relatively Expensive Truck stops was never more than $15/day, and that was ONLY when I would buy the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet at Petro (the best one), the Flying J (next best) or Truckstops of America, aka TA. OK they changed their Corporate Name to “Travel Stops of America”, but they are Truckstops. The other big chain of Pilot was the Low Class place to stay, with only usually a Fast Food outlet of Wendy’s to get Hot Food. In all cases though, I usually just ate inside the Truck from a food stash I bought at supermarkets. Usually cold food in the early years, I got cooking equipment later. On days I ate that way. cost was more like $5/day.
I eventually had some Communications Bills also, for a Cell Phone and Park ‘n View, an early Cable TV/Internet service for Truckers which I will explain later. My first Cell Phone though was a Trac-Phone which I bought a monthly card for Minutes for $20. I never talk on the phone, so I almost never used up my minutes on that either. Anyhow, all totalled my Weekly costs were maybe $100/wk, but I was taking home usually $400/500 after taxes even then. I just socked the difference away in the bank. Later on once my pay went VASTLY up, I was socking away $1000/wk. I saved a LOT of MONEY for a Working Man.
Back to the Qualcomm and the First Loads. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it was a fairly Primitive form of on board Text Messaging Computer which connected you to your Dispatcher by Satellite. The system also could Track the Truck for Location and determine whether you were Moving or Not, which was important with respect to Driving Hours if you were pushing the Limit, as most Truckers do. The Messaging Battles were enormous always since 9 times out of 10 before you even unloaded in those days you would get a Dispatch with an absolutely IMPOSSIBLE load to deliver on anything but the most abstract calculation spit out by the bullshit Computer Algorithms they were running at the time. The average driver gets completely SANDBAGGED by this, takes the Load and ends up Late on Delivery, which is a Negative Mark on your Driving Record. Not so RE of course, I would run the calculations using REAL parameters and then proceed to Text Message the whole Trip Plan BACK over the Qualcomm to the Dispatcher to demonstrate why the load was really IMPOSSIBLE to Deliver the way it was Dispatched. This takes some pretty good Keyboard Skills to do of course, but again not an Issue here for RE. Needless to say, this AGAIN did not make me Highly Popular with Dispatchers. In fact, by the time I left Schneider after my required 1 year of Indentured Servitude, it is Highly Likely that I held the Schneider Memphis Terminal all time RECORD for going through Dispatchers. I was basically a Dispatcher’s WORST NIGHTMARE. LOL. They couldn’t argue with me though, because I was Fucking PERFECT! I NEVER missed an Appointment in 6.5 YEARS Driving OTR.
Of course at the time of the First Load, these battles were in the Future, and the very First One seemed just fine to me. I had to make a Pickup at a local Distribution Center for delivery to a Retail Sears Outlet in a Mall, as I recall maybe a 500 Mile Load or so. It was highly Fortuitous that this DC was close to completely EMPTY of other Trucks with HUGE Backing area and empty Docks to both sides of my assigned Dock, because even so it took me at least a Dozen tries to get the trailer into the Dock square and lined up right. After getting loaded, before getting underway I took another hour to practice a bunch more times. I STILL SUCKED, and I had to get rolling.
So now off to find the Mall and the Sears Outlet, which was a fairly Uneventful drive most of the way until I got to the Mall. I couldn’t find the right Truck Truck Entrance to the Mall, and ended up entering the Mall Ring Road through an Entrance designed for 4-wheelers. The Radius of this entrance was to tight for my Trailer, and YES I rolled my Tandems up over the Curb to make it through that one. LOL. No Pedestrians there to Crush though fortunately, and No Witnesses.
So now I am circling the Mall on its Mini-Ring Road looking for where the Truck Docks for the Sears Outlet are, and on my first THREE passes around the ring road I don’t see them. I slow to a CRAWL, 4 wheelers behind me are PISSED. Finally I SPOT THE DOCK! It’s in an underground Parking Garage for 4-Wheelers with several entrances. I make another full trip around the mini-Ring Road to get back there and turn into what I THINK must be the right entrance based on how long my vehicle is and how much space I would need to get it into the dock, even if I was GOOD at Backing a Trailer. Sadly, I was WRONG by one entrance.
The problem now is how to get OUT of this situation and into the correct lane. I am in an Underground Garage surrounded by Parked 4-Wheelers, maybe 5 feet to either side of my BEHEMOTH, and the ONLY way OUT is to BACK the trailer COMPLETElY BLIND back out onto the Ring Road! Where 4 wheelers are whizzing around at an average Clip of 40MPH, 10MPH over the official Ring Road speed.
Problem here it was pounded into my SKULL at the Schneider Training Facility you should NEVER back your trailer out to spots you cannot see at all, ESPECIALLY if there is moving Traffic. So I shutdown the Engine, TRAPPING all the 4 wheelers parked to my right and left and walkover to the loading dock to look for somebody who will go out and Spot for me to back out onto the Ring Road. This takes about 15-20 minutes, by the time I get back to the Truck there are 2 EXTREMELY PISSED 4-wheelers wanting to pull out of their spots but cannot because my truck is trapping them. They did not get OUT of them either for a good half hour after that either.
With my Spotter in Place out on the Ring Road stopping the traffic there though, I do back my way out of the WRONG lane of the Parking Garage and onto the Ring Road. Still MORE Pissed Off 4-wheelers of course there. Fortunately none of them were carrying Guns. LOL. Now I have to make ANOTHER full trip around the RR to get back to the Parking Garage and go down the CORRECT lane to make the Dock.
Which I in fact do Problem Free, albeit Sweating Bullets at this time. Getting down the correct lane this time, I now have to figure out how to back in this dock with ZERO Pullup Room and a bunch of 4-wheelers Parked in a line about 70′ or so from the Dock. The ONLY way to do this is to get it ABSOLUTELY PERFECT on the First Try and at the end have your tractor cocked at about 45 Degrees to the Trailer which has to be perfectly square with the Dock. This takes me probably 2 hours to get right, and that is WITH a spotter helping me.
After THAT, it turns out this is one of the Loads I am expected to HELP unload onto the Sears Dock, and its NOT Palletized. Which means it has to be done all by HAND, and takes a good 3 hours WITH the help of several Sears Dock Workers.
So all in all, along with the 5 hours or so of Driving I did, the Hours it took getting into and out of the loading and unloading docks and HOURS of White Knuckle time in bad backing situations in this Underground Garage, I am SPENT! A good 12 Hours of time altogether EASY. What happens IMMEDIATELY after I sent in my Qualcomm Message that I am Unloaded? I am sent ANOTHER load I have to pick up requiring another 5 hours of driving IMMEDIATELY to make the Appointment.
At this stage of the game I am so STUPID though I accept the load and run my ass off AGAIN to go get it. My LogBook still shows enough Available Driving Hours here. This one is Preloaded onto another Trailer in a Drop Yard so I have to find an Empty Spot to drop my Empty Trailer in, then go hook up to the New Trailer with my Bobtail. The Drop Yard in this case did have SOMEWHAT more Pullup Room than the Underground Parking Garage, but not much. Again, it takes me a good hour to wedge the Empty into on of the open spots before unhooking and hooking to the Loaded trailer. A proceedure which in later years would take me about 2 minutes time MAYBE.
So now after finally Hooking and exiting the Drop Yard with the Loaded Trailer, I am already well behind the Eight Ball on the Trip Plan to make the Unload Appointment for this trailer. The ONLY way to do it and APPEAR Legal is to backup the time I actually left the Drop Yard by the hour I wasted and then run a good 10MPH over the Speed Limit. I DO this, I am NOT caught and I MAKE the Appointment with maybe 5 Seconds to Spare. LOL. OK, it wasn’t THAT tight, but close, no more than 5 minutes.
Somehow I get into this dock and fortunately do NOT have to help Unload this one, so after about 20 hours of continuous Driving, Backing, Unloading etc. and SWEATING BULLETS the whole time. I take a Nap in the Bunk for the 2 hours it takes for them to Unload the Trailer. I am also OUT OF HOURS now so Schneider Dispatcher cannot send me another load to Pickup for at least 8 hours. Great! I will FINALLY get some REST here! Right? WRONG!
Issue is this Receiver will NOT allow me to remain on the Property for 8 Hours DESPITE the fact I am OUT OF LEGAL DRIVING HOURS, and besides that, TOTALLY EXHAUSTED. My Trucker’s Guide to Truckstops shows a Pilot Truckstop around 20 miles or so up the Interstate, so I head for that. I will fudge my Log Book later to make that SEEM LEGAL.
I get to said Pilot around 2AM probably, and the place is PACKED. There are a couple of Open Spots in there, but at this point I am too Fatigued and too SCARED to even TRY backing into them. I leave the Pilot without even getting out of the Truck to buy some Food. I have been subsisting at this point for a full day on Candy Bars and Potato Chips out of Vending Machines. I drive BACK to the Interstate On Ramp, and PARK it there on the shoulder and climb into the Bunk, HUNGRY and EXHAUSTED. I pass out completely for the next 8 hours.
Actually, for the next month or so, On-Ramp sleeping is the Norm for me, because until I finally Wised Up to how the whole system worked, I never got to the Truckstops EARLY enough to get a good Parking Spot and eat a decent meal. OK, “decent meal” is stretching the concept there some when you talk about Truckstop Food, but you get the idea I am sure. It is a STEP UP from Vending Machine Food.
When I awaken, the Qualcomm is Blinking Again with a NEW load to go pick up. Which I again I accept , but now I AM getting a little SMARTER finally. BEFORE going to pickup the Load, I head BACK to the Pilot (it was on the way fortunately), and now it is pretty much EMPTY and there are Pull Through spots available so I don’t even have to BACK IN! YAY! I go to the Wendy’s Fast Food counter in the Pilot and proceed to WOLF down 2 Fat Laden Burger/Fries/Coke Super Size Meals. Then I EMPTY the shelves of the Pilot of every Bag of Potato Chips they have to load them into the Tractor. Despite the Exorbitant Cost in the truckstop for these items, its STILL Cheaper than buying the teensy weensy bags from the Vending Machines. I buy so MANY of these bags of chips there is no longer ROOM for me to sleep in the Bunk of an International Harvester Flattop without rolling over them and turning the chips inside into tiny Crumbs I have to shovel into my mouth to eat as near Dust Food. OK, again I am EXAGERRATING, but not by much here either. I was so worried at this point I would literally STARVE while out on the road I decided I had to pack the Tractor with as much FOOD as I could carry. This probably is where my current Food Hoarding tendencies come from even more than worrying about Corn Crop failure due to Drought here in 2012.
Now, to my best recollection, the next couple of loads were not filled with quite so much DRAMA, and while I am still Slow as Molasses in getting Backed into any Dock, these loads did not present the same kind of NASTY Backing Situation the Sears Load in the Underground Garage did. It was not until maybe the end of the Second Week I ran into my next really TERRIFYING situation, after picking up a load of Paper from a Paper Plant which as I recall was in Tennessee.
For many reasons, not the least of which are that they STINK really bad and totally POLLUTE the water supply in the area used to rinse the Paper of numerous chemicals used in the processing and they need vast amounts of Wood Pulp to use for making the Toilet Paper you use daily to Wipe Your Ass AND the Toilet Paper Helicopter Ben prints up Daily you use to Pay Da Bills, Paper Plants are always in pretty REMOTE locations. I do find the place fairly easily though, even before I went High Tech and got my first GPS (a Garmin Handheld Unit I still have), Road Navigation was a Strong Point for me from the Get Go, unlike the Backing problems. It also looks ON THE MAP as a fairly easy trip to get from the Paper Plant back to another section of the Eisenhower Interstate to then head EASILY over to the Reciever, in this case as I recall a Newzpaper printing Plant. I was loaded with HUGE Rolls of Newzprint in this case, right to the LIMIT of 40 tons or so you can carry in a Dry Box. This also has to be Balanced just right over the Drive Wheels and Tandems , which you do by Sliding the Tandem Wheels under the trailer. Many tricks involved in this, but I will leave that for the moment.
After getting loaded I head out of the Plant in a different direction than I came in, taking a secondary road to a different Interstate junction. On the Map this looks to be maybe 10 miles away. It is late at night and no lights on the road except my Headlights. I come up on the Interstate Junction before I realize it and almost miss even seeing it. I pass the on ramp going the direction I need to go. I am too scared to try to Back Up to the on ramp, partly because I SUCK at Backing, but also because Schneider told me never to back up on a main thoroughfare and also it is PITCH BLACK behind me and I can see absolutely NADA in my mirrors.
Next possible choice, this is a 4 lane road with two wide Shoulders, enough room to swing a 53′ Trailer and cop a Uey. Except of course in the process halfway through, your trailer sits sideways across all the traffic lanes and the shoulders also. this is another Safety Violation Schneider told me never to do. Showed videos of 4 wheelers with the top of the car sheered off as it went under the trailer. They did not show the decapitated 4-wheelers though, but you got the idea.
Another possible choice would have been to get onto the Interstate going the opposite direction I needed to go, because that On Ramp was still ahead of me. However, this would have required me to go around 30 miles to the next exit to turn around, lots of extra mileage there.
In the end, I choose neither Door #1 or Door #2 but go for Door #3 which is to keep on going straight ahead to look for a Parking lot big enough to turn around in.
What occurs though right after driving 1/2 mile off the Interstate Junction is the 4 lanes drop to 2, with nothing but trees on either side of the road. I am starting to get NERVOUS again and the Knuckles go White on the Steering Wheel again. I definitely cannot back up now, nor can I turn around at all. I keep on going. It gets WORSE.
The shoulders disappear from the side of the road, and now my trailer is breaking branches of trees to my right. Then it gets WORSE again. The PAVEMENT disappears! Now I am on what I figure must be a Logging Road for the Paper Plant. I am easily 10 miles off the interstate junction by this point. I am again SWEATING BULLETS. I figure now at the end of this road there MUST be a clearing for the truckers pulling the logs out to turn around. There probably was, but I never got there. Another mile up the road, on my right hand side there is a LIGHT! It is a FIRESTATION! I pull into the first driveway of the firestation, figuring if firetrucks can turn around there, the lot is big enough for my rig also. Sadly, no. While there are a few fire trucks as long as a Big Rig, most are not, they are Straight Trucks in the 35-40′ range, not Split Rigs in the 60-70′ range. The Parking lot by itself is not big enough to swing the trailer.
However, there is an Exit Driveway ahead of me, and as I eyeball it, if I use every inch of the Logging Road I will be able to swing the trailer as I leave. The only problem with this is a Drainage Ditch dug out between the two driveways. I begin to slowly inch my way out of the driveway. I keep stopping to get out of the tractor and go out to look. I am almost to the Drainage Ditch when I realize I am not gonna make it. The left side tandems would drop into the ditch, and with the weight I had there of 40 tons of Paper Rolls, the trailer would Capsize immediately. Unlike many drivers, I am pretty aware of the forces of mechanics and how vectors operate, and this vector is pointing DOWN into the Ditch! ACCCKKKK!!! What to do?
Well, remember earlier I told you about how Trailers have Sliding Tandem Wheels that you use to balance the weight out in your trailer? Then the LIGHBULB goes off in my head. I realize that if I slide the tandems ALL THE WAY up and misbalance the load, my radius will be short enough to make this turn. So I straighten the truck up and I do this, and then once again go to make the turn.
In the cab, I am scraping against the trees to my right, rolling over and killing innumerable small trees which never got a chance to Grow Up to be Big Trees because I arrived there one day with my Big Rig.
Back on the Left Tandem wheels, the two outside ones hang over the ditch. The earth is crumbling under the massive weight of 40 Tons of Paper on the Inside Left Tandems. The Trailer Lists, and now I CANNOT STOP. I gun it and Go for Broke. The Trailer Listed to about 10 degrees off the vertical, but it DID NOT TOPPLE! I MADE THE TURN! HALLELUJAH! The Trailer rights up vertical and I am facing back towards the Holy Grail of the Interstate On Ramp I needed to get on to deliver this load!
The FINGER OF GOD!
After making the turn and driving back to the Interstate, the whole Adventure probably took about 2 hours. It did not affect my Delivery, because there was plenty of time on that load. It also never showed up in my Log Book either. According to the Log Book, I left the Paper Plant and got straight onto the Interstate without any detour at all. This of course is routinely done by all drivers to conserve Driving Hours. You don’t record how much time it REALLY took to get anywhere, you record the amount of time it takes if everything goes perfect and there was no traffic and Unicorns Shit Skittles along your route for your truck to glide smoothly over. LOL. The ONLY time Driving Hours are accurate in a Log Book is for the Hours you do at the maximum legal speed on the Interstate. All the rest is total fabrication.
Over the next two months, there were other similar White Knuckle Events, in fact they happenned on about every load during that time for me. Mainly because I did not have enough EXPERIENCE to know how to avoid getting into a bad situation to begin with, but also of course due to my poor Backing Skills.
I learned pretty quickly how to keep the Dispatchers from abusing me by manipulating my driving time and how many hours I would show after the unload. This was a Math Game and easy for me. I learned to go into Truckstops during the early part of the Day after most of the other truckers were out on the road and the Pull Through spots were open, so no Backing Necessary.
In reality, Bad Situations never stopped coming for all my years OTR, just I got better at handling them as my skills improved and my ability to spy a bad situation in the making improved. For those first 2-3 Months though, not a day went by where my heart wasn’t POUNDING trying to get into a dock or a truckstop to sleep or eat.
One day about 3 months out Over the Road in a Railyard in Chicago, that all changed for me. That was the day I met the RASTAMAN.
More about the Rastaman in Part IV of Over the Road.
Read Part I of “Over The Road” HERE First
When we last left the Road, I had just graduated the Schneider National Training Institute for LOSERS. After driving my 7 year old Trusty Toyota Tercel 4WD mini-SUV/Wagon back to Springfield and finally passing my Blood Pressure exam, I am given a date about a week away to show up at the Schneider Terminal in West Memphis to continue my Training for a Month with an Experienced Training Driver.
So, after cleaning up my affairs around Springfield, I borrow still MORE Money from my Retired Mom to hopefully last me for the first month on the Road until the first Paychecks can be cashed. During this Training Period, you weren’t Paid by the Mile, you got a fixed $250/week salary. Regardless how many hours you drove the truck for this time, this is what you were paid. Your Training Driver got the Mileage pay for what you drove. Needless to say, this works out to LOWER than the Minimum Wage, but somehow this is Justified in the Trucking Industry.
In fact, if you consider the fact the OTR Company Driver is expected to ALWAYS be available 24/7 near the Qualcomm in his Truck as long as he still has Legal Hours left to drive, he is ALWAYS “On Duty” and because of that you really are paid below minimum wage all the time. You ONLY get paid for the hours you actually DRIVE. You are also expected to NOT LOG hours and hours you spend waiting to get unloaded or even in some cases actually Unloading the truck YOURSELF. You CAN log this time, but if you do so you are frowned upon by your Dispatcher and he returns this by handing you really lousy loads until you Learn Your Lesson.
I am getting ahead of myself here though. Upon arrival in West Memphis, I was not aware of any of these issues, I was just happy to have a JOB. All I had with me at the time was one bag with some clothes in it, I had no clue on all the stuff you should Carry With You to make your life as an OTR Big Rig Driver somewhat tolerable. Would have been nice if somewhere in that 2 week Training Course in Green Bay if somebody had discussed this with the New Recruits. By the end of Big Rig Years, I had a Package of 5 Bags and Containers that included all the coolest supplies and equipment necessary to live the Mobile Life. I’ll list those out eventually also.
So, I do get Matched Up with my Training Driver for the One Month period, except there is a small PROBLEM. They were short of Training Drivers at the West Memphis Terminal, because despite the fact it is pretty lucrative for the TD to do this, it is pretty STRESSFUL to be in the Passenger Seat of Newby Driver. Also, long time Drivers with the Hours required to BE a TD tend to be Loners not comfortable with spending extended time with what amounts to Random Strangers assigned to them.
As a result, instead of being matched up One-to-One with my TD, TWO of us are assigned to ride with him for the month. This in the Equipment Schneider was mostly running at the time, Intenational Harvester Flattops. These as opposed to the more common “Condos” you see nowadays pulling the Trailers on the Interstate. Below is a comparison photograph of the two types of tractors. Everybody went to Condos in the 90s,but Schneider wa sstill running the Flattops for training at that time,and also for most of the Newby Drivers first rigs also. As you can see,the Fairing onthe top of the Flattop gives no additional living space. The Condo Model (In this case a Kenworth T2000) uses that space to allow Stand Up Room inside the Cabin.
In an IH Flattop, you can’t Stand Up to stretch ever, and there is only one Passenger Seat which the TD always occupies if he is not in the Driver’s Seat. Soifyou are 3-up in such a rig, the other Newby not currently behind the wheel has to spend HOURS in the tiny Bunk compartment. You can try to Sleep or Read, but it is near impossible to do either. There is no ergonomically comfortable way to spend hours in a Box like that. Think of it like being in one of those Tiger Cages the Vietnamese put POWs in for Punishment, except not for just a few days, but a whole MONTH. Supposedly.
What occurred in actuality in my case was that this whole situation was so intolerable for all 3 of us that after 1 Week, our TD said “I think you guys are READY” and signed us both off as being sufficiently Trained to go out as a Team of Newby Drivers. I was fortunate here in that the guy I was training with and I got along pretty well during that week. He was a Black Guy from the Bed-Stuy area of Brooklyn named Lincoln, and we had lots of NY Shity stories to share with each other. So I was pretty OK with the idea of spending a few months with him Team Driving.
The idea behind putting two Newby Drivers together as a Team was that they could Help each other along the way. The Passenger doing the Navigating by the Map while the other drove; one of the Team getting out of the Truck to serve as Spotter in Backing into docks which makes it much easier, at least if the Spotter knows how to give the right directions it does anyhow. Not true of most Newby Drivers of course, but over the years I ran into a couple of really GOOD spotters. You did’t have to do anything but watch him in your mirror circling his arm left or right (and he would reverse it for you so when looking in the mirror it was correct for you), and all you needed to do was follow his arm motions and spin the wheel along with his arm while you were backing, and POOF a perfect docking on the First Try!
The very BEST of these Spotters was a man whose name I will never know, but who really probably saved my LIFE as an OTR Trucker. I ran into him at a Railyard in Chicago after about my 3rd month on the road. He was a Rastafarian Jamaican, complete with the heavy Bob Marley accent and the Dreadlocks. More about that encounter later though, I am jumping the Gun again.
After being Certified as competent by my TD, I was all ready to go out on the Open Road with my new Bed-Stuy buddy. EXCEPT there was another PROBLEM. The idea of partnering up complete STRANGERS, both of whom were often long time LOSERS was not working out too well for Schneider. They were getting into fights with each other, blaming each other for ACCIDENTS, stealing from each other, the WORKS. It likely was an administrative and legal NIGHTMARE for Schneider for as long as they pursued this idea.
So they STOPPED pursuing this program, in fact right before we were supposed to head out together on the Eisenhower Interstate to begin making a living as Truckers in the Age of Oil.
Result of that? After a 2 week stint at the Schneider National Training facility in Green Bay, WI and 1 week with an Experience TD where I only got 1/2 the time behind the wheel you normally would get because I was sharing the training time with my Bed-Stuy buddy, both of us were assigned our OWN TRACTORS AS FIRST SEAT SOLO OTR TRUCKERS!
Folks, the normal amount of time and money involved in getting your Class A CDL from a typical Commercial Driving School is around 6 Months, and at that time around $5000 I did not have. In 3 Weeks, at no cost to myself except the 1 year of Indentured Servitude for Schneider I put in afterward at $0.23 Cents/Mile, I was First Seat Solo in charge of my own Big Rig out on the Open Road of the Eisenhower Interstate. I was TERRIFIED.
So also terrified was my friend Lincoln from Bed-Stuy, and he did not make it. His was the Final Washout. 3 weeks out onto the Road, he bought his own Ticket to the Great Beyond in a multiple collision with two other Big Rigs and several 4-wheelers. I guess I was lucky I was not riding in his passenger seat when that occurred. Or perhaps it was not LUCK?
Perhaps it was the Finger of God? I was Saved a couple of other times before that one when I most surely SHOULD have been dead. Other stories from other parts of my life, perhaps a Tale in the Future, not part of this one though.. The statistical chances it happenned the way it did to me over all of them seem small. I don’t know the answer to this, in this life I won’t get it either. I don’t suppose I will know the answer to that question until I buy my own Ticket to the Great Beyond.
How I SURVIVED those early days is the next part of the Over the Road story.
For a few of my Old Friends, it is common knowledge I spent a number of years as an Over-the-Road Trucker (OTR) Trucker. Occassionally I will drop on some Stories about this period of my Life in the Age of Oil, but I do not recall ever having written about this time in all the detail I should before I pass into the Great Beyond. So tonight, I will begin to tell this story best I can, and it may take a while to complete. Likely this will not be the only article, because the story is too long for that, even by my standards. Gotta start somewhere though, right?
I believe the story has Significance in the sense it was a Transition from who I was to who I am now. How does an Ivy League educated man end up as an OTR Trucker? If you find one way of life untenable, how do you find another one? How do you learn new skills and change your behaviors to SURVIVE? How do you MAKE PEACE with yourself and the world around you? All these were questions I confronted when I turned to the life as an OTR Trucker; all the SAME questions confront just about everyone now as the Age of Oil comes to a close. Main difference is it is likely to be even HARDER to make successful changes to your life as we move forward here in the collapse of Industrial Civilization than it was for me back in the mid-late 1990s. Level of difficulty aside though, most of the Priniciples I believe are the same.
I sure never thought I would be driving a Big Rig as a means to make a living during my College Years at Columbia. Doctor maybe, Lawyer maybe, BANKSTER maybe, but Trucker never figured in to that equation.
I DID start out as a Bankster though, working first for Merrill Lynch through connections I had from my Dad the Pigman, then briefly after that with Drexel before it blew up. Made some real good MONEY in those days also, 6 figures straight outta college as 20 year old. Spent just about every dime of it also Partying with Joffrey Ballet and Fashion Institute of Technology girls as well.
Around the end of the second year of this, things started to go south. I got into fights with my “superiors” at Drexel over what I thought were poor risk evaluations. My stomach was tied up in knots EVERY DAY, I really did not even want to get out of BED at all most days to go to “work”. I couldn’t even express my rage to my girlfriend of that time. while she was quite sweet, a good dancer and GREAT in the sack, she just was not much of a talker at all. One cool September Morning it all became too much for me and I could not walk through the door at Drexel. And so that Period of my Life ended then and there.
I descended then into the Middle Class as a Clinical Chemist after that for a very long time. More than a 50% Pay Cut, and I was no longer hanging out with the Joffrey Dancers. But I was more at peace, met a”nice”girl and got Married. Discovered then that “Nice” girls are not always so Nice and beyond that, *I* am too idiosyncratic to live with for anyone. Besides, I just wasn’t making enough MONEY to afford a Wife and eventual kids down the line. We divorced, fortunately before reproducing.
I went into a deep funk after that and my job in the Lab got merged into another lab and I went through my first UE Period. This was the Rayguns Years, and there was Hoopla about Science and Math teachers being needed in the Schools to Save Amerikan Competitiveness against the oncoming Chinese Horde, so I went back to Skule for a Masters and took all the necessary Politically Correct Ed courses required as well as filling out academic requirements to get CERTIFIED as a Teacher in 4 specialties, Biology,Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics. This is a LOT of sub-specialties to be fully certified to teach through HS AP level.
Landed a job in a suburban Skule District on Long Island, immediately HATED the job. Administrative Nightmares, Kids who didn’t want to be there, it was awful. 3 years of that, I was done again.
Back on the UE Line, start sending out Resumes. Mid 30s at the time. You would think with that education I could find SOMETHING right? Nada. See, I was over educated for any Entry Level spots and too OLD already also with no experiencein specific fields. I did not want to go back to Lab work because it had become very BORING as all the stuff got computerized, you just put blood into machines and they did all the chemistry.
So, I am now in Springfield, MO living with my now Retired Mom in a 2 Bedroom apartment, UE with Debt Up to my Eyeballs from years living in NY Shity where if you don’t make 6-Figures your Rent alone consumes most of your paycheck. I take the opportunity at this time being COMPLETELY destitute to declare Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, right before they changed the rules to make that more difficult. The Banksters who held my Credit Card debt did not even show up in court, it took 5 minutes and I was out from under $15K in debt! Still no Job though, and no money either. No UE this time, because I quit my last job, I wasn’t fired or laid off.
So I am leafing through the Want Ads of the Springfield Newz-Leader and see an Ad for Schneider National, the largest Trucking Company in the FSofA, which will be having a Recruiting Session at the local Bates Motel on Saturday. Promises of BIG BUCKS in the great career of TRUCKING! So on Saturday I mosey over to the Bates Motel and Norman behind the desk points me to the Conference Room where said Recruiting Session is about to get underway. I join a dozen other guys or so who are just like me, COMPLETE LOSERS! LOL. OK, not precisely the same, I was a Loser with an Ivy League education and they were Losers who were HS dropouts, but otherwise not too different.
What I find out from the Recruiter in this session is that Schneider will train me for FREE if I just sign up for one year to work at the Bargain Basement price of $0.23 Cents/Mile. This translates if you run 3000 miles a week to around $30K, which at the time seems to me like a fucking fortune! Of course, running that many miles/week and staying Legal in your Log Book is pretty tough. Still, during that year as I found out later Schneider DOES run the living shit out of you pulling freight, because they are paying you the LOWEST rate out there for drivers on the road. They make the money back they spent to Train you in probably the first 2 months.
So I pack up my 1989 Toyota Tercel Wagon 4WD and drive up to Green Bay, WI for my 2 Week CRASH COURSE in driving a Big Rig. The Toyota was a 5-speed Standard Transmission, and besides BREATHING and not having a long list of DUI convictions, knowing how to drive a standard transmission was about the only requirement necessary to get into the Schneider Training School.
Once again, kindly Don Schneider puts up all the New Recruits at the Green Bay Bates Motel, where again all the Recruits are just like me, still MORE LOSERS, this time from all over the country! A couple of Female Losers in there, but mostly Male Losers. Rules are set down, no DRINKING for the 2 weeks, any Beer in your room found and its instant dismissal from the program. Since everybody has a Roomie, they don’t wanna get dismissed forsomebody else knocking back a few beers after a hard day on the Skid Pad, so they will Tattle on you. So pretty much nobody drinks, at least nobody in my session got dismissed for this.
So, off to my First Day of Training, and at the time Don Schneider came in to give a Pep Talk to every new class of recruits. Then we get our Classroom Time learning how to Trip Plan and do Logging which is phenomenally tedious for me since I figure it out in the first 5 minutes on the first day. Sadly for about 20% of the rest of the class, they never figure this out in 2 weeks, so that is one group of WASHOUTS from the program.
Then its off to the Yard with your Instructor and another Recruit to get in the old International Flattops they used for training to take the first step, which is learning to drive an UNSYNCHRONIZED Standard Transmission. For those of you who never drove one, this is the type you have to Double Clutch going into and out of Gear, revving the Engine to match the wheel speed or else the Tranny Grinds horribly and you can’t get it to drop into the gear. This I am not such a Quick Study on, and I spend 3 nerve racking, gear grinding days worrying I am going to Washout because I can’t get the hang of how to shift the fucking thing. Fortunately though, I finally do get this, then after another Day or so on the Lot its out onto the STREETS of Green Bay in your Bobtail, which is what a Tractor not attatched to a Trailer is called.
This is somewhat harrowing as well, since if you never sat up that high with lots of itty bitty Carz buzzing around you, getting used to that is a challenge. You get so worried about that you forget your recently learned skill of double clutching, and the Gears Grind again. Also, tractors aren’t really designed well to operate without a trailer. The steering and braking are both too sensitive. Driving a Bobtail is in fact HARDER than driving the Tractor Trailer combo because of this. Bobtail stories to come later.
If you get through this period (I obviously did), then you get to hook up to a Trailer and have to yank one of them around the yard a while until again you head out into the STREET. It’s at this point you realize typical City Streets are not well designed for Behemoths 70 feet long. Rounding corners and not rolling your tandem wheels over the corner and crushing a few pedestrians with 40 Tons of Beer or Paper in the trailer is another learning curve to master.
Finally, before the end of the two weeks you get your first lessons in BACKING a trailer, which if you haven’t done that is pretty confusing since you have to do everything with the steering wheel BACKWARDS while also LOOKING Backwards and Reversed through your side mirrors and having one completely BLIND SIDE. Backing is also REALLY important to know how to do well, because if you can’t back well, you can’t get into crowded docks or truckstops to get a good night’s sleep. Backing however is NOT a focus of your training, because it is not part of the Road Test.
If you haven’t washed out by this point, on your Final two days, you get 2 opportunities to pass your Road Test in Green Bay on Schneider’s Dime. After that, you would have to rent your own tractor trailer combo to take another road test somewhere else. Probably 30% have washed out by this point though. First time through the course, I FLUNKED. I rolled my Tandems up over a curb getting on the Interstate, an Instant Failure Mistake on the Road Test. Another Sleepless Night worrying I wasted my time and the Gas it cost to get me to Green Bay and back to Springfield, and would remain a UE LOSER, an even BIGGER LOSER than the other HS Dropout Losers who PASSED the test. My DREAMS of that $30K paycheck were fading.
Fortunately, on my 2nd run through the course, I go through CLEAN, and I get my Class I Commercial Drivers License! Hallelujah! CDL as it is referred to commonly. My TICKET TO GOLD! Almost.
See after getting the CDL, in order to be employed in the Trucking Industry you gotta pass a Medical Exam, which includes taking your Blood Pressure. I’ve always been Hypertensive, and I don’t like dropping pills to solve problems like that. So again after getting back to Springfield on my first try I Flunk my BP Test. Next time though I pop some of my mom’s BP meds and schedule the test for the early morning right after I get up,when my BP is always lowest. 2nd time through again, I PASS!
I am now finally Signed ON as an Official Schneider National Driver and assigned my Terminal out of West Menphis, AR. There, before becoming a First Seat Solo Driver, I am supposed to be paired with an Experienced Training Driver for One Month, then after that be Paired with another New Driver asa Team for 3 more months before going out on the road Solo in my own Big Rig. It did not work out quite that way though.
More about that in the next part of Over the Road.
Read Part II of Over The Road HERE