Metroblog

A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

29 July 2004

The Man With The Stainless Steel Keyboard



So I am. I blog at you today, dear Reader, from a Flying J brand truck stop in Ripon, California. The whence I am held in duranc vile awaiting freight to return me to my home and native land.

The terminal is equipped with clacketing metal keyboard and costs $0.20 per minute touse, so you'll forgive my elimintion of the usual cascade of links to articles nd pictures.

I wanted to examine truck stops as a sort of cultural genre. Cosidner the hammer: As a developed form of answer to a common problem (violently inserting things into other things), they have certain universal features, namely large lumps of metal or other materiel on the end of a stick. Likewise, most bathrooms are built in answer to certain basic human needs, and with certain basic and universal features (ie. graffitti-proof walls).

What then do truck stops tell us about the populations that use them?

First, the great universals: They cater to travellers. ALL sch stps supply not only diesel fuel for big rigs, but gasoline, and even sometimes natural gas and propane for four-wheelers.

Most offer restaurants for the hungry, and for the sleepy, there are nearby motels for the four-wheelers and parking (but not enough--not nearly enough!) for the drivers, as well as black-and-yellow un-amphetamines to enable you to make that last pickup.

And telehones. The architectural directive in designing truck stops is: On a blank space over 3' wide, place a phone.

But now we start to get into the more exclusive corners: For the dirty, there are showers and often laundry facilities. For the bored, there is often television; indeed, in the comparatively expensive but also relatively luxurious Petro chain there are usually movie theatresshowing dreadful videos--I was once trapped for an entire weekend with Mel Gibson in "The Patriot", whose moribund and sentimental mien was occasionally relieved by bouts of Bruce Willis playing a Serious Man in "Armageddon". Both films, as someone famous whom I haven't time to look up once said, should be hurled against the floor with great force.

Indeed, from an asessment of the fcilities of truck stops, one might conclude that truckers were the most bored, and yet most easily entertained of all groups save preschoolers. Most stops offer "games rooms" containing ovepriced video arcades upon which a bored transport driver may relieve his (the industry remains underwhelmingly female) fury at his dispatcher and at the parade of morons who enliven his trips and congest his highways.

For the excruciatingly un-entertined there are even expensive internet kiosks upon which they may blog their time away. . .

But the most revealing element is perhaps their gross sentimentality. At every stop are sold piles of clothing (in sizes from kids' to XXXL, reflecting the democratic preponderance of sizes amongst drivers) emblazoned with individualistic slogans, and often featuring wildlife such as wolves or eagles. "Ride Free Or Die", "Whoop-Ass", and various "my sports team" slogans predominate. Ball caps nestle in great piles atop signs advertising "X% Off!!!".

If one considers the overall layout, one might see a trend: Frm the cash register, the left-hand lane contains the preactical necessities. Load locks and strps for securing cargo, oil for thirsty engines, antifreeze and radio accessories are here. The next aisle is surplus electronica: AC televisions, with built-in VCRs or DVD units, satellite access packages, and even laptop computers. Here we see video nd DVD movies, plus a small selection of Louis Lamour Stephen King, and gawdelpus Jude Devraux paperbacks.

At the back wall, a long cooler contains ic cream, milk, cold cuts and beer. We turn again into the third aisle: Food (real food--soups, stews, Spam, bread), first aid supplies (band-aids, Pepto-bismol for dealing with shippers, and for some reason, Preparation H), and at the far end, chips.

Now we approach the section on junk food--by far occupying the second-largest shelf space in the store. Here may be found conventional crap such as chocolate bars, and also products named "Ho-ho's" and "Ring-dings", although oddly enough no twinkies are in evidence.

From this you may have garnered that truckers as a group may be thought of as sort of refugees. Their primary characteristics being that they are univesally hungry, tired, and dirty.

But their remains one last element in addressing the trucker mentality. Sloppy sentiment. It originates from the miserable lonliness of the Long Haul. It is in evidence from the number of postcards labelled "thinking of you". The tiny t-shirts reading "My Daddy is a Trucker", and the mawkish gifts too sentimental to be meaningful and too expensive not to be.

Lest my Reader fear a descent into a discussion on this major element, be comforted. I point it out to explore the fascinating stupidity it engenders in its victims. This last element is fully explored by the rack close to the doughnuts and "cold-drinks" (Hyphenated pronounciations a la southern-fried American). This shelf cntains the most astounding selection of esoteric garbage imaginable. "Hand-made" crud of every thinkable (and a few unthinkable) description decorates the shelves--and presumably not a few trucks in the world as well.

I mean, who ever laid out $36 US for a 2'-long ceramic piglet? Who is encouraged to consume odd sculptures of painstankingly ("handmand") accurate skeletons dressed in wedding gowns, pirate rig, jazz-ensemble costumes, or in one somehow discomfiting case, a turban? Who buys the fleet of miniature cars selling for $9.99 (SALE!!), or the painstakingly detailed glass guitar lapel pins?

I would have bought one, but couldn't find the model I wanted.

The best t-shirt I've seen lately, regrettably unavailable here, shows a rig at twilight, drawing up to a house with a light shining through window. The print reads "I'll be home early tonight".

I won't. Hell, I haven't got a load yet, and it'll be a minimum of three daysto get home, unload, and drop off the truck.

I'm about $8 in the hole on this terminal, so I'm signing off. Safe journey, wherever you may be headed.










25 July 2004

Hmmmm


Had a bit of trouble getting the background colour sorted out. Interesting how it looks friendlier around here with the green back in.

Trying to get a few things done at the home of Mum and Dad. They are so amusingly primitive: They even have dial-up access.

. . .

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

That would normally just be an "Aaargh!" But at dial-up speeds there's a sort of Doppeler effect.

  • I just like the older work here


  • See you in a week or so.











    23 July 2004

    "It Is The End, But The Moment Has Been Prepared For."



    A favourite quote of mine from the series. . .

    In accordance with all this regeneration business, I felt it was time to update my look. I've yet to fully sort out the picture-post, link, and comment functions, but rest assured I'll see to it.

    After my truck trip, starting Monday.

    Yeah, yeah I know. . .don't start with me.







    22 July 2004

    I’m a Freak


    I have to admit it.  It’s partly due to being raised by Brits.  You see, it’s their fault I had British grandparents.  So I grew up with the Beano, Dandy, and Danger Man comic books, and the great Empire fiction stories from writers such as Enid Blyton, in which jolly pals used words like “gosh” under circumstances which would prompt somewhat stronger sentiments now.
     
    But the time comes to put away childish things, and one Christmas my Grandma and Granddad sent me “The Face of Evil” and “The Hand of Fear”. From then on I was a changed person.  The death of the original series sometime around 1989 was a personal tragedy, although I have to admit that by then I’d discovered something I liked better.
     
    But Doctor Who had something going for it that neither later clones, nor the many rather morbid attempts to resurrect the show have.  Perhaps it’s best defined as an air of innocence.
     
    I always felt that the show could afford cheap-ass special effects in return for providing great, usually imaginative storylines.  It was also usually devoid of any saccharine morality for its own sake.  What saccharine morality there was was actually an operating principle of the central character.
     
    So why is this relevant to me today?
     
    In 1963, Doctor Who launched what was to be a thirty year run, starring a little old man in the title role. Of course you may have noticed that he died shortly after its twentieth anniversary.  In fact, he left the show after three years.
     
    So what to do?  The producers came up with the most audacious bit of television to date:  They simply killed off the central character and carried on with him.  Yes, with him.  The central character was now played by a new fella.
     
    Audience Member: Yeah, yeah. . .so what?
     
    The name they used for the process was “regeneration”, and it was so successful that over forty years it’s been used seven times in the BBC series alone, not counting the piles of add-ons, hopefuls, and gawdelpus fanfic (No offense to Thirty-Something, but no.  Just no.  And possibly ugh. Actually, strike that “possibly”).
     
    Audience:  Is this gonna take long?  I have something—an appointment, yeah, yeah, that’s it . . . uh, with  the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce . . .  

    So:  This is the beginning of my regeneration.  In the beginning, I wanted to be a train driver.  Somewhat later on I realized (dimly) a little something about the futility of manual labor, and realized that girls dug poets.  So I strained my adolescent heart and produced a fairly good assortment of crap of adolescent outlook and quality (which being as I was an adolescent was only reasonable, right?)
     
    Later on, having realized that girls might love poets but full-blooded women dug uniforms, I was a soldier for a while (and am toying with re-applying simply to see if they’ll let me back in!).
     
    I drove trucks for many years (since women tire of uniforms but rarely stick with men who have no paycheques—the SO being a well-beloved exception that proves the rule, I hope), and for a short term I enjoyed rebirth as a damn fine garbage man.
     
    But the time has come to put away adult things, come full circle and meet my 14-year-old angst-ridden (not to mention spotty) self coming the other way.  Time to reconnect with that hormone-awash little screwball and start turning out some pages.
     
    I AM, goddammit, a writer, and as the saying goes . . . can’t find it—think it’s Mencken. But the sentiment is “If you want to write, write!”
     
    So I’m off to work on my car
      
      
      
      
      












    17 July 2004

    Hey, Hey, Get Outta My Way

    I just got back from California, after a trucking trip that both sort of elated and depressed me.  It's hard sometimes to describe conflicting feelings in this particular
    medium, but I'll try.

    It's been about seven days and six thousand kilometres since I last blogged (It has been three months since my last confession).  I feel burnt out and
    exhausted, as though the sleep I got last night was the only real sleep in the world.  I'm stiff, and muscles ache that I'm not concious of having used in days.  I
    sit at the computer and realise that I'm unconciously sitting in a similar position to the position I adopt when driving a Kenworth W900.  The sore muscles seem
    to be generating enormous amounts of heat, so that I'm not quite comfortable anywhere or in any position.

    There's a mental dissociation as well, a feeling of having unplugged from my life and returning to find that no-one's noticed you being gone.  The SO sure
    noticed; but I have no job and there's that feeling that if I hadn't come home, who'd care?  No boss to miss me, and a group of friends spread over several
    thousand kilometres, some of whom I haven't seen in the flesh in years anyway.  I realize that last statement may seem depressed, and perhaps I am, in a little
    way.  Especially now that I linked to a series I've generally loathed lo these few years.

    But you're not to be concerned; this isn't deep dark depression that leads to things like wearing gloves with the fingers cut off, or wandering around town
    clutching a paper bag whispering loudly "The Kaiser will steal my string!" (*Attribution)  This is more the sort of idiosyncratic melancholia that leads to sitting
    about in one's bathrobe, blogging, when one should be, perhaps, doing something constructive.

    {A cat is bothering me.  One of the more odd-seeming things about this last and with any luck final truck trip is how easily I forgot about the cats entirely.  Even
    though I live with two of them, once out of sight they disappeared so completely from my field of view that I was vaguely surprised to find when I
    came home that I live with two of them.}

    I left a week ago, Friday the ninth.  The owner of the particular truck I was driving picked me up at the ferry terminal and drove me to the repair shop where the
    truck was actually parked.  I was nervous getting in (although for obvious reasons I didn't mention this to him), but managed to negotiate my way to the highway
    without incident.

    The loading was pretty straightforward.  The benefit of subcontracting to this company is that they have a regular run with paper products, courtesy of Norske Skog
    and its various clients who range from the L.A. Times to Verizon (see also corporate malfeasance).  This means that most of the trucks wind up in
    Cally-foh-niuh.  After dropping off (it's always only one drop), the trucks then await loading with produce.

    The trip to Los Angeles was pretty cool.  I left after loading, some six hours after coming on duty, missed the first available ferry and had to wait for the next. 
    Nine hours after I started out that day I was on shore, over the border (more about the border later if I get a round tuit).  By law, I was obliged to stop
    somewhere in Warshington state.  But I really didn't feel like it, and I had to have the load in City of Industry on Sunday night.

    It's 25 hours down.  Under the new rules, I can run 11 hours, then have to take the rest of the day off, basically.  But what I actually did was throw away my
    log page (Note:  I have just confessed to an act which is both a misdemeanor and a federal crime--or maybe just a youthful indiscretion--in two countries--online, so let's pretend this is only a
    hypothetical situation) and write a new one, which stated that I had left from a location about 150 Km and one less ferry ride away.

    This allowed me to keep rolling through my second wind, until I'd been driving about 10½ hours, and technically awake and on duty for something around 18
    hours.  I had a bath in some undeveloped hot pools by the highway in Oregon, close to Bend.  Actually, the hot pools, while not exactly secret, remain
    unspoiled-ish because comparatively few people know their location--they're really several hundred miles from Bend.  But perhaps there are some in Bend that
    you might like to visit.

    After a warm soak, I found myself unable to sleep, so I kept rolling.  It wasn't necessary to modify my log book, due to the rewriting I'd already done.  About
    eight hours later I was in Lodi, CA.  I got ten hours of luxurious sleep, then got up and rolled on to C of I.  I offloaded at roughly three Pip Emma Sunday.  Then I
    drove an hour-and-a-half up to Castaic (an explanation of truck parking in most North American cities follows if I feel like it).

    If you're lucky, you might get a load home with a single pickup.  If not (and far more likely), you do what the drivers call "grocery shopping".  Basically you
    wander all over California picking up goods from many, many, different places.  A standard California-legal 48' refrigerated trailer can hold up to 26 pallets
    loaded sideways.  Depending on the aggregate weight of your entire load (which your dispatcher is supposed to figure out before sending you to pick up that
    "one-more" pallet), you may have to configure the load in a way that lets you hold less--maybe a lot less.

    The total weight varies.  In the current time of the season, for example, lettuce, normally a medium-weight sort of load at about 900-1000 pounds per pallet, is
    growing small and very dense. 
     
    This means they're heavier, and also that more of them fit into a box (in fruit and veg  they distinguish between sizes by saying
    that a "24-count" item fits 24 to a box, whereas the same box may fit 18 "18-count" items, which are larger--duh).  So a pallet (skid, board) of lettuce right now
    weighs something more like 1200 lbs.  So repeat that 300-lb variation twenty times, and you're looking at six thousand extra pounds.

    In this particular instance I had seven pickups.  My personal record is eighteen, but I've heard of people getting partial-pallet loads at up to twenty-seven
    different places.  I went to: King City (one pickup), Salinas (four picks), Watsonville (strawberries--yum!), Gilroy, at Christopher Ranch (also yum, but savoury vice sweet), and
    wandered across the state to Livingston for yams and sweet potatoes.

    Now it hardly bears stating that the length and nature of your day is entirely subject to the vagaries of the various refrigerated warehouses you must visit to
    make these pickups, as well as things such as whether the broker has been selling fruit that in fact is still on a tree somewhere instead of in a box on the dock.  This means that grocery-shopping drivers must take something of a lax attitude toward legal compliance. 
     
    In my case, I was held overnight at my final Salinas
    pickup until nearly noon the following day.  As I understand the regulations, I was technically on duty from the time I got up (7:00 AM) onwards.  But do you
    think I recorded five of my available eleven precious duty/driving hours spent reading "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" as on-duty time?

    Go on, give your head a shake.

    As it was, due to the distance between my final few pickups, I wasn't finished loading until six PM.  By this time, I had technically run out of duty hours again
    (hypothetically speaking, remember?).  Nonetheless, I was good for another six hours or so according to my log book.  I slept that night just inside the California
    state line, near Klamath Falls Oregon. Next day I drove to Vancouver BC.  Simple, huh?  I even had time to go for a swim on the way home.

    By normal standards, this wasn't a difficult trip or load, but the aftereffects have me just about convinced of a principal truth which I shall shortly unveil.

    I'm not a trucker anymore.

    There were the usual small screw-ups relating specifically to how this particular truck owner operates.  There are the physical and mental aftereffects, although
    given time I could deal with those.
     
    But the real killer came when I dropped the truck off.
    The other driver was doing his walk around when he came to the passenger or "blind" side of the trailer and asked:  "Hey--how'd that happen?"

    "That" was a series of long black squiggly lines known in the trade as "rub marks" running down the trailer.  Bad enough that they were there.  Slightly worse
    that I had no idea where they'd come from.  But worst of all was that in six thousand kilometres I hadn't noticed them.  I was ashamed.
     
    I'm pretty sure I didn't
    actually cause them, though.  See, another aspect of no longer being a trucker is that I was having a really hard time backing.  I won't go into the intracacies of reversing an articulated
    truck-trailer combination sixty-five feet long into a narrow loading dock or parking spot between two other rigs, but it's definitaly a skill, two parts learned and
    one part intuitive.  And it's a skill that I seem to have lost.  So I'd pretty much been following a pattern of "back twenty feet, GOAL, repeat as necessary" (GOAL:
     Get Out And Look).  I'm sure that given sufficient time, I'd be able to reacquire the necessary skills, but I find my interest a bit blunted.

    So what I suspect caused these long black lines is this:  At some point, while I was parked at the overcrowded Castaic Giant Truck Stop, but was up the road
    grocery shopping (in the personal sense--buying food for self rather than taking on produce by the ton) someone reversed up against my trailer.  This person,
    as is not uncommon in these circs, noticed the marks from his trailer gently rubbing against mine, and fled the scene.  I returned to find the slot next door empty,
    and never bothered looking at the side of the trailer.

    I am no longer a trucker.

     I intend to write something on this transition to Geist mag.  Something about the freefall feeling of having defined yourself for eighteen years by a
    term that you no longer feel you can honestly wear.

    So what am I?  I've been trying to refer to myself as a professional writer lately.  But most of my recent writing effort is on the screen before you,
    and I'm hardly getting paid for it am I? And apart from that, most of my work has been rewarded only in pizza and sometimes beer.  Not that I'd complain, but the
    landlady won't accept pepperoni, you see.

    The whole thing is really kind of depressing.  On the other hand, I find a certain ragged renewal in this.  A committment to carry on pecking at the professional
    writing tree until it yields me up some juicy bugs, or something.

    It's now two days after my trip ended.  I want to get out, get on with my life.  And I'd like to pretend I'm not feeling any sort of regret at the feeling that I've finally
    stopped being that which I returned to school two years ago to stop being.

    But I do.







    08 July 2004

    The other night, upon the stair


    I met a man who wasn't there
    He wasn't there again today
    I wish to hell he'd go away

    ~Anon, probably.

    It occurred to me that I live my life, since my recent cohabitational manoeuvre (intended to reduce my rent but which has in fact increased my cost of living some 1.5-fold), in a building full of invisible men and women. I have met a few of them:

    Greasyfeet: Leaves collossal and deliberate stains all on the lift floor.

    The Mayor of Smear: Seems incapable of getting into a small box intended to transport him between floors without he should create swoosching artwork on the walls.

    And the person (whom I assume is a woman) I met today:

    Oceans of Lotions: Whose pungent aroma graces the elevator shaft in wisps one can almost see long after she herself, or indeed the taste of burnt fish & chips, has faded.


    Now Where Were We?


    O yeah! Checkitout, all you cats! My buddy Chris, the man who always has a rip in his clothing, has scored big time. He is truly front page news.


    Actually, I notice from last post I was going to blog about:
    kids, death, trucking, etc.


    I don't wanna blog about kids. Friends of the SO provided the world with a baby born under 5 lbs the other day. She's a gynaecologist--how did that baby come to be a mere 5 pounds? Obviously the experts know as much as the rest of us (bupkis).

    Apart from its size, it's a cute critter. They keep it at the neonatal unit in one of those little baby aquariums.

    On top of that, both my sister and cousin have delivered themselves of offspring, and while I'm sure they're cute and interesting etc etc to their parents, the truth is I have little interest, really. Other people's kids are fascinating only for a short period of time.

    Now MINE, on the other hand--can I show you this picture of the first time he spit up on me? . . .

    I'm also too up for death at the moment, so:

    Back to Trucking


    It's not as though I don't enjoy the trade, really. But unfortunately due to the way the regulation is structured, the onus to do your job withint the law is entirely on the driver.

    Let's start with the industry-level picture:
    Trucking as an industry grew with the major metropolitan centres, and has continued to grow. The biggest fleets nowadays number their "power units" (a fancy way of describing the truck--no trailer) in the tens of thousands.

    But North American society in general is very hostile to trucking. Every time a new suburbia erupts from the ground, the second order of business seems to be a shrill assemblage of fishwives clamouring for a ban on noisy, fume-belching, ground-shaking commercial transports rolling down the major highway that they built a house on (because it was "convenient to transportation"). Never mind that the road is the sole feeder for a major manufacturing plant.

    The usual excuse is "safety" followed closely by something along the lines of "for the protection of the . . " ("environment" and "children" are popular at the moment).

    But all CRASH and its sisters really want to do is duck responsibility. It's very simple--well not really, but I'll try to make it seem so.

    By the way--if you want to understand the real motivation behind CRASH, look at their Sponsor page.

    Truckers routinely violate the hours of service. This is because they want to earn money. There are very strict rules (in profusion!) about this. But all truckers dodge.

    All.

    All.

    From this you may draw three possible conclusions:

    1) Truckers are naturally dishonest in a far higher proportion than any other sort of workers.
    2) The rules are poorly enforced.
    3) There's something drastically wrong with the industry.


    Let's look, first, at how trucking happens:
    A person with goods (shipper) at, say, Montreal, wants them in Los Angeles. Due to the cost of doing business, the sooner is definitely the better.

    The receiver is paying for the transport, and again, TSTB. So he wants to keep both the time lag and the monetary costs as low as possible.

    The dispatcher is the person who co-ordinates the desires of the above two persons, and he does this by essentially harrassing the driver.

    The rules (using the old standard) are pretty clear. You have a work day of 24 hours, in which you may drive hours (which vary; in Canada it used to be 13 hours, in the US 10). You have to keep a log book which shows whether at any given time you were in the sleeper berth (not sleeping, necessarily--no-one can force a person to sleep), working-but-not-driving (including time spent waiting for anything), and time off duty or not working but not in the sleeper.

    By the way--most sleepers are a piss-poor compromise. Not quite as cramped as a coffin, but not much roomier than a phone booth. The pictures at the site above are of the custom-built sort designed for moving truckers, who may sit a month between loads.

    All clear so far?

    The essential trouble is that the infernal triangle of shipper-receiver-dispatcher are responsible, in essence, only to one another. So they get on best by telling one another pleasing lies such as :"Definitely by Wednesday" or "The cheque's on its way."

    The driver is responsible not only for pleasing all these clowns, but for keeping the Kops happy too. The difference is that he can avoid the cops by a combination of judicious mendacity, throwaway log books, and guile (truckers often make great event planners in later life). The driver can rarely avoid a shipper or receiver, and depends on a dispatcher for his daily bread (and we should be so lucky as to have bread daily!).

    So the pressure's on. I gotta pick this stuff up, run it into City X by Wednesday ('cause freight becomes less available during the later part of the week), and pick up whatever's on its way elsewhere in order to have it in City Y by Monday morning.

    "So why violate?" you ask "Why not just take a position and refuse to operate outside the legal limits."

    Because:

    #1 the dispatcher is god. If you piss him off, you may find there's no freight in your area, and wind up sitting a long and expensive weekend in Aliquippa PA with nothing to do but stare at your sleeper roof and spend money you just broke seventeen statutes to earn. And it's a lot easier to spend than it is to earn.

    #2 If you won't move it, there's always someone who will. Someone is desperate to keep his rig out of hock, desperate to buy one more tank of fuel--they'll take it.

    #3 You don't want us to. No, you don't. Freight tariffs are artificially low, and have been preserved that way in order to keep goods cheap.

    There's an easy way to ensure drivers live by the law: Give each driver numbered log books with serialized pages, make it mandatory. Add tachygraphs to all road trucks (already law in much of Australia and in Europe).

    But when you go to Wal-Mart and find that a cast-iron frying pan now costs $8.99 instead of $7.50--just remember that this is the choice you made. Trucking is also artificially underpaid because truckers are making six-and-seven day journeys in five days.

    As a Canuckian, I expect to be making around 34¢ per mile. In the US I'd start at that much in US dollars. Nonetheless, it's still vastly underpaid.

    I'd LOVE to work an eight-hour day, take it easy, and not have to run like the devil himself was behind me. Let's see:

    Mileage is calculated between cities, usually, at a fixed rate that takes no account of how long you spend getting there. I can get to L.A. from my city in about 23 hours. So assuming that I work 8 hours and get off the rest of the day, it's three days down. Then I have to load, and it takes roughly four days back, all in. Average earnings for such a return trip for me are $750 or so, although it could theoretically go as high as $1000 (and that happens as often as I get laid by a supermodel).

    So for seven days' work I get roughly $110 to $140 per day IN THEORY.

    In fact, since I was a day late getting there, a day late loading, and two days late getting home, my company forfeited their performance bonus and wound up losing money on the deal. Because the dispatcher is now pissed at me, I can expect my next trip in three days or so, losing that $100-plus each day.

    The only way to keep freight coming is to get it there fast.

    The optimum way for this to happen would be for me to alternate working and sleeping in ten-hour periods or so until some legal maximum number of hours worked caught up with me. Eight-hour alternating shifts would get me to LA in four shifts of so--forty hours total, roughly. But that's not just illegal, it's exhausting.

    So under the current sytem I drive ten hours south, stretching that to twelve by using small blocks of "hidden time" in my log book. I stop after twelve hours, and either sleep or tear out my log page and write a new one (thank god for loose-leaf log books). I drive around sixteen hours, sleep for six (that being as much as I can get in a stretch in a sleeper), and reach LA late on day two.

    Suddenly I'm making $200 per day.

    For as long as I can keep that up.

    But the real killer is waiting times: If you aren't loaded and rolling, you don't make money. So when I have to spend three hours of my precious driving time cooling my heels while some clown in a warehouse tells me "About a half-hour till the load's ready", then that's costing me (at 45 miles per hour average) around $46!

    I've had loads requiring me to pick up at 14 different farms. Pickups are at least an hour each, usually. A half-hour delay at each place adds TWO DAYS to your trip if you're booking it legal.

    The ONLY people who want drivers to keep legal hours are the cops. The rest of the folks who aren't actually involved in the transport industry just want us to go away. Guess they can live without such luxuries as toilet paper.

    So what's the solution?

    Recent laws have theoretically expanded responsibility for hours-of-service (HOS) violations to despatchers as well as drivers--but you'd better have a tape of your despatcher asking you to break your hours (it won't be admissible in court). Then you have to prove that he or she knew you were out of hours etc. etc. etc.

    It's not enough. The simplest gift that the business community could offer truckers is make shippers and receivers liable for time spent waiting on the dock. Establish a waiting minimum calculated by 50 miles per hour at the driver's rate after the first hour, payable by the shipper or receiver whose dock it's on.

    The rest of the citizens need to realize that trucks aren't going away, and that there are ways to help "keep our children safe" and "protect the suburbia--I mean environment" without trying to limit the streets to Segways.

    By the way--if the streets and highways are really, really crowded where you live, try this little experiment to see who's responsible.

    1) Count the number of trucks on the road over a whole day.
    2) Count the cars carrying only one person.

    If you want to create road space, imagine that half of those car drivers were carrying the other half in their cars. Wow! Suddenly a lot of space out here, eh?

    But no-one listens to truckers. We don't live where you do. Right? Nor pay taxes there. So politically it is inexpedient to support robust industry and reasonable truck rules. Getting trucks off roads solves one thing: What to have for dinner.

    What do people grow where you live?

    Next time, perhaps I'll talk about truck parking and the usual condition of most roads. Or maybe something completely different.

    By the way, if you think truckers are too dumb to count sheep, try making heads or tales of this, then check the official version. Consider also that the rules differ across national, and frequently state, borders.


  • Whoa--very comprehensive, for us language junkies

  • Not so comprehensive, but Oy Vey!

  • inally! Left-wing talk radio! Oh thank God!






  • 06 July 2004

    Hey--That Last One Was My 69th Post!



    I just felt that that somehow deserved celebrating.

    So what do I want to address today? Oh yeah--Trucking, Kids, Illness, Death, and many other things.

    Starting with the very last thing first: Births and Deaths.

    My sister just produced (as documented elsewhere in this blog) a baby. It is an American baby. Born in the U.S.A. But it would be difficult to verify this at the moment. It's sort of pink and squidgy, and as far as I know is completely without any identity papers of any kind.

    In security terms, this is surely unacceptable. We are dependent, for security purposes, on the unreliable statements of two persons (in this case both foreigners from outside the Coalition of the Bribed, Cajoled, and Threatened) as to the origin and political affiliation of this potential threat.

    This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.

    For this reason, the Department of Homeland Insanity--I mean Security, will be investigating the outsourcing of infant production. The viability of offshore baby creation will be spec'd out and subjected to a speculative bidding process.

    We suspect that Halliburton may wish to get the contract. . .*a-hem*--I mean tender a bid.

    Of course this creates a small problem. If all Infant Creation Resources are outsourced, then logically these Infants will be Unamericans. Furthermore, since such outsourcing often takes place in such politically stable areas such as the Phillipines, Pakistan, and other enlightened areas which support our democratic standards (and I am here thinking particularly of China), most of these infants will not in fact be allowed to grow up US-ian.

    For this reason, we have decided to in-source those world governments which are not currently up to the American Standard. Such insourcing will take place by degrees, beginning with non-viable governments such as Afghanistan's, then turning to tyrannies such as Iraq. Then possibly Norway, or maybe Kenya.

    For differentiation purposes, the Iraq of pre-September 11th will be referred to as "Our Direct Democracy" (ODD) and the Iraq of Sept. 11th 2001 to March of 2003 will be referred to as "Weapons-Using Secretive State" (WUSS). The Iraq prior to June 2004 will be referred to as "Liberated Iraq At Risk" (LIAR), and the post-re-democratisation state as "Fully Unchained and Knowledgeable Iraqi New Government (never mind)) And is it just me, or does that last article sound as though the US wanted to wash its hands of the matter ASAP?

    However, under the current new American Reproductive Rights Policy, children of any age, born or unborn, have rights and freedoms. Therefore we will act to protect these rights and freedoms by issuing US citizenship to any pre-born foreign citizen who requests it. As, clearly, no pre-born US citizen can hope to have their rights protected in a foreign land, we will shortly be launching a foreign-government-repatriation process. This process will bring closer co-operation from all national governments--even the ones not part of the Coalition of the Duped, Persuaded, and Threatened.

    The new operation will be called "Operation Reproductive Freedom".



    Deceit and Truckery


    Okay, as I explained last post, the idea of returning to driving trucks is really bumming me out.

    It's hard to explain to citizens or "four-wheelers". I mean it looks terrific, right? You cruise freely over the landscape, meeting new people and seeing places many folks won't ever get to see in their lifetimes, and best of all, you get paid to do it!

    Brother!

    Okay. I'll have a shot at this.

    First off, trucking in my experience is more misunderstood and greeted with more hostility than being a member of the military. Yeah, I mean the comparatively inoffensive Canadian Forces (formerly the Canadian Armed Forces--wonder why they had to change the name?), but I have been both.

    As a soldier, I ran into a few people who would accuse the Forces of all sorts of dirty dealings (although not me personally, as they always insisted on pointing out). I'd say about seven people, or one per year, were determined to either misunderstand or were actively hostile to the military in such a way that they'd have liked to see it abolished altogether.

    Private comment: I have a friend with Joint Task Force Two. Nice guy, coaches little league hockey. Somehow the article, with its faceless agents provocateurs doesn't do him justice.

    Truckers get less respect. I mean, not everyone has had any contact with the military culture of Canada (we don't like to talk about it--at all), but everyone has some story about when a truck did something they perceive as stupid (and I admit that some drivers {as distinct from 4-wheelers} are all too willing to encourage misperceptions).

    Let's start with the big negatives:
    Truckers are fat-bellied, misogynistic pigs who fuel themselves with amphetamines so that they can break the law. These drug/nicotine/caffeine-fueled maniacs are a risk to public life and limb, pollute the atmosphere and clog up our highways.

    There are lotsa types of trucker. For the sake of this post, I'm restricting myself to discussion of the OTR (Over the Road) or "long-haul" driver. There are two main subcategories, both subject to the same essential law of commerce, which states: If you ain't loaded and rolling, you're losing money.

    Owner Operators: Says what it means. Essentially, these guys have the same worries as the other sort, but squared and cubed with books added because of the extra taxes, maintenance costs, and regulatory compliance they have to do.

    Company Drivers: Drive someone else's rig, theoretically for money.

    The fundamental that joins the two is the First Rule, except that O/O's generally risk bigger, due to the enormous mortgages they carry on their equipment.

    I want to concentrate on Company Drivers.

    "Hey! I'd like to offer you a job. You'd have to leave your family alone for weeks on end, you wouldn't be permitted to put down any roots anywhere, and the rules might change arbitrarily--sometimes between states--with you solely responsible for any problems. And you wouldn't be welcome anywhere at all."

    "In my what?"


    In the careers section at my college, the book that deals with such things indicates that trucking has one of the highest turnover rates of any profession. Why? Because, basically, most people get sick of being abused by everyone.

    Dramatis Personae
    Fleet Owner/Manager: This is the man who owns your truck--or in some bigger outfits just acts like he does. His job is to make sure you don't expend uneccesary funds on fripperies such as maintenance, safety supplies, and permits.

    Dispatcher: Liar and father of lies. The dispatcher will speak to a client in Los Angeles, knowing that you're five hundred miles (1 loooong day's travel) away and assure him that their freight will be picked up at noon. Then he'll turn around and tell the receiver to be ready for it on Wednesday at noon. Then he'll tell the driver that "I kinda said we'd have it there Wednesday afternoon". Then he phones up a new customer and says "Hey--I got a truck in your area on Wednesday morning--got any freight?"

    The dispatcher has superhuman powers of persuasion and chutzpah--it takes a special breed to say "just one more run to Montreal and you'll get that time off with your family" when he knows full well your current run is headed for San Diego.

    The Shipper:He doesn't care what it is, how much it costs, nor more to the point how much it weighs. All he knows is it's on his dock and he wants it off. If he can, he'll send you off ten thousand pounds overweight--after all, fines are your problem, not his.

    The shipper has a schedule to keep. He wants it there just slightly before you picked it up. In this, he is not dissimilar to:

    The Receiver: He's usually paying for the transportation, and he's determined to pinch every dime until the Queen screams. He too, wants it there before you pick it up, but the difference is he wants you to store it conveniently in your 53' trailer, rather than his warehouse--without cluttering up his 38' parking lot.

    Enforcement: You remember the guy who used to kick over your sandcastles? Well he's all grown up now, and they dressed him up in a tight blue suit and stuck him either behind a billboard or in a scalehouse.

    They're here to tak whatever fun there is in trucking away from you. They help enforce stupid laws (and good ones--but there are so very many stupid and petty ones). Regarding anti-idling laws. I'll turn off my engine in minus-or-plus 30 weather just so long as I can come stay at your house until I'm allowed to run again.

    I gotta run--big meeting today. More later--possibly tomorrow.

  • What colour is the sky in your world?






  • 02 July 2004

    We Have a Winnah!



    So we have a new Prime Minister; and guess what--it's the same one!

    Unfortunately Paul Martin insists on telling people he has a mandate.

    A minority government is the very expression of an absence of a mandate, Paul. The new House of Parliament looks like this, and my deep suspicion is that it'd be a lot tighter between the Liberal and Conservative parties if anybody really knew what Stephen Harper was about.

    I think that in retrospect, a lot of people voted for the Liberals because they were afraid of what havoc the Conservatives could wreak on a country that's been functioning, overall, pretty well lo this past fifteen years or so.

    You see, the old blue "small-c" conservatives are mostly gone. Sure, members from the party of that name remain in the party, and some even have seats in the House, but the worrying bit is all those members who got the right to wear the big blue "C" on their lapels as part of the recent merger between the "Alliance" party and the Progressive Conservatives (the new party, apparently, is no longer progressive--nor tremendously interested in progress).

    You see, before they were the Alliance, they were the Reform Party (of which nothing but a provincial rump is left--or rather, right). Reform members got a certain amount of press and, eventually, noteriety, as much for their attitudes toward (abbreviated list) racism, women's rights, and crime.

    With these antecedents, is it any wonder that they sought to shed their skins and become the Canadian Alliance?

    For the remaining Reform MPs who stuck to the federal party, the union of the Progressive Conservatives with the Alliance was a rush to the middle, for the PC's, it was a betrayal of their essentially centrist philosophy. But for Canada, it was all about granting the right wing some badly-needed legitimacy.

    Clearly, judging by the election results, they managed to impress a few people.

    I'm quite glad the Bloc Quebecois will no longer be the "Loyal" Opposition. But I feel that the choice of many western Canadians, particularly Albertans, to elect right wingnuts to Parliament is a threatening rumble. Indeed, if Stephen Harper had stepped down before the election, the party might have even been borderline electable.

    So we Labour on with a minority government. There'll probably be another election to consolidate power if the Libs do anything progressive, or even interesting. Until then, I hope never to try the sort of marathon blogging again that I did in the pre-election run-up.

    Late-broken News

    Caught between a rock and a rapidly-shrinking bank balance, I've decided to take on some trucking runs. This sucks in ways I can't possibly explain--especially if your idea of trucking comes from dumb (really stupid, actually) movies, or even dopier 1980's TV shows.

    More of the which anon.

  • Aaah--people after my own heart, sort of.