Stop & Shop DC, Assonet, Massachusetts, September 6, 2016
How I Spent Labor Day
You may remember I was headed for the final stop on a meat load. It was another part of Massachusetts over by the East Coast. Once again, I back into a door and they unload the truck while I either write or try to sleep. They finish and tell me that there were some damaged goods. Four boxes of Beef Liver at fifteen pounds each. I have to inspect this for the claims department and dispose of it – two more of my unpaid duties. The cardboard of the boxes is bent, but the plastic wrapper on each liver is still sealed. In other words, this is perfectly acceptable product and it is stupid to waste it. In talking to the freight handlers (“Lumpers”) in Massachusetts and in most of the Northeast, I find that the language spoken among them is almost exclusively Spanish. Conveniently, I am fluent same and given my Gringo Good Looks, I am able to spring a thunderbolt of a surprise on these unsuspecting obreros. They are frankly astonished when – out of the blue – I speak their language more eloquently and correctly than they do. This is because I worked with Colombians and Peruvians who are quite crisp in their pronunciation and grammar. And Bolivians (I know you’re out there;-). I can also adopt a mush-mouth Maracaibo accent when the fancy strikes me. But it really hurts my head to do so. I can muster a convincing “Gringo” accent as well. Remind me to tell you the story of the country boy surveyor in Venezeula who told the local field crew to bring their coolers over to the truck so he could fill them with ice.
I did offer the 60 pounds of liver to the Receiving clerk, who politely asked me if I was crazy. I made same offer in Spanish and English to the Lumpers and Drivers. No dice! As I pointed out to one of them, if it were sir loin, they would all take it. Heck, for sixty pounds of sir loin I would find a way to get it home. I called (from the receiving phone) to the Salvation Army and another charity. Neither was open for Labor Day, but the Salvation Army God-Blessed me on their voice mail message. Finally I left with the 60 pounds of liver figuratively hung from a twine around my neck like an albatross. At the gate I have to open the cargo doors to show that I’m not pilfering and I mentioned the liver to the guard. He called a Catholic food bank director who came over personally to take the liver off my hands. The guard let me linger in the 5 minute parking until the director showed up. Apparently this kind of scenario happens frequently. That is, the damage is limited to the container while the product is completely intact.
While that was transpiring, I got a message that my load from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania had been canceled. A new load from New Jersey to Laredo took its place. While I was deadheading (driving with an empty trailer) to New Jersey, that load was also canceled. Fortunately, it was another New Jersey shipper, so the travel wasn’t wasted. But, I ran into traffic coming back from Labor Day and decided that attempting New York City was best left to the wee small hours of the morning. Every last space of the fuel stop parking was taken, but I found a “Service Plaza” before the Bronx. It was from there, on the public WiFi that I got a message out about the “graveyard dead” iPhone.
On to New Jersey , Lucca Cold Storage Vineland, NJ
The drive in the morning was astonishingly uncomplicated. Truckers complain about the George Washington Bridge mostly because the lanes are narrow, but I found both the bridge and the river quite scenic. Admittedly, it was like the following: Jerk head to left, briefly look at river, then eyes back to the road in a hurry. The same on the right. Yup, scenic!
I got to the new shipper where more Spanish speaking Lumpers loaded my truck with exactly four pallets that took up about the first six feet of the 53 foot trailer and did not rise above 4 feet in height. The total weight is 590 pounds. Frozen catfish – destined for two different Wal Mart distribution centers in Texas. This trip makes no economic sense at all. I will burn about 250 gallons of diesel fuel to get this relatively tiny load to Texas. Between that, my pay and the overhead it already will cost over two dollars a pound just to put the product on the shelf. But, as long as they still pay the going rate, who am I to complain? Far from it. The light load means I will not have to play the downshift game while climbing hills.
The loading was two hours late, there was confusion about the tiny size of the load and the flashing red light that told me not to move refused to go out. The Company (that’s what I will call the people I work for, from now on) thinks that this is a produce load. They have certain rules and procedures for produce that are stricter and require more free work from the drivers. There is no possibility of convincing the system that fish is not produce, so I need to report a set of read-outs from the refrigeration unit every 12 hours. I took care of all these niggling details, sent my required messages and hit the road.
All that took a lot of time out of the middle of my driving day. So, now my 14 hour total on-duty span was eating up 11 hour clock, but I had about 4 hours left to drive. It was counting down whether I was driving or not, so I hastened to make use of the time. There is no “taking a break” in this situation. The remaining drive hours just counts down at 60 seconds per minute, no matter what.
You Can’t Get There From Here
Ultimately, I was caught out. I ran into traffic around Washington and Baltimore and wound up in a race to get to I-81 in Virginia and the truck stop at exit 323. I lost. Jill had routed me down state highways and I was paralleling I-81 and needed to jog over to it and go back North to the exit. Time was running out and when I stopped in front of a restaurant to tell Jill where the truck stop was and check the mileage left. I found I had 24 miles to go and 15 minutes do it. The truck doesn’t go that fast.
Panic ensued as my mind raced to think of a way out of this nightmare. A slow dawn arose in my brain as I realized I was looking about 150 feet past the closed restaurant at a patch of land with a long abandoned parking lot where grass was growing out of cracks in the asphalt. I pulled up and backed the truck into it and managed to get 50 feet between the cab and the highway. I was back toward the trees in a reasonably inconspicuous place to hide for 10 hours. I was trapped there by Federal Regulations for the time being.
About an hour later, another truck shows up. The driver is Russian and asks me if it’s OK to park. He is in the same regulatory limbo as I am. I generously welcome him to my new truck stop. I am calling it The Ad Hoc Truck Stop (#1).
Ad hoc is a Latin phrase meaning “for this”. In English, it generally signifies a solution designed for a specific problem or task, non-generalizable, and not intended to be able to be adapted to other purposes.
Above: Kenworth # 12946 at the Ad Hoc Truck Stop (#1). I turned off the lights right after this and tried to “blend in” to the trees.
By the time I am fully charged with drive time at five AM, there are two more trucks parked over by the still closed restaurant. There is a real estate broker’s sign here that advertises this as income producing property. While the spot seems quite popular as a truck stop, the trouble is that unless you sell fuel, truckers are pretty self-sufficient. For example, I have had dinner, watched television, slept comfortably through the night and then awakened and had breakfast with a cup of coffee. I have not spent a dime. No restroom facilities, but I did need to check the tires for leaks during the night.
Let’s See This Through to the End
Wal-Mart Distribution Center (DC) #6056, Terrell, Texas, September 9, 2016 9:40 AM
In the interest of having something complete to move on from, I will finish the sage of the frozen catfish. By the way, these were “Farm Raised” catfish. I had seen the words “Wild Caught” on the Bill of Lading earlier, but upon further investigation, it was only one item per pallet listed as such. It is the data logger that records the temperature history of the cargo. Somebody in New Jersey has a sense of humor.
I am waiting to be unloaded at the Wal-Mart DC in Terrell, Texas. I was 50 minutes early. Their system is for me to back in the door and then uncouple and move my tractor to a parking area. I had the trailer in the door about 7:45. So, now my trailer’s refrigeration unit (“Reefer”) is trying its best to bring the entire warehouse down to 34° Fahrenheit while they ignore the now thawing two (2) pallets of frozen fish (that I had watched over like a new mother for 1500 miles). It has been an hour and a half. The warehouse is kept cool, but it is nowhere near 34F. The powered pallet jacks these guys drive can unload both pallets at once and get it to cold storage in less than 10 minutes. I could have used an unpowered pallet jack and walked both to the freezer in 30 minutes. I could have hand carried all the boxes in less than an hour. The other DC’s cargo is also thawing in my now-opened-for-the-first-time-since-sealed trailer.
Very soon, I will again be into the 14 hour clock eating my driving time again. I need at least 5 hours of drive time and to arrive at the truck stop near the final by 4:30 PM. That will allow me to get to the last stop (another Wal-Mart Distribution Center) on time. Being late will, of course be heaped at my door. No matter that another Wal-Mart DC made me late.
Flying J Truck Stop, New Caney, Texas, September 9, 2016 8:50 PM
Once again, I exist at this Oasis in Limbo where all of us are prisoners of the Clock, serving out our 10 hour sentences so we may drive again. Over the road truckers are adrift in time. Some of us here are just waking up, some here for the 30 minute mandatory break in the middle of a driving day, some finally collapsing in the sleeper after a 600 mile sojourn.
Word came that Louis, my oldest son, is in the hospital for Diverticulitis again. I called to talk to him. They don’t think an operation will be necessary, but he has been in serious enough pain to merit a morphine IV. He seems mostly irritated at the prospect of another boring hospital stay. I am encouraged, because grumpy people are usually not seriously ill. It’s when they give up and become polite and co-operative that you have to worry. My father had been like that in his final hours. I mentioned that I could possibly come by to see Number One Son, but he told me to get another load and earn more money. He has no doubt been listening to his mother worry about expenses, now that I have joined the ranks of the underemployed.
At midnight, my eight day, 70 hour clock picks up the 10 hours and 43 minutes I used up nine days ago, making 11 hours and 29 minutes. I will awaken at a quarter till two, when my 11 hour clock is renewed after the ten hours in Limbo. The 14 hour clocks start when I log my pre trip inspection, shortly before I leave to deliver the last of the catfish. That should take exactly two hours at the DC, since they would have to pay me to stay longer. That is called “detention pay” and was a procedure adopted when drivers refused loads to certain abusive DC’s who burn up all their drive time while they wait to be unloaded. I have it from knowledgeable sources that Wal-Mart DC 7010 would drag out unloading for seven hours, throwing away the drive time of drivers who – like me for the last few days – have their 11 hour clock consumed by the 14 hour clock. When they do that, it is like they reached into the driver’s pocket, pulled out a hundred dollars or so, and burned it in front of his eyes.
Now that they have to pay drivers some little pittance, they are suddenly all about efficiency, getting them in and out of the doors in exactly the free two hours. We will pick up the story tomorrow at the End of Trip. I’ll go use up one of my shower credits now.
Wal-Mart Distribution Center (DC) #7010, New Caney, Texas, September 10, 2016 3:53 AM
I hit the “rack” to have a short nap before going for a shower. There had been 14 showers available at 3 PM. At 8 PM there were 0 (Zero), so maybe after the final drop.
This DC has us break the seal, open the doors, bump the gate at the door and then uncouple and pull up about five feet. All this is to assure they won’t find the trailer moving while they ignore the thawing load for an hour or so – oh, and when they actually unload. I almost had an opportunity to unload myself and possibly capture the $50 they will pay to take two pallets to the freezer. It would have taken me less than a half hour, with a human-powered pallet jack, or maybe an hour carrying the 112 Gorton’s boxes in by hand. But, the Company has generously already agreed to pay that automatically to the illegal aliens – through a sub-contractor with legit credentials, of course.
It has been a full hour since I bumped the dock and the light in my mirror is still green, which means they have not even begun to think about unloading. My “Arrived” message and the gate records say I got here at (actually 20 minutes before) my appointment. I would bet you $100 that the call from Receiving telling me to pick up the paperwork will come at 5:10 AM – the “free” limit, before Detention Pay.
Detention Pay is really just a bunch of Fairy Dust, promised but never delivered. I looked it up. I would be (would be) paid $12.50 per hour for up to ten hours after the two free hours (they actually call them “free hours” in the Driver’s manual). This is payable in half hour increments, rounded off low. That price is about 80% of what I could make actually driving I will never see it anyway, but at least the threat of detention pay keeps the Receivers from stealing the drivers’ time. As we all know, Time is Money.
To sum up all this talk about clocks and limits:
- Drivers have a limited time per day – eleven hours – to drive, regardless of when it is done.
- Drivers must do all the day’s driving within a 14 hour window regardless of how much break time is done in that window – except when a continuous ten hour break occurs. Then another 14 hour window can begin.
- If pick up or delivery happens in the middle of the day and the delay exceeds three hours, now the Shipper/Receiver is taking hours that could be earning hours and turning them into “free” hours.
- The Eight Day 70 hour clock can also consume driving hours. On the 8th of September, for example, I had 11 driving hours and fourteen hours to do it. But, because my eight day clock was down to 7 hours and 44 minutes, that is all I was allowed to drive. The next day I “got back” 10 hours and change that I had used nine days before.
- And why this obsession with driving? Because, my friends, driving is the ONLY thing that actually results in wages. All the other stuff I have been telling you about is stuff I do for free so I can drive and make a living.
- By now you have heard more than you wanted to know about Federal regulations on trucker’s time and I will give that subject a rest, as well.
The empty call came about half an hour earlier than the two hours I expected. I went to Receiving to get my paperwork and found out why. There is a line of drivers waiting for documentation while the clerks finish it up. Clever. The call is the event logged as the end of the driver’s wait. How long the driver stands in line for paperwork does not apply to detention pay.
To end the Saga of the Catfish, I will include a photo that captures the now empty trailer’s futile attempt to air condition the world as I pull it out of the door to close up and move on to a new cargo.
Above: Trailer 15820T makes a valiant effort to bring down the Earth’s temperature to 26° Fahrenheit. Alas, 53 feet away is the hot end of the refrigeration cycle dumping all the heat the trailer sucked out of its interior.