March 2, 2009

Trucking 101: Venting

Venting: No I'm not going to discuss with you how the trailers are vented, how warehouses or trucks or anything else out here gets vented.
What I'm going to do is vent myself. I need to get some things off my chest because this morning I'm a little peeved with the world and its anti-trucking, "lets make an extra penny off the truckers" attitude.
But first, I'm going to take a break before I begin because Malcolm just found a truck stop with access to a Starbucks. I need one, so we'll be back shortly and proceed with my venting, though I'll be somewhat mollified with my iced coffee. (well I'm in CA and its warm so I don't feel like my usual steamy hot latte)
Venting.....hold that thought.

Back....and the little walk and sipping of cool coffee has allowed me to dump some steam so you probably won't get a scathing report as I had planned. Of course once I get going I might get all worked up again! We'll see.
I got a mocha iced coffee, which is nothing like they usually are. It looks like I'm drinking mud, and the mocha part is a bit strong, but its still refreshing and decently good.

What got me going this morning was a small comment, but it was nothing major. Just another slight in a long line of insults to trucking. But there are three more recent events that I'll share with you as examples of why I struggle againts the pesimistic beleif that the world is anti-trucking. (and in truth I think its more a fact than a personal belief)

I say I struggle against it, because I am the type of person that thinks the best of everyone. This is a good practice, but it is apt to get you dissappointed and even taken advantage of occasionally, actually frequently. I think that in a perfect world, every person would be required to spend a day riding with the truck driver before they were able to get their driver's license. I know thats totally impossible, and in truth there are few truckers that actually want you in thier truck with them, but I wish everyone could get an idea of what its like to be out here on the road, and I'm not talking about the day to day living part of it. I'm talking about the nasty attitudes and disrespect we are shown by the drivers we share the road with, the communities we deliver to, and just society in general.
I know that trucker's arn't all innocent victims out here. In fact I'll be the first to speak up and say that there are some real jerks that drive trucks. But this is yet another instance where a hand full of bad apples have spoiled it for everyone.

It doesn't matter where we go in this country. There are always signs of the times that we are not welcome. Parking has become probably one of the biggest challenges for us out here. When delivering within cities, most of the time there isn't anywhere to park if you arrive early, because they are crammed into little warehouses with no parking lots. And heaven forbid you come in one minute late. You'll be pushed to the back of the line and put hours behind.
When it comes to our logging, we're not allowed to be on duty more than 11 hours in a 14 hour period. After 11 hours, we're required to park for 10 hours. For a team like us, this isn't much of a problem. We just swap seats when our 11 hours are up and cruise on down the road. But for solo drivers, can you imagine the challenge of finding somewhere to park for 10 hours when most truck stops fill up by 8:00 in the evening, rest areas have limited parking for trucks and many now restrict parking to just a couple of hours and advertise "no overnight parking." Even Walmart, the camper and truck friendly place to shop, has started posting "no truck parking" signs, and I'm not convinced that landscaping islands arn't purposefully placed just to keep trucks out. They may look pretty, but I don't think they are designed strictly for beauty anymore. As a last resort, many drivers will pull off on exit ramp shoulders to sleep, but more and more you run the risk of having a state trooper swing in and tell you to move on. So parking is mandatory and yet limited. Isn't that just peachy. Some states are more particular than others. Virginia is especially difficult to work with, and they just announced last week that they may possibly be closing around 20 of their 40 some odd rest areas. Thus goes the story. The problem of limited truck parking is always becoming more complicated.

A common complaint that the general public has against trucks is the noise. Many times, particularly in the northeast, we see signs posted for "no idoling," which basically means you can't leave you truck running when you park. This is in part due to an effort to cut down on air pollution, but also because many residential areas don't like the noise. And frankly, I can't blame them. Trucks do create noise. When we lived in Ringgold, GA often when there was a wreck on the interstate, traffic was diverted down the road in front of our house and there was nothing nicer than sitting in my living room listening to the rumble of jake brakes as the trucks coasted down the hill (I'm being saracstic of course.) Trucks create noise, and I can understand not wanting to hear it. Even as a resident of the truck, I love when its cool enough to turn the thing off while we wait for a loading dock to open up. The quiet is so nice. So I don't always begrudge the local residents their request that we try to keep the noise down. Not unless its hot outside because there is nothing like sitting in a box of metal and fiberglass that happens to be painted black with no AC to keep you cool. Sorry but open windows just don't cut it in that situation. I do however get offended when something like the following scenario takes place. I recently read on OOIDA's website (that is the Owner Operator / Independant Driver Association of which we are members) that a small town in southern California is trying to get a couple of roads that pass through their town closed to trucks. Their reason? They consider trucks to be "visual pollution." Well, excuse me! Go ahead and close those roads. I hope they run out of bread, milk, and toilet paper, but by George, they'll be free from the "visual pollution" we were causing. With an attitude like that, I'm prone to say good ridence to that town. I don't want to deliver to you anyway!

And then this morning....
Eating can be a bit of a challenge on the road. We try to respect communities and businesses that don't want us around. But fast food gets really old, so we've almost gotten to where we respectfully ignore the no trucks signs and park anyway. We're careful not to run over landscaping. We don't leave trash, and besides, we're spending money and supporting their economy. So we park anyway, as far out of the way and as inconspicuously as we can. Choices are very limited. We do however, still eat a lot of fast food. Check my waistline if you want proof. Truck stops often have fast food chain resteraunts within their properties for easy access. And I've often felt like they take advantage of us, knowing we are limited. Sometimes it seems like prices are a little higher at truck stops. Well this morning we stopped at a Love's in Coachella, CA to grab a bite to eat at the Carl's Jr. (For my southern supporters, Carl's Jr is the western counterpart to Hardee's, right down to the smily face star logo.) Malcolm ordered his sandwich and wanted a condiment portion of guacamole. He got the exact same thing two days ago in Idaho, and the guacamole was $0.50 extra. But in CA it was priced on the meno as being $0.75 extra. He said something to the manager who was ringing us up, not being snide, just curious. Her first response was to say, "Well your in California. Everything costs more here." True enough. But she went on to say, "Plus your in a truckstop. I'm considered a "specialty store" so everything costs a little more." So just because we can't go anywhere else, they feel justified in charging a few cents more for their merchandise.

I know I sound childish....but its not fair! And I don't think the non-truck drivers of this country realize how much the economy depends on this nations trucks, and how much we are taken for granted and taken advantage of, and in some cases even abused. I'm not looking for a pedastal and extra special treatment. I'm just looking for respect and equality. We're often treated like lower class citizens, sneered at, flipped off, cussed out, over charged, and unwanted. And at the same time, you couldn't survive without us.

Malcolm's lucky because he has me out here with him. Most of these guys are out here for weeks at a time, away from family and friends, living off the road. And I'll admit a lot of them are kind of sloppy, have fallen into the habit of not taking care of themselves, and some of them are rude and aggressive drivers. But I can't help but wonder if its not in part because they have been mis-treated by society a little. Its easy to start being a rude driver when everyone is rude to you. I've even caught myself speeding up to not let a car over because I was so tired of the cars trying to push me around. Its a lonely life out here for a lot of these people, and it gets more lonely when you start to realize you arn't wanted or welcomed. So make a trucker feel good today. Instead of cutting him off and giving him a dirty look for "getting in your way," how about giving him a smile, and wave, and a thank you for letting you merge.

(As a side note on the thank you part: Did you know that the accepted way to say "thanks" while driving is to flash your tail lights. As a "four wheeler" this is easily done by turning on your emergency flasher lights for a few flashes. Try it. Next time a truck backs off so you can move over in front of him, flash your lights for a thank you. You just might boost his faith in society for the day.)

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