Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An Update, Long Overdue

Yup, we're still on the road and loving every minute. :) So much so, in fact, that we've abandoned the notion that we'll ever do anything else.

We've rented a large storage space and are packing up our belongings as home time allows. The house will soon be occupied by another family who will love the large rooms, the cedar paneled four-season sunroom, the quiet surroundings, the nearby services and amenities, and the excellent school a quarter mile away. We'll leave the Albany politics and New York tax machine behind and find a more financially hospitable state - and an area that doesn't get upwards of 200 inches of snow a year.

We'll leave behind family and friends, but with luck, we'll get loads that take us back for frequent visits. Living just outside Syracuse has felt welcoming and comforting and well, like home, since I moved there 11 years ago. But surprisingly, what I'll miss more is the house itself. I love that house. Love it. It's the perfect size, the perfect layout, the perfect neighborhood. I'm going to miss it, deeply.

But as Wise Husband points out, we'll be working toward building another house that's perfect for us.

For now, the plan is to live on the road, save as much as we can, and look for the perfect property on which to build said perfect house. Of all the states we could settle in, Tennessee holds our interest the most. We like the four seasons with - bonus! - a shorter winter. It's within the expedited freight lanes, which will make sliding in and out of home time much easier. The contour of the landscape is breathtaking. And the tax base is pretty favorable, especially compared to New York.

Our first purchase will likely be a 5th wheel that we can move between Tennessee and New York - or anywhere else that strikes us - as the seasons change. With time, we'll gradually build the house.

But in the meantime, we're happy to live in our sleeper and enjoy the road.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Can't Get There From Here

The expediting freight lanes are primarily East of the Rockies. We took a load to Denver last Tuesday and waited for a load out. Waited...and waited...and waited. Apparently, nothing is manufactured there that needs a quick ride out. We arranged to be bonus'd to Kansas City on Saturday, when a load came up from Hutchinson, Kansas to Morristown, Tennessee. The load didn't pick up until Tuesday afternoon, so we spent the weekend at a campground fishing, cooking out, and roasting marshmallows. We're not happy about sitting idle in Denver for so long, but the end to the week was awesome!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Zip Washing and Other Solutions

Did you know you can wash your bras in a Zip-Lock bag?

Pour a couple of cups of precious fresh water into a Zip-Lock bag, add a tablespoon or so of laundry soap (and whatever extras you normally use - I spring for an Oxy product), zip it shut securely, then put it in a sleeper cubby where the road turns and bumps will agitate it for the next day or so. Remove, rinse thoroughly, then hang in a well ventilated area until dry (include ample direct sunlight to the drying process if the article needs extra whitening).

It can be very satisfying to creatively solve unexpected issues that crop up on a daily basis. Need room for an extra case of bottled water? If you've got a gap between your mattress and the wall, you can probably store the de-cased bottles there. Tired of sleeper stuff rattling and sliding around while you drive? Spend a buck at a dollar store for a roll of grippy shelf liner for a quieter ride.

Helga, our first truck, had less than ideal refrigeration. I travel with meds that require constant fridge temps. If the meds freeze or go above a certain temp, they're useless. And these aren't "Gee, whiz, I need to throw these out and go pick up a new pack" meds - to replace just a month's supply would cost about $1,800.00. I wrapped each syringe in a paper towel to keep them from clattering together, wrapped them in a small, flexible blue ice blanket, then put them in a snap-lock, hard case insulated cooler sized to hold a single can of soda. Then THAT cooler was placed in a soft-sided, thick walled, insulated lunchbag with two small frozen blue ice packs. The whole contraption was then stored in the fridge. The idea was that the meds would maintain a cool temp during the periods when the fridge was without power. Did it work? Well, they never froze. Nor did they remain at a consistent temp. A few times, I pulled out a warmish syringe. After nearly a month of frantic worry about med temps (and un-cold OJ and cheese and ham), we came up with a better solution. We bought a 5-day cooler, hot glued plastic tubing to the drain, then put it under the bunk. The tubing exited through an existing hole in the sleeper flooring, allowing the melted ice water to drain on its own and freeing us from the daily hassle of emptying. The hard case of meds was sealed in a Zip-Lock bag and placed on top of the ice. With maybe 15 minutes of effort we had not only solved the med temp problem, but we'd improved our ability to safely store foodstuffs.

Another simple, cheap fix that's made life easier for us is the addition of a small plastic basket above our bed to hold our phones, lip balm, change, etc. Our bunk doesn't have a shelf or cubby within easy arm's reach, and as expediters, our phones must be nearby at all times. We bought a narrow version, one that might be used to organize flatware in a drawer, with large openings on the sides. Our sleeper is finished with laminated walls, so we used a couple of Command Hooks hold the basket in place - if yours is carpeted, you could achieve the same using drapery pins.

Here's a prediction: Velcro will become your new best friend. Use it to tack things in place on flat surfaces, or to keep organizer drawers shut.

Ignore the designer's intent for a space and use your imagination. Books, maps, and magazines lay flat, so they can go in the bottom of a drawer under the things you normally keep in there - or you can slip them under the mattress.

Our sleeper has a floor to ceiling narrow closet, about 9" wide, with a large shelf separating it into upper and lower halves. It was meant to be used for hanging clothes, but its convenient location (and our nonexistent inventory of clothes that need hanging) meant that we used it for other storage, such as our laptops, packages of freight bill and driver log blanks, laundry soap, shower totes, etc. Each half offered a lot of valuable storage space, but the height inside meant that items needed to be stacked and piled atop one another. Hoss cut two plywood shelves to fit and we now have twice the storage space in that closet, and it's a heckuva lot easier to get things out and put them away, too.

Buy plastic dishpans at the dollar store that fit your cubbies and keep your socks, t-shirts, and skivvies in them for efficient organization. Why root around over your head through a perpetually tangled wad of clothing for that pair of socks when you can just pull out a tub, grab what you want, and put it back?

If your mattress is a non-standard size, you don't have to put up with oversized sheets that untuck and bunch up every time you crawl in the sack. Break out the sewing machine (or borrow one) and a tape measure, and make your own fitted sheets. It's easier than you think - if I can do it, anyone can. Or just sweet talk someone into doing it for you. Sleeping on nicely fitted sheets is worth it.

So keep an eye out for bargains on Command Hooks, over the door hooks, bungee cords of all sizes, Velcro (especially the heavy duty automotive style), and suction cups, as well as wire and plastic racks, baskets, bins and organizers. Think creatively and have fun!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Driving for the Was-man

The past month's loads have taken us from Philly to Portland to Laredo. We've seen armadillos and road runners, elk and mountain goat, eagles and turkeys, Mennonites and midgets, tumbleweeds and meteors. It's been awesome. I had to scale back on the blog until we finished up with the wacko fleet owner, because I didn't want to tip our hand until she'd paid up. But it's apparent she's going to put the serious screws to us financially, so I have no reason to continue to squelch my blog posts.

Mike built a truck specifically for expediting, and has maintained it very well. Pearl is not only a robust, capable, dependable partner, but she's accommodating and supportive, as well. Frankly, I feel like she's our new home. I'd have no problem living in her full time.

Mike has paid us fully, on time every time, and has emailed settlement statements every single week. He's been very proactive, calling days ahead for state permits when necessary, gladly paying for maintenance rather than waiting until something breaks, happily splitting the cost for our personal travel, and giving us a generous home time deadhead allowance. From Day One, he's encouraged us to treat Pearl as if she's our own. As a former owner-operator, he loves the lifestyle - not just the incoming checks, but the lure of loaded miles, pressing delivery appointments, truck stop food, and the constant adventure.

We've loved this business since we left for Ohio in late January, but working for someone who invests in his equipment and employees has been an eye opener for us. What a difference it makes in his - and our - bottom line.


he's completely sane.


Friday, April 30, 2010

Annawun, Annatoo

The recruiting department at Company X gave us the name of a new owner in Louisville. Mike had recently come in from the road temporarily and needed a team to drive his truck; he had a 2nd truck and team signed on with Panther, and had plans to buy a 3rd to drive himself in the near future. Hoss liked him immediately, and we made plans to drive to Louisville.

All we knew about our new truck is that she's a 2005 Peterbilt with over half a million miles and what sounded like a well appointed sleeper. After living in Helga, anything more accommodating than an army cot with air brakes would be an enormous improvement. We decided to go for it.

I'm very grateful that we spent two months in Helga. Otherwise, we couldn't have appreciated how comfortable a used-but-well-appointed sleeper can be. Mike had this sleeper custom made for his own use; it's a 96" - a full two feet longer than Helga - complete with a toilet and shower, a flat-screen TV and satellite receiver, a sink, microwave and fridge, windows (!!), and ample cabinet space. Power to the sleeper is practically uninterruptible, thanks to a robust battery bank, an inverter, and a generator. The sleeper sports not one, but two, heating and a/c systems, the larger of which throws out so much cold air that even this old Mainer gets chilled. The box is a half generation newer than Helga's, lacking of rust and watertight. The tractor, although its cab is smaller than Helga's, was built to pull a trailer and therefore has more horse. Mike gives every indication that he's completely sane.

I'm so happy, I could scream. :))


Listen up, newbies: make sure you ask the right questions.

In an early phone conversation, we asked Mindi what type of equipment she had in her fleet. She replied that the truck destined to be ours was a late model straight truck, a 2008 Hino, to be exact. The sleeper was a 72" double condo, with a microwave and fridge, and an inverter for power. As she described it, the sleeper was smaller and more basic than we'd hoped for, but we expected to work our way up and into better living quarters.

As it turned out, Helga was, indeed, a 2008 Hino. But the freight box leaked profusely and was rusty; it sported broken lenses and rewired taillights, and predated, by my best guess, the Clinton administration. The sleeper was even older. It was dark, with only a single window in the attic above the cab. Fresh air was provided by a vent on each side of the cab, each smaller than the size of a standard envelope. Less than half of the lights worked, and most light lenses were missing or broken. The built-in heating and a/c system was completely dead; heating was provided by a small auxiliary add-on unit, and a/c was, I presume, limited to what little air you could coax into the sleeper from the cab. Other than the few lights that worked, the only power to the sleeper was obtained via the inverter, which obtained its juice from the engine battery.

Hinos are purportedly built for local deliveries, not long distance. They're passionately dissed by truckers, who claim that they're underpowered, unreliable, and simply not robust enough to take a million miles of road. In response, Toyota, the owning manufacturer, offers a comprehensive but strict 3 year warranty: don't touch nothin'. Mindi took this directive to heart. Other than periodic maintenance, she made sure her trucks ran without any modifications whatsoever.

Her determination to meet warranty requirements also meant her drivers drove a truck limited to stock electrical options, which meant that, unless idling, you've got *x* minutes of power until the battery dies, and then you're fucked. We were to find that limitation on several occasions. Forget running the fridge - or anything plugged in to the inverter - for more than just a few minutes. Headlights accidentally left on? Better be back to crank the starter within a couple of minutes or she's dead, pal. Overhead light left on? Find some cardboard and start making a sign, cause you're stranded. Since the only power to the sleeper (and cab) ran off the battery, tasks that required lighting and all appliance usage were severely limited.

Convenient storage was limited to six cubby holes, each about 1/2 the size of a shoebox - although much more storage existed under the bottom bunk (not so convenient). The original curtain that closed off the sleeper from the cab was long gone and had been replaced by a suede-like square of fabric attached to the walls with - I shit you not - drapery hooks and bungee cords. The microwave was broken and didn't work. The fridge was very small, but more importantly, the lack of continuous power rendered it slightly less useful than, say, a comb with no teeth.

But at most, we'd have to deal with it for six months, tops. What was most significant was that it was the first evidence that our new owner had a much different perspective than ours. To her, this was a perfectly suitable sleeper for a team of drivers. To us, it was a test of tolerance and endurance. It was filthy, rusted, broken, and noisy, with mattresses that didn't fit the bunks and holes that let in the rain and snow.

But Helga had character, and I'll miss her. Which is more than I can say for her owner.

So, newbies, when you ask about the truck you'll be driving, be sure to also ask about the age and condition of the sleeper and the freight box, as well, or you may spend the length of your contract in a miserable situation.

Spin the Wheel of Personality Disorders

We had, it seems, a million questions when we started our expediting journey. We researched and read and talked to people in the know, and in time, the majority of our questions were answered. As contractors planning to sign on with an owner, the most important remaining question was "How do you know if a potential owner is honest?"

A half-hearted internet search will turn up hundreds of stories of lousy owners. A few offer suggestions and tips to consider before you sign a contract with someone, many of them common sense - talk to current employees, ask about settlement issues and equipment maintenance, ask the owner how long s/he has been in the business, and choose an owner with a solid reputation in the field.

We are proof that you can do all of those things and still end up in a nightmare.

Mindi had been an expediter and a fleet owner for over ten years. She was well known and respected, as an owner and as a friend, by many of the employees and management of Company X (I'll refrain from using the actual expediting company's name, as they can't and shouldn't be judged by the events I'm about to report here). She had been selected by Company X to develop a program to match new expediters with experienced ones, and she spent a great deal of time at their offices near Toledo. In addition, Mindi was a moderator on a very active forum devoted to the industry, and was equally popular and respected there. She was friendly, knowledgable, helpful, and seemed to be exactly the type of owner we were looking for.

Several phone calls took place with her through the holiday season as we planned for orientation and getting started as drivers. During one very early call, Mindi briefly mentioned personal issues that were taking a lot of her time and attention. With each subsequent call, she disclosed a bit more. Was that unusual? Yes. But the context for this disclosure was that she felt these events were affecting her ability to respond quickly to her fleet and manage it properly; she looked forward to the conclusion of these issues and a return to her normal life.

The abbreviated version of her story: After years in an abusive marriage, hubby beat her nearly to death. She spent a week in intensive care and was taking meds to dissolve a blood clot in her brain. Hubby had been arrested and charged with attempted murder and rape, but he'd been sprung via a $50k bond. Her life, therefore, was in danger, and she was under constant police protection through the trial end, which was expected to occur in February. We listened and offered encouragement.

The night before our first orientation class, we met a team of drivers that had been working for her for over a year. They were friendly and shared a lot of good information, and had nothing but good things to say about her. The next morning, we arrived early at orientation to meet her and review our contract. Mindi is a friendly, bouncy, 4'10" ball of energy. She answered all of our questions and pledged support. "You'll like working for me," she said. "I take good care of my drivers."

Indeed, when Helga required nearly a week in the shop for repairs, Mindi immediately drove from New York to Ohio to allow us the use of her car to drive home. When we found ourselves stuck in freight-slow Orlando, she arranged for bonus miles to the more freight-friendly Atlanta. And when Helga was subsequently booted in Atlanta, she calmly called in a Comcheck to cover the fee.

But overall, Mindi was reactive rather than proactive, and that tendency drove us nuts. A 2010 IFTA sticker wasn't purchased until March, after we'd incurred a sizable fine in Virginia. An annual DOT inspection wasn't arranged until - two days before expiration - we were loaded for Miami and Hoss insisted that it be done before we hit the road. A missing license plate was replaced with a cardboard mock-up for several months. Emailed and texted questions regarding $1,600 in pay deductions were ignored, and voiced questions on the subject were met with promises for settlement paperwork. Despite being told the paperwork would be mailed to our home, not a single document pertaining to our earnings was received.

As the weeks passed and the beginning of the trial approached, Mindi began to broadcast text messages to her fleet (and presumably, friends and family) pertaining to the day's court events. The texts were very detailed descriptions of who was scheduled to testify, their performance, the jury's reaction, her attorney's synopsis of the day, her reactions and feelings and thoughts, husband's reactions, and the like. At one point, she reported that her mother fell ill in her hometown 100 miles away and had to be rushed to the hospital, resulting in a trial delay; these texts included descriptions of the logistics involved in the temporary relocation via her "handlers". Each text usually ended with a thank you for all of the expressions of support and prayers.

After a few weeks, the trial concluded with guilty verdicts. Husband was released prior to sentencing to "get his things in order". She remained under protection and was terrified he would come after her. Since husband was forbidden to leave the state, Mindi spent as much time as she could in Ohio, away from him and from her protective "handlers". By this time, we had learned that she was "sorta dating" an employee of Company X, and coincidentally, was planning to permanently relocate to Ohio in the near future. Sentencing was scheduled a few weeks away.

We were then quite surprised to receive a call from Greg (the husband) one day shortly after the trial concluded. After introducing himself, he said that we would be working for him starting the next Monday.


Steve called Mindi, who set about making her own phone calls. After a short while, she reported that Greg had pulled a power of attorney that granted her the legal ability to manage the fleet - most of which was in his name. She said her attorney was working on the problem, but her major concern was that Greg would try to take the trucks. She was distrustful of Company X's sudden apparent alliance with Greg, and asked us to pull the fuse that enabled the Qualcomm unit so they could no longer track us. Don't message them, don't call them, just deadhead back to New York, as soon as possible.

Umm... hold on there, Sparky.

By this time, we had suspicions that things just weren't right, somehow. There had been a few statements made that contradicted things said earlier. We were losing patience with the reactive maintenance and administration, as well as the lack of settlement statements. And despite spending many hours searching public and courthouse records, police blotters, district attorney sites, and newspapers, there was not a single mention of an arrest or a trial remotely similar to what she claimed. Hmm.

We simply didn't have enough information to decide whom to trust. We concluded that we had signed a contract with Mindi, and we were obligated to return the truck to her. But we were done working for her. If she somehow pulled off a miracle and managed to keep her fleet, we would break our contract and find another owner. We liked expediting and we liked working for Company X, so maintaining that relationship was important. We decided to call our fleet manager and let him know that we wanted to be considered for another truck.

And it was he who told us it was all a lie.

He was as bewildered as we were, and felt just as betrayed. He'd been friends with her for over ten years and was at a complete loss to explain why she would lie for, apparently, nothing more than attention. A co-worker had expressed doubts about her claims, and after a couple of calls to the New York courts, her deception was revealed. He assured us that as far as our future with Company X was concerned, we were golden. "Don't unpack after you return the truck," he said. "You can be back out on the road in just a couple of days, if you want."

With three weeks of settlements outstanding, we decided our best immediate course of action was to play along with her. The long drive from Talladega to Binghamton was spent trying to figure out what would motivate a person to spin such an elaborate and complex fabric of lies.

We haven't come any closer to figuring it out.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Due to legal issues, Helga has been called back to the barn and we await word from the owner.

In the meantime, we're catching up on paperwork and taking care of a few things around the house.

We'd rather be out on the road, though. ~sigh~

Monday, March 22, 2010

More Pics

Here's Helga!

Somewhere over the Florida panhandle:

The Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland:

So pretty and peaceful, we wanna move here (Morristown, TN):

A laminated phone pole? Really?

Ah, probably because they don't have trees near Detroit:

It's striking, if nothing else:

Hoss Update

A follow-up appointment with the doc resulted in great news: Hossman's BP is down to 128 over 90. Still somewhat elevated, but definitely an enormous improvement. He is to continue on his current med and keep working on his weight, but he's clear to drive for another year. Yay!

And I'm soooo relieved he's healthier. I want every moment I can with him.

Booted in Atlanta


Duluth, GA is one of Atlanta's suburbs that is home to several private "parking management" companies who troll business parking lots at night in search of parked vehicles. As soon as they encounter one, they apply a boot to immobilize it. If the car is abandoned, they'll call a tow truck to have it hauled away. If the owner returns before the tow arrives, or if the vehicle is occupied, as in the case of an RV or truck, they will demand a cash fee to remove the boot. If the owner refuses to do so, or can't come up with the fee in cash, the vehicle is towed and the owner then has to pay both the boot and the towing fees.

Without state laws or local ordinances to rein them in, these businesses are free to operate without a criminal background check, charge whatever fee they choose, use whatever tow service they prefer (likely a sister business), and generally conduct business however they'd like.

Helga was booted two weeks ago in the parking lot of a Walmart Supercenter in Duluth. The thug who booted us at 3:30 am on a Sunday morning demanded $500 in cash to remove the boot. When Hoss told him we don't carry large amounts of cash, he suggested we call our trucking company for a Comcheck - a money transfer system used primarily by trucking companies to advance funds to their drivers for fuel and repairs, etc. If we didn't do so, he would have it towed and we would have to pay a $650 towing fee in addition to the $500 boot removal fee.

All together now, SNL fans: "Welll, how conveeeenient!"

Athough thoroughly steamed about the situation, we wrangled a Comcheck from our owner and Hoss was driven 50 miles roundtrip to a truck stop to have it cashed. The thug removed the boot, gave us a receipt, and went on his merry way.

With more sleep no longer an option, we drove until we found a cup of coffee, then reviewed the receipt, only to find the owner - who apparently sits at home and dispatches and manages his thug employees from there - had chosen to categorize us as a semi, which, of course, incurs the maximum fine.

Even an idiot can see that Helga isn't a semi. Hoss called the owner to point out that despite the fact that Helga clearly has two axles and six wheels, Boss Thug had skipped over the "2 axle 6 wheel" truck category and went straight for "semi". Hoss politely requested a refund. Guess how that went.

So, while we were home for a few days over the weekend, I printed off a letter or two, complete with several attachments, including photos. And mailed them to everyone from Boss Thug to the Georgia Attorney General, local Magistrates to Walmart's corporate headquarters.

We shall see who gets booted in the end. Muahahahaha.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Just WTF is That Thing?

Something told me we'd get a few questions about The Thing. Here's a wider shot:

Liquid carbon dioxide is apparently used widely in manufacturing. Who knew?

And a pic of a similar assembly without the thick layer of frost:

Although this one is refrigerated liquid nitrogen, the steel tubing structure to the right of this tank is - I think - close in shape to what's under The Thing.

But now that you've seen what's under The Thing, the original pic just doesn't hold the same appeal, does it?

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Trucking Version of Begats

A few folks seem to be getting a kick out of asking "So, where are you now?" Most of the time, we can answer in terms of the state and if we're particularly on top, we may be able to say which quadrant of the state we're in. Just don't ask us what day it is.

Yep, we've been busy. That's a good thing, of course - loaded miles are how we make coin. But the extent is somewhat surprising. Here's a list of the loads we've had just in the past two weeks:

Toleldo, OH to Armada, MI to Lansdale, PA
Philadelphia, PA to Waterford, CT
Biddeford, ME to Warren, OH
Cleveland, OH to Morristown, TN
Cookeville, TN to Orlando, FL to Atlanta, GA
Gainesville, GA to Dubuque, IA
Madison, WI to Thomson, GA
Cheraw, SC to Romulus, MI
Napoleon, OH to Maxton, NC
Selma, NC to Fort Wayne, IN
Whitehall, MI to Hampton, VA

Or 7,344 loaded miles. We've delivered medical devices, lawn mower transmissions, industrial lighting, packing foam, steel bearings, printed labels, and forged gears. Among the most interesting sites, we've delivered to a nuclear plant, the Orlando airport, and a Campbell's soup factory. Life is a blur of driving, coffee, naps, sandwiches, paperwork, shipping & receiving docks, and the occasional shower. And it's fun as hell. :)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Day in the Life

02:06 - Christian County, Kentucky. I took the wheel at 22:15 in Faring, IL, as we fueled at a truckstop. I take the overnight driving shift, while Hoss drives during daylight hours - it's a labor division that works the best for us and our individual driving habits. Therefore, Hoss is snoring in the sleeper and I'm listening to Coast to Coast. The XM has made my night drives much more pleasant. I don't get to see as much pretty countryside as Hoss does during the day, but traffic is light, construction is at a minimum, and I can usually make good time. I've read a lot about personal safety concerns associated with night driving, but I can't say that I've been in a position yet where I've felt unsafe. I'm attentive and wary, yes, but no one has approached me or made me uncomfortable, despite being alone and in venues that might make others nervous. It helps to know Hoss is only a loud yell away, of course.

03:30 - Nashville, TN. I-24 is quiet and the cityscape is striking. I spied the "Bat Building" and got an intense pang of deeply missing Annie and all the fun we shared there and in NYC. Hoss is still snoring away in the bunk and the cat's collar bell tinkles now and then, which indicates that she's probably parked on his chest tonight. I'm on my 2nd cup of coffee and am halfway through an enormous PayDay bar. The best way to stay awake when night driving is - what else? - EATING, and the truck stops make sure you have plenty of choices. I'm going to end up fat again.

04:55 - I'm getting sleepy. All the truckers have run out of hours and the truck stops and rest areas are jammed. Finally, a space on the shoulder of a rest area off-ramp appears, and I get a quick nap before Hoss takes over around 6 am.

07:00 - Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz... It's taken a while, but we're finally getting accustomed to sleeping while the other drives. Helga rides rough (imagine a 19th century buckboard hurtling along at 70 mph), and especially when she's empty. I have made air on numerous occasions while sleeping and yes, I woke up clawing at the covers and cussing. Parking for the night brings different sleeping challenges. Helga runs a DPR regen (cleaning cycle) every 15 minutes or so while idling, which abruptly changes the engine sound and vibration; in the beginning, this startled me awake with a jerk, but now I rarely notice it. Trucks starting up and lumbering past just inches from our sleeper doesn't wake us anymore, either. I suppose you can learn to sleep under any circumstances when necessary.

12:40 - Thomson, GA. We drop a load of molded packing foam at a facility in the country, then head to a WalMart for a few groceries. It's raining heavily; Hoss picks up new wipers to replace the badly worn ones we've dealt with all morning. We're #1 on the Atlanta and Greenville boards, but being unfamiliar with the area, we place a call to our Fleet Coordinator to see if moving to another board would result in a faster load. He recommends we stay put, so we deadhead to a Pilot truckstop 25 miles away for a hot shower and a nap. Of all the major truckstops, Pilot has become our favorite. The coffee is outstanding and reasonably priced, and the showers are decent. I'm still not used to showering with flipflops on, but I feel so cruddy by the time our load schedule allows a shower break that I'd wear hip waders if necessary.

16:15 - We were just beginning to snooze when a load offer comes in for a 682 mile run from Cheraw, SC to Romulus, MI. Yep, we're on it. Our pre-trip routine begins: accept the load via Qualcomm, scribble a summary of the load in our driver's notebook, update the driver's logs, fill out a freight bill, open a TripPak envelope in which to collect the paperwork and receipts, program Trixie, secure everything in the sleeper, calculate fuel advance, fill out the Comcheck, then head out. The cat pouts and crawls into her private "cave" behind the upper bunk.

19:07 - Cheraw, SC. I got in a short nap while Hoss drove to the load site, and I'm sleepy-stoopid as I crawl in the front seat. It's raining and foggy here, and it has that rich earthy smell that reminds me of digging worms.

19:31 - We arrive at the plant to load. Cheraw is a very small town, yet this facility is huge. The guard gives us the usual ambiguous directions with the required arm waving, and as expected, we end up precisely where we aren't supposed to be. I strongly suspect this plant has a dock door for every man, woman, and child in this town. Hoss tracks down where we're supposed to load, and I jump out to secure our passenger side hazmat placard, which has lost a clip and has flashed a random peep show of "FLAMMABLE", "EXPLOSIVE", "CORROSIVE", and "RADIOACTIVE" diamonds for most of SC. Which, come to think of it, might explain why we got through Columbia rush hour with such a wide berth.

22:47 - Hoss is back in the bunk and I'm in search of a good cup of coffee along our route. There are areas of the country where you can't round a curve without finding a truckstop, and then there are others in dire need of more. I recommend getting used to drinking cold coffee, because if you're smart, you'll buy two at once. And while I'm on a roll, let me give a shoutout to all the contractors who build women's rest rooms: I don't give a shit what the blueprint says, there is no good reason to mount a toilet paper dispenser a mere 10 inches above the floor. I can deal with the occasional dirty bathroom, I can wash with unheated water, I can even overcome the chapped hands from using that godawful pink industrial degreaser in the soap dispensers, and although I'd prefer to wipe my cold chapped wet hands on your project punchlist than use an electric hand dryer, I'll even do that with minor complaint, just DON'T MAKE ME STAND ON MY DAMNED HEAD TO RETRIEVE A FEW SCRAPS OF TOILET PAPER. Seriously, we're not all 4 1/2 feet tall. And to the facilities designer of Indiana's rest areas who managed to put together a women's room with both sinks and dryers that - I am NOT exaggerating - come to precisely mid-thigh: Screw you, pal. ONE sink and ONE dryer at wheelchair height should be ample. And the reason you didn't win the Annual Interstate Bathroom Design Award is because your stupid design caters to the one in 712 bathroom visitors who happens to be wheelchair bound. The remaining 711 get a friggin backache from bending over to use them. Pfft. Moron.

00:09 - We haven't encountered snow for about 10 days, but we've sure found fog. The mountains of NC, VA, and WV get pretty socked in at night. At times, I've had to slow down to 35 mph, which just kills our delivery schedule. Hoss pops his head into the cab every couple of hours to check on me and monitor our progress, then gives me a kiss and goes back to bed. It takes a great deal of trust to leave your partner to drive alone for many hours at a time while you sleep, knowing that they're tiring and bored. We agreed early on - we promised each other - that we would stop the truck and switch, if our hours allowed it, or just park and blow the delivery deadline. Risking our own lives is bad enough, but we feel deeply obligated to keep the other one safe, too. A load offer comes in for the next afternoon, but the weight is just over our limit of 6 1/2 tons. I'm not complaining, but I'm wondering if this year is starting out much busier than predicted; we're constantly on the move.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pics From the Road

Ah, ye of little faith. You thought I'd never post pics, did you? Ha!

In a post about one of our first loads, I described a flatbed that got stuck and held us up by over an hour. Here are the accompanying pics (yeah, I know, they don't hold nearly the same intrigue a month later, but I do mean well):

Bonus!! These were taken of a small suspension bridge on our way back from that very load:

Now, weren't those worth the wait? Hah? Hah??

Whaddaya mean "No"?

How about ... (shuffling pictures) ... The St. Louis Arch!

But it was taken at 60 mph through Helga's dirty windshield!

Jeez, youse guys are hard to please.

Okay, here's a pic taken of a verrry nice bridge in Detroit:

Doesn't that make you feel happy and light? The soft, flowing lines, the playful shapes in the ironwork --


More? Can do. Here's another verry nice bridge in Toledo that virtually dances as you drive over it:

You see, it's a vertical-on-center suspension bridge that appears to be just a large single monolithic shape as you drive toward it, but it unfolds and expands as you continue --

What?!?? I'm in a truck fercrapsake, expediting, no less (that means hurry / rush / step on it), it's not like I can stop and take great pics of cool stuff at will like some tourist. Yes, yes I do take pics of things other than bridges. Here, for example:

The pic doesn't do it justice - it was early on a cold morning and this, erm, thing, was covered in a thick sheet of sparkling frost. At 8 feet tall and 2 feet in diameter, it was impossible to not take a picture. You're welcome.

Shortly thereafter, we took a delivery to Beau-something South Carolina, where, along the back roads, were old-timey Southern country coastal dwellings and peaceful country roads such as this:

There were many other photo ops in the area, but frankly, things haven't been the same for us Yankees down South since "Deliverance". With the echos of dueling banjos in our heads, Hoss developed a serious case of leadfoot and the rest of the pics I took in that area are but a blur of pine trees and kudzu. *shrug*

And in keeping with the theme of Brotherly Love, here is a series of pics taken on a recent delivery to North Philly:

Makes you all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it?

My little Nikon bites when it comes to long-distance low-light shots, but I sometimes get interesting effects such as the blurred lights of the George Washington bridge driving onto the island:

And this shot of Manhattan from the bridge, looking south:

I think that's my favorite southern view of all.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hossman on the Mend

I convinced my doc to take on Hoss as a new patient, and we went to see him today at Noon. His BP is still way too high - it averaged 170 over 115 today. Mark gave him a thorough physical check, ordered an EKG, blood work, and a urine panel. Although we don't yet know the results of the blood work, the other tests came back just fine. Mark prescribed the same BP med Hoss had been given in PA, but at double the dosage and with the addition of a diuretic. Hoss is also putting himself on a diet again. Between the two, his BP should be way down in short order.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Helga Needs Surgery

Our next pickup was in Beaufort, SC, to deliver the following day in Detroit. I don't know what we did to please the weather gods, but we didn't encounter any major snow along the way. Yay!

I loved driving I-77 as the sun came up, with half-mile dropoffs just beyond the guardrail and huge, looming mountains at every turn. Helga did quite well, despite the steep grades and the 4 tons of cargo. At one point, the most I could get out of her was 35 mph, but she still ate up the pavement without a hiccup.

Vic, I came soo close to calling you to see if you wanted to meet us for breakfast. We drove right through your hometown, but we really couldn't have visited much longer than an hour, so I decided to wait for another trip through your area.

Detroit was a clusterfark. No surprise there. The delivery went well, though.

We crashed at a truckstop south of town for the night. We had our first truckstop showers - actually, it wasn't so bad, although we need to invest in flip-flops or another form of shower shoes.

Early in the morning, we got an offer for a load from that same area to Miami. O rly? Miami? You betcha. Unfortunately, Brother Unit is in Chicago, else we'd hang with him for the weekend.

Since Helga's DOT inspection was coming up on Saturday, we stopped at a dealership near Cleveland to have an inspection done on our way out of town. This was not the best timing. Helga has apparently suffered an oil leak for quite some time, and needs a new seal. Major work. Crud.

The dispatchers are in a panic. The shipper is in a panic. After a few hours, it becomes apparent Helga is out of service for several days, the load will most definitely be WAYYYY overdue, and we're stuck in Ohio.


Enter Mindi, our boss and Helga's owner. Despite being in the midst of very stressful personal business plus dealing with her mom who was suddenly hospitalized and very ill, Mindi directed the dealership's repair plan, arranged for us to transfer the cargo to another trucking company for delivery, then hopped in her car and drove to Cleveland - to deliver keys. Knowing we were stuck without transportation, Mindi offered us the use of her spare car to drive home until Helga is ready. The problem was that she had the keys with her in New York. She immediately jumped in her car and drove 7 hours to give us the keys to her spare car. Unbelievable. She's really a wonderful person.

So, we packed up what we'd need and drove back to Syracuse for the next several days. It's nice having free time to get things done around the house, but I'd much rather be driving and making money.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's Next? Locusts?

Apparently, a rather sizeable portion of North Carolina real estate abruptly gave up its quest to resist gravity and planted itself firmly in the middle of I-40 Eastbound. While I'm happy that it didn't wait for our arrival at that very moment to effect its relocation, I'm still not especially pleased with the resultant 100+ mile detour.

Wait - do we get bonus miles for rock slides? Hmm.

Caleb, we're driving through Johnson City. Now think for just a moment how much smaller your tuition bills would be if you'd taken that scholarship instead of going to FU. I know. It hurts. Sorry, honey, I succumbed to a mommy moment.

Hoss is thrilled that he now has two - count 'em! TWO! - NASCAR track sightings in just a week. Gateway, in St. Louis, of course, which was cold, barren, and in not such a lovely part of town. And just today, he saw the Actual Physical Interstate Exit for Bristol. I know all you fellow racing fans will understand why he can hardly contain himself.

We stopped at a Cracker Barrel in Fugglesville or Buckfart or somesuch Appalachian Cosmo inspired moniker for lunch. I had the chicken fried chicken, with mashed, green beans, and carrots. Cracker Barrel produces the best tasting burps. Oh, c'mon! As if you've never had such thoughts yourself. Sheesh.

Well, we haven't even finished the detour, let alone gotten close to our drop site, and another load offer came over that takes us back to Central Indiana. With Helga needing a DOT inspection by Saturday and Hoss needing a BP inspection with his doc ASAP, this load will severely restrict our time slot to arrange a load back to NY. Eh, what the hell. Let's do her. :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Laundry Day

I'm learning that nothing brings in load offers like a washer full of wet clothes.

We got an offer in the laundromat for a 300 mile run, but the deadhead (meaning empty and we therefore pay for the fuel to get there) was more than half of the paid miles. We politely turned it down.

An hour or so later, another offer came in: Southwest Missouri to South Carolina. Roger that.

We saw two foxes romping across a snow-covered field, and we kept an eye peeled for wild boars, but didn't see any. Just talking about the possibility of seeing one got us started on a Great White Hunter ramble that had Hoss decked out in a pith helmet, khakis with a wide leather belt, and Teddy Roosevelt glasses. I laughed so hard I think I peed a little.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Poor Helga needed a jump start today when we checked out at Noon - we'd left Paisan in the sleeper to avoid making her adjust to yet another temporary environment, and we left the sleeper heater on. Apparently, twelve hours of running the heater is too much for Helga to handle. She started right up, though, and has been a happy truck ever since.

We put ourselves back in service and found a nearby Walmart to park and wait.

Someone emailed me and wanted to know what's up with our fascination with Walmart parking lots. There's method to our madness, honest, and it's two-fold. First, Walmarts and Sams Clubs are wonderfully supportive of truckers and RV-ers. Unless restricted by local ordinances, almost every Walmart and Sams will let trucks and RVs park overnight, without charge, without a hassle, without being towed. That can mean a good, restful sleep for a trucker who's too broke to fund a hotel or too tired to continue on to the next truck stop. It also saves campers a boodle when they're in between scenic stops.

Secondly, when you're in line with dispatch waiting for a load, where you wait can make or break your chance to get a load offer. If a customer has a hot load, you're more likely to get that offer if you're within city limits as opposed to 40 miles out of town waiting at a truck stop. That strategy has worked well for us so far.

So we rented a couple of movies from the handy dandy Red Box and munched on cheese and crackers for a light late supper. By the way - if you haven't seen District 9, I highly recommend it. It was MUCH better than I expected; the premise includes aliens, but it really isn't a sci-fi movie. Just do your best to get past the mandatory Humans Are Evil message. *rolleyes*

Saturday, February 13, 2010

St. Louis

Waffle House. YUM. At last, good biscuits and gravy.

We put ourselves out of service after delivery and checked into a La Quinta for some R & R. The first order of business? The longest, hottest shower in hotel history. Afterwards, there was a week's worth of receipts to scan, as well as five loads and two dry runs to write up and submit. The drudgery of paperwork called for a few glasses of wine. ;) The front desk was kind enough to drive us to the local Harrah's casino, where we feasted on steak and crab, and even won a few bucks at poker.

Friday, February 12, 2010


~sigh~ Snow. Dallas got several inches, and we saw snow as far south as Waco. But we made our delivery to Samsung in Austin - we unloaded circuit breakers the size of coffee tables, by the way - and before we were completely unloaded, we got another load offer from Dallas to St. Louis. We'd planned to go out of service and get a room for the night, but the load pay was very good, so we took it. We stopped at a small BBQ joint named Cowboys BBQ for a chopped pork sandwich, then continued on to Dallas (actually North Richland Hills) for our pickup. We hit the road right after that for St. Louis.

Oklahoma. When I lived in Wichita, Oklahoma was good for one thing - beer sales on Sunday. How many times did I make that 45 minute drive down I-35 to the State Line bar to pick up a couple of cases of beer for me and my hungover friends?

I drove us through to Joplin, then we napped for a few hours in a truck stop. Hoss let me sleep when his alarm went off, but as sleepiness set in, he tried valiantly to wake me up - even going so far as reach behind him and whack the bed with the windshield squeegee. But alas, I was dead to the world. Oklahoma wore me out.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Paris in the Spring

We got a few hours of sleep, then hit the local McDonald's for breakfast. I'm not sure if my Southern buddies realize this, but only the McDonalds' in the South serve biscuits and gravy (and did you know in the Northeast coastal towns, you can order a lobster sandwich at McD's?).

Note to self: never, EVER order McD's biscuits and gravy again.

We made our delivery and immediately got another load offer from Selma, TN to Austin, TX. Uh, Texas? Land of warmth, sunshine, and BBQ? Yep, we're on it.

After some serious justification, we decided to buy an XM radio for the truck. It's a business expense. Honest. We'll listen to weather on it. And the occasional Big East hoops game. We stopped at a Best Buy in Jackson, TN and went shopping. Hoss was able to find a portable model we can take with us for $79. Woohoo! I took a nap in the sleeper while Hoss installed it and had fun goofing off with it.

You'll never guess what we ran into in Arkansas. Yup, snow. Lovely. By the time we were a couple of hours into it, every truck stop, every on and off ramp, every rest area was packed with trucks sitting it out. Helga handles well in the snow. Good thing, because it snowed all night.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Back West

9am. We've made our delivery in New Castle, but we're still sitting at the consignee's. A flatbed tried to maneuver a turn onto this narrow street, but got hung up on the snowbank to his inside. The consignee sent out their bobcat to clear some snow away from his rig, but he's still trying to rock his way out. No luck so far.

We took this time to wash up and change clothes, brush teeth and hair, etc. Now all we need is more hot coffee and breakfast.

I had an "aww" moment yesterday. Since I met Hoss, he has opened and closed the car door for me. Every time, whether I'm driving or riding. I must admit, it took me MONTHS to get used to it. It struck me as unnecessary, it required me to change, it sometimes made me impatient, but I realized this was an important gesture to him so I sucked it up and accepted it. It's a gesture he hasn't transferred to the truck - until yesterday. We stopped at a rest area for a bathroom break, and he walked me back to the passenger seat, waited for me to settle in, then carefully closed the door for me. Hoss has never played the gender games with me, has never stopped me or tried to dissuade me from doing "man tasks", has never doubted that I can, and have, lived independently and self-reliantly without a man in my life. He knows that I CHOOSE to have him in my life, rather than need him. Yet I'm very aware of his need to take care of me, to protect me, to support me. I welcome and appreciate these acts of manly caretaking because it's his way of showing how much he loves me, not that I'm weak or dependent. And by the same token, he's not threatened when I get out the tools and fix the toilet or deal with the car mechanic myself. It's a marriage of mutual respect and admiration, and I am so very lucky.

4:15pm. I got Hoss to a clinic this morning and he was given a month's supply of BP meds to take until he can get home to his regular doc for monitoring and more treatment. It's still very high. I'm worried.

We took a load from Franklin, PA to Paris, TN. It snowed throughout PA, and began to taper off in Ohio. I took the night shift, as I usually do. The last 20 miles were a 1 1/2 lane country road with the trajectory of a satanic rollercoaster. I was exhausted and loopy, but we made it. Wish I'd taken a few pics of the road signs warning of upcoming curves; they were classic. We parked at a Walmart and got a few hours of sleep.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Wow, we slept like logs last night! The Webasco (sleeper heater) kept us nice and toasty, and the cat managed to sleep on top of me or wrapped around my head all night without stepping on my face. Niiiice.

Shortly after breakfast, we were offered a load from the nuclear plant in Waterford, CT to Philly, but it was canceled just as we got under way due to the weather. Apparently, Philly is going to be hammered with snow yet again tonight.

We continued North to a truck stop for fuel and were debating where to park for the day when another load offer came in: Hoboken to New Castle, PA. Score!

We arrived at the shipper's at 1pm and they loaded 10 enormous doors that were being returned to the manufacturer. The sky began to get dark near some berg named Allamuchy; a quick check of the radar showed we were driving right into the mess. Joy.

Shortly thereafter, we got another load offer for the next day: Franklin, PA to Paris, TN. We'll drop in New Castle in the morning, get some breakfast, then drive the roughly 45 miles to Franklin for an afternoon pickup.

We parked at a Walmart near New Castle and ran inside to forage something up for dinner. We tried a Steamfresh chicken and roasted garlic dinner. Gack! I managed to eat a few bites, but I won't be buying that again.

Time to settle down for the night and watch it snow through our cab attic window. :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Wash, Spin, Rinse, Spin

So what's it like to sleep in a moving truck? I think Hoss summed it up well when he emerged from the berth in his skivvies, sat heavily in the passenger seat, waved his arms in frustration, and announced "IT'S LIKE TRYING TO SLEEP IN A FUCKING WASHING MACHINE!!"

We arrived a few hours earlier than our drop and parked in a truck stop on I-95 for a nap. At 7am, we grabbed a cup of coffee, then started toward our drop location. Not two miles out, we were pulled over by - dun Dun DUNNN!! - Connecticut DOT. Dammit! Helga's last team lost the license plate a couple of weeks back (the owner has one on order) and in the meantime, we're driving with a cardboard replacement. Which, frankly, is a virtual advertisement to anyone with a summons book. He inspected our logs and documentation, then did a level 2 truck inspection. Helga needs a new license plate light socket, but we got through without any tickets.

We were, however, 20 minutes late for our first delivery, although the consignee didn't seem to give a hoot. ~shrug~

We found a nearby Walmart to park at and whiled away the afternoon by finishing paperwork, moving rarely used items into a large tote secured in the box, and rearranging the sleeper to make food prep more convenient. After dark, we settled down in the bunk to watch a movie on my laptop (the Star Trek prequel) and munch on popcorn. It was nice.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Velcro is Our Friend

We have one of those plastic drawer units near the foot of our bunk to hold and organize a few cans of food, paper and plastic goods, cat food, etc. And although we (I, actually - I'll take the blame for it) set it up about 1/2 inch higher in the front to keep the drawers closed, it appears the heavier items seem determined to escape. To keep the drawers closed, I affixed some Velcro to the sides of the unit, wrapping around to the front of the drawers, and voylee! No more imminent Chef Boy Ar Dee escape attempts when Helga makes a right turn. Of course, now it takes both hands, devoted concentration, and raccoon-like dexterity to retrieve a single godforsaken plastic spoon, but at least we won't be clobbered in the head by a can of ravioli.

We watched both the SU game and the Superbowl at the neighb's, and feasted on pizza and wings. At 11pm, we closed up the house once again, loaded one extremely disappointed cat into the sleeper, then hit the road. Stamford, here we come.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Trickin' the Truck

Hoss has been planning how to maximize Helga's storage space for several days, and after we ran a few errands - in the truck, remember, we can't leave her unattended - we came home and he began to fit her with closet racking for shelves. Obviously, we can't screw and hammer and bolt at will, but with sturdy 1x2s and ratchet straps, Hoss was able to install a very tight and secure shelving system that gives us twice the storage area over the bunk, and much more headroom, to boot. Very clever, that Hossman.

The neighbs came over to visit and chat, and we ordered Chinese delivery for dinner. It was very relaxing and nice.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Columbus to Stamford

Shortly after 9am, dispatch called with an offer we liked - an afternoon pickup in Columbus, with a delivery in Stamford, CT on Monday morning. This meant we could drive our personal car home and sleep in our own bed another night or two.

It started to snow just north of Columbus, and by the time we arrived in the city, there were three inches of sloppy slush and snow on the streets, with lots more on the way. The load was categorized as High Security Surveillance, which means the box lock is sealed with a uniquely numbered tag and one of us needs to remain within 100 feet of the truck at all times.

Yes, we knew what was in the load. We could tell you, but then we'd have to kill you.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

First Load

Helga needs a lot of love. Love requires Walmart. We dropped another load of cash on the Walton family, then began to bling out our new beast. Our plans were to go In Service at 2pm, which would give us plenty of time to catch up on laundry and finish packing the truck.

At about Noon, Hoss received a call from dispatch, asking us to pick up a load in Cleveland and deliver it in Alabama. NICE load. Big money. Unfortunately, Helga was a jumble of boxes and bags at that point, and I had two loads of laundry going. We couldn't guarantee the 2pm pickup, so we lost the load. Mindi was a bit disappointed, but completely understood. We still can't figure out how dispatch thought we were In Service, but it worked out in the end, as Helga was ready a short time later and we sat on the Toledo board waiting for a load.

The next offer was a dud - the deadhead to loaded miles ratio was too high for it to be very profitable. We decided to wait for another. And another came, this time to Coffeyville, Kansas, but it was cancelled by the shipper just as we got underway. We moved to a Walmart south of Toledo and spent our first night in ol' Helga.

The bunk is somewhere between a twin and a full sized mattress, and I was worried that we'd be too crowded. The rear wall is padded, though, so I have a nice snuggly space between it and my Hossman. It's pretty darned comfy. Helga has a sleeper heater that runs on the diesel in the tank, so we don't have to idle to keep warm - and that little bugger kept us plenty warm.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Seven of us had hazmat endorsements, and we were scheduled to view a training video before class began at 8:00. I sooo miss sleeping in.

The morning was spent going over a few last document training sessions, then we hiked to the office building next door to meet a few more key people in the organization. Again, despite their level at the company, all were very approachable and friendly, and they all encouraged us to contact them at any time for any reason.

In the afternoon, Helga was inspected and Hoss and I had our road tests. All three of us passed.

It was my birthday, and although we'd planned a nice dinner and cake for dessert, I was just too doggone tired. We decided to try the roadhouse connected to our hotel for some bar grub and a beer. It was karaoke night. Midweek. At a rather seedy, rundown old roadhouse next to a motel used primarily by truckers. When it began at 9pm, a grand total of 15 people were in the bar. Two were well over 75 and already staggering, a few were locals getting a bite to eat, and the remainder were the karaoke draws - regulars, I suspect. The first, a youngish blond, sang a country-western number and actually did pretty well.

The next contestant did not.

Another blond, bearded cowboy (they must grow them in bulk out here), wearing a black hat, a long black duster, and the ubiquitous boots approached the mike. Ohh, let's guess! Hank Jr.? Garth Brooks? George Straight?

No. AC/DC. And badly, at that.

You would think a man who struts about like God's gift to women would be somewhat aware of rhythm and timing and hitting the mark (well, they ARE transferable skills). But, no, this poor man sang most of the song at least a half stanza behind the music, couldn't quite squeak out more than a three note range, and noticably forgot the words (duh, dude, they're right there on the monitor) on several occasions. He was horrible. And I had the giggles.

We had to leave, it was that bad.

But -- the dude's got more nerve than I, I'll have to give him credit for that.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Meeting Helga

Another long day. Attend orientation class, gather paperwork and documents, run errands at lunch and after class. Today, Mindi gave us the keys and we introduced ourselves to Helga, a 2008 Hino. Why 'Helga'? It seems to suit her. She's large, sturdy, and more handsome than pretty. Although she has only 153k miles, she's been ridden hard. The sleeper is smaller than I'd hoped, but it'll do. Between Hoss and I, we'll figure out how to make it a home on the road.

Several people from the office building were brought in to class to train us in their specialty - safety & compliance, driver logs, insurance - and then we went to the garage to meet Butch, the head mechanic, who went over securing loads.

Every employee we've met has been very down to earth. Most wore jeans and a sweatshirt or sweater, an intentional dress code meant to put the drivers at ease and foster communication. And each of them freely hands out their cell phone number and promises to answer your call, no matter the time or day. They live and breathe to support the drivers, and it's obvious that they all really do appreciate them.

There were 17 in our orientation. Not surprisingly, there was a variety of characters among us: a lean and lanky blond cowboy teamed with a short, stubby, dimwitted sidekick; a man as old as dirt, with long yellow-white straggly hair and who had spent so much time on the road all he wanted to do was talk, talk, talk; a man of about 40, dressed in camo and missing his front teeth, but smart as a whip and quick witted, too; a husband / wife team with three sons, all Marines, and one of whom was killed in Iraq last year - they'd decided it was time to try something they'd always wanted to do; a quiet and friendly man with greying hair and a wide smile, who was a dead ringer for 'Chief' in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'; and an astoundingly stupid fuscia-haired middle aged woman who left her two teenaged sons at home to join a MUCH younger new internet boyfriend on the road.

Good gawd, I got lucky when I found Hoss.

Monday, February 1, 2010


We arrived an hour early to meet with Mindi before orientation. She's exactly what we expected - a petite bundle of energy and sharp as a tack. We sat in the kitchen and talked while the coffee percolated nearby and other new drivers straggled in. Some were quite, uh, colorful. More on them later.

Hoss has sweated his DOT physical for over a week. At his last exam, his blood pressure was high in the normal range, and he's put on a few pounds since then. So he's eschewed salt for a week, taken low dose aspirin, niacin, fish oil, etc., and although we don't know if it's helped lower his pressure any, he did manage to lose 12 pounds in a week.

After lunch, the doctor-nurse tag team arrived and we pee-in-a-cup participants queued up in the hall for the festivities. Hoss's BP was, indeed, high - stage II, in fact. He has three months to get it under control. Guess we'll need a weekday back in Syracuse soon so he can visit his doc for meds. For the first time since I was pregnant, my BP was high, as well. The doc retested it after a few minutes, and it dropped enough to get me back in the normal range, so I got a pass this time.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tri-State Ahoy

A few uneventful hours in the car and we landed at the Super 8 nearest Tri-State headquarters. Jeez, Northern Ohio is flat. I'd forgotten just how flat it is. We unloaded Paisan and the remainder of our baggage, then drove a dry run up to the Tri-State headquarters, a few miles away. The complex sits on, um, many acres. Luckily, the area has many acres to spare.

Although we had planned to meet our new boss that evening, one of her other teams encountered truck problems, and she had her hands too full to meet with us. Instead, she arranged for us to meet another of her teams, Rob and Mark, who happened to be there waiting for a load. They were very friendly, and eager to share advice and encouragement. Both had nothing but good things to say about working for Mindi, and were happy to frankly discuss The Big Two - character and compensation. Hoss's instincts about her were apparently dead on.

They gave us a quick tour of the driver's lounge - actually a very large building separate from the office building - where orientation is held. The lounge building is very clean and bright, with free showers and laundry facilities, a full kitchen, a large flat screen TV with satellite feed, and lots of comfy sofas and chairs. It wasn't what I'd expected at all.

Afterwards, we drove a couple of exits up the highway to a Meijer's to buy a few things we'd overlooked, and then a nice dinner at Applebee's before heading back to the hotel for some sleep.

Paisan is doing surprisingly well, although I'm sure she'd like to claw my face off for putting her through this.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Toledo Bound

We left mid-afternoon for Buffalo, then dropped Goomba Lou off with Silas, who will no doubt spoil her to pieces from here on. I'm going to miss her, though; she's a sweet cat and quite a character. We picked up Caleb at a friend's house nearby, then went to Buffalo Wild Wings on Transit Road, where Silas works as a server and part-time bartender. His buddy Brett joined us - he's fun to hang with. After a wheelbarrow of extra-super-nuclear-hot wings and a few drinks, we drove back to the hotel for a bit of sleep, then headed toward Toledo and orientation.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


It's official! We start a 3-day orientation at Tri-State in Toledo on Monday, then will be ready to roll from there.

The owner gave us a little detail about the truck we'll be driving, so that helps as we plan what we'll need and what to take. It's a late model Hino, 6-speed, with a 76" sleeper. As she said, it's nothing fancy, but it's sturdy and will serve us well.

I have so many to-do lists, I've had to color code them.

Our neighbors have graciously offered to check on the house now and then, to make sure the sump pump doesn't die and leave the basement awash in flotsam and jetsam. Goomba Lou is going to live with Son #1 in Buffalo; Paisan will come with us on the truck. Therefore, the house will be empty and winterized as much as possible - at least the utility bills will be cheap.

This morning, I realized that in order to take the cat with us across the border, we'll need an updated rabies certificate from the vet. Paisan is overdue at the vet, anyway, so I quickly made a vet appointment for tomorrow morning. It's the little things like that I'm afraid I'll overlook.

Hoss called DMV yesterday and was told our background checks are complete and we both have qualified. Our licenses, however, won't arrive before we leave for Toledo. *groan* So we made a quick trip to DMV today to obtain a temporary document showing the hazmat endorsement. That will do, for now.

Some things just can't be planned ahead. For instance, we know the truck has an inverter and generator, so appliances like a coffee maker and Foreman grill would be useful to have - but how much room is available for storage and / or practical usage? The bunks, I believe, are oddly sized, so what bedding should I plan to take? Dunno. We'll have to see the sleeper and assess what will work and what won't.

I hate that - but learn to roll, I must.

Despite the aggravations involved with getting ready to hit the road, we remain very excited and are looking forward to what my brother calls "road mode". :)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Eleven Sixty-Six Oh Six

That's the totaled expenditures to get my CDL B. Considering some spend several thousand to get theirs, I'm very happy with that number.

Here's the breakdown:
  • Truck rentals - $575.52
  • Fuel - $106.59
  • DMV - $483.95
  • Trainer fee - $0
I love that last number best of all. ;)

Thursday, January 7, 2010


It's done. Now all we have to do is wait and watch the mail.

The intake clerk at DMV got an instant headache when we listed all the changes we wanted to accomplish today. In fact, once he'd heard our list, he rolled his eyes and said "Oh, they're reeeeally going to love you."

After a 20 minute wait, we were called to window 4 and were met by a cheery, happy young clerk who processed my enhanced license application - a nightmarish stack of paperwork that requires not only an OCD-driven need for documentation, but a degree in mathematics, as well. She packaged it all in a manilla envelope stamped with a rather stern warning about removing any documents while waiting for the next clerk, then sent us back to the benches to wait.

Another 30 minutes, and we were called to window 9. Although I expected an exercise in total confusion and frustration, our window 9 clerk was quite on the ball. In only 15 minutes, he accurately and efficiently processed all of our paperwork, and even managed to make us smile a few times (the pea soup was AWESOME, Brian, you should have stopped by!).

With HazMat papers in hand, we drove to the NYS Police barracks at the airport, only a few miles away, to be fingerprinted for our HazMat endorsement. Despite a building full of hot troopers, we get called into the back room by a guy with the sex appeal of Barney Fife. ~sigh~ Nonetheless, we were thoroughly fingerprinted and Albany is on the case. We should hear back regarding our background check in just a couple of weeks.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hazmat II

We decided to postpone the written by a day so the 7 day waiting period to upgrade my license would be over and we could get it all done at once.

"All" means take the HazMat written, start the paperwork for the background checks, upgrade my permit to a license, apply for an enhanced license, and renew my soon-to-expire license. And all of these are much more expensive now, of course, because it's a CDL - we're talking several hundred dollars. Good thing I'd robbed a bank the day before. *rolleyes*

The written tests weren't that difficult. Hoss was confident we had studied sufficiently and would pass, but as the worrywart half of the couple, I wasn't so sure. I had already started the test when Hoss breezed into the room, slapped his answers down on the sheet, then turned in his test and sat to wait for the results. I took my time, double and triple checked my answers, sensing just a dight of competition in the air. I finished up just as the DMV clerk called Hoss to the desk with his results: 5 of 30 wrong. He'd passed. She then tallied up my score: 3 of 30 wrong FTW! Slapdown!

We'd forgotten to take the documents needed to apply for the enhanced license, so our plan was to run home, grab what we needed, then go back and finish up the paperwork.

But somewhere between applying for a marriage license in Atlantic City last February and today, my birth certificate has disappeared. Gone. Nowhere to be found. The same original birth certificate I've been carrying from state to state for the last xx years was, apparently, called home to Archive Heaven.


We pulled out drawers and folders and envelopes, but it was all for naught. After a few hours of searching, I gave up and logged on to the Maine vital records website to order a new one. FOR SIXTY BUCKS. With the processing fee and expedited delivery (how's that for irony?), my inability to locate my birth certificate would add $92.50 to an already expensive process.

So now we wait for the new one.

For the money it's costing, it'd better be pretty.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Studying for our HazMat endorsements this weekend. We'll take the written tomorrow. It's the last hurdle!