Friday, April 30, 2010


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.

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