Sunday, August 30, 2015

The City of Brotherly Love

A couple of weeks ago, we accepted a load from Memphis to Philadelphia. We've driven for this shipper before, but to different destinations. Each time, we were loaded with currency. Cash. Clams. Wampum. Cabbage.

This trip took us to the Philadelphia Mint. Philly is a tough town to drive. It's old, the streets are narrow, and the city planners made sure to include copious acute angles. But committed we were, and off we went.



Of course we arrived at rush hour. Our delivery time was 4pm. The traffic jams did allow me to snap a few decent photos, however.

Franklin Square, named after Bonnie Franklin, of course:


and Independence Hall, where Willie Nelson wrote Stairway to Heaven:


Finally, at the Mint!


The guard shack was empty. A loading door offered an intercom. I pressed the buzzer, and in a moment, the door began to open. Unfortunately, it wasn't opening on my behalf, it was opening to allow egress for the last truck of the day. A very stern and serious cop-like person noticed me hanging around the now opened door and asked me WTF I wanted. Well, he didn't use the F word, but his body language sure communicated it. I explained that we had a delivery, and he then explained that we were too late. "Last delivery is 3:30," he said, and then followed up with "You need to move that [body language, insert: "goddamned"] truck right now." This was my first exposure to the United States Mint Police. Yup. And apparently they aren't allowed to have any fun whatsoever, because this guy was waaaayyyyy overdue on grins and relaxation.

Ugh. Dispatch dropped the ball again. Off we went to a not-so-nearby truckstop for the night. Per protocol, we handed the problem over to dispatch. They would contact the brokered company and the Mint and set up an agreeable appointment time.

Oh, and doggone it, they need to run a background check on youse guys first.


So the next day, Friday, we waited for instruction. Hoss, focused on delivering this damned load so we can score a weekend load, made nearly a dozen phone calls over the course of the day. His efforts were all for naught, however. We had to sit on the load through the weekend while dispatch tried to figure out this super perplexing and vastly complex problem of when can we dump these 380 pounds of gold coins and move on?

Now had we known that we'd be stuck in Philly for days, we could have rented a car and gone sightseeing. Cheese steak sandwiches! The Liberty Bell! The Chemical Heritage Foundation! But most importantly, the Mutter Museum. The Mutter! I've wanted to go for decades!

No. We're on layover and standby. The Mint Police might suddenly decide to take care of outstanding business and invite us in. ~sigh~

Finally, a dispatcher with slightly more than half a brain figgers out that we can unload early on Monday morning. FanTABulous!

We drove in 90 minutes early because we wanted to avoid rush hour traffic, and we parked within feet - no, seriously, FEET - of Ben Franklin's grave to wait it out. I was tempted to dash out of the truck and take a picture, but my hair was a mess.

At 7am sharp, we trundled toward the Philly Mint guard shack and waited across the street from some very authentic and old townhouses that caught my eye.

The guard, a pleasant and affable man, took our information and instructed us to wait at the door for it to open. When it did, this is what we saw:


My claustrophobia kicked in with extra anxiety. It's ... a truck tomb.

Inside the entry, another Mint Police guy emerged and asked for ID. After only a few minutes, the door began to open:


and I must admit, their doors are far more robust and sturdy than most

We were so deeply encased that the GPS lost its mind:


But a successful delivery was had by all and we FINALLY offloaded 380 pounds of gold value.

No, it was not enough to sustain us through retirement. I did the math, trust me.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Can't Win If You Don't Play


Well, we tried.

Aaaaaand, we're still working.


Recent Scenery

Baltimore harbor and waterways:

Baltimore Harbor


||OooOOO||oooOoo||000oo0OO|| :


Possibly the Fort McHenry Tunnel - I dunno, tunnels look pretty much the same:


Can I stop the photo show for a brief rant? Of all the things mankind has invented in the last few decades, what single device should know when it's in a tunnel? Your GPS, that's correct. So why do some GPS models have a categorical panic attack mid-tunnel? "Signal lost! Unable to connect! Signal lost! Unable to connect!" For cryin' out loud, shouldn't it know when the signal will be lost??

One of the best views on I-81 through the Smokey Mountains:



And finally, a shot of our personal logistics supervisor:


Tuesday, August 25, 2015


There is, without doubt, no other American city that embodies urban decay more profoundly than Detroit. Much has been written about it. A single search on the Google machine can keep you busy for days. It's heartbreaking.

Driving down a main thoroughfare and glancing up the side streets into the neighborhoods, you'll see once beautiful multi-family homes with caved roofs, windows bereft of glass, jungle-like yards. Many - too many - have been burned and remain open to the elements. Countless mansions, even, once the homes of auto execs, are crumbling, uninhabitable wrecks. What surprises me, with every single trip we make into and out of Detroit, is the sheer enormity of it all. It's everywhere. Everywhere. Not just in the wild and woolley neighborhoods, or the urban ones, or the industrial ones. It's everywhere.

I took these on a fast trip in and out of Warren, a suburb 18 miles from Detroit. Eighteen miles. All were taken from a single thoroughfare as Hoss drove, no sightseeing or shot seeking involved.










These last few were taken on I-75, on our way south and therefore closer to actual Detroit than Warren:




I got fewer of these due to the faster speed and crazy traffic and obstructions like billboards, etc., but believe me, it's like this all through the Detroit area.

Honestly, it makes me want to cry.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"So Natural"

No. No, it's not. Not by any stretch.


I get that some people aren't cooks. I understand putting a dinner together is time consuming and sometimes complicated, and sometimes, people don't have the right equipment to cook a certain thing.

But I am NOT eating a precooked cob of corn wrapped in aseptic packaging.

There are umpteen varieties of canned and frozen corn that have to be ten times more natural and appetizing than shelf-stable corn.

Who thinks this stuff up??

Monday, August 17, 2015

Lucky Rooster

After a delivery in Westville, New Jersey, I glanced in the yard of another business and saw this guy strutting around like he owned the joint:

2015-08-17 16.40.22

I don't know if he's an escapee or on the job, but it's a first for us.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tennessee River

I think.

Frankly, after a hellish week of drive-drive-drive, all rivers start to look the same.

But es muy bonito, si?



World Elephant Day

Peanuts for everybody!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Meet SA-211

A few miles into Alabama from the Tennessee side sits the Ardmore Welcome Center. I like to stop at State welcome centers; they're usually staffed, clean, and offer more parking than standard rest areas on the Interstate. They also like to tout why their state's pretty darned special, and they like to display items of local association and pride.

The Alabama Welcome Center stands alone, for one very obvious reason:

They have an assembled Saturn IB rocket on display. Take that, Florida!!

The early US space program was rife with political pork-barreling. If it weren't for then US Senator Lyndon Johnson and his cohorts, the famous Apollo 13 quote may well have been "San Francisco, we have a problem." Seriously. Huntsville, Alabama gained favor with the military in WWII as Redstone Arsenal, a chemical munitions center. That association, combined with congressional and military influence, succeeded in turning Huntsville into "Rocket City", staffed with a group of rocket scientists led by none other than Wernher von Braun.

Initially tasked with developing military rockets and guided missiles, Redstone became the Marshall Space Flight Center in the summer of 1960 after Russia successfully launched Sputnik 1 and 2 (plus an unfortunate dog name Laika) into space while America managed to get only 3 out of 11 Vanguard rockets into orbit (WTG, Navy!). Somewhat panicked, Eisenhower signed the dotted line and Redstone was no longer a simple military arsenal.

And overnight, the Watercress Capital of the World became the home of the largest collection of slide rules in the Western Hemisphere.

von Braun's success with the Redstone rockets brought the space program to Huntsville. Mercury-Redstone rockets tossed Shepard and Grissom into low Earth orbit, then they hunkered down to figger out that pesky heavy lift Apollo thing. Meanwhile, NASA, assigned with a dozen manned Gemini flights critical to the success of the Apollo mission, tapped the Vanguard manufacturers to build us something somewhat more reliable than their first attempt. Build these without the expoding feature this time, please.

In the meantime, Marshall worked on heavy lift. And aced it.

There were 32 Saturn family rocket launches from 1961 to 1973. There were a couple of second stage engine hiccups that didn't affect the mission, and one heartbreaking tragedy during a launch rehearsal, but no dismal engineering failures. In fact, their last iteration, the Saturn V, remains the biggest, baddest rocket ever launched.

From Wikipedia:
The Saturn V was launched 13 times from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with no loss of crew or payload. The Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status and it still holds records for the heaviest payload launched and largest payload capacity to low Earth orbit of 140,000 kilograms (310,000 lbs).
Building on that success, Marshall has been at the heart of such space exploration projects such as:

Lunar Rover
Space Shuttle
International Space Station
Hubble Telescope
Chandra X-Ray Observatory
Compton Gamma Ray Observatory

But I digress.

There were 14 Saturn IB rockets built. Nine were launched with zero failures. SA-201 through 204 were unmanned. SA-205 boosted Apollo 7 into space. SA-206 through SA-208 flew Skylab's first three crews. SA-210 took the American crew to the Apollo-Soyuz dog and pony show.

SA-209 was destined as a rescue ship, to potentially rescue Skylab's crew 3 and stood standby to launch as a backup to Apollo-Soyuz.

The second stage section of SA-212 was used as the main section of Skylab and was boosted to orbit on top of the last Saturn V to ever fly.

SA-213 and -214 weren't fully assembled and were eventually scrapped.

What we have here, glowing in the early summer morning light, is SA-211:



Dedication Plaque

Saturn IB

I took these photos within hours of the most recent RS-25 engine test, one item on a checklist that will get us to Mars:

So while Alabama's Welcome Center seems to jump the shark, it's actually quite an authentic tribute to the area's contribution to space exploration.

Who knew?

Monday, August 10, 2015

More Zoo

Okay, I'mma back off my BuffZoo rant and post more pics of what was a really gorgeous, fun day.

Giraffes are, hands down, the most adorable zoo animal:

Mom & Baby

The rhino mom and baby having a snack after a long soak in a cool pond:

Rhino Mom & Baby

Longhorn sheep share their mountain home with a cliff-dwelling bunny:

Longhorn Sheep & Company

Striped Horse

I'll have what he's having:


Peter Cottontail:


Roos? Wallabies?


I want to raise bison. Going to have to buy a bigger truck.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Buffalo Zoo

No elephant exhibit? Only a single Asian elephant in an indoor cage, who was so disturbed to be caged inside during the day that he endlessly rocked back and forth in frustration and boredom? Screw your construction, either find a way to display all the elephants in their enclosure or quit the species altogether for the interim. What you're doing now is torture.

One Sea Lion. One. Really?

The reindeer have evidently flown back to the North pole. The enclosure is empty.

Tiger exhibit empty. Sad.

The Farm has ONE milk cow, four unhappy sheep, no pigs, no horses, a dollhouse sized chicken coop.

Two gorillas.

Three bison (hello, this is friggin BUFFALO!).

One big cat - a lion. ONE BIG CAT. One. I wanted to cry.

A pair of hyenas, the male of which is certifiably insane.

I love zoos, and I want to give every zoo I visit sparkly happy reviews, but I can't do it this time.

For the 2nd largest city in New York, this is one pitiful friggin zoo.

Which is not to say that we didn't have fun - we did! Much fun! And I might even pay full price for admission again.

But, seriously, Buffalo --- you're getting your ass kicked by far smaller towns in the zoo department. Man up, already.