night driving

TD137: OTR Trucking vs. LTL Trucking

If you’re a regular listener/reader, you’ll know that I recently made a job change. For this episode, I thought about just talking about my new Less-Than-Load (LTL) job, but instead I’ve decided to tell you about the new job while also comparing it to my old Over-The-Road (OTR) job. So let’s get to it.

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But first, let’s define what LTL and OTR means so all the newbies and non-truckers can follow along.

OTR stands for Over-The-Road. This type of trucking is typically (but not always) freight picked up at one or two customers at most and delivered to one or two receivers. There are OTR carriers that deal with multiple pickups or stops on one trailer, but the vast majority of large national trucking companies like JB Hunt, Prime, and US Xpress, pick up a load at one location and deliver it to a single location about 99% of the time. Also, unless you’re on some sort of dedicated account, you’re probably not running the same routes every day. Pretty straightforward really. 

LTL stands for Less-Than-Load (or Truckload), meaning they pick up freight from lots of different customers throughout the day who have “less than a full load.” Each customer might only have one pallet, tote, tub, barrel, or crate to ship. All that freight is collected by local drivers who bring it back to local terminals where it is sorted based on which direction it is headed. From there it will keep moving to other terminals and branching out until it reaches it’s final destination.

Think of LTL like a tree. 

There are many roots (shipping customers) on a tree. All those roots converge into the tree trunk.

The tree trunk is the local LTL terminal where all the day’s freight is collected. Freight is then sorted according to the direction of it’s destination and loaded onto many trailers. From there, each branch (or load) forks off in a different direction until you finally get to the leaf (the freight’s final destination in this weird analogy). 

UPS and Fedex are probably the LTL carriers you’re most familiar with. They would have many more branches than most LTL carriers because they are often delivering to individual homes, whereas companies like YRC and Old Dominion are doing more business-to-business freight, meaning there are less branches before it reaches it’s final destination. 

I hope I didn’t confuse you with that analogy so much that you leaf this blog post. Sorry, I realize that’s an inexcusably lame pun, but I’m cheesy enough that I just couldn’t pass it up. 

Here’s the nitty-gritty of how LTL driving works. 

Freight is picked up by many city drivers throughout the day. One local driver might deliver and pick up freight from 10 or more different customers each day. Some terminals have dozens of local drivers that are each doing that. They then bring it back to their local terminal where either they or a dock worker separates it and loads it onto outbound trailers. 

Then the line-haul drivers like me come in and take it to it’s final destination or some point along the way toward it’s final destination. If a few pallets of freight needs to be kicked off (unloaded) at another terminal along the way, either the driver will do it or a dock worker will. 

For instance, I might be pulling a trailer from Joplin that has freight going to Des Moines, Chicago, and Minneapolis (all north of Joplin). Des Moines is the place where this route splits. From there, some of it is staying in Iowa, some is going on north to Minneapolis, and the rest needs to get moving eastbound and down towards Chicago.

If there’s only a few pallets of Des Moines and Chicago freight, they may have me kick off that freight in Des Moines and keep on trucking up to Minnesota. But if most of the freight is staying in Des Moines, they will likely have me drop the trailer there and head somewhere else if I still have driving hours. As I’m moving on, the Des Moines dock workers are splitting that Chicago and Minneapolis freight onto the appropriate trailers, which will be picked up later by other line-haul drivers.

Sometimes this routing has already been planned in advance, but sometimes it’s a spur-of-the-moment decision based on what has come into Des Moines recently. Basically, it boils down to us line-haul drivers doing whatever dispatch tells us to do. 

Okay, now that has been explained, let me issue a disclaimer: 

My only experience working LTL is with this new job, so please keep in mind that I’m only speaking from my limited experience I’ve gained in the first month or so. Not all LTL carriers are alike, so please take my thoughts on this subject with a grain of salt and always do your own research before you make any job switch.   

The job transition

I have to say that the job transition wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped. Things just seemed confused throughout. When I asked why things were so messed up, I was told this company had just set up a new hiring process. Okay, I’ll give them that. But that still didn’t make it any easier. 

For example, there was such a long interval between my initial drug screen and my start date, that I had to go back in to do another drug screen. Although I guess part of that falls on my old job still needing me to be out a minimum of two weeks.

Let me take a second here to give a shout out to my old employer. Since my new company had called them early on, they knew I was in the running for a new job. They routed me to headquarters where I sat down with my dispatcher and her boss. When they heard my perspective new job involved similar pay and considerably more home time, instead of coping an attitude, they wished me the best and told me I always had a job there if it didn’t work out. They also promised to work with me to get me home whenever I needed throughout the hiring process. They held up their promise until the end, so kudos to them.

On my first home time since I was found out, I did the drug screen and the physical fitness test, which I’m happy to say I passed with flying colors. Then I went back out for three more weeks while the new company processed the test results and scheduled my road test. 

After the road test, I went back out for my final three weeks. I could’ve made it two weeks, but the new employer wasn’t in any particular rush and it just so happened The Evil Overlord was going to be traveling to the city where I needed to drop off my truck. How’s that for luck?

My first week on the job

Again, my first week started with confusion. I had been told to show up for work Monday night, March 4. I was told I’d be riding with a driver to St. Louis and back all week, but about two hours before I was scheduled to head out, I got a call saying that plans had changed and I’d now be riding with a guy to Kansas City and back every night for the first week. 

The bad thing was that I was getting paid for all miles, whether I was driving or my mentor (trainer) was. St. Louis and back is 604 miles round trip, while KC and back is only 310. That’s a tad more than half the miles I was expecting. Yucky. 

Even worse, the dispatcher called me back just an hour before I was due at work to warn me to wear warm clothes because I’d be working the outside dock for a couple of hours. Well, I didn’t have time to find my heavy coveralls, so I threw on some long johns and my coat, dug out my insulated boots, and scrambled to find some heavy gloves and a beanie. 

We got to KC about 12:30 AM where it was a balmy 12 degrees with a wind chill of about 2 degrees. By the end of the two hours dock work, I couldn’t feel my feet. They thawed out about the time we got home three hours later. 

I’m convinced that first night was the cause of the sickness that haunted me for the next three weeks. Not only was this wussy OTR trucker not accustomed to working in the cold every night, but I also wasn’t used to being around other people in tight quarters like our driver’s room. I found out later that all the other drivers at our terminal had been passing trucker cooties around for a while. And of course, I had shaken the hands of every single one of them the first night as I was introduced to everyone.

So there’s the first big difference I noticed between OTR trucking and LTL trucking; the trucker cooties.

As an OTR trucker, I didn’t talk to anyone face-to-face regularly. I was in my truck most of the day; a place where I came into contact with only my own cooties. 

I think of my new situation kind of like a 3rd grade class. When one person gets sick, everyone gets sick. Even worse, think what it would be like if that 3rd grade class interacted every day with other 3rd graders from all across the USA. That’s what you’re dealing with in LTL.

We all touch the same computer keys to sign in and out. We handle the same pieces of paper to punch in/out on the time clock. We all hang out in a driver’s room while we wait on our loads. We handle a different handheld ELD each day that some other driver has probably been sneezing on without covering his mouth. We all cram into a shuttle van to go to the hotel every morning. And perhaps worst of all, we all share trucks where truckers are spreading their cooties over every surface they touch. 

I mentioned in the last podcast, TD136: The emotions of changing truck driving jobs, that we have assigned trucks at my LTL job… sort of. Well, that was accurate. When we come back to work each night, we get the same truck. But that doesn’t mean it sits there unused all day. 

When I’m in bed at the hotel, some city worker is usually driving it around to make deliveries. So what I’m saying is that if you want to be a millionaire when you retire, you should be buying lots of stock in Lysol disinfecting wipes, cuz I’m stocking up on ‘em big time. 

Now I do realize that a lot of this trucker cootie stuff is true about OTR truckers too, but not to the same extent in my opinion. My OTR truck was mine. The only time anyone else was in it was for maintenance. I used my own writing pen whenever possible and I’m still going to do that. But I can’t wipe down every door handle to the driver’s room and shuttle van, nor can I put on rubber gloves to handle every log in/out sheet. Well I could, but people already think I’m weird as it is.  

I’ve always had a strong immune system, but I think it’s just out of practice from 21 years of OTR trucking. So I’m guessing I’ll be suffering with more bouts of sickness until get my body gets used to fighting off trucker cooties again. Heck, I even got food poisoning in my first full week of solo driving with them. Not a fun trip. Let’s just say that my liquid assets were expeditiously exporting from all ports. Yeah. 

Speaking of other drivers, that’s another thing that’s different between OTR and LTL driving; the driver relationships. 

I worked for my former employer for a total of 13 years. I knew a handful of office employees and a few big wigs by name, but oddly enough, I can’t recall the first names of even two of my fellow company drivers. We were just rarely in the same place at the same time. Not so with LTL. 

Since we’re all home over the weekend, most of us are coming back to work at the same time on Monday. Not only do drivers based in the same terminal chat in the driver’s room before we head out, but we also often talk on the phone. 

I have truly never experienced a driving job like this. Never have I worked a job where so many drivers were willing to help each other. There is a lot to learn coming from OTR trucking to LTL trucking and it’s hard to keep it all straight in my tiny little Brussels sprout-sized brain. Good Lord, why would I use that horrific vegetable as an example? They taste like tiny little dirty cabbages! Yuck!

Here are just a few of the questions I’ve asked multiple times (hey – it’s a lot to take in!): 

  • When can I claim layover pay and how do I figure it?
  • How much time do I claim for drop/hooking?
  • How do I make sure I get paid for breakdown? 
  • What’s the best way to get your truck serviced without someone stealing your assigned truck?
  • Where do I park and check-in when I get to a terminal I’ve never been to?
  • Is that little state highway okay to run between these two terminals? 
  • Where do I put this freight I was told to unload? 
  • How do I get to the hotel; bobtail, taxi, or shuttle van (the answer of which depends on where and when you arrive)?
  • How does this job bidding thing work?
  • And what the heck is “notching” a driver?

Just to get it out of the way, let me try to explain notching to you. I think “notching” is a union thing, but it could also be non-union LTL for all I know. Remember my disclaimer. 

With OTR, you’re often preplanned on loads, and that doesn’t always translate to first come, first served. But in LTL, the first driver to their destination gets the next best outbound load. 

But the union is all about seniority too. That means it’s important that you don’t screw someone with more seniority by leaving earlier (notching) than they do if you’re both headed to the same place. 

So for instance, I’m the low man at my home terminal until some poor sap is hired on behind me. So if the driver right above me and I are both heading to Nashville and we’re both set to depart at the same time, I need to make sure I don’t punch out (notch) and leave before he does. That puts him in a position to arrive first and get the better load back out. 

Part of me thinks that sounds fair, but another side of brain says that if I’m eager enough to leave out a bit early, then I should be able to do that. But then again, the union has been doing it this way for years, and frankly, I value my kneecaps. 😉  

But once we’re both out on the road, all bets are off. If he’s the type of driver that likes to stop and get coffee every couple of hours or pull off for an hour-long nap, then that’s his problem if I beat him to Nashville. You snooze, you lose, buddy.  

So back to all my questions…

As you know, I’m a naturally-inquisitive guy, but even I’ve asked a heck-of-a-lot more questions than normal within the last month or so. God bless Ronnie (my mentor) for being willing to answer the constant barrage during my first week. I feel sorry for him, but he was a real trooper. 

For the record, getting less miles (and money) in my first week and going with Ronnie to KC for dock work proved to be a lot more useful than riding back and forth to St. Louis for a turn-and-burn. 

I got some experience on a forklift (it’d been about 25 years since I’d been on one), but more importantly I learned how to read the freight bills to figure out where freight was moving and how much of it there was. 

I also got some basics on how to load such mismatched freight (no such thing as 22 pallets of identical freight in the LTL world) to reduce damage and maximize the space available. I still have a lot to learn in that department, but that one week of low-paying dock training gave me a leg up on other new drivers I’ve talked to.

Back to this driver relationship thing… 

That first night at work, I got the phone numbers of four or five of our drivers and I’ve since added a handful more to my Contacts app. Everyone says to call if I have any questions. I have… many times. If I can’t reach one guy, there’s always another driver to call on. That’s largely because everyone is driving at night. I’ve even got phone numbers from guys who drive out of other terminals! 

When I was driving back from orientation in Indianapolis (yes, I drove a truck to orientation the second week – first time that’s ever happened), I had to stop and kick off some freight in St. Louis before I could head home. This would be my first time doing it without Ronnie’s help. 

I grabbed a forklift and headed out. I walked up to a guy on the dock and said, “Hey man, I’m new. I think I know what I’m doing, but I don’t know whether to put the freight on the dock or in one of the outbound trailers.” He just said, “You read the bills and I’ll move the freight.” Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve always had drivers willing to help when I ask. Very cool.

Driving at night is another huge difference between OTR and LTL.

When I was an OTR driver, I did my share of overnight driving. That’s actually one of the things I like about OTR; the variety of driving hours. One day you’re up driving during daylight and the next night, you’re waking up at 10 PM to drive all night to deliver a load in the morning. Variety is the spice of life, right? Well, for some people it is and for some people it isn’t.

Seriously, if you’re a solar driver (can’t stay awake at night), LTL is NOT for you. Literally, 85-90% of our driving is in the dark. I typically start between 8-10 PM. If the miles are there and everything goes smoothly, I’m parked at the terminal and heading to the hotel by 8-10 AM, which is always my goal because you know this cheapskate wants a free breakfast. C’mon, you beautiful waffle maker!

Another major difference is preplanning.

For you newbies and non-truckers, preplans are just what they sound like. Before you’re finished with your current load, your dispatcher is already planning out your next load. As soon as they know for sure, they tell you so you can manage your hours of service better. 

The best thing about preplanning is that you almost always knew what you’d be doing next. And the closer your home time got, the more important it seemed. Thanks to preplans, I could often give The Evil Overlord a rough estimate of when I’d be home two days before I got there. Not so with my LTL job. 

Like I said earlier, my new company does everything on a first come, first served basis. Whoever gets to the delivery terminal first gets the best load back out. So obviously dispatch can’t preplan you because they never know who is going to show up first. 

The only exception to this first come, first served rule is leaving out from home after the weekend off. In this scenario, the driver with the most seniority gets the best load (usually the longest mileage). That seems fair, right? But again, there are exceptions.

Some drivers have bid runs.

These are runs that are consistent enough to warrant the same person doing them every night. This can be great if you’re a top dog, but it can really backfire on you if you’re a lowly peon like me. 

You see, there are good bids and there are bad bids.

That driver I was supposed to go with the first week has the #1 seniority spot at our terminal. His bid is St. Louis, drop/hook, and straight back every night. That’s over 3,000 miles per week in 5 days. If you could see me right now, I’m approximately the color of Shrek.

But there are bad bids too.  

Right now, my favorite person in the whole wide world isn’t The Evil Overlord; it’s my mentor, Ronnie. I’m pretty sure he’s her favorite person too, and she hasn’t even met him yet! Why?

Because Ronnie chooses to do that Kansas City bid that only pays 1550 miles plus some dock time each week. He’s in his 60’s and he’s really only doing this job for the insurance and to keep active. Unlike me, he’s been smart with his money and doesn’t need more miles. He can usually even finish his run before he needs to take a stupid 30-minute break. And did I mention it’s only 5 days per week? 

I actually kind of like that KC bid. It’s got a little bit of driving, a little bit of dock work, and lots of home time. If I was in Ronnie’s boat, I’d love to do that bid run. But I’m not in Ronnie’s boat; I’m in my crappy little dinghy with a leaky hull. If I was forced to do Ronnie’s bid, I honestly don’t think I could work here. I’d have to find another LTL job or go back to OTR. It’s just not enough money.

Sure, I would love to have a good bid and be back home every day, but I’m a long ways off from taking that #1 St. Louis bid due to my low seniority. Besides, all the good bids are taken. But there is one more bid that nobody wants and since I’m the low guy, it’s going to fall to me until we can get someone new hired. 

This bid is Joplin to Memphis 3 times one week and twice the next on a continual loop. That’s only 380 miles per day and a lot of sitting at the hotel between loads. Great for the podcast; horrible for my wallet. Normally that would force me to find another job, but everyone tells me that I’ll be able to pick up additional runs to make it worth my while.

For instance, if I get to Memphis early enough and there is freight running to Nashville that they need to move, I could actually turn a 380 mile day into a 600+ mile day. Then I’d swing back through Memphis to get back on my bid run before heading back to Joplin. On my short week, I’ll be able to ask for extra freight on Friday night, but again, this is all dependent on having enough freight to keep us all busy.

You see, being the low man on the totem pole has another downside. If there is additional freight to run, those drivers with higher seniority get first dibs. If they don’t want it, it might fall down to me. In the busy time of the year, there’s enough freight for everyone. The slow time is a different story.  

I can really only hope and pray my fellow drivers are right about this bid and these extra runs, because I like this job a lot and really don’t want to have to move on. I see the potential if I can get off this bid and back onto the open board (out all week and back on weekends) and I’m just praying for someone to come along who would enjoy lower miles and more home time. If you know anyone like that in Southwest Missouri, send them my way! Enough about that!

Not sleeping in the truck is another major difference between LTL and OTR.

I mentioned this in TD136: The Emotions Of Changing Truck Driving Jobs. I don’t know if every LTL does this, but if you see them driving day cabs they probably do. 

Turns out, it’s not so bad. I’ve had a few rough times trying to sleep during daylight (usually due to have coffee and then getting shut down earlier than expected), but for the most part I’m snoring like a chainsaw. It’s great getting a shower every day too. 

I am still getting used to the food. Most of the hotels have microwaves so I’m back to packing cans of soup again. And of course, there’s peanut butter. There’s allllllllways peanut butter. 

No parking woes in LTL!

But just as I suspected, the best thing about LTL and day cabs is that I don’t have to find truck parking every day. The only thing I have to worry about is finding someplace to stop for my 30-minute break. And you’ll be happy to know that I haven’t gone all hypocrite on you and blocked the fuel bays. Can’t say that for some of my fellow drivers, but at least I haven’t stooped that low.

Perhaps the biggest difference I see between OTR and LTL is being paid for your time.

As an OTR driver, there is this common thought of “I’m only getting paid if the wheels are turning.” I accepted the fact that I didn’t get paid to fuel, drop/hook trailers, do pre-trip/post trip inspections, sweep a trailer, get a flat fixed, wait for a load to be ready or unloaded, or take a random drug test. It’s all just part of the job, right? I’ve said that to so many drivers in the past.  

As an example, I didn’t get paid any detention time until 2013. That’s 16 years if you’re counting! When I finally did, it was only $12 per hour after one hour detention, with a daily cap of $75. I also used to get $75 layover pay or $75 breakdown, but only after 24 hours of continuous downtime.

LTL pays you for your time.

Again, disclaimer here. All LTL companies may not pay for your time, but mine sure does. 

With LTL, I get paid for waiting, which is the way it should be. I do give them some time initially, but now I get paid a lot more per hour if I have to wait on a load. And there is no cap! 

The other day, I made $100 before I even left the hotel room! I’m not saying that to brag. It’s just that I was being delayed because my load wasn’t ready yet. I was available and ready to go, so I should be getting paid, right? SO SHOULD OTR DRIVERS! But they’re not.

Guess what? For the first time in my career, I got paid for a tire blowout from the minute I called breakdown to the time I pulled out of the shop. Later that week another one blew out and I got paid hourly again. And for the record, this is a decent hourly wage. 

In case you didn’t notice, everything I just mentioned involved getting paid for my time. I wasn’t working, but that wasn’t my choice, was it? I prefer to drive because I can make more money than sitting around with my thumb up my keister, but if someone is wasting my time while I’m out on the road, why shouldn’t we drivers get paid for that? 

It’s something we OTR drivers have been disgruntled about for decades, but it never changed and likely never will until some drastic steps take place. All I can tell you is it’s amazing how less-stressed you are when you’re being paid fairly for your down time.

So it only stands to reason that I get paid for my work too, right? Yep.  

I got paid for fueling for the first time in 21 years. I got paid for dropping and/or hooking a trailer. I got paid for working on the dock. I even get paid a minimum pay if I don’t get a set amount of miles each day. 

How much of this is the union?

Now I’m honestly not sure how much of this has to do with LTL and how much it has to do with being a part of the union. After all, they were responsible for lots of labor laws that many people enjoy today.

Enjoy your weekends off and a 40-hour work week? How about paid vacation, sick leave, medical leave, military leave, or paid holidays? Then thank a union. http://www.unionplus.org/blog/union-made/eight-reasons-thank-unions

Now please don’t think the Trucker Dump podcast/blog is going to turn into a platform to promote unions. That’s really not my goal. It’s just that I believe in giving credit where credit is due. 

The last major difference I see between OTR and LTL is home time. 

Honestly, I was a bit mislead about this. I was told I would be home Friday night or Saturday by noon, when in fact as an open board driver (before and hopefully after this Memphis bid) I’m usually pulling into my home terminal sometime Saturday evening or early AM on Sunday. 

That still works for me because I’m still getting adequate home time. Our normal start time is Monday 8-10 PM so I’m still getting close to 48 hours off every weekend. I might get shorted a bit more during the busy season, but I’m kind of a hammer dog anyway so I’m going to take the freight when it’s there and smile all the way to the bank. 

And speaking of banks, I’ve already deposited the biggest paycheck I’ve ever gotten in my 21 year career. And that’s with making 11 cents less per mile than my last job. This, my friends, is the power of getting paid for ALL the work you do, not just driving. 

Again, not to brag… oh who am I kidding? I’m totally bragging!! LOL  

For many years I’ve heard drivers talking up LTL trucking. 

I’d always heard they made more money than the average OTR trucker, but I just never took it seriously. Why didn’t I ever take the time to see if there was any merit to it? Dunno. 

Listen, I have never been one to tell another driver who to work for. I’ve said it as long as I’ve been blogging; I don’t know your situation and I don’t know what your priorities are, so I’m not going to recommend any particular trucking companies to you. Or types of trucking for that matter.

So if you’re happy with your OTR job, by all means keep it up. But if you’re fed up with not being paid for the work you do or the time you’re being forced to waste out on the road, then LTL driving might be for you. 

If you can drive at night without careening off into a river and if you can handle putting in your dues on the bottom rung of the seniority ladder for a while, then I would highly recommend at least looking into an LTL job in your area. What can it hurt?

I can honestly say that I wish I’d made this move about 10 years ago. Then again, if this forced bid thing doesn’t work out for me, I may have to delete this post altogether and disavow any knowledge of it… which would really suck because this sucker took me about 10 hours to write. Yes… seriously.

 

Podcast show notes:

Well, there’s been a 2-month hiatus while I switched jobs, but it brought up a good main topic for today’s show; comparing OTR to LTL trucking.

We’ve got not one, but two good places to eat for the Trucker Grub segment.

Plenty of listener feedback too, including more information on the facial recognition system being used at the Canadian border, an audio comment with an oopsie from a driver (and one from myself), and of course I’m going to include some listener comments saying nice things about the podcast. Why wouldn’t I?

And obviously, there’s been lots of news over the past couple of months. I couldn’t hit everything, but it might seem like it. We cover the April 12 slow roll protest, more equipment recalls, and some past and upcoming safety blitzes.

Speaking of upcoming things, how about new Hours of Service, new emissions standards (oh boy), 18 year old interstate truckers, a drug & alcohol clearinghouse, and a couple of studies on ELD usage, truck parking, and the Eisenhower Tunnel in the Colorado mountains.

We also have some good news for diabetic truckers, an attorney’s advice on things you should do after accident, and imagine this; contradicting articles on the driver shortage issue. Who knew?

Listen to the podcast version or read the full article and the podcast show notes on AboutTruckDriving.com.

This episode of Trucker Dump is sponsored by:

  • Volvo Trucks – Check out the new VNL series and all it’s awesome features

Links mentioned in the podcast:

Protestors reckon with minimal ‘shutdown’ and protest participation from OverdriveOnline.com

Volvo recalls 11,000 trucks over sleeper bunk window issue from OverdriveOnline.com

Mack recalls nearly 4,000 trucks over mirror issue, Carrier recalls nearly 4,000 APUs from OverdriveOnline.com

Next emissions deadline will ban more trucks from OverdriveOnline.com

Inspection Blitz Alert! Road check 2019 Announced from TheTruckersReport.com

Truckers Made To Climb Onto Trailers To Remove Snow During Enforcement Blitz from TheTruckersReport.com

Virginia increases registration fees, diesel taxes to fund I-81 improvements from OverdriveOnline.com

It’s Official: FMCSA Plans To Overhaul Hours Of Service Rules For Truckers from TheTruckersReport.com

Interstate Trucking Will Be Open To Drivers 18+ Under New Bill from TheTruckersReport.com

Federal Govt: The ‘Truck Driver Shortage’ Doesn’t Exist from TheTruckersReport.com

ATA Insists Driver Shortage Is Real Despite Govt. Report Saying It Isn’t from TheTruckersReport.com

From within or without? — pressure to run over hours in the wake of the ELD mandate from OverdriveOnline.com

Drivers will need to register in Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse to change jobs, ensure accuracy from OverdriveOnline.com

Truckers Can Find Safe Parking Even After Hours Are Up Says FMCSA Official from TheTruckersReport.com

FMCSA Ends the Diabetic Driver Exemption Program from GoByTruckNews.com

TD116: Diabetes And Truckers

Colorado DOT to study allowing hazmat trucks to travel through I-70’s Eisenhower Tunnel from OverdriveOnline.com

Trucking Law: Things to consider after an accident from OverdriveOnline.com

35-year trucker Joe Bartlett got a seatbelt ticket — until this video got it thrown out from OverdriveOnline.com

Trucking law: Your gun rights on private property from OverdriveOnline.com

Missouri Miller Boy gives us two restaurants for the Trucker Grub:

TD136: The Emotions Of Changing Truck Driving Jobs from AboutTruckDriving.com

Eight Reasons to Thank Unions from UnionPlus.org

Links in the feedback section:

Rod from GarmanTrucking.net read TD134: 3 Free Trucking Apps Every Trucker Should Have and enjoyed it. Thanks man!

Eddie Child is the winner of the Trucker Dump tee shirt for taking the Trucker Dump Listener Survey.

Lindsay had a chuckle about something I said in TD134: 3 Free Trucking Apps Every Trucker Should Have and passed the word along to her husband, who drives truck and works at Bartholomew Pressure Washing out of the Raleigh NC area.

Jeff Hardy listened to TD135: Trucking Recruiters: Friend Or Foe? and wants to help us understand how facial recognition works at the Canadian border. He also quotes The Red Green Show, which apparently is a Canadian thing.

Nick Mack tells a story of when he was complacent about 6 months into his new driving career and I follow up with my own similar story. I also mention two podcasts I’ve done on this important subject, TD97: A Trucker’s Worst Nemesis: Complacency and TD104: Complacency Strikes.

Photos of my recent incident on Flickr.

Glenn wrote the shortest email in history to tell me the term I was looking for was A-Pillar. Thanks, Glenn!

Show info:

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TD102: What’s It Like To Be A Trucker?

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Snowy RoadWell, I’m doing something a bit different today. I’m not writing anything here. I’m simply linking you to another bit of writing I did a while back. This was an interview I did for JobShadow.com. It has produced a lot of good comments from the readers so I’d thought I’d share it with those of you who are just too stinking lazy to go over there on your own. So if you want to know what it’s like to be a trucker, click here and enjoy. Or if you’d rather listen to the podcast version, which includes a lot of the comments and the answers I’ve given, just click that big ol’ Play button in that big black bar at the top of this post.

Click here to go to the JobShadow.com interview.

TD82: Are All These Changes Good For The Trucking Industry?

The new Hours-of-Service rules, texting and cell phone laws, the CSA, and my personal nemesis and eternal torturer of my soul, Electronic Logbooks, all claim to make the trucking industry safer. But do they? Let’s take a look at that. We’ll discuss the issues first, then sum it all up at the end. May as well tackle these puppies in order. And yes, tackling puppies is perfectly okay if they’re barking for no reason.

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So about these new Hours-of-Service rules. Well, truck accidents are at a 60-year low, so naturally, it’s time to change the rules. Oh boy. Where to start? I guess we really only need to focus on a few of the rules that will affect the majority of drivers. For a complete list of the Hours-of-Service changes, click here.

The 11-hour rule:

Well, for once we lucked out. The powers who know whats best for us had wanted to reduce our daily driving sessions to 10 hours. They lost. For now. Don’t expect this to go away though. They’ve already said they’re going after it again. Yay.

The current 34-hour restart rule:

The old rule said that if you took an uninterrupted 34-hour break, you got to reset your 70-hour work week. Why was this rule important to drivers? Because if you reset your 70 hours, you could squeeze in 82 hours of working within that week. Thanks to @TameraGeorge1 for pointing me to an article on this.

The new 34-hour restart rule:

Used to be, you could take your 34-hour break any time you wanted. Now it has to include two periods between 1:00 AM – 5:00 AM, home terminal time. Granted, they wanted the hours to be from 1:00 AM – 6:00 AM, but they relented. Bless their hearts. But why did they want specific times at all? Well, the divine rulers of all things sacred and righteous said that they wanted us to be sure to get two periods of “overnight” rest. How thoughtful of them. In reality though, these people know trucking about as well as I know the commodity market. They’re pretty sure that we need to sleep sometime and I’m pretty sure that you can sell a pig. That’s about the extend of our knowledge. The difference is, I’m not trying to tell them how to run the commodities game.

So what’s the problem with the new rule? Let me sum it up for you. The new 34-hour rule is as worthless as a drunk Harley rider in a motocross race. Why? Because we truckers don’t sleep when normal folks sleep. Sure, 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM might be prime sleeping time on one day, but two days later it’s the middle of your driving shift. They just can’t comprehend that not everyone has a 9 to 5 day job and not everyone sleeps at night. The concept truly is beyond them.

Now let’s be honest here. The current 34-hour rule is hard enough to do as is. The trucking industry simply moves to quick. The last thing anyone wants is to leave a driver sitting for 34 hours. I can’t count how many times I’ve gotten 30-32 hours into a 34-hour break, only to have to cut it short to pick up a load by a certain time. In other words, freight has to be really freakin’ slow to sit still for 34 hours. Kinda like right now. I’m writing this in the midst of what is looking to be a 42 hour shutdown. Still, that doesn’t happen all that often. Especially this marathon sit-a-thon I’m tolerating today.

So now we’ve got a time restriction on top of all that. It’s not all that often that I get shut down for 34 hours. But now it has to be 34 hours starting and ending at a particular time. I’m sorry, but I really don’t see the shippers staying in touch with my dispatcher to find out if their shipping schedule works with my 34-hour restart.

You can only do one 34-restart per week:

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Although it really doesn’t matter, since we’ll be hard pressed to get even one restart per week. If you have enough time to get a second restart within a week, you’ve got bigger problems than it not being legal.

The 8-hour break rule:

Basically, you can’t drive more than 8 hours without taking a break of at least 30 minutes. Personally, I can’t wait until I have to refuse a load because the delivery is 9 hours away and a 30-minute break would make me late. Honestly though, for the vast majority of drivers this will have little effect, as most stop at some point in their day to eat. It probably will affect me as I typically eat my mid-shift meal on the run. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Speaking of distracted driving. . .

Distracted driving laws:

No texting for truckers. No cell phones for truckers. What’s next? No iPods for truckers? No CD players for truckers? No GPS for truckers? No CB’s for truckers? Okay. I admit. I’d be all right with that last one. But hey, why not get rid of the  gauges on my dashboard? I do look down at them ever now and then. Better get rid of all the billboards too. And while you’re at it, Corvettes are no longer allowed on the roadway. And that beautiful river? Better dam it up. I can’t be caught looking away from the road. And of course, my e-log unit needs to go. All that beeping is waaaaay too distracting.

The CSA, or Comprehensive Safety Analysis:

This fairly new system is the FMCSA’s attempt to get rid of bad drivers and bad carriers by assigning points for naughty behavior. If a driver gets too many points, they’re a hiring risk. And since those points transfer to the trucking company, they want to get rid of bad drivers. Problem is, you can be cited for all kinds of things that are out of your control. For instance, I recently got a warning for speeding (I actually wasn’t). Even though I didn’t get a ticket, I still got points on my CSA. Here’s that story and my complete thoughts on the CSA. Also, if a tail light burns out in mid trip, that’s considered unsafe and I get points. But the last time I checked, my eyeballs were restricted to my head. Now if I could just take them out and hang them 70 feet out my window I could’ve seen that burned out light. Oh wait. Can’t do that. That would be distracted driving.

The cursed E-logs, or Electronic Logs:

I have so many musing on e-logs that I’m not even going to link to them all here. Just go up to the handy-dandy search bar, type “e-logs,” and mark off a day-and-a-half on your calendar. Okay. It’s not that bad, but I have written extensively about them. My hatred is known far and wide. I’m pretty sure that even that rice farmer in rural China has heard about it by now.

Okay. So back to the question: Are all these changes good for the trucking industry?

Well I guess that all depends on which part of the trucking industry you’re talking about. In short, I think the changes will be good for the safety aspect, so-so for the trucking companies, and downright awful for the driver and their bank account. Gee. There’s a surprise.

First, I think when it comes to safety (which this is supposedly all about), adding time restraints to the 34-hour rule change won’t have near the effect that the trucking godheads believe it will, mainly because I don’t think drivers are going to get it very often, if ever. But this is not good news for the carriers and the drivers. You see, the whole point of the 34-hour rule is to reset your 70-hour work week, enabling you to work more hours, which in turn puts more money in yours and the carriers’ pockets. But if they’ve now limited the work week to 70 hours, what’s the point in having the rule at all? Is it just me, or am I totally missing something here? I guess it will make doing your paper logs easier with a reset, but other than that this rule is as pointless as a lead life jacket.

As for the 8-hour rule, I suppose the more breaks you take in a day, the more alert you’ll be. And if you have to be down for 30 minutes, maybe so many drivers won’t be eating while they’re driving. So I guess you can mark that as a plus for the safety side. As for the carriers, they may experience a few more late deliveries, but that probably won’t happen very often either. As for the drivers, maybe being forced to stop will allow them to quit eating so much fast food. Maybe. Okay, that’s a Mr. Fantastic-sized stretch.

Now for distracted driving laws. This one is probably good for safety. . . as long as they don’t take it too far. Although they may have already crossed that bridge. As bad as I hate to admit it though, distractions do cause us to take our eyes off the road for a brief moment. I think if we were all honest with ourselves, we’d admit this. How many times have you done something while talking on the phone or fiddling with your CB that you never would’ve done if you weren’t? I mean, that’s never happened to me, but maybe it has to you. But where does it all end? With nothing to listen to and nobody to talk to, how long will you be driving before your eyelids come crashing to the ground? Sorry, but the surrounding traffic is better off with me texting (not that I’m advising that) than me asleep behind the wheel. Hey, that’d be a good name for a band. Oh wait. . .

Next we tackle the puppies. I mean the CSA. We’ve already tackled the puppies. As bad I hate to admit it, I believe that the CSA is going to be good for safety. They’re trying to weed out the bad drivers and the carriers who turn a blind eye to safety issues that their drivers are pointing out. Unfortunately, some good drivers with bad luck, a bad day, or even bad timing are going to get caught up in this mess. One bad thing could screw up an otherwise excellent career. Still, I know from my own experience that the CSA has caused me to do some things I haven’t done in the past. That license plate light that’s burned out? Yea, I fixed that. That missing mudflap? Yep. Went to the shop for that too. Watching my speed more closely? Yep. So blame the CSA when you get behind me and I’m doing the speed limit. Yes. I’m now that annoying guy.

As for those hell-spawned e-logs, well, I’d really rather eat a turd casserole than admit what I’m about to say, but here goes. I think that e-logs are good for safety. Gosh, I feel like banging my head against a dresser drawer like Dobby for saying that. The fact is, there’s absolutely no way to cheat. I’ve heard drivers say they can cheat with e-logs, but I think they’re probably so used to lying on the CB that it’s spilled over into their e-logs. I’m sure most carriers love them because they don’t see as many log violations. But is this good for the driver? Well, it keeps them from cheating and it makes them run legal logs, but I stand by it when I say there needs to be more flexibility. Add more flexibility to the Hours-of-Service rules and e-logs won’t be such an issue. I won’t be holding my breath on that one though.

So where does that leave us drivers? Well, I don’t really care. The new Hours-of-Service rules don’t kick in until July 1, 2013 and I’ll be off the road and out of the trucking industry for good by then. Yea. Like I haven’t been saying that since 1997.

What do you think about all these changes? Let us all hear your thoughts by leaving a comment. And please give this post a rating and force it onto all your unsuspecting online friends. Thanks

Photo by johanohrling via Flickr

TD64: Truckers: Be Heard On The Proposed HOS Changes

I’m known as the king of a few things. The Evil Overlord calls me the King of Cheese. I’m guessing it’s because of my love of Sharp Cheddar. Yea. That’s gotta be it. I’m also the King of Justification. With enough thought, I can make any of my stupid decisions seem like absolute brilliance. The third is the King of Procrastination. I can usually find a good reason to put just about anything off until the last second.

Well, today I’m proud to say that I overcame my procrastinating tendency. Instead of waiting until the last day to submit my comments on the proposed HOS (Hours of Service) changes, I waited until the next to the last day. Yes, I know… I rule. So have you let yourself be heard yet? If you haven’t, tomorrow (March 4th) is the last day to get your sorry butt over to the FMCSA Web site to let them know how you feel.

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When you reach the comment box, you’ll notice that there’s a 2000 character limit. In my typical blow-hard style, I hit the keys 1998 times. It was kinda like a giant Twitter text box. You always find yourself needing a few more characters than they give you. Too bad they didn’t have a HOS-longer feature.

Anyway, here’s what I had to say to the folks who are put on this earth to torment us truckers.

First of all, I think you should listen to the 122 Representatives that are trying to get you to abandon any changes to the current HOS rules. Fatalities caused by trucks are the lowest they’ve been in 60 years & the roads are safer.

Please leave the 11 hours of driving intact. The carriers have already shown that a new 10-hour limit would force them to put more trucks on the road to cover the same amount of freight. More trucks, more accidents. That’s the law of percentages.

The 14-hour rule is almost useless now. It’s not that often that we are delayed at a customer for 8 hours so we can extend the 14-hour day. Take today for example. I used 45 minutes for pre-trip inspection, fueling, and dropping/hooking a trailer at a customer. After I stopped to do a brief workout, eat, and shower, I had pretty much used up the 3 hours extra that the 14 hours provides.

If you change the rule to a hard 14 that can’t be extended with an 8-hour sleeper berth, it will be entirely useless. The main reason truckers bump up against the current 14 is because of long wait times at shippers and consignees. As you can see from above, I was nearly up against my 14 without any loading/unloading time. If I have to wait even 2 hours to get loaded, I now have to decide if I’m going to skip my workout and shower to make use of my full 11 hours of driving. I’ll probably be eating fast food too. How is any of that healthy for the driver?

Next up is the proposed change to the 34-hour rule. I wish here that the people who regulated our industry actually understood how trucking works. You may have a normal work day, but trucker’s bodies don’t abide by the circadian rhythm. We may drive all night on Monday and all day on Tuesday. We can’t control when we don’t have loads and therefore, we can’t specify when we need our 34 hours to start. The rule is useful as it stands. Change it and you may as well get rid of it all together.

I pray that you all think like truckers when you vote.

There you have it. It’s not perfect, but I think it gets the point across. And in so few words. Yet another reason to be proud of myself.

I’m asking everyone that reads this to head over and give the FMCSA a piece of your mind… even if you don’t have that many pieces to spare. And remember truckers, your truck always has a better chance of getting fixed correctly when you’re nice to the mechanic; so no cursing at the clueless rule-makers. Just don’t expect too much. Even if your truck gets fixed properly, you can always expect a big ol’ glob of grease on your driver’s seat. Some things will never change. Unlike our current Hours of Service I fear.

Please give this post a rating and leave a comment (this means you too, @raysunshine77)

TD63: E-logs: Do They Really Increase Driving Time?

Every day in America, people who “know what’s best” for truckers are trying to convince us how great e-logs are. One of the biggest things these pushers are trying to make us snort is that e-logs will increase the amount of time a driver has to drive. So is this true?

Well, I for one can’t stand wishy-washy people who beat around the bush. That’s why I’m going to give you a once-and-for-all straight-out answer to this question. I can say with every fiber of my being that the answer is yes… and no. Uhhhh… Maybe???

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I’ve been running e-logs for a couple of months now so I feel I’m fairly qualified to answer this question. For the first month, I had to pull double-duty by doing e-logs while still keeping paper logs. This gave me a chance to compare the two systems side-by-side.

In the beginning, I kept noticing that I had just a tad bit more time on my paper logs than on my e-logs. There were two loads in particular that came down to the wire. On both, I went over my drive time on my e-logs, but just managed to get the job done legally on paper logs. Good thing I had been told that paper takes precedence over e-logs. Word has it that it’s also very effective against a rock, but pretty much worthless when it comes up against scissors.

I knew it! Those fibbing safety jerks! How dare they lie to me! I told them they were full of rumpidus wastioli! So the real answer to the initial question is NO! E-logs don’t save the driver time!

But wait… Hmmmm??? Now that I think of it, it is kinda weird that this only happened the first couple of weeks. I mean, the second half of the month I started noticing that I actually did have a little bit more time on e-logs than what my paper logs where showing. So what’s up with dat? Had the time-space continuum changed somehow? Were the e-log pimps somehow messing with physics? Nah. That couldn’t be it. Surely no one praising e-logs has the brains to tamper with such complex forces of nature.

I guess I’ll have to admit that I was the problem. I soon realized that during the first couple of weeks there had been numerous times when I had forgotten to take myself off the On-Duty line. You see; my particular e-log system is set up to automatically put you on the On-Duty line when you quit driving and forget to change your duty status. Since I was new to the system, my safety department would have been glad to change these screw-ups for me. Seeing as how it was only 15 to 20 minutes extra here or there, I hadn’t bothered to ask for the fix. My bad.

Once I realized that the moron in the driving seat was the problem, I remedied this by using the timer in my beloved iPhone. If I go to the On-Duty line to do my pre-trip inspection or to show time at a customer, I set my alarm for 16 minutes. 15 is required. 14 minutes and 55 seconds means you have to start over. So 16 minutes it is. It worked. Well, for the most part it has. I have the attention span of a 5-year-old at a life insurance seminar, so nothing is 100% effective for me. You see, timers work best when you remember to turn them on. Just a little tip from your Uncle Todd.

So there’s your final answer to the question. Yes, e-logs actually do increase your driving time. Good. That’s finally settled. Oh… Wait just a sec… I forgot about something. That’s all theoretically speaking. But we drivers know that nothing works according to plan when you’re sitting behind the wheel of a big rig.

So now e-logs have given me a few precious extra minutes in my day. I’m so giddy I can barely control myself. I feel like belting out a Fred Figglehorn-like scream of joy, but my male hormones are making it utterly impossible. Now I can drive later into the night. My paycheck this week is gonna be a whopper. Right?

Wrong. While it’s always great to gain a few extra minutes of driving time, e-logs make it harder to use all those minutes. Here is how this has worked for me. My e-log unit has just beeped at me telling me that I’ve got one hour left to drive. Since I’m a super-trucker who knows where every truck stop in America is, I know there’s a series of truck stops coming up. One exit is about 15 minutes down the road, another is about 50 minutes, and the third is 1.5 hours.

Which one do I stop at? Since I have an hour to drive, I’d like to make it to the one that’s about 50 minutes out. That way I can utilize most of my drive time and still get parked before Vader pops out of my e-log screen and starts with his mental stranglehold. Oh wait. We decided in the last blog post that that wouldn’t happen. Oh well. I still don’t want to get a log violation.

But what happens if that truck stop has a full parking lot? You might be fine if you’re pulling in before dusk, but what happens after nightfall when truckers descend on truck stops like vultures on a rotting carcass? You know, now that I think of it, a lot of the truck stop parking lots do share that similar odorific funk.

Well, if that truck stop is full, you drive on to the next safe place. Maybe that’s a rest area, which naturally means no shower or food, or maybe it’s that next truck stop that’s half an hour over your legal driving limit. Well gee. What to do?

Maybe I should just stop at the one up here in 15 minutes to be safe. And sadly, that’s what I find myself doing more often than not. Why? Because if I discover that their lot is full, I’ll have one more chance at the 50-minute truck stop before I run out of driving time. So, you non-truckers may be asking, “What’s the big deal? How would being on paper logs help you in this situation? When you’re out of time, you’re out of time.”

Oh ye of little trucking intelligence; lend me your ear. E-logs deal with time set in stone. That’s the way it should be. But a trucker’s schedule is set in sand, or possibly really thick water. Picture that as your toilet bowl the morning after your 21st birthday. With paper logs, there’s not a doubt in my mind that I’d go to the truck stop 50 minutes down the road. I’m going to maximize my log book to the fullest. If there’s parking there, that’s great. If not, oh well. As long as there’s not a weigh station with a bunch of gung-ho DOT officers between me and that next truck stop, I’ll just go there to park for the night. If that’s full, I’ll go on to the next.

The thing is, my paper log would show me stopping at the 50-minute truck stop, even if I didn’t. Illegal? Yes. Maximizing my time? Yes. Done by truckers every day? Yes. But here’s the deal. When I’m an hour further down the road than I’m supposed to be at the end of the night, it just means that I take off an hour later than I actually show leaving the next morning. That also means I drive one less hour that day. It all evens out.

So now we ponder the opening question yet again. Do e-logs really increase a driver’s available drive time? Although e-logs may gain you a few minutes here or there, real life situations make you lose more than you gain. Therefore, my final answer is a big fat nope. Besides, I’m through being a flake. Although I wouldn’t mind being a frosted one. Everyone loves those.

Please leave a comment if you have your own experiences with e-logs or if you have questions. Thanks

Photo by Howard Dickins via Flickr

TD53: Lunar Driving As A Trucker

Here’s a heads-up to any prospective drivers out there. If you think Over-The-Road (OTR) trucking is a 9-to-5 job, you’re gonna be more disappointed than a stoner with a bag of oregano. We have a name for you folks: Solar drivers.

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Solar drivers are guys or gals who only like to run during the daylight. While our circadian rhythms are ideally designed for solar driving, the chances of you getting to do it every day are about as good as you finding a Christian Atheist that’s interested in converting to Islam.

Remember that I’m speaking of OTR driving. Sure, you may be able to find a local driving job that will let you do the solar thing, but if you’re a long-hauler, well, good luck with that. And don’t get your hopes up for a local driving job with big bucks and no whammies.

The fact is that freight can pick up or deliver at any time, and 9 times out of 10, you’ve got no choice as to whether you’re going to be a Solar driver or a Lunar driver. Most loads simply don’t have enough extra transit time for you to be picky.

Common sense would tell you that most businesses are open during the day, so that’s when you’ll be awake and driving. That’s all fine and dandy, but what if you pick up a 500-mile load at night and it delivers at 7:00 AM the following morning? This happens quite frequently, so you should expect it.

I’d love to tell you that you won’t have to drive at night very often, but if I did I’d be a bigger liar than if Pamela Anderson came out and said that she was born with those entities (no pun intended).

There is an exception to this rule. If you’re a team driver, you may get to choose Solar or Lunar driving. Since a team truck pretty much runs around the clock, you can usually get on a schedule. For instance, The Evil Overlord is a Lunar driver. Each afternoon I’d wake her up, and after wrestling the grenade launcher from her, we’d eat and shower. Just before dark she’d start her driving shift and finish sometime before sunrise. You can do this too if you’ve got a flexible co-driver who’s willing to drive the opposite shift.

I’m a lucky guy. Not only am I blessed with devastating good-looks, but I’m also capable of switching from a Solar driver to a Lunar driver in less time than it takes you to roll your eyes at that “devastating good-looks” statement.

So tell me. Why is it that you want to be a Solar driver? Are you sure that it’s all it’s cracked up to be? Here’s my argument for embracing your inner Lunar driver:

  • There’s no rush hour at night. That should be enough in itself.
  • There is no such thing as a good time to cross over the George Washington Bridge into New York City, but if you must, 3:00 AM is the time to do it.
  • There’s less construction at night. Even when the crews are working the graveyard shift, there’s fewer 4-wheelers around that haven’t figured out how to merge BEFORE you get to the giant flashing arrow!
  • When it’s time to go to sleep, the truck stop parking lots are less crowded in the morning.
  • There’s less traffic at night.
  • The darkness is sooooo peaceful.
  • The chicken coops (DOT weigh stations) are less likely to be open at night.
  • Fewer drivers are cursing at each other on the CB radio.
  • It’s fun to flash your bright lights at people. Kidding. Okay, maybe sometimes. Ohhhhh. So THAT’S why he was cussing at me on the CB.
  • If you’re a woman trucker, it’s harder for people to notice you. Therefore, they don’t slow down, act stupid, try to get your attention, and unwittingly block you behind other traffic. The Evil Overlord drove at night for this very reason.
  • Did I mention that there’s less traffic?
  • Heavy winds usually get calmer at night.
  • The fuel bays are typically less crowded at night.
  • So are shippers and receivers.
  • There’s no waiting for a shower at 2:00 AM.
  • If you pull out of a parking spot after dark, you just made another driver happy enough to pee his pants, which could actually be the very reason why they’re looking for a parking space in the first place.
  • And I should also mention that there’s less traffic.

Then again, as I’m making this list, some negative aspects of Lunar driving come to mind. For instance:

  • Potty breaks become an ordeal because all the rest areas are packed tighter than a Mexican illegal immigrant’s apartment. On the plus side, the exit ramps are usually quite dark. So do what you gotta do.
  • OH CRAP! DEER!
  • More drunks on the road… or the sidewalk… or the shoulder of the road… or the ditch… or on the wrong side of the highway… or all of the above.
  • You can’t see the ladder laying in the middle of the road until it’s too late. That would be the ladder that fell off the roof of the aforementioned drunk’s VW Beetle.
  • You can’t see the Smokey Bears (police) at night. Not that it matters when your speed-limited truck gets outrun by an armadillo with a limp.
  • Snow-packed and/or icy roads at night are much more dangerous, which is why you should pull over and tell your dispatcher to stuff it.
  • Your choice of fast food is Subway, Subway, or Subway. If you’re lucky, you can wait a few more miles and find a Subway.
  • It’s harder to read street signs in the dark.
  • Fewer of your Twitter friends will be online. Now put down that phone and drive.
  • Finding a parking spot in the middle of the night just plain sucks.
  • Getting brighted by some jerk who’s just doing it for fun. *snicker*
  • I did mention that there’s less traffic at night, right? Oh shoot. That went in the other section.
  • Sometimes that pesky circadian rhythm jumps up and yanks your eyelids shut for no apparent reason. Even if you’ve had plenty of sleep.
  • The Fuzz can easily see if you’ve got even one teeny-tiny-little-light that has burned out. They’ll pull you over as the VW drunk guy does a U-turn in the ditch to retrieve his ladder.

So maybe there are some advantages to being a Solar driver. I can do either, and quite frankly it’s nice to have to mix it up a bit. I wouldn’t want to have to choose between the two, but if I were forced, I’d go with being a Lunar driver. Why? Did I mention there’s less traffic on the Lunar shift?

Got pros and cons that I’ve forgotten? Leave a comment so that everyone can read them! And please pass this on to anyone who you think might enjoy it. Thanks

Photo by Jason Bache via Flickr

TD42: Feel The Love, You Mean Ol’ Hag

The Evil Overlord (my wife and co-driver) and I have been noticing an awful lot of love going around online. Social networks are teeming with couples professing their undying love for each other. They’re usually followed by the obligatory “MUAH,” which Google informs me, is the sound of a kiss. I guess I just don’t make enough kissing noises in my daily life to have recognized that.

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To these people, I say good for you. I also say, “get a room.” I do so with a 🙂 Seriously, I’m glad that there’s love in the world. I’m happy that there are people who MUAH at each other, even if it does make me throw up in my mouth a little bit. I do hope it’s genuine though. I truly hope their home lives reflect their real life. I’m sure many do. On the other hand, The Evil Overlord and I know some couples who are miserable in real life, but you’d never know it from their online love-fest.

And then there are those who get offended when I take a verbal jab at The Evil Overlord. It happens all the time on my blog and on Twitter. My mother, whom I know will read this at some point (Hi Mom!) is one of those people. I believe that after our marriage of nearly 17 years, she now understands and accepts the way things are. The part that disturbs most folks, including my mom, is the language we use, or perhaps the language that we don’t use. For one, I don’t tell The Evil Overlord that I love her everyday, or even every week. She returns the favor.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. One thing I truly love about The Evil Overlord is that she can’t stand Oprah. She thinks all this self-love, build up your self-esteem stuff, is highly overrated. Tack on the fact that she thinks flowers and cards are pretty much a waste of money, and you’ve got yourself a keeper. Maybe all this Oprah mojo is fine for those women who have some deep, dark past that has left them with self-esteem issues, but not everyone needs a cheerleader pushing woman-power on them. Fortunately for me, confidence is not a problem The Evil Overlord faces.

Many wives need to hear the words “I love you” numerous times a day. They constantly need their husbands to reassure them that they look good too. The Evil Overlord, on the other hand, doesn’t need or want this. She knows when she looks good and when she doesn’t. Sure, she’ll ask my opinion on an outfit now and then, but she usually ignores me and wears the one she thinks looks better anyway. Good choice, as my sense of fashion is pretty atrocious.

Now for this language stuff. Here’s where we really get to some people. We’ve got A LOT of sarcasm in our relationship. Throw in a few insults and some name-calling and you’ve pretty much got the picture. For example:

  • She’ll say something like, “Hey lazy-ass. Why don’t you make yourself useful for a change and fix the shower faucet.” I’ll respond with a loving, “Don’t tell me what to do, woman. Don’t you know your place by now?” She’ll walk away threatening my life as I’m gathering the tools.
  • When I’m sitting on my can watching TV, I’ll yell, “Hey wench! Serve me my food.” She’ll holler back telling me where I can put said food. Two minutes later, I’m looking at my old Transformers TV tray with a heaping plate of vittles.
  • When I get up in the middle of my sleep to back into a dock or put fuel in the truck, I’ll say, “Good Lord woman, you’re totally worthless.” With a smug look, she replies, “Get out there and do your manly duty and quit your whinin’.”
  • When she tells me she wants to buy a MacBook, I tell her that only an idiot would pay that much for a computer. She mumbled something like, “I’ll get it if I want it. That’ll teach you to mess with me.” Instead, she refrains from buying one. When I finally catch the Mac bug, she secretly orders ME a top-the-line MacBook Pro for Christmas. She doesn’t get hers for another year-and-a-half.
  • When she asks me to quit playing Guitar Hero: Metallica to drive 15 miles into town to get her “the ones with the wings,” I say, “Man, I really hate your guts.” I hear a mumbled “You love me,” as I’m walking out the door with a grin. “No, I really don’t” is the last thing she hears as the door closes. I know she’s grinning too.

The fact is that we don’t feel the need to say “I love you” all the time. We’ve never had a deep, heart-to-heart, tear-inducing conversation about this, but we both know we’re loved by the actions that the other takes. As the old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” If I felt that I had to hear it every day, I wouldn’t consider myself to be very confident about the fact. Same with her. Granted, our actions don’t always reflect an ooey-gooey feeling of love. We are married after all.

As for the name-calling, well, I call her The Evil Overlord because she can be as mean as a newly-castrated bull when she wakes up. When we’re home and she’s requested that someone wake her up at a certain time, it turns into a session of, “I’m not doing it; you do it.” Luckily, I’m bigger than my nephews. Out on the road, it’s all on me. Although you can sometimes hear me pleading for help on Twitter.

When she calls me a dumb-ass, well, I know that she’s only implying that I can sometimes act like a childish, brainless turd-flinger. Sometimes names are given for a reason, ya know. Seriously though. I’ve never flung even one, single turd in my life. That’s not any thing my youngest nephew can claim.

So why are so many people hung up on the words, “I love you?” Too many times I’ve heard couples exchange “I love you’s” as one of them walks out the door or hangs up the phone. It doesn’t seem to mean that much to either of them. I’m sure you’ve heard it too. Maybe that’s you. Maybe without you realizing it, it’s even become your version of “See you later.” Gee, that means a lot.

One thing is for sure about my relationship with The Evil Overlord. When one of us says the magic words, it means something, and that’s largely because we don’t say it every day. The words tend to show up at the oddest moments too, catching the person completely off guard. This turns out to be an added benefit because, not only have you told them that you love them, but considering the surprising nature of the situation, you have to explain yourself to them. More examples:

  • I might hear the words after I crawl out of bed in the middle of the night to walk her into a dark rest area. When I look at her suspiciously, she’ll respond seriously, “Most men wouldn’t do this.” Whether that’s true or not, I don’t really care. It makes me feel good. Oddly enough, I don’t get the same treatment when I wake up and start whining about freezing my butt off on the way into the rest area.
  • The Evil Overlord might get surprised with it as we’re gathered around the Playstation 3 with our nephews; all of us screaming trash-talk at the video game. With her hair up in a bun and no make-up on, she laughs and looks at me like I’m crazy. I’ll reminder her that most wives don’t like for their men to play video games and that I’m lucky to have one who actually joins in the fun. I mean, c’mon guys. What better time to tell your wife that you love her than when you’ve just splattered the walls with some demon bosses guts.

Now please don’t get me wrong here. I would never try to tell you how you should interact with your spouse. You do what’s right for you. Just don’t go hatin’ on me and my heartless wench.

*So what do you think about all online lovefests going on? Or tell us all about your warped relationship with your partner. We can do without the graphic details though. 😀 Tell us all about it by leaving a comment. And be sure to pass this post along if you enjoyed it. Thanks.

TD41: Trucking In The Northeast

I’ve been needling the west coast for quite a while now. First, there was my blog post about Oregonians called “Too Stupid to Fuel?” Then, on Twitter I’ve been bashing California and Oregon for their ridiculous 55 mph truck speed limits. Washington state isn’t much  better at 60 mph. Now let me aim my shotgun of disdain at the other coast. Let me further limit it to the Northeast.

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I really don’t hate the Northeast all that much. Other than the heavy traffic, the road restrictions, the way the towns were built, and the occasional a-hole with a middle finger that has its own bicep, it’s really a lovely place. But for the most part, the Northeast can’t be blamed for all this. The fact is, the Northeast was mapped out long before trucks, or even automobiles were built. A-holes, on the other hand, choose to be a-holes, so I’m laying that blame right on the a-hole who chooses to be a-hole-ish.

Our forefathers had a lot of foresight when it came to that whole Constitution thing, but they were waaaay off the mark when it came to laying out towns. I’m pretty sure that ol’ Ben wasn’t anticipating a 70-foot long vehicle weighing 80,000 pounds. And I’m certain that he’d never seen a 13′ 6″ tall horse-and-buggy before. That’s why, when traveling in the Northeast, truckers must always be on their guard when they get off the beaten path. The roads are tight and there always seems to be a low bridge lurking around the corner. This was renewed in my mind the other night.

After getting two different loads and having them cancelled as soon as they arrived (I just love that), it was finally settled that I would pick up a load in Pottstown, Pennsylvania at 1:00 a.m. As usual, my company sent me all the relevant information, including the directions. As usual, these directions were as trustworthy as a Hollywood spouse. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. I should have anticipated it, but being in a hurry, I didn’t.

The fun began when I turned off the main road. The first thing I saw was a long, somewhat narrow bridge. Beside it was that sign that every trucker loves to see. You know, the one that inevitably posts weight restrictions that you can’t possibly meet. Well, at this point, there was no backing up and no turning around. Having an empty trailer at the time, I wasn’t that much over the weight limit. And since I didn’t see a fleet of cop cars, I proceeded slowly. Not falling into a cold, icy grave made me happy.

Figuring the worst was over, I continued to follow my directions. As The Evil Overlord was happy to later point out, I’m not real bright sometimes. I came to a T-intersection and took a left and then a quick right. About a quarter-mile down the road I saw one of those glow-in-the-dark yellow signs. I immediately became leery, but since it looked close to the ground, I plunged ahead. As I approached, I realized that the road started to go down hill. And that’s why the sign looked so close to the ground. Uh-oh. Last time I checked, a 13′ 6″ vehicle can’t fit under an 11-foot bridge. Nuts!

Being focused on that cursed yellow sign, I hadn’t noticed the two cars that had crept up behind me. As I reached for the trusty iPhone, the first car came up beside me. He stopped and rolled down his passenger window. Forgetting I was in the Northeast, I was expecting the guy to ask if I needed some directions around the low bridge. Instead I got, “Hey buddy! How ’bout some flashers?!” While it was true that I hadn’t bothered to turn on my flashers (it was 1:00 a.m. and there hadn’t been a car in sight), I hadn’t been stopped for more than 10 seconds.

Pointing at the low bridge, I said, “Sorry, my focus was on that.” In typical a-hole fashion, he said, “Oh,” and drove off. No, “sorry.” No, “You need a hand?” No, “Gee. Guess I’m an a-hole.” At least the next car just drove right past. No help, but at least I didn’t have to talk to another a-hole.

I called the shipper to get some directions that wouldn’t involve a truck decapitation, but of course, it went directly to voice mail. I found out later that the guard had stepped away from his desk for a few minutes. Of course he had. Nice timing. Next, I pulled up the directions on Google Maps. Ohhhh. So that’s where my company got those directions! Even though I couldn’t follow their recommended route, at least I had a map of the city. So I winged it.

Luckily, there was a huge empty parking lot right beside me, so I whipped a U-turn and took what looked like the biggest road on the map. When I got back to the street I was supposed to turn on, all I could see were houses. Since trucks and residential areas are normally as agreeable as Chris and Rihanna, I kept on going.

I finally found another road big enough to turn onto and made my way back to the pinpoint on the map. It was there alright. Tucked in the middle of a town, surrounded by houses; but it was there. Now where to turn in? Nope. Not that first entrance. U-turn. Maybe on down the residential road a bit? Nope. So now I’m stuck backing up for a quarter-mile on a dark, residential street, lined with cars. Man, I love trucking sometimes.

Holy crap! What was that? I swore I saw something move behind me. It seems that I almost backed over the security guard. I’m guessing this guy was a hide-and-seek master in his youth, as he went from hiding from a phone to hiding behind a moving semi in the matter of a few minutes. I’m also guessing he was about as bright as the street I was on.

He informed me that I was at the right location, but I was supposed to be at the back entrance. After getting directions and taking a couple of tight little nasty corners that had me dodging cars that were parked in front of houses, the gate finally came into sight. But wait.

Seeing what awaited me, I parked down the street and walked toward the gate. There were cars parked in front of houses on one side of the street and trucks parked on the other. At the gate, the intercom assured me that I was in the right place. On my way back to the truck, another fine citizen of Pottstown came out onto his porch smoking a cigarette. Once again, the naive optimist inside of me was expecting a witty comment about how tight it was going to be. Foiled again!

Shocking me back to reality, he said, “You gonna sit out here and idle your truck all night?” Why yes, dill-munch. That is exactly what I had planned to do. Here I was, walking back to my truck from the gate, while my truck sat in the middle of the road with its headlights on. Clearly that was my plan. I simply said “no” and kept walking. If you don’t have anything good to say…

Being evil and all, The Evil Overlord called him by his appropriate name. She didn’t use asterisks though. Gotta love her. She’s like that little red devil sitting on my shoulder. I’m the white angel that keeps getting jabbed in the face with her pitchfork.

Thank God The Evil Overlord was awake though. It’s times like that where you say a silent thank you to the engineer who designs these trucks. So that’s why our side mirrors fold in. It was that tight. With the mirrors folded in and both our heads hanging out the windows like a couple of joy-riding slobber hounds, we slowly crept forward. We had a whole six inches to spare on each side.

After getting loaded, we went back through the truck funnel using the same process. Once out on the street, I was tempted to take Mr. A-hole’s suggestion to sit idling by his house, but I went on down to where there weren’t any houses to do my paperwork. One point for the angel. Having gotten the proper directions from the shipper, we went back out a different way. So it seems that there was a way to avoid drowning and decapitation after all.

So anyway, I can’t blame everything on the Northeast. I’m guessing that weight-restricted bridge was built years before trucks got so darned huge. Same goes for the low underpass. Some good directions would have avoided the trouble; not that my company can be bothered with such trivial matters.

As for the a-holes… well, I’m afraid there’s no avoiding them. At least not until some enterprising young proctologist invents an a-hole detector anyway.

Photo by wonderferret via Flickr