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Everyone knows that the months of November and December are probably the two most stressful months of the year. Unless of course you’re Canadian. In that case it’s October and December. Honestly though. What kind of weirdos have Thanksgiving in October? 😉 This extra stress is freely available to both truckers and non-truckers. Now I know this may come off as whining, but honestly, we truckers have a lot to deal with around the holidays that normal folks don’t. So strap on your whine-filtering headphones and let’s get on with this.
Stress #1: Scheduling
Yeah, yeah. I know you non-truckers have this problem too. But scheduling is one of the biggest differences between us truckers and you non-truckers; you cats already know what days you’re going to have available. Truckers don’t. Heck, we rarely know what we’re doing tomorrow, let alone three or four weeks from now. One of the earliest articles I wrote was called, No Guarantees in Trucking. In much the same way The Evil Overlord complains about my inability to actually look under stuff to find something I’ve misplaced, that article title was actually a bit of an exaggeration. Okay. At least part of that statement is true anyway. Seriously though, guarantees are hard to come by in the trucking industry, especially when it comes to home time.
As I mentioned in the article, the only home time “guarantee” I’ve ever received was for Christmas. And actually it was more of a company policy than it was a guarantee. And keep in mind, this policy was not for New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t for Independence Day. Not even Thanksgiving Day gets this policy. Just Christmas. Notice I didn’t say the Christmas “season.” Just the day. The 25th of December. This policy does not extend to Christmas Eve, nor is there a guarantee on how many days you’ll have off. As pathetic as this Christmas home time policy is, at least it exists. Not all the carriers I’ve worked for have been so kind.
So there’s where the stress comes in. You’re trying to schedule things with family, but there are always a lot more of them than there are of you. And as much as we’d all like to think that the world revolves around us, it just doesn’t. Take my recent Thanksgiving. The Evil Overlord was going to be working out-of-town the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday after Thanksgiving Day. The Evil Overlord’s sister had to work Thanksgiving Day, but was available later that night. My sister, Angi, was having Thanksgiving with her husband’s side of the family on Thanksgiving day, and she had to leave immediately afterwards for some kind of roller derby camp thing. Yes, seriously. Here’s a couple of short videos of me tormenting her at one of her matches. Hey, what are big brothers for?
Okay. Obviously, the weekend after Thanksgiving wasn’t an option and doing it the weekend before, well, that just doesn’t have the same vibe, does it? So I took a deep breath, cringed, and asked for Wednesday and Thursday off. I asked to be home by Tuesday night just to be sure I’d get there for my mom’s dinner on Wednesday. I should also mention that I put in for this home time two weeks in advance. So everything is set, right? Well, perhaps now I should explain why I was cringing when I asked for Wednesday and Thursday off.
Stress #2: Logistics
Okay. Due to the way my company’s freight moves, it’s extremely hard to get home in the middle of the week. Well, I was sitting right close to home on Tuesday, but I was under a two-stop load that had to be delivered on Wednesday. If they couldn’t find a relay close to home, I was going to have to go 150 miles away to deliver the first stop and then hope they could find someone to take it on from there. Well, to go completely again my blow-hard nature, I’ll give you the short version. Consider that an early Christmas present.
Basically, they couldn’t find anyone to take my load and I was sitting 300 miles away from home on Wednesday evening. Remember, I was supposed to be home the night before. I used the rest of my hours to pick up my load home. But guess what? It had been double-booked and another company had already picked it up. Wouldn’t you know it? Thankfully, they had another load going to the same place that was ready seven days early. Yea. Who says miracles don’t exist?
Anyway, by then I was out of hours and I didn’t get home until Thursday afternoon. So I totally missed Wednesday’s dinner with my side of the family and I barely made it home in time to eat with The Evil Overlord’s side. Then the wench left for work the following morning, so I got to see her for about 20 whole hours. Seven hours of that we were sleeping and the other 13 she was busy shooing me and the nephews out of the kitchen. Now seems like a good time to say, “That’s trucking.” Ugh. Someone hit me with a shovel.
So you can see, even when you have everything worked out, that doesn’t mean your company does. Sometimes they just don’t have people where they need them to be. But say they do. That’s where we run into our next problem.
Stress #3: Weather
Unfortunately, the holiday season falls in winter. And unless you have white hair and your name is Storm, I doubt you have any control over the weather. Now I can hear some of you weather nerds out there, *in my best nasally voice* “Well if you just watch The Weather Channel, you’ll be safe.” Seriously? The last time I checked, most meteorologists are about as accurate as Stevie Wonder shooting a free throw. But for the sake of argument, let’s say the pretty weather girl does get tomorrow’s weather correct.
So now if your dispatcher tries to send you into a blizzard two days before you’re due home, you know to tell him to take the pencil he’s holding and pretend it’s a suppository… in the nicest possible way, of course. But what about a full week before you’re supposed to be home? The weather is fine where you’re currently heading and you should have plenty of time to get back home; right? Well, at a week out even the best of meteorologists…, well, let’s just say old Stevie may as well be shooting from half court. So now you’re facing bad weather on your way back home.
Or maybe you didn’t even come back the same route. Maybe you thought you’d be coming straight back, but instead freight had you jumping 150 miles north and now that storm you figured you’d miss is coming at you like a bull chasing little red riding hood. And suppose this time when you tell your dispatcher to insert his pencil, he tells you that it’s the only load moving towards home. Heading any other direction at this point would guarantee you won’t get home in time. Hey look! I was wrong! There is a guarantee in trucking! That is precisely what happened to me at Thanksgiving.
I was sitting in Dallas on Monday when I got the news. Nothing heading towards home today, but there was a load going that way tomorrow morning (Tuesday-the day I was due home). That load was my only choice. I knew it ran straight up through my house, but I also knew it had two stops that had to be delivered 150 and 300 miles away at the same time I was supposed to be stuffing pumpkin pie down my pumpkin pie hole at my sister’s house. What to do? Well, like I said, that was my only option. And before any of you drivers say anything, I’d like to take a second to address something here.
Some of you drivers are just too freakin’ paranoid. The Evil Overlord was certainly one of you. She always had the idea that everyone at our trucking company was out to screw us. I’ve talked with lots of dispatchers over the years, and trust me; they don’t want to listen to you complain about not getting home. They aren’t sitting at their desk yearning for you to call and ask them if there’s any freight moving towards home… for the eighth time. No; if they had a load that would get you out of their hair, they’d give it to you. So lighten up, guys and gals. Sure, your dispatcher is trying to get the most work out of you that they can, but I think most of them would just rather get you home on time to keep you from whining for the next two weeks. If you’ve got stories that prove me wrong, well that’s what TruckerDump@gmail.com is for. Write in and tell me about ’em.
Okay. I’m done with my rant. Now on to the next stress-causing problem.
Stress #4: Laws
When was the last you non-truckers were told you couldn’t drive to Grandma’s house because you’d be breaking the law? Truckers deal with this all the time, not just during the holidays. But it’s extra stressful during the holidays. Truckers have set time limits we can drive per day and per week. If we break those rules and get caught by the fuzz, it’s a stiff fine. If our company is the only one to catch it, then we can face penalties including suspension for a few days, or worse, having to watch safety videos. Yeesh!
Under normal circumstances, we truckers know how many hours we have and we’ll wield this information when dispatch tries to get us too far from home. But as any trucker will tell you, trucking is anything but normal. There are so many things out of our control. What happens when a shipper takes 4 hours longer to load you than you expected? Happens all the time. What if you needed those 4 hours to get home? Instead, you find yourself taking a mandatory 10-hour break 4 hours from the house. And what are the chances someone who is already busy with holiday festivities is going to drive 500 miles round trip to come get you and take you home? Probably about as good as Stevie making that half-court shot. Poor Stevie. I just keep banging on you. 😉
How about equipment issues? Take a look at the picture. Can you see a cut in the air line? Yea. I could barely see it too. But the Missouri DOT officer at the chicken coop found it. She shut me down until a repair truck came out and replaced it. If that had happened this Thanksgiving, I would’ve missed both my family gatherings.
Mechanical issues pop up all the time with big rigs. Now if your heater goes out or your oil pressure gauge quits working during the holidays, you’re likely to push on through and get home. But what happens when you have a flat tire? If you’re lucky enough to limp to a truck stop, your wait time could be 5 minutes or it could be 5 hours. And what about more serious issues? My truck lost all power on I-494 in St. Paul not too long ago. I waited on the side of the road for 5-6 hours for a tow truck. Then I spent the next two days in a hotel room and the next two days after that rescuing another truck so I’d have something to drive. What are the chances The Evil Overlord would have time to drive 9 hours to get me and 9 hours back. Poor old Stevie’s had enough. I won’t go there again, but you get the idea.
Yes, you non-truckers could have automobile issues or have a plane grounded, but how often does that really happen? I’ll rest my case on this one.
Stress #5: Shopping
Okay. I’m going to give it to you that the Internet has made this a heck of a lot easier than it used to be. I remember a time when you had to cram all your Christmas shopping into your limited home time. Thankfully, those days are over. But there’s still the problem of what to buy for people. We truckers are on the road so much that it’s hard to know anyone well enough to know what they might like for Christmas.
I love my nephews, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’d don’t have a clue what they want for Christmas. Thankfully, The Evil Overlord knows and she’s in her element when she’s got a debit card in her hand. I’d say she needs a debit card holster strapped to her hip, but it seems unnecessary. Her arms move faster than a hummingbird’s wings when she goes to whip that thing out of her purse. I’m looking forward to the day I’ll have an iPhone with slow-motion capture so I can analyze her technique.
There’s only one thing worse than not knowing what the people in your life want for Christmas; not caring. Here’s something that boggles my mind. Yes, it’s another mini-rant. I’ve talked to a few different truck stop cashiers that tell me that some drivers save up their rewards points all year long and buy all their Christmas presents at the truck stop. Say what? Listen, I know my taste is horrendous, but even I know not to buy Christmas gifts at a truck stop. For one, everything is more expensive there. Secondly, most of the stuff is crap; especially the electronics and elcheapo stuffed toys. Thirdly, I’d be shocked if anyone really enjoyed those presents. And lastly, it screams “I couldn’t bother to go anywhere out of my way to get you something you might actually like.”
Listen, I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of this at some point. I remember when The Evil Overlord and I first started trucking, we bought some toy trucks with our company logo on them and gave them to some of the kids in our life. Some kids like toy trucks so that’s probably fine. But I know that we also got other company-logoed merchandise for other relatives. Not good. I remember one Christmas when my sister had started a new job. She bought everyone in the family clothing with the company logo. Now this wasn’t a fashionable company like Coca-Cola or anything. It was a friggin’ financial institution. Talk about plastering on a fake smile.
My sister meant well. We meant well. Maybe you mean well. But do you really or are you just being lazy? Kid’s love toy trucks. Fine. But trust me. If you’ve given Christmas gifts with your company logo on it for more than one year, the people in your life are dreading your gift this year. Don’t believe me? Get them something good for a change of pace and you’ll see the difference on their face Christmas morning. *steps off soapbox* I’m sure someone is going to disagree with me here. Tell me how wrong I am at TruckerDump@gmail.com.
Well, there you have it; the 5 Stresses of Trucking Through the Holidays. The next time you non-truckers feel the urge to whine about how stressful the holiday season is, just be glad you aren’t trying to do it all from the cab of a big rig. As you can now see, we truckers are already stressed out during the holidays, so please remember that as you’re driving around this season. And also a quick reminder that the crap we’re hauling is the crap you’re buying. So please save your middle finger for that soccer mom who just took the last Big Hugs Elmo.