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TD129: 4 Ways To Become A More Efficient Trucker

Experienced truckers know that there are many things in the trucking industry that are out of your control. If you’re a newbie who has not figured this out yet, you soon will. But this does not mean that everything is completely out of your control either. Here are some ways you can become a more efficient trucker.

Efficient trucker tip #1: Always ask about early delivery or a drop

This is a big mistake I see too many truckers making. Drivers often assume that just because their company is “forced dispatch” that they have to take whatever load is given to them. This is simply wrong. Forced dispatch only means that you have to take the load if you can’t supply a good reason not to. So if you want to become a more efficient trucker, you need to start thinking differently.

Never accept the status quo.

Every time I get a new dispatch, the first thing I do is look to see when the load picks up and delivers. Ideally, you’ve got just enough time to drive the empty miles to pick up the load and get it to its delivery on time, but not arrive there too early. Great. Accept the load, drive safe, and stay out of my way! 🙂 (That’s my tagline at the end of each podcast.)

But all too often when they’re asking you to drive 50 miles to pick up a load, it doesn’t pick up for five hours; meaning you are going to get there about four hours early! And then when you look at the delivery time, you figure you’re going to be there a whopping 10 hours earlier than your appointment time! What now? If you’ve got the customer’s phone number, use it. But as you well know, many of us company drivers don’t have access to it. If that’s the case, contact your dispatcher.

Sure, you could use the extra time on these loads to stop in some quaint town along the way and go sightseeing. Or you could use the time to polish your chrome or head into the casino for some blackjack. But this article is about being a more efficient trucker. None of these things are efficient. In fact, they’re all going to cost you time and money!

Call your dispatcher

I don’t keep stats on this sort of thing, but if I had to guess I would say I am calling or messaging my dispatcher on about half my loads; possibly more. Whichever wait time (pick up or delivery) is the longest is what I ask about first.

“Hey Gina, I can be at the shipper at 1:00 PM, but the load doesn’t show to pick up until 5:00 PM. Will they load me early?”

Sometimes it’s a set appointment and there’s nothing you can do about it. Other times they will have notes about the customer saying that you can pick up anytime and that the time listed is just a “suggested” appointment time. Honestly, that doesn’t seem very efficient to me, but unfortunately I can’t change their company polices.

Other times I’ll notice the pick up time is something crazy like 24 hours away, even though I’m only 80 miles out. Again I’m immediately asking dispatch what the deal is. Maybe freight is just slow in the area so your options are limited. But it’s also a possibility that somebody in the office screwed up and thought you didn’t have driving hours available or they just looked at the shipping date wrong! You might be surprised how often this happens.

If you’re going to arrive at your delivery extra-early, ask if they will accept the load early

This happened to me again just the other day. The load delivered at 9:00 PM, but I could get there about 9:00 AM. The comments section for this load specifically said, “Do not attempt to deliver earlier than appointment time.” Now usually when the load comments are that specific, I know they are set in stone. Therefore I was resigned to it. But I still put on my efficient trucker hat to figure out how to make the best use of my time.

I was low on hours that day anyway, so my plan was to come off a 10-hour break and drive the remaining three hours to get as close to the delivery location as I could. I’d then take yet another 10-hour break and then deliver the load 9:00 PM. My thought was that by the time I was unloaded, I would be getting hours back at midnight and be ready to roll again. Of course, this sucks for your sleep because I had just come off a 10-hour break. How I’m expecting myself to sleep again that soon is a different issue that we don’t have time to go into.

Obviously, I didn’t really want to do this, so I thought to myself “What can it hurt to ask about an early delivery?” So I did (see screenshot). You can see the happy result. As I always tell my dispatcher, “He who does not ask, does not receive.” You might remember that the next time you’re in a similar situation.

One thing I forgot to mention was that due to my low hours, I only had 2.5 hours left to drive that day after my delivery. I’m sure many drivers would’ve just accepted this fact and stuck with the original plan. Not this super-efficient trucker!

As you can no doubt already see, I’m very aware of my available hours. But I’m even more anal about this the closer it gets to home time. This instance happened about a week before my scheduled home time.

I’m sure you’ve probably been in this scenario before.

You’re just shy of having enough driving hours to get home without taking another 10-hour break first; or you’re waiting around until midnight to get hours back before you can finish the drive home.

Either that or you turn outlaw and drive the few hours home illegally. You naughty little pet. Good luck with that now that elogs are mandatory. My point is, that 2.5 hours extra that I could utilize today might be the 2.5 hours that I need to get home this coming weekend! This is yet another reason why it’s so important to be as efficient as you can be.

If you can’t deliver early, ask if you can drop the loaded trailer somewhere

If your dispatch says the customer won’t let you deliver early, ask them if there is somewhere along your route that you can drop the load; for instance, if you have a terminal or a drop yard en route. As a driver, you probably know your route better than the dispatcher, so make a suggestion. “Hey; since I can’t deliver this early, can I drop at the Columbus or St. Louis yard? I’m going right past both on the way to delivery.” If they’ve got other freight in the area that needs to move, they’ll usually hook you right up.

Yes, it might suck to turn a 600 mile trip into a puny 350 mile run, but at least you’re not going to be sitting outside a customer for 24 hours waiting to unload. You can use that time to be running a different load to make up those lost miles. Trust me, it usually pays off in the end.

Probably the reason I make the call to dispatch so often is because it works to my advantage most of the time. If I can point out how the load isn’t very efficient, they will often toss it back into the pile of loads and come out with something better. But other times I’m just stuck with the load and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. That’s when you reach into your medicine cabinet, pop a chill pill, and accept it as part of trucking. At least you tried to be the most efficient trucker you can be.

Now I can hear some of you thinking, “My dispatcher isn’t going to want to go to all this trouble for me.” Well tough noogies. That’s their job. Besides, dealing with the driver is often the dispatcher’s only job at most of these large carriers. There are usually different groups of people who plan the loads and deal with customer service issues. Not always the case at smaller carriers, but it’s still their job.

In my personal experience, I can tell that my dispatcher does sometimes get annoyed with me questioning these loads so frequently. But that’s usually when she is especially busy trying to get drivers home for the weekend or something is going horribly wrong with another driver on their fleet.

Remember; part of a dispatcher’s performance review is based on how efficient their fleet is. So it actually benefits them if you ask this question and become a more efficient trucker. You just might have to remind them of this fact until they get used to you asking about getting rid of these loads early.

Now let’s say that despite your best effort, you’re still stuck with this load and you’re going to get to your delivery 10 hours before your appointment time. How can you still be an efficient trucker?

Efficient trucker tip #2: Sleep at the customer

One reason I’m glad that I was on the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) bandwagon earlier than most (2010) is because it forced my company to start adding one new bit of information to our load information; whether there is overnight parking at the shipper or receiver. This used to be another phone call or message to dispatch, but now the information is right there in the load comments. Thank God, because this makes me a much more efficient trucker! How so?

Unless I am 100% positive that my load is a drop & hook trailer, I will always try to sleep at the customer overnight if it is allowed. I know this is not a popular choice among truckers, but I’m convinced it makes me a more efficient trucker. Even if it is drop and hook, I will still often sleep there anyway. Why?

It saves my 14 hour clock

I’ve talked to many truckers over the years who simply refuse to sleep at a customer unless it is their only option. The argument is always that they want access to food and bathrooms. Fair enough. But if you want to be the most efficient trucker you can be, you really need to get over this.

Sleeping at the customer honestly wasn’t as necessary back in the days when we had paper logs. We could often fudge the timeline so that we didn’t lose much driving time. But since the inflexible ELDs have been mandatory since December 18, 2017, sleeping at a customer’s facility is really the #1 way I’ve found to maximize my 70-hour workweek.

First off, it’s not hard to work around the bathroom and food issue

If at all possible, you should always find out ahead of time what the bathroom situation is. Some of the customers I visit have 24-hour restrooms for drivers. Sometimes, it might be a porta-potty, but it’s better than nothing.

Even if they don’t have restrooms available overnight, simply stop at the nearest truck stop before you get there and take your giant trucker dump. Even if you don’t think you need to, you might ought to pull in and try. In the #1 department, even us older guys with smaller bladders can get through the night since the vast majority of truckers have some sort of piss bottle in the truck. Don’t deny it. Even if you don’t, you can always go water some of the local shrubbery. Serves the customer right for not keeping the restroom open for you.

As for access to food, if you’re one of those moneybags who eats in restaurants all the time, you can check into apps like Yelp or Google Maps to see if there’s any little eateries within walking distance. You never know. You might find a gem! Or you can always go the easy route and grab an extra sandwich at the ever-present Subway shoppe. Honestly, all drivers should be keeping a little bit of food on hand anyway. Peanut butter and cans of soup have a seemingly endless shelf life, you know. One of the perks of me being such a cheapskate is that I always have food in my truck, so this is never an issue.

Now when I say “sleeping at a customer,” that’s exactly what I mean. I’m not talking about hanging out there for 24 hours or anything. Although this super-efficient trucker has done exactly that many times if that’s what it takes to squeeze in a 34-hour break.

Even if you’ve only got six hours before you deliver, you should still park onsite if you can. Again we’re trying to save your clock here. I see two major benefits in doing this:

1. You might get into the dock early.

Let’s say you arrive at 2:00 AM and your appointment is not till 10:00 AM. But they open at 7:00 AM. If you don’t mind interrupting your beauty sleep, it never hurts to check in at 7:00 AM to see if they will take you early. You’re probably thinking “Why the heck do I want to get in the dock at 7:00 AM if my 10-hour break isn’t over until noon anyway?” That’s reason number two.

2. Because you never know how long it’s going to take to load or unload.

If I were to take a poll of truckers on the biggest problems in the trucking industry, I’d be willing to bet that one of the top five answers would be shipper/receivers wasting our driving hours. Not a day goes by when you don’t hear some trucker whining about how the shippers/receivers don’t value our time. Well this is one way to mitigate it. If they want to take six hours to get me unloaded, then at least they’re doing it while my ELD shows me Off-Duty or Sleeper Berth. If it only takes two hours, great! Stay up and get started planning your next load. Or you can always try to go back to bed to finish that sweet dream you were having about Farrah Fawcett.

Now let’s look at you drivers who refuse to sleep at a customer overnight

You have a 10:00 AM appointment so you wake up full of piss and vinegar, eager to utilize the 11 hours of driving you have available. You start your pre-trip inspection at 9:00 AM, roll into the customer at 9:30 AM, and bump the dock at 10:00 AM. I love it when a plan comes together! Uh huh. You silly little optimistic trucker.

In reality, six hours later you’re finally ready to roll, but thanks to the cursed 14-hour rule you only have 7 hours left to drive. Who’s to blame; you or the customer? Well both, but you could’ve prevented this if you had slept at the customer overnight. So those 4 hours of driving you lost are ultimately on your head. Remember, we can’t control everything, so we have to control the things we can.

But hey, let’s be realistic. Not every customer takes six hours to unload. Even if it only takes two hours, you’ve left yourself very little extra time to do anything else except for drive like a madman all day. You can kiss that workout and shower goodbye. Yeah, right! Like truckers exercise or bathe.

Now I know this “sleeping at a customer” thing is an unpopular choice that many of you will refuse to budge on

So be it. If you want to continue to be an inefficient trucker, that’s up to you. I would just suggest that you try it for a while and see if you don’t notice that you’re making better use of your hours of service. And that usually transfers to better paychecks.

Oh, and there’s one other benefit from sleeping at customer locations. You have less chance of sleeping with your head right next to someone’s screaming reefer unit. Unless of course you are pulling a reefer, which in that case you’re just screwed.

Efficient trucker tip #3: Keep your ETA/PTA updated

But first, you need to make sure you know what the terms ETA and PTA means to your company. At most of the carriers I’ve worked for, ETA means Estimated Time of Arrival and PTA stands for Projected Time of Availability. But I have also worked for a couple of companies who used ETA as Estimated Time of Availability instead of PTA. Yes, it was just as confusing then as it is now. These two versions of ETA (or ETA and PTA) are vastly different things. Let me explain.

My Estimated Time of Arrival might be 9:00 AM, but if I know the customer usually takes two hours to unload, that would make my Estimated Time of Availability at 11:00 AM. This could be even worse. Take for example our earlier scenario where my Estimated Time of Arrival was 2:00 AM because I was going to get there early, but my appointment was not until 10:00 AM. So figure 1 hour to unload and my Estimated Time of Availability is actually 11:00 AM. That’s nine hours difference between an ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) and an ETA (Estimated Time of Availability)!

Keep your dispatcher as up-to-date as possible about your available working hours

While it’s true that most modern dispatching software will keep track of that, I’ve never had a dispatcher who didn’t appreciate not having to look it up. As an added bonus, I believe that staying on top of your available working hours makes you look a bit more professional than your fellow drivers.

My last suggestion to be the most efficient trucker you can be is…

Efficient trucker tip #4: Don’t keep a steady schedule

I fully accept that with the way your particular circadian rhythms work, some of you simply cannot physically do what I’m about to ask, but if you can, or even if you think you can, you should try it for a while.

We all know those drivers who get up at 7:00 AM and drive their 11 hours. Worst case scenario the 14 hour clock is up at 9:00 PM. They’re back up and rolling at 7:00 AM. They do this every day. Obviously, the start time can vary. I suppose there is nothing wrong with this if you know exactly what your freight is every day and you have complete control over it. More power to you if that’s your situation. If that is the case, I have to admit that I kind of hate your guts.

But for the vast majority of over-the-road drivers, we have no idea when or even if we are going to get a load to run on any given day. So by not keeping a steady schedule, you’re working as hard and as fast as you can when you have freight so that when those inevitable down times come along, they don’t hurt nearly as much.

Let’s do a little math. To keep things simple, let’s assume two things that aren’t exactly true unless you’ve entered the land of fairy dust and unicorn farts. First, that it’s possible to run 11 hours straight, take a 10-hour break, and then run your 11 hours again for multiple days in a row. And secondly, let’s assume that we have competing truckers; one loosey-goosey driver who likes to run hard and one steady schedule driver who likes to start his day at midnight. Probably not very realistic, but for the sake of easy math, you’ll see what I mean.

The case for not driving a steady schedule

In this magical world where everything always runs smoothly, let’s say both drivers start their day at midnight and are done driving by 11:00 AM. They both take a mandatory 10-hour break. When the break is over, the loosey-goosey driver starts running again at 9:00 PM, while the steady schedule guy is waiting around for midnight to start his day like he does every day.

You can see that the loosey-goosey driver has 14 hours of driving already finished in that first 24 hours (11 on the first driving shift + 3 on the second), while the steady schedule driver only has 11 hours under his belt.

Come midnight, the steady schedule guy runs another 11 hours for 22 hours total driving over the two days. But loosey-goosy driver drove from 9:00 PM the night before to 8:00 AM the next morning, took another 10 hour break, and started driving again at 6:00 PM, meaning he now has 28 hours of driving in the same time frame. That’s six more hours over two days!

I will spare you the math, but at the end of three days, the loosey-goosey driver has driven nine more hours than the steady driver!

Now I can hear some of you saying, “Yeah, but that ain’t the way trucking works in the real world!” You’re correct. There will be days when you don’t get a full 11 hours of running. There might even be days that you don’t get to run at all. And that’s my point.

Run it when you got it

Here’s my philosophy. When you have freight, run it as hard and as fast as you legally can, utilizing all three previous tips to make the use best use of your hours. That way when you do have the inevitable downtime, then at least you have been as efficient as you can possibly be up until that point where things are out now out of your control.

A side benefit is doing a 34-hour break

Often times, these steady drivers don’t even run a full 11 hours. Their idea is that if they work 8.75 hours maximum per day (both Driving and On-Duty time combined) for 8 days (70 hours in 8 days rule), that they will never run out of their 70 working hours. Okay. Good theory. That means you will get a maximum of 70 working hours under perfect conditions.

Now let’s look at loosey-goosey driver who hammers down. Again, I won’t bore you with the math, but if this driver runs as soon as possible after each 10-hour break, they can easily hit their 70 hours maximum in 5 days. If they then take a 34-hour break to restart their 70-hours, they can now expand their available working hours to over 80 hours in the same amount of time that the steady driver has only worked 70 hours. That could add up to about 10% more money!

Be a more efficient trucker

To sum up, my belief is that to be the most efficient trucker you can be, you need to work as hard as you can while you have loads to run so you can maximize your potential.

Every hour of your available 70 counts in trucking, so be conscience of every one of them. If a customer will take a load as soon as you can get it there, don’t screw around. Deliver it ASAP!

You could have mechanical problems that cause delays.You could be delayed by a lazy loader. You could hit a patch of bad weather. If you’ve dilly-dallied when you could’ve been running hard, you may even find yourself delivering late if something unexpected happens.

I always run as hard as I can to get where I’m going, even if I can’t deliver early. I can’t count how many times I’ve been able to rescue a load from a driver who’s low on hours while he sits under my load to get those hours back. That’s a win-win-win situation. The company is getting their rescued load delivered on time. The other driver is in no rush now so he’s getting back the hours he needs while he’s sitting under may old load. And best of all, I’m making more miles!

So my advice is to step out of your comfort zone and try some of these tips

Don’t automatically accept loads that don’t make good use of your time. Argue your point with a cool head. If nothing can be done about the delivery time, ask if you can drop the load someplace to keep moving.

Try sleeping at the customer to maximize your driving hours. You’ll be surprised how less-stressed you’ll be when that slow forklift dude isn’t eating into your driving hours.

Get off your steady schedule and run hard when you have freight. Save your loafing time for those times when you’re stuck without a load. And if you can do a 70-hour reset, do it.

And lastly, keep your ETA/PTA updated so your dispatcher can find your next good load that maximizes your earning potential. And if that load sucks, get on the phone and start the process all over again. Ain’t truckin’ fun?

Podcast show notes:

In today’s podcast, I present four ideas that could help you become a more efficient trucker. I also cover a crapload of news stories, ranging from new ways to tackle truck parking, new proposed hours-of-service legislation, Electronic Logging Devices (ELD), a lost trucker, some surprises about driver pay, and possibly one of the most insane verdicts I’ve ever heard. I also tell you how social media can help you in a way that you might not have thought of before.

In the Feedback section, we hear from from Goat Bob, Driver Dave, DriverChrisMc, and Dan on subjects such as trucking podcasts, to axle weights, to cancer, to beef liver, and finally being pissed off at truckers.

View the article and show notes on AboutTruckDriving.com.

Get free audio and text samples of Trucking Life and a text sample of How to Find a Great Truck Driving Job.

Check out new Trucker Dump merchandise at TeePublic.com, including tee shirts, hoodies, mugs, stickers, tote bags, and even kid’s clothes!

This episode of Trucker Dump is sponsored by:

  • Citadel Fleet Safety– Call 800-269-5905 or click the link for a special discount for Trucker Dump listeners. Click on [Customer Login] in the upper-right corner, click on the Trucker Dump logo, and use password: truckerdump.
  • Classic Truck Insurance– Call 888-498-0255 for your free quote today.

Links mentioned in the podcast:

TD128: Interview With Make-A-Wish Mother’s Day Truck Convoy

International Roadcheck safety blitz is June 5-7, 2018

“Top 3 Trucker Podcasts” from Hot Shot Warriors

My guest spot on the Systematic Podcast with Brett Terpstra

New bill tries to exempt small trucking companies from ELDs

Push to reform the FMCSA Hours-Of-Service

Midwest States Team Up For Truck Parking

Truck Driver Goes Missing For 4 Days After Putting Wrong Address In GPS

TD54: The Do’s And Don’ts Of Giving Directions

Maximum Commercial Trailer Length – State By State from Verduyn Tarps

Comchek Mobile App

OverdriveOnline.com Driver Compensation Preference Poll
Survey Says Driver Pay Is Going Up!

Werner will appeal $90 verdict in crash lawsuit

Trucker Grub features Ted’s Montana Grill in Northwest Indianapolis.

Links in the feedback section:

Talk CDL Podcast

TD127: Why Podcasts Are The Perfect Media For Truckers

Patreon

Apple Podcasts app

Podcast Addict app for Android

TD97: A Trucker’s Worst Nemisis – Complacency

TD104: Complacency Strikes

Show info:

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TD94: Understanding The New Hours-Of-Service (HOS) Rules

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Confused over the Hours-of-Service rules

Photo by jonny goldstein via Flickr

Unless you’ve just beamed in from another planet (or you’re a non-trucker), you’re probably aware of the new Hours-of-Service rules that are looming. But do you understand them fully? From some of the feedback I’ve been getting on Twitter and the blog, I’d say there’s still some confusion out there. The Bible flat-out says that all Christians will be persecuted. Well, I’m pretty sure some Bible-thumper at my company has been Skyping with God on my behalf. You see, my company recently decided that I would be one of the lucky ones who got put on the new Hours-of-Service rules a few weeks early. You know, just to try it out. *sigh* Well, I guess this kind of persecution is better than being around when Nero was kabob-ing Christians to light his garden parties. So thanks for that, God.

But before we get into it, let me issue a warning to my non-trucking peeps. This post will likely only be understood by truckers, so feel free to beam yourself back up to your planet if you don’t mind missing out on my exquisite writing style and tasteful wit. And to the rest of you, like I said, the length of this couldn’t be avoided. When it comes to this technical stuff, if you don’t explain everything in full, you actually raise more questions than you answer.

So my first question was, “Is this even legal?” I mean, how could my employer make me adhere to rules that hadn’t even gone into effect yet? So of course, I called my safety department. I wound up talking to my least favorite safety person. For starters, she’s in charge of e-log training and new implementations such as this most recent one. So there’s strike one against her. Strike two, three, and four came at different times when I called in to question how the e-logs were set up. Each time, the conversation started fine, but ended badly after she basically said, “Well, this is how things are. If you don’t like them, I guess that’s too bad.” You can imagine how well this went over with me. It got to the point where the safety director told us not to speak anymore. If I called in and got her, I was to give her my name and she was to immediately transfer me to someone else. That worked fine up until this latest thing, because like I said, she’s the one who was implementing this new program.

Thankfully, she didn’t get snotty with me this time, even though I did question the legality of making me follow rules that weren’t even in effect yet. Well come to find out, all these new Hours-of-Service rules have actually been in effect since the beginning of the year. They just aren’t going to be enforced until July 1. She said there are quite a few small trucking companies that have been following the new rules since the beginning of the year. So there goes that beef with her. So for now, let’s get on with understanding these new rules. We’ll come back to Hitler’s granddaughter at the end where she’ll answer a few more questions I had.

First, what Hours-of-Service rules are not changing?

The 11-hour rule – You’re still allowed to drive a maximum of 11 hours before you’re required to take a 10-hour break. Be thankful for this one. The proposed rule was to take us back down to 10 hours of driving like it used to be. Whew! Dodged that roadkill!

The 14-hour rule – You still have a 14-hour window to work after the start of your day. Thank God they didn’t get the hard 14 passed that would’ve kept us from extending the work day with an 8-hour sleeper berth period. I don’t use this extension much, but it’s come in handy a few times. Any rule that takes away flexibility is a bad thing for a trucker.

The 70-hour rule – You can still work up to 70 hours in an 8 day period. I wish they’d raise this limit, but quite frankly, I’d have better luck getting my nephews to quit “nutting” each other. Yes, that’s precisely what you think it is.

10-hour breaks – You still need to get a minimum 10 hours of off-duty and/or sleeper berth time to reset your 11 and 14-hour rule. This can be all off-duty, all sleeper berth, or a combination of the two.

Split breaks – Although I hate having to do split breaks, it’s sometimes necessary to deliver your load on time. In order to split, you have to have a minimum of 8 hours in the sleeper berth. The other 2 hours can be all sleeper berth, all off-duty, or a combination of the two.

Over all, I’m happy that none of these rules changed. These five rules are the ones we deal with every day and are thereby, the most important. While I’m not entirely pleased with the new rules changes, at least the biggest changes aren’t something that will affect us every day. Well, one will, but it’s not too bad.

So what are the new changes/additions to the Hours-of-Service rules?

There are three new rules changes that will start being enforced on July 1, 2013. Let’s start with the easiest of the three.

The 30-minute rest break – This new rule states that a driver may only drive when less than 8 hours has passed since the end of your last off-duty and/or sleeper period of at least 30 minutes. My company even says that you cannot use personal conveyance during this 30-minute break. After all, the whole idea is for you to be taking a break from behind the wheel. As many of you know, my company has a reputation for being super-strict on this kind of stuff, so I’d be sure to ask your company about it. Luckily, my e-log unit is set up to warn me when my 30-minute break is due. It will warn you 1 hour before and then again 30 minutes before. Once the legal break is logged, it’ll start the count over. You can also find this countdown in the Driver Log section of the e-logs. Check out the picture below to see how this looks on my system.

A picture of how the PeopleNet e-log unit keeps track of the 30-minute rest break.

The PeopleNet e-log system keeps track of when your next 30-minute break is due. It issues a warning 1 hour and 30 minutes before.

So anyway… I have to admit that this rule is a bit more complicated than I originally thought. I thought, “8 hours of driving, take a 30-minute break, then finish your day.” Easy squeezy, right? Not so fast, Hot Rod. First, the 8-hour thing includes any on-duty, off-duty, or sleeper berth time under 30 minutes. So if you fueled for 15 minutes, that on-duty time counts towards the 8 hours. But what if you pull into a rest area and show 15 minutes in the sleeper berth while you make your cup of ramen? Yep. That counts towards the 8 hours too. But if you extend that for 15 more minutes, it counts as the 30-minute rest break. That’s great, right? Well, maybe. That all depends on when you took the break.

Did you know that if you aren’t careful as to when you take your 30-minute rest break, you may actually have to take two 30-minute breaks in one 14-hour day? This will be most likely to happen if you take your break before the 6th hour. Let’s walk through an example. Say you start your day at 10 AM and you take a 30-minute lunch break 6 hours later at 2 PM. This break qualifies as your 30-minute rest break. But it also restarts the 8-hour clock. So you go back to driving at 2:30 PM. At 10:30 PM (eight hours later and still within your 14-hour day), you need to take another rest break. So if you want to avoid wasting an extra 30 minutes per day, try to remember not to break the first 6 hours of your day!

1 AM to 5 AM requirements on 70-hour resets – This is exactly what it sounds like. In order to restart your 70-hour work week, your 34-hour break has to include two periods of 1 AM to 5 AM (home terminal time). For full details on how this rule has been affecting me, check out my blog post called, TD91: Bungling the 34-Hour Rule. And for the record, I’m aware that I got the time wrong in the article. I’ve gone back and fixed it, so don’t be buggin’ me. Anywho, the worst part about this specific time-of-day requirement is that we drivers usually can’t control when we start these breaks nor when we have to come off them. For instance, one of my breaks that I talk about in Bungling the 34-Hour Rule was 44 hours and it still didn’t count as a legal restart. I was so stunned I had to triple-check it to make sure I wasn’t mistaken. But it’s actually worse than that. If you start your break at 2 AM (just one hour after the 1 AM requirement), your break will have to be 51 hours to count. Yea. I see a lot of dispatchers working with us that. Not. But it gets even worse. Yes, another level of worse.

Only 1 restart per week (168 hours)- Self-explanatory, right? When I first heard this, I thought, “Well who cares? No one is going to be getting even one 34-hour restart; let alone two in one week.” I even said as much in TD82: Are All These Changes Good for the Trucking Industry? Once again, I was as wrong as a loogie milkshake. This new rule puts even more time restrictions on the already nearly-impossible new 34-hour rule. And I think it’s going to affect the regional drivers who are home every weekend even more than us peons who are stuck out here for weeks on end. How so?

Because the one restart per week is based on when you started your last 34-hour break. This is most easily explained in an example. Say you get home at 7 AM on Saturday morning and you get a legal 34-hour break in. Now say the following weekend you get home at 11 PM on Friday. Under the new rule, you can’t start counting your 34 hours until 168 hours after the start of your previous 34-hour break. So in this example, that would be last week at 7 AM on Saturday morning. So even though you got home the previous night at 11 PM, you can’t start counting until 7 AM the following morning. Screwy, huh? That’s 8 hours that can’t go towards a restart. And that 8 hours would’ve even met the 1 AM to 5 AM time restraints. Grrrrr.

Now if that isn’t already weirder than Lady Gaga’s wardrobe, there’s another aspect of this that seems even more bizarre. Now let me state right out front that I may be wrong about this. I spoke with my safety person about this, so if I get it wrong, blame her. And then write in and and tell me how this really works. Okay. Here we go.

So back to your situation. We’ve established that this week’s restart doesn’t start counting until 7 AM on Saturday. So if you get home next weekend at 2 AM on Saturday, you still have to wait 5 hours until you can start counting towards your 34 hours. But what if you get home after 7 AM on Saturday? Let’s say you have to stay out to do one more load and you don’t get home until 10 PM on Sunday night. Great! You can start your 34 hours immediately because you’re well past the 168-hour mark.

But what about next weekend when you get home on Friday night again? Your last restart started at 10 PM on Sunday night, so now your 34 hours isn’t up until some time on Tuesday morning. So do you see what’s happening here? It seems to me that if you ever want to get another 34-hour break, you’re going to have to get home on Sunday night again. So much for the weekend. And what if dispatch is shooting to have you home Sunday night but you’re delayed until Monday morning?

I’m really hoping someone will tell me how wrong I am here. But the way I see it is that you can never move the 34-hour start time backward; it can only be moved forward. I don’t see how that can possibly be a good thing for you drivers who are supposed to get home on the weekends. Does that mean you’ll have to stay out for two weeks in order to set yourself up for weekend home time again? Some of you regional drivers write in and tell me how you think this will work in your situation. I’d love nothing more than for you to tell me I’m a moron.

A picture of how the PeopleNet e-log unit keeps track of the 34-hour break.

This shot was taken the morning of June 14. The 34-hour break start time shows a later time because my last 34-hour break started at 15:56 on June 7 (168 hours prior).

Again, thankfully those of us on e-logs don’t have to figure a lot of this stuff out. As you can see from the photos, the e-log system keeps track of all this for you. In the first photo, you can see it lists the earliest time I can start my 34-hour break and the time it will end. In this example, I took this snapshot the morning of the June 14. But notice the start time is listed as 15:56. That’s because the last 34-hour break I started was at 15:56 on June 7 (that’s 168 hours prior). Notice also that the end time is for the 16th at 0500. That’s because of the new 1 AM to 5 AM time constraints. So in this case, if I wanted to start my 34-hour break, I’d have to be down for just over 37 hours.

A picture of how the PeopleNet e-log unit keeps track of the 34-hour break.

This was taken at 22:30. Notice how the 34-hour break start time is the present time. Also the end time has changed from the previous picture.

This next shot was taken at 22:30, which just so happens to be the exact time the 34-hour start time shows. That’s because I’m now past the 168-hour window. This start time now moves with me as time passes. Notice the end time now shows 08:30. So if I were to start my 34-hour break right then, I’d only have to be down for 34-hours to get a legal restart. Sweet!

Time to wrap this puppy up. When I had Fräulein Hitler on the phone, I asked how she thought these new rules would affect drivers. She said there was actually some poor sods at our company who’ve been using the new rules since April. And I thought I was on the crap list! She said about half of the 34-hour attempts were registering as legal 70-hour resets. What she didn’t say is how many of those 34-hour restarts took longer than 34 hours. According to my unscientific tests, the number of acceptable restarts is more like 1/3, and remember, I wasn’t even taking into account the 168-hour limitations when I did my study.

Well, at least there is one ray of hope in all this. History has taught us that Nazis always think they’re right, but it’s been proven that they’re often wrong; big time. So maybe my safety lady and her fellow FMCSA Nazis will accept defeat and back the heck off. Then again, Hitler didn’t really give up did he? He more or less self-destructed. Great. That sounds like a lot of fun for our immediate future.

*Are you dreading the new HOS rules or do you think they won’t affect you much? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Yes, I realize you’ll have to do a little math to complete the task, but that’s what calculators are for, right? ;-)*

TD93: The Driver’s Seat Phenomenon

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The truck driver's seat

Look at them butt-prints!

If you’ll remember from the last podcast called Honor Among Truckers, I mentioned that if you were to drive around a truck stop parking lot, you’d see lots of drivers sitting in their driver’s seat whiling away the hours. They’re talking on their phones, doing paperwork, people watching, playing with their laptops, turned around at an awkward angle watching their TV, or even weirder, staring off into space with a blank expression. I just don’t get it. And since the word “phenomenon” makes anything sound more mysterious than it actually is, I’ve chosen to call this one “The Driver’s Seat Phenomenon.”

Here’s the thing I just don’t get. The average solo trucker drives approximately 120,000 miles each year. I actually ran about 127,000 last year. All of those miles are done while sitting in the driver’s seat. Yes, the driver’s seats in these trucks are highly adjustable to make the long hours of driving tolerable. Yes, they have air-ride suspension to keep you from feeling like Superman punched you in the tailbone every time your load takes you on US69 near Stringtown, Oklahoma. But even with all that, why in the name of Zeus’ hemorrhoids would you want to spend even one more second in that seat when you don’t have to?

Now sure, I understand that team drivers have more of an excuse to be welded to the driver’s seat.

Maybe your co-driver is getting out of bed and you don’t want to see his great-hairy-chasm-of-a-butt-crack sticking out of his tidy-whities. Can’t say as I blame you there. Or maybe your co-driver is your wife and you actually do want to see her backside, but she’s meaner than a giraffe with strep throat when she first wakes up; meaning you’d have a better chance of getting lucky with said giraffe than with her. Not that I have any experience in this whatsoever. *clears throat* Anywho…

Another scenario when you might need to occupy the driver’s seat is when you’re shut down and your co-driver is trying to sleep. Since The Evil Overlord and I always tried to keep on a set schedule, this used to happen to us a lot, especially when the economy took a kamikaze-worthy nose-dive in 2008. I used to put my TV in the passenger seat and sit sideways in the driver’s seat for hours while playing video games on my Playstation 3. After all, the giraffe… errrr, wife needed her sleep if I were to keep her from waking up tired and smiting the world with her mighty hand. I tried to be super quiet up there, but even with the curtain closed The Evil Overlord would often wake up when she’d hear me cussing under my breath or feel the truck moving as I shook my controller in frustration. LOL Hey, what can I say? Some of those games are friggin’ hard! Still, I didn’t sit in the driver’s seat because I wanted to. Like I said, I had the fate of the world in my hands.

Now that I’m a solo driver, I’ve got absolutely no good reason to sit in the driver’s seat when I’m shut down… therefore, I don’t.

When I start my day, I do my 3 B’s (breakfast, Bible, and bended knee) in the bunk area, where I’ve got a nice little desk to eat and read on. The bed makes an excellent place for the bended knee part, too. If I stop for lunch, I hop in the bunk area and eat back there if I have time. If not, I make my traditional peanut butter and jelly sammich and then eat on the run. If I’m picking up or delivering a load, I vacate the driver’s seat and go lounge on the bed with my feet propped up. At the end of my driving shift, I’m required to log a 5-minute post-trip inspection. A walk-around inspection only takes about 2 minutes, so I just do paperwork or hop on Twitter for a few minutes. But once that 5 minutes is up and hit the button on my retarded e-log unit, I’m outta the driver’s seat and sitting on the nice soft bunk while I make yet another bowl of soup while watching a DVD and ignoring the fact that I have a podcast due.

The fact is, I spend waaaaaay too much time in the driver’s seat already. If you want a really good look at the shape of my butt (and who wouldn’t), just look at the driver’s seat, because there are some super-lifelike butt-prints there. Good thing butt-prints aren’t like fingerprints, else there’d be a heck-of-a-lot of identity theft in the trucking industry. LOL And by the way, if you’re sniff-testing your newly-assigned truck for hidden cigarette smoke, I’d advise against putting your nose right up against the driver’s seat. Anywhere but the driver’s seat. You have been warned.

So what’s up with this obsession of the driver’s seat?

Why do so many of you drivers choose to spend your off-duty hours sitting in a seat where you already spend so much time? And why the heck are you all staring into space? These are serious questions that I really want to know the answer to. I think about it every time I walk into the truck stop and see drivers sitting there and watching the world go by. What is so stinkin’ fascinating about seeing me walk into the truck stop or watching the guy down the way back into a parking spot? I just don’t get it. And lastly, why on earth would you spend even one extra second in a seat that’s been farted in more times than OMG has been texted by teenagers?

*Please help to ease my troubled mind. Leave your excuses for living in the driver’s seat below.*

TD91: Bungling The 34-Hour Rule

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the 34-hour ruleI totally goofed yesterday. While waiting for my truck’s air-conditioning to be fixed, I spoke a couple of words to a old trucker who was sitting in the trucker’s lounge. Although my beloved MacBook Pro was desperately crying for me to come back to her, I never escaped. What’s the matter with me? I know better than that! Well, I’m actually glad we chatted because it brought on this blog post. How so? By mentioning that he was on a 34-hour break and wondering how the new 34-hour rule would effect us come July.

For those of you who haven’t heard about the coming changes, I guess I’ll just have to assume that some idiot lumper accidentally locked you in a trailer for two years. I sure am glad the receiver didn’t accept that damaged pallet of Campbell’s soup. And I’m even gladder that your company finally realized you were actually missing.

So now to catch you up. Back in March of 2011, I did a blog post called, Truckers: Be Heard on the Proposed HOS Changes where I shared my comments to the FMCSA. Then in January of 2012, I told you how I thought the new HOS rules would affect drivers, carriers, and the industry as a whole in the post called, Are All These Changes Good for the Trucking Industry? Now I hate to brag but.. oh, who am I kidding? I love to brag! I totally nailed it on at least one of the topics: the 34-hour rule.

Okay, I’m going to presume that y’all were too stinkin’ lazy to click on the above link to see what the new 34-hour rule involves. Basically, the current rule says that if a trucker can shut down for 34 continuous hours (either Off-Duty, in the Sleeper Berth, or a combination of the two), they can restart their 70-hour workweek. So doing a 34-hour restart means that we can actually work 82 hours in a week.

The new 34-hour rule that starts in July states that this 34 hours now has to consist of two periods of midnight 1 a.m to 5 a.m. Another new twist is that you can only do one 34-restart per week.

So back to the story. When the old trucker wondered outloud how the new rule would affect us, I had an answer for him. You see, of the past three weekends I did two 34-hour restarts, and I could have done one the last weekend. Why I chose not to really isn’t all that important for this story, so I’ll spare you all the gory details. You know, I think that just earned me an extra reward in heaven. Hope it’s a Klondike bar.

34-hour rule FAIL #1

The first weekend, I was at the Flying J in Beloit, Wisconsin. I got there at 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday and started my break immediately. That meant my 34-hour break would be over at 2:30 a.m on Monday. Good thing, because I had to be up near St. Paul, Minnesota by 8 a.m. After my mandatory 15-minute pre-trip inspection, that left 5.25 hours to go 316 miles. Yes, I knew it was going to be tight. Averaging 60 mph in a 64 mph truck isn’t easy, especially when I figured I’d be hitting St. Paul rush hour. Well, I’m happy to say that I pulled it off. And I got my 34-hour restart to boot. But guess what? Come July that restart wouldn’t have counted because I didn’t meet the requirement of two periods of midnight 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. And there’s nothing I could do about it. I got to the truck stop as fast as I could and I left as late as I could. I couldn’t wait around until 5 a.m. unless I wanted to deliver late. From some reason, trucking companies tend to frown on that kinda stuff.

The case of the mysterious bus ride

Onward to the next weekend. This was the mysterious weekend where I was tweeting as I was walking toward a city bus. Yes me. As @DriverChrisMc tweeted,

Yeah, I’m pretty pathetic, but there you have it. Honestly, I wasn’t trying to be cryptic; I was just trying to be sneaky. You see, The Evil Overlord has been working for Talent on Parade for the past few months, which is a dance competition that is owned by her aunt and uncle. Since they travel to a new city every weekend, I was happy to learn she was in Des Moines, Iowa, which by dumb luck just so happened to be on my route. I also had plenty of time on the load and had planned on getting in a 34-hour break somewhere along the way.

I got online and saw that there was a city bus stop 1.2 miles from the Flying J in Altoona, Iowa and it had a route going directly to the convention center. Well, as directly as a city bus goes anyway. That’s when I launched my plan. And that’s why all the secrecy. While The Evil Overlord isn’t on Twitter, her uncle Eric and her cousin Kyle do follow me. I figured they’d be too busy to be watching my Twitter stream, but I played it safe just to be sure. Well, I’m happy to say: mission accomplished. I surprised the heck out of the wench and everyone else.

Since The Evil Overlord is extremely busy and sometimes works up to 16 hours a day, my plan was simply to surprise her, hang out for a few hours, and catch the last bus back to the truck stop. But once her aunt Kim found out I was going to be hanging out at the truck stop for 34 hours, she surprised us with a separate hotel room. So basically, for the rest of the day and part of Sunday, I hung out with The Evil Overlord as she tabulated the scores for what seemed like a million dance acts involving 10 million girls. Adorable little girls, awkward pre-teen girls, a few lone boys who had the foresight to get involved in an activity where they’d be surrounded by scantily-clad girls, and older, clothing-challenged girls, a few of which I have no doubt will be manning the poles of America in the near future. I just looked away during most of these. The Evil Overlord had warned me that “wardrobe malfunctions” happened more often than they probably should. I don’t want or need to see that kinda stuff. Seriously, some of the clogging and traditional dancing is kinda cool, but the hip-hop numbers were… well, let’s just say I’m surprised there’s so many dads that let their little girls take dance lessons. So anyway, back to the trucking side of things.

34-hour rule FAIL #2

I got to the truck stop at 4:15 a.m. early Saturday morning, amazingly found a parking spot on the front row, and hit my bunk so I could jump out of my foxhole and launch my surprise attack around noon. My load didn’t have to deliver near St. Cloud, Minnesota until 6 a.m. Monday morning. With 309 miles to go, I figured I’d leave by midnight to give me plenty of time to get there. That is until I got my preplan on Sunday afternoon. To keep from losing the 1300-mile preplan, I now needed to leave around 4 p.m. on Sunday so I could get to the receiver and get a 10-hour break in before I picked up the preplan. Problem was, The Evil Overlord couldn’t break free to get me back to the truck until almost 6 p.m. Luckily, I’m a moron who can’t tell time. After getting under way in a freaked-out panic, I soon realized that my appointment was for 8 a.m., not 6 a.m. Whew! Disaster avoided. Sometimes it’s good to be the town moron.

So now to the 34-hour stuff. By the time I left at 6 p.m. on Sunday, I had just under 38 hours of down time. But once again, it didn’t meet the idiotic two periods of midnight 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. that the new rule requires. So come July, that break wouldn’t reset my 70-hour workweek either. Even worse, if I’d been able to leave at midnight on Sunday night like I’d originally planned, I would’ve had almost 44 continuous hours off-duty and I still wouldn’t have gotten to reset my 70! Utterly. Friggin’. Ridiculous.

34-hour rule FAIL #3

Now for this past weekend. I used every last hour I had to get to the Pilot in Priceville, Alabama. At that point, I had a choice to make. Dang it! I just had my Klondike bar ripped from me! Oh well, may as well proceed now that it’s gone. So anyway, I had to deliver the load 496 miles away in Columbus, Ohio by midnight on Monday. That meant I had just enough time to squeeze in a 34-hour break. But if I went that option, I wouldn’t have been able to get my air conditioner fixed at our Columbus shop until Tuesday morning.

But I did have one more option. I had 5 hours to run after my break and 5.5 hours available on Sunday. If I used these hours, I’d be at the shop first thing Monday morning. Now normally, that’s a no-brainer. But not only would I be missing a chance to do a 34, I also didn’t have full hours the rest of the week… the week that I’d be trying to get home. Well, to make a long Klondike story short, I opted to skip the 34. But of course, this decision would’ve been a breeze if it had happened in July, ‘cuz yep, you guess it, it wouldn’t have counted either.

So here’s the thing. Unlike some drivers, I’m not totally convinced that the rule makers at the FMCSA are out to get us. I truly believe they’re trying to make things safer for us and the public. That they think the new 34-hour rule is doing us a favor by getting us two “nights” of sleep. Well, as you can see from my last three weekends, this rule just isn’t going to work. And without that 70-hour reset, we’ll no longer have the potential to work 82 hours. Well that was weird. I just felt my right butt cheek raise up. That’d be the one that holds my wallet. But for toots-and-giggles, let’s say all three 34-hour restarts had counted. Well, even then only two of those restarts would’ve qualified since the new rule also states we can’t do two restarts in the same week. Ugh.

Listen up, Hours-Of-Service rule makers

I already wrote you once, but apparently you didn’t listen. So pull those rose-colored earplugs out and I’ll tell you again, “The rule is useful as it stands. Change it and you may as well get rid of it altogether.” Now normally I’d be pounding on my chest and doing the Tarzan yell to prove my awesomeness in being right. But in this case, I’m just shaking my head slowly as I try to figure out how the heck these people’s heads got so full of bat crap.

*So, has anyone else been keeping track of how the new 34-hour rule will affect you? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts on the matter. If for nothing else, so I won’t have to wallow in this misery alone.*

TD88: Guest Post: You Can’t See America From The Trucker’s Lounge. By Kevin McKague

Hey there, folks. Todd here piping in with a few words before we get started with today’s guest post. As many of you already know, I use my blog as a venue to share my thoughts about things related to trucking. I save the deep, insightful, well-researched articles for those other Web sites. But every once in a while, I want to cover a subject that I know precisely diddly-squat about. This is one of those times.

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After following the adventures of Kevin McKague on his Twitter account, I approached him for the job of covering for my ignorance of exploring as a trucker. He rose to the challenge. Not only did he turn out a heck of a blog post, but he’s also one of those nice guys on Twitter who can make you laugh, even if you totally disagree with the subject of the tweet. That’s a rare thing, so if you all aren’t following @KevinofMI on Twitter, you should start cutting yourself in shame right now. Or you could just click the link and avoid the inevitable pain. I hear blood stains are a bear to get out of clothing.

Since I’m a lazy bum who rarely goes exploring, I doubt I’ll be back after his post with any of my own thoughts. After reading this post, I will say that I felt more of a desire to see what I’ve been missing all these years. I’m not sure if I’ll follow up with any action, but hey, at least it tempted me. Maybe one day I’ll go out on a limb and try something I’ve heard about in the past. I think they call it “taking a walk” or something like that. I trust that y’all will enjoy this guest post as much as I did. So with that, I’ll shut my turkey-hole. Take it away, Kevin.

You Can’t See America from the Trucker’s Lounge

By Kevin McKague

I became a truck driver in my mid-thirties, after years of hating my career in retail management. I wanted a job that offered more security, that could withstand the ups and downs of economic tides, and that couldn’t be outsourced. Most of all, I wanted more adventure. I had always loved to travel, but I didn’t enjoy the kind of travel arranged by travel agents and tour guides. I love spontaneity, and the serendipitous moments of finding things you didn’t know existed. I love getting on a highway and literally taking the road you’ve never taken, just to see where it went.

I often run into drivers who believe that it is impossible to really enjoy a spontaneous travel experience while behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler. While it’s true that many places are off limits to us, (you won’t find truck parking or any truck routes to the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty) you can find plenty of adventure if you are willing to walk a few blocks from the truck stop Subway shop. These opportunities are not hard to find, if you want to find them. In the days before smart phones, I would simply consult my Rand-McNally truck atlas, and start walking towards the closest interesting looking town or neighborhood whenever I was stuck in a truck stop for 34 hours. Today, there are apps for that! By the way, the Google Maps mobile apps include a lot of trails, and the “directions for bikers/pedestrians button” can point you towards them. Or if you don’t have a mobile device, AllTrails.com is an excellent way to find places to explore.

Western Maryland Rail Trail
Photo by Kevin McKague

One of my favorite stops along my current dedicated run is the Western Maryland Rail Trail in Hancock, Maryland; just off of exit 3 on I-70. Park at the Liberty Truck Stop, and walk across the street to the C+0 park entrance. You can also access the trail at exit 12. Look for the brown traffic signs by the side of the freeway stating “Rail-Trail access”. There you will find over 20 beautiful miles of paved trails built on a former rail line that travels along the Potomac River. I carry an inexpensive bike in the passenger seat of my truck for such a location (see the picture at the top of the post). The trail has plenty of wild life, in fact, twice while riding I’ve been joined by deer that have come right up to me when I wasn’t looking. One fawn ran alongside me for a few yards and then sped off into the woods as soon as I looked directly at him.

Casinos offer another opportunity for side trips. Even if you don’t like gambling, many casinos offer truck parking and shuttle buses. The drivers of these busses, by the way, don’t know or care if you don’t actually stay in the casino. Once during an extended layover in Moline, Illinois, I took advantage of a shuttle offered by the Rhythm City Casino in Davenport, Iowa, just across the Mississippi River. There I found walking and biking trails that followed the river, and crossed over in two spots allowing you to shop and eat in two states. The Davenport casino is also within walking distance of Modern Woodmen Park, the home of Minor League Baseball’s Quad Cities River Bandits, an affiliate of the Houston Astros.

The Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, Missouri offers truck parking, and while walking nearby I noticed that the parking lot is right next to the Katy Trail, another rail-trail that runs across nearly the entire width of Missouri. To the south of the casino is a nice wooded area with smaller dirt pedestrian trails that remind me of something Huck Finn would’ve found comfortable. Just to the north about a block is the historic city of St. Charles, with some good food and interesting architecture. Next to the Missouri River in town is a sign marking the location of an early campsite of the Lewis and Clark expedition. I don’t normally gamble, but the casino offers free fountain drinks inside (DIET COKE? Yes, please), and a cool Dean Martin themed slot machine that plays “Ain’t that a kick in the head” when you win.

In 2011, just a few days after we killed Bin Laden, I visited the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The official memorial site had not been built yet, but was completed in time for the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, and I’ve been told that trucks are still allowed in on weekdays. As always, I would recommend that you call first to make sure this policy hasn’t changed before making the trip in. The roads to the site from the Pennsylvania Turnpike are legal for trucks, but depending on which way you come in, some are very hilly and challenging for those with heavy loads. If you’re comfortable with dropping your trailer, there is a truck stop with a big lot in Somerset, at exit 110, (look for the National Memorial signs off of the turnpike) so you can bobtail in. Somerset also has plenty of good restaurants and some nice architecture. I recommend the Summit Diner, on 791 North Center Avenue, just a short walk away from the truck stop. If you feel comfortable approaching the subject with strangers, most of the people in Somerset and the surrounding areas have stories about what they saw the day when the world almost literally fell on them; 9/11.

Don’t forget to consider using mass transit when you can. Los Angeles offers a $5 pass which allows you to travel any city bus or subway (yes, LA has subways, who knew?) for the entire day. Early in my driving career, while stuck near Commerce City, a simple call to the LA Metro office got me all of the info I needed to get a map and make my way down to Long Beach. There I found plenty of nice restaurants, shopping, and beautiful boats to look at down by the docks. The beach there is sandy and clean, and it’s a good spot to have a picnic lunch while watching boats and tourists. From Long Beach I went up to Hollywood to look at the Walk of Fame. Like the casinos, Hollywood was never on any of my lists of things to do or places to visit, but once I got there I had a blast.

Now that the T/A Travel Center in Nashville, Tennessee has been re-built after that devastating flood in 2010, you can park there, walk across the pedestrian bridge, and visit one of the nicest, most entertaining cities in America. Even if you’re like me and don’t like Country music, it’s quite a different thing to see an up-and-coming artist live. By all means, just walk into the first bar that has live music drifting out of the door. Many of these shows are free. (Stick to the Diet Coke, you have to drive in the morning.) The library has a nice art display and will allow non-residents to use their computers and Internet. The State Capitol allowed me to roam freely when I was there. I wandered onto the House floor and into the Supreme Court Library. Ask the guard about the marble staircase handrail with the bullet hole. I won’t ruin the story for you, but let’s just say there is more than one way to stop a filibuster.

The key here is to expect the unexpected, and look for adventure each and every time an opportunity presents itself. Use your smart phone apps, and maybe keep an extra fully charged battery with you in case you get lost. The older I get, the more I have come to understand that the sayings that sounded like silly clichés when we were young are true. You truly only live once. While you’re sitting in a truck stop listening to drivers complain about the same things you heard drivers complain about in the last truck stop, eating yet another Subway sandwich and watching another repeat of Law and Order, you could be discovering something.

By the way, what is it with Law and Order? Is there a 24/7 Law and Order channel? Does the Department of Transportation actually require that Law and Order play non-stop in every single truck stop in America? But I digress.

This is a beautiful country we live in, my friends, it would be a shame to only see it from the freeways.

Kevin McKague is a father of three and a truck driver, and is probably somewhere between Flint, Michigan and Baltimore, Maryland at this very moment. He is a recovering elected official, having briefly served on the Davison, Michigan, city council. He is a media junkie, a social-media addict, avid reader, traveler, and optimist. He does not want to buy anything from you. He can be found online at Twitter.com/KevinofMI, at Flickr (http://flic.kr/ps/wg49J), and his Instagram ID is Kevin_McKague.

Photo by Kevin McKague

TD87: Guest Post: Five Tips For Sleeping Near A Busy Road. By Sam Fisher

Hey folks. It’s been a little over a month since the last blog post, so I figured, “Yeah, I guess I should put something up. Gotta stop the crybabies from whining, you know.” Yes, I’m referring to me, Todd. You know, I’ve really been feeling the itch to get some new blog posts out, but I’m still busy getting the new Web site finished. Although I suppose that itch could just be dandruff.

Anyway, I’m going to put myself out there by saying that I’m shooting for a late November/early December time frame. I’ve just gotta say that after I’ve busted my hump on this, if you people don’t mob the site like a pack of cavemen on a Zippo salesman, I’m going to officially disown all of you. I might even make my protest last a whole day if you don’t watch yourselves.

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So anywho, I’ve got another guest blog post for you today. This one is written by a British fella named Sam Fisher. Now I’m pretty sure this isn’t the same guy that’s in all the Splinter Cell video games, but just in case, no one piss him off. This guy could sneak up on you easier than a pair of too-small panties and make your life just as uncomfortable. And for the record, I plead the fifth on that analogy.

Seriously, the real Sam Fisher seems like a very nice guy. He discovered the blog and wrote me a nice email asking if I accepted guest blog posts. It just so happens, I was looking for one. He suggested he could write one called, “ways to fall asleep near busty roads.” I mean, how could I refuse that? LOL He was a good sport when I pointed out the spelling goof and we had a laugh about the trouble I get into when my auto-correct changes a sentence that is supposed to read, “I had trouble backing into the dock.” 😀 So now we get to the main course; spelled correctly and everything. And of course, I’ll be back afterward to blab some more.

Five Tips for Sleeping Near a Busy Road

By Sam Fisher

For many, a quiet night’s sleep in familiar surroundings is the norm; however for a trucker the complete opposite is true. Many nights will have you pulling up at the side of a busy road with the roar of traffic and the honks of horns to contend with. However, fear not sleepy heads. Here are five sure tips to let you drop off into a deep, natural sleep and help you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to drive.

1. Sleep Cycles

A little known fact is that as you sleep you drift through various sleep cycles. Waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle can leave you feeling tired and like you still need a few more hours sleep. In some cases, waking up half-an-hour earlier can actually be better than sleeping a bit longer. It is best to try and sleep for 9, 7.5 or 6 hours, as that will mean you will usually wake up in between sleep cycles. It normally takes around fifteen minutes for the average adult to fall asleep, so plan accordingly.

2. White Noise

The mysterious late night sounds of the road can wake even the most tired of drivers from a heavy slumber. Interrupted sleep can stop rest and often leave you struggling to try and drift back off. One great technique for combating unexpected noise is a technique called white noise. White noise is usually something such as classical music that after listening to it for a while your mind blocks out. This can then dull your sense of hearing when played at night while sleeping. This can work with all types of music but just make sure it’s nothing that will get you excited and have an adverse effect on sleeping.

3. Avoid Sugar and Caffeine

It might seem an obvious suggestion but many people forget and end up staring at their truck’s roof with their mind buzzing and sleep far out of reach. Try to avoid drinking coffee, energy drinks or other things with lots of caffeine or sugar for at least four hours before you plan on falling asleep. Stimulants are not only bad for your sleep, but for your health in general; so try to get some proper sleep and eat better, more natural foods that have long-lasting energy release. In doing so, you may be able to reduce the habit and leave you feeling much better in the long run.

4. Make Yourself Comfortable

I know it’s easier said than done, especially while you’re in the confines of your truck, but getting comfy is a must if you have trouble sleeping. Mattress toppers and the right pillows are a great way to improve your comfort within the limited space you have to work with. Pillows come in all shapes and types from firm to soft, including some special ones such a memory foam and orthopaedic. Try some out and see which works best for you.

5. A Good Book

I know reading isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but with the massive variety of literature, there is bound to be a book or magazine for you. Reading helps you sleep in several ways. Firstly, it helps remove from your mind the worries and stress of the day which usually jump on you as you try and sleep. Reading also helps calm the mind and gets your brain in the right mode for sleep. Not only does a good book help with your sleep but it can get you through boring patches while you’re waiting around for your truck to be loaded or when you’re in the middle of nowhere and have some time to kill.

Good luck and I hope this helps you get a better night’s sleep on the road.

This is a guest post by Sam Fisher on behalf of Teletrac a company specialising in fleet tracking technology.

Well Sam, I’m sure it will. Thanks for the fine article. Now you people know me. I can’t let a post go by without adding my 2 cents. First up is about white noise. I know Sam’s right about this one. I keep a small, 12-volt fan running while I’m sleeping. The steady drone really helps me zonk out. When it’s super cold outside and I can’t run the fan, I usually don’t sleep as well. That’s when I pray for a reefer by my head. That would be a refrigerated trailer, not the other kind of reefer (although I bet that would knock me out too). 😀 However, reefers can be a mixed blessing if the thing keeps starting and stopping all night. You drivers know what I mean. Those hard starts can sometimes scare the pee out of you!

My first experience using music as white noise was back when The Evil Overlord and I were just dating. She was telling me how awesome The Cure was, but me being a metalhead, I was having none of it. Then the guitar player in our band got into The Cure and suddenly it was okay. The Evil Overlord still gets pissed about that. And by the way, the same thing happened with The Cult. Anywho, she eventually got me listening to The Cure’s “Disintegration” album when I went to bed. It even says in the liner notes that it was mixed to give two different experiences, depending on whether you played it loud or soft. It’s true. It’s powerful when it’s loud, but it makes me sleep like a drunk, 18-year-old cat when the volume is low. It’s weird how that works.

Next up is making yourself comfortable. Boy, do I know about this one. When The Evil Overlord was on the road with me, I always accused her of bringing too much crap. Much of that was bedding. I’m telling you folks, we had a lot of bedding. She usually brought 3-4 sets of sheets and blankets, 3 or 4 mattress pads, 5 or 6 pillows, 2 body pillows (if you team drivers don’t have one yet, go out and buy one (or two) — you can kiss my feet later), and a couple of sheets of that egg crate-looking padding. And this was for only 3 weeks on the road.

Luckily, this padding stayed in the truck. As for the rest of it, she changed the sheets once per week and using the pillows, packed herself into bed like a vase being shipped from Nicaragua via Jeep. I’m pretty sure if anyone made little fluffy packing peanuts, we’d have bought them too. But you know what? All of that made sleeping a joy. Well, as much of a joy as it could be when you’re bouncing down the road.

Now that the wicked one is out of the truck and back with the normal humans, I’ve stuck with the plan… well, to some extent anyway. I don’t use the egg crate stuff because I don’t need the extra cushion as a solo driver. But I’ve stuck with the sheets, extra pillows and mattress pads. I’ve got three pillows, one soft, one firm, and one body. I normally use the soft one, but the firm one comes in handy when you’re in one of those parking spots where it feels like you’re trying to sleep while standing on your head. And of course, it’s always nice having extra pillows when you’re leaning up against the wall in your bunk.

Now I can hear some of you masculine guys out there saying, “All a man needs is a sleeping bag.” I’ve got a correction there. “All a macho man needs is a sleeping bag.” Seriously, get over yourself and buy some freakin’ sheets! You sleep in your bunk more than you do your bed at home! Make it comfortable! I keep two sets of sheets with me now. I rarely change them in my 3 weeks out (I am a man, after all —  and I always smell fresh — really), but it’s nice to have a backup for when you spill milk all over them. Been there, done that. And a final word on sheets: cotton in the summer, flannel in the winter. Spend the money on flannel and I’ll let you kiss my hand when you’re done with my feet.

And lastly, The Evil Overlord will vouch for reading before you go to bed because the Sandman typically taunts her at night. Personally, I don’t need a book to fall asleep. Unless I’ve got something stressing me out, I’m usually dreaming about swimming pools full of banana split ice cream in less than five minutes. And that’s a good thing, because when The Evil Overlord gets pissed at me for falling asleep so quickly, it’s always nice to be snoring again not long after she purposely nudges me, slaps me on the chest, makes a loud noise, or drops something on my head. You people never believe me, but I’m telling you folks; she’s evil personified.

Let’s hear from you drivers out there. Give us some tips that help you sleep when you’re in the truck. And do it now. You heard me. No back-talk.

Photo by landlessness via Flickr

TD83: A Trucker Visits Carhenge

As a trucker for nearly 15 years, I’ve traveled all across the United States and parts of Canada. Along the way I’ve had the opportunity to explore many things. Yet, for the most part, I haven’t. Why not? Well, it basically comes down to one thing: I can be a lazy tightwad when I put my mind to it.

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You see, I drive a truck to earn a living, not to have fun. Every time I’ve tried to go exploring, it ended up costing me a fortune. Like that time The Evil Overlord (the wife and ex-codriver) and I went into Portland, Oregon when our company couldn’t find us a load. The cab fare to and from downtown was almost $40. The meal we had at Jake’s Famous Crawfish was unbelievably awesome, but it set us back over $100. By the way, The Evil Overlord and I both highly recommend the Halibut stuffed with Brie.

Another time, we were stuck in Salt Lake City for five days due to the combination of a broken air conditioner, a holiday weekend, and a bonehead who ordered a wrong part. Long story there. There’s another venue for that. Again, The Evil Overlord wanted to go sight-seeing. Another expensive meal or two (not so great this time), a car rental, and a trip to the zoo, aquarium, and lots of other places I have no recollection of, and we spent nearly as much as we would have made if we’d have been driving all week. Had The Evil Overlord not been there, I’d have ordered a couple of pizzas and glued the remote control to my hand. That’s just how I roll.

Again, my point is that I spend 2-4 weeks on the road to make money, not spend it. And that’s what I choose to do. If you choose otherwise, you could see a lot of cool junk as a truck driver. You’ve just got to be motivated enough to do it and be willing to spend the dough. Your call.

Now having said all that, sometimes an opportunity just presents itself. That’s what happened when I found myself out in the middle of freakin’ nowhere in Nebraska. As if Nebraska itself isn’t in the middle of freakin’ nowhere. Anyway, I saw the signs for Carhenge long before I got there. Somewhere in the back of my amoeba-sized brain, I recalled the name and remembered reading about it somewhere. So what to do? Should I stop or not? For a change of pace, I had plenty of time on the load. Hmmmm. . .

Ultimately, I decided that I wasn’t going to go out of my way to see it. Yea, I know; surprise, surprise. If it wasn’t within viewing distance of the road, or it was, but the parking looked tight, I’d drive right on by. In other words, if I had to put any effort whatsoever into this little endeavor, I was going to pass. As fate would have it, the parking lot was empty and it was right on the main thoroughfare.

I ended up being there for 45 minutes. Not because the place was so interesting, but because I thought I’d finally reach into the depths of my soul and explore my artsy-fartsy side. This is something that @darkstaff, @alanqbristol, and @DriverChrisMc have been trying to get me to do for a long time. I don’t really have an eye for that sort of thing, but I figured I’d give it a shot. Here’s what I came up with.

The video was shot with a Flip Mino HD and all the pictures were taken with my iPhone 3GS (the one with the older, crappier camera). The pictures were all taken and edited using the Camera+ app, which totally rocks, by the way.

The music is a song called “Segue Jazz” from the band Walking On Einstein. You can find it on the “Commoners Among The Masses” album. They are from the Joplin, MO area and I went to high school with the drummer and bass player. Although the band is no longer playing, I love ’em and still listen to their stuff all the time. Let me know what you think.

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

TD74: Doing Dallas

I’ve got an odd relationship with the city of Dallas. In my pre-trucking days, I loved it… well, most of the time anyway. Now that I’m a trucker, I like being in Dallas almost as much as I like being in the middle of West Texas when I have a surprise attack from the Kingdom of Diarrhea.

My first trip to Dallas holds special meaning. It was November 19, 1993, and The Evil Overlord and I were standing in the courthouse sporting a lot of hair and a pair of rings that cost $50. Dudes, I gotta tell you. Getting married in jeans and flannel ROCKS! Yes, I eventually wound up in a penguin suit when we had another ceremony for the family and friends, but the first time was a lot more fun.

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We were moving from Missouri to Dallas where I was going to be attending college. For The Evil Overlord, it was a return to where she lived during most of her wild teen years. These first few years are what every married couple considers “the good ole days.” Granted, at the time they sometimes didn’t feel like much fun. Although we both worked, we were usually broke and were sharing a crap-hole apartment with a large family of cockroaches. But when you look back, they were definitely good times. I know the cockroaches partied nearly every night.

Eventually, The Evil Overlord got a job as a leasing agent at an apartment complex and she started making more money. It seemed that she could sell hamburgers to cows when she put her mind to it. Once we had a little more money, we started enjoying some of the things that you can’t get in rural Missouri. Hockey games, sightseeing, museums, and lots and lots of nightlife.

In my opinion, Dallas also has one of the coolest skylines at night. Reunion tower is probably the most unusual. It looks like a giant microphone with a lighted ball on top. You can’t see it from the ground, but there’s a restaurant inside that spins 360 degrees. Pretty cool, but waaaaay out of our price range. We used to take visitors to the observation deck though. Check it out if you get a chance.

Another standout building is a skyscraper outlined in neon green lights. It looks wicked cool at night. Another building has a giant X on the side and a cool-looking tower on top. The Evil Overlord informed me that Metallica lived on the roof of that building. I’m thinking there might have been some funny smelling smoke coming out of her beat-up Honda Civic when that idea came to fruition. Ya think? Her and her friends were kinda naughty back then. Funny, now she can barely drink a glass of wine without turning beet red.

So you can see, Dallas holds a lot of “firsts” for me. My first hockey game. Ah yes. A little tip from your Uncle Todd: it’s not wise to wear a St. Louis Blues jersey to a Blues vs. Stars game, especially if you can’t fight your way out of a soggy paper bag. Luckily, the Blues lost. Whew!

Other firsts: I visited my first real museum. I went to my first piano bar. Funny stuff! I had my first Shiner Bock. Yummy! I went to my first gay bar. I went to my first Major League Baseball game at Rangers stadium. I had my first I-Max experience. Heck, I even got my first wife there. If I ever need another all depends on how long The Evil Overlord can tolerate me.

What? What are you stammering on about? One at a time please. I can’t understand when you’re all talking at once. There. That’s better. Oh… I guess I should explain that trip to the gay bar, huh?

The Evil Overlord had leased an apartment to a gay couple she nicknamed “The Homies.” Don’t worry, The Evil Overlord wasn’t being insensitive. She has a long history with gay guys and these guys loved it and her. One of her best friends in high school was a guy who turned out to be gay. Funny thing was, she knew he was gay long before he did. Anyway, these new friends of hers asked her to go to the bar with them. She asked me if it was okay if she went with them.

Now why wouldn’t she ask me to go along? Because she knew me… or she thought she did. You see, I grew up in a small town without a lot of diversity. We had a few exchange students, but most of the town was caucasian. NO ONE was outwardly gay. Heck, I found out a close high school friend of mine was gay about two years after graduation. I figured that out when he hit on me. Yikes!

So when it came time to go to a gay bar, The Evil Overlord naturally assumed I wouldn’t want to go. My initial reaction, was “HELL NO, I don’t wanna go,” but I started to think about it more. I was in a big city and knew I wouldn’t live there forever. I knew I wasn’t gay. I knew “The Homies” and they were okay. I was even getting used to their wolf whistles when they caught me walking down the hallway. And best of all, I had an experienced guide. The Evil Overlord was a veteran of gay bars because she attracts gay men like dogs are drawn to crotches. So what the heck? Life is about experiences. Right?

Well, it was an experience all right. Once at the club, our first stop was upstairs where there was a drag show complete with guys, errr, gals, errrr, whatever, lip-syncing to “Son of a Preacher Man” and every song ever sung by Whitney Houston. As we were walking back downstairs a guy coming up the stairs ran his hand down my chest. Now THAT gave me the heebee-jeebees, and The Evil Overlord and “The Homies” fits of laughter!

Really, a gay bar is pretty much like a regular bar, except there are mostly guys and they’re dancing with each other to lots of disco hits. They’re also doing pretty much everything else that goes on at a regular bar. Lots of grinding, fondling, and necking take place. The later it gets, the crazier it gets.

At first it was a little creepy, but like anything, I got used to it fairly quick. Although I have to say that I never really got used to the G-string clad guys that were paid to dance on a ledge around the edge of the dance floor. Especially since one of them clearly had a thing for me. I’m also pretty sure he had an elephant somewhere in his family tree. Perhaps the best thing about that night was that for the first time, uhhhh… ever, I got more attention than The Evil Overlord. Granted, it wasn’t exactly the setting I would’ve preferred. Hey, when you’re me, you’ve gotta settle for what you can get. And no, you pervs. I went home with The Evil Overlord.

So now that that’s explained. Let’s move on to the present. I really can’t stand Dallas now that I’m a trucker. I still have a few good memories as I drive by the glowing skyline at night, but they vanish quicker than a glass of milk at an Oreo convention as soon as I start looking for a parking spot.

Most of the large truck stops are all within a few miles of each other on a stretch of I-20, just south of Dallas. I wouldn’t exactly call this a “nice” neighborhood either. First you drive around in the parking lots hoping to find a spot while you dodge the NASCAR wannabe trucker that keeps doing laps in the parking lot at 30 mph. If you don’t find a spot there you move to the next truck stop. When (if) you finally find a parking spot, you can’t go through the night without at least one knock on your door. It’s either a beggar/junkie or a lot lizard… /junkie.

Take last night, I circled the Pilot parking lot three times looking for an empty space. Twice I had to hit my brakes hard as the Jeff Gordon wannabe came screaming around a corner. I finally gave up and headed out. As I passed a tiny truck stop about a block down the road, I noticed a couple of open parking spaces. I whipped in and nabbed one. Two hours later, the cashier comes out and asks for $7 for parking. I told him I hadn’t seen a sign. He pointed to it, but I still couldn’t see it since there weren’t any lights in the lot. I would have left, but if I had it would have broken up my 10-hour break and I couldn’t have delivered my load on time. Not to mention, the later it gets, the less chance of finding an empty spot. So I paid up.

Next, I wake up about 11 PM and hear someone yelling outside my window. “C’mon, back! C’mon! You got it! Bring it! You got it!” I guess the guide had to yell because the parking lot was as black as a bat’s bedroom. Still, that’s kinda rude for a driver to do that to another driver. He had to know there where drivers sleeping.

The next time I woke up was at 3 AM. This time it was a Latino lot lizard. Now I have to admit, she was kinda good-looking. She was thin, had make-up on, her hair was fixed, and she was nicely dressed. I waved her away and immediately heard another knock on the truck next door. Before I could crawl back into bed, she had crawled up into my neighbor’s cab and slammed the door. You know what came next. Yep. A driver who needs to spend a little time greasing his truck shocks better. Now see, if I were allowed to idle my truck without consequences, I wouldn’t have had to listen to all that.

Now it’s 5 AM and I hear another knock. I think, “Great, she’s forgotten that she’s already hit me up.” Nope. This time it was a woman who I can only describe as, “The human race is doomed if the apocalypse comes and it’s just me and her left.” Talk about nasty. She was a black woman who looked like she’d just crawled out of bed. Now that I think of it, she probably had. Great. Now I’ve got the heebee-jeebees again. Her hair was all messed up, she was overweight, her clothes were all tattered, and she had a gap between her two front teeth that I could’ve backed an over-sized trailer into. I waved her off and went back to bed. Not that it mattered. I’d been awake since Lady Latin knocked.

This isn’t just Dallas we’re talking about. When it comes to trucking, the names of big cities are interchangeable. Whether you’re talking about Vegas, Newark, the outskirts of L.A., or Dallas, your experience will probably be similar. Fight traffic, fight for a parking space, fight off lot lizards and beggars, and fight for your sleep.

And guess what? When I got up at 7 AM, I saw Miss Latin Lot Lizard 2011 and yet another lot lizard trotting across the parking lot and giggling. Well, I guess I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get any sleep.

Please rate this post and leave a comment about your worst night in a truck stop. Let all those non-truckers know I’m not full of it. Well, not about this anyway. 😉

Photo by dave_hensley via Flickr

TD59: A Trucker’s Home

I’m 42 years old and The Evil Overlord has been 29 for several years now. We live with her parents. How pathetic is that? Well, according to many of the truckers I’ve spoken with, it’s not pathetic at all. Well, at least it’s not that uncommon anyway.

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I was reminded of this yesterday when my company asked me to pick up a driver whose truck had broken down. He needed a lift home and they needed me to rescue him and the load he had been hauling. I’d be willing to bet that they were more concerned with the load than the driver. Carriers are “family-oriented” like that.

I knew immediately that Clint was a non-smoker. If he had been a puffer, all his stuff would’ve smelled like smoke and it would have taken a week or two to fumigate my truck after the 4.5 hour trip to his house. I was also grateful to discover that he wasn’t one of those annoying drivers. That would have made it seem like an 8-hour trip.

As we talked (and no, I didn’t do all the talking), I discovered that Clint was an avid sportsman who loved hunting and fishing. Well, there’s two things right off the bat that we don’t have in common. I’m certain that I don’t have the skill to shoot a fish or cast far enough to snag a deer.

As the conversation progressed, I discovered that he was a 41-year-old single guy who had never been married. After serving a couple of terms in the Navy, he got his CDL (Commercial Drivers License) and moved home with his dad. His father had recently passed away after a nightmare called Alzheimer’s disease.

I asked him if he had moved in with his dad because of the Alzheimer’s, to which he said, “No. He got that years later. I drive a truck. I’m never home. What the hell do I need a house for?”

Good point. While it may be pathetic for most grown adults to live with their parents, I believe that truckers might be one of the exceptions. People with special needs such as physical or mental disabilities would be understandable too. Now that I think of it, a lot of truckers might qualify for the mental side of that.

After The Evil Overlord and I got married, we moved to Dallas where I attended The Art Institute. During that time, we rented an apartment and suffered through life as most poor, uneducated, newlyweds do. They were some of the best years of our lives.

After graduation, we came back to Missouri and moved in with her parents until we could get our lives in order. We got into trucking after discovering that my degree was a worthless as a bartender at a lemonade stand.

As truckers, we stayed out on the road for 3 weeks at a time. Many drivers stay out much longer than that. When we did get home, we were only there for 3-4 days at a time, so we never really saw the need to get a place of our own. Her parents were happy to see us when we got home and they had an extra room to spare, so what the heck?

Years later, we got the itch to own a home. Since we were making good money, we thought we’d build a house that we could enjoy when we finally quit trucking and came off the road. We built that beautiful house, but there was one honkin’ problem. We didn’t see any immediate end to our trucking careers.

I’ve got to tell you, it really sucked paying a large mortgage payment on a place that seemed to only be good for doing your laundry when you came off the road. It didn’t take long before we sold it and moved back in with her parents.

Fast forward to present day. The Evil Overlord is no longer driving. She quit for a while, then came back for a year-and-a-half, then quit again. Fickle woman. This time it’s for good though. Now she’s back at school and living with her parents while I’m out here on the road. And that is why we’ve put a deposit down on one-half of a brand new rental duplex.

Parents are fine. Actually, they’re more than fine. Without those two people feeling frisky at least once in their lives, you wouldn’t even exist. We should all thank them for doing the nasty for us. Still, they aren’t someone you want to live with for the rest of your lives. That’s why the Bible says to “leave your parents and cleave to your spouse.” God knew even back then that your parents would eventually drive you bonkers.

After The Evil Overlord put the deposit down on the place, she gleefully called me up to ask me if I was excited. I was less than enthused and she was perplexed. I explained that, while I understood her giddiness, I was still out here on the road for 3 weeks at a pop. She was happy to be getting some personal space and that was understandable. Since I’m rarely home, all it does for me is make her happy. And after all, I guess that’s part of a husband’s job. I’m sure I’ll enjoy getting back to the way it all began. It’ll be just me and The Evil Overlord again. Unfortunately, my glee will only last for 30-40 hours a month.

My point is this. You’ve got good reason to raise your eyebrows when you meet a grown adult who still lives with his/her parents, but if you find out that person is a trucker, give them some slack. Would you want to spend a good chunk of your monthly income to own a home or maintain an apartment that you rarely get to visit?

Please leave a comment with your thoughts on this subject. And if you’re feeling particularly nice, go up to the top of the post and give it a star rating. Thanks.