At dawn this morning, there were low lying clouds in the Pocono Mountains, in Pennsylvania. Some of them little more than airy wisps of grey smoke suspended in the valley, while others looked like huge dollops of cotton candy that had been minding their own business when they got stuck on a hillside and hung up on treetops. What a beautiful start to the day it seemed, as Baroque music filled the cab and I made my way to a 6AM delivery.
"What's your confirmation number?" the security guard asked. I presented it to him. "Nope, wrong one." So I gave him all the paperwork I had and every number I could think of. "Sorry, we can't accept the load without the right confirmation number." I verified that the address listed on the Bill of Lading was indeed the address of this warehouse. "Yep," said the guard. "So this freight belongs here, right?" "Right," he answered, "but I need that number or the computer won't let me accept the load into the system." To those readers who question the existence of God, I offer the following test. Go to your favorite department store or grocery store. If there is anything, …anything at all on the store shelves, you may consider that a miracle, and therefore proof positive of the Almighty's existence and his active participation in our lives.
While I waited on hold to talk with our support shift dispatcher, listening to the soft hits of the 80s on the phone, the guard and his coworker were able to tease the magic numbers from their computers and voila(!), I was granted entrance. This was the first of two stops today, roughly 330 miles apart. Very roughly, I should add. An unload that was scheduled for 30 minutes took 3 hours, meaning that my afternoon appointment wasn't going to work out so well either.
The more important it is to have an even temper, the more elusive it becomes. It seems three quarters of the country has become a construction zone, and that work proceeds at an evolutionary pace. Crews spend a few months on the first 5 miles, followed by a few more on the next 5 miles, and so on before the first 5 mile stretch will need fixing up again and the cycle repeats itself until we all die in office. Then came Pittsburgh. Did you know that they simply shut down I-376 which runs right through the heart of town? Yessir, it was clamped down tighter than DOJ looking at a Fast and Furious subpoena. When I embarked on the detour as marked by the signs, my GPS went straight away into apoplexy warning me that the bridge in front of me was 13 feet tall (my truck and trailer are 13' 6"). It was a narrow exit, and I only had about a million vehicles crammed in behind me, so while my options were limited, I was in no hurry to make the evening news. The sign actually on the underpass said 13' 6", and since I didn't have much bloody choice, I slowly drove under the thing with no room to spare. Whereupon the goodwill ambassadors of this region, who have kindly extended curses, middle fingers, and death-defying vehicular stunts for my benefit during the last few weeks that I've been up here, began testing their horns. Luckily, we all got under the bridge and no vehicles or horns got stuck.
What followed was a maze of very narrow streets, some with two lanes going each direction, some with one. I prefer the single lane going each direction because when there were two lanes, my truck wasn't quite skinny enough to fit in just one lane. I had to take a portion of the left lane too, or start knocking down light poles and trees. Now, there is something about only two thirds of a lane being available that causes cars to rush forward and try to push large trucks toward the light poles. I saw the same thing yesterday in Scranton, and last week in New York. The more narrow the lanes, the more eager everyone is to test the laws of physics against an 80,000 pound vehicle. It's a strange practice, and one I don't personally recommend.
It took a little over an hour to get through some rather tough looking neighborhoods in old Pittsburgh. The signs marking the detour eventually just stopped showing up anywhere and I was left to my own devices. Luckily, I had invested in a new device just a few days ago, in the form of a good commercial GPS for big trucks. The company GPS unit has a habit of freezing up and shutting down, and has routed me through "truck restricted" areas a few times too many. The new unit did a magnificent job in a bad situation today and with a nice accent as well. (I installed a pleasant voice with a British accent, reasoning that if I'm gong to be taking orders, it might as well be enjoyable listening to them.)
Finally back on the highway, I managed to make my delivery just before I ran out of hours to drive for the day. The good news is that there is space in back of the warehouse to park for the night. The bad news? No facilities. That's been a rather constant theme as well during my month's tour of the region. But beggars can't be too picky, and I'd rather have a safe place to park than be searching frantically for a place to rest, out of hours and exhausted.
There are days on the road that I wouldn't trade for a fortune. Then, there are days when I wonder about the toll such a lifestyle exacts. The frustrations mount as the clerical work required of drivers increases. We practically need administrative assistants in the trucks now to handle the regulatory requirements along with the ever increasing secretarial work required by our companies. I spend way too much time filling out forms, sticking barcodes on paperwork, and making enough keystrokes to launch a missile strike all so I can drop one trailer and pick up another. Construction zones abound, and with them comes an increase in traffic accidents as people go bouncing like pinballs between concrete barriers. Drivers are becoming more impatient nationwide. Irregular sleep cycles, the challenge of eating healthy and staying hydrated,…it all adds up. I keep having to visit hospitals for kidney problems, the last such visit resulting in surgery, though after some follow up tests last week in Maryland, the doctor tells me I'm in good shape again. So for now, the road keeps calling and I keep answering, the very thought of not being able to stretch my legs across the country being anathema to me. At some point I suppose I'll have to park this rig, but for now, there's too much to see, too much to experience, too many priceless moments across this exceptional country to share with you. I just need the right confirmation number, and some highways that will stay open. Oh yes,... and plenty of water.
(UPDATE: Sunday, 1030 EST; just got word that I'll be sitting in this lot all day before taking another load back through the Pittsburgh area tonight. Somewhere, in a climate controlled cubicle made for dispatchers, sits a weekend-shift sadist.)