The Adventures of the Tylenol Kid

 

When I think of the vast distance covered in recent days, the adventures and misadventures, I want to go lie down. These were my thoughts yesterday while lying down, flat on my back, on the floor of the trailer staring up and checking to see if anything was broken. “Are you okay, sir?” one of the delightful young ladies called out from the back of the trailer. “Yes,” I said. “I fell and thought I’d rest as long as I was down here.”

Like leftist political theory, or the myriad schemes cooked by fertile and boundless imaginations in ivory towers and climate controlled cubicles, this load assignment looked a lot better on paper than did its application on the ground. After a lovely time spent in the American northwest, the load assignment called for me to pick up a fully loaded trailer of assorted retail merchandise in the Seattle area Tuesday at lunch, and have it in Omaha, Nebraska first thing Friday morning. In total, some 1,700 miles would be covered in very short order, necessitating at least 600 miles driven per day and work days that would start around 3AM. A tall order, but workable nonetheless.

The catch? Delivery would be to three separate stores on Friday (yesterday), two in Omaha and one in Sioux City, Iowa, and said deliveries would be “driver hand unload.” The merchandise was stacked floor to ceiling, from the front and 53 feet back to the trailer doors. “Stacked” is not quite the right word. “Thrown,” haphazardly would be more appropriate. There was no truck pallet, or “dolly” to use. Instead, boxes of all sizes, shapes and weights, along with furniture, tables, entertainment centers, rugs, bed rails, vases, mirrors, and much, much more were piled as if by a tornado. Total weight of freight for this “driver hand unload” experience was 16,000 pounds. You do see where this is going, no?

Nebraska-Clouds.jpgThe drive itself was exhilarating if tiring. The scheduled allowed for no stops other than for fuel. I lost too much time in construction zones (where traffic is squeezed into one lane for stretches of 2 to 12 miles so that 30 people can watch another 5 do actual work) to allow time for lunch breaks. All the same, the sunrises were magnificent, the mountains regal, the endless formations of clouds imposingly beautiful. And then there was Little America, an oasis of good food and happy people in the Wyoming desert.

By the time I pulled into the parking lot of the first store in Omaha bright and early yesterday morning, I was full of enthusiasm and raring to “driver hand unload” this sucker all to hell and back. That lasted about 15 minutes, I think, after which each layer of absurdly loaded breakables and heavy items was cleared to reveal a layer of even greater lunacy. Why would you put a very heavy box labeled “Do Not Drop,” precariously on top of fragile and light weight items and then expect anyone less than 8 feet tall to prevent said heavy item from dropping? This was like playing “pick up sticks” with a pile of railroad ties and glass tables.

My job was to get these items to the tailgate of the trailer where delightful young ladies would put them on carts and wheel them into the store. The first load, already at the back of the trailer, was a challenge, though not impossible. That was 5,000 pounds unloaded, with 11,000 to go. The second store on the list would prove to be my undoing.

When I arrived at the second store, the parking lot of the shopping plaza was largely empty, making maneuvering the semi into position very easy. The young ladies would not arrive for another hour or so, which gave me time to catch my breath from the first stop. In time, however, I was in the trailer again, hauling another 5,600 pounds of merchandise to the tailgate. The temperature was climbing rapidly, and the trailer was doing an admirable job of heating up. Sofas were perched precariously at ceiling level. Heavy mirrors were packed so as to be most easily broken. Tables were under chairs, which were stacked by fours, upside down, and the weight of the whole predicament pressed down on bamboo poles and railings and ceramic elephants or some such. Soon, I had taken to extending a middle finger to boxes marked, “Do Not Drop.”

A little over an hour into the services, the heat and exertion became a bit much and things began spinning. I felt at once very light and yet not totally in control of my faculties and balance. I had to sit down or fall down. The young ladies were kind enough to point me to a restroom. In the mirror, I saw someone with a face as red as an apple. I looked like an upside down thermometer except that thermometers don’t use that kind of language. But 5 minutes later, I was back in the trailer determined to see this thing through.

The Mensa Society members who had loaded the thing were kind enough to throw in a couple of pallets full of merchandise, wrapped in endlessly long sheets of plastic. Cutting through the plastic, I tried pulling the boxes off the pallets, except that the plastic wouldn’t turn loose of the boxes and things began falling on me yet again. There was no other option, however, as I’m not quite tall enough to reach up 9 feet or so and take the stuff off the top of the stack.

Unaware that some of the plastic had become wrapped around my left ankle, I took a box and tried to back up so that the falling merchandise wouldn’t land on my head. The plastic ensnared my foot and down I went, landing on my back, neck and head while all manner of exotic merchandise from far away lands pelted me from above. But it was nice to get a moment’s rest, and the kind ladies were worried too. They didn’t assist me, but they did inquire and I was gratified. I got up, and continued working another 40 minutes or so until everything for that store had been unloaded. I walked funny too.

Once finished, I found that climbing into the cab was more of an ordeal than it used to be. In fact, I was tempted to plant a flag on the steering wheel and claim it in the name of the something or other. I was worried about how in the world I would ever finish that last stop in Sioux City when I looked out over the parking lot and knew I had nothing to be worried about. It had taken a couple of hours to unload the merchandise for that store, and now the parking lot was full of cars which effectively blocked my exit. I was stuck.

A three-way conference call with my dispatcher and customer service, confirmed a few things, namely; 1) The final stop would have to wait until Saturday since I was completely wiped out physically, and my truck was blocked in any event, and 2) I was on record as confirming that I would not accept such a load assignment again and would resign if forced to do so. The customer service representative allowed as how they had assigned this load to a female driver a few weeks ago who had broken her arm while trying to “driver hand unload” the freight and assured me that care would be given to selecting which drivers get these assignments in the future. But it’s a big company and I expect the assurances of one cog in the bureaucratic machinery will likely disappear into a sea of cubicles.

tylenol.jpgI’ve seen a team of half a dozen men load and unload a 53 foot trailer by hand and I’ve seen it take six hours or more for them to do so. I’ve never seen a solitary person assigned the task. I still love my work, and I’ll get that final stop unloaded today no matter what. But somewhere in the recesses of the mind, the slogans, posters, signs, and sermons on how we value safety ring a little less true now. No matter, though. It will go on as before, and people with little connection to the dirt and sweat of an honest day’s labor will remain ensconced in climate controlled comfort, issuing out-of-the-box, paradigm shattering directives that have little relation to reality. And the guys on the ground will make it all work, somehow, with the aid of a little Tylenol and a lot of perseverance.

There are 53 comments.

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  1. Member
    Dave,Please take care of yourself.

    Ansonia and Tom

    • #1
    • June 1, 2013 at 8:18 am
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  2. Member

    I love the smell of American spirit in the morning. Tenacity, strength, willingness to overcome obstacles…the “I’ll be D***ed if I let this beat me” attitude.

    Hang in there Dave! Get some rest and take care of yourself.

    HOA

    • #2
    • June 1, 2013 at 8:32 am
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  3. Member

    Dave, your company should refuse all “driver unload” assignments. But I’m very glad you will refuse such assignments in the future. Amazes me that the company could expect a driver to be hours on the road, 600 miles a day, and still have energy to unload 1000s of lb of stuff.

    Take care.

    • #3
    • June 1, 2013 at 8:39 am
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  4. Inactive

    Be careful Brother. It is absurd for a major truck line to be taking these driver hand unload runs.

    • #4
    • June 1, 2013 at 9:02 am
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  5. Member

    It’s not the unloading that kills you. It’s the days after unloading. Hope everything is OK and not too sore.

    • #5
    • June 1, 2013 at 9:20 am
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  6. Inactive

    Long ago I worked for a hardware & appliance store and it fell to another co-worker and I to unload a 53 ft semi-trailer full of air-conditioners. About 1/3 of the way through I was certain there was someone in the front of the trailer making airconditioners and pushing them to the back.

    Another time a full semi trailer of 100 lb bags of rock salt came in. It was discovered the driver had dropped a couple dozen bags off with a friend. The store owner gave the driver a choice, unload the entire trailer by hand, by himself; or the owner would report the theft. That was one worn out driver by the end of the day.

    Then there was the time I had to clean an entire semi-trailer full of “school model” refrigerators that had been unplugged in june, and left to sit in a hot warehouse all summer, but that’s another story.

    • #6
    • June 1, 2013 at 9:49 am
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  7. Inactive

    My husband thinks Ricochet is dumb but I keep telling him he would like you, Dave. Let me try to describe how he spent yesterday: in a 24″ high crawl space, running a demo saw all around about 18″ inside the perimeter, to sever the 6″ thick slab from the outside thickened haunch. So that today he can jackhammer the outside haunch and remove it, in preparation for replacing that cracked and settling foundation with a new and improved one. Building foundations is much easier when there is not already a house on top, and an old foundation to get out of the way first. 

    He’s not the victim of a faraway dispatcher, and he doesn’t generally manage to spin his day’s work into such fascinating stories, but just like you he is an unsung hero. Underappreciated by 

    people with little connection to the dirt and sweat of an honest day’s labor … ensconced in climate controlled comfort

    He goes for Aleve rather than Tylenol. We buy it in 55 gallon drums. I hope you’re feeling better.

    • #7
    • June 1, 2013 at 10:17 am
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  8. Thatcher

    Dave, I don’t mean to break this chain of good wishes and well meaning comments….but I gotta tell you I have tears in my eyes from laughing. As Uncle Joe Biden would say, “I am LITERALLY LOLing”. Does that make me a sadist? I choose to put the blame on you for your ability to write about a terrible day in a humorous way. :-)

    • #8
    • June 1, 2013 at 10:19 am
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  9. Inactive

    Gee, maybe I shouldn’t complain about the heat on my patio.

    • #9
    • June 1, 2013 at 10:33 am
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  10. Inactive

    In the words of Dr. Phil, “Whaaaaaaat were they thinking?!”

    • #10
    • June 1, 2013 at 11:00 am
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  11. Member

    See, if you had joined the Navy instead of the Air Force you would understand the concept of Never Again Volunteer Yourself.

    • #11
    • June 1, 2013 at 11:04 am
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  12. Member

    They had wrapped pallets that had contents going to different places? Or did the destination just not have a pallet jack? And ladies helping you offload? This sounds like a charity thrift store type deal. Did you have to unload it through the front door, too?

    • #12
    • June 1, 2013 at 11:19 am
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  13. Thatcher
    FeliciaB: In the words of Dr. Phil, “Whaaaaaaat were they thinking?!” · 20 minutes ago

    No, the question is : HOW were they thinking??? I’m guessing that the cube-dwellers who assigned this load, and the ones who loaded the trailer, were products of the public school system in some Democrat-controlled city. They have never learned how to think abstractly, which would have given them a better idea of what to load where in a full LTL trailer. Whoever loaded that trailer would have known to load heavy, bulky stuff on the bottom, and would have been able to fit everything in so the person who unloaded would not have been at risk, and would have adequately packaged the fragile cargo so its customers’ merchandise would not have been at risk. For that matter, they would have kept the “unloader” in mind when packing the load in the first place. You deserve triple pay for that unloading activity.

    Dave, please take it easy for a while if you can. We need you!

    • #13
    • June 1, 2013 at 11:55 am
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  14. Inactive

    What a story, Dave! I had a friend who owned a Home Hardware store. I used to do her books for, so I have observed the unloading of truckloads of stock from an objective point of view. The main lesson I learned is NEVER to be involved with a HEAVY business. Rather be involved with one that shuffled paper, or its equivalent.

    And what people don’t think about if they are not involved, is the amount of cleaning and housework that is necessary for a Hardware business. It probably is in your business too, because who cleans up the inside of your truck? I shudder at how you must feel after this episode.

    Hope you recover soon! :-)

    • #14
    • June 2, 2013 at 1:02 am
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  15. Thatcher
    Nick Stuart: Long ago I worked for a hardware & appliance store and it fell to another co-worker and I to unload a 53 ft semi-trailer full of air-conditioners. About 1/3 of the way through I was certain there was someone in the front of the trailer making airconditioners and pushing them to the back.

    Very Funny, it got two LOLs,

    A few years ago I got the bright idea to earn a little extra money for Xmas presents, as a FedEx trailer loader. I worked my tail off 5 days a week (after doing my 8 hours of flying my RX Purchasing excel worksheet). The job (95% of the time) was to load a single trailer by myself (which I preferred) vs. having some goof try and help me. It needed to be packed from floor to ceiling with all different shaped boxes. It was a gift when boxes the same size came down the ramp at the same time. So at some point it was kinda fun to figure out how to stack the stuff so it would fit nicely_and_not_crush_the_stuff_below it.

    The_money_was_good_and_the_supervisor_loved_me,_because he never_had_to_double_check_my_work_or_put_two_guys_on_my dock,_but_my_back_didn’t,_love_me,_and_after_3.5_weeks,_my back_locked_up_and_I_was_done.

    • #15
    • June 2, 2013 at 1:09 am
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  16. Member

    Heartily agree with CJ ( 14 above) Dave! Take Care! and I’ll pray harder!

    • #16
    • June 2, 2013 at 1:12 am
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  17. Inactive

    Some days, I grumble to myself about the tedium of working in an office.

    Not after that story. Take it easy, chief.

    • #17
    • June 2, 2013 at 2:05 am
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  18. Inactive

    Oy, getting flashbacks to supply parties on the ship; picturing doing it alone is just heck!

    • #18
    • June 2, 2013 at 2:06 am
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  19. Inactive

    I’m with Curious, as I read I wondered what kind of retail outfit would do this ? TJ Maxx, Tuesday Mornings, Big Lots, and a couple of others I can think of would have that vast array of stock that included mirrors, couches, ceramic elephants, and odd lots of furniture. 

    Wonder what the containers look like when they hit the West Coast.

    You’re not getting paid enough for that kind of labor.

    • #19
    • June 2, 2013 at 2:25 am
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  20. Member

    Wouldn’t the installation of a simple hydraulic lift on the back of your tractor make things easier?

    • #20
    • June 2, 2013 at 2:52 am
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  21. Thatcher
    flownover: I’m with Curious, as I read I wondered what kind of retail outfit would do this ? TJ Maxx, Tuesday Mornings, Big Lots, and a couple of others I can think of would have that vast array of stock that included mirrors, couches, ceramic elephants, and odd lots of furniture. 

    Wonder what the containers look like when they hit the West Coast.

    You’re not getting paid enough for that kind of labor. · 25 minutes ago

    I’m guessing here, I’m not sure the stuff would come from an inbound container. My guess, is this stuff would end up in an outbound container, if the retailer in question doesn’t purchase the lot of close out stuff. But the same question exist. Wonder what the trucks look like when they hit the West Coast from the closeout stores / Secondary Source Suppliers.

    • #21
    • June 2, 2013 at 3:00 am
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  22. Inactive

    I just read this to my son who recently spent a few months unloading trucks at Walmart. He said the most commonly heard phrase at his job was, “Who the @#$%^& packed this truck?” The well-loaded truck was a rare treat. 

    In his experience only one person did the job you describe, but it was never the truck driver, and they would use a pallet jack and a conveyor belt to help, and it takes three to five hours.

    You’d think Walmart would have such logistics down cold, but that was not his experience.

    • #22
    • June 2, 2013 at 3:02 am
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  23. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author

    An update and then some responses to your very kind comments: The final chapter of this saga went smoothly today in Sioux City. The weather was breezy and in the 50s, so getting over heated was not a factor. This made an incredible difference. Also, the staff at this store was just superb. The young ladies were energetic and very helpful. One of them actually jumped into the trailer to give me an assist a few times when I got in a jam, as opposed to standing at the tailgate and watching the awful mess unfold.

    I told her she was going on my Christmas card list, and volunteered to buy her a cape since she was my hero today. Turns out her grandfather was an Air Force brigadier general that I might have known years ago.

    The day began with things hurting that I didn’t even know I had, though that dissipated as today’s labor progressed. I’ve no doubt that I’ll be moving very slowly for the next few days. But I couldn’t have asked for better circumstances or better people than I had today.

    To Nanda, and others who said a prayer, ….thanks.

    • #23
    • June 2, 2013 at 4:27 am
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  24. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author
    BrentB67: Be careful Brother. It is absurd for a major truck line to be taking these driver hand unload runs. · 7 hours ago

    One of the reasons my company has weathered the Obama economy better than others is because we don’t know how to say no to customers. The flip side of my predicament is a loss of business when we sorely need it. That being said, we could be more careful about who is assigned the loads. Team drivers, younger drivers, drivers without health issues,…this might be a good place to start. As it is, a load planner matches the load with whomever is in the vicinity and seldom, if ever, looks any deeper than that. 

    • #24
    • June 2, 2013 at 4:31 am
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  25. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author
    Jojo: …

    He’s not the victim of a faraway dispatcher, and he doesn’t generally manage to spin his day’s work into such fascinating stories, but just like you he is an unsung hero. Underappreciated by 

    people with little connection to the dirt and sweat of an honest day’s labor … ensconced in climate controlled comfort

    He goes for Aleve rather than Tylenol. We buy it in 55 gallon drums. I hope you’re feeling better. · 6 hours ago

    Your husband has my undying admiration. I can’t do Alieve, by the way. Not good for the kidneys,…and mine aren’t in great shape to begin with.

    • #25
    • June 2, 2013 at 4:32 am
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  26. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author
    Concretevol: Dave, I don’t mean to break this chain of good wishes and well meaning comments….but I gotta tell you I have tears in my eyes from laughing. As Uncle Joe Biden would say, “I am LITERALLY LOLing”. Does that make me a sadist? I choose to put the blame on you for your ability to write about a terrible day in a humorous way. :-) · 6 hours ago

    That’s the point!! You shoulda heard the jokes I’ve been telling the ladies at these stores the last two days. Handed one some sort of round wicker chair contraption and told her it was worst looking lamp shade I had ever seen. Humor is a weapon,…and sometimes the surest means to survive an otherwise horrible ordeal.

    • #26
    • June 2, 2013 at 4:34 am
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  27. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author
    The King Prawn: See, if you had joined the Navy instead of the Air Force you would understand the concept of Never Again Volunteer Yourself. · 5 hours ago

    I didn’t volunteer. I was volunteered. But it won’t happen again, I can promise you that.

    • #27
    • June 2, 2013 at 4:35 am
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  28. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author
    CuriousJohn: …

    So [1] sorry for your troubles, and I plan to show my wife your story, to see if her store (“Txxxxxx Mxxxxxx”) has stores in Omaha and one in Sioux City, Iowa.

    [2] I believe you might hold weight with your company, and love the idea of making it known that you’ll “resign, if forced to do so”.

    [3] Enjoy the pain killers. · 3 hours ago

    Edited 2 hours ago

    Better living through Chemistry.

    • #28
    • June 2, 2013 at 4:37 am
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  29. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author
    Basil Fawlty: Wouldn’t the installation of a simple hydraulic lift on the back of your tractor make things easier? · 1 hour ago

    You mean on the back of the trailer? The problem is that 99.9% of the time, I’m backing up to a dock where guys with forklifts load and unload the beast. A lift on the back of the trailer wouldn’t work with that. This load was the exception rather than the rule. In fact, the last time I had a tailgate unload, it was in New York City. I had to parallel park a tractor/trailer on Park Avenue!! Talk about creative swearing….

    • #29
    • June 2, 2013 at 4:40 am
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  30. Contributor
    Dave Carter Post author
    Jojo: I just read this to my son who recently spent a few months unloading trucks at Walmart. He said the most commonly heard phrase at his job was, “Who the @#$%^& packed this truck?” The well-loaded truck was a rare treat. 

    In his experience only one person did the job you describe, but it was never the truck driver, and they would use a pallet jack and a conveyor belt to help, and it takes three to five hours.

    You’d think Walmart would have such logistics down cold, but that was not his experience. · 1 hour ago

    No pallet jacks or conveyor belts at these places. Just hands, arms, legs, and a back. Could have used a beer too, now that I think about it.

    • #30
    • June 2, 2013 at 4:41 am
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