Backing a flatbed trailer is tricky due to the spread axles. Yeah the load is more stable, but you never know which axle is the pivot point. You just assume it’s the front axle and everything behind is the over-hang. And you sit and pray that that the ten feet of swing don’t scrape the pretty Petes on both side of you.
At least with a dry van you can slide the tandems forward making for a shorter wheelbase and easier maneuverability. Other factors to consider with a flatbed are the weight of the load, and whether you are on asphalt, gravel or dirt. Naturally gravel turns faster than asphalt and dirt can get quite messy.
Perhaps the only thing harder than backing a tractor trailer into a dock, is tarping a load of sheetrock. The tarps, 60 lbs dry, weighed more than a bushel of rocks. If they were drenched in rain or frost-ridden, they got heavier and harder to grip.
Overall, tarping the load and strapping it down with a bagful of bungee cords was back breaking and time consuming. And the sultry Georgian summer made me wish I was in Maine
Some trainees were able to fold a lumber tarp in one minute flat. Some took longer than others — my tarps were never pretty and ended up flapping in the wind – I wasn’t making my bed with hospital corners to be inspected by my drill instructor after all. Tarping seemed to me like an often-unnecessary chore to keep the gypsum from getting damaged just in case it would rain. It was a waste of time for something that may happen 30% of the time. And if you crank the straps too tight, you could damage the sheetrock, even if you had edge protectors.
“Ok students, when you get assigned your trucks, make sure you add enough straps so if you get stopped by the DOT, you don’t get a ticket,” said our lead instructor. “And when you get behind the wheel, whatever you do, don’t overspeed.”
“What if the speed limit is 75 like it is in Maine and Louisiana?” an inquiring student asked.
“Or 80 in many parts of Texas,” another added with a smirk.
CT, like many trucking companies had installed speed sensors in the transmission that can detect the engine speed. Even though the engine is governed to 64 mph, the speed of the truck can exceed that when going downhill.
Overall the training was great and my new friends and I had a fabulous time in Savannah. I rented a car for the week and when we got done with training, we would visit local bars and restaurants.
We all loved tacos and tequila so Patron. on Ogeechee Road was a natural fit. The place was jam packed after-work. Ft Stewart is nearby, and the historic district is not too far away.
We started with the margaritas – they came in huge 55 oz fishbowl plastic glass dipped in salt. The guacamole was prepared right in front of us. We could smell the sweet, nutty flavor and feel the creamy texture touch our tongues.
It was Tuesday. My friends ordered the beef fajitas, the meat was richly marinated with lime, garlic and soy sauce. I opted for the chicken enchiladas after reading the Yelp reviews. The enchiladas came with frijoles negros (black beans), rice, flour tortilla smothered with cheese and savory chile sauce. We definitely imbibed on the cervezas and happy hour specials. With a name like Patron, their margaritas were mule-kicking strong. Then without warning, a loud pitched whistle, a clap and “Felix Cumpleanos.” Somebody wearing a bright red sombrero was celebrating with a shot of Patron.
Part of River Street’s charm is its cobblestone streets. The stones were originally used as ballast material on the many ships that sailed into Savannah’s harbor. The ships collected chert, quartz, granite, basalt and other rocks from their initial locations and deposited the stones upon unloading in Savannah. Savannah settlers found the stones to be an affordable and abundant building material and used them throughout the Historic District.
We also enjoyed watching the container ships coming in and gawked at their sheer size. Some were as large as three football fields and carried tens of thousands of containers.
“Wow, this Maersk line looks bigger than the John C. Stennis,” I said referring to CVN-74, the aircraft carrier I was stationed on in San Diego.
“Some day, I’ll be pulling these loads,” said Keith Sides, a fellow student, holding a 16 oz beer container and gulping it down like it was soda water.
“You’re not gonna do flatbed?” I asked.
“Absolutely but some flatbeds can haul port loads, too you know – many from the port of Baltimore do.”
“I’ll stick with flatbeds. One of the instructors was telling me that many of the chassis trailers have mechanical issues and are rough on the trucks,” Steve, one of our classmates added.
What we enjoyed about this enchanting Southern city is the relaxed open container law in the historic district. And Savannah, unlike DC and Baltimore was very friendly to trucking.
“Why do you want to be a truck driver?” I asked Keith.
“I like working independently and it’s decent money if you’re willing to roll,” he answered.
“Right on Bro. But I don’t see myself pushing too hard,” I responded. “I need time to work on my websites, visit restaurants and add content to my blog.”
“Hey what is that monument that looks like a cracked earth?” Keith asked.
Savannah has an amazing World War II memorial aptly titled “A World Apart.” The bronze and copper globe is split in two, a symbol of the division between the European and Pacific theaters. The names of the 527 Chatham county service members killed in action are inscribed on the monument’s walls.
River Street located on the bottom of a bluff was an old Indian burial ground. Many of the buildings which line River Street were once warehouses used to store cotton before it was loaded onto ocean-going vessels. Cotton and other goods were crammed into ships by men working under extreme and dangerous conditions. Occasionally, a worker would be crushed under the heavy loads or men would fall off the docks and drown. With hundreds of deaths over the years, the conditions were ripe for a haunting. Locals and visitors have reported seeing ghostly men, dressed in 17th century style clothing, moving through the shadows of River Street.
We visited one of these warehouses, now a favorite watering hole. Warehouse Bar & Grill, no doubt gets regular phantom visitors, but today, it was packed with party-goers.
There was a local singer belting out country rap. The beer was cold and cheap, and it flowed freely and the patrons seemed friendly. There was a table full of women, but only one was the lucky birthday girl. And if you played it right, you could buy her a shot of Jose Cuervo and hope to get a dance or grind.
Outside a riverboat motors out for a twilight dinner cruise and a ghost and gravestones tour bus roars by, filled with eager sightseers. They stop in front of the Warehouse and the narrator goes on a long tale about a recent sighting.
I bought Keith and Steve a shot as well as one for the birthday girl who was happy to return a hug.
“Who are your friends?” I asked.
“What, I don’t know them. I just showed up a few hours ago, told them it was my birthday and we haven’t stopped partying since.”
What a way to get free drinks, and I was happy to oblige.
After a long night of sipping on Guinness, downing tequila shots, and chatting about trucking, family hobbies, etc., I drove the clan back to the hotel. Some of the guys were interested in hooking up with girls on Backpage, and there were a ton of them in Pooler.
Not me of course, I was focused on calling someone I was starting to have feelings for.
“Hey Stace, how’s it going?”
“Fine, work is busy as usual. How’s the training?”
“Have you been checking out the WordPress themes I emailed you?”
“I looked at a few of them and felt they were quite bloated. Really want you to go over them with me from a design standpoint.”
“Great, I sure will. So your laptop is holding up?”
“Actually no, my old macbook finally kicked the bucket. So I was so glad to have yours in hand.”
“Well then I’m glad I lent it to you. I thought you would call me before you did that though.”
“Sorry Hun I forgot.”
I was surprised. Not only did she not volunteer the information. There wasn’t a whiff of appreciation or gratitude.
Was she the right woman for me? Perhaps this was the right litmus test. I would see her in a couple of days, and we definitely had things to discuss.
The final test for the class was neither securement or tarping. We all had to alley dock a trailer into a door. The key was to keep the steering wheel straight, look out the window and see if we were early or late. If we were early, slow it down by steering to the left. If we were late, we had to speed it up, by steering to the right. This was the toughest evaluation, and the challenge once again was figuring out which axle was the pivot point.
After we completed our examination, we were ready to go on the road with our trainers. We all learned a lot but most importantly made good friends that hopefully we’ll stay in touch with throughout our budding careers. Not all of us made it through training – a few dropped out – but it was only because they realized that flat bedding wasn’t their thing. Was it for me, or was I better suited to drive dry van?
We said our final goodbyes, I turned my rental car in, and I flew back to DC with a welcomed layover in New York.
Soon, I was back in Brooklyn having dinner with Stacy at a local bar called O’Keefe’s. It was a perfect location and not too far from the Barclays Center where her favorite Nets played. And her favorite player was none other than Jeremy Lin.
We shared a bowl of French Onion Soup – it was rich, warm and not too cheesy.
She had the fish and chips which she seemed to enjoy and my turkey burger was the bomb. Both chose sweet potato fries. Of course, both was washed down generously with lots of Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale and my favorite Smithwick’s.
She talked about her parents in Hartford, Conn., her preparations for the Cherry Tree 10 Miler in Brooklyn, her burgeoning student debt and her goal to organize a race in Massachusetts.
“Have you ever run the NY Marathon?” she asked
“Yes and no,” I answered curtly. “I ran in 2010, but I bandited it (running unregistered) after the Verrazano – Narrows Bridge and peeled off before Central Park.”
“How bout the Marine Corps Marathon?”
“Yeah, plenty of times. In fact, I organize a fun run each May that we do in conjunction with the EU Embassy Open House – you should come next year and join us.”
She spoke nothing about the laptop the entire evening, and I was just waiting for her to mention it.
“You wanna go over some themes tonight?” I asked wondering if it was appropriate to go over work on a pleasant date with someone I was pursuing.
“Nah, not tonight. A theme has to be have the right character and touch and I’m just not feeling it.”
“So, how’s the macbook working?” I inquired.
“Oh, great, yeah, I love the Airs – they’re light and reliable – I’ve gotten a ton of writing done.”
“Super, when can I get it back?”
There was a long pause and her eyes averted contact. “Like I said, I’ve already started using it.”
“No worries, I want to give it to my son in school. He’s in Virginia Tech now.”
“I’ve already loaded Office and Garageband, and I’ve got personal information saved on it.”
After drinks, I walked Stacy back to her apartment. I gave her a kiss and bid adieu.
Then I got on my transfer flight to BWI and was back home that evening. Amazingly, my properties did not fall into a huge sink hole. Faith did not try to come back and Zaylee was still behind in her rent.
“You shouldn’t go back to that trucking company,” Zaylee suggested. “Stay in town and throw some more parties. I really miss my champagne and fried mushrooms.”
There would be no socials. I would wait patiently until I got the call to meet with my trainer. Who would I train with? Someone local? Then without warning a call from my Driver Manager from Baltimore.
“How quickly can you get down to Savannah?”
“Whoa, how am I going to get down there?”
“Either take a greyhound or drive – we’ll reimburse you. But you definitely have no time to fly this time.”
Not able to catch a greyhound by the next morning, I decided to go balls to the walls in my Subaru Baja and leave that evening. I was making good time and expected to be in Savannah by 2am. Then when I was driving on 95 near Lumberton, NC around midnight, I heard a popping sound from my engine. I pulled over at the next exit and saw white smoke.
It appeared that I had blown my header. I had to wait till the next day to tow my car to the Subaru in Fayetteville. It would take a few weeks and several thousand dollars to change out my motor. I chose a rebuilt motor due to the cost. My trainer picked me up at Lumberton, 35 miles away.
“Hi Ronald, nice to meet you. I haven’t gotten much sleep. Tired from last night. Hope you can cut me some slack,” I said.
“Certainly, you can ride shotgun until tomorrow – then you’ll be driving from then on,” Ronald insisted
“The hardest part of trucking has nothing to do with driving a truck. It’s all the other stuff that goes along with it – using the Qualcomn, spending a night at the truck stop, sitting at the shipper and receivers for hours on end.”
“Super, I’m looking forward to learning everything you can teach me.”
We both hit the sack early due to an early morning delivery. Just as I was getting ready to doze off, I hear a clapping sound under me. I didn’t bother to look, but I recognized right away what I was hearing. It was disgusting, and I started to feel violated.
Then at the crack of dawn while I was still asleep I started smelling smoke wafting up to my rack. It was so suffocating that I had to get out of the truck to breathe. I couldn’t believe Ronald was smoking inside the cab. Masterbating I could take, but smoking I could not.
As soon as Ronald woke up to do his pre-trip, I confronted him. “No more beating your meat while I’m asleep or awake for that matter, and no more smoking in the rack,” I demanded. “You can go watch your porn and take a puff on your own.”
Shockingly, he agreed to the concession. But he also asked that I stop sanitizing the steering wheel and dashboard. He claimed that wet wipes can make you sick, and germs make the immune system stronger.
So I would endure three weeks with Ronald with his filth and nastiness. And I looked forward to Friday afternoons when he would drop me off at a motel in Orangeburg, SC and picked up on Monday morning.
A week before I was scheduled to leave, I was deeply shocked to receive tragic news. My good friend and client, Armin Armin from Chaplin’s was hit by a car outside his restaurant as he was walking a friend to her car.
“Do you want to go home for the funeral?” Ronald asked me.
“I would love to, but I’ve come this close – gotta press on,” I insisted, taking into consideration that I had almost quit after the incident on the first night.
I did my best to hold on, and I counted down the days. Finally, three weeks had passed by and it was finally time to bid adieu.
“So you’ve got everything down pat. You just struggle hauling the tarps onto the flatbed,” Ronald mentioned as he handed me over a lime-shaken Corona at La Carreta, his favorite hangout in Mocksville, NC, near one of CT’s yards.
“Yeah, would be nice to add a couple of inches in height,” I added.
“Well, we can’t make you taller, but we can make you stronger. BTW, I spoke with the training supervisor. With my vote of confidence, we’re ready to release you to your home terminal in Baltimore.”
“Awesome, good timing – my Subaru is ready to be picked up, and if you drop me off in Fayetteville, I’ll just drive back on my four-wheeler.”
“Yeah driving a car will feel strange after been on a truck for weeks,” Ronald stated.
When I returned, I waited two weeks before I was assigned an International.
I drove for four months and made every delivery on time. No accidents, no tickets, no out of service.
Everything seemed to be going well. I drove from NYC to NC and as far west as Ohio. I was running a ton of miles and even volunteered to drive a load to NYC one weekend. On that trip, Jason came a long for the ride and took a lot of pictures, even though taking passengers was not allowed.
Unfortunately, the delivery in NYC was delayed, and we decided to spend Saturday night in Long Island. So we didn’t make it back to DC until late Sunday night.
Because I was required to spend 10 hours in the sleeper, my clock did not reset until late Monday morning. Normally, we started our days at 5am, so all week I struggled to catch up.
Then on Veteran’s Day, Nov 3rd, I was upset for having to work on my one of most most treasured holiday. I was rushing to get the load delivered in Virginia before the weekend.
I was driving outside Harrisburg, PA along scenic I-22, downhill with a heavy load when I was clocked going 67 mph. Within minutes, I got a call from my Driver Manager.
“Slow your ass down. You’re gonna run off the road or worse kill someone.”
“Ok, Boss man, but I’m not going to volunteer for any more weekend trips. Driving to NYC. last weekend messed up my rhythm and my hours.” (Since taking an extra trip to Queens on Saturday, I couldn’t start my first load on Monday till late, so that pushed my schedule back – all week I was rushing to catch up)
“Alright deliver this load, then return to Baltimore and park the truck in the yard.” Coastal Transportation fired me for over-speeding – going more than 67 mph (on a downhill)
This is not a DOT mandate and most trucking companies could care less. This was actually a requirement imposed by their insurance company. But still it was up to CT to comply.
Companies today can install sensors in their trucks which will measure speed and will send an alarm to the terminal. Some are accurate, some give false readings – they both can create agony and angst.
My company chooses to fire drivers that go over 67 mph (I did it 3 times over 4 months) I felt rushed because my terminal manager was calling me to tell me to hurry up to make the deadline – this is after driving all night.
But its fairly easy to do (when loaded w/ 80K pound), its not illegal (this was company policy, and its questionable whether this is even unsafe.
I have no problem with them firing me but they wrote on my DAC report that I’m unsafe and now it would be difficult to get a job.
Its questionable whether going over 67 is unsafe because after a downhill there’s an uphill and you need the momentum so that you don’t slow traffic behind you.
When driving in states like PA and WV, there’s lots of rolling hills, and if you don’t maintain a good speed downhill you may not get sufficient momentum uphill causing you to slow down and possibly hold up traffic. There’s a few things worse than driving behind a big rig going 45 mph uphill.
As a heavy-duty truck if you don’t time these hills right you will go slow and risk missing your deadline. Over a span of 400 miles could mean a difference in over an hour.
Also not all trucks are the same. Forty percent of the trucks are the newer MACs that don’t overspeed. That’s because they have better jake (engine) brakes and the speedometer is digital. They also have an alarm that will beep at 68 mph The rest of us have the old Internationals with the analog speedometers that are prone to go over.
So if the company is going to fire drivers for overspeeding, then they need to make sure that everyone gets the same type of trucks. But since the company was operating on wire thin margins, they couldn’t afford replacing their fleet with Macs.
Since I was now no longer working, I had time to drive up to NYC. This time, I didn’t go to visit Stacy, but to file a small claims against her. It was only a $1,000 laptop, and if she had asked me nicely, I would have considered meeting her half way. The fact that she blatantly kept the laptop without making any efforts to pay me was dishonest. And every time I called her, she came up with some excuse. My only action would to be file a small claims in Brooklyn.
The day of the mediation at the NY Peace Institute, I informed the mediator that I had asked Stacy to hold on to the macbook, but I did not give it to her.
“Why did you let her hold onto it?” the mediator asked.
“Because I was going to a 10-day training with a trucking company, and I didn’t want it to be stolen.”
“Why did you trust her with the laptop?” the mediator continued.
“Because she was a good friend – very reliable. And I liked her.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Yes, I was interested in pursuing her, and yes, I wanted to impress her.”
Stacy looked out the window, her face showing no emotions.
“But you know money and honey don’t mix,” he added. “Best if you had a signed contract.”
“Yeah I know that now. I would never give a friend such an expensive gift.”
She claimed that it was a gift. But I had emails showing that she planned to pay me back. But her actions didn’t match her words.
We agreed that she would purchase it from me for $500 – half of what it’s worth.
After the mediation, I went to shake her hand.
Stacy pulled away, didn’t even look me in the eye.
“Let bygones be bygones,” I smiled.
“No way, not after this,” she fumed.
“C’mon, what you say we go down the street to the O’Keefe’s for a drink. We can talk about the Nets free agent prospects, maybe go over some new WordPress themes.”
“You’re ridiculous. Look if we’re every going to have a relationship, we can’t be taking each other to court. That’s not a good start – normally that’s how it ends.”
“I hear you Stace, and I hope the next time we meet, it will be outside the courthouse. After all, we still need to talk about organizing a run. We may never be lovers, but we will always be runners.”