Friday, December 19, 2008
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
It was an old mill town in Ohio. Ancient brick factories groaning, leaning against each other on a river; like Samoan Grandmothers beating their laundry on the rocks. I'd been through here before. The main corner in town is the junction of two state highways. Its an old main street with restaurants and boutiques struggling in old storefronts; bleeding on the unfinished hardwood floors. All these old little towns striving to become an antiquing destination; with few succeeding.
There is barely enough room for a semi to make the turn in town. I stopped traffic in all four directions and still would be sitting there if it wasn't the help of the driver behind me on the CB.
On the north side of town, one of the old brick factories still spews steam as activity buzzes around her skirts. Its a paperboard recycling plant. My trailer is loaded with bales of cardboard boxes from the back of a store. The downside of most of these old places, despite their tragic beauty, is that they were designed in the age of 48' trailers; sometimes horse wagons. Today we pull 53 footers. You'd be amazed at the heartache caused by another five feet.
I danced my way on to their scale with my big trailer; amusing the other drivers. Most were here for pickups, I had a delivery. Receiving is three outdoor docks in a pit, littered with scrap cardboard and various paper. Trailers jammed with bales of cardboard regurgitate misshapen empty cases from laundry soap or cat food or Italian Tomato Sauce. Swirling about the bales is other trash; store circulars, newspaper, paper towels, etc. The dock looks like the aftermath of a tornado without the scattered mobile homes.
The truck ahead of me backs in but not quite far enough. The receiver honks and waves him further in. These old docks have some plunger thing. I watch as his trailer pushes the plunger like cocking a gun. I can't see what that does. Litter has cascaded down into the pit making it hard to see the dock. It must have been hard to 'feel' it too.
The other truck leaves and I back in. I've got a roll door trailer, so I don't open the door I just back in. After chocking my wheels, I walk around to the hut-like office. It is hard to tell if the office trailer was set on top of a pile of debris or it just collected there. Forklifts buzz around grabbing bales and hustling them around a corner at the base of a huge brick smokestack. While I'm waiting for someone to check my paperwork and unload me, I happened to glance at the trailer. The dock plate is akimbo, halfway up the door trying to slice its way into the trailer! What the hell is that?!?!
Just then a forklift pulls up.
"Hey, I've got to fix that obviously," I say pointing at my trailer door straining against the dockplate. "Hopefully it will open again. Is there something we need to coordinate?" I ask sheepishly never having seen anything like this dock.
The driver on the forklift is midwestern farmer stock; drawn, gaunt and grizzled. Generations of dirt farmers stare back at me from his watery bulging eyes. Impossibly long fingers squirm and slither around the steering wheel. Veins crawl around his arm like ivy on a fallen branch. A tattered work shirt holds the fallen branch arm like the loam of the forest.
"Well," he starts, in a more back holler drawl than Tom Bodett's. "You'll have to pull back out . . . open that door . . . and then back back in," he states flatly.
Ahhhh . . . it was all me.
Friday, October 24, 2008
"Hoboes differentiate themselves as travelers who are homeless and willing to do work, whereas a "tramp" travels but will not work and a "bum" does neither." Source.
My slogan "Eat When You're Hungry, Work When You're Broke" and my overall plan to Sail a little, Work a little, Sail a little [hopefully sailing more than working] has inspired significant research, or daydreaming on the road, which led to the discovery of the Hobo's Paradox! Also, I just read Kerouac's On the Road, am always on the road and strive for Vagabondism.
The Hobo's Paradox: It is absolutely worth any amount of physical labor in order to arrange or finance an extended period of travel or idleness.
Keroauc picked cotton and vegetables in California, was a Merchant Marine and did construction to finance his cross country explorations.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
This is my third "sketch" from the road. I was inspired to write these three installments yesterday, October 21, 39 years since Jack Kerouac died. See Road Tale #1 here and Road Tale #2 here.
I'd been seeing this girl from 7-11. We never really dated, but 'saw' each other one summer. She worked the graveyard shift, from midnight to 8:00 AM, Sunday to Thursday. At school during the week, I covered the shift on the weekend. To keep her sleep cycle intact, she operated at night all week and began occasionally hanging out with me at the store.
Hanging out together led to long, grand walks in the mornings after I got off work. A quintessential summer romance. When you've been up all night and see the color come back to the world with the sun, everything and everyone is beautiful. We held hands, had greasy breakfasts at a nearby diner, and made out in the grass just over the crest of a great big hill in the park.
It was nice and it was weird. She had a peacock tattoed on her back from above her shoulder blade to her lowest rib. Her mother was a rape counselor at the college. Yet I was never in charge. One night at the Super 8, her Ex, then living in a car, banged on our door, bragged about having a gun, and just wanted to talk to her for a minute. She talked to him, wearing my shirt, and keeping the door open just a crack.
Picture the scene from the parking lot, up on the second floor, leaning against the crappy metal railing of a cheap motel, a guy was talking to a girl in another mans shirt. The girl, confident, but not at ease, was clinging to the doorknob, not willing to let go of her other evening.
I stood, naked as a jaybird, behind the dirty curtains; curtains as thick as the lead apron you get in Xray. She told me she could get rid of him; didn't want me involved. Helplessly, I knew now, there was nothing I could do to help. She and the door were between me and him. I had gotten here by playing along. The only thing I could do was keep playing.
I can't imagine what he was thinking walking the length of the building and down the clanging exterior stairs of the motel. Back to his car, without her. She came slinking back into the room. For those of you, who've had a big fight with your spouse and thought making up was fun, you can't beat Post-Potential-Hostage-Situation.
Our road story came a few weeks later. A little while before the end of my shift one night, she and her sidekick friend came into the store. She was tall and tight; her friend short and curvy. They followed me to the back room while I punched the time clock. They sidled up to me, cooing in each ear. Without committing to anything, they hinted about a surprise that would involve both of them. They wanted to know if I would do whatever they asked. What American Boy would not!? That's when they showed me the handcuffs.
Out in the 7-11 parking lot, in broad daylight, while church people bought their coffee and donuts, they herded me to the friend's car. Voluntarily, I put my arms behind my back, was handcuffed and stuffed into a hatchback.
I tried to count turns and guess where we were headed but my head was swimming with anticipation. Before long, we were on gravel and the car rolled to a stop.
"OK, come on out!" They helped me crawl out of the back of the car. My arms were useless. All kinds of images and possibilities had been running through my sweaty brain. I found myself standing behind a car in the middle of a country road.
"Here?" I sputtered.
Each with one hand on my shoulder and the other on an arm, they winked and said, "here."
I hadn't noticed that the car was still running. The girls giggled, gave me a little shove, ran back to the car and tore off down the road. Disappearing in a cloud of dust, without me. My brain, shaking off its sweat, was spinning like an oak leaf in their dust cloud.
I was standing in the middle of the road, who knew what road, in handcuffs. On each side of the gravel lane, as far as I could see in each direction, a thin line of oaks and scrub bordered fields of corn. There wasn't a sound but the birds and the bugs. I tried to imagine how I would explain the handcuffs when Farmer Joe came upon me. Just thinking about it, a whole new personal dimension of lonesome and awkward.
The girls came back. They claimed they only went around the block; a country mile on four sides, but they were gone a long time. I hadn't started walking, neither direction made any more sense than the other. I heard the car first and turned, watching it get closer and the dust behind it get bigger. They laughed and carried on for the longest time.
The handcuffs came off and I got into the car, the actual passenger compartment. The three of us laughed now and we headed back to town. I missed the cuffs and their original possibilities. She made it up to me later; just her.
Like in National Lampoon's Vacation, we were all sleeping. Perhaps not the driver. It was a university motor pool station wagon filled with expensive equipment and cheap student luggage. We slept the uncomfortable sleep of travel. Sitting, slouching, heads lolled back stiffly, feet jambed under the seat in a desparate attempt to straighten the knees. Snoring. "Shit!" Our slumber was broken. Awakening to the sound of a silent car rolling to a stop on the gritty interstate shoulder, we didn't know where we were nor what was happening. We were northwest of the Twin Cities on our way to St. Cloud under the stars in the semi-tundra of Minnesota - out of gas. Somehow we got back on the road or maybe I just went back to sleep.
At Michigan State University, I worked in the Shock and Vibration Laboratory at the School of Packaging. I broke things for a living. One fall, we got to go on a field trip. Two or three of us students, the Grad Student we worked for and the Professor she worked for, did a research project for a large trucking company.
We wired up a trailer with accelorometers to measure the 'g' force of impacts and vibrations. Accelorometers were affixed to the frame of a semi trailer, and to the floor, and to three layers of the chest freezers loaded in the trailer. A big long pigtail of wire brought the data up to the passenger seat of the tractor.
I sat in the tractor, with a big tray in my lap filled with tape recorders. Most of them recorded the measurements from the trailer. One of them also recorded my voice. I narrated the route so that the data could be correlated with what happened to the trailer.
Two days straight.
"We are approaching a curve to the left."
"We are approaching a stop sign."
"We are approaching a double set of railroad track."
Chugga Chugga Chugga Chugga.
As we went around corners, I also had to pay out some slack for the pigtail to reach around. And then ease it back aboard, making sure that wires weren't pulled out of connectors or got tangled with the trailer.
The Trucking Company had an older couple who retreived wrecked trailers. They were recruited to haul the research team around. Actually, the husband drove me around. The wife sat in a lawn chair back at the terminal entertaining her dog and our boss.
I couldn't talk to the driver much, being busy narrating, but I remember riding around in his old Cab-Over. There was dog hair everywhere and one of the cupholders on the "doghouse" engine cover was filled with dog food. Now that I've driven "slip seat" the last few months, in a different grab bag tractor nearly every week, I have a new appreciation for how neat and tidy that dog was.
I got in from the road last night. It was 39 years, yesterday, since Jack Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, FL. I always forget it was St. Pete. I recently read On The Road, the Original Scroll put out last year on the 50th Anniversary of the book's publication. Everbody reads On The Road in their teens, but I read Dharma Bums. It was in a used book store in East Lansing. I hadn't found On The Road and hadn't read it yet. Last night I was too tired, but in Jack's honor I have 'sketched' three tales variously related to the road. Here is the first:
He was a bit small in stature with big glasses. A nice enough kid, but a little nerdy. More like me than I cared to pretend. No protruding drooly lower lip but prone to pushing his glasses up with a quick gesture of his hand; an index finger over his forehead like he was about to make an important point.
I was working as a cashier and handling the Dairy Order. He was a bagger. We worked at a small grocery store 10 miles south of campus and happened to have lunch at the same time. "I'm running to McDonald's. You want to go?"
The bagger joined me for lunch. I had a 1973 Cutlass S; baby puke green metal flake with fake louvers on the hood. We went up the road and through the drive through. "I know just the place to enjoy our lunch," I proclaimed. I had seen the local cheerleaders were doing a car wash. On the way back to the store, I whipped into the abandoned parking lot where the cheerleaders were set up under a great big oak tree near the road.
I didn't think about it at the time. If I could remember the kid's name, I might even apologize. While attending college, I had transferred to another store of the same grocery chain nearer to campus. I was a neutral out-of-towner. The bagger was local and likely went to the same school.
As the Cheer Squad Advisor took my $4.00, she said we could sit in the grass while the girls washed the car "or whatever." Seizing on "whatever" I replied "We're good. We just grabbed some lunch." We stayed in the car.
We rolled up the windows and ate watching the most beautiful girls in Mason, Mi wash the hood and the windows. It wasn't quite as good as the scene in Cool Hand Luke, but George Kennedy would have wanted to be there with us. It was wonderful; for me.
The kid kind of shrunk down in the seat when I said "we're good." School had just started and the sun was still warm. Even if I ran the car, it had no air conditioning. With the windows up, and shorts short and tshirts damp, it got a little warm. And there was some heat coming off the bagger's beet red face.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
I was supposed to pickup a new-to-us trailer and head on down the road to a load. The trailers were on a grassy back lot without much light. They were clean and white, like ghosts lit only by a sodium light on a pole half way back to the terminal building. The outlines of former logos made grey splotches on each side and on the nose.
Another driver pointed out the last trailer with a license plate; I hooked up. Dispatch gave me a specific trailer number and told me the trailers were marked in small felt marker letters; I unhooked. Slipping and slogging around on the frosty grass, I found one other plated trailer, but neither had my number. Dispatch reassigned me to the trailer I had been hooked to; I re-hooked.
I huffed long silver clouds of exasperation in the chilly air as I cranked the dollies back up. "What can you do?" I asked my unconvinced self. Something caught my eye and I looked up. Up over the dark outlines of trees at the end of the yard. Stars!
Out here on the eastern edge of the prairie, in the boondocks, far from any city lights, stars crowded the sky. Smaller, Dimmer stars and shades of galaxies textured a backdrop for major stars and constellations. The sky was abuzz and a blaze. I stood there staring, my head craned back on my neck. Slowly turning around where I stood, I soaked them all in. I thanked the stars for coming out and blessed the clouds for staying away.
I had my answer. The stars had shouted down "What can you do?" What you can do is slow down and take a look; find the beauty.
Cruising on into Minnesota, with a fresh attitude, a serenity, eyes wide open. The sun broke through behind me, four deer and a majestic buck stood on a ridge over the other side of the highway. I went by a field full of bison. Later in the morning, a bald eagle soared over me as I found my exit.
The most spectacular sight was over the Mississippi River. To enter Minnesota from Wisconsin on I94, you go down into the river valley at Hudson. South of the bridge is a wide swath of river surrounded by pine covered hills, fancy houses and marinas. To the north the river narrows behind a larger marina and rows of boats swinging on moorings.
In the cool just barely fall morning, the water was warmer than the air. Opposite of springtime, the shallows along the river bank had cooled compared to the deeper waters holding onto summer's disappearing warmth. As the cool air came down into the valley, a shallow fog skimmed off the banks. In the center of the river, a great cloud rose up.
The cool air swirled down into the valley like running down a drain. The fog built a cloud in a roving oval. The thin fog from the banks juts into the air and makes a bigger cloud; an upside down pile. A column of fog piling up; quietly swirling and expanding into a compote shape. An apparition, the Grail, in gossemer whisps, calling out to Arthur, but somehow lost on the edge of St. Paul rather than nearer to Camelot.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Later, leaving the store, I'm right behind a guy with four or five bulging plastic grocery bags, arms straining. We both turn right out of the store and I can't help but notice we are two shaved heads, he's got a gold hoop in his ear, mine is silver. It's a middle aged poser dork parade. Then he stops short at the Pop A Lock van. Oh, it's him. Baldy proceeds to grab at the handle of the van, but the handle snaps and stays locked.
We've all done this. You grab the handle, thinking it's unlocked, and then tear three layers of skin from your fingers as it rejects you. I could give anyone a pass for doing this same thing. Except this guy! You'd think a guy who helps people get back into their cars EVERY DAY, would know whether he's locked the door or not. I'm just thinking. . .
Saturday, August 30, 2008
I found this cool Cherokee Legend in a book called "Buddha is as Buddha Does." In looking for a good picture, I found the legend plastered all over the web. I really liked it, so I'm going to show it to you anyway.
Around a crackling fire, a Cherokee Grandpa is attempting to explain life to his grandkids. He says, "There is a great fight going on inside me; a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil; he is anger, fear, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, and guilt. The other is good; he is love, peace, joy, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, and kindness. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person."
The grandkids thought about it for a while and then one asked, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee, looked off into the smoke curling up from the fire, and replied: "The one you feed".
The book is excellent. Find the book here.
Find out about the author.
See the author speak about his book.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
My truck's starter was going out. Dispatch had me switch trucks to deliver my next load. This other truck was brand new! Less than 16,000 miles [the truck I was driving had 504,000 on it].
The interior was spotless. The transmission tight. Both completely out of my recent experience. I was having a trouble shifting; grinding the truck's virginal gears. After a while, I figured out that the 'H' pattern of the gear shifter was on a slight angle; like the brand for the Lazy H Ranch. My old truck was a non-ergonomic straight 'H,' parallel with the rest of the truck.
This may seem trivial, but muscle memory and habit are so strong I could hardly shift. Not only was the 'H' ergonomically slanted but the transmission, being tight, had very little travel between gears. I was moving too far to the wrong place.
There are only 372 RPM's between gears, I heard on a road test. So as I move off a stop sign, and the engine revs to the next shift point, and I miss the next gear, chances are when I fumble to try it again, the engine slowed more than 372 some odd RPM's. I can't shift to that higher gear now. My brain has to process this and I should recover by putting it back in the original gear. With a particularly heavy load or on a steep hill, this processing time might take just long enough that I miss the RPM's of the original gear and have to go one lower. Worst case scenario, hopefully not on the highway, grind, grind, grind, and I have to just stop and start from the bottom gear. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, I was doing all these things.
While having all this fun, I had to deliver on the North side of Cincinnati. The directions, of course, were confusing. I had to turn around once. Try that when you are 80 feet long. Meandering down a curvy, tree-lined back street, I arrive at the Customer's facility.
This last bit of the trip reminded me of when I was moved to an offsite plant due to an acquisition. The original entrepreneur/founder had left a lot of trees as his business and building expanded. Every morning, I pulled into a park-like parking lot. The lot was surrounded by huge trees. In the middle was an island of grass and trees with a couple picnic tables. I always appreciated the trees, but I watched truckers spend hours trying to back around the island to get to the loading dock.
Dispatch had sent me in early because I was low on driving hours. I had to wait anyway. Three hours later, I was headed out. I couldn't legally drive anywhere but I was going up the road a couple miles to find a peaceful parking spot.
Just as I wandered out the curvy lane, now in the dark, I could see headlights approaching the intersection from my left. As I slowed to turn, a big truck pulled up to a stop sign.
There are six gears between 0 and 10 MPH; only four more between 10 and 50 plus. Gliding into the intersection, going slow, evaluating whether I can get around this guy, gears are grinding. Switching gears at slow speeds is always dicey; let alone in a strange truck. I manage to jam it into a gear.
The other truck has paused long enough, I know he is respecting my right-of-way and is going to let me proceed. I release the clutch, but I'm in too high a gear and I stall. I'm in the intersection but not so far that I've blocked him. My face burns in the dark and he disappears over the hill.
The Seinfeld Show was a cultural touchstone. People either loved it or hated it. It was just quirky enough to get my funny bone. In one show, the gang goes out to the Hamptons to visit some friends and see their baby. Jerry's girlfriend Rachel joined them by train. George and his girlfriend Jane come up separately. Their friends' place has a pool. It must have been cool outside.
It always gets complicated. George and Jane have not yet consummated their relationship. When George runs out to get some tomatoes for his mother, however, Jane hits the beach . . . topless. Later, George, coming in from the pool, tries to see Jerry's girlfriend in a compromised state; only fair, right. It doesn't work and George goes down the hall to change out of his swimsuit.
Jerry's Rachel goes looking for the baby's room and opens a door to reveal George who has just removed his trunks. She screams and says "Sorry, I thought this was the baby's room." Then her gaze lowers as George stands there in his glory. She smirks, and with a chuckle, says "I'm really sorry."
The story of George's life. Rachel said so much in those last three words; gelding him more swiftly than with a scalpel, more permanently than a rusty butter knife.
George yells after her, "I WAS IN THE POOL. I WAS IN THE POOL."
Stalling your truck at a lonely intersection in front of another driver is almost perfectly equivalent to being caught in a diminished state with your damp swimming trunks around your ankles.
IT'S NOT MY TRUCK! IT'S NOT MY TRUCK!!!
I love Youtube! Here is the exact scene:
If you're reading this on Facebook, here is a link to the video which I embedded on sailorbum.blogspot.com:
Here is the transcript of that episode:
Sunday, July 27, 2008
In a little more than a week, the Beijing Olympics will start. I won't be watching. The Chinese have done little to honor the commitment they made, in receiving the hosting of the games, to improve their human rights record.
In 1989, as many as 3000 people [Chinese Red Cross number] may have been killed when the government suppressed the Tiananmen Square Protests. Ten years later, the Chinese cracked down on the Falun Gong movement. This peaceful movement grew rapidly and threatened the government by peaceful protest of thousands of people throughout China. Their movement was banned and suppressed.
The Chinese Communist Government is virtually the only country doing business with the Military Junta of Burma. Chinese silence during the slaughter of Burmese Monks allowed it to continue. China could have shut the Burmese response down, but, apparently aware of the contradiction, they did nothing. The Chinese have their own problems with Buddhist Monks in Tibet. They couldn't very well admonish Burma for doing something they have been doing in territory they claim as their own for years. The recent violence from both sides in Tibet is unfortunate and unhelpful.
Against this backdrop, it was amazing to me China was allowed to host the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee claims it is nonpolitical. By giving the Chinese Communists this venue for whitewashing, they have gone beyond mere politics. In turning a blind eye, they have given the Chinese an undeserved platform for propaganda; let alone the international recognition.
Further, the construction of Olympic Venues has resulted in the destruction of historic neighborhoods in Beijing and the forced evictions of many people. I've heard a report that I can't confirm of a Human Rights Activist whose release from jail has been delayed. Who knows what else is happening behind the Silk Curtain?!
This is easy for me, I am not a sports person. Moreover, I am not asking for you to do anything but remember who you are dealing with.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
I find the most unusual books to read. The latest book outlet find, "The Cruelest Journey" by Kira Salak, I recommend for would-be vagabonds like me and for anyone seeking reassurance either that one person can do great things or that we can rely on each other even in the most barren environments.
Not only did Kira paddle 600 miles down the Niger River to reach Timbuktu, she often relied on locals for shelter and food. She writes of many historical and current issues in the Sub Sahara with a comfortable style and an accessible readability. And! then buys the freedom of two slave girls at the end of her journey. Ms. Salak carried two gold coins the whole length of her trip to give the two girls a start on their new life.
Her trip recreated the planned journey of a little known English explorer named Mungo Park. His journey began but did not finish for the inhospitable terrain and the ferocious local people. He died on the Niger. Some rumors have him killed after reaching Timbuktu, but history just doesn't know. Kira met some of the same ferocious people almost unaffected in the 300 or so years since Park's disasterous trip. She met many people with a third world kindness and generosity that far exceeds what most of us in the first world will ever do.
Kira is an adventurer who holds a PhD in literature. She writes with a depth and ease that anyone wishing to write would do well to imitate. I was greatly inspired by Kira and her adventure. Not only for her fearless grace but for her quiet Buddhism as well.
I think some people misunderstood my epiphany last Christmas. I really haven't changed much at all. There were no signs squinted at from Milvian Bridge. I merely shifted (overtly) one fundamental leg that my personal philosophy stood on. To me it was as casual as shifting a foot I had stood on too long.
I spent 15 plus years calling myself an Objectivist; atheist by default. I was inspired at my cousin's house to look at the leg I had been leaning on. It wasn't where I thought it was.
Objectivism advocates the raw power of the individual. I don't disagree with all of this but, in many ways, I haven't been living my life that way. I have been helped by so many people; in large and small ways. I've managed to help a few, I think.
In my rediscovery of Buddhism [it creeps up at the weirdest places, see above], I found a "faithless faith" that honors a man, not a deity. While many strains of Buddhism are polluted by the gods and godheads of other faiths, at its core, Buddhism is a way of life that accepts cause and effect, and the efficacy of the human mind and senses. It is simply a path, a method, to discover the true nature of our existence. But it does it in a way that includes all of us. Rather than emphasizing a lone pursuit, it is the power in each of us because each of us is all of us. Buddhism is monistic. We are all one. If you're on Myspace, I highly recommend my friend Emily's latest blog. It reminds me of an intriguing comment by Brad Warner, the punk Zen Master, he described 'getting it' post enlightenment, when looking at a stranger, and feeling a recognition "like looking at himself in a mirror."
Imagine how our politics, and our world, would be different if more people had the realization that we are all one; the same. Imagine spending a billion dollars a day helping each other, ourselves, rather than to tear another country down. The Buddha said "If you want to get rid of your foe, you have only to realize that that foe is delusion."
Saturday, July 5, 2008
I pulled behind the building with a delivery. All the docks were full, but a trailer was one of ours. I'd have to drop mine, hook to that one, pull it out and drop it, then grab mine again and back it into the hole I created. As I walked into the Recieving Department, I noticed a sloppy gang sign scrawled on the nose of one of the other trailers. It looked for all the world like it said "Crochet Furies;" like a gang started by Martha Stewart while she was in the slammer.
The Crochet Furies would roam the streets in comfortable shoes and stretch jeans. Their hair short and spiky; equal parts Pixie, Punk and Butch. They all have black leather, but little cropped jackets with just enough ruffle to be more cute than biker. On one sleeve, a quill of knitting needles as throwing knives. They cruise in Minivans with Low Rider Hydraulics to bounce and roll and shuck their way down the avenue.
Back in Columbus, I got unloaded. Just as I was about to pull back out on the road, I decide to run into the store and grab a sandwich. Inside, I found Ham and Havarti and a drink. Almost back out to the truck, I reach for my keys. Yeah, you're way ahead of me. No keys. I know I locked the truck on the way in. Now I'm stuck. I'm supposed to be on the way to another stop and I'm locked out of my tractor.
At first, there's no panic. Often a key is hidden somewhere under the hood. This is not my truck it is a floater/loaner. I snap open the hood and root around. The engine compartment is huge with all kinds of nooks and crannies. There is no key, no key box, not even a crow bar.
The next place to check is the back of the cab. I close the hood and wander back. I'm looking near the wire harness and the air lines; checking by the load lock rack. I look inside the frame and under the sleeper. I open the battery box and poke around. I check near the fuel tank and the steps. Nothing. I switch to the passenger side and check all those spots again. I even started to look in the nose box of the trailer, but how could a key to my tractor be hidden on some random trailer.
I check every place I could think of and then rechecked them again. That's when I realize my phone is locked inside too.
At Orientation last week, the company issued all of us the "Green Book." In it are procedures, directions, ComCheks, trailer inspection forms and all the contact information for anyone I would ever want to talk to in the entire company. The Green Book is not something I carry when I run inside for a sandwich. It too is locked up tight in the tractor.
This is my first week at the company. There is no chance that I've managed to memorize any phone numbers. I don't dial numbers anymore. Nobody dials numbers anymore. In this age of speeddial, anyone in my phone can be called with two clicks; letters not numbers. There must be a phone number on the truck. I wander around again.
On the truck, there are D.O.T. permit numbers, an IFSA sticker, even the 'Last Six' of the VIN number. All the way out back, on the trailer door, there is the ubiquitous recruiting sign. "We're Looking For Quality, Experienced Drivers." These recruiting 800 numbers are always some easy to remember acronym. This is good; I have nothing to write on.
I have a bite of sandwich and a drink. My lunch has been sitting on the step to the cab. Walking back to the store and a payphone, I wonder if anyone will answer at 5:30 AM. Sure enough, the 800 number is into the recruiting department and not the main switchboard. I can leave a message for 'recruiting, press two" or "Safety, press three." Nobody is home. I tried pressing zero and a even couple random extensions but don't get through to a human.
Back out to the truck, what's left of my lunch is still sitting on the step. The truck is parked along the outer edge of the property against a curb. Past the curb is a low cinderblock wall, a chain link fence and some bushes. Some trees are evenly spaced from the road back past me and out to the property line out back. Over the fence and in the back is a nondescript apartment building. No one is stirring. Right over the fence near me is a business that goes out to the road. I can see their loading dock and random skids laying around. Not enough clues to guess what they do over there.
Then a semi pulls up into the lot across the fence. Occasionally, a fellow truck driver can get you back into your cab after you've locked your keys inside. The trucks don't have unique keys like a car. One company, one model year might only have one, or more likely, just a few key patterns. Alas, this guy is driving a Kenworth; mine is a Freightliner.
I'm back to driving a Freightliner at this new company. My first truck last year was a Freightliner, but this year, driving out of Grand Rapids, I've been driving a Kenworth up until I started the new job last week. This seems appropriate as "Freightliner Blues," by Townes Van Zandt is one of the favorite songs I play.
I finish the last bites of sandwich and just as I drain the last of my Berry Boost Bolthouse Juice, a thought seeps into my feeble brain, addled by diesel fumes. I wonder if I can jimmy the little triangle side vent window somehow. Maybe even break it to get in. I stood up from the curb, where I was sitting. My gaze drifted up the side of the truck to the little triangle of glass. In the triangle, is a little black knob. This knob is the outer part of the handle/latch that opens the vent window. The black knob is all chewed up. Someone else had locked themselves out! They must have used pliers to twist the latch from the outside. Brilliant!!
I step up the side of my tractor and grab the chewed up knob. It turns at the slightest grip. I push one corner, then grab the opposite one and twist the window open. There is just enough room to stuff my forearm in and open the door! I'm back in business!
I look at my phone and I've only lost a half hour. I'd have burned through a half hour if I had stopped somewhere else for lunch. I twist the key and the diesel growls to life. On the road again.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I have made another change. I switched companies and am driving for a regional carrier. The deal is that I'll be out 5 days and back for two; every week; the same two days. I won't even know how to act.
This will grant me the freedom to work on the boat many, rather than few, weekends this summer. In my previous 'Over The Road' positions, I was out 3-5 weeks and home for 2 or 3 days. I wasn't going to have much time to accomplish much this summer. That has all changed.
I am very excited! This could take several months off my potential departure date next year. Thanks for your support!
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I surprised some friends and showed up at the Niles Bluegrass Festival. Chuck and Deb, Mike and Sally, were camping along the river. Tom and Sharon came by later; as did Lynn. I was going to come Friday but had driven the big truck since midnight and some weather blew through. I wimped out and ended up missing Jason and Hope and family. The Niles Fest is a great festival. And it is FREE!
Niles' downtown is downhill toward the river. At the bottom, on the north of the main drag is a nice park. The park has a large pavilion with the perfect grassy hill for an audience. Downriver from the Pavilion is a playground under some trees and then a large open field. Under the trees next to the playground, the Festival puts up a second stage. The open field is available for camping with the local Boy Scouts keeping it cleaned up. Between the main stage on the pavilion and the second stage was a parking lot where food vendors, trinkets and other stuff was available. There were also some tents for workshops. You could learn some bits about Guitar, Fiddle, Singing Harmony, Banjo etc.
The Niles Fest is Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It is really done very well. Check out their site. Also, on the same site is a summer schedule. Niles has free music on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays all summer. If you can make it, don't miss Cornmeal on June 15!
On Saturday, I got up on stage with the Open Mic. It was really an Open Jam. I wasn't expecting to be on stage with a band. Usually, an open mic is everyone getting a turn on the mic. As I walked across the grass toward the guy running the PA, the band waved me up on stage. There was another guitar, two harmonicas, a fiddle and a standup bass. They were all very good. After they got done with the song they played as I got there, they looked me and said "What's your name and you're up, what are we playing next?" Wow! I don't know many bluegrass standards, but I like to play "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms." They all jumped in behind me, I sang, the others soloed and then we wrapped it up. It was great fun! Then we stumbled through a version of Freightliner Blues, one of favorites. The band did well hanging on behind a song they didn't really know. Our audience was 20 or so people on lawn chairs and the Boy Scouts back in there camp. The pictures look way better than the performance was, but I had so much fun. I haven't played in front of people I don't know in 20 years; especially in front of people I was reasonably sure were sober! :o)
Here are some pictures Chuck took for me. Click on the picture to see it full size.
Friday, May 30, 2008
I found another soul known for raving about the scenery . . . and doing something about too.
Gary Snyder is a great American Poet, Environmentalist and Buddhist. Check out his poem "For All." It appeared on the Writer's Almanac today. A good match for my Memorial Day Camping Post. I wish I'd heard Keillor read it this morning on the radio, but I found it on the website. Click Here.
Gary Snyder Quote:
"We are fouling our air and water and living in noise and filth that no "animal" would tolerate, while advertising and politicians try to tell us we've never had it so good."
An article called The Wild Mind of Gary Snyder in the Shambala Sun, a Tibetan Buddhist Mag.
A page of Poems and Quotes on Kerouac Alley, a Beat Generation Site.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I've mentioned this before, in "Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" Robert Pirsig talked about people sitting in front of the TV and then driving around on vacation watching but insulated from the world by a plate of glass. From one hermetically sealed environment to the other. Nowadays, we are surrounded, nay hypnotized, by images behind glass plates; we drive to work looking through the windshield, sit down at a desk behind a computer screen, drive home again and turn on a TV or another computer. We have people, I'm guilty, going to resturants or coffee shops and opening a laptop to stare at. Cellphones now allow people to wander through life staring at anything except the world around them. Its a wonder we know anyone else at all.
When I was a child, I was filled with wonder. All my trials and tribulations came later; self inflicted and self fulfilling. Our family was a camping/outdoor family. Back in the day when you would let kids wander around the woods of a gigantic state park without a second thought. I've been blessed, and cursed, with an Explorer's Mind and a Vagabond's Heart. This must be why I am always raving about the scenery. Oooh, the sunset on the water and the blinking lights, yeah I know, but it gets me going.
We were always camping on Memorial Day it seems. It was the first of several trips each summer. Almost before my memory, Mom and Dad took us camping. We had a trailer/tent combo thing. I can squint my mind's eye and almost recall. It was sheet metal and red. The tent folded off the side of the small trailer; bunk in the trailer and tent over it and on to the ground. There was storage under the bunk. It seems like it was from Sears. The kids were on the ground; Mom and Dad in the bunk. Years later an acquaintance showed up in the infield at a race with a completely restored version of the same unit; stripped, powdercoated, recanvassed. It was beautiful.
In addition to Memorial Day, Grandad and GG, as they are known now, took all the grandkids, between the ages of 6 and 12, camping for two weeks each summer. These were magical trips. Partly to make sure that Midwest and East Coast cousins knew each other. Perhaps even more important, but also catalyzed by hanging out with distant cousins in the woods, complete universes were opened to our young minds. There was exploring and discovery; play and creativity. We went to Ludington, Lake Champlain, New Jersey, Washington D.C., and Disney World. It opened our minds to so much. I could write volumes.
The visions come pouring back: wild blueberry pancakes; squirrel bread made from acorns and left over pancake batter; huge hikes; wildlife; calisthenics up on the tent platform, and just being in the world and soaking it up. Even the rain pounding down on the roof of a camper, while GG read to us from "The Wind in the Willows" or "the Happy Hollisters." I've probably written 10 pages in my notebook just describing Ludington State Park. I haven't even put any people in the story yet.
Another part of camping, oddly, was golf. I can't remember how many times "the guys" went off and played a round of golf. Clubs were essential camping gear it seemed. We had a natural foursome; my Dad, Grandad, Uncle Bob and myself. I felt so grown up going with them. My game never amounted to much but I learned so many things from all three of them.
Music was a part of camping too. Uncle Bob got me started on the guitar hanging around campfires. He and Aunt Chris sing so sweetly together. We had great singalongs. We would hang paperplate signs on bathroom mirrors around the park. "Campfire Singalong, bring your instruments. Admission: a log for the fire." Some years it was just all of us. Other years there were many. Or sometimes just at our own site, people would stop along the road to listen.
There was a special clearing at Ludington. On one end was a playground; on the other a fire ring that must have been 10 feet in diameter. We would start the fire, set up some chairs and tune up the guitars. The singing would begin. By the time night fell, we were surrounded by dark woods. The fire ring end was mostly grass; the playground was dirty sand. Above us was a large oval to the night sky and the stars. The green of the woods faded to a dark border. The stars stopped where you could no longer see the trees.
With much anticipation, we would hear whole families coming down the trail, crashing through the woods, to join us. One year, a bluegrass festival was in a nearby town. Several of the musicians were staying at the park. They came down through the woods, one of them pushing a dolly loaded with instrument cases. That was a great year for the singalong.
Although I have squandered much of it, it was such valuable experience for me to perform in front of people there. At first, I just had a guitar and was strumming off to one side. Later, I joined more of the festivities wholesale. What a life it was. I have been working now to get back to where I was; the chops, the confidence.
Memorial Day is close to my birthday. The family always went out of their way to do something for me while we were out and about. One of my favorite Memorial Day memories involves Clown Cupcakes [Mom is already laughing]. Mom knocked herself out that year. We were at a church camp, Six Lakes I think. It is a classic Michigan campground. Roads and sites are carved into of the woods. A large clearing made for a picnic area up near the woods and gradually becomes the beach. The Mid Michigan beach in the Woods is unique. There is more grass than sand. From the picnic area down to the lake, the tables, grills and shelters thin out. The large open area is for sunbathing and frisbee; maybe lawn darts or horseshoes. Then, right at the water, there is this ridge and a step down. Tufts of grass hang over a cut that drops down to sand. Most often, some plastic sheeting is coming up from under the sand. If you didn't lay down plastic and then sand, the grass would just take back over. Walking out into the water, you knew where the sand ended. The sand, dumped in place to create a beach, gave way to the natural muck of a Michigan Lake bottom; clay and dirt, sand and bluegill poop squeezes up between your toes. There's nothing like it.
So, that year, my Mom baked a couple hundered cupcakes. That would have been a lot, but she also planted a plastic clown head in the top and frosted each one to look like a clown suit. The clown head was a head and a daisy petal collar with a spike for a neck. Each cake had two or three frosting clown suit buttons down the front and some detail for arms on each side. They were works of art; individually frosted works of art. Lots of bright color; especially red frosting.
In grade school, we were given this pink chewable pill sponsored by Crest. The pill stained the plaque around your teeth and gums. The school nurse would look in everyone's mouth and she could tell what kids weren't brushing very well. Mom's red frosted clowns had the very same effect on the kids at camp; many of whom were apparently not brushing as well as they might at home. It looked like a pandemic of pediatric gingivitis.
I will always carry with me the experiences, the wonder, the joy and the love that I got while camping. There is nothing better for a kid than to be turned loose in the woods. To be able to find a squirrel skull or a twig that looks like a rifle or a pine cone that looks like Richard Nixon. There is pure joy in a child's discovery of little pieces of the world. You don't have to let your kids wander around a huge state park; let them run around your backyard or that little park down the road. Just let them get out there and get dirty. It's like planting their mind in good soil.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
I'm in Wisconsin tonight, but I could throw a rock and hit Minnesota. A couple weeks ago, I was here in Wisconsin. Back then, I was in the "V" created by I-43 and US45, north of Milwaukee. I was running from Sheboygan over to Lomira. Cutting across on some county roads and state highways, I had another great drive. There were fourway stops and long curves; dairy cows and fishing lakes; clumps of trees out beyond corn fields and beautiful old barns. I saw a barn with a huge cornice over a door; an eagle perched at its peak. Near Random Lake, I drove through a small artists community. There was a sign for "Pottery and Forge" and several studios; paintings, quilts, furniture.
I saw some poor sap driving an Accord or a Corolla or something. In the front, with him, was an older lady. Probably a Mother-In-Law because in the backseat was his wife . . . and she had the GPS! Talk about a well equipped backseat driver. There was a big sign for Bob Fish GMC, a car dealer. His logo was a very nice graphic of a dolphin. A porpoise dolphin, not a dorado dolphin, which is, of course, a mammal, and not a fish.
When I was at MSU, my parents and brother and sister lived in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. The nearest real mall was four hours away, here in Wisconsin. The terrain in Wisconsin is similar but less remote. I began to think of a U.P. Trip I made with some housemates:
I lived in a house a block off campus at Michigan State. It was a great house; subdued, yet had great parties when the time was right. All the right stuff was available. We had a gigantic purple bean bag chair, the Grape, in front of the TV. It had to have been 8' in diameter. There were a couple couches and an entertainment center. The dining room was sparse with a table and 5 or 6 chairs. The kitchen was nicely done; good enough for 6 guys.
Past the kitchen, the wall into the garage had been knocked out and down a couple steps was a JennAir Indoor Grille set into a brick arch. The room had some barstools, exposed brick, a skylight and fake ferns. It was so 1970's, it looked like the set of a Porno Flick.
Just past the indoor grill on the way to the deck was a hot tub. I kissed my first wife, the first time, right there in the tub surrounded by steam and cedar carsiding. Just out the sliding glass door was a deck, the width of the house and 10 or 12' out into the backyard. That summer I had a strange loopy sunburn on my chest from sitting on that deck with a guitar. I was jamming with a guy who had just chosen Med School over going on tour with Amy Grant. Fool!
From the front, the house was a plain looking colonial. Oh, but if the interior walls could talk.
A half dozen of us occupied the house. John, whose dad owned the house, was finishing up a Civil Engineering degree. And although he as the son of a suburban Detroit dentist, he drove a jeep and carried himself like the love child of Thoreau and some husky woman in a greasy tshirt who cooked at a lumber camp in the far north woods.
Loren was a photographer. I don't remember what he was studying but he left town shortly after I did. Last I knew, he was in the Canadian Rockies capturing images for National Geographic. We had a couple of Pre-Med students and Buck. Today, Buck would be called a Metrosexual. He was doing a marketing internship in town and plucked and preened like a supermodel. Whatever he was doing, however, seemed to work with the ladies.
Most of the housemates made a trip up to my parent's house in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. Three or four piled into my Bronco II; the tailgate stuffed with gear. There were two or three more in another car. I'm not sure how we got away with imposing so much on my unsuspecting family.
We left East Lansing one afternoon and tore up the highway. US27 and then I75. Just as we crested the Mackinaw Bridge, the tollbooth came into view. We should have thought about that. And, really, the toll booth operator has little more power than a snow plow driver or the person at the counter of the Secretary of State Office, but it was a man in uniform. My truck was filled with smoke. Smoke we didn't want anyone in uniform to smell. "Tollbooth!" I screamed! Down came the windows; the sunroof popped open. If we hadn't been 100 feet over the water, we would have flapped the doors to fan it out. We must have looked like a car fire, rolling down to the tollbooth with smoke pouring out all the windows. In reality, I'm sure no one even noticed.
There's more. Read it here.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
If you haven't read 2008/03/29, it is below and comes before this post. Or click here to read it.
The morning after the early spring blizzard in Wisconsin, I make my delivery; a drop and hook. The drop goes fine because the truck before me parked on the ice and snow. He couldn't get out from under his trailer because he has no traction. I find a spot where they've just pulled a trailer. Parking on the small patch of asphalt, I get right out. Hooking is another story. The parking lot is covered in crispy snow and ice. Last night's heavy snow was wet enough that after freezing last night it is like a rink. Where's Snoopy and his Zamboni? I get under an empty just fine, but it takes a half hour of rocking back and forth to drag the trailer out.
I send my empty call and get my next load assignment. The comments say "Driver must have 50 to 75 blankets." Where am I going to find blankets?! It's a Saturday morning, there's a terminal a couple hours away, but are they open? I ask dispatch for help. "Already taken care of" they say. It must be another drop and hook.
I drive through more of the aftermath of the blizzard. There are trucks and cars and their tracks in the snow of the ditch. My pickup is further north and west. In the stark snowy landscape of Minnesota, the place is easy to find. Finding someone who works there is another matter.
There were several cars on the north side of the building. Around on the south side, there are a few trailers and three locked doors. I check the trailer nose boxes for paper work, but they are all empty. Further around back, a couple more locked doors. I drive around to where the cars are; two more locked doors. There is one last door down by an overhead door. As I tentatively tug on the handle, it clicks open!
In a large open space under the yellowy haze of sodium lights, there is metal stock all around me. I can hear the steady chuck and clunk of metal forming machinery. Around a corner, there is a young guy running a shear. He is a good part of the chuck and clunk as his shear clips off a piece of steel and it drops into a bin. Looking up, he pauses just long enought to thumb over his shoulder to another guy. For all the cars in the lot, these guys are the only visible work force.
The second guy tells me to check the backs of the trailers for paperwork; trusting souls. Back on the other side of the building, I find my paperwork in an unlocked trailer with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. I'm on my way.
The next day, I'm sitting outside a store in Indianapolis. I-465 was in much better shape than the last time I was here, so I'm early. I made a couple passes by to conoiter my approach. On the second pass, I just hit the four way flashers and get out to walk around. It's going to be easier than it looks from the road.
Three hours later, and two hours past my appointment time, the guys show up to unload me. Then my box beeps and I've got a preplan for one o'clock about 45 minutes away. The unloaders manage to eat up all my time. I help them toss blankets back into the trailer.
Exasperated, I ask dispatch what to do with the blankets. I've got about 40 minutes to do my 45 minute trip. I've driven to the next exit down the highway to a truckstop to do my paperwork. Dispatch asks how many and I tell them I've got 50 or 60 blankets. Their answer comes back "put them in the nose of the trailer." My answer is a new ETA. I give myself two hours to deal with the blankets and drive to the next customer.
When I climb into the back of the trailer and start to fold and stack, I begin to realize there must be over a hundred! I'm never going to get all this done and get to the next stop on time. I'm tired and frustrated and then it hit me. . .
I've become a student of Zen Buddhism and struggle to keep it in my daily life as a trucker. I really enjoyed the book "A Complete Idiot's Guide to Zen Living." It is very Zen with just hints of Buddhism. The authors discuss adding Zen to any religious practice. I highly recommend the book and was glad to use it that day.
Part of Zen and Buddhism is mindfulness; a single minded focus on the task at hand. Even when that task is simply living your life. The extraneous and the negative get in your way. Another part is accepting life as it presents it self. Dwelling on the past or the future does not help you. You only have just this moment to do the right thing. If you do what is right, right now, the past and the future don't matter. Byron Katie is a Author and Life Coach or something. She's made a statement that oozes Zen whether she meant it to or not. She says: "Life is simple. Everything happens FOR you, not TO you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like it - it's just easier if you do."
When I realized that I was giving over to my anger and frustration, I remembered my Zen Mindfulness. I took a deep breath and dropped it; let it flow through me and out. Focusing on the blankets, I laid one on the floor like a tarp to rake leaves on to. I concentrated on just the task. I pulled a blanket from the pile; found two corners and lifted them over my head folding them together; then a fold the opposite way and another. I began a stack on the first blanket and reached for another. When I missed a grab at a blanket or dust got in my eyes, I let it go; barely recognizing the thought. I purposely did not check the time. A truck slowed as it went by the end of my trailer, I knew he was chuckling at me. I let that go too. Soon enough, I had a pattern, a routine. It wasn't "Dancing With the Stars," but I had a rythm.
In what seemed like only minutes, I was dragging my third and final stack toward the nose. I was done! I checked my phone for the time. I had lots of time to get down the road! I was winded but felt good in that tight way after some exercise or a morning hike. Maybe, if I had let myself get pissed off, I would have been done just as fast. The attitiude, however, was completely different. I felt good. I was smiling. The rest of the day did not carry the weight of upset. There was nothing to forget, to get over. This is the key. There was nothing. It is really that simple.
Mindfulness means many things. It can be brought into your life from different angles. Another angle I've used is about snacking. It is easy to have a bag of pretzels or something on the dash as I head down the highway. This leads to what could be called mindLESS snacking. Just driving, reaching in the bag for a handful . . . and then another, and another, not thinking at all. Applying mindfulness, I still snack, but I get a handful of pretzels and then close the bag and put it away. There is a beginning and an end to the snack. Even if I decide at some point to have another handful, by the time I reach my destination, I've eaten a lot less pretzels; mindful that I didn't need the extra.
Broadening mindfulness, I can more easily defeat my rationalizations. I am one of the most creative and acrobatic rationalizers. This let me fall into the habit of eating in the truckstop more often than from my truck. Truckstop food choices are some of the worst. But it is so easy to just have a burger and fries. There are salads, if you look. I've gotten back to eating healthier again and mostly out of the truck. Mindfulness is not just about doing the right thing for yourself, it is doing the right thing for the universe. I am trying to eat only my share. It is so easy, in this country especially, to feel like you can just eat anything you want. Being mindful of the suffering of all sentient beings means most Buddhists are vegetarians. As my studies continue, I might get back to that myself.
It is easy to sally through this life without considering the consequences of your choices and actions. You can waste your days feverishly planning your future. You can live staring only at the carnival mirror of your past; all while life passes you by. Both are hollow. You can fill your days without really knowing where you are headed or what you want. Pull back into this moment. Think it all the way through and consider the full consequences of your decisions. Be mindful.
I've got one last winter driving story for you.
As I write this, I realize what trouble there was on each end of this trip. It began as weird spring weather in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Above several hundred feet of elevation, the fog was very dense. In a boat, there would be nothing but the sound of the water lapping on the hull and the rattle of the rigging. The watch would be on deck staring into the surreal expanse of grey; straining their ears for the bell of another vessel. Instead, I'm straining my eyes hoping to catch the wisp of some color or the glow of tailights before it is too late. I hope I'm going slower than whoever is in front of me.
A truck looms out of the fog. It starts as the faint constellation of two low tailights and the DOT marker lights over my head. My confidence is shaken as I quickly slow the truck. I follow this guy for several miles. He is achingly slow. After a couple trucks and several four wheelers pass us, I decide to go around him. Up and down through the mountains, the haze squelches all frames of reference. I feel like I am flying by his truck. Looking down at the speedometer, I'm barely going 47 mph!
Finding an exit ramp in the fog is interesting. In the mountains, it is just plain spooky. My directions say "off ramp, turn right, 1/4 mile turn right at light, use second driveway." I can barely see the leading edge of my hood. Creeping along, I find the customer and drop my trailer. The empty trailer they give me is ancient and illegal; one of the DOT lights is out. 13 feet in the air, I can't replace it myself. With barely enough legal hours, I make a pickup and then find a truckstop. I'm beat; mentally tired. In the morning, I'll get that light fixed.
Hanging around waiting for the shop to fix my light, I see the Weather Channel National Map. Snow and winter storms the whole length of my trip from Middle Pennsylvania to Northwest Wisconsin. Chicago and Milwaukee are supposed to get it bad tomorrow. A simple light fix expands to include service on three of the four wheel hubs on the trailer. I am now several hours behind schedule.
Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana have no snow and hence are no problem. As soon as I cross into Illinois, it begins to snow. It's not real bad until I get to Wisconsin. It is snowing very hard. A heavy wet spring snow in the high twenties. It is freezing.
The change in the road is immediate. There is so much wet snow, and it is so cold, there are half mile long strips of ice under my passenger side tires. It feels like it is an inch thick. I can see only a little better than when I was in the fog.
My heater has two settings; "Off" and "Weld." I've had it off for a little while. The ice sneaks up on me. Suddenly, ice is freezing on the windshield in the widow's peak where the wipers don't reach. Ice is forming on the wipers themselves. Wiper fluid barely keeps the salt off and does little to melt any ice. It makes the ice on the wipers worse. The road is a little better because it is snow covered. We are down to one lane as no one braves the hammer lane. You can't even see it.
I am no fair weather driver, but I want to find a place to stop. My problem is that it is 22 degrees and I don't have enough fuel to idle all night. With diesel fuel over $4.00 a gallon, the company is understandably stingy with fuel. Instead of running out of the top half of the tanks, they are running us deep into the bottom half. Tonight, that's a problem. My fuel stop is only 100 miles from my delivery. I have to press on regardless.
Ice on the wipers is so bad, I am having to knock it off. I can't pull over to do this as the few exits I've seen haven't been plowed. Getting back on the highway could be a problem. To stay ahead of the wiper ice, I have to reach out the window and snap a wiper. To do this, I have to find a straight patch of highway; turn off the engine brake; roll down my window; stand up in the cab, coasting; reach out and grab the wiper as it cycles toward me; and snap the wiper without rolling off into the snow. Not just off the highway, but outside the two tracks of those before me is dangerous. There are times I'm crouching down or leaning to one side to be able to see; putting off the wiper snap as long as possible.
By the time I reach my fuel stop, I've driven 35 or 40 mph for the last five hours. Almost a futile exercise and physically daunting as well. I haven't been able to reach the passenger wiper. It has five pounds of ice on it; as big as my arm. There is a quarter inch of ice on the headlights. No wonder I couldn't see! I fuel up and send a message that I won't be making the delivery tonight and park. It is the sleep of Van Winkle.
In the morning, on the way through the last 100 miles, there are four trucks jackknifed and in the ditch. One looks bad, tractor folded around on the trailer and 50' into the woods; fifth wheel first. I made the right call.
Friday, April 25, 2008
I'm having this love affair with West Virginia. I just love driving through the state. In fact, the Appalacians, in general, make for a great drive. Just recently, I had a wonderful drive from North Carolina up through the western end of Virginia into West Virginia and then into Ohio.
At Ravenswood, WV, I left the Interstate, a rare treat, and headed to Columbus on US33. I went across this cool steel bridge as a lazy tug nudged a half dozen coal barges downstream. With its wake on a funky angle, I watched the tug work the barges around a curve. Southeast Ohio is just more West Virginia that happens to be north of the river. The drive through the Hocking River Valley is one of my new favorites. Along the way, I saw a sign for the Fur Peace Ranch. Fur Peace is a play on "a fur piece down the road." The ranch was started by Jorma Kaukonen and his wife as a "ranch that grows guitar players." Jorma and his famous friends put on guitar camps throughout the summer. Jorma was a founding member of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. He is a Piedmont fingerstyle acoustic blues guitar master. One day, I'm going to go to camp there.
I went up into Ohio for a delivery past Columbus. from there I picked up and headed right back down through the Virginias to North Carolina. This time I couldn't avoid the Interstate. Crossing the river north of where I did before, it was getting late and I needed to stop for the night.
I got off the hishway at the romantically named Mineral Wells, WV. Sometimes, coming off that solitary black ribbon of highway onto an exit can be information overload. There was two hotels, a McDonalds, two convenience stores, a four wheeler gas station, a Federal Express terminal, two truckstops, a strip bar, a BBQ joint, an adult bookstore, and a bar. Somehow, I drove past the poorly marked service road and missed both truckstops. Now, I was on a narrow WV State Highway. Ever the optimist, I just knew there would soon be a place to turn around.
Around the curve, I saw a large crane shovel. I slowed to turn around, but the lot it sat in was lumpy loose gravel. Not wanting to get stuck, I kept rolling.
There were a couple small businesses. Perhaps, I could swing into the edge of their parking areas and do a "U" turn. The Five O'Clock traffic was all around me. I didn't want to tie them up. Drivers can get a ticket for too much of a traffic delay.
Now there's a sign telling me the bridge ahead can only handle trucks and buses one at a time! Just across the bridge, a stop sign and another strip bar. At the stop sign, two WV highways split. One looks narrow and residential. I took the other one. Leaving the stop sign, there is a tight curve. Shifting gears and watching my tailer come around and trying to decide if I can get behind the bar to go back the other way I came. And I'm watching the four wheelers buzz around me like gnats. I might have made it behind the bar, but I'd rolled too far before deciding. I'm on a hill that curves off to the right. There is barely any shoulder here for the rock outcroppings but I stop to assess my options. Cars are going into the other lane to get around me. Where did all this traffic come from? When a Harley Dude and his wife go into opposing traffic and around me, I know I've just got to move.
::This has been a special preview version of the Sailorbum Blog. ::
Read the rest HERE.
My truck is a "condo." Beside being my Home-Sweet-Truck, it has an extra bunk for team driving. The roof line of the sleeper is higher and there are a couple windows where the cab roof angles up to the sleeper height. Last night, in Minnesota, I was in the bunk watching a nice storm pass. The sky was purplish grey. The lightning would flash splashing a bright yellow on the clouds nearby; like goldleaf. The truck and trailer shook in the gusts while the rain came down in sheets.
I've been avoiding work on a couple creative projects lately. Like the cloud lightning, my brain flashes energetically but nothing is touching the ground. My schedule has been a little crazy as well. That promotes my procrastination. I'm working on a real long post. It'll get posted as a preview with a link to the rest. Be well, do good work [stolen from Garrison Keillor].
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Driving through North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio today spring was deafening. The wildflowers were singing everywhere. The buds on the trees were chiming in. The Dogwoods on the edges of the valleys were shouting to be heard. The backbeat was a glazed brick silo, some ramshackle plank sided outbuildings and old barns. Grey, weatherworn wood falling off frames topped with old metal roofs. Every roof was the wine dark burgundy of decades long rust. Cows and goats walked on grass so proud to be back from the long winter that it just shouted green; glowing as if lit from below.
Last weekend, I was driving through Kentucky and Tennesee. All I could hear was the sproing-oing sound of spring springing. The mountains were sprinkled with bursts of color, like a fireworks display. Trees were popping their buds. There were neon green trees and burnt yellow. Trying to read the bark, they were both maples, I think. And a golden brown I think was oak. Near the Kentucky Tennessee border, a bright purplish pink was everywhere. It covered shrubby little saplings and gnarled trunks alike, sumac maybe.
During the week last week, Dad rode with me to Bay City to uncover the boat. We talked about the grey green drab of pre-spring that we passed. Michigan is just behind these lower states, but it's coming! "In A Mist" seemed to weather the winter fine. It was good to walk around her dragging my fingers along the curve of her hull.
Dad helped as I restrung a tarp over her aft half. I had two tarps from stem to stern, covering her decks for the winter. The forward tarp came off for ventilation. Keeping the air moving is important to keep the mildew down. I left the huge tarp over the Main Cabin hatch and the cockpit. These two areas are where I'm getting some water leaking in.
I organized a little down below and pumped the bilge. There was water passed the knuckle on my index finger; maybe 2". That was not as bad as it could have been. It was clean clear water so I don't think I have any rot going on; just a leak, or leaks, somewhere. I'm sure the cockpit coamings are leaking. They need rebed. Then there is all manner of deck hardware from stanchion bases and blocks, to pad eyes and winches that could be leaking.
I have been visualizing the cabin as I drive around. It was good to take a moment in the cabin and reacquaint myself with her proportions. The pilot berth is higher and nearer the center of the main cabin than I thought. This will become a pantry of sorts, I think.
I can't decide if I think there is less work than I thought; probably not. The cockpit floor will be replaced, the holding tank replumbed, and some wiring done. I am looking forward to spending a some quality time in Bay City this summer.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Chebby Van live on, but he has joined a subculture. Branding is a radical body mod way more hardcore than a tattoo.
I lived in a house in Royal Oak with a couple other guys. Paul owned the place, inherited it I think, and slept on the first floor. He was an Executive Chef at the hospital. Dave lived in the basement. He was a quintessential Dave in the late 1970s Cheech and Chong sense of the word. Dave was a heavy equipment operator in the days when construction stopped at the first frost. He worked all summer, driving bulldozers and earthmovers, and then partied like a madman all winter.
I moved into the second floor in the fall. It was a cool open space with a wood planked floor painted black. The long walls were about four feet tall and then sloped upward with the pitch of the roof. On each short end was a window. The window by the stairs doubled as my hobo fridge. I kept wine coolers and cheese between the panes in the winter; back in the day when wine coolers were a thing.
I had a sofa bed that was upholstered in black and white, somewhere between houndstooth and zebra. The couch sat on a cheap oriental rug that defined some space in the center of the open room. It really tied the room together. On the end by the stairs and the hobo fridge, I kept my dresser near the low closet. My desk and stereo were in the space on the other end of the room. A stack of vinyl records, three and half feet tall, with a lamp on top, functioned as an end table.
My girlfriend at the time was still back on campus at MSU. We had this bizarre weekend tradition of White Russians and Chinese Food. Specifically, it was always Almond Chicken from Wong's Cantonese on Woodward Avenue. Wong's made the best Almond Chicken I've ever had. It wasn't the braised chicken, nuts and vegetables that probably comes to mind. It was a chicken breast battered, rolled in sliced almonds, then fried, cut into strips, served over rice and vegetables with fresh green onion sprinkled on top. Magnificent!
[Editor's Note: Checking in 2016, Wong's is reported as closed on Yelp]
One midterm week, she came to my place to escape the hustle and bustle. Except, of course, I was there. We worked out a compromise. She studied in the nude so that I could sketch figure studies while she read, lubriciously strewn across the couch with a Labor Relations Text or something. Though it was just a mechanism to allow me to stare at her awhile, I made it up to her later. Even later, I married her, but I'm not so sure that could be considered making anything up to her.
I don't remember if the party came first or the fire. The party scared me into moving, so the fire must have been first. New Years Eve 1987 lasted three days at the house. A wild and varied selection of Royal Oak's finest citizens called; some stayed awhile, some never left. There was a biker chic passed out for what seemed like 24 hours, on the toilet, pants around her ankles and a butterfly tattoo on her thigh. There was a guy who looked for all the world like Jesus, except his beard was more like bread mold than that of a stained glass icon. Jesus never left the dinette in the kitchen. A BernzOmatic Propane Torch, always at the table, never went out - marathon freebasing.
Each morning that weekend, the living and dining rooms were littered with bodies like a hostage standoff gone horribly wrong. I was also getting the idea that a fairly large percentage of the coke traffic into Royal Oak was going through the basement. It was time to find a new place to live. As cool as it was to be half a block off Woodward Avenue, if the cops busted in, we were all going with them.
The fire was some weeks earlier. I was the token working stiff with a regular job. Paul's swing shift schedule, slinging hash for the MDs was ever changing. It was late fall, after the frost, Dave wasn't working, he was partying - full time.
I was upstairs sleeping. Selling packaging materials to auto industry suppliers was a contact sport. The beeping of an alarm seeped into my consciousness. Half asleep, I rolled over and checked the clock; it was barely past midnight. Paul must be cooking on the night shift this week. Back to sleep.
Minutes later, the alarm woke me again. More awake this time, I laid there trying to decide if it was Paul's or Dave's alarm. What the hell would Dave need to get up for? Maybe it didn't even sound like an alarm clock. Hmmmmm. What is that noise?
That's when I smelled smoke!
I recognized that noise! Smoke alarm! Smoke!
I threw on some jeans and stumbled down the stairs. With the door open to the downstairs, I really smelled smoke! Dashing toward Paul's bedroom, there was less smoke there. I spun around to see lots of smoke in the kitchen! Not good!!
Through the kitchen, which is still right out of the 1940s, it was two steps down to the landing and a hard right toward the basement. Looking down the stairs, the basement was filled with a brownish grey smoke. Worse, I could see an orange glow coming from the direction of Dave's space. Dave didn't really have a room. I'm not sure he paid much rent. He was Paul's girlfriend's older brother and apparently that got you a cot in the corner of the basement.
I bounded down toward the glow and went into slow motion. Dave was in his bed. Next to the bed was a folksy German chair. It had elaborately spindled legs painted bright colors with a heavily wickered seat, like a thatched roof from the movie "Heidi." Except the wicker was on fire(!), popping and cracking like an evil breakfast cereal, sending little strips of wicker ash into the air. A black blob, which I later found out had been an ashtray, was under the chair. There was our source!
Dave lay on his bed with his arms crossed over his chest, still dressed, shoes and all. Wicker ash covered his face and chest, all over the windbreaker he was still wearing. In the back of my mind, I could hear someone saying "Don't he look natural." I shouted at him and shook him to no avail. He jostled back and forth on the cot but just laid there. I had to do something about the burning chair!
I hadn't had the sense to bring a bucket of water or anything. I had never been in the basement and didn't know where the utility sink was. There is a legend in my family of a house fire and a great uncle running out with an organ stool . . . just an organ stool.
Apparently, I'm following a family tradition of 'grace' under pressure.
Squatting down, I grabbed the front legs of the chair down by the floor. It was fairly light and I carried the chair, still burning, up to the landing. Holding the chair out into the kitchen with one hand, I unlocked and opened the side door with the other and tossed the smoldering mess out into the driveway.
Relieved, I got back in the house and knocked on Paul's door.
"Paul, wake up."
"Yeah," just audible.
"There's been a fire but its out. I can't tell if Dave is alive or not."
"Oh, $%^&*!!," shouted.
Paul burst out of his room, stumbled across the dining room, paused to sniff the air, got his bearings and looked around. The house was still there. Then he clod down the stairs into the basement.
When I caught up with him, Paul was standing on the cot over Dave, holding the windbreaker by the lapels and bouncing Dave up and down.
"You almost burned my #%^&* house down! You almost burned my #%^&* house down!"
Dave woke up.
A little after one in the morning, the three of us stood in the driveway, while Paul sprayed the chair down with a half frozen garden hose.
"You saved my house, man. I'm gonna buy you a beer," Paul declared. Looking at his watch "Right now. Let's go."
The three of us cut through the backyard, jumped a curb and walked across the Auto Glass Shop's lot and up Woodward Avenue, 1:00 AM midweek. There's always a few cars on Woodward, but it seemed eerily calm that night; or that morning, whatever it was. We ambled past the Florist, an Insurance Agency, a Little Caesar's and found a piano bar. I don't remember the name of the place, but I can still remember the sign: "Buddy Clark at the Piano. Nightly 9:00 to 2:00."
We were a motley crew for a piano bar, but there didn't seem to be anyone else but a waitress and a bartender. We sat right next to Buddy, as he tickled the ivories, in a tuxedo.
He finished a tune and asked "What would you like to hear?" The twinkle and the smirk silently said "You crackers probably can't even spell jazz."
"How about some Duke Ellington," I said.
The smirk disappeared but the twinkle remained. "Lucky guess" he must have thought. "Ever since those damned Rolling Stones played "Take the A Train" as a live show intro, all these unwashed rockers think they're audiophiles!"
Just on the verge of patronizing, Buddy asked "Well, there's so much, what Ellington are you in the mood for?"
Oh, ye of little faith. I whipped out my jazz chops, "Gosh, how about "Take the A Train" or "Satin Doll," maybe "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "Perdido" or "Black and Tan Fantasy." Or maybe that song Paul Gonsalves went crazy on at the '56 Newport Jazz Fest. What was the name of that tune?"
Chagrined, but almost impressed, Buddy played a couple Ellington tunes, then decided it was closing time and disappeared. We finished our beers and headed home. It was almost three, I had to be to work in 4 hours or so, but I had a great story to tell.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The strangest things come back to you. I've always thought I was a decent dancer. There were Disco Dancing Lessons at the Masonic Temple. My buddy, Doug, and I were about 17. We took the lessons to impress the girls at school dances. The lessons were $5 or $10; one night a week for 3 or 4 weeks. Our adolescent minds were blown, when we showed up at the Masonic Temple. We were the only males there. AND! the females were all in their 20s and 30s. They were nurses and secretaries and even a couple young teachers, if I recall. We learned the Hustle right away, which is basically a line dance. Then we learned couples dances. All the ladies wanted Doug or I as a partner. We were in seventh heaven. Any older and we might have gotten more carried away. There we were in the basement of the Masonic Temple surrounded by women, some dancing with each other, but all waiting for a chance to dance with us. My head swims today just thinking about it. Older women, those late '70s clothes, and perfume that filled your head with visions that you didn't even understand.
Another time, I worked with a girl on a routine for a disco contest at school. She was a year older. Man, I hit the big time. We really worked hard. I was going over to her house for several weeks. She was very nice, and a good dancer. Ultimately, some of my buddies got inside my head. They were teasing me relentlessly. Between them and my nerves, I chickened out and left her hanging. I was a dog. But there was this basketball player named Eddie, he was in her class. He and his partner won. They were fantastic and would have won anyway, but I should have danced.
Then imagine me in a black vest, white shirt with a huge pimp-ish collar and belled out black pants up on a stage with 5 or 6 girls singing Disco Inferno. Really. There's a picture in the yearbook. It was a consolation actually. For the same show that is on my "Music Page." The Jazz Band picture and the Rubber Chicken picture are from the "Band Bounce," an annual concert and variety show. Some girls from my class and I were working on a song from "Grease." Some upperclassmen heard us rehearsing and decided to audition the SAME ACT. Somehow, they got in and we didn't. Some of us complained about it and got the Disco Inferno gig. The Modern Jazz Dancers were going to dance to the song. They let us sing it rather than playing the record. It was fun; in the same auditorium where I was in "the crowd" for Annie Get Your Gun.
In college, I dated, and was engaged, to a girl who was an incredible dancer. She grew up downriver, south of Detroit, and had the moves. I must have made a fool of myself trying to dance next to her, while oggling her at the same time. She oozed. I loved it. We were so sappy. When I was away on an internship, she sent a hankerchief soaked with her perfume.
She was Polish and Lebanese and Italian with beautiful china doll features and olive skin. All three grandmothers, or at least a couple grandmothers and a great aunt, were still alive. The food was awesome when we went home to her parents' for the weekend. I had a pretty whitebread midwestern upbringing. It was very cool to be surrounded by ethnic traditions. I learned a lot, including to eat raw lamb meat. Her mom made kibbe and the best tabbouleh. I had tunafish spaghetti during lent one year. Sausage and potatoes and Oh, my. We each had an Aunt Lou, hers was a neighbor who made incredible BBQ ribs.
Somehow, I screwed that up. I'm not sure I was too young, but I was definitely not ready or too stupid or something. We got engaged. Life was good for a while. Expectations started to swallow me up. To this day, I don't do well with that. I broke off the engagement. It was probably the one relationship that I could have always been happy in. I really don't remember the "why." I just remember running away. One of these days I'll quit running.
I pulled up to the Toll Booth northwest of Des Plaines, IL last week. The attendant was a lady. She could have been Italian or Lebanese; maybe Hispanic even. She was not much taller than she was wide, but she had a rich complexion and wonderful wavy dark hair, cut short. There were big bing cherry lips in fiery red, dark black eyes and some little gold earrings; angels or something. A big smile; she was just perfectly pleasant.
Even in the breeze, the tail end of a late winter storm, when I pulled up to her window, my cab was filled with her scent. If it was visible, it would have been like the plague clouds in the Ten Commandments Movie, stealthily climbing up the steps to my cab, over the window and into my lap, filling the space around me. It was overpowering. It was Tatiana, I'm sure of it. The same perfume as on that hankerchief all those years ago. I'd bet a hundred gallons of diesel on it.
Driving through Chicago all I could see were flashing lights, a sequined vest, filmy shirt and a denim miniskirt and those hips in a club called The Outer Limits; the greasy spoon restaurant her mom liked. I saw grandmas and pasta and kibbe and baklava; a Lebanese restaurant called The Sahara in East Detroit. There were flannel shirts over tanktops and sweatpants; dormwear. And there were walks around campus in the fall. She must be why I always think the crisp fall weather and changing leaves is the most romantic time of year.
I really should go back and thank that Toll Operator.
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