Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Zen and the Art of Egoless Driving, Lesson 2

Jim Morrison growled "Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel." Sage advice while driving. However, certain occasions arise when we are tempted to lift one hand from the wheel and extend a particular digit in response to some traffic transgression that has occurred against us. We used to call this gesture the Tampa Bay Turn Signal.

Try this the next time you feel like thrusting that one particular digit at another driver: use all ten. In Eastern traditions to bow to each other as a greeting is very common. This is actually more than just a greeting. The bow, with palms pressed together like a Western prayer, a hands breadth away from the nose, is the 'sacred' in you bowing to the 'sacred' in the other. Call it the sacred or Buddha or Vishnu or God or whatever you would like. Or think of it as recognizing our common humanity in each other. It is hard to stay pissed off at someone you are blessing.

As we discussed in Egoless Driving - Lesson One, there is no reason to allow any more stress into your life than you already have. Let it go by recognizing that you are the same as the other driver. Occasionally, you get distracted too. The act of letting go, forgiving if you like, empowers you to leave it behind. You won't think about it all day. The stess will be gone - evaporated not from the heat but from the coolness of your response.

So next time you're tempted to flip, try bowing. Put your palms together and nod your head slightly. Its as much for you as it is for them. You may want to wait until they pass by. If it turns out, in traffic, you bless someone you know, they'll wonder even more about you.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bosses is, as Bosses does.

So, I've been here before; standing on the outside of my truck looking in. The keys hanging in the ignition. Only this time, I'm on the side of the highway, and this time . . . the truck is running. I'll get back to that.

My boss is great. I work for a good little company. Little, if 225 or so truck drivers, 2 terminals, and several drop yards over 8 states, is little. The three sons of the original owner still run the company and regularly make deliveries on our routes. They are driving almost every week. If there is a meeting at another terminal, they'll grab a load and drive a truck down; making money for the company on the way.

The day before Thanksgiving, was the last day of my week; my Friday. I woke up in the yard of a customer. Sleeping out in the world is not always the most comfortable arrangement, but this place is fairly nice with 24 hour access to their break room and a restroom. I had to take a load of Bisquick from the Fort Wayne area down toward Dayton, OH. Home is North and West, I would be traveling South and East. I was confident everything would work out fine. I had lots of legal hours to drive.

After making the delivery, I was assigned a load to go an hour or so further South. I called my Dispatcher just to make sure he was aware that I was headed still further from home on my “Friday.” He asked from what terminal I was based, and tapped away at his computer. My home terminal is Byron Center, Mi.

“If I can hang on to it, I've got a load going right into Byron,” he exclaimed. “That'll get you right back home. Worst case, there will be some consolidation loads later on.”

It was a nicely warm Fall day as I climbed in my truck and headed to the interim delivery. An hour South to a spice warehouse. What a smell. The building reeked of pickling spices. A guy on a forklift told me to back into Door 5 and then come back in when the Green Light came back on. I cracked my windows and read the paper. The truck gently rocked as the forklift clambered aboard and grabbed the stock off my trailer; 55 gallon drums of Canola Oil.

The forklift hadn't hit me for a few minutes. I was pulling my jacket on, when the Green Light popped back on. My paperwork was waiting right inside the warehouse door. I pulled out, closed up my trailer and high tailed it back to the terminal. The dispatcher was smiling when I arrived. My home base is also the headquarters of the company. One of the three brother/owners was just there and needed to get back home for Thanksgiving; the same home terminal I wanted to get to. He got my load home.

I'd been fiddling with my driver's door for a while. The last several months, the inside door handle would stick in an up position now and again. When I hopped out of the truck, the door would bounce back open when I tried to close it. I'd push the door handle back down and slam the door closed again. This week, a couple times, pulling the inside door handle wouldn't open the door. I found that if I just rested my finger on the door lock, something would catch and the door would open.

After an hour or so at the terminal, a consolidation load came up. I was going to deliver in Lansing and then get home to Byron Center, near Grand Rapids. The load was on a trailer with the axles too far back. I hooked to the trailer and adjusted the axles. After tugging on the trailer, it didn't feel like the pins had caught. I nudged the trailer again, and the second nudge felt fine. I headed through the gate and hit the highway; finally headed north.

About 40 miles up the highway, as I-75 swings to the East, I usually jump on US33, then jog up US127 to US30 and run over to I-69 in Indiana. When I hit the brakes on the exit ramp, the pins on the tandem rack let go. Chunka, chunka, chunka, SLAM! The axles ran all the way to the rear of the trailer and the whole assembly slammed into the end of the rack, like a train running out of track.

I pulled onto the shoulder and jumped out to check. The door handle won't catch; door doesn't open. I put my finger on the lock knob and yanked on the handle and jumped out. Indeed, the axles must be adjusted all over again. I didn't bring my gloves, so I walk back up to the cab. Pulling on the door, I get that finger ripping fling off the handle. The door is locked. I'm locked out. The truck is running. I'm not wearing a jacket because I was only going to be a second; and its in the low 40's. Peaking in the window, I can see that the lock knob has jumped up out of the door panel. The rod below the knob is showing above the door panel.

With more than a quarter million miles on the road, there are some eventualities that I'm prepared for. The triangle vent window in front of my side window is always unlocked.
Sandy laughs. "That would be a dream come true, but no."

With my fingers tucked under each arm, I ponder my situation. I really need to get out of this cold. My weekends are barely more than 48 hours. I can't afford to get myself sick. Besides, its Thanksgiving. Leaning against the truck on the ditch side, out of the wind, I see a flattened beer can amongst the trash along the highway. Aluminum cans are great shim stock.

Gingerly, with my bare hands, I find a loose corner of the beer can and begin twisting it back and forth. Several twists later, I can tear a chunk of aluminum off. One more try with the channel locks. I try to jam the shim into the pliers to counteract the motion that causes them to slip. It almost works. The knob seems to twist a bit and the shim squeezes out, the pliers slip off the knob and out of my cold fingers. Hanging from a mirror up the side of my truck, I can't catch the pliers. They rattle down the side of the truck and land on the running board. I carefully crawl down and hear a quick honk. I've spent the last three years on the road. I usually don't even look when I hear a random horn, but my eyes are drawn to the semi crawling past me. Its one of our trucks! It can't be Ralph already. I wave my arms over my head hoping he'll stop. All of our drivers have keys to all the trucks. There is a slight flash of chrome as the other truck pulls onto the shoulder.

The other truck is backing toward mine as I walk down the shoulder and up the passenger side of his trailer. As I said, the three brothers often drive. Their trucks are just like ours with little splashes of chrome personality. It starts to sink in that I'm being saved by one of my bosses. As I get to the cab, the passenger door kicks open. Burt is standing between the two seats in his socks.

"Hey, what's up, Man?" he asks. Of all the people to drive by, Burt is the brother/owner who hired me. He must be the Koster Brother that got my load back at the terminal. Its the evening before Thanksgiving and he is headed home like me.

I explain to Burt that I'm locked out. He's not sure he has all his keys. The truck I'm driving is old by his standards. My old truck has 1.3 million miles on her. She is just fine for me and there are older rougher trucks in the fleet. Burt finds his old keys, pulls on his boots and lets me back in. I crawl in over the passenger seat and back behind the wheel. As Burt rolls back onto the highway, I catch my logbook up and call Dispatch. Its Sandy again.

"Your dream has come true," I start without even saying Hello. "Burt Castor just drove by and let me in. You can tell Ralph to keep rolling. I'm rolling again myself."

Sandy and I have a good laugh. My truck leans into it and pulls back out on the road. It is good to be warm and moving again.

Apparently the boss stopped for dinner somewhere along the way because in Fort Wayne, he passed me again. I was cruising around the bypass when I saw one of our trucks in my mirror. I usually drive three or four miles an hour below everyone else. There is less stress that way. Burt is a rocket, behind the wheel and in real life. He is always moving in the office or on the road. His truck probably doesn't have a governor like mine. I see the same flash of chrome as the truck goes by in the hammer lane. I grab the mic of my CB radio.

"Thanks again, Bossman," I call after his taillights. "You have a good Turkey Day tomorrow."

"You're welcome. You do the same."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Zen and the Art of Egoless Driving, Lesson 1

It has happened to all of us, in a crowded parking lot or maybe a four way stop with two lanes coming from all directions. Somehow, you just didn't see that other car. You both come to a hard stop. With a sheepish look, you mouth the word "Sorry." Or maybe you avoid his glance and drive away as your face burns in embarrassment. Your driving record is clean, a good driver, but you just made a mistake. Everyone does.

When the shoe is on the other foot, however, and we were the one brought up short by the distracted driver, we don't seem to think of it the same way. That guy is a moron. He drives like an idiot; shouldn't even have a license. Now wait a minute. If we can make the occasional mistake, why can't he?

When we react badly to the distracted driver, we are forgetting that we is just like him. There are a few morons out there, of course, but most of us get along just fine. Take your ego out of the situation. The ego loves it when it can feel superior to someone else. When you let the ego run unchecked, you are just hurting yourself. The superior feelings of the ego are short lived, but the stress will be with you all day long. If you get cut off on the way to work in the morning, it'll wreck your whole day. It is wiser to just let it go.

It is far better to live with humility. We are all human. There are good days and bad days, but most of the bad days are an illusion of the ego. Next time someone brings you up short, thank them whether they show any contrition or not. Thank them for reminding you of your own humanity; our shared humanity. They have allowed you an opportunity to practice letting it go. The Buddha says all thoughts of selfish desire, ill-will, hatred and violence are the result of a lack of wisdom - in all spheres of life whether individual, social or political. We could use a lot more "letting it go" in our lives. Maybe you can start a trend. Let some of your serenity rub off on someone, but no trading paint in the H.O.V. lane!

The Cop and the Corn

I’ve written before about the DOT regulated hours I have to track as a truck driver. I can drive for eleven hours a day, but once I start,...