Monday, July 16, 2018

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, I have just fourteen hours of on-duty time in which to drive the eleven. A ten hour break resets these clocks.

I just started driving again for a company where I had driven before. Its a three-beer-story, but I had three trucks in my first eight days after two of them died on me. And because I had to get a ride from another driver back to Florida, I had to leave some of my stuff in the second broken down truck. That truck is still waiting parts in a shop in Savannah, Georgia. I wrote about that here in a post about earning boat money.

I picked up in Alabama and delivered in Douglas, GA.  I had just enough time on my clocks to backtrack to Albany for a load; 44,000 lbs of Coors Light bound for Smyrna near Atlanta. About an hour up the road from there, I had to stop for the night (my night is usually 14:00 to midnight). My appointment for the next morning was at 10:30; a terrible time given the usual morning traffic in Atlanta.

After checking with Google Satellite Maps, I knew there was lots of parking at my delivery location. So I left quite early to avoid the traffic and arrived at 6:00a for my 10:30a appointment. There’s lots of beer drinkers in Atlanta, so there were lots of trucks waiting to deliver there that morning. It was almost 1:00p by the time I was unloaded and ready to roll.

My next load assignment had two pickup stops. The first was about 40 miles away, back through Atlanta traffic -- and needed to be picked up before 2:00p. I started rolling before I had a specific address, but had to message into dispatch that I couldn’t make it before 2:15 or 2:30p.

My truck GPS was still in the broken truck sitting in Savannah. I was using my phone and wandered through some sketchy country roads near Hampton to get to an old, repurposed warehouse. All that rushing around for two skids of no brand windshield washer fluid.

The next stop was up near Stockbridge. I managed to find that next warehouse tucked in a suburban shopping district and got loaded with Chinese imitation YETI coolers. My fourteen hour clock was running out and I had only driven about five hours of my eleven for having waited all morning to unload the beer.  I was chagrined to find nowhere to park a semi in the neighborhood.

Dispatch had a grand plan to get me through Savannah to pick up my stuff. The two stop load I had was bound for Hope Mills, NC. Then I was to pickup a load in Clinton, SC to go to Fort Pierce, FL; passing right through Savannah with a stop for my stuff. The trouble was that Clinton vendor is notoriously slow to load a trailer. Hundreds of big-but-light boxes of plastic storage bins are loaded by hand on the trailer floor -- no pallets. I had to get there in one jump and take my break while they loaded me. Otherwise, I would not have time to get to Savannah during business hours. I had to make business hours on Friday or I would have to wait until the following week, on another load, to swing by and get my stuff.

Here’s where the fun begins. My trip from south of Atlanta to the other side of North Carolina was reasonably uneventful. There was an accident involving three semi trucks and a ten mile backup, but luckily it was on the other side of the highway. The eastbound lanes got bound up by rubberneckers slowing down to gawk at the accident but I was through the bottleneck in a few minutes. The rest was not a leisurely ride, I only stopped once for coffee -- to get rid of some and to get some more. Old Trucker Proverb: You don’t buy coffee, you rent it.

I arrived at the Hope Mills warehouse and had to scramble to find an empty trailer. There were two choices: one trailer wouldn’t be unloaded for a couple hours, the other was hidden in a back corner of the lot. I had about 200 miles and little less than four hours to drive; I had to go. When I found the empty trailer, someone had left me about 20 pounds of field corn spilled in two sprawling piles. My broom was hanging on the back of the truck in Savannah.

I grabbed the trailer and headed for South Carolina; flying. The next load was almost all the way back
to Georgia and I barely had enough time. About halfway there was a truckstop that I remembered was easy off and back on the highway, so I planned my attack. When I arrived, I jumped off the highway, ran into the store, and bought a broom, some garbage bags, some supper and a granola bar for breakfast -- then tore off down the highway again. I watched my diminishing drive time and the ETA on my phone all the way there.

I arrived with just six minutes to spare. Now the trailer needed to be swept as I hadn’t been able to take the time yet. Once the trailer was swept and I scooped the corn into a couple garbage bags, there wasn’t a dumpster to be found. Many warehouses give little or no thought to the needs of drivers. At least this place had an indoor bathroom that we all could use. I tossed the bags of corn on the catwalk behind the cab and checked in with the shipping office.

I slept a while at the dock, then finally felt them start loading me. I slept some more and then woke to the metallic sound of the dock plate being retracted; the perfect ringtone for a trucker’s alarm. In front of the shipping office, the trailer was sealed, the paperwork signed and then I moved off to a corner of the lot to sleep a little more. Now I could time my departure to hit the dealer in Savannah mid morning and get my stuff in the right truck.

Up at 2:00a for my morning ablutions and a pit stop, I was ready to roll at 3:00a but still had to do something with the bags of corn. I decided that since corn was natural and I was out in the country, I could just dump it. No one would be surprised by a pile of corn in the road. I didn’t want to just dump it in the warehouse lot, so I pulled out onto the road, stopped in the left turn lane and threw on my four way flashers.

It was still dark when I exited the cab and stepped back to the catwalk. Just as I sliced open the bags and started dumping the corn onto the road, a couple pairs of headlights passed over my shoulder heading toward the warehouse. Crap, I thought, shift change. Attention was not something I wanted just then. I had corralled a piece of plastic twine that had been swept up with the corn the night before. I just wanted to dump the corn, not litter.

The bags were almost empty. And then a sheriff squad car crept by on the other side of the truck. As he pulled in front of the truck, my heart sank. First I wondered how much a ticket for littering might cost. Then I remembered I was in the south. I might end up in front of some unamused judge after languishing a couple days in the local drunk tank. My thoughts became a horrifying mix of Buford T. Justice, Barney Fife, and the littering trial saga of Alice’s Restaurant. I was hindered by the twisting twine and a few cups of remaining corn, and struggled to wad the bags up. I leapt back into my truck and tried stuffing the mess into my little trash bag.

The sheriff that approached my door couldn’t have been 25 years old. He was squeaky clean, way too alert for 3:00a with a perfectly polished smile straight out of the Laurens County High School yearbook; probably a former quarterback. His grandfather was probably the judge I’d be seeing later in the week. My gagging trash bag finally swallowed the tangle mess of twine and corn and I sat up in the driver’s seat.

“You good?” was all he asked.

“Yes … yessir, I am,” I choked.

He waved, spun around to his car and drove off. I’m still confused.

Did he see the corn on the road? Did he think it was someone else’s?

He probably thought I was taking a leak. Behind the cab at the catwalk is a notorious peeing trucker spot.

Looks like I won’t be having a baloney sandwich at the county jail tonight.

I’d rather be lucky than good.

It's long but it's a classic draft era protest song:

Bonus Track from Todd Snider:

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