Ch 8 – Coming to Peace

Backing a flatbed trailer is tricky due to the spread axles.  Yeah the load is more stable, but you never know which axle is the pivot point. You just assume it’s the front axle and everything behind it is the over-hang.  Other factors to consider are how it turns on the weight of the load, and whether you are on asphalt, gravel or dirt.

Perhaps the only thing harder than backing a tractor trailer into a dock, was tarping a load of sheetrock.  The tarps were heavy – 60 libs and tarping the load and securing it with bungee cords was time consuming and back breaking. And the southern Georgia sultry summer weather didn’t cooperate.

Some trainees were able to fold a lumber tarp in one minute flat.  Some took longer than others — my tarps were never pretty and ended up flapping in the wind – I wasn’t making my bed with hospital corners after all. Tarping seemed to me like an often-unnecessary chore to keep the gypsum from getting damaged just in case it would rain. It was a waste of time for something that may happen 30% of the time.  But in turn if you crank the straps too tight, you could damage the sheetrock, even with edge protectors.

“Ok students, when you get assigned your trucks, make sure you add enough straps so if you get stopped by the DOT, you don’t get a ticket,” said our lead instructor. “And when you get behind the wheel, whatever you do, don’t overspeed.” 

CT, like many trucking companies have installed speed sensors in the transmission that can detect the engine speed. Even though the engine is governed to 72 mph, the speed of the truck can exceed that when going downhill.

Overall the training was great and my new friends and I had a fabulous time in Savannah. I rented a car for the week and when we got done with training, we would visit restaurants and bars in the area.

We all loved tacos and tequila so Patron on Ogeechee Road was a natural fit.  The place was jam packed after-work. Ft Stewart is nearby, and the historic district is not too far away.

It was Tuesday, so my friends ordered the chorizo tacos, while I opted for the chicken enchiladas after reading the Yelp reviews.

The enchiladas came with frijoles negros (black beans), rice, flour tortilla smothered with cheese and savory chile sauce.

We definitely imbibed on the ceveza and happy hour specials. With a name like Patron, their margaritas are mule-kicking strong here.

Then without warning, a loud pitched whistle, a clap and “Felix Cumpleanos.” Somebody wearing a bright red sombrero is celebrating with a shot of Patron

 

We also enjoyed going to the riverfront and watching all the container ships come in.  

“Some day, I’ll be pulling these loads,” said Keith holding a 16 oz beer container and gulping it down like it was soda.

“You’re not gonna do flatbed?” I asked.

“Absolutely but some flatbeds can haul port loads, too you know.”

What we enjoyed about this enchanting Southern city is the relaxed open container in the historic district.

“Why do you want to be a truck driver?” I asked Keith “I like working independently and it’s decent money if you’re willing to roll,” he answered.

“Right on Bro.”

One evening I asked Stacy how she was doing.

“Fine, work is busy as usual How’s the training?

“Great. So your laptop is holding up?”

“Actually no, my old macbook finally kicked the bullet. So I was so glad to have yours.”

“Well then I’m glad I lent it to you. I thought you would call me before you did that though.”

“Sorry Hun I forgot.”

I was surprised. Not only did she not volunteer the information. There wasn’t a whiff of appreciation or gratitude.

Was she the right woman for me?  Perhaps this was the right litmus test.

After another week, I was done with school, so I  flew back to DC with a layover in New York.

We all learned a lot but most of all made good friends that we’ll stay in touch with throughout our budding careers.

Not all of us made it through training – a few dropped out – but it was only because they realized that flatbedding was their thing.

Soon, I was back in Brooklyn having dinner with Stacey at a local bar called O’Keefe’s.  We shared a bowl of French Onion Soup – it was rich, warm and not too cheesy.

She had the fish and chips which she seemed to enjoy and my turkey burger was the bomb.  Both chose sweet potato fries. Of course, both was washed down generously with lots of Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale and my favorite Smithwick’s.

She talked about her parents in Hartford, Conn., her preparations for the Cherry Tree 10 Miler in Brooklyn, her burgeoning student debt and her goal to organize a race in Massachusetts.

“Have you ever run the NY Marathon?” she asked

“Yes and no,” I answered curtly. “I ran in 2010, but I bandited it after the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and pulled up before Central Park.”

She spoke nothing about the laptop the entire evening, and I was just waiting for her to mention it.

“So, how’s the macbook working?” I inquired.

“Oh, great, yeah, I love the Airs – they’re light and reliable – I’ve gotten a ton of writing done.”

“Super, when can I get it back?”

There was a long pause and her eyes averted contact. “I already opened it.”

“No worries, I want to give it to my son in school. He’s in Virginia Tech now.”

“I already started using it, and I’ve got personal information saved on it.”

After drinks, I walked Stacy back to her apartment. I gave her a kiss and bid adieu.

Then I got on my transfer flight to BWI and was back home that evening.

Who would I train with? Someone local? Then without warning a call from my Driver Manager from Baltimore. “How quickly can you get down to Savannah?”

“Whoa, how am I going to get down there?”

“Either take a greyhound or drive – we’ll reimburse you.”

Not able to catch a greyhound by the next morning, I decided to go balls to the walls in my Subaru that evening. I was making good time and expected to be in Savannah by 2am. Then when I was driving on 95 near Lumberton, NC around midnight, I heard a popping sound from my engine. I pulled over at the next exit and saw white smoke. 

It appeared that I had blown my header. I had to wait till the next day to tow my car to the Subaru in Fayetteville.  It would take a few weeks and several thousand dollars to change out my motor. I chose a rebuilt motor due to the cost. My trainer picked me up at Lumberton.

Subaru Baja been towed from Lumberton, NC to Fayetteville

“I haven’t gotten much sleep. Tired from last night. Hope you can cut me some slack,” I said.

 

“Certainly, you can ride shotgun until tomorrow – then you can start driving,” said Randy. “Have you driven before?”

“Yes for about a month with Western Express.” “Good. The hardest part of trucking has nothing to do with driving a truck. It’s all the other stuff that goes along with it – using the Qualcomn, spending a night at the truck stop, sitting at the shipper and receivers for hours on end.”

“Super, I’m looking forward to learning everything you can teach me.” One early morning while I was asleep I started smelling smoke wafting up.  It was so suffocating that I had to get out of the truck.  I couldn’t believe Randy was smoking inside the cab.

The three weeks with Randy went well.  Every Friday afternoon he would drop me off at a motel in Orangeburg, SC and picked up on Monday morning. We even shared our last dinner and drinks together at his favorite La Carreta, just a hop, skip and jump from the terminal in Mocksville, NC.  We started with the margaritas – they came in huge 55 oz fishbowl plastic glass.  Food was prompt and the service was courteous.  The guacamole was prepared right in front of us. We shared the beef fajitas and the meat was richly marinated with lime, garlic and soy sauce.

“So you’ve got everything down pat. You just struggle hauling the tarps onto the flatbed,” Randy mentioned as he handed me over a lime-shaken Corona.

“Yeah, would be nice to add a couple of inches in height,” I added.

“Well, we can’t make you taller, but we can make you stronger. BTW, I spoke with the training supervisor.  With my vote of confidence, we’re ready to release you to your home terminal in Baltimore.”

“Awesome, good timing – my Subaru is ready to be picked up, and I’ll just drive back.”

So when will they assign me a truck? I waited two weeks, meanwhile getting paid $500 per week for waiting. Then I was assigned an International and drove for four months.

During this time, I spoke to Stacy a handful of times. She kept on saying she would pay me back, but then a couple of months later, insisted that this was a gift from me. 

“You gave it to me, remember,” she said subtly.

Everything was going well. I drove from NYC to NC and as far west as Ohio. I was running a lot of miles and even volunteered to drive a load to NYC one weekend. Then on Veteran’s Day – I was upset for working this day.  I was rushing to get the load delivered in Virginia.

My CT International truck parked in front of my house in Washington, DC

On Nov 3, I was traumatized by this shocking news that Trump had won especially since I thought Hillary had a lock. When I was driving outside Harrisburg, PA, I was on a downhill with a heavy load. I was clocked going 72 mph. Within minutes, I got a call from my Driver Manager.

“Slow your ass down. You’re gonna hurt someone or worse get killed.”

“Ok, Boss man, but I’m not going to volunteer for any more weekend trips. Driving to NYC. last weekend messed up my rhythm.”  (Since taking an extra trip to Queens on Saturday, I couldn’t start my first load on Monday till late, so that pushed my schedule back – all week I was rushing to catch up)

“Alright deliver this load, then return to Baltimore and park the truck in the yard.” Coastal Transportation fired me for over-speeding – going more than 72 mph (on a downhill)

This is not a DOT mandate and most trucking companies could care less.  This was actually a requirement imposed by their insurance company.  But still it was up to them to comply.
 
Companies today can install sensors in their trucks which will measure speed and will send an alarm to the terminal.  Some are accurate, some give false readings – they both can create agony and angst.
 
My company chooses to fire drivers that go over 72 mph (I did it 3 times over 4 months)  I felt rushed because my terminal manager was calling me to tell me to hurry up to make the deadline – this is after driving all night.
 
But its fairly easy to do (when loaded w/ 80K pound), its not illegal (this was company policy, and its questionable whether this is even unsafe.
 
I have no problem with them firing me but they wrote on my DAC report that I’m unsafe and now I’m unable to get a job (with that report) — they didn’t have to say anything because it’s a company policy — not DOT.
 
Its questionable whether going over 72 is unsafe because after a downhill there’s an uphill and you need the momentum so that you don’t slow traffic behind you
 
Also not all trucks are the same. 40% of the trucks are the newer MACs that don’t overspeed. The rest of us have the old Internationals that do.
 
So if the company is going to fire us for Overspeeds than they need to make sure that everyone gets the same type of trucks.  But since the company was operating on wire thin margins, they couldn’t afford replacing their fleet with Macs.

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I got a call from the producer of the People’s Court.  They wanted to know if I would be willing to come on the show.   If I win the case, the People’s Court would pay for the whole claim – I wouldn’t have to worry about collecting it.  And Stacy wouldn’t worry about having to come up with the money. So there was nothing for Stacy to lose but public shame.

If I lose, Stacy and I would split $500 for coming to the show.  I was amenable to the idea, but apparently Stacy wasn’t.

Last month I filed a small claims against Stacy.  It was only a $1,000 laptop, and if she had asked me nicely, I would have considered meeting her half way.  The fact that she blatantly kept the laptop without making any efforts to pay me was dishonest.  And every time I called her, she came up with some excuse.  My only action would to be file a small claims in Brooklyn.

But it was clearly not a gift. I never intended it to be a gift. And I even had emails from her acknowledging that it was not a gift.

The day of the mediation at the NY Peace Institute, I informed the mediator that I had asked Stacy to hold on to the macbook, but I did not give it to her.

“Why did you let her hold onto it?” the mediator asked

“Because I was going to a 10-day training with a trucking company, and I didn’t want it to be stolen.”

“Why did you trust her with the laptop?” the mediator continued.

“Because she was a good friend – very reliable. And I liked her.”

“But you know friendship and relationship don’t mix,” he added. “Best if you had a signed contract.”

“Yeah I know that now. I would never give a friend such an expensive gift.”

She claimed that it was a gift.  But I had emails to show that she knew it was not.  An email showing that she planned to pay me back.  But her actions didn’t match her words.

We agreed that she would purchase it from me for $500 – half of what it’s worth.

After the mediation, I went to shake her hand.

Stacy pulled away.

“Let bygones be bygones.”

“No way, not after this.”

“What you say we go down the street to the O’Keefe’s for a drink.”

“Look if we’re every going to have a relationship, we can’t be taking each other to court. That’s not a good start.”

“I hear you, and I hope this will be the last time.”

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