If the only way to beat the virus is by washing our hands, why have they closed all the restrooms for drivers at the grocery warehouses? Wouldn’t you think we should give the people handling food added security when it comes to a sanitation issue? That’s just me thinking out loud. I’m sure that plastic Porta Potty with no water and an empty bottle of hand sanitizer is a good solution. Why not just send us over to the city park and have us use the “Doggy Walk” – oh, and by the way, don’t forget your plastic bag to clean up after yourself.
It’s no wonder we sometimes get short tempered and act rude. No one wants to be treated like an animal. If you ask me, I think our pets get far better treatment than most people are treating the front-line workers who drive the trucks that feed this nation and deliver the necessary goods to keep it running!
Yes, I’m on a rant this month. But Dennis, you never lose your composure or fly off the handle, do you? The answer is no. I don’t often get wound up like this, but today is that day. I just got back to the house from a week on the road. Did you ever have a week where you are convinced you are working for the Devil’s Transport? Well, I just did, and I’m still upset over it. Now don’t get me wrong – I have been doing this job long enough to understand the ups and downs of the freight cycles, even the seasonal ebb and flow of equipment availability, but really… “stupid” should come with an expiration date.
It’s 10:30 in the morning and I’m now up and starting my day. I had planned on sleeping in since I didn’t hit the driveway till 3:00 AM, but that didn’t happen. The broker was on the phone at 4:00 AM wanting me to email over my BOLs (bills of lading). As you can guess, I was not impressed with their proactive approach. How is it when we book a load, they want tracking on the truck. When will it be empty and available? Where will it empty out, and how many hours will the driver have left on his/her logbook? Have the driver call us so we can give him the pickup info. Really? Our company’s dispatch can’t do that? How about you just send it over via text. I have better things to do besides hold on to the phone and listen to elevator music and driver recruiting messages from the brokering companies.
My week started with a phone call from my regular freight people. They are a great company and I enjoy our working relationship. They were in a bind and caught with no trucks in the area (east coast) for a last-minute shipment from one of their larger accounts. So, as you guessed, my phone rang. That’s what we do around here – fix people up and solve problems when we can. When these calls come in, our usual answer is, “Sure. I can be 700 miles from here by the next morning.” That’s a long deadhead, but if there is a justification in the rates, then it’s go time. I stop whatever I’m doing and start heading east.
I made the pickup appointment with a couple minutes to spare, got cleared through security, and then, just like that, the train came off the tracks. The guy tells me they are not shipping anything that day, but they are looking for an important load to arrive. He then asks, “Are you sure you don’t have something to deliver?” What? Come on, you’re kidding, right? Again, they tell me nothing is outbound that day. Two hours later I have confirmation and a signed note saying they had nothing.
After running all night, I’m tired. Plus, I had to call my guy in the Midwest (different time zone) and get him out of bed after only a couple hours of sleep (he was awfully grumpy) so he could call his guy two more time zones away. I’m not gonna say what his response was, but at 4:00 AM Pacific Standard Time, he was not his bright and sunny self. Next, we ran down the contact person at the shipping company to verify we had no freight. This was the first pick up of a multi-drop load going to California, so I was determined to make sure there was not a pickup there before I left. By the time we were done, we had called all the way to a Vice President of a very major manufacturing company to get the phone number of someone working from home. That whole email thing is overrated!
Eventually, we did manage to get the responsible party on the phone to confirm there is a load and it was to be picked up at 7:00 AM that very day – just one problem, she had input the details wrong, and the load was in California, not Philadelphia. Her response: “Oops, my bad. Sorry about that driver!” I’m standing on a freezer dock where the temperature is around 10 degrees, but my temperature is rising fast, and my blood pressure is right behind it! I can’t get upset with the shipping clerk because he had been very patient and by rights extremely helpful. The broker didn’t hold any responsibility either since his order was confirmed for this shipment. So, I eventually head out to my next pickup, knowing I’m tight for time.
Thankfully, traffic was light on my way to the next pickup and I arrived on time, got my COVID test, and checked in. We have to love all the protection measures taken to protect the shippers and their people, but not the truck driver. You’re not gonna believe this, but I was not on the schedule for a pickup there, either, so no one had pulled our product for shipment. So, I’m directed back out to park on the street and wait for them to prepare it for transport. On a normal day I wouldn’t get too concerned about the time, this is somewhat common when you handle LTL (less than truckload) freight, but I still had two more stops, and the next pick was in Milwaukee, WI (839 miles away) and my broker had informed me I needed to be there by the next morning.
The shipping clerk was making a great effort to get me out of there between their already-scheduled trucks. Their shift change was at 1:00 PM, and I was able to get all my bills as he was leaving. Once again, I couldn’t blame the shipping clerk – they didn’t cause this issue – someone working from home did. This is a person who didn’t follow through and complete their job. As drivers, we are expected to pick up the pieces and fix problems others overlook, but it’s hard to have any compassion for people who are looking after their kids or cooking dinner when they should be working and doing their job.
When I did finally get going, I couldn’t help but worry I might miss my third pick. Did I mention it was a new customer and our first time to load there? First impressions are important since we only get one chance to make it. I made check-in calls every 150 miles all through the night (it is important to stay in touch with your brokers when things aren’t going according to plan). I make it my policy to be honest with them when it comes to timeframes. They continued to push me for an ETA (estimated time of arrival), but I truthfully couldn’t give them one at that particular point. That’s a long distance, and too many things can go wrong along the way. It’s better to under promise and over deliver than the other way around, so that is what I tried to do. We all want to fly our large cars like they’re airplanes, but they are not, and we still have to drive safely.
As you might have guessed, it turned out to be the night from Hell. I was doing great until midnight, but someplace in northern Indiana, I had to tap out. After a couple hour nap, I slid through Chicago with no problems. At 8:30 AM I checked in with the shipping agent for my one pallet in Milwaukee. Once again, they didn’t know when I would arrive, so the product was in another building (in the freezer) and they needed to prepare it for transport. Not a problem. I took a well-deserved nap for a few minutes, then headed off to my last pickup 250 more miles away.
The customer said they would wait for me if I could not get there before the second shift. Not wanting to disappoint anyone, I proceeded to multi-task and drive, talk, and eat my dinner, all at the same time. Thank goodness for brown beans, Ritz crackers, and canned chicken meat. It worked. I rolled into my last stop with plenty of time to load. Sometimes, if we spend as much energy finding a solution as we might lose in complaining about the problem, we can amaze even ourselves. I managed to cover a lot of ground in two days and satisfied all our customer’s needs, only to have the easy part of my journey fall apart.
The final leg of this load was to go to northern California for a couple stops. Well, remember the first stop, where they had no load to ship? Without it, there wasn’t enough material to make it pay, so it (the 15 pallets I did collect) went into storage on one of our empty trailers to ship later. But, hey, those are the breaks – sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you! This time the bear got me, but we will live to ride again, so it’s back to the broker boards to find a load back to the house.
One call to my wife and the hunt was on. 20 minutes later we are booked on a frozen load not 20 miles from where I dropped. To load it, I needed to layover for a day, but I was happy to catch up on my sleep. It’s a good thing I am still on paper logs. It’s now Saturday morning and I’m at the next shipper ready to report for duty, what could go wrong? Well, for starters, I was told it’s a frozen load of potatoes and given a pickup number. When I tried to check in, the number wasn’t any good, so I called the broker, waited on the phone, got the correct number, and then checked back in. Still not successful, since I hadn’t had my trailer inspected by a third party. This would have been useful information to know ahead of time.
After paying $38 at the nearest truck wash for an inspection and getting a certificate to load, I was sent back to check in – again. I asked about the pallet count and weight only to find out it’s not potatoes they were planning to load, but eggs – 25 skids of raw eggs! It’s not a frozen load, either, but fresh product (35 degrees). Back on the phone I go with the broker to clarify I have the right load. Their response, “Oh, my bad. I didn’t read the order. We normally ship potatoes from there.” I checked with the shipping agent and they don’t handle anything but eggs there. Really? Why can’t you just be truthful with us!
Most drivers can’t or won’t haul eggs. They can be troublesome if you don’t drive with care, not to mention that not all insurance companies will cover this commodity due to the amount of damaged product due to carelessness. It’s not always the driver who causes the damage. I have seen forklift drivers spill pallets of eggs and then just drive through the carnage, as they continue to off-load a trailer, leaving a wake of destruction in their path. An honest broker would tell you this, but on a Friday afternoon, some guys just want to move loads, so they fudge the questionable stuff. These loads pay decent, and I don’t mind doing them, but I really don’t like looking like a fool when it’s not necessary.
What could have been a one-hour process took much longer than necessary to load and scale because I lacked the correct info. The ride to Columbus, Ohio was easy since I was strolling slow and careful like. I checked in only to find out they had fudged the delivery appointment time, as well. No problem, I’m used to that, but when I got to the dock and wanted to use the restroom after sitting alongside the street outside their gate for seven hours, their signs all stated “No Drivers Allowed In Restroom Due To COVID” – really? We can use the portable restroom, but not the real one. Now you know why I started this with a rant about using the doggie park.
One short year ago, truck drivers were “essential” and loved by everyone who needed toilet paper, but today we are treated like animals and not given the necessary tools to protect ourselves. Is it too much to ask that we are allowed to use a restroom with running water?
My rant is over and I’m sitting here at Aunt Barb’s Cafe drinking coffee and working on my bills. I survived last week with only a few more gray hairs and no physical damage to the equipment, so all is good! We all want to be important and consider ourselves to be ESSENTIAL in the chain of command, but we as drivers must command ourselves in a manner that denotes professionalism. When the world throws everything it has at us, we can’t fold like a cheap suit. I don’t think my week was any different than many of yours, and some maybe had it even worse. The difference between drivers isn’t what we do, but how we respond to the conditions that happen around us.
More people are working from home now and that isn’t likely to change any time soon – if ever. That means we as truck drivers will be required to bear even more of the responsibilities associated with covering the loads we haul. There was a time when we only needed to sit behind the wheel and mash on the throttle to be considered a driver. So, Riddle Me This… do you have what it takes to be a modern driver in the days of COVID? I hope so, because we are going to need all hands on deck to keep America moving, 10-4!