It’s a new year once again! We are slowly recovering from too much good food and, hopefully, some well-deserved rest at home. The time has come to pack up the truck and get back on the road. We have just ended one of the strangest years I can remember, where the cost and availability of everything is uncertain, and the rates have been fluctuating faster than we change our socks. First there wasn’t enough trucks, and now there are too many. All this disruption makes my head hurt. What’s a driver to do?
Last week my wife was talking to her sister, the Little Lady (her real name is Cheryl and she drove for us before her retirement a couple years ago), and they were discussing the difficulties drivers face today. Her husband Dan still drives for a charity food bank, so they are well versed on troubles we face at distribution warehouses and shippers, in general. I overheard her tell my wife to remind me to pack a little extra patience when I go. What could possibly go wrong that would cause a driver to lose control? Those conversations usually start out with some pleasant words then take an abrupt turn for the worse, ending with “Not now, not here!” or maybe, “I don’t care what you want!”
When things get to this point, it is a good time for the driver to step back, close their eyes, and take a deep breath, it’s probably not that bad. How many times have you heard that? Too many, or too often, is more like it. Your response and then your reaction to any situation is all up to you. No one else has the power to change the outcome if you don’t let them have the upper hand. We see this every night on the news where the police are called to de-escalate a potentially dangerous situation between two or more people. We truck drivers, on the other hand, are more likely to be mad at ourselves than someone else.
Not sure about your experience, but when I argue with myself, I seldom win. Normally it spoils my attitude and, in general, I get cagey, short tempered, and then I’m not someone anyone wants to be around. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen as often as it used to. Why you ask? Because I don’t allow it to happen. I have the power and ability to stop myself before I cross over the line and get stressed out to the point of getting sick or even causing myself to have a stroke or heart attack. Losing your temper is also a good way to lose friends.
Where do I get this power from? No, I didn’t purchase it at the store or pick it up in the parking lot. I’ve always had it, I just didn’t always take the time to use it. So, what is it? In short “it” is that feeling you get when your alligator mouth overrides your little hummingbird behind. This then causes you to fly off the handle and do or say bad things to other people. The ability to control your inner most thoughts and then restrain the urge to reach out and touch someone is a superpower, but it’s a power each of us has. Besides, I think assault and battery is still a felony.
This “power” comes in varying degrees and how much is needed from time to time is dependent upon the given situation. Case in point: I lost the oil cooler on the “Just Steppin” Peterbilt last week. Not the end of the world, normally, or even that difficult to fix, when you have the parts. It seems these breakdowns only happen when I’m committed to salvaging a dropped load or some other catastrophe happens and there isn’t a backup plan. Did I mention this happened on the week leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday… and I was the backup plan!
We had a load 800 miles away that had to be picked up before the end of business on the Wednesday before the holiday, and I was the only truck anywhere close. That meant I would need to leave home on Tuesday to make everything work and get to the west coast by first light on Monday. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, not exactly.
I had already committed to attend the Thanksgiving meal at my family’s gathering, since freight rates were down, and I was off the road doing a little deer hunting at home. I also volunteered Aunt Barb to bring a couple dishes to share that everyone was counting on to feed the multitudes. When I told her she would have to attend dinner with the in-laws by herself, I guess she has some superpowers, too, because she spun around and stomped out of that kitchen faster than Flash Gordon.
It has been brought to my attention that holidays affect non-trucking people differently than those of us who drive. I didn’t know this, but a four-day holiday starts on the Monday preceding the first day that starts the actual holiday and continues through the Friday following the last day of the celebration. Let me explain, the days leading up to the time off is spent preparing for your home time, not performing any work-related duties. This consists of talking with your coworkers at the coffee pot in the break room and chatting on the phone with long lost relatives who won’t make it to the gathering. And all of this is done without concern for those of us who are patiently waiting at their counter.
Then, when the workers do finally return to work, after celebrating, there is an unwritten rule where they may or may not make it to the office/shop depending on how much celebrating they managed to do over the holiday. It can take days before these workers get their mind back on the job of working. And all mistakes made during this time are dismissed with a simple, “Oh, my bad!” And, sadly, as
a customer, we are not really allowed to comment or complain. Be patient. They will get to your problem eventually. This is starting to sound like a rant!
This all started with an oil cooler failure on my old Cat motor. As a rule, I don’t have much trouble getting the parts I need. I typically just call the Cat dealer in the city, and the next day they have what I ordered. I also keep a fair amount of gaskets and seals on hand for those last-minute leaks. Note to self: don’t forget to reorder a new o-ring and seal kit for inventory. It’s a good thing I had one in stock, because no one had a complete kit available without having to make a special order and paying for a delivery charge. I don’t know when my new kit will arrive, but when it does, I will be prepared for the next time.
Back to my test of patience. I was 400 miles into the deadhead when I stopped to use the rest area. While doing a walk-around (yes, I still actually do a couple trips around the unit during my day), I noticed oil where it shouldn’t have been. After a quick inspection of the radiator, I concluded my troubles were just beginning. I checked the time, backed up three hours for the time change out west, then decided the broker wasn’t going to answer the phone at 3:00 AM. This is where I get mad at myself. Not that it does any good, but someone must be to blame for my troubles.
I am lucky there are still people in my world who answer the phone no matter what time I call. Thank you, Brian Holmberg and Tyler Ross, for handling the dispatch while I concentrated on nursing my truck home and finding the repair parts. We seldom give credit to the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make our world turn. But I’m sure I tested their patience at zero dark thirty that morning, too.
The long and short of this story is I ordered the correct parts on Wednesday, before noon, for next day delivery. Well, that didn’t happen. At about three o’clock in the afternoon, my wife reminded me that the next day was the holiday. You would think the salesman would have mentioned that tiny bit of useful information. Life on the road can confuse the days of your week. I made a call to make sure the parts would be there by Friday, but the response on the other end of the phone was, “We are sorry Mr. Mitchell, but we aren’t working on Friday. But they will be here at 7:00 on Monday morning.” This is where my blood pressure starts rising.
Now what? I’m dead in the water for five days, and it’s too late to source the parts from someone else. I collect myself up, take a deep breath, and call my broker to explain the timeframe for our parts delivery. The broker is more than understanding and reassured me that this wouldn’t affect our relationship. He said not to worry – he could use me on Tuesday for another load, since he had pulled one of his other carriers up to cover my dropped load.
Let me tell you, I was ready to tear that place apart! I am supposed to be fixed and loading in Detroit on Tuesday morning. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. Now, again, I have to call my broker and explain why I’m still not ready to roll. The next day, I decided to wait until they called and confirmed the shipment came in before heading down there. After I got the call, we headed out on our second trip to get the same part. When we arrived, the young man is there with a huge smile on his face and says, “Got your parts right here. They arrived on time, just like we promised.”
I seldom hear anyone compliment their broker when they do good and save your bacon. We forget, they too have to juggle many balls to cover all of the commitments placed on them by the shippers. Okay, fast forward to Monday morning. After an early wakeup call and then a 45-mile ride, there I was, standing at the counter at straight up seven bells, and the young man behind the counter has a bewildered look on his face. So I ask, “What seems to be the trouble?” He told me the parts run on Wednesday didn’t go. Apparently, the driver decided to take the day off and start celebrating early. He then says, “Sorry sir, no parts came in today, check back tomorrow.” This is where my wife looks at me and says, “Dennis, walk away, wait outside, and let me handle this.”
The box on the counter was much larger than my oil cooler so I decided to open it and make sure it was the right one. Ah, wrong again – it was the right part number, but the wrong part was in the box. This is where things started to get interesting. My patience was really wearing thin, and so was the manager of the parts department. There is a limit to just how many mistakes a company can make and how much money I can afford to lose before things go bad. I’m not sure who made the first comment, but the counter attendant’s response was, “Don’t cop an attitude with me!” That’s where Aunt Barb went from sweet, gentle office manager, to full on tigress. Once again, we left without an oil cooler, and the promise of one the next day.
As you can guess, the next day didn’t happen. I was at Peterbilt, in the same parking lot, owned by the same company, getting some miscellaneous stuff, and I told their counter salesman our dilemma. He wanted to know if I had the part number so he could check his inventory. Sure enough, there were two available at their store only 20 miles away, and they had been there the whole time. We dialed them up and made sure they had one in their hands before we rocketed down the interstate. The day was saved by someone who went the extra mile for their customer. Add to that the fact that I saved $150 buying it from them, and I’d almost call this failure a sweet success (well, almost).
By the time Caterpillar called on Wednesday morning, I was already up and running. I explained I had found the part someplace else and was so busy putting things back together that I forgot to call and cancel the order, saying, “Oh, my bad!” The store manager was quite put out and wanted to know what he should do with a $3,000 dollar part, since it was specially ordered for me. I suggested that he put it in his inventory for the next customer. Good thing my patience kicked in or I might have told him to put it someplace else.
The holidays are behind us now, for a while, at least. But, depending on how “happy” some people got on New Year’s Eve, we should begin to see more responsible service from the folks who we service or those that service us. Make sure when you are packing the essentials for your next trip you include a large helping of patience. Traffic isn’t getting any better and road rage has spiked in many urban areas, so look twice before you change lanes, maintain a safe speed, and don’t tailgate. Courtesy is always in season. Wave at your fellow drivers and wait your turn when pulling up to the fuel pumps. It doesn’t take any extra time to greet the fuel attendant with a smile or lend a helping hand when you see a driver who needs it.
In the new year, be the kind of driver you expect others to be. You hold the power, so exercise it often while traveling the highways and byways of this great nation. The new year may hold untold surprises for us all. There is the potential for fuel shortages, falling rates, rising prices, and who can guess what else. The one thing we can guarantee is we are going to run head on into it and deal with the fallout when it happens. That’s what we do, because it’s who we are, and the open road is where we do it. Happy New Year everyone. When the north winds blow, and the chill of uncertainty crosses your path, may the sun shine brightly on you and light your way while that wind pushes you forward and lessens your load, 10-4!