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The Crackerhead Chronicles: The Fifteenth Crumb

The Fifteenth Crumb

Round Two

Despite all of the fun I was having, I longed to get back out on the road again.  For I could not see where chasing my mom’s goats all over tarnation was getting me any closer to being able to chase my own cattle over (hopefully) much flatter ground, and there was a definite need churning deep down in my gut to get back on the proverbial horse that had thrown me.

Of course, it would have to be with a different company before I could get back in the saddle again.  For I was not about to give my old outfit another shot at hanging me out to dry.

Besides, I am fairly sure that they would not have wanted me back even if I had of begged them to.  For around two weeks after the accident, their legal department deemed it safe to make my termination official, and with my legal case yet to be resolved, it makes sense that they would have wanted to keep their distance from me.

Alas, I must admit that it stung right smartly to hear that my services were no longer needed.  For I have always had a problem with rejection.

Much to my surprise, I found that I had a powerful ally a couple of days later.  For I was contacted by (of all people) the insurance company responsible for any claim over a million dollars against my previous employer for the purpose of securing my cooperation.

Needless to say, I was most willing to cooperate in any way I could.  For the trucking company had dumped the mess upon both of us, and then just washed their hands of it.

No, I did not ask the insurance representative if the trucking company had told them what they told me.  For I was starting to learn that, “Nothing personal, just business,” is understood in the league they were used to playing in.

Nonetheless, I did notice that at least the representative of the insurance company I was dealing with appeared to be taking it quite personally.  For she was not at all happy about her company being placed in such a position, and I had the definite impression that the hiring of an attorney for me was not just because of it being in their best interest to do so.

When contacted by the attorney, I was informed of the truth of the matter being that the only reason why I was being charged with anything at all was because of politics.  For there was plenty of evidence indicating that I was not at fault, but since the man who had died was a local hero of sorts, it would not bode well for the county prosecutor (in the next election) to just let the matter go away.

He also informed me that there was no reason why I could not go back to driving if I wanted to.  For I was, after all, presumed innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law.  Well, at least in theory, I was.

A couple of weeks later, I experienced what it is like when one door closes and another one opens first-hand again.  For when I went to fill out an application at another trucking company in the general area of my previous employer, they acted like I was just what they were looking for.

Be assured that the feeling was mutual.  For Scheduled hauled similar freight, which meant that I would not be in completely unfamiliar surroundings, and I have always loved being wanted.

ON the other hand, my enthusiasm faded fast when it became all too painfully clear that hauling similar freight was not the only thing that Scheduled had in common with my old outfit.  For the vast majority of their business involved picking-up and delivering stuff within a 500-mile radius of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which is around 100 miles west of Philadelphia and a thousand miles northeast of where I was supposed to be working out of.

Yes, it would have been a good thing for someone from eastern Pennsylvania, but I was like a stranger in a strange land up there.  Granted, it was a very nice land, especially in comparison to many others.  For the area truly is rich in history and culture.  Nonetheless, a matter of principle still applied.

No, it was not all bad.  For I no longer carried the stigma of working for those other guys, and the Scheduled trucks were set up to run a full ten MPH faster, which sure came in handy when I was allowed to take a couple of loads all of the way to California all by myself.

Just how good those two California loads were is debatable, nonetheless.  For it took over a week to be dispatched on a reload on both occasions, and the last one included being rolled by a hooker (don’t ask) while impatiently waiting to hear my dispatcher tell me something more than just to call back in a couple of hours.

About a month before my final court appearance concerning the fatal accident, I started reminding my dispatcher that I had to be there.  For my lawyer had told me that I would be surely heading straight to jail if I failed to appear, and my dispatcher kept assuring me that he would be able to get me a load that would allow for that.

Now, the load that he put me on was scheduled to be unloaded very early in the morning (just after midnight) on the day I was scheduled to appear in court.  Since where I needed to be in court was a good six hours from Sumter, South Carolina, it would be cutting it close, but my dispatcher assured me that he had made arrangements with the Wal-Mart Distribution Center there that would have me empty in plenty of time to make it to court.

Well, either it was a complete breakdown of communication somewhere or someone was flat out lying.  For when I tried to confirm what I was told when I arrived in Sumter way early to ensure that there would be plenty of time for unloading, no one there appeared to know anything about any special arrangements.  In fact, a couple even snickered when I asked them to get in touch with someone who might know about such.

As time kept marching on, I grew increasingly more desperate.  Finally, I told the dock manager that if he didn’t have me unloaded by a certain time, I would have no choice but to leave with the load if he did not want me to drop the trailer somewhere on the yard so that they could put it in a bay when they were ready for it.  If I remember right, he just smiled.

No, it was not a bluff.  For I had to be to court on time, and when my deadline passed, I headed to the outbound gate with my still-loaded trailer.

If I had been in a better mood, I would have felt sorrier for the guard at the gate.  For he acted like he had never faced such a situation before, and he started making calls to see what he should do.

It was very simple to me.  For I had already told him that the seal was still intact and I had the bill of lading.  So, all he had to do was lift the swing-arm and let me be on my way, but he insisted on making his calls before he would do anything.

Thankfully, it did not take long before he received word that I was to drop my trailer in an empty space to the side.  For I was ready to drive right through that swing-arm.

So, I bobtailed (running without a trailer) to court, which was an added blessing.  For I could make a lot better time that way, and I did indeed make it to court when I was supposed to.

After court, I had even more to be thankful for.  For the case was resolved to the relative satisfaction of five out of the six parties involved.

It was, of course, Scheduled, who were not happy.  For I had dared to do what I had to do, and their obvious irritation turned to pure, unmitigated outrage when I informed them of my intent to go to work for another company a couple of weeks later.

No, it was not like I was leaving them in a bind.  For I was giving them plenty of notice when many drivers just hand in their keys and say, “I quit!”

On the other hand, it could be argued that I had not been being completely honest with my employers.  For I had already lined up another job several weeks before I let them in on my plans, but since my new outfit did not haul loads down where I needed to go for court, I stayed put until that was over.

As it turned out, I was not the only one who was not being completely honest about their intentions.  For less than a month after I left their employ, Scheduled closed for business without any prior notice being given, which left most (if not all) of the drivers out on the road stranded without enough fuel to make it back to the home base in Arkansaes.

Oh yeah, I’m sure that made whoever was left holding the bag really happy (sarcasm here).  For I cannot recall if anyone left their truck on the side of the road when it ran out of fuel, but I do remember hearing about dozens of trucks that were left in truck-stops, where the drivers had either hopped on a bus or were given a ride by another trucker.

No, I did not see it coming.  For the reason why I went to work for someone else was so I could be with my wife for at least three days every week.

Oh, have I failed to mention something that may be pertinent?  Well, that will never do.  For it all started around midnight while I was headed north on I-81 near Staunton, Virginia, and I have always found the rest of the story to be rather bewitching (so to speak).

Just in case you are not familiar with the term, the witching hour supposedly begins at the stroke of midnight.  It is also said to last around the clock a few days each month in certain households.

Yeah, I was trying to be funny again with that last part.  Did it work?

No, I cannot say for sure if there was any witchcraft at work, but there most definitely was something different going on that night.  For I rarely stopped to just drink some coffee with someone when I had a good head of steam built up, but after Ginger made me an offer I thought I should not refuse, I found myself sitting down at a table with Miss Ginger, her co-driver and a driver of another truck, who had been eavesdropping on our conversation over the radio, in the coffee shop of a rather nice motel that had adequate truck parking.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you are thinking, but you would be wrong.  For I had long since discovered that for every Ali MacGraw on the radio (as in the 1978 movie, Convoy, with Kris Kristofferson), there were dozens upon dozens, who were at least ten times greater, and we are talking about size here—not attractiveness.

Besides, Ginger was not after me.  For it was for the sake of her sister that she had wanted to meet me in person, and after talking to Sherry a few times over the phone, I wanted to pick-up a load going through Columbia, Missouri as soon as possible.

Yes, I did have thoughts of coming full circle.  For it was while a student at Mizzou (there in Columbia) that the wheels came off of my express train to the top, but I also knew that it remained to be seen whether that circle would be left broken or not.

The year was 1989, but I do not remember just exactly when it happened.  What I do remember is that more was accomplished than expected (or even hoped for).  For instead of merely getting to meet Sherry, she invited me to also meet her daughter, father and mother, and by September of that year, I was officially welcomed into her family.

The wedding was something to behold.  For Sherry had always wanted to have a wedding on the outside in one of Columbia's beautiful parks, and it all went off without a hitch.

Then came the honeymoon, and it was a disaster for the most part.  For against her better judgment, Sherry agreed to go out on a run with me.

No, she did not appreciate the sights she was being shown as much as I thought she should, and then I became way too drunk at The Gables, which was not all my fault.  For the owners and patrons of the bar in Southington, Ohio (around twenty miles northwest of Youngstown) who had adopted me during a particularly severe lake-effect snowstorm a couple of years before, were very glad to see us, and it would have been quite rude of me to refuse to drink everything they were buying for us.

Yes, it became rather ugly after the lights went out that night, and as if this was not enough icing on the cake, we had to drive almost completely across Pennsylvania on I-80 the next day.  For it was the last road that someone with a hangover would ever want to traverse.

Put it this way, I have actually seen a trailer break in two after hitting a pothole that went all the way across both westbound lanes of I-80, and the eastbound side was just as bad, of course.  For Pennsylvania is all about fairness—be assured.

Okay, it is unfair to single out the state.  For the federal government had their part to play, but it was well known amongst truckers that one would do well to gird their loins tightly when attempting to traverse any of the roads in Pennsylvania.

Anyway, there were a couple of high points to our honeymoon.  For my first drop was in the Boston, Massachusetts area, and that allowed us to take a tour of the U.S.S. Constitution, which is a U.S. Navy warship commissioned in 1797 that is docked in Boston Harbor.

As it turned out, the tour was a rather personal one.  For by the time we arrived at the site, touring hours had just ended, but when an officer heard that we were on our honeymoon and had come there in a semi, he brought us aboard.  Moreover, he even took us down below to see the personal quarters of the men stationed on the vessel, which is not part of a normal tour.

Another high point was eating a fabulous lobster dinner at a restaurant that was docked in another part of the harbor.  Hey, if you love lobster as much as I do, you would consider it to be a high point, too!

Alas, what was gained in Boston was lost the next day.  For my final drop was in Clinton, New Jersey, which is located in the middle of the concrete jungle across the Hudson River from New York City, and Sherry did not leave the sleeper until after we were safely out of that part of the Garden State.

No, it was not all that bad to me.  For Clinton was where I always emptied-out on that run, and I had become quite used to the area.

In fact, I had come to rather enjoy going there.  For the workers on the dock treated me like one of their family, and that is certainly more than I can say about most of the places I have been.

Yes, the company I was driving for at the time was not like the others.  For they specialized in LTL (Less Than a Truckload) freight from the St. Louis, Missouri area, and they ran only two trucks—with one going back east and the other out west.

The western truck ran as a team, with the owner of the outfit being one of the drivers.  For it went too far for one normal driver (legalities notwithstanding) to complete a run on time.

Whereas, I was the only driver of the eastern truck, and I would regularly finish my run in around sixty hours (depending on how many drops and pick-ups were scheduled).  For I would leave St. Louis on a Sunday morning (or so), and drive straight through to either Fulton, New York (around 25 miles northwest of Syracuse) or Clinton (usually), and be back in St. Louis by Tuesday evening if all went well.

No, that could not be accomplished legally.  For according to the hours of service regulations at the time, a driver must take a break for (at least) eight hours after being on-duty for (at most) ten hours, and they could not exceed a total of sixty on-duty hours in seven days, or seventy hours in eight days.

By definition, being on-duty included a host of things.  For aside from driving (obviously), handling freight, making repairs or improvements on the truck or trailer, performing safety checks, fueling and anything else that could be construed as being truck-related work must also be accounted for.

Therefore, it would legally take around 78 hours to complete a run to only Clinton and back if no complications arose, and even at that, not everything would be logged as it really should be.  For it always took a lot more than fifteen minutes for unloading and loading, but this was all that would be logged for each.

Yes, that was generally acceptable when it came time for a DOT audit of a company's records, and it was also true of other on-duty entries.  For what the DOT auditors really focused on was going over ten hours on-duty, speeding (logging more than 50 MPH in states with a 55 MPH speed limit, 60 MPH in 65 MPH states, etc., etc.) and failing to log a full eight hours off-duty (on break) after ten hours on-duty.

It was sometimes different out there on the road, however.  For some states required at least four hours logged in the sleeper during an eight-hour off-duty period, and an awful lot of inspectors took their job (and themselves) way too seriously (if you know what I mean).

There were some exceptions on the other side of that issue, and I had the pleasure of meeting one of them on U.S. Highway 51 a few miles north of Covington, Tennessee (around forty miles northeast of Memphis) one day.  For after he had pulled me over for a spot inspection, he asked if he could sit in the jump-seat for a little while, and then he proceeded to entertain me with story after story about some of the things he had experienced on his side of the road.

One of those stories was an absolute classic.  For after checking the log book of a wild-eyed young man, he asked him if he could take a look under the hood of his truck.  When the driver asked him why he would want to do this, my favorite Tennessee DOT inspector told him that he wanted to see how he had his jet-turbine engine mounted.  Obviously shaken, the driver then exclaimed that he did not have a jet engine of any kind under the hood of his truck, and in reply, the inspector told him that he must have one—maybe even two!  For this would be the only way he could have driven from Salinas, California to Memphis, Tennessee (around 2,038 miles) in only ten hours.

Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the inspector’s stories, and I sure hated to see him go after only an hour.  For I could have listened to him go on for a lot longer, but he said that the great state of Tennessee needed him to generate as much revenue as he could for them.

Talk about generating revenue, thinking about such most definitely soured my relationship with the LTL freight company I was working for at the time.  For after I figured up what I would be making for all of the stuff I was doing if I was earning union wages (around $1800 per run) I concluded that my $400 a week salary was a little on the low side.

Suffice to say, the owner of the outfit vehemently disagreed, and this precipitated a move to another St. Louis-based trucking company.  For they offered almost unlimited miles and much faster trucks (90-95 MPH) and I believed that I was ready to join the ranks of the chicken-haulers, who were the true heroes of the highways—even if only in their own minds.

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