Growing up in Virginia and then moving to Texas, I never really had to deal with extreme cold temperatures, let alone snow. Rain and flooding, oh yes. Hail, sometimes. Paralyzing heat and crushing barometric pressures, sweet Jesus. Though equipped with the foreboding forecast, we were not prepared for the upcoming winter storm. Our mobile lifestyle did not spare us from the opening score of 2018, wherein the majority of the North American continent was teleported into Jotunheim, realm of the Frost Giants. Should make for an epic year.
Our annual tradition of eating jelly beans on the first of the year to bring good fortune failed us, too. Perhaps it’s because we bought off-brand. On a load from Arkansas to Ohio, we drove headfirst into the wintry maelstrom. An hour and a half from our delivery, Chris stopped at a Loves to use the restroom, pulling through the fuel island for a quick break. When he came back to the truck, the engine had died and didn’t give us so much as a sputter. We were stuck in a fuel aisle from three in the morning to three in the afternoon. We discovered later our starter had called it quits, and in the twelve-odd hours it took for the tow truck to take us across the street to be repaired, the fuel in our tanks had gelled in the minus degree weather.
So we spent the rest of that day and the most of the next stuck at a TA waiting for a replacement part. For those readers in the industry who have dealt with truck/trailer repairs, you know our pain. For those who don’t, this process involves multiple phone calls to several different extensions lasting a half hour or more (90% of the time on hold) to relay simple information or to get some in return, and then adding a cushion of at least 10 hours for that information to take effect/couriers to drive across town/people in warm offices to make their own calls or file paperwork, often only because we’re breathing down their necks to do their job.
Now, that 48 hours wasn’t all bad. Yeah, huge pain and a drain on our miles for that week, but the TA we were at had a nice quiet lounge where we worked on our projects, played games, or binge-watched our current Netflix fix. We ate a couple times at the Country Pride inside the store and bided our time. It was a new experience for us for sure, which we always enjoy. Plus, if we have to spend two days in repair purgatory, we wouldn’t do it without each other. Most drivers aren’t as lucky to be with their best friend for those times.
Eventually we got our part from the next town over and we were good to go. The forecast looked favorable so we took the evening to get some good rest. The next morning I went on duty to pick up an empty trailer in anticipation of receiving a load and finally getting some miles in the new year. A food-grade order required us to get that empty inspected before pickup, so we droveto another TA almost an hour outside of our customer location.
After waiting about seven hours for that to be completed, the trailer failed inspection. So they sent us an address where we could pick up another empty to get that one inspected, but at the time in the night when we arrived, their offices were closed and wouldn’t reopen until the morning. Man, stuff really feels like it’s just piling up, doesn’t it? Chris and I, stolid skeptics that we are, were starting to feel a little superstitious. Of course, all these unfortunate coincidences were just that, and not the result of anything but circumstance. Still, in our view, 2018 was starting off pretty mercilessly. And we were growing even more impatient and dissatisfied with our company, where it seemed like every department had to be babysat in order to get us moving again. Here we went into trucking to not have as much of a supervisory presence over our heads, and now we’re having a play that role for people miles away from us who seem to have no idea, let alone any care, about what we need in order to do our jobs.
Eventually we do get that other trailer. We take it to be inspected, as it needs to pass before we even think about picking up from our customer. The load is already a day late now. The appointment has been pushed back twice. After several hours, this trailer doesn’t meet standards either. Instead of putting us on another load and letting someone else (i.e. a solo driver) drive this measly 300-mile load, they want us to take that trailer to be repaired, then get it inspected again beforegoing back to pick up the load. They route us to the trailer repair shop and we leave to drop it off. Chris is behind the wheel, and after missing the poorly-labeled entrance on a tight two-lane country road, he has to turn around, executing a tight three-point turn in a narrow side-drive. He’s watching for traffic, avoiding putting the tractor or trailer in the steep ditches on either side of the road, and watching me for signals to stop. (I’m his lookout outside the truck.) With all that split attention, he overlooks the squat cement block by the side of the ditch and crunches into it with the driver’s side of the truck. The cement block is fine, of course, but the truck’s side-wall is significantly damaged.
We’re practically pulling out our hair bythat point. On top of getting the trailer repaired, we now have to get work done on the truck again. The truck isfinished before the trailer, believe it or not, but by the time both are done and the trailer finallypasses inspection, the customer is closed for the weekend. HA. HAHA. We’ve gone mad.
The next day we take our now spick-and-span trailer to pick up a different load headed to Memphis. Why they didn’t have us leave that particular empty in Ohio for someone else to take to pick up the Kroger crap-load and avoid the whole thing happening again, we’ll never know. But we’re free. WE’RE FREE. After four going on five days we’re back on the road. And we’re not looking back. Except in this blog post. From Memphis, we take a load to California and rid ourselves of layers of clothing and opt for a landscape in flames and not under ice. When we arrive, SoCal is actually being rained on, but sixty degrees warmer than the midwest. Not ideal, but we’ll take it.
We had some ups and downs after that point, but for the most part it felt like we were still stuck in a downpour of bad luck, coming all at once in the first week of the new year. We joked that we were getting it all out of the way. And then we set off to Texas, hoping the spell had finally broken and we were in the clear. I kept waiting for that distinct turn in fortune to reveal itself. When even so much as typical inconveniences such as shoddy landing gear or traffic or ill-equipped truck stops reared their heads, it felt like we were still stuck, frozen in misfortune, doomed to a year of bad luck.
But we know it’s not really like that. Definitely not so dramatic, but neither of us really believe in intangibles such as luck or worse, superstition. We believe we are governed by circumstance, consequence, and our choices. But another thing we tend to believe in is the power of narrative, and that’s really what was motivating this perceived pattern of hardship, hurtling on its arc toward resolution. I’ll admit, I waited on posting this because I was searching for some sense of completion in our little tale of misadventure.
Things are not always so stark, so definitive, and definitely not so ordered. Life does not follow along the arbitrary demarcations of calendars or appointments or estimated times of arrival. The new year did not begin with bad or good luck; it didn’t even begin. There has not been some clean break in time for us to start over for better or worse. Yes, these dates on the calendar can be markers by which we set or reevaluate our intentions, and that has power in our lives. But to believe that we are so positively or negatively controlled by them only causes us to doubt and even sometimes give up our own agency.
Sure, I can just fix a prefix to a period of time wherein I sensed a pattern. But that only works to give form to my experiences, so that if I encounter a similar looking pattern in the future, I can respond better to it. That’s how it should work. That’s all it should mean. Not that I or we are cursed, or that we are somehow in fact “spending” all of our bad luck at once to make room for the good stuff thereafter.
That makes a nice story to tell, but to live by it is blind ourselves to all potentiality in the moment: cherishing each other’s company, time to work on our projects, food to enjoy, rest to be had, and so forth. While we were frustrated with all that maintenance and waiting, we were also glad for the down-time, and enjoyed spending it together. I do hope we can go a while longer without being stuck somewhere waiting on repairs—or layover pay, which we have yet to see—but in the meantime, I’m going to weather and maybe even revel in the ebb and flow of circumstance, consequence, and my choices.