At the end of 2017, I had high hopes that this new year would bring good tidings. Unfortunately, as many of you know from reading this blog, our luck hasn’t been so great. But we are not the kind of people to just grin and take the punishment. No, Christina and I have been busy bees, plotting our next move with care.
Before I reveal our plans, I want to quickly recap our first experiences in 2018. To start things off, I got sick, and we spent a few days of down-time in Arkansas, waiting to get better. Following this, we took a load to Ohio, only to get stuck at a truck stop for three days, resulting in a week of very little pay. Afterwards, we bounced around for a few more days seeking a trailer that would pass inspection, before being sent off to find an entirely different load than the one we’d originally been working to collect. Just one minor catastrophe after another.
We drove as much as we could during January, but were constantly dealing with maintenance, slowdowns, chasing down empty trailers, and being delayed by incompetent dispatchers and repair staff who couldn’t get their heads on straight. One of the reasons we became truckers is so that we could have more agency and independence, rather than having bosses constantly breathing down our neck. But now that we were on the road, we had to become those naggy bosses, constantly having to call our maintenance and dispatch crews to keep things moving forward. Whole days were wasted by expecting people to do their jobs, only to discover that they had been sitting on a work order all day long. When we were in Ohio, I had to call maintenance every thirty minutes to make sure that they checked their inbox and signed for the various work that was being done for our truck. We waited eight hours straight because the repair crew had sent a work order and the maintenance crew had just sat around ignoring the damn thing. We’re truckers, not babysitters! This was unacceptable.
When we finally took a few days off at the end of January, we were glad to be home, but worried about our light pocketbooks. January had not been a very profitable month, due to all the mismanagement and silliness happening at headquarters. But we were grateful for the company of good friends and family, and we had a good visit.
As we returned to the truck in the beginning of February, however, we brought along an unexpected guest. Infectious agents, viruses and bacteria, had accompanied us from our visits with our loved ones, and I fell ill. What began as a cold quickly turned into a sinus infection, and I was down for the count. For nearly a week we were stuck in California (not a bad place to be stuck, all things considered), hoping I’d get better. But eventually our Fleet Manager suggested that Christina could drive solo while I was healing in the back of the truck, so that we could get back on the road and get moving again. We agreed with this suggestion and made preparations to get underway. We set our availability for the next morning, informed dispatch of our intentions, called the safety office and told them that Christina was going to drive while I was healing, and got a good night’s sleep so that we’d be ready to drive the next morning.
Next morning came, and there was no load for us. So I messaged the Fleet Manager, who said that our truck was out of service still. So I called Safety and asked why it was out of service. They said that I couldn’t drive because I was sick. I told them (again) that I wasn’t going to drive, that Christina was going to drive solo. They said okay, then cleared the truck to drive, but by the time they got the truck cleared, the Fleet Manager had gone home and the night shift was in the office.
Our company’s night shift is perhaps the laziest, most inept groups of layabouts I’ve ever had the displeasure to work with. I’m not exaggerating. Practically every time we’ve had any kind of interaction with the night shift at all, they’ve managed to screw things up, waste hours of our time, and make things much harder than they ever should be. So it was no surprise when night shift said “You can’t drive, because Chris is out of service.”
So once again, we had to explain our plan, and the night shift failed to comprehend, saying that we’d need to get in touch with our fleet manager and the safety department the next morning. All of which amounted to us having wasted yet another day in California.
Next morning, our Fleet Manager—such a patient woman—couldn’t understand why we weren’t on the road already, and managed to get us a load. We were finally underway. She sent us with a load to Dallas, so that I could get some medical attention. By this point, I’d already consumed an entire round of antibiotic pills, and they’d done nothing to improve my situation. I was miserable, Christina was exhausted, and she had to drive us the whole way back from California to Texas all by herself.
Now, friends, I know this has been a long post so far, and I hope you’ll bear with me a little longer. Here’s the transition point, after which comes the big news that many of you have been waiting for.
While we were stuck in Arkansas, and stuck in Kentucky, and stuck in Ohio, and stuck in California, we were talking to other drivers, learning about the companies they worked for and the work they were doing. We were doing a good deal of market research, in the hopes of finding a good company to work for once we’d earned enough experience to move on. A driver in California informed us about a company that had excellent pay, good benefits, great miles, and an actual salary (rather than a rate based solely on mileage), and to top it off, they would likely hire us both, even though Christina only had four months of driving under her belt. So we checked them out, started the application process, and while we were home and visiting the doctor, we got the news that the company would be glad to take us on. Not to mention, they’d be paying us twice our current weekly average.
So we decided it was time to jump ship. We called our company, told them that we were going to quit, and requested that they get us a load heading back to the West Memphis terminal so that we could drop off the truck and catch a bus home. After my doctor’s visit, I’d been prescribed more antibiotics, and I’d actually started feeling better, so I would be able to help drive, which meant that we could get to the terminal and catch a bus home and be back in under two days. Everything was starting to look up.
Our company called me back, asked “Is there anything we could do to keep you on board?” They mentioned that in a month’s time they were planning to update their pay scale, so that when we drove west of the Mississippi River we’d still get our full pay instead of getting only 17 cents per mile. (Up until now, the company would pay us 21 cents per mile each when we were driving east of the Mississippi, but would only pay 17 cents per mile west of the river.) That’s good news, I told them, but we still wanted to explore our other options. I was tempted to say “We’ll stay, if you pay us twice what you’re paying us now.” But I didn’t. It would have been a lie. Our experience the last few months had been so bad that we’d honestly have taken a pay cut just to work with better support staff.
So, after telling us how much they were going to miss us, the company set us up with an easy load heading back to Arkansas, telling us all we had to do was pick up an empty trailer, get the load, and take it to the terminal, after which they’d put us on a bus and send us home. We were glad to hear that this phase of our lives was finally coming to a close, and that we would be home in about 24 hours.
We were fools to think it would be so easy.
By the time we were back in the truck, the infamous night shift had taken over. First order of business? Muck up the entire plan. Night shift saw that we wanted to quit the company. They also knew that they had us under their thumb. See, quitting a trucking job isn’t as easy as quitting any other job. You can’t just say “I quit,” throw down your apron and storm out the front door. If we abandoned the truck and went home, that would leave a black mark on our record for abandoning a vehicle, and we could be hit with lawsuits and fines, and we might not be able to get another job. Nobody wants to hire you if you’re going to abandon their equipment in another state.
So night shift comes in, sees that we want to quit, and they think “before we send them home, let’s have them run a few errands around Texas first.” Knowing we couldn’t abandon the equipment, and knowing that we couldn’t turn down any loads they assigned to us without breaking our contract, there was nothing we could do about it.
First they sent us to pick up an empty trailer. Except the trailer they sent us to wasn’t empty. In fact, there were no empty trailers at that facility. (They had us check every single trailer, despite the fact that I told them in the beginning that there were no empties.) So, three hours later, they send us to pick up a different empty trailer at a different location. Then, rather than pick up the simple load and go to the terminal to go home, they send me to a pick-up in Dallas which was bound for the Dallas drop-lot.
This was by far the most difficult pick-up I’ve ever encountered. First I had to drop the trailer. Then I had to back into the yard where they had only one dock, which was designed to be accessed by a “yard dog” (a small, nimble vehicle designed for moving trailers in tight spaces). This yard was not at all intended for sleeper-tractors like mine. I had to pull the loaded trailer out of the yard, which took a great deal of effort, then I had to drop this trailer outside the yard, go pick up the empty again, and park it back in the yard on the dock. Pulling out the loaded trailer was a walk in the park compared to trying to park the empty trailer back at the dock. It required me to maneuver the trailer, then disconnect, then realign the truck, then reconnect, then finish the maneuver, all of which took me about 45 minutes. (The dock worker told me that it took most people about an hour or two to dock, which made me feel pretty good about my time.) Then I had to disconnect, reconnect to the loaded trailer, gather my papers, and get out. The whole ordeal took about four hours, including the time I waited for them to finish loading the trailer in the first place.
Once I was back on the road, I took the trailer to the drop lot as instructed, hoping that they’d finally give me a load to take to the terminal so we could quit and go home. But night shift wasn’t done with us yet. After waiting a couple more hours, my clock was over, and it was time to swap shifts. When they finally gave us another load, it was to collect yet another empty trailer and pick up another load headed back to the drop lot. There were six other drivers at the drop lot, all waiting for loads, and yet they felt it was necessary to keep us doing this puddle-jumping work instead of letting us quit the company.
Another four hours later, we were back at the drop lot, yet again, waiting for our next load. It took them ages to get back to us. By the time we heard from them again, night shift was gone, and day shift was back. They finally assigned us a load to go to the terminal, a whole day after we were supposed to leave.
Long story short, after all the hullaballoo was over, we made it home after two and a half days instead of the 24 hours we had expected. But we made it home.
And then Christina fell ill.
So, things have been hell this year. But we’ve signed on with a new company. We’ll be getting better benefits, better pay, better miles, better home time, and (hopefully) a better crew of support staff. Christina should be back to full health in a few days. We’ve got a couple weeks to recuperate, do our taxes, and get our affairs in order before we dive into our new company head-first. And, to top things off, we won’t have to ride a plague-bus (here’s looking at you, Greyhound) to get to our next company. Instead, they’re paying for us to rent a car and drive there on our own. (Much better.)
I don’t want to count our chickens before they hatch. (All of our eggs are in the refrigerator, after all.) But I have some high hopes for the coming months. Perhaps we will redeem 2018 after all.
Thanks for sitting through this long post, and for tolerating the long delay since our last. We love you all, and are excited to share the next chapter in our lives with you. Thanks for sticking with us. Stay warm out there, and stay healthy.