A day in the life.
An over-the-road driver spends most of his time alone.
That is not to say that he does not need other people.
In late October I was dispatched to pick-up wine and empty beer kegs from four Denver area wholesale distributors and then deliver the cargo to four separate locations, one in Cheyenne, Wyoming, two in Napa Valley, California. The last stop was in Chico, 100 miles north of Sacramento. Napa Valley is northeast of San Francisco; many American wines are produced there. The wine I had aboard for Napa was being returned for one reason or another. The kegs were returning to the Sierra Nevada brewery in Chico. I was also to load full kegs at that brewery for transport back to Colorado.
There was time pressure on the trip.
Lumpers (those who load and unload the trucks) are subject to federal wage hour rules; this means that if they work more than eight hours a day they must be paid overtime. Truckers are not protected by these rules. Over-the-road truckers are not paid for their time, but for the miles they drive. The two systems clash: truckers hurry because they must load and unload within the lumpers’ workday, and are paid nothing for time spent in the loading dock. Lumpers have different incentives, and take time for the accouterments of the workday that federal wage hour law affords them, a lunch break for instance. Missing a loading or unloading window can delay a trucker for an entire, uncompensated, day.
I had the three drops and the one pick-up, for my return trip, to manage in one day. I completed these tasks and weighed and balanced my truck at a truck-stop scale 25 miles south of Chico. I had time left in my 14 hour trucker’s workday to cross the Sierra Nevadas, heading home. And I was pleased with that. The time was 4:00 p.m.
Then, before I’d yet put the truck in gear, I received a call from my dispatcher.
He told me that another driver had picked up a container load near Napa. The manifest said the load had weighed 38,000 lbs. (a legal number), so the driver chose not to weigh his truck before heading out. Eight miles from his pick-up point he’d pulled into a highway weigh station (Cordelia Eastbound on I-80 for those who care.) A California Highway Patrol officer at the station told him he was nearly 3,000 lbs. over the legal weight. The manifest was wrong. Notwithstanding the driver’s plea that he was only eight miles from his point of origin, where he could off-load the excess weight, the trooper told him he couldn’t leave the weigh station until he made his truck legal. A program for remedy as efficacious as debtors’ prison, it would seem.
Cordelia, California Weigh Station I-80 eastbound (looking north.)
Photo from Google
My dispatcher sent me back to Chico to off-load several thousand pounds of the beer I’d loaded there. I was to head down to Cordelia where the other driver and I were to unload the excess tonnage from the his truck onto mine. He was loaded with palletized bottles of wine, packed 8 to a case.
I’d just lost a day. I’ll be compensated; it won’t be real pay, more like a big tip.
I arrived at the Cordelia weigh station the following morning. I found the other driver, Larry, immediately. We introduced ourselves. I backed my truck up to his.
His trailer was full of pallets. Each pallet was about 5 feet high. This left a 4 foot crawl space in the top of the trailer.
Larry told me that he was overweight on both his drives (the eight tires that provide locomotion; the front of the trailer rides above them) and his tandems (the eight wheels at the back of the trailer.) This meant that we’d need to unload a pallet from the front of the trailer as well as a pallet from the back. The wine cases from the front pallet would be passed along the crawl space.
A truck with an intermodal container
(a container that can be moved easily from ship to train to truck.)
Photo from US Department of Transportation
Larry told me that he had a bad shoulder; he couldn’t dig the cases out. So that job fell to me. We set to work.
Larry is from Illinois. He is 65. He has an open vertical sore on his chin. The sore sat in a blue striation; I thought, "Blood poisoning", and then, "cancer." Larry smoked.
We talked. He felt like a dupe and a fool. Duped by the incorrect manifest, and a fool because he’d trusted it. "I know better," he said.
I lifted the cases and pushed them as far along the crawl space as my arms would allow. Larry then rolled them to the back of the trailer as best as he could. The cases were not well glued and a few came apart. We smelled Chardonnay, but we couldn’t find a broken bottle. Perhaps a neck had snapped on a bottle within one of the cases on which we crawled.
And so it went.
And then Larry said this: "I t-boned a car last April. The 17 year old driver was text messaging and ran a stop sign. I hit her at 65 miles per hour. I never saw her face, only her red hair. It took her a day to die."
I made notes about this day in my Day-Timer on the November 2 page. I did not note and do not remember my response to Larry.
He is driving. From that I deduce that he was found to be not legally responsible. I think I had overheard a prayer for forgiveness.