20 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 20

I said last night that I would be composing this edition from home... alas, I have not made it there yet. I made my appointment, got unloaded, and began to head home, when my dispatcher called me and said they wanted me to head to our North Little Rock yard. Not a bad thing, mind you, as it turns out, my truck is being phased out of the system, so I needed to move into a new one - BRAND new, as in a 2011 model. The downside is I can't head home until tomorrow. Along with getting a new truck, I also have to attend a class to become familiar with the different specs this truck has AND another class for electronic logging procedures. Yes, our company is making the transition to paperless logbooks. Happy happy, joy joy. I kinda feel like Huey Lewis, "I got a new truck... " oh wait, wrong lyrics.
Now that I'm moved in, I'm totally stoked at this task I take on now - doing laundry! You may be thinking "if you're going home tomorrow, why not do the laundry then?" Two reasons: a) if I'm here, I may as well do it, then I won't have to deal with it over the weekend, and, b) IF I take home dirty laundry, I will get ready to do it, but my wife takes it from me and puts it in with what she may already have - she has enough to deal with, she doesn't need my dirty clothes.
But I am excited about going home, snow is waiting which means a perfect opportunity for quality snuggle time while watching some old classics (Cat On A Hot Tin Roof I think is one of them). So while I wait for my clothes to dry, I'll take care of some finishing touches in the new truck... or will I... Conan is coming on... the truck can wait - TEAM COCO!!

19 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 19

Well, another day is done. I'm about 25 miles north of Marion, IL, which seems to stand out to me. Not for anything spectacular, just a billboard promoting the city and its endorser being Marion Ross of Happy Days fame. I'm on my way to deliver tomorrow in Osceola, AR. it was snowing ever so slightly earlier, but now, it too, has stopped for the night.
Just one more night on the road, this time tomorrow I'll be blogging from home... whether I do on the home computer, or, as usual, on my phone, still has yet to be determined. Chances are, it will be on the phone... for those of you who have boys, or teenagers, or a combination of the two, will know precisely what I mean. Don't get me wrong, I love my sons... I'd like to put them through college... and at times, through a wall. I've held on to one simple truth: parents of teenage children truly understand why animals of the wild eat their young. My oldest son and I indulged in some playful banter a few years ago. During our exchange, he remarked, "remember dad, I'll be choosing your nursing home," to which, I replied, "that's ok, we're spending your inheritance now."
I firmly believe that for every child that becomes a teenager, it should be their parents' right - nay... DUTY - to embarrass said teen, in public, with much joy, and most importantly, frequency. After all, they know EVERYTHING, right? By us fulfilling the afore mentioned duty, we are actually helping and educating them with an important life skill that will surely validate their character as an individual. Their reaction to our sound tactics of embarrassment, will determine their successes or failures in the real world. By doing so, we are shaping them to, in the words of Gunny Highway, "improvise, adapt, overcome" to a wide variety of situations they may be confronted with as an adult.
Ok... maybe not, but at least WE will have fun for a few years, right?

18 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 18

From Noel, MO to Sterling, IL: 581 miles, 10 1/4 hours total driving... I know, I know - la-di-bloody-da. That was my day, and, though it was long, it turned out pretty productive. It gave me time to listen to more of my current audiobook, some music, and time to ruminate on the distant past (which was sparked by something I saw on Twitter last week).
A mutual follow (I follow them and vice versa) posted this:
That really got me to thinking: 20 YEARS, MAN!!! (if you didn't catch it, that is a reference to a line spoken by Jeremy Piven to John Cusak in Grosse Pointe Blank - except Jeremy uses the number 10, instead of 20). Yeah... it was actually 20 years ago. I reflected on many things during that time: temperatures in excess of 120°, living in the desert, and, of course, the daily battles we all had to face - continual attacks from entire brigades of... flies! While we attempted to "enjoy" a meal in the field, we were always swarmed by flies. Fellow Marines waving their hands over the food, even when it's on the fork enroute from the plates (or MRE package) to our mouths. And for the record... reading the book Dune by Frank Herbert while deployed in the Arabian Desert - NOT a good idea (unless you like the mind trips associated with it). I'll get into more detail on that another time.
One thing we all enjoyed was the influx of mail we got, most of which came from people we had never met, and in most cases, would never meet. This does not include the letters already coming in from friends & family. Many Marines received letters from single ladies. One guy in my platoon carried an exchange with a young lady, and their correspondence with one another was so sordid, it may well have been THE precursor for what is now referred to as "cyber sex." I myself had a few young ladies writing to me, but once the cease fire was called and we returned home, they, as well as I, lost interest. But of all the letters I received during that time, there was only one who's letters I looked forward to the most, and even our correspondence was completely by chance.
One day at mail call, I was handed a letter addressed "To Any Marine" - from somebody in Nebraska. Not only was I NOT from Nebraska, I didn't even KNOW anybody from there... but since that was the only letter I had - why not! The sender was an 11 year old girl named Kelli. She was in a school that got involved in this letter writing campaign that rapidly swept across the nation. What I liked most about Kelli's letters were her perspective of the world. She lived in a small town, which to her, that was "the world." I remember her once telling me, if memory serves correctly, of the hot air balloon festival in her town. She said, "it's a small town, so not a lot goes on here." I found her letters to be so precious, full of innocence... a viewpoint that hasn't been jaded by society, in the way we all succumb to as adults. Her letters, for me, served as an ideal escape into a rural community, away from the harsh reality I was presently sitting in. We wrote each other for months, even after I returned home... but unfortunately, we too lost touch, which is something I regretted for years.
Then over a year ago I get a friend request on facebook from a Kelli [I'm withholding her last name]. I do remember saying to myself, "self" (well, what would YOU say?). Seriously, though... I said, "I don't know any Kelli ****." There was also a message in my inbox from the same person... the body reading, "is this the same Doug Dowen that had a pen pal from Nebraska during Desert Storm?"
My heart didn't just skip a beat... it stopped!
This was THE SAME Kelli that, unbeknownst to her, saved my life, with just her letters... my "little sister."
Over time, we've been able to catch up a little. She is now married and had two sons. Kelli, to this day, probably has no idea what her letters did for me back then. At a low point in my life then, I actually didn't care if I came home - I had nobody to come home to. Her letters were what I needed to carry on. They gave me hope. When I came back and met Michelle (my wife), Michelle is the one that gave me a new beginning (my homage to her will be on March 23, which will also explain why I chose that date). But without Kelli's letters, that may not have happened. Kelli also probably doesn't realize she will ALWAYS have a special place in my heart. To me, she is like my baby sister, though we have yet to meet face-to-face. We spoke on the phone, briefly, about a week ago. She called me her "most favorite Marine in the world."
Then again, perhaps she DOES know...
Operation Desert Shield - 1990
(that's me kneeling in the center)

17 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 17

Noel, MO is where I find myself right now, though I would have been long gone IF I had any control over it. Unfortunately, I am at the mercy of Tyson (yes, THAT one). This is one of those customers I least enjoy dealing with (the other being Wal Mart, which I just so happen to be delivering this load to). It's not the ground level employees that are a hassle, but the corporate level "geniuses" which set the policy. Well... I'd better not go there just yet, it would only kill the buzz of what had started out as a splendid day, for which I shall elaborate...
I have been dabbling in Twitter for about 1 1/2 years now, first starting out with not a clue about how to work it (am I the ONLY one who started out that way?), and having 0 followers. After a week or so I was able to acquire about 40 followers, many, I would discover later, were "bots" (and if you are reading this, no definition is needed, as you are tech savvy enough to know what a blog is, let alone a bot). Over time, I would come to follow, and be followed, by many people, if only on a virtual realm. I have seen some incredible things take place via Twitter: people transitioning their relationships from virtual to real life (by way of a "tweet-up"), awareness and support of world tragedies (the disaster in Haiti being a prime example), even a "tweet-up" meeting that has led to a marriage ( @iamwhite & @dallasnagata - both of whom are very deserving of each other).
I have been fortunate enough to interact with some people who feel comfortable, and trusting enough, to open up to me very personal details of their life - which I continue to hold in the strictest of secrecy (you know who you are). A level of trust I DO NOT take for granted, as, sadly, we live in a world where it's difficult to know who to trust. During the past 1 1/2 years of tweeting, I have met three of the people I converse with... well, 2 actually, as 2 of those 3 are married, and one of which is a silent participant of twitter (but he's still a very cool person, with a personality that ranks on the level of noble). The first person I met is a working artist, with great talents, known as @artbynemo (check out his work at http://artbynemo.com ). For over a year, he was the only one I met from Twitter - until today.
After I finished the work I'm being paid to do, and getting cleaned up (gotta make a good first impression, right?), I met up with @LauriRottmayer (she has a really cool blog at http://rottitude.com/ ) and her husband, @drottmayer (does he blog?) - and before I continue, let me say... David, you are absolutely correct (and I'm sure you recall the topic of conversation to which I refer)! I am honored not only to have met these great people, who are both former Marines, but also because a motto I began using last year (Carpe Java = Seize the coffee) has become one of Lauri's favorite phrases.
Lauri and I (to use her words) Carpe-ing the Java
The three of us enjoyed coffee at Denny's and engaged in great conversation, covering a range of topics. Interacting in the cyber world is one thing, but to put a real live breathing person to what otherwise would be a faceless (and, dare I say, soulless) exchange of words. This is why the world is a better place because of people like Lauri & David. People whom are willing, and trusting, enough to meet up with someone face-to-face. That is the type of interaction that could be in danger of slipping into extinction. We have before us some incredible technology that continues to grow at crazy speed, but let's not forget there are human beings behind the cyber chatter. To be able to forge a REAL interaction with others, face-to-face, is the epitome of "living life to the fullest." That we have almost forsaken such a precious gift... well, what would become of society in general should we slip that far?
So, to Lauri & David I say, thank you for your company today, and most importantly, your time. Even if we never meet up again (and I shudder at the thought) I shall always remember - and cherish - that you chose to give to me
something you will never get back - YOUR TIME. May G-d bless you both for that!

16 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 16

Tulsa, OK. Big city, much activity, scant parking available at the truck stops. :-(

(A tree in Tulsa, OK, using Hipstamatic app w/ Salvador film)
The good thing is I was able to visit with an old friend and his son (as pictured below).
It was a very nice visit, and we had some good conversation. Earlier today, we spoke about a variety of things on the phone, and even arriving at the same conclusion regarding history: to read about certain historical events is one thing, but to hear of that event from a firsthand source brings the event into a different level of understanding. This came up because I was sharing with him of an audiobook I am currently listening to. I pointed out that the author, though he includes a multitude of historical data, appears to have written the book from a first person perspective (i.e. a witness of the unfolding events). How does all this tie in? Read on...
Many years ago, during my days as a young Marine, I was stationed in Guam, during which time I became involved in a local production of Fiddler On The Roof. For those even vaguely familiar with this musical, it is one of a small Jewish community, set in the Russian Czarist controlled town of Anatevka (one of the few musicals with a sad ending). Here's where it gets funny: a Jewish musical, with a predominately Chammoran (or Guamanian) cast, and produced/presented by an all girl Catholic school (I told you it would be funny). Anyway... two final shows on a Sunday: matinee & evening. During our break between performances, during our closing night meal, I was gently touched on the elbow by one of the nuns (who wad also the chaperones). She told me, "many of our younger generation Chammorans do not like Marines," to which I expressed my knowledge of this.
She continued... "but to the older generation, Marines are greatly loved and adored, because of World War II," (this was also something I had knowledge of - if only on a basic level). "I am one of those that are forever grateful for The Liberation of Guam, because I was a little girl then," she now has my full attention, and a peaked curiosity. "when Guam was controlled by the Japanese, it was the Marines that liberated us... freed us! The day we had a parade to celebrate, all the Marine units were marching down the street, all of Guam lined both sides. Everybody was cheering, celebrating. One Marine stepped out of his formation and walked over to the crowd, bent over and picked me up. He put me on his shoulder and continued marching in the parade with me there." Needless to say, I was speechless (for those that know me personally, this is not an easy task).
I share this because, as I mentioned earlier, to hear of an historical event from a firsthand witness, makes that event so much more meaningful - so real!
"Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it"
- George Santayana

15 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 15

Haubstadt, IN to Henderson, KY, temperature is... blah, blah, blah... I know, I start off the same, so I'll try something different...
In the dark, vast reaches of the space time continuum...
... Ok, maybe not THAT different!
So I'm here in Strafford, MO, a small town just a few miles east of Springfield, which, by the way, should suburban sprawl continue to overtake that city, then this small town may become a part of Springfield itself. I'm grateful I arrived here when I did (at 1930... 7:30 p.m. non-military folk), as I was able to acquisition one of the last 6 parking spots available, unlike last night when I conveyed the surplus of available locations. Although I had debated about pushing on until Joplin, but two things directed me here: a) 3G service, which would also have been available in Joplin, and b) the previously stated parking space, which may NOT have been available in Joplin. As a truck driver - and many of you may not be aware of this - we have a stricter set of regulations imposed upon us that require us to do such things as maintain a logbook, for the purpose of documenting the number of hours we drive within a given day, as well as the hours we've driven in the previous 7 days and... well, I won't bore you with trivial drivel (even I find such things boring).
Many things that most take for granted, are what we refer to as our livelihood. In that I mean, truck drivers are the backbone of the commerce system; whatever is purchased in ANY place of business (i.e. grocery store, hardware store, restaurant, etc.), is there due to the truck driver - we haul it all, from produce to lumber to steel... you get the picture. But just like society in general, we all have differing viewpoints and just as many opinions (insert your favorite opinion/reared analogy here). For many years I have heard a plethora of suggestions that, "truck drivers should get together and go on strike." This will never, and I say again NEVER happen, simply because, 1) let's face it, you can't get 10 drivers in any one truck stop to agree on anything (except to lament that dispatchers are idiots, in which I disagree - see what I mean?); 2) if they, just by some strange freak of nature (or a rift in the above mentioned space-time continuum), DO agree and coordinate an industry wide strike, only about 2.3% (even that figure is shooting high) would actually go through with it. Which leads to 3) should a trucker strike actually take place, those involved would find themselves incarcerated under stiff charges, as such a strike (under the ever-so watchful eye of the "intellectual" pompous, self-serving morons known as the government) is seen as an act of terrorism (because it affects the flow of commerce).
That having been said, I will defend the minority of the trucking industry - the PROFESSIONAL truck driver. Just because you have a CDL (Commercial Driver's License) in your pocket, does not make you a professional. The image most people have of a truck driver is: rude, fat, smelly ignoramuses that show less courtesy on the road than what the social norm permits in many third world countries. Then there's the PROFESSIONAL truck driver: extends courtesy at customer facilities (and places where they themselves are doing business), actually dresses decently (casual wear), clean (even wearing cologne), etc., etc.,
So you see, there are differences in truck drivers... but it's up to us - the driver - which image we wish to present. As for me... I choose the latter.

14 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 14

Marion, AR to Corydon, IN to Haubstadt, IN, 500 some odd miles - another long day. Haubstadt is located on I-64, just 25 miles from the Illinois state line and just north of Evansville. I'm loading in Henderson, KY which is just south of Evansville. There are quite a number of trucks parked in the truck stops here (there are three), yet there are still quite a few spots available, which is unusual at this hour. Most truck stops are, generally, full by about 2100, sometimes earlier, depending on where you're at. The night is fairly quiet... 35° ("feels like" 28° - again, The Weather Channel), light truck traffic, etc., etc., etc.
Earlier today, I made my delivery in Corydon, getting there 30 before my appointment time. The customer (a.k.a. the shipper AND receiver - a "plant-to-plant" transfer) stressed earlier today this was a "hot load" - meaning it HAD to be there on time, without delay. Trouble is, when I arrived there, it was another couple hours before they even unloaded the trailer (yeah, really urgent). Situations like that, in my humble opinion, are absolutely unnecessary. If you, the customer, need me, the driver, to get your product there on time, then at least show me the courtesy of providing the same haste in the unloading process that I have just given you in the transportation process to get the product there on time - is that too much to ask? I guess that's one reason why I enjoy the holidays... most shippers will get you loaded in a timely fashion, most receivers will do the same... and in many cases, either end may fulfill their services earlier than prescribed (i.e. you get there early, they will get loaded/unloaded early).
Tomorrow's load, from what I gather, is fairly light and destined for Tulsa, OK on Monday. If all works well, which I expect it will, I may be meeting, for the first time, somebody whom I have interacted with, via Twitter, for coffee (what else). I'm looking forward to it, as we have been interacting for over 1 (or is it 2) year now. It may have been longer but I can't be certain, I've slept since then. Now where was I... parking, mild traffic... ah, yes...
I do wish I was heading out west. I long for those trips: open road, little to no congested traffic, mountains... oh, the mountains! Many places offer the most incredible views, the most breathtaking photo opportunities (and, by the way, I would REALLY like a Canon Rebel - but if somebody happens to feel VERY charitable, methinks a Leica M9 would be welcomed - either of which would take some amazing photographs!). Picture if you will (WHOA!! I just sounded like Rod Serling for a moment)... you're traveling east on I-40 in New Mexico, at night, about 20 miles west of Albuquerque. Climbing the hill, you are surrounded by the blackness of night; the only illumination around are traffic (what little there may be) headlights, and possibly the glow of the moon. You keep climbing... upward, upward... and you can barely make out the mountain's apex in the moonlight, just ahead. As you reach the climb's peak, the all but complete darkness has been broken. Before you are the lights of the city below... lights which are still bordered by darkness. Not just an overwhelming brightness, but lights that reveal details, definition. Instead of blurring together, the lights make out the shapes of buildings, flowing traffic, and the lining of streets. Even the changing of traffic signals can be identified: green... amber... red... cross traffic appears to crawl, almost like a concertina, adorned with red, amber, and white lights, and being stretched by unseen hands. As you make your descent, it's like you're looking at a motorized miniature town, set on auto. Yet the darkness begins to melt away from around you, and you become encompassed within the city itself... it welcomes you, surrounds you... consumes you...

13 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 13

Here I am in Marion, AR where the temperature is 18°. Marion is really nothing more than an extension of W. Memphis, which, itself, is just across the Mississippi River from Memphis. Where I am parked is a truck parking area, on the northbound side of I-55, just north if I-40. Many years ago this used to be a (sometime) working weigh station. Across the freeway, on the southbound side, I can see the trucks trolling through that weigh station of which its law enforcement personnel are standing out in the cold, monitoring the passing trucks, and even waving in a few randomly selected for an inspection. The freeway is humming with a moderate traffic flow. There's still the evidence of a recent snowfall on the ground, and the side streets are basically lifeless.
The day has been a bit taxing, so forgive me that this post is lean of content. I'm off to bed. I'm sure I'll make it up to you on the morrow.

12 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 12

So there's this guy... ok, perhaps not. But this day was about as interesting as live senate discussions on MSNBC (well, maybe not THAT boring). Two good things that did come out of today were A) I was able to watch a little snow (not as much, nor as heavy, as I would have liked), and, B) which is actually the most important... I GOT STARBUCKS!!
In the years I've been driving, I have acquired 3 essential things that assist in the passing of time (and miles) on the road. Neither of which would be a c.b. radio as they tend to add to the already onerous monotony. Though at times they can be useful, but not enough to validate the need to have one. To offer more detail, I submit this: should I be interested in the sharing of hunting/fishing stories, bad experiences at a shipper or receiver, tall tales of "super trucker" adventures, or the bemoaning of one's "ole lady," then I will (though I have absolutely NO INTEREST in said narratives) sit in just about any truck stop across the country, rather than listen to such discourse on a c.b. But I digress... Those essential items I mentioned are (and in no specific order) - a satellite radio, an iPod, and an iPhone... each having their own specific purpose, and neither repetitive of another. And believe me - they come in handy and used with frequency. Today's travels were no exception.
Starting from Robards, KY at 0830, my day is done here in Lowell, AR, to which I arrived at 1915: a total of 531 miles, though I could have made better time had 140 of those miles been on interstate instead of state or U.S. highways - but I'm sure such mundane matters are of little interest to you, my dear readers. Here in Lowell, the temperature is 13°, and with the wind, it "feels like" 3° (according to The Weather Channel app). This is the weather with which I enjoy the most, though my wonderful wife of 18 years (and how she puts up with me STILL remains one of life's greatest mysteries) would adamantly disagree, as she prefers the climates more befitting a Komodo Dragon. Though she will agree that this is perfect weather when I'm home, since it gives us ample "cuddle time."
This is a night that would be best enjoyed if I were in Arizona, New Mexico, or in the Mojave region in southern California. By that, I simply mean in those areas there would be plenty of places to park in isolation - away from the traffic and cacophony of the cities. Places where you can actually see the stars in the sky, and enjoy a darkened expanse, both above and around you. Places where, if I turn the truck off, I can actually hear a gentle wind singing, through the desert brush, its song of freedom and tranquility. A song that the desert wildlife will join in with their own chorus of a language heard, and understood, by all within range. The mystical verse of field mice, the gentle harmony offered by hawks, even the echoing refrain being offered in the sweet timbre of the coyotes. Occasionally a subtle percussion is brought in by the tumbleweed.
These are the things I've learned to listen for, things that The Lord, my G-d has taught me. But the trick is... you can't just HEAR it, you have to LISTEN to it. They are out there.
In the distance, as I close my eyes, I can hear the coyotes repeating their parts...
... can YOU hear it?

11 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 11

I sit here in Robards, KY picking up a load bound for Lowell, AR. Robards, a small town about 60 miles east of Paducah and 35 miles south of Evansville, IN, doesn’t really have much to offer by way of culture, but for a place to get away from the hustle & bustle of the big city – this would be ideal. Not the type of country setting I prefer, as I would be more drawn to the northern states (Montana would be more to my liking… or Minnesota… or Wisconsin). However, if there were any one place I would like to live, considering money were not an obstacle, it would probably be Cape Cod, MA. When I first began this life of a truck driver, I ran team (1 truck, 2 drivers, sharing the driving duties) with a classmate from the driving school we both attended.
One particular run we had took us to south central Massachusetts. Once we got unloaded, as it turned out, we ended up getting laid over. Stan called and asked, since we had to wait until the following day, if he/we could visit his mom who lived 45 minutes away (at least that what he told the company – she was actually 1 1/2 hrs away). With their approval, we headed to Bourne, MA, a VERY quaint little town just across the bridge in Cape Cod. For mid-June, a more than welcome 54° is what the night offered. The next day, Stan gave me a tour, making stops in W. Yarmouth,
Barnstable, and Woods Hole, where you can catch a glimpse of Nantucket in the distance, a great view of Martha’s Vineyard, and eat the most amazing stuffed quahogs. Woods Hole was exactly what you would envision a coastal fishing town to look like, complete with the strong briny air that overwhelms your nostrils. That visit was the first, and, to date, ONLY time I had seen a lobster roll sandwich on the menu board of the local McDonald’s. It is the experiences like these that make the job of a truck driver – at least for me – such an enjoyable job. In future posts, I will share more of these memories, since, if I shared them all in just a few, then I would quickly run out of “padding material” – after all,
isn’t that what most blogs consist of? 
There are a few blogs that are exceptions to the afore mentioned note. One such blog I have just recently discovered via Twitter – and it’s one I really enjoy! I’ll admit, I’m not one of those “social media gurus” (though I find it difficult to put much trust in such self aggrandizing titles, let alone the ones who use them). In fact, I’m rather new to blogging itself. But one fellow (though I hesitate to use said term in reference to a writer of the opposite sex) blogger, whom not only refrains from using such titles, but probably abhors them (as I surmise from her recent diatribe concerning Klout), is Lori Flood (check it out – it’s refreshing, honest, and REAL!). Well, it’s now snowing here in Kentucky, so I shall close here, sit back and watch the flakes as they flutter about before their final descent. And it’s a good thing my doors are locked, I think I just heard someone begin to play “Dueling Banjos” in the distance.

10 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 10

Another day comes to a close, and with less stress than yesterday – which actually ended at 0215 this morning (no thanks to the adverse road conditions, nor the road crews – or lack thereof). Tonight finds me in Southaven, MS, a town considered as a suburb of Memphis, TN, yet being located just across the state line (as if that tidbit really needed to be addressed). A mild 33° with a light fog lends a certain peaceful atmosphere to an area where, just 1 mile to the east, will be bustling with activity, or more precisely, traffic.
As I sit here, I stare out the window, gazing at the the thin layer of ice that has accumulated on the side mirrors. The just above freezing temperature allows for the ice to slowly melt in various spots of the mirror, each droplet falling away in its own independent rhythm… yet, collectively, they create a very syncopated pattern, almost as if they are composing their own music, yet to be heard amid even the most subtle noise. The recent snowfall is still evident upon the ground; calming, welcoming, even beckoning, any passerby to allow his, or her, inner child to “come out and play” (and who hasn’t felt that way… come on… admit it!).
Grocery trucks are entering and exiting the warehouse, just across the street, while the over-the-road carriers are parked just outside. Some sleeping, some watching t.v., some writing their blogs… ok, maybe I’m the only one doing that, but still, we are lying in wait until we make our respective deliveries in the morning. Inside, the grocery drivers are beginning their day – shuttling trailers around the lot, hooking up to loaded trailers and begin making the rounds to the grocery stores, where the product is unloaded and stocked upon the shelves, coolers, etc. before opening up for another day of business.
Nights like this do make me want to walk around, enjoy the solemnity, and even want to take a few photos to remember certain elements of these trips I take. Alas, my only camera consists of the various apps I’ve installed on my iPhone, neither of which are near adequate for nighttime shooting (but if anyone would be willing to donate a Canon Rebel DSLR camera, I would be MORE than happy to email you my home address).
The night continues to dwell deeper still while I become mesmerized by the ice, my attention drawn to it by its shimmer caused by the light from a nearby street lamp. The crisp night air feels soothing as it settles upon my skin and refreshing with my lung as I inhale deeply. The ground, not completely covered with snow, still rests peacefully, waiting… yearning. The snow is calling my name… beckoning me… I struggle with my inner child…
… I lost.

09 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 9

Today turned out to be longer than expected. After
delivering in Pauls Valley, nothing was planned, so I made my way
to Ardmore, a moderately sized town just 40 miles south. Took care
of my personal business (refer to Day 3 for explanation) and made a
visit to one of the local establishments (guess where).
 This afternoon I
was blessed to enjoy a moderate snowfall, not very long (1-2
hours), but snow nevertheless. Falling snow, I’ve thought, has a
calming, almost therapeutic effect on the spirit. The way the
flakes flutter down, dancing in the air as they make a graceful,
even theatrical, descent – almost as if fairies were using the
flakes as capes, like an elegant matador, taunting the bullish air.
Having to drive through the snow, however, can be a daunting,
onerous task in itself. I did get another load assignment, later in
the evening. Picking up in Ft. Smith, AR Monday morning and taking
it to Southaven, MS, a suburb of Memphis, for Tuesday. The trek
began simple enough, until around Henryetta, OK – THAT’S when the
fun began. Once a hit a small slick spot (and noticed a few cars in
the ditch), I figured it was time to ease back on the horses.
Generally, you can drive a good pitch in Oklahoma (70 is the posted
speed limit), but in Henryetta, the roads become, shall I say,
something with much to be desired in the way of a comfortable ride.
I’ll put it this way: if you’re listening to music on the radio,
the song may skip a few times. The condition of the road was the
least of my problems… now there is the presence of ice. Not
terribly bad, but enough to make you decide to slow down – to about
35 (I have seen it worse) – but that’s just the BEGINNING. Going
35-40 for about 90 miles is quite a monotonous task! After enduring
that, I make my way across the state line into Arkansas – where
conditions are WORSE. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if temperatures
over the last month have fluctuated from the mid to upper 30′s, up
to the upper 50′s and back down again, chances are the snow will
not stick… BUT, if a snow is being predicted, along with
temperatures within the range of freezing – and for hypothetical
purposes, let’s say I’m in local government – those low
temperatures, combined with teflon snow, would equal ICE. it would
then be my job to ensure the safety of the people of Ft. Smith -
hence: road trucks WILL be on standby to plow snow, or cover the
ice with sand, OR BOTH. Once I entered into Arkansas, there was a
two mile stretch of interstate, just before the junction of I-540
south, and even upon the interchange of said highway, where sand
was applied. The first 5 miles, and all of I-540 south: NADA! My
stretch of 268 miles usually only takes about 4 1/2 hours, tonight:
6 1/2. I started at quarter to eight, arrived at 0215… and that
is the reason for yet another delayed posting. If you had similar
adverse weather where you live, I pray your safety, wherever you
need to go; if you didn’t, we will be more than happy to share some
of this with you.

08 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 8

So a full day is finished, and I am sitting in Pauls
Valley, OK, a quaint little town about 60 miles south of Oklahoma
City. I’m actually sitting on the south end of town… no traffic
lights, no street lamps, and just the I-35 traffic, (which is very
light at this hour) with its mild din of the rubber of tires as
they gently caress the pavement, and the periodic “whoosh” whenever
a truck passes by. From where I’m sitting, the only fixed lights
that can be seen are the tall lamps the illuminate the lot of the
business just to the east, the distribution warehouse to the west,
and the refinery about 10 miles to the south. Yes, it’s dark enough
here that the refinery’s lights can be seen. The weather is calm
and slightly chilly at 39°, but very peaceful. The view offers a
large span of visibility, being able to see the interstate traffic
for about 10-15 miles. It’s nice being in an area devoid of the
usual suspects of, as some may refer to as, “light pollution.”
Times like this can allow one to ponder, even question, our own
existence, amid such a beautiful display of open sky, and possibly
even realize just how minuscule we really are. We go through our
daily lives – work, home, eat, sleep, debate, invest, spend, rinse,
and repeat – but to take a few moments of reflection in such a
place as this, usually doesn’t seem to fit into our “busy”
schedules. A view like this should help us to realize how immense
our planet (and our universe) is, and that we are but mere specks.
Then again, how can we expect somebody to appreciate the value of
life, when they are blind to the big picture? To take in such a
view, and not to ponder HOW it came to be… well, there are many
people that invest so much time and energy trying to DISPROVE the
existence of God, instead of looking around them at the evidence
which would refute their arguments effortlessly. What would those
people think if God decided to try to disprove THEIR existence? It
comes down to this: everything God has created is CONSTRUCTIVE;
everything man has created is DESTRUCTIVE. God is real, loving, and
a genius in natural architecture. We have plant life and human
life… one relies in the other for survival. Looking up into the
dark expanse of sky on a night like this, in a place like this… a
peaceful night offering an abundance of solitude, can really humble
a person, make one think that we were created and exist for a
purpose. What that purpose is, we may never fully know. But we need
to slow down, not just for our own benefit, but for our neighbor’s
as well. If we try to help another have a better life, we feel
better about OURSELVES, hence, we have improved the quality of our
OWN lives in the process of helping another. Life goes about on its
own, we don’t need to speed up the tempo ourselves. In closing, I’m
reminded of the eternal words of a GREAT philosopher, Ferris
Beuller – “Life moves fast – if you don’t slow down every once in a
while… you might miss something.”

07 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 7

First allow me to apologize for the delay in getting this out. I met up with an acquaintance in the Memphis area for, you guess it, Starbucks… and conversation.
This day has been rather productive, starting off in Gainesville, GA and wrapping it up outside of Memphis. Yet I am still perplexed at how we, as a society, have digressed in the way of manners. It seems now that common courtesy has become an uncommon, possibly dying, practice. I’m sure many of you have the same sentiments. Why is it when driving on the interstate, many still find it so “inconvenient” to actually know where you’re going that you have to cross three lanes of traffic, cutting others off in the process, in order to make the exit? I once drove that way, but since learning to drive a truck, I have changed my habits – even when in my car. I used to cut across lanes, change lanes or turn without using my signal, etc. But I was fortunate to have excellent instructors that put things into perspective, that the way I drove my car, and the courtesies I neglected to use, affected others around me. Granted, there are plenty of other truck drivers that STILL don’t keep this in mind, but as for me, I follow at a safe distance (I can’t stand when other truck drivers ride on someone’s butt to intimidate them to move over) and use my turn signal – ALWAYS. Sadly, there are few of us that maintain this practice. The Atlanta area used to be only moderately nerve racking, but now it’s about as bad as Newark/Elizabeth, NJ.
A misconception many have about trucks is that since we have 18 wheels, we must have as many brakes to stop with; 18 wheels, TEN brakes. Hypothetical: let’s say the average car is about 4,000 pounds, divided by four brakes = 1,000 lbs/brake; a fully loaded truck is 80,000 lbs, 10 brakes = 8,000 lbs/brake… BIG difference. We cannot come to a complete stop as quickly as a car, yet many still persist in passing a truck, changing lanes to be in front of the truck, then drastically slowing down, because your exit, 1/4 mile away, has a 35mph cloverleaf ramp. Then again, lawyers should also bear a brunt of the blame for perpetuating the mindset that truck drivers are ALWAYS to blame in an accident. Herein lies the problem, there are many professional AND courteous truck drivers, but when somebody in a car (and I will use this common example) passes a truck just before their lane ends because of a construction zone, then hits their breaks to slow down, there’s a good chance they will get rear ended – and guess who will be at fault: the truck driver. Lawyers exploit this scenario with billboards asking the question, “been hit by a big truck?” Even if the driver of the car is COMPLETELY at fault, that lawyer will portray them as the “victim”.
I’m not saying all car/pickup/van drivers are to blame, nor am I saying all truck drivers are the pinnacle of professionalism (I’ve seen more truck drivers that aren’t even qualified to operate a Tonka truck, than I care to count). What I AM saying is life is short, and we ALL have someplace to go, so if we share the road… and take a few seconds to extend a little courtesy to one another… then we can get to our destination safely (and possibly even feeling a little better for our display of kindness) and even alleviate some of the stress of the road, rather than exacerbate it. Let’s all drive safe out here. Who knows, that person you just let in front of you on the busy thoroughfare just might be going to the same Starbucks as you – and could pay for your cup as a show of gratitude… I know I would!

06 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 6

The days are drawing to a close at an accelerated pace…
Now that I have garnered your attention… Today, I didn’t travel far; from Dawson, GA, around Atlanta, to Gainesville, a bustling community about 50 miles NE of Atlanta. If you’ve never been there before, nor are familiar with the general region, it’s easy to become misled into thinking that it’s another small town, masked by its sylvan surroundings, and just lucky enough to have an interstate highway built nearby… and you would be wrong. It appears that way at first, until you venture in to see what it may, or may not, offer. In fact, it has quite a bit to offer: Home Depot, Target, Best Buy, Starbucks (if a town has THAT, then it MUST be worthwhile – and, yes, I made a stop… CARPE JAVA!).
Although, one mistake I made was to park next to a restaurant – on an empty stomach. Most truck drivers are satisfied, even content, to get their meals from the truck stop restaurants, or a nearby fast food joint – I am not one of them. I’ve gotten to a point of near loathing of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, etc., etc., etc… Occasionally I’ll go to a mass market restaurant (IHOP, Denny’s, Longhorn Steakhouse), but mainly, I enjoy the places you can’t find everywhere; independent & small chain restaurants (for example: B.D.’s Mongolian Barbecue). One such place I happened upon tonight.
I was actually intending just to pay a visit to Starbucks (Mocha Marble Machiatto, naturally). Since their “free standing” locations usually don’t have the parking to accommodate a big truck, I will usually park at a shopping plaza nearby and walk over (WHAT?! A truck driver that not only drinks Starbucks, but will actually WALK across a plaza parking lot to get it?!). As I said, I parked next to a restaurant – an Italian restaurant! I am not an Italian, but I can eat like one. I parked, grabbed my coffee mug, and told myself, “no food! Use what’s in the truck!”
When I climbed out, I was immediately seduced by the aromas of marinara sauce, garlic, Parmigiana, meatballs. It was enough to send my senses into a tailspin, and my stomach to lash out at me, as if it was saying, “It’s ‘Starbucks’… not ‘Snickers’ – it AIN’T gonna satisfy!” Now this place, Biba’s Italian Restaurant, is the kind of place that kind of slips under the radar; it’s not flashy, nor trendy, but it IS very welcoming, and has the right amount of class, without appearing too poshy. Inside, it was elegant, yet casual. As I walked in, the hostess – Lindsay – appeared from the dining area and greeted me before the door completely closed. I placed my order to go, then went to Starbucks (I STILL gotta have my coffee). When I returned, my order was not yet ready, but I was greeted by about 5 different servers, ensuring I had been attended to – now THAT is quality service (others in the restaurant industry – take note!).
I ordered the Baked Ziti Sicilian (Ziti tossed with roasted eggplant, mushrooms, meat sauce, topped with mozzarella), though I did substitute the meat sauce for Fra Diavolo sauce (spicy marinara). That with garlic/parmesan rolls, a side of fresh garlic, and a ceasar salad. Once my order was ready and bagged, I climbed back in the truck and returned to this chicken plant. Within moments, the aroma permeated the inside of the truck’s cab and I found myself whistling Frank Sinatra tunes. To taste the food was a different matter – “scrumptious” does not even begin to describe this food! For one thing, you get a very generous portion… the Ziti is mixed with the sauce, mushrooms, eggplant, and mozzarella… and it’s topped with more mozzarella! It’s one of those dishes that you want to continue eating – even after you’re stuffed – because it tastes so good! If you ever make it up here, this place is a “must visit”… then finish off the meal at Starbucks!

05 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 5

Another day is done, and earlier than usual, at that. Made it to Dawson, GA which is where I am still. No complaints, though, since I’m a little spent. It could be the weather, or the restlessness I’ve has the past few nights, or, simply, that I haven’t had any Starbucks (can you guess I kinda like them?).
Dawson, GA isn’t a bustling metropolis, nor is it a “one horse town” (I’ve seen AT LEAST 3 so far – horses, that is), rather somewhere in between. A modest country town, not to be confused as a “hick” town. When I lumbered through town earlier on the way to my destination, I was able to take in the sights of the town. Nothing spectacular, but it did bear a quaint resemblance to Sparta, MS (for those who may not recall – or for that matter, may not even know – Sparta was the fictitious town in which the tv show “In The Heat Of The Night” was set in); laid back without being too sleepy, yet active enough to show of a welcoming community.
As I sit here in the parking lot of the truck fuel stop, which has just turned off the lights and closed up shop for the day, there is a moderate fog that has crept in. The darkened lot allows for a better view of the surrounding area; the billboard lights glowing dimly through the fog, the mild traffic casually passing by. There is an industrial business to the, not very distant, east, somewhat hidden by a small grove of trees. The lights that illuminate the business offers a mystical glow that lends an eerie atmosphere to the grove, while revealing subtle details to the trees themselves. With a heavier fog, it would make for an ideal setting to a thriller novel, having just the right amount of macabre.

Photo taken in Wells, ME
12 Nov 2010

04 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 4

This day has been… a day. I’ve travelled from Memphis,
TN, where I unloaded at a food distribution warehouse (to the tune
of $260), on up to Union City, TN – located in the NW corner of the
state, just below the KY state line – where my load was picked up.
Trouble was, it SHOULD have been preloaded on a drop trailer. Since
I didn’t leave there until nearly 1600 cdt (4 p.m for the
non-military readers), that poses a problem with transporting the
product to Dawson, GA to be there by 0600 edt tomorrow… nearly
500 miles away. But I digress.., Here in Tanner, AL it’s a brisk
32°. A nice, peaceful rest area. Depending on where I’m at, I
prefer stopping at a rest area rather than a truck stop for several
reasons. The primary one being I don’t have to deal with the
traffic entering & exiting said truck stop, nor do I have
to endure the hassle of the occasional “lot lizard”. A “lot
lizard”, as with my previous post, is a term we truck drivers use
when we refer to the “ladies of the night” that tend to frequent
truck stops. They are much like the typical prostitute, except the
lot lizards are, and why mince words here, uglier… MUCH uglier.
If I were single & desperate (thankfully I am neither),
celibacy would be the only option I would gladly embrace. Here at
this rest area, the air is calm, the sky is dark and quiet, and the
trees are barren of their foliage. The grass is frosted and bears
the same tannish-brown hues most commonly seen in California’s
Mojave Desert. The Mojave is a region some see as bland and
lifeless – I see it’s beauty and personality; a place of solace.
But enough daydreaming. At this time of night, there is little
activity going on. And if not for the cooler temperatures, the
trucks parked here would not be idling. In about 2 more months,
that will be the case; then all that will be heard would be the
periodic whine of the refrigerated trailers, as their starters
begin the engine warming cycle, then the engine itself growling to
life, in its effort to maintain the temperature of its payload. I
look up to the sky but only see its blackness spread wide. If there
are any stars tonight, they can’t be seen through the bright
lampposts along the rest area’s perimeter. Yet, without these
blinding lights, I am reminded of the darkened expanse that were
all too familiar in the Arabian Desert. It’s daytime in that part
of the world now, but to our military men & women over
there now it’s still dismal. Be well, Marines, soldiers, and
sailors – I keep you in my prayers!

03 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 3

Another day of work has been completed, this time a short trip. After unloading in Ft. Smith, AR I ventured my way to the company’s terminal there, with which I took care of the required paperwork side of the job, as well as, shall we say, some personal matters (shower & laundry – which you may NOT have wanted me to disclose, but will know what is inferred when the subject comes up again in later postings). At this point, my withdrawal symptoms had kicked into overdrive, so I HAD to pay my “dealer” a visit – Mr. Starbucks (those Mocha Marble Machiattos are quite addicting).
All pertinent duties having then been accomplished, it was off to my next trip: Russellville, AR to Memphis, TN. Russellville is a nice little town; not quite as large as Little Rock, but larger than the town I live in. And, as a matter of boasting, even though the town I live in is smaller in size, WE HAVE 3G!! Russellville does have quite a bit more to offer by way of shopping and dining amenities, and, I think, they are not a dry county – AT&T upgraded our service network before them.
The loading process was quite pleasurable, only because it was drop & hook (I drop my empty trailer and hook up to a loaded one; this one of many terms within the trucking industry that I will explain, since to many, this is a jargon you are unfamiliar with).
Drop & hook in Russellville, then a brief stop in North Little Rock for another visit to Starbucks. This latter visit was the better one, since, after my drink was prepared, the barista (NOT a trucking term) said it was “on the house”. That could have been due to the fact their counter was cluttered with their outgoing holiday motif decorations – either way, free is good!
I’m in Memphis, which is one of those places many a music aficionado would make a self-imposed pilgrimage to visit. Unfortunately, what kind of description can I offer that would evoke in the reader’s mind the imagery of what is around me, when I’m in an industrial section of the city. Surrounded by warehouses, food distribution centers, railroad crossings, and roads in dire disrepair – not exactly a shangrila of the imagination, but this is what many like myself see on a regular basis.
Many places, such as this, do have a certain “luxury” available to us: the “roach coach” aka a meal truck. Many of these such trucks offer the standard bill-of-fare – burgers, sandwich, chips, etc. Some are quite exceptional (the port area of Philadelphia makes some AMAZING Philly Cheesesteaks, as well as awesome Polish Sausage hoagies). And still, others require you to take a Zantac with a tetanus shot chaser BEFORE you even walk up to it. These may seem, in some cases, like gastronomic misadventures, but (as was normal for us in the Marine Corps) we learn to make do, or at least make a trip to Super Target days before.
I’ve rambled on enough for today… sleep well, wherever you may be! I hope to see you tomorrow.

02 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day 2

Sitting here in Ft. Smith, AR and wishing I was still at home… isn’t that usually the case in most lines of work? Was able to get quite a bit accomplished over the weekend, but why bore you with details, as this new venture is fulfilling that very deed with no additional assistance needed.
A mild 27°, yet I’m disappointed because I would much rather it cooler in this time of year. Yet I’m sure people in, say, Bemidji, MN, would be more than happy to share the excess of cold weather they have. I’ve tried to talk my wife into moving up to Fargo, ND, but she still replies with, “you move up there, and I’ll visit you in the summers.” But one thing we do agree on, we would like to move to Phoenix… or southern California… or NYC (lack of the financial aspect is what keep us at our present locale, as is usually the case).
When In high school, many of us thought that knowing Pierre is the capital of South Dakota was a prime example of an “exercise in futility”, that we would never need such pieces of information within our adult lives. But since I’ve been a truck driver I would like to say, for the record, WE WERE RIGHT! But it is nice to know, mainly for the fact it helps to orient oneself in relation to what part of the state you are in, should you ever find yourself in Pierre, SD (which, by the way, is one of the few state capitals that does NOT have a major interstate highway passing through it… Jefferson City, MO is another). But I have learned more about American geography as a truck driver than I ever did in school… or it could be that I just didn’t pay attention – more likely, the latter.
That’s all for now – I’m off like a dirty shirt!

01 January 2011

The Road Scholar - Day1

Well, today is the actual launch of this series, but since I am not on the road, that would make it rather difficult to offer any type of commentary on the topics/observations in which my previous post said that I would. However, since I am still a bit unfamiliar (and inexperienced) with blogging, then I hope to, a) acquire a readership of this blog, and b) rely upon the guidance of said readership in the shaping of this blog. But in the meantime, I’ll just merely use this as a way for me to reflect on my previous thoughts, to possibly recycle for future use in a random, albeit useless, drivel.
Since I’m not on the road, what did I do… I made a nice dinner for my family: a 20lbs garlic encrusted turkey for three (I’m a turkey junkie), latkes (aka – potato pancakes), green beans, and a devil’s food cake… and, of course, took advantage of the NCIS marathon. Perhaps tomorrow will bring about more with which to share, as I will be leaving for Ft. Smith, AR in the afternoon sometime.
Please forgive that this “debut” lacks any substance… I hope that will change – soon!