Thursday, September 15, 2011

It ain’t chipped in stone

I saw a bumper sticker on an 18-wheeler: “THIS ISN’T AN RV.” Well, that could be right I suppose, but on the other hand – if you have the mind-set for it and can line up your ducks just right, a big truck can serve as a fine RV. And all the while doing your job hauling freight.

The last 26 years my wife Geri and I had our fuzzy little friends marching to the same drum. Number one, you have to have the freedom. For us, the kids had grown and moved on, we had little or no mortgage, no new cars, or pickups or other toys to pay for.

Secondly, you would almost have to have your own authority or be leased to a carrier that cut you some slack, including no-force dispatch. Just because you have their name on your doors and technically operate the truck, a lot of carriers think they own you and can push you around as they see fit. We fit that criteria, too.

So we raised the term commercial tourist to an art form.

I couldn’t start to name all the places we have seen and done because of one thing: The truck got us there. This is just a sample, but let me tell you about one trip from the house and back.

We had unloaded in Memphis on a Friday afternoon, and there was no freight in sight for the weekend or Monday. I had called every terminal including Pasadena, TX. Dispatch there told me not to come down there because “all we have is trucks.”

My best business decision would be to deadhead 500 miles home. Instead, I called Pasadena back and told Roy that I’ll be there Monday morning and take a number. So we headed for Texas. That evening we went by that half-mile dirt race track right along I-30 in Little Rock. We could see something was going on and stopped to check it out. It was the World of Outlaw Sprint Cars. Don’t get any better.

Saturday, going through Marshall, TX, we passed a concert hall that said Roy Clark was performing that evening. We got a motel, and I called about tickets. They had a cancellation on two down front. Geri got a chance to get the rest of the dirt and bits of rubber out of her hair from the night before.

Sunday we did a street rod show in Angelina and the Tex Ritter museum in Carthage. Finally rolled into Pasadena on Monday morning. Typical of the Gulf Coast chemical business everything has changed. Loads going everywhere. Dispatch said if I wanted to leave my tank there, he had a loaded tank container going to Portland, OR. “They will set the tank off and you bring the empty chassis back here.”

As soon as we got started for Portland, I started thinking about the space shuttle Discovery that was landing  at Edwards Air Force Base in California the following Monday. Could we work it in?

Since we had no schedule and it’s only a couple hundred miles farther, why not? We showed up in Mojave, CA, Sunday afternoon and were told the Army was parking everybody on the dry lake bed adjacent to the runway. We grabbed a cooler and some provisions and went out there. They parked us among the motor homes, campers, cars, etc. I was shocked by the number of people already there mid-afternoon for the landing around 9 a.m., Monday. We visited with our neighbors, and then after dark we could see a light way off and decided to go for walk and see what it was. Guess what? The Air Force boys had a souvenir stand.

This was the first shuttle sent up after the Challenger blew up more than two years earlier (in January 1986).
It was an awesome sight – lots of patriotism, crowd estimated at 400,000. It only lasted a few minutes, but was a once in a lifetime experience.

Now back to “work.” Dispatch in Pasadena said they could preload my tank on Thursday for Portland, ME. After swinging by Laughlin, NV, for a little R&R, we finally got back to Pasadena, dropped and hooked and headed east. After unloading in Maine, we visited some friends nearby for two days then got a load going to the house. When I showed up in dispatch, he started telling me about loads available. I stopped him and said, “I’ve been out a while, so we are going home.” Then he wanted to know when I was coming back out.

I said, “When the World Series is over.”  

Portland west to Portland east, under the “x” in Texas twice and some neat stuff in between. We were ready to park our diesel-sports coupe-RV for a while.