Truckin’


IMG_0227My son, having graduated from UCLA in Math/Econ and worked for a year at a bank, took a notion to try his hand at long haul trucking. We parents were not particularly thrilled with this move, but having personally abandoned my family’s long academic tradition in favor of a career in construction, there was little I could say.

He was a very good trucker, I’m proud to say, and won awards and bonuses for safety and fuel economy, acquiring the handle Taydawg the hippy trucker. You see, the trucker mentality is git on down the road as fast as you don’t get caught, and they don’t take kindly to being slowed down by someone driving safely and saving fuel.

I wanted to experience this bit of Americana and as his trucking career was winding down I had the good fortune to share a good portion of his last run.

Trucking is basically our system for resolving the problem of stuff in the wrong place. Possibly analogous to the body’s lymphatic system, it is often unsavory. Our first stop was industrial East Oakland, basically in the center of the Maize. We swapped our 54′ trailer for a 48 footer preloaded with near the legal weight limit of crushed aluminum recycled door and window frames.

east Oakland

This was it. Around the corner a parade of pickup trucks similar to the one shown stretched around three sides of the block bringing a seemingly endless supply of urban ore.

Yet it was in the wrong place. According to the laws of supply and demand this particular 38 tons of condensed fenestration needed to be in Spokane. Oh well, it was our fate, and we hooked it up, took it to the scales where we drove back and forth to be sure no individual axle was overloaded, tarped it, and headed out.

It was 1:30PM, just in time to surf the afternoon traffic swell out of the bay area. Not that we were hanging ten. Urban trucking is an exercise in caution and anticipating the clueless potential road kill to whom 38 tons of supply and demand are merely annoyance.

While our trip began in the industrial underbelly, most of my stint was as close to a stage coach run as modern trucking gets.

Yet there is this downbeat of industry with every pickup and drop-off point. We get to Kaiser Aluminum in Spokane and it is totally mill town, lunch box, dumbass corporate, “Your appointment isn’t until noon” mentality. The Silicon Valley ethic really is an important lesson for the world. Suck it up, figure it out, work late, work harder, make it happen. Sadly missing in Spokane.

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A vignette of our smooshed fenestration as we languished half a day at Kaiser Spokane contemplating their forklift friendly Aluminum “”ingots”.

They almost wasted our entire day, but thanks to a hardworking driver manager in Tulsa we were able to get a new load at 5:30 PM Tulsa time. It was 2×4 lumber in Troy , Montana, a few hours away, to be hauled to Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Some quick Google vectoring revealed that the best route was across U.S. 2, the most northerly highway through Montana and North Dakota and down through Minneapolis which would be my best flight home.

This would be my last load, and it was only 29 tons, even after a last minute addition. We “camped” in their driveway after arriving in the dark. It was 18 degrees when we arose at first light and pretty understandable why our appointment was at 9:00. Pretty chilly for milling outside. The place was a mess with maybe three acres of mill ends and bark they may have found some insufficient market for in the form of mulch, which they were actively shredding and bagging.

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In a sense the antithesis of Kaiser, they were frank, allowing that they had not yet finished the addition to the order, and helpful in every way they could be. Small town, local, family owned. I walked to town for hot coffee passing the good ladies of Troy hiking society, and found the good ol’ boys shootin’ it over substantial breakfasts at the local eatery.

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Jeffersonian America.

Our route took us through Glacier National Park.

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Then across the plains to Williston, North Dakota. If Detroit is the modern ghost town, Williston is the modern boomtown. Lots of Carbon coming out of the ground, lots of trucks hauling it.

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Williston truck stop sunrise.

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Plenty of grimy work to be had supplying the demand. And here we were, carrying lumber from Montana to Wisconsin. The demand is increasing. Thanks to my friend Patty, the maps below show the differences in the most common occupation in each state.

1978

1978

2014

2014

Taylor actually carried an awkward load of Golden Arches, but we have not become a nation of hamburger flippers. We have become a nation of truck drivers. Like ants, carrying far more than their weight, the drivers scurry our stuff from where it is to where we want it.

Most of us have no idea that just outside our cities hundreds of trucks circle the wagons on acres of tarmac every night. They sleep in bunks in the cabs, automatic motors cycling on and off all night. They drop their loads in the morning and try to get loaded and out before the traffic and find refuge in another truck stop the next night.

The road goes on forever.

 

 

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