WARNING! This is long!
Hard to believe that September has come and gone and we’re now well into October. Where has all the time gone? And hey! What about summer? Where’d that go? There’s so many stories I could tell, from my experiences of the last three months since going solo — and even a few before then, but so little time to write them all down and my access to the ‘net has been limited. I’ve gone through a month-long dry spell lately but hope to “catch up” … just a bit anyway with this latest entry that’s beyond overdue.
I’m back in Sparks, Nevada after an all-night trip Friday night from Fontana, Ca. to Reno. It was a long drive across the Mohave Desert and northward between the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west and Death Valley to the east. Most of the 460 mile trip was along the two lanes of U.S. Highway 395. Only some phone calls, the occasional headlights of other cars, small-town lights in the distance, and a stop or two along the deserted road, to admire a very dark sky and it’s millions of stars, helped break up the monotony.
I arrived at 5:30 Saturday morning dropping my loaded trailer at the J.C. Penney Distribution Center with nearly 13,000 pounds of Penney’s catalogs on board. An hour later I was at the now familiar Petro Truck Stop adjoining Swift’s Sparks terminal. This is the third time I’ve been to Sparks and it’s starting to feel a little like “home.” So it is, the life of a long-haul trucker.
Just six days before I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan where I picked up a 24,600 pound load of Cherrios Oak Clusters. Then it was a five day, 2200 mile trip across nine states with delivery at a warehouse in Fontana, California for General Mills. My first night of the trip was a week ago today. After traveling 671 miles, I spent the evening along Interstate 80 in Council Bluffs, Iowa just across the Missouri River from Omaha. Monday night, some 559 miles later, I met my Swift Academy roommate Thomas at our Denver, Colorado terminal. A buffet dinner at a nearby truck stop and sharing “war stories” of our days on the road consumed our time well into the night. Another trucker friend from Detroit, Michigan Ken, that I met five nights earlier, also stopped in for a visit. We’d met while the both of us were in the midst of the same three interconnected trips. The company had the two of us on a wild-goose chase searching for empty container trailers somewhere in Indianapolis. We would end up traveling together on a return trip to Ohio, where we traded our empties for loaded containers. Then the two of us traveled in tandem most of the distance to a rail yard in Chicago for the drop. Eventually those same trailers and their goods would find themselves in Sacramento.
Early the next day on Tuesday, I left behind my friends for the next leg of the trip some 589 miles down Interstates 70 and 15. I stopped finally in Cedar City, Utah late that afternoon. There I visited my nephew Steve and his wife Katherine and their five children over the next day and a half. Early again on Thursday it was on to my final destination at Fontana, some 400 miles distant, just east of L-A and west of San Bernardino.
It’s been nice the last couple of days to have a little time to catch up on my sleep. I was available for another assignment late yesterday afternoon but despite two opportunities coming my way via the Qualcomm, the timing has been such that I couldn’t accept either. Since going “solo” on June 29th I’ve driven a little more than 44,000 miles and seen 41 states. I’ve come real close to a few others but there are opportunities yet to come.
On Tuesday October 2nd I was at the Columbus, Ohio Swift terminal and wrote the following at about 8:00 that evening …
I just made my final of two stops since picking up a trailer load of Michelin tires destined for Swift trucks beginning with our Martinsburg, W. Va. terminal. After the Martinsburg shop took it’s 60 tires I left yesterday morning for our terminal in Jonesville, PA just east of Harrisburg. Arriving late in the afternoon, and not having enough shop personnel to unload their 57 tires, I was told I’d have to wait until morning for them to take their share of the load. So after sleeping in ‘til 8 a.m. eastern and after less than half an hour to unload I was finally on my way south to Columbus some 450 miles distant via I-81, I-76 and I-70. I arrived in Columbus at 5:15 in the afternoon and was empty two hours later with my minimum 10 hour break ahead of me before I can leave on my next assignment, to parts yet unknown.
The last few weeks have been busy to say the least. My girlfriend Mercedes and I met at the Martinsburg, West Virginia terminal on Friday evening September 14th. Mercedes drove the two hour trip from Virginia, ready to begin her little more than two-week vacation exploring unknown destinations with me amidst the confines of my Volvo. Now how lucky can one guy get!?
But, before hitting the road in the 18-wheeler, with the weekend off as a trucker, we loaded up her Trail Blazer and early the next day blazed a trail the 400 miles or so north to Akron, Ohio. There we would visit with my Uncle Eli and Aunt Mary as well as their daughter, my cousin Judy. We had a fun visit of a few hours and then spent some time visiting with my Aunt Edith who lives at a nearby retirement home. I hadn’t seen her for many years and it was a pleasant visit to finally get to see her. Still the same Edith with that big smile and good nature I’ve always remembered.
The next day on Saturday the 15th it was on to New Jersey where we hooked up with one of my best friends Mark. As I’d written in earlier posts Mark was there from Seattle taking a two-week long class for his work. Mercedes and I had hoped to be there sooner but got a later-than-expected start and lost our bearings somewhere in Jersey. Not inclined to ask for directions I finally found my way through the maze of New Jersey freeways, across the various bridges (sometimes headed in the wrong direction) and along neighborhood streets. We finally arrived at the Doubletree Hotel in Somerset early that evening. We did get close enough to see the skyline of the Big Apple in the distance, first mistaking it for Newark. The next morning the three of us drove into Newark, parked Mercedes’ car and caught a train into the city arriving at Manhattan’s Penn Station at around 9:30 a.m. We had finally arrived!
As we ventured outside the huge Penn Station on that Sunday morning we found ourselves deep in the canyons of the tall skyscrapers of NYC! Next door to Penn Station we saw the building housing the ABC Radio and TV Networks alongside “Peter Jennings Way.” Mark hailed a cab, with the style and flair of a real New Yorker (we have pictures to prove it!), and we arrived at 125 Columbus Avenue and the Manhattan First Ward of the LDS Church just in time for their 10 a.m. meeting. It was an interesting mix as the ward was made up of the rich and talented. Among the members were Wall Street attorneys and investment house employees. A host of Broadway actors and singers were also among the congregation as well as Juilliard students. Mark noted the singing was the best he’d ever heard at a ward meeting.
Church was held on the third floor of what was about a seven story building full, no doubt, of chapels and meeting rooms as well as offices. From the street the building was not unlike any other in Manhattan. Nor once inside was it much different from other LDS Church buildings I’d visited anywhere else in the country … save the elevators. One thing that did set the building apart from other meeting houses I’ve seen was a large ground floor doorway marking the entrance of “The Manhattan New York Temple.” Once outside, if one looks high above, they’ll see the large gold statue of the Angel Moroni seen atop all the LDS Temples.
The rest of the day was spent seeing as much as we could in the limited time we had available. Certainly more visits are in our future. After Church we caught a cab and headed to the south end of the island. The trip of about 5-6 miles took us past Central Park, “The Donald’s” Trump Plaza and the Empire State Building. In the distance we could see the CNN building. The fare costing nearly $21.00 delivered us to Wall Street.
We visited the large bronze “Charging Bull” statue representing the “aggressive financial optimism and prosperity” all wall street investors hope for. A couple dozen tourists surrounded the statue as they took turns for a quick photo while standing to either side. It’s undoubtedly one of the most photographed objects in the city and it’s history is noteworthy. Being a stockbroker Mark couldn’t resist the opportunity to have his picture taken among them.
A few blocks away we stopped in front of the impressive flag-draped New York Stock Exchange (see picture at the top of this post) where it’s entrance was heavily barricaded and guarded by several check points along the street by police and their bomb-sniffing dogs. After strolling past and taking some pictures we walked several blocks to Battery Park. There near the southern tip of the island, and where the the Hudson and East Rivers meet, we could see in the distance the Statue of Liberty as well as Ellis Island. The weather was perfect! Warm and sunny, but not too humid. Several ferry boats were loaded with tourists headed for the statue and Ellis. Nearby too was the famous Staten Island Ferry. Walking yet several blocks further we finally arrived at the site where once stood the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It was memorable to say the least to see the familiar street signs, the neighboring buildings, as well as the long sloping access ramp leading from street level to the base where the towers once stood. It’s the same ramp where on television I watched flag draped stretchers being carried out of the debris, and the same one where family members walked just a few days earlier to commemorate the sixth anniversary since the attack.
We wrapped up our visit with a late afternoon trip to the top of the Empire State Building. Taking nearly 45 minutes, two elevator rides, as well as a climb of several flights of stairs we noted it was far from the easy trip depicted in the movie “Sleepless in Seattle” when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan rush to the top in search of “Jonah.” Once high above the streets the view was impressive! We’d have photos except the camera batteries decided to die on us just as we arrived. Above us we could see the same antenna mast that King Kong once grasped before losing his balance and falling to the street more than 80 stories below. By the end of the day we were all pretty much “spent.” After another train trip back to Newark we piled in the car and with Mark behind the wheel we (or should I say Mark) proceeded to get lost on our return to the hotel. By Monday the 17th Mercedes and I were back in Martinsburg and it was time for the two of us to become truckers.
Including New York and Ohio, during our travels together, Mercedes and I visited 14 states covering more than 5,300 miles. We started our 18-wheeled journey in Frederick, Maryland carrying 29,000 pounds of those tasty English Muffins to Pennsylvania. We ended up as far west as Houston, Texas on the next trip hauling various juices including Apple and Yahoo. On the way we crossed through West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana adding several new states to those I’d never seen before. We drove through Birmingham, Alabama, saw signs for Selma, and then on through Meridian, Mississippi. I was reminded of those tumultuous days in the 60’s when these cities of the deep south were the hotbed of the civil rights movement. I liked Houston but couldn’t say much of what passes as the Swift terminal there.
On our return to the east coast I carried a load of more than 200,000 empty aluminum soft drink cans from Texas to Georgia by way of Interstate 10. We traveled along the southern coast past Baton Rouge and nearby New Orleans. Later in the day we skimmed the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile, Alabama. Then it was on to Tallahassee, Florida where we eventually turned north and crossed into Georgia. The Florida “Welcome Center” near Pensacola was beautiful, just like the weather, and free Florida Orange juice was served inside. We picked up a K-Mart load just north of Savannah at the Port of Georgia in Garden City, along the Atlantic coast, where cargo ships were docked. It was a short 250 mile trip to the distribution center at Newnan in the suburbs of Atlanta. The return trips back to West Virginia included a 400 mile load from a Home Depot D.C. in Braselton, Georgia to their store in Roanoke, Virginia. From Roanoke we hauled Elizabeth Arden cosmetics to Reading, Pa. and then 45,000 pounds of bottled water back to our starting point in Martinsburg. The trailer of water would eventually be delivered to a Sam’s Club facility in Lexington, Kentucky but another truck and it’s driver would take it there.
After parking our truck in Martinsburg, for our last day together on the final day of September, Mercedes and I visited our third Civil War battlefield. This time it was Antietam, Maryland.
The first major battle of the Civil War on northern soil, Antietam (or Sharpsburg as it’s sometimes referred to) was the site of the bloodiest battle in U.S. history with nearly 23-thousand casualties in a single day! Of those the National Park Service estimates that more than 7,000 were killed. What would people think if that many were lost in a single battle today?
We stood at what is known as “Bloody Lane” where 2000 Confederate and Union soldiers fell in the first hour. Along this 800 yard long sunken road there were a total 5600 casualties in the carnage that lasted 3 1/2 hours.
Later in the day we walked across Burnside’s Bridge that played a key role in the battle. The picturesque stone bridge crosses Antietam Creek and hundreds of Union soldiers were killed there in their assault against the Confederates to finally cross.
I should be back to Lewiston the week after next. It will have been nearly four months since I was last there. I’ll have a short four days off from the 23rd through the 26th to move my car from the Lewiston terminal and then a quick trip to the Seattle area to move storage back to Yakima in a borrowed van. Then it’ll be back to Seattle to pick up my car and return to Yakima.
While at “home” in “the Yak” I’ll have a doctors appointment and hopefully time for a haircut before I have to return (via rental car) to Lewiston by Saturday the 27th. I’m hoping too to have a little time to visit family and friends. A little more than three weeks later, during Thanksgiving week, I should be back in the east again with Mercedes in Virginia where we’ll be married on November 24th. Wow! As I wrote earlier, how lucky can one guy be? Who would have thought!? And so it is, the life of a long-haul trucker.
During our times together over the last few months Mercedes and I have taken plenty of pictures. Soon we’ll have the best of them posted. Some will be seen here and others on a separate site. Until we see or hear from you again… all our best to one and all!