Last week I was ending a trip, and got what is known as a pre-plan in the trucking industry. Basically, a pre-plan is a new load assignment, before we are even done with our current load. Truck drivers love pre-plans because it means we will either be heading out right away (more money for us!) or we know exactly when we'll have to head out again.
Unfortunately, on this occasion, I was stuck at my receiver. Pulled into the receiver at 3am, was assigned a dock door at 4:30am, and didn't get unloaded until about noon. This is the nature of the beast in truck driving sometimes, especially at grocery warehouses, which I deal with often as I drive a refrigerated trailer. I thought I was going to lose my pre-plan due to not being able to make my pick up time, but I was unloaded just in time.
Here's where the fun really starts. I was dispatched to pick up a load of beer at a Samuel Adams brewery in Cincinnati, OH. I've been to this location before, and got completely lost going there the first time. I figured I'd do better this time, as I've been there before. I was wrong. I followed the directions I was sent to the T, but I found myself all turned around in the middle of downtown Cincinnati. As I became more and more frustrated, I heard two other drivers on the CB radio asking where the brewery was. Three of us were running around Cincinnati, and none of us knew how to get there. My tour of Cincinnati lasted about 30 minutes, before I finally found the place. Turns out the directions I was sent were totally wrong, which didn't help matters much.
I was thankful to finally be there, until I read the shipping papers. Weight: 45,000 lbs. This meant my truck would be right near the legal weight limit. I also had to slide my tandems back towards the rear of the trailer, which makes it much more difficult to take tight corners. I also had 3 different stops on this load, and I could tell they were small warehouses that I was delivering to. Not only that, but my schedule to make each stop was extremely tight, and barely even legally possible.
In any case, I slid the tandems to where I thought I'd be legal on each axle, and hit the road. Upon weighing out my load at a truck stop, I found that I was legal. Big relief. The truck was heavy, but legal.
My first stop was in Chattanooga, TN. My appointment was for 7am, but I'd be getting there late at night. I figured I'd go straight to the customer and see if they had overnight parking. When I got there, I discovered that it was a very small warehouse with barely any room for a truck my size. So I headed back north to a truck stop, which had one parking spot I didn't feel comfortable backing into. Back on the road to a rest area, which was full. I finally ended up parking for the night in a scenic overlook area off the expressway. Took me about 90 minutes to find parking, and I was exhausted. I fell asleep wondering how in the world I was going to deliver at this tiny place in the morning.
When I got there, I pulled in and parked my truck the best I could, so I could check in with the customer. Turned out I had to back in from the street, which had two lanes going in each direction, in order to get into their dock. As soon as there was an opening, I went into the street, blocked up traffic, and began backing in, trying not to think about the people waiting on me during morning rush hour traffic. Thankfully, this was one occasion I was able to back the truck in very well and I didn't block traffic for too long.
Happy that adventure was over, it was off to my next drop in some tiny little town in Alabama. The scenery going down there was amazing, and I really enjoyed the trip. That is, until I got to my customer. I followed my directions up until the point that I saw a warehouse with the customer name on it. So, I pulled up in front of the building and was notified I was at the wrong facility. The place I wanted to go was behind me about 1 mile. As I began working my way over to the correct building, I saw a sign that said "all trucks must follow truck route." So I followed the signs, hoping it would eventually dump me off on the main road through town. Of course, nothing is that easy...
I must have either missed a sign, or a sign wasn't posted. Because I ended up on a residential street which had a dead end. The result? I got to back up down this narrow road with parked cars on both sides, and traffic behind me trying to squeeze by, for about 1/2 mile. I also had a mail carrier trying to deliver mail stuck in front of me as I backed down this little road. It was intense, and I was definitely sweating during the entire ordeal. But finally, I was able to get turned around.
Upon arrival at the correct building this time, I was told I need to back in from the street. It never ends!! This time it didn't go so well. There was a very narrow fence leading into this small warehouse, and the dock was not in line with the opening. So I really had to work it in there. I blocked the road for a while until I was able to get back far enough, let the waiting traffic go by, then pulled out to readjust. I repeated this process probably five times before I was finally able to get it into the dock straight. With that unloaded, all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there. And I did just that.
My last drop was in Pensacola, Florida. This time, I didn't have to back into the dock from the street, but I did need to back into a garage door with a dock at the end, just as the sun was coming up. This created a terrible light/shadow effect. I could see just fine until I got into the garage area. Inside, the garage door was very dark, and I couldn't see a thing. Another driver saw the trouble I was having (after experiencing it himself) and was nice enough the spot me as I backed it in. With his help, I got it in there. And this trip was complete.
As terrible of a trip as this sounds, it was also a very rewarding one. I enjoy the challenge of these difficult situations. Many times I don't necessarily enjoy the stress as it's happening, but once it's over, I feel a great sense of satisfaction. And the tougher the situation, the more I learned from it for next time.
Truck driving can be filled with stress. I think I've learned how to deal with stress more in my time as a truck driver than the rest of my life. If you're just getting into the industry, be aware that you will make some boneheaded mistakes, you will require the help of others from time to time, and you'll wonder how you got into and out of certain situations. It just comes with the job, and everyone goes through it. The key is to take a deep breath and deal with the situation at hand. As soon as you get into a hurry out here, that's when people get hurt. If you make a few people late, so what? Better that happens than getting into a hurry and really making people late!
Sometimes trips go very smoothly, and other times trips go like the one I just described. This is the reality of truck driving. Are you up for the challenge?
Until next time, drive safely!