My Truck Driving Days

I finished with Red Carpet Tours in October of 2003. We always close the company on the Columbus Day (in the United States, Thanksgiving Day in Canada) weekend. We do not operate in the winter. The 'unofficial' season of Niagara Falls is from the last Saturday of April until the third Saturday of October each year. We were open from April 1st until mid October.

My business partner Mike Bolus and I decided to not open for the 2004 season. We didn't file bankruptcy or anything like that, we just didn't open.

As usual, I took the winter off. I did my bicycle ride to Florida as usual, and returned to Niagara Falls. The winter was my 'normal' winter.

A former employee of mine was driving a truck for Rolf out of Toronto. He had given Rolf my number as a possible driver for him. Rolf gave me a call and told me he heard I was looking for a job driving a truck. I said, "I am?" Then I said, "Yeah, maybe I am."

After being interviewed by Rolf, I did one training run with Jack Forrest (my former employee) on March 17th, 2004, and was then hired to drive one of Rolfs trucks. It was what they called a five ton, or straight truck. The truck was thirty-eight feet long, had a twenty-four foot box, and a sleeper. It was a six speed diesel governed at sixty-eight miles (one hundred and ten kilometers) per hour. I had to go for drug testing; get a US/CAN crossing card (for $80) called a 'Fast Pass'; and a police clearance letter. I, of course considered this as too much regulation, overboard, and more money grab. Checking a person out is one thing, but ways to collect dollars and then more dollars? All went well and I went to work.

I drove truck for nineteen months. It really wasn't my 'cup-of-tea.' Trying to comply with rules like working fourteen hours with only eleven of them driving, then taking ten hours off, trying to get some decent sleep, trying to be somewhere at a certain time, sitting at the border crossing for two to four hours because a load didn't clear customs, or needed FDA clearance, and trying to maintain a 'real' life at the same time, just wasn't working out for me. I was too old for this. The young guys could do it, or the guys who started young and have been doing it for years. Not me.

Less than a month into my truck driving career, it was April 14th, 2004, dispatch sent me a message, waking me up from a sleep. They wanted me to leave immediately and head to a place for a pick-up. They closed in forty-five minutes. I was twenty-nine miles away, and it was raining. After checking the computer for directions, I left immediately.

Because it was five o'clock rush hour, it was raining, and I just couldn't make headway, I had just made the decision to forget about getting there today, and it would have to wait until the morning. I quit rushing and was just starting to slow down.

As I came over the crest of a hill, I noticed in front of me, in the rain, a bridge with a sign on it that said twelve foot, ten inches. I had not seen any previous warning signs. My truck needed thirteen feet, one inch clearance. This just won't work. Fortunately, immediately right behind me (although I didn't know it yet) was the local fire chief. He knew the bridge was there and I probably wasn't going to fit. He had slowed down enough to keep the traffic well behind me.

I slammed on the brakes. The truck slid to a stop. The box of the truck just touched the bridge and bent in the top front drivers’ corner about two inches. We were stopped, the truck, I, and thanks to a fire chief, all the traffic behind me. He directed the traffic around me and I backed up to a school parking lot I had just passed. The fire chief called the police and he left. I waited for one hour and ten minutes for the police to show up.

The officer asked me what I was doing there. I told him I hit the bridge. He told me he knew that, but why was I there? He wasn't even going to come to check things out. He said anyone with local New Jersey plates would have just left the scene. The only reason he decided to come was because he was told the truck had Ontario plates. He figured I just might still be there, so he better show up so I could leave. He wasn't even interested in a report. He said have a nice night and left. I didn't get the pick-up made. I did it the next morning.

Upon my arrival back in Toronto, I called Rolf to arrange for coffee with him. I figured once he saw the damage; my truck driving days were done.

He wasn't happy. This meant a repair bill, but he said that was part of being in business. I was to report next week as scheduled. I guess my truck driving days weren't over after all.

On May 17th, two months from my training starting day, I received a phone call. It was from Rolf. I was on vacation in Florida. He told me Jack (who used to work for me driving bus, had started driving truck before me, and trained me to drive truck, my former employee) had a heart attack in Chicago. He was in the hospital there. I thanked Rolf for keeping me informed. On May the 23rd, Rolf called to let me know Jack had been transferred to the Niagara Falls hospital. His truck was still in Chicago. Was there any chance I could get it on my way home? It wasn't really on our way, but a little diversion would take care of it. Celine and I drove to Chicago, found the truck, and we brought it back to Toronto.

On June 9th, 2004, I was driving the New York State Thruway heading west. As I pulled into a service area near Syracuse, NY, a police officer came over to me, asked for my documents, and gave me a ticket for having a headlight out. He said I could be mistaken for a motorcycle and someone might pull out in front of me. What? It's okay to pull out in front of a motorcycle? Where's his head? Besides, this is a truck. It has LOTS of lights. Five lights could be out and you could still see it coming. He said the ticket would be withdrawn if I had it fixed within twenty-four hours, took it to a police station for verification, had them sign a form, and mail it back in within seventy-two hours.

I replaced the light the next day (as it would have been done anyway) in Niagara Falls, Canada. I took the truck to the police station, asked them to fill out and sign the form. They had NO idea what to do with it. It was American. New York State specifically. Give it to them.

After finding a higher-up in charge, he processed it and all was well. But really, why? What's the fuss? Do the police have nothing better to do than bother a commercial vehicle? Do they have nothing to do but make it aggravating to let you do your job? Maybe I should go on Welfare. He can't bother me, I can be a burden to society, and my life is more stress free. I have better things to do than deal with idiots who concern themselves with petty issues. Leave me alone. I'll do my job, you go catch criminals. So much for this soap box.

On Sunday night, July 4th, 2004, I was crossing the border with a trainee, Mike. We crossed the bridge at Port Huron into the United States. I don't know what was in the Customs Agents mind, but he decided we were transporting drugs. They kept us at the border for hours. They escorted us with their cars flashing lights, full guarded movement. Really, where are we going with a truck and oodles of customs officers around? They watched our every move. They emptied the truck. They opened the freight. They went into the cab and even checked the coolers contents. And this was after they had fully x-rayed the truck first. This was an over officious, bad attitude situation. I wasn't impressed. They also didn't pay us for the four and a half hours they kept us there either. They finally let us go after finding nothing. I believe they have to do their job, but he was just being an idiot.

I was driving through New York State on July 13th, heading North on Hwy 219. Somewhere north of Ellicottville, NY, I was pulled over by the police at 22:30h (10:30 p.m.). They said they clocked me doing seventy-five miles per hour just back up the road. I looked at him shocked. He said, "Are you calling me a liar?" I told him, “I didn't say a thing, but this seemed impossible. The truck would only go sixty-eight, fully loaded, downhill, with a wind behind me.” He repeated himself and asked if I didn't think he saw what he did? He asked for my documents and I gave them to him.

There were two officers. I think one may have been in training. They came back to my window with a ticket for doing seventy-five in a fifty-five zone. I could go to court, or I could just plead guilty and send it to the judge and have him/her decide my consequences.

I told them I would need a complete deposition from them, I would be in court, and I would be bringing my computer to court with me. I insisted they tell me where I had gone seventy-five. They said it would be presented in court. I said okay, but was it more than seven miles ago? He said, "Why does that matter?" I played back my computer tracking for the last seven miles. The computer showed my elevation, speed, and time. My top speed in the last seven miles (of which three miles was downhill) was sixty-two point three. I would require his evidence and deposition for court. I had mine. I have a Global Positioning Satellite system running on my laptop. If I needed to go back more than seven miles I needed him to tell me now, but I would meet him before a judge. My last stop had been in Saint Mary's, Pennsylvania. I would go back that far if I had to.

I saved that file on my computer, and still have it as of this writing. I received a letter about two weeks later advising the charges had been dismissed. I think I should have charged them. After all, fair is fair. They didn't want to pursue a lie. I need to be compensated for my time, aggravation, and cost of technology to protect me from false accusations. And isn't stress a valid problem? I might need lots of compensation. They had a choice. They could leave me alone, or they could interfere with my life. They chose interference.

On August 21st, 2004, I was at the Sarnia border and my load took eighteen hours to clear. I'm not sure what the problem was, but it was not US Customs this time. Someone in Toronto had done some incorrect paperwork and it took eighteen hours to get it corrected. That was my longest border wait.

In October, my boss, Rolf, sold out his business to another company. I had a new boss, and his name was Peter. For me, nothing really changed. I just had a new bossworking now for 'Able Freight.'

I was sent to Nashville, Tennessee, on December 21st, 2004. I was to be back on the 24th. There was a freak snowstorm. I spent Christmas day in a truck in Cleveland, Ohio. How charming is that? I made it home the next day.

One of my former business partners, Mike Bolus, was getting married on April 1st, 2005, and I was expected, of course, to be there. No, it didn't happen. I was in a truck stuck in Connecticut waiting to be loaded. I should have been home on a Friday night. This is just another reason why I say trucking wasn't for me.

The first time I was pulled into a scale for a check was in Michigan on May 5th, 2005. My log book and everything was in order and I was free to carry on. I have to say, it didn’t seem like a big issue.

The only other time I was pulled into a scale was on September 27th, 2005, in Maryland. I told them I was retiring in two days so help themselves to do and find anything they wanted. The Inspections Officer in charge said, "Have a good retirement. We won't waste your time. Carry on." I thanked him and did just that. I left and carried on.

May, Friday the thirteenth, was the only time I ever received a tip while driving truck. The gentleman at the drop point in Toronto thanked me for helping him unload the truck and gave me ten dollars. That was a first and only occurrence I received a tip while driving a truck. Thank you.

I finished my last truck trip on September 29th, 2005. After I arrived back in Niagara Falls, I put my 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee up for sale. It had enough miles on it and I wouldn't be using it to travel back and forth to Toronto anymore. My truck driving days are over. At least for now.

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