Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Joe Christmas "Scrabble Girl" unofficial music video



Questions You Should Ask When Considering Trucking Jobs

It's always best to talk to drivers about their experience, but even better to talk to multiple drivers as every driver handles things differently. Recruiters, on the other hand, are paid to convince you to work for their company, and are frequently out-of-the-loop on what's really going on at their company anyway. Whatever the reason, misinformation is common when it comes to recruiters. In addition to this, they tend to emphasize benefits that are either standard for any company, not really important (but since you're not a driver yet you wouldn't know that), greatly exaggerated, not really benificial to you at all (like computerized logs), or are just plain not true (like every truck in their fleet has a refridgerator, an APU, and an onboard touch screen dispatching computer, or that you get to pick your own truck). Recruiters are however good for making travel arrangements to driver orientation once you decide to apply, and can be a great help in navigating through the application process; otherwise, take anything they say with several grains of salt.

GOOD THINGS TO ASK COMPANY DRIVERS

How long have you been driving for your company? Do you still like them?
The honeymoon period at most companies is about 6 months - 1 year.

How long have you been a driver?
10+ years and still happy with their company is pretty darn good. Veteran drivers usually have a better fix on what really matters on the road, and put up with less crap from their companies.

What kind of trucks used?
Just for general knowledge, here are some common types of trucks:
Freightliner (very common; economy truck)
Kenworth (can be good; depends on the model)
International (recent models have good reputation)
Volvo (Very comfortable, but heavy and not very powerful)
Peterbilt (A favorite of truckers; generally thought to be the best trucks on the road)

There are some others but more important are the following questions:
How comfortable are they?
How much room in the cab?
What kind of engine? (there are a lot but Freightliner trucks usually use one of three:
Cummins (red)=good
Cat (yellow)=pretty good
Detroit (green)=average

What MPH are trucks governed at?
A recruiter can tell you this, but good idea to check with drivers. The faster your truck can go, the more money you make.

Where is most freight?
Ask drivers not recruiters. This will give you a good idea of where you will be driving. A few things to consider; Flat empty places = easy boring driving, mountainous areas = beautiful but more work especially in winter, highly populated areas = traffic, and California and Oregon are 55 MPH states.

Where are yards?
A recruiter can probably email a list or spreadsheet. Look for a good spread of terminals over the area you are going to be driving in.

How many yards have laundry & showers?
A recruiter can probably email a list or spreadsheet. Talk to drivers; they can tell you what the facilities are really like.

Min. Drive time / Max home time?
Standard is one day home for every seven on the road. Companies differ on the minimum time they want you to be out; anywhere from 12 days to 21 days; also may depend on how big a region you are driving - the bigger the region, the longer you will be out. Also ask how long you can be out of the truck before they want you to move out. About 1 week is pretty standard.

Tuition reimbursement?
Drivers may not know. Recruiters usually can be trusted on this, but no one is going to remind you to get it set up once hired. You have to get on top of this or you wont get it. Most companies hiring new drivers will reimburse up to $4,000 for tuition over the course of your first 2 years working there. Some companies take longer, some will pay up front but will require you to sign a one year commitment contract.

Slip seat?
Means you share your truck with other drivers. Usually considered undesirable.

Tri-PAC? APU?
Basically a generator. Non-idle climate control and power. Don't expect to get one right off, but the company should at least claim that most of their trucks have them. Reality is usually about 50% of the fleet at most has them regardless of what recruiters claim.

Pets?
$500 non-refundable deposit is standard; some companies limit the size, breed, type, or number of pets.

Vacation pay?
Some companies offer a bonus equivalent to 1 weeks pay instead of paid vacation. Some companies just offer an annual bonus.

Log books?
Ask drivers only! Anyone working at the office will tell you that you must log exactly as it happens and that furthermore, Big Brother is watching!
First thing to look out for is computerized logs; paper logs are not hard to do and it is to your advantage to be in charge of your own log book. The less "computerized" a company's logbooks are the better. What you really want to find out is how drivers actually log; there are several ways:
1. Real; "I log it like it happens;" this is a good "clean conscience" way to log.
2. Log by milage; Miles Driven divided by Legal Speed Limit equals Hours logged. Very common way to do logs. Usually ends up being close enough to reality to be passable.
3. Re-written logs; ("science fiction" logs); maybe what you did was not quite legal, but it looks legal now! Most drivers have done this at least once or twice.
4. Multiple log books; logging more than one version of your trip; depending on who's asking and what time it is, you show them which ever log book would make what you are currently doing look ok; highly illegal. If caught you will lose your license and probably never drive a truck again.

Short haul pay?
Rare, but a very good bonus!

Detention pay?
Most companies will pay you for being held for over 2 hours at a shipper. Ask drivers if they ever actually get paid on this. Companies commonly claim to do this, but not many companies actually do.

Lay-over Pay?
Standard is $25-$30 for sitting 24 hours due to repairs or lack of frieght. Every recruiter will tell you they pay this; ask the drivers if they actually do it.

Hotels?
Usually this only comes up if your truck is in the shop. Again, many companies claim to do it but reality is a different story. Ask drivers.

Cash Advances?
Ask drivers. Chances are, until you get some money built up in your savings account you will need this benefit every once in a while. Some companies will advance you up to $150 per week and take it out of your next pay check. Others don't do advances at all. Ask drivers; recruiters may either not know, be misinformed, or make something up that sounds plausible and attractive.

Dispatcher culture?
Basically find out how respectful and considerate dispatchers (also called "Fleet Managers" or "Driver Managers") are and what the drivers experience has been. Drivers love talking about this, and if nothing else you'll hear some entertaining stories. Keep in mind that drivers and dispatchers commonly don't get along. Usually, being able to solve problems on your own, good trip planning habits, and clear professional (and well documented) communication can go along way to help that relationship. Don't even bother asking recruiters about this unless you want the fairy tale version.

Safety Rating?
Recruiters usually know this by heart unless their rating is particularly embarrassing, in which case they may make something up; you can also look this up online (http://www.safersys.org/). A good safety rating usually means good driver training and less hassle from DOT and highway patrol. There are some skeptics of the whole Safety Rating system however (if you're curious you can look up "Driver Safety Rating" on Wikipedia.com)

Common Fuel stops?
Less of an issue now that most truck stops are owned by one of 3 companies but find out if they use Comdata or EFS to pay for fuel.
Just for general information here are the common ones:

TA (Travel Centers of America):
Showers, Laundry, Places to sit, Cable TV, Repair shop, Fried food, Restaurant, Buffet, A/C & power hookups (called "Idle Air;" only at some locations)

Petro:
Showers, Laundry, Places to sit, Cable TV, Fried food, Restaurant, Buffet, Idle Air (some locations)

Flying J (now partners with Pilot and Loves):
Showers, Laundry, Places to sit, Cable TV, Fried food, Pizza (most locations), Restaurant

Pilot:
Showers, Laundry (sometimes), fast food

Loves:
Showers (most locations), fast food (most locations): some Flying J's have now been converted to Love's

Little America (AM Best):
Excellent showers, Laundry, Places to sit, Cable TV, Repair shop, Grill (Burgers etc.)

Questions? Comments? Did I forget something? Let me know!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Drama of Table Condiments

It's the midnight at a Kansas truck stop diner and I'm just finishing a meal that I don't know what to call. Dinner? Lunch? Breakfast? It's my first meal of the work day and I really don't want to think about what I just ate. Just think of the worst three things on a Denny's menu and you'll be on the right track.
All that aside I am actually feeling pretty good. I got a shower, laundry, a meal and all my paperwork done yesterday and even got to bed early enough to get some sleep in. Good thing too, because I have to leave at 2:00am to get this load to Missouri on time. The math is a little complicated, but it's also the earliest I can legally drive again according to the Hours of Service laws.
Anyways, I kinda like the idea of starting my next work week this way. It gives me a lot of flexibility.
This diner is way too quiet. The loudest audible sounds are the refrigerator running in the kitchen, the chink of the only waitress here sorting silverware, the cook's radio playing some old U2 song ("still haven't found what I'm looking for"), the creek of the door, the ice rattling in my plastic glass; all the sounds usually masked by conversation or restaurant music. Even the sound of street traffic or customers in the adjoining gas-mart is missing. Too quiet. I should go.
Crap. I still have an hour to wait before I can leave. I guess I could play with my iPhone. I just got a new app that allows me to make stop-motion animation movies of table condiments chasing each other around my table. It's amazing that something which used to require so much time and ambition has now become an idle pass-time.
Anyhow. I think I have an idea for a short film involving a spoon and a pepper shaker, so I'm gonna go. I should probably get some coffee as well.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Exciting New Sounds!




Welcome to my Over The Road trucker studio! My ensemble of instruments now includes:
Fender Telecaster
Mini Fender Twin Amp
Casiotone Keyboard (1980's model)
Acoustic Guitar
Ukelele
Glockenspiel
Child's Acordeon
Tamborine
Jingle Bells
Egg Shaker

Now just imagine what I could do with a loop pedal!

A Good Thing Gone Bad

It's really dissappointing when a shipper or distribution center changes their policies and practices for the worse. The General Mills facility in Fontana used to be such an easy pick up. It was a 7 day a week 24-hour facility, and 100% drop & hook. Check in, grab your trailer, check out. The loads were (in my experience) virtually always at legal and balanced weight, and the whole thing took about 15-20 minutes.
Recently they have cut their hours back to Monday-Friday regular business hours, and have cut their employee's work hours, and also added an on-site scale. The limited hours mean drivers have to wait until regular business hours to pick up loads even when they were ready the day before. In other words, a driver may have to wait 2 days for a load that was ready on Friday evening.
The scale, I don't understand. It should have improved things, allowing drivers to scale before leaving etc. This scale, however takes 3 people to opperate (no joke!) and somehow the loads are now ALWAYS over legal weight and have to be re-worked sometimes 2 or 3 times, taking several hours, before they can get it right. No idea why this is. I suspect it has something to do with the shippers thinking now that they have a scale, they can squeeze more freight on each load, but that's just a guess.
The bottom line is a shipper that used to be fast and efficient has now become a colossal waste of time for drivers.
Difficult to say how this will pan out. Drivers are collecting detention pay for being held over to rework overweight loads, and the shipper is charged a fee for this, but it still doesn't amount to as much as drivers make when actually driving. If the detention fees plus the extra work hours paid for dock workers to re-work loads are enough to out-weigh (no pun intended) whatever the shipper is saving by squeezing on extra freight (if that is in fact what this is all about) then maybe we will see a change for the better down the line.
From a drivers perspective it's hard to tell what will happen. Hopefully something will change. It's a shame to see a place that was once so efficient and easy become such a hassle.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Music Update

I've been using the Four-Track app on my iPhone to record music while on the road for the last couple months and it has dramatically increased my music productivity. I'm up to about 7 or 8 songs just in the last couple months. Not all of them are keepers of coarse but there are one or two gems. Mostly I have just been experamenting and learning how two work with this way of recording. The recording environment is usually pretty noisey, there is no way to add any effects like reverb, and the iPhones mic distorts easily (which can be a plus in some cases but mostly just makes mic placement very interesting). On the plus side, the four track app does have overall EQ and Compression tools, and bouncing tracks does not degrade the sound as much as a traditional analogue four-track would (although, analogue four-track veterines know this can be used as an advantage too, if you plan things right). I've also been working with a slightly different set of instruments. I finally got a ukelele (as some friends predicted I would) and have been using that a little excessively, as well as a harmonized chorus of vocals (oohs and aahs), and of coarse glockenspiel and organ. I've also finally picked up some precussive instruments like the egg shaker, a tamborine, and some jingle bells (also not suprising in my music). I've been doing so little guitar work in fact that I'm starting to get kinda rusty on that instrument. My fingers aren't as fast as they once were.
I've also noticed a definite shift from electronic beats to more organic/folk rythms. Not sure how I feel about this. I am thoroughly enjoying the folk feel but am a little concerned that influence may be homoginizing my music. I kinda want to preserve a somewhat awkward and suprising element to what I do while still writing stuff that is beautiful and has emotional content. I dunno. I guess I just I don't really think about it that much while I'm doing it (which is as it should be). In the end it just is what it is, and so long as I'm enjoying myself doing it, I consider it a success.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Houston, We Have a Problem

Driving along in the idylic baren wilderness of US Highway 95, a several hundred mile stretch of nothingness that goes from Idaho, through Oregon, and down the length of Nevada, I noticed my "check engine" light come on. Not too alarmed, I checked my gauges. Everything normal, engine sounds fine, feels fine, and smells fine. I continue driving but a moment later the check engine light is joined by the "engine protect" light. Somewhat concerned I double check my temperature gauge. Normal. Hmmm. Must be low on fluid. Should have checked that last stop. Maybe I should -
Now the engine light starts flashing. I have time enough to think aloud, "uh - that's not good."
Suddenly the engine turns of. The dash console lights up like a Christmas tree, and I lose power steering. Just coasting now. There's no shoulder to pull off onto, the road drops off steeply into a ditch. I turn the ignition on and off try to restart the engine, and it finally fires up again. I am looking around for any place to get off the road now. I see a spot but the whole thing happens again before I can get there. Luckily I am able to coast and using all my strength to turn the wheel (now unassisted by power steering) I manage to get off the road.
Under the hood, I find that the coolant is indeed low, and I soon discover why. Alerted by flecks of coolant on the fan and elsewhere in the engine, I look for and soon find a steady dribble of coolant leaking from the radiator. Time to call in the bad news.
After alerting my company's over-the-road breakdown department, I put all the water I can find on the truck into the coolant reservoir and continue driving. I keep hoping to find a fuel station or some place that will have more water, but all I find is an abandoned looking gas station with a closed sign in the window. A few miles later the engine stops again. So here I sit. Luckily there is at least phone reception here (can't imagine how or why this is so) and I am able to communicate my plight to the OTR department. Help is on the way in the form of 2 gallons of water from the nearest service station. After that, the goal is to make it 1.5 hours further to Winemucca, NV for repairs. Meanwhile the load I am carrying is getting less and less likely to be delivered on time. Oh well. What can be done is being done. Not feeling too bad about it.