Saturday, February 23, 2008

Wonderful Winter Driving

We got to Memphis and headed out to Chicago to pickup and head back to LA again!   Yiippeeee
Yesterday, we ran into that icky weather sitting in the middle of the country - up and back from Chicago.  Lucky for us it was mostly during our daylight driving hours and we just plodded through it.  Driving through a snow storm is really interesting.  What always strikes me first is how quiet it becomes.  Our truck is pretty quiet for these big trucks, but there is still quite a lot of road noise.  Even with the radio on, the driver's ear is always tuned to road sounds and engine sounds.  The snow eliminates the road sound completely.  And of course, the radio is off because you are concentrating so intently.  So, there is basically no sound.   The brightness is another striking thing about daytime snow storms.  There are special yellow glasses that we have seen, never thought we would need them . . . thought wrong!  Regular sun glasses work better than nothing, but there is still lots of bright white.  It really reflects from every surface and makes for tired eyes after a short while.
I always thought that driving through snow would be scary, but that isn't really the scary part.  Mostly, the fear is that it can become ice at any moment.  Now ICE is scary!  That slippery feeling really translates up through 18 tires and gets your full attention but fast.  We have 2 different mechanical helpers for traction.  
The truck (or "tractor" as it is called in the trucking world) has 2 axles on the rear and we can lock the differential into a way that puts power to both axles.  This really functions much like 4-wheel drive and is used in the same manner.  We have another button on the dash that is called "Traction Control"  I still haven't figured out what this one does and everyone I ask about it gives me vague answers about how it "controls the traction".  Well duh!  I really hope I don't get into a situation where I need that extra bit of traction control.
Driving through snow and even ice isn't so bad during the day and especially if you are not in the mountains.  Adding either darkness or steepness really raises the intensity level.  On our first run up the Pacific coast from LA to Seattle, we both got to experience the trifecta of STEEP/DARK/ICY.  Not fun . . .  really, really not fun.  In fact, we have pretty much decided to avoid that particular type of driving again.  Any 2  of the 3 are doable, but all 3 is pretty hard to deal with.  Luckily for us, we work for a company that does not force you to drive when you feel it is unsafe.  They are really good about accepting your word for it - no pressure at all that we have run into.  Of course, if we aren't rolling, we aren't making money - but we aren't much about the money.
So we are headed to Sunny California again.   Right now we are driving across New Mexico and Arizona.  Pretty blue sky with scattered clouds.  Forecast is for snow, but so far we haven't had any coming out of the sky.  The snow on the red cliffs of New Mexico was beautiful - much more dramatic than other times we've been through.  Temperature is holding in the low 40's and the roadway is dry.  What more could you ask for!
Until later...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

LA Freeway

"If I can just get off of this LA freeway
Without getting killed or caught".
Great lyrics from Guy Clark to one of my favorite songs - have a whole new respect for them.  I spent 4 hours driving from Ontario to Long Beach and back again this morning.  The traffic moves amazingly well, but there is just so MUCH of it.  I just got into the groove and decided to consider it as really intense shifting practice.  With 13 gears to run through, you stay pretty busy working the gear shift.  
Our truck is a Kenworth with a Cummins Diesel engine and it is really nicely set up.  There is the granny gear way over to the left - that one is only used to creep around freight terminals and such.  Then there are the first 4 lower gears - standard "H" pattern.  There is a little flippy thingy (aren't I technical!!!) on the front of the gear shifter.  To shift into the upper set of gears, you flip that up with your thumb and then go back to the beginning of the "H" and you are in 5th.  Once you are in the upper gears, you then have 2 settings for each of the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th gears.  There are different ways to refer to them, but Tony and I have settled on 5/high and 5/low, etc. flip the little front thing with your thumb to get to the higher gears, then, you toggle a side thingy again with your thumb to move between the high and low of each gear.  Are you lost yet?  THEN, you have to add the left foot/clutch program into this mix.  Actually, the right/throttle foot gets into the dance pretty often as well  Now can you imagine what happens in traffic that goes from 55 to 5 to 30 mph all in the space of a couple of blocks.  Very busy.
And when you are truly in the groove, you can do what is called "Floating the gears".  Doesn't that sound great?  It is.  Floating is when you are so tuned into the truck and what's going on that you can shift (either up or down) without using the clutch.  This is really magical and what I strive for when I drive.  I especially feel good when I can float the gears in intense traffic situations.  I have this sense of being hyper-aware, but above it all in a bubble of calm.  That my sound odd, but when driving is your job, there is a real sense of accomplishment there.
So, we got a sweet dispatch back out of LA and headed to Memphis again.  The weather is great, the sky is wonderfully blue and clear and we are looking forward to 2 days of smooth sailing.  Until later . . . 

Monday, February 18, 2008

Los Angeles - the Fondue Pot of America

I hitched up my britches and decided to forge ahead from Oklahoma City.  The temp had risen just above freezing so the rain was just really, really wet.  Clear skies the rest of the way on out to LA.  We arrived noonish on Sunday, scoped out our drop sight for the next morning and headed on into the truckstop.  Since it was so early and the day was so beautiful, we decided to venture out and see what was happening here.  A cab ride landed us at Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga.  This place is awesome - basically it is a really big mall that has been turned inside/out.  First stop was a great pub called "The Flying Pig" for some adult beverages.  After fortifying ourselves, we strolled out onto the mall and entered the stream of humanity.  I had only been to LA once for a night drop that we did a couple of weeks ago - Tony didn't have a whole lot more experience here.   
My overall impression is that "anything goes" here.  It is like the Creator tumbled everything and everyone together here and said, "There are no rules - do as you please...just be nice to each other".  We saw every combination of ethnicity and gender possible, but the overwhelming unifying factor was how well behaved and pleasant everyone was.  Multigenerational families were out strolling with babies in strollers and grandma's on walkers.  Huge families - often  10 or so members in one group.  The weather was mild - just cool enough for sleeves.  The mall has actual streets running all through it and cars were parked along the curbs.  The cars were all sparkling clean and gleaming . . . just like the people.
I know that America and more pointedly New York City have been called "The Melting Pot", well; LA is more like a "Fondue Pot" with everyone covered in a coating of warm white "niceness".  I really can't put into words how incredible our experience was last night - I guess I'll quit trying and just get on with my day.
I have a delivery to make this morning and then we will go "On the Board" and see where we head to next.
Until later...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Big Deep Breath . . . here I go!

"Okay, take a big deep breath and start blogging." I am repeating this over and over to myself as I begin this blog.   Sending out an e-mail to folks who know me is one thing, putting my words out for all the world to read is an entirely different feeling.  Almost dizzying, in fact.  (Now there's the perfect example, is "dizzying" even a real word?)  And punctuation is a whole other issue.  I haven't had my punctuation checked since I graduated from College.  I think I'll just blog like I talk and throw caution to the wind.  If anyone feels compelled to correct my grammar or spelling, please feel free to do so.  In fact, any comments will be appreciated - that way I'll know you're reading this.
We are parked in Oklahoma City at a truckstop.  I stopped here to fuel (in the trucking world, we don't "buy gas", we "get fuel") and noticed that the rain had frozen on my handhold as I got down from the truck.  Then another truck pulled in beside me and it was encased in a coating of ice.  When I asked where he had come from, he replied, "Amarillo".  This is of course, the way we are heading.  I have driven this stretch several times and know that there really isn't much between here and there, so made the decision to stop.  The weather seems to indicate that this will pass through fairly quickly and go on to bedevil the eastern portion of the country.  It is still dark now, but I have found that weather often tends to get a little better once it is daylight.  Maybe it is just easier for me to deal with.
Anyway, we are heading out to California - LA area.  We have a decent arrival time on this one, don't have to deliver until 8:00 a.m. on Monday.  We had hoped to sneak into LA and be at our drop site on Sunday night - may not make it now.
Our new truck is great - roomy and nice to drive.  As soon as I get the hang of this, I'll post pictures as well.