Wednesday, November 25, 2009
With the economy in a slump and jobs scarce as hen's teeth you may be considering a career change. If trucking looks good to you, there are some things you need to know before you jump in.

First off, trucking is not for everyone. You have to be able to handle long hours (up to 11 hours at a time behind the wheel), some heavy lifting (you may be required to help load and unload your trailer, and put in load locks), physical effort (you must be able to climb in and out of a trailer that is about four feet off the ground, and sweep it out occasionally - all 53 ft of it), stress (late loads, crazy/stupid drivers, pressure from dispatchers, bad weather - sometimes all of these at once), and paperwork (logs, trip paperwork, map reading, etc.) You must be good at handling challenges without panicking, a cool head is essential in this business. Good people skills help, too.

Training is expensive and can take weeks to complete, so don't think you will be able to jump right in and start earning right away. You will need to go to school first. Don't go to a CDL Mill! I can't stress this enough - DON'T GO TO A CDL MILL! Check out your local Vo-Tech and community colleges. The course will be cheaper, the training will be better, and you may even be able to get a Pell grant to help pay for it. A community college or Vo-Tech course will cost you around $3,000 and take about 8 weeks to complete - a CDL Mill will cost about $6,000 and take about 3 weeks.

Check out trucking companies before you start. Even though the ads in the paper say they are hiring, many are not right now. In fact many companies are downsizing. In many cases those ads in the paper are from CDL Mills that want your money - not from the the trucking companies themselves. Make sure the companies you are interested in are actually hiring.

After your schooling you will have to go to a company with a training program. Companies such as Swift, Stevens Transport, J.B. Hunt, Werner, Crete, U.S. Express, and a few others have special programs in place to further train student drivers. You will not learn everything you need to know in school - you must get hands-on on-the-job-training, usually 6 months worth. Trucking is NOT unskilled labor - no matter how the powers that be classify it.

Before you choose a company go to The Trucker's Report and check out their Trucking Company DAC Reports and the Good/Bad Trucking Company forum.

Also Desiree's A Day in the Life of a Lady Trucker is a must read. Not to scare you away from trucking, but because you should be aware of the problems that do exist out there. What she chronicles in her story is real, I have heard first hand accounts of the awful things that can happen to student drivers in an uncaring system. I was very lucky in that I got a great trainer (he was such a great trainer I eventually married him, but that's another story), and there are other great trainers out there who really do care about teaching. But, as with all walks of life, there are predators and scum mixed in, too, and you need to be prepared. Odds are good you will get matched up to drive with someone who, at the very least, has poor hygiene or an annoying personality, if not the outright horrors depicted in Desiree's story.

Trucking can be a very lucrative, very rewarding career, but it it also very hard to get started, and there will be many obstacles in your way. Student drivers don't get paid much - less now than ever, and are often jerked around by uncaring companies and taken advantage of by power hungry dispatchers. Be ready to stand up for yourself, be prepared to put up with a lot of crap. Look at your first year like a sort of Boot Camp - it sucks, but things get easier from there, and you will emerge a stronger person for it.

Once you have a couple of years accident free experience under your belt that CDL can be as good as gold. Don't think you will be stuck driving for the same monster uber-comany that you start with. With experience behind the wheel you can eventually move on to a smaller company that is more likely to treat you better, pay better, and get you home more often. You may even decide to become an Owner-Operator and really be your own boss.

I'm not writing this to scare anyone away from becoming a truck driver, but right now the CDL Mills are being especially predatory trying to take advantage of so many people who are out of work. I hope anyone who is considering doing this for a living will do their research, make their choices carefully, and not jump in blindly.

If you would like more step-by-step info on how to get your CDL, check out my article on eHow: How to Become a Long Haul Trucker
Friday, November 20, 2009

Well, we delivered in Houma, and now we are on our way to pick up our next load which will take us to Florida. We're traveling across I-10 south of New Orleans right now, and I'm enjoying the scenery. Now, I'm sure most people think of swamps as murky, stark, depressing places, wasted space, eyesores... but I find them hauntingly beautiful. Perhaps it's because of where I grew up. Southern Baldwin County, Alabama has its fair share of swamps, marshes, estuaries, and bayous. They are "In Between" places - halfway land, halfway water, not fully either; mysterious, teeming with life and color, delicately balanced. Home to egrets and herons, crabs, snails, gators, ospreys, and fish of all kinds, Spanish moss, Cyprus trees, vivid neon green and red algae, wildflowers of all colors, palmetto, and sawgrass.

Perhaps I find them so intriguing not because of the wildlife, but because of the mystery. In between places have a kind of magic to them. Legend says that fairies have power in the in betweens. Stories of spirits and rougarous, will-o-the-whisps, hoodoos, Swamp Thing, and Marie Leveau all capture my imagination.

There's also something about Cajun culture that I love - Zydeco, joie de vivre, good food ... mmm, that Cajun food - jambalya, crawfish pie, file gumbo...

No more boudan for me though. It has rice in it. Dang it, I love boudan.

Which brings me around to my diet. Latest update - I've lost 15 lbs so far. As I expected, my weight loss is slowing down. I expect to lose about 2 lbs a week or so.

Sticking to the primal diet has gotten harder, but not for the usual reason. I'm not hungry all the time, even though I'm taking in fewer calories than I used to (between 1000 and 1200 a day as opposed to the 1600 to 1800 that I used to eat) - in fact, some days I have to make myself eat enough to stay above the starvation level. What's making it hard is monotony. It's hard to get primal foods at truckstops, so I find I'm limited to just a few choices - those being hard boiled eggs, beef jerky, and cheese sticks. Even those aren't good choices because the beef jerky has sugar added, and in a lot of cases MSG, and the cheese has lots of preservatives and chemicals. I can broaden my choices with fast food salads, but even that isn't a great choice because they use so many preservatives and who knows what in their meats and dressings.

We have stopped at grocery stores a couple of times, but there aren't that many who allow big rigs in their lots. Even when we can stop, there isn't much room in the little fridge we got for the truck, so I can't buy much at a time. Here's what I've been eating:

Tuna packets - these come in flavors now, so it's not as monotonous.
nuts - pecans, walnuts, almonds, macadamias
fruit - apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, melon
beef jerky - trying to cut down on this one because of the added sugar and MSG.
hard boiled eggs
salads - whenever I can.
stuff cooked on the truck.

Now, my husband and I drive as a team, which means we are always moving. We very rarely sit, and when we do we often don't know how long we'll be sitting still, and it's never on any predictable schedule. This makes it difficult to cook in the truck.

It's hard to prepare food when bumping down the road. I can't often stay awake for the two hours or so it takes for our lunch-box oven to cook most things when we are on a hard run, which is most of the time - I need to be either sleeping, keeping up with paperwork, making phone calls, and planning our trips when I'm not driving. (This is one of the reasons my posts here are so haphazard as well.) Now, at the moment we are waiting to get loaded, and I have a buffalo steak marinading in the fridge. I don't know whether or not I will have time to cook it this afternoon. I try, though. I like to cook, and I like home cooked food.

Here's what I've been cooking when I get the chance:

Chop up 1/2 a zucchini, 1/2 a yellow squash, 1/2 a small onion, a couple of baby portobello mushrooms, some sweet bell peper.
Put in a tin loaf pan (the size that fits so nicely in a lunchbox cooker) along with some beef tips or other meat of your choice. Top with 1/2 a can of diced tomatoes (I like the ones with cilantro and lime), season to taste (pepper and garlic powder for me.) and cook for about 1 1/2 hours. Optionally, you can substitute the diced tomatoes with marinara sauce and when it's almost done you can add a layer of mozzarella cheese to the top.

Kabobs - pretty much the same ingredients - zucchini, squash, portobello mushroom, sweet bell pepper, meat of your choice. Load onto bamboo skewers, brush with oil, sprinkle with black pepper, and put them in a Forman-style grill. These are great because I can get them ready before hand, cook them while we're moving,  and hand one to my husband while he's driving so he can eat with minimal distraction and mess, and we don't have to stop rolling.

I tried eggplant pizza (using slices of eggplant instead of grain-based crust) but that didn't work out so well. I couldn't close the Forman grill on the toppings, and I got tired of trying to hold it almost closed to melt the cheese - so my toppings never got hot and the eggplant wasn't done all the way through.

I plan to pick up our mini-crock pot when we are home over Thanksgiving so I can try soups and stews, and I'm going to make up a couple of no-noodle lasagnas and beanless meat chili to freeze in those little loaf pans and bring out with us so all I have to do is pop them in the cooker to heat. I also plan to use some of my time at home to find more recipe ideas and make lists of ingredients I can carry on the truck to make them. What I want to be able to do is buy only a few ingredients at a time, but be able to make several different meals from the same ingredients (that way I can use them all up before they go bad, since most things come in such large packages these days and I usually have plenty left over after only one meal - hence the two recipes above.)

I'll keep you updated, dear reader.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009
We've been having all kinds of problems with our truck lately. The odometer rolled over 200,000 miles, and everything started falling apart. It started with needing new steer tires - seems we ran the rubber right off the old ones.

Then we started having problems with our batteries going dead. We couldn't leave the truck turned off for more than an hour without having to jump start it. Most states have anti-idle laws, so that put us in quite a pickle. We could either leave it running and risk a ticket, or turn it off and have to get a jump start to get moving again.

We took it to a TA in Maryland, but they couldn't find anything wrong with it. Breakdown told us to take it to the Freightliner dealer in Baltimore. On the way there our blower motor quit working - no heat, no AC. They found several other things wrong with it, too, but the biggie was a problem with the alternator. Our company was hot for us to pick up a load and keep moving because they were overbooked for freight in that area - they didn't have enough trucks to pick up all the loads. We ended up being laid over for two days waiting for a new alternator to come in. The company wouldn't let the mechanics there fix all the other problems because they wanted us to get back on the road as soon as possible.

Mike and I used our time to brave the Baltimore public bus system and we went to the Baltimore Museum of Art, right next to Johns Hopkins University. My hubby isn't much of an art guy, but he kind of enjoyed it. They had a special exhibit on the art inspired by Edgar Allen Poe that I really enjoyed.  I think Mike mostly enjoyed learning that big city public transit isn't as scary as he thought it would be - kind of opens up a whole new world of things to do and see when we are laid over in a bigger city. We ate at a cool little place called The Dizz, which was right next door to Charm City Cakes (of Ace of Cakes fame).

Well, when our truck was out of the shop dispatch tried to give us a load going to Oregon, but we said, "No Way, Jose!" No blower motor means no defroster. No way we were going to head into snow with no defroster. So they got us a load back to the yard. A load with 4 pick-ups - Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Surprisingly, it went very smoothly and we were able to get back out of the dreaded North East pretty easily.

We got to the yard on Saturday morning, and our truck went straight in the shop. We got laundry done, and took care of some other stuff on the yard, then we went to see a movie. I'm afraid I can't recommend "The Men Who Stare at Goats". Save your money. I wish we had. Then we spend some time walking around the mall, ate at Outback (mmmm....good...), slept in a hotel (one more might off the truck, very refreshing).
We got moving again Sunday night (fixed blower motor, annual maintenance, and they installed a spare tire rack) and delivered our load in Dallas - 2 delivery stops.

From there we got a load out to Riverside, CA, and from there we reloaded to Mt. Sterling, IL. When we were alomost to Mt. Sterling the truck started making a funny noise. The noise kept getting worse, and we had to nurse the truck and pray the last 20 miles or so. We got the load delivered, unhooked from the trailer while it was in the dock door, and called breakdown, again.

Turns out the alternator they installed in Baltimore had bad bearings. Once it cooled down it froze up completely and we had to be towed to the Freightliner shop in Quincy, IL, about 30 miles away. I got to ride in the truck while it was being towed because there wasn't room for both of us in the cab of the tow truck, which was kind of cool being towed backwards. The tow truck driver had the truck jacked up a little high, and we almost hit a low bridge, but he stopped just in time and had to lower the truck a little.

This was on a Friday, and they couldn't get a new alternator in till Monday, so we got to spend another weekend in a hotel. Luckily the hotel was just a short walk from a movie theater, and we got to see "2012". That one was worth the money. Sweet, juicy eye candy. The plot was a little lacking, and there where physics errors big enough to drive our rig through, but it was fun.

Sunday we rented a car and drove to Hannibal, MO, about 25 miles south of Quincy. We got to tour the Mark Twain cave, which is the cave used as the model for the cave in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer". I'm going to have to go back and re-read that now that I know what the cave looks like. It was very narrow and twisty, and really does have bats.

After the cave we went to the Mark Twain boyhood home and museum, which was pretty cool. And we ate at the most wonderful little restaurant called the Abby Rose. It was filled with beautiful Victorian decor, the food was excellent, and on Sundays they serve it "home style", which means they bring the food out in bowls and you scoop what you want onto your plate. If you are ever in Hannibal, I highly recommend the place. The prices are reasonable, too.

Monday we got back on the road, and right now we are heading for Houma, LA. The clutch is starting to give us problems, but we are scheduled for time off for Thanksgiving, so we don't want to say anything to breakdown about it cause we don't want to be stuck in another hotel room when we should be home enjoying turkey and trimmings. We're just going to keep our fingers crossed and take care of it after Thanksgiving.
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I'm a 34 year old wife, truck driver, writer, and photographer with a love of adventure and travel. I am a Libertarian, and a total sci-fi geek. I studied archaeology at Auburn University.


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