Sunday, December 7, 2008

Here's last Thursday.

We arrived at the yellow slip trailer bright and early. We waved yesterday’s yellow slips hopefully at the security guard, saying “look, you approved us yesterday” but the implication that this might mean we were still non-terrorists today was clearly lost in translation. Yesterday’s slips were discarded and our driving licences re-collected. We waited. Lots of other people arrived, handed in their licences and waited. The lots of other people all received yellow slips. We waited. Ontario drivers are clearly still too foreign and un-American for rapid processing, even though they were ultimately ok yesterday.

With slips in hand we were finally allowed, a mere 36 hours late, to venture onto Baltimore docks with our container full of bits of dumper truck, bound for Australia. There is a telephone arrangement at the first barrier you get to. It is not easy to hear the disembodied voice for all the other noise, but through the crackling and the accent barrier I heard “What are you doing today Challenger?” I would have thought it was obvious that, since I was sitting at the barrier to their dockyard with a container behind me, I was probably delivering a container for shipping. But you are not allowed to be facetious with these people, we learned that yesterday. “I’m delivering a container.” I advised, as sincerely as I could muster in the circumstances.
“What are you delivering?” Well, that made more sense as a question.
“Dump truck parts for Hitachi, going to Australia.”
“What’s your booking number?”
“Um, I don’t know, where will I find it?”
“It’s in the top right hand corner of your crackle, mumble, rhubarb.”
“Didn’t quite catch that? Which document is it on?” (We were in possession of half a tree of paperwork and booking numbers were a new one on Terry, who generally knows everything.)
“The crackle, mumble, rhubarb.”
I read her a few numbers off the top right hand corners of various documents. None of them were right.
“Can you tell me how many numbers it’s supposed to have?”

Terry and I swapped seats at this point, clearly my English ear was costing us valuable time. He couldn’t hear well either and none of the numbers either of us read off to the disembodied voice would satisfy. We were instructed to proceed to Customer Services. But not told where they were. On to the next barrier. A person this time. Who wanted our driving licences. We’d got yellow slips, but no, presumably we could have been hijacked between the trailer and the gate by someone who stole our yellow slips but not our driving licences. Exasperations began. The second-barrier-driving-licence-person did direct us to Customer Services though, which was about the most helpful thing that happened all day. The Customer Services person took our driving licences (it's an obsession) showed us the errant number on the paperwork, wrote it down and sent us off to Customs with the cheery words “come back here when you’ve cleared Customs.”

Paperwork, messing about, identifications, little stamps on more paperwork and finally we were clear to find a numbered bay among rows of little mountains of containers and await the crane which would unload our trailer. A third trip to Customer Services, who forgot to return a signed receipt, one more driving licence check on the way out and we appeared to have escaped Baltimore docks unarrested.

With relief we called in to tell despatch we were empty. A new load would be a new start. This one could begin on time and not go even remotely pear-shaped. That would be nice. But despatch had had a job ready for us since that morning. What with all the messing about, by the time we received it, refuelled and got across Baltimore to collect four tractors - bound for three different destinations in Quebec - time was pressing on. We arrived just before five, when the manufacturer closed. The quickest of handovers went “two for the first stop, one each for the next.” Various people drove the tractors onto our flatbed trailer and we then had to pull out of the yard to chain up in the dark while they went home.

Terry does all this stuff. I have no intention of working on flatbed loads, way too much heavy work, and thankfully, trainees who happen to find themselves learning on them are not expected to chain, strap or tarp anything. It’s interesting to watch, and I know enough now to hand a few things up, hook the right bit of this in that, but Terry is effectively on his own trying to work out how to secure four tractors safely and legally for being driven about by an amateur.

This all took a while.
We had been messing about with driving licences all day and now the drive would begin in the dark. I am learning that this is a pattern. It’s rough having to start a long journey when you’re already tired but we had to get some miles behind us if we were to make the first delivery by close of business on Friday. If all went well, if the weather didn’t close in, if I managed to keep my speed up and there were no delays at customs we would just make it. Tight but doable.

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