Sunday, December 7, 2008

The next bit, despite Rogers and their peculiar ways.

Bugs. For some reason best known to themselves Rogers have been protecting me from the evils of while using their natty new wifi stick. So, the stories can only now be told. Here is last Wednesday’s blog...

Well here we are, after a week of delays, confusions and alarums. I am finally ensconced in new truck, with new trainer and all settled in for a night ‘on the road’ for real. It all took longer than expected, mainly because the trainer who was supposed to haul me along in addition to his trailer last week got as far as Quebec before looking around the cab and twigging that something was missing. In the meantime, I had been sitting eagerly by the phone, with my little bags all packed and sitting eagerly by the door, wondering whether I still had a job. I called the company once or twice, got put through to various voicemail machines and finally found a live voice to whom I could confess that I didn’t seem to have gone anywhere yet and hoped it wasn’t my fault.

They were very sweet about it all and called the truck I should have been in, at about the time that the trainer who got away was feeling a certain emptiness around him. It was difficult not to take it personally at the time, but since he has neither met me nor seen me reverse I am minded to take the incident as just one more cue that my career in trucking might be destined to resemble more of a Jacques Tati film than a day at the office.

My new trainer is Terry. He is not even remotely intimidating (although the truck is remarkably so, with corners in new places and lots of shiny chrome bits that get in the way of being able to see things out of the window). He is patient and encouraging and doesn’t mind driving when I am too fatigued, stressed or confused to be able to focus. Which is, to be honest, at least once a day just now. He is less patient with uniformed jobsworths, but we have evaded arrest so far. Possibly only just.

Our cab is a relatively snug home from home. Fridge, microwave, little oven, TV, you name it. Add a cat and it would be indistinguishable from the real thing. And this evening, finally, there is time to settle. Night one, after a short trip to Michigan and back consisted of a few hours of desperate exhaustion after finishing at four-thirty in the morning. Night two, somewhat similar. We have spent a lot of time driving up and down hills, in the dark, on icy roads, with very little visibility due to snow and the like. The romance of crossing mountains and deserts hasn’t quite kicked in yet, especially since we have spent the better part of the last two days (and by better part I really mean the daylight bit when you might be able to see where you are going) hanging around waiting for interminable faxes related to customs paperwork to not be sent, not be received, not be sent again and...

Why are we a little more leisured tonight? Well, the load for Baltimore which was due to leave at ten o’clock yesterday morning and arrive between eight and three today has become one of those tasks which, once a tad pear-shaped, just keep on getting pearier. Yesterday’s wait for faxes and paperwork took until threeish, which rather snookered leaving at ten and meant that we would be arriving closer to three than to eight today, without any further disasters. Getting lost for an hour and a half trying to find Baltimore docks brought us to the security checkpoint with twenty minutes to go. Phew, just in time. But we had reckoned without Homeland Security. There is a yellow slip of paper to be had before you can drive onto the dockyard premises. Said yellow slip of paper must be obtained from a mobile checkpoint that we had allegedly already driven past. It was about two miles back. Just past the blue underpass there would be a police car, “look to the right, you’ll see the light,” advised today’s uniformed jobsworth. Terry attempted some pleading, but the uniforms bristled. These were clearly The Rules.

We went back, found the underpass, looked not only to the right but in every direction. No police car with lights on, no mobile security point. Back to the docks. Same policeman, same directions, “everyone else has found it.” The smirk rankled a little.
“Past the underpass is just a concrete wall” Terry protested, a little irritated.
“Look for the light.”
“Are you saying light, or lot?”
“In the light.”
“A parking lot?”
“Yes, like I said, look for the light.” He regarded us in amused manner, as though we are a little simple. Or it could have been the amusement of enjoying giving us the runaround. Difficult to tell. We concluded that we were looking for a parking lot and not a police car with lights on and tried again.

The mobile security point was indeed in a car park, but just before the underpass, not just past it. No lights at all. It was a trailer, no police car. Normally I’d blame my English ear for the language barrier but Terry heard it all that way too. We waited in the freezing cold for half an hour or so while a guard took our driving licences into the, oddly scruffy, trailer with a Homeland Security logo on the side. There was, allegedly, a policeman on the inside who would peruse our driving licences at his leisure and then scribble some nonsense on, yes, a yellow slip of paper.

Now, all this is undoubtedly a worthy attempt to prevent terrorists from depositing unauthorised goods in a container bound for Australia, but Terry and I both already have identity cards which allow us to move freight across borders. Unlike our driving licences, they prove that we have been assessed within an inch of our lives for terrorist tendencies. Homeland Security have already interviewed, photographed and fingerprinted us for goodness sake; so quite how a chap in a caravan who doesn’t even pop his head out side to see if we match the licence he has on his desk is providing an additional layer of safety for innocent US citizens who wish to sleep safely in their beds is beyond me.

People came and went. Yellow slips flew in all directions but ours. Clearly foreign driving licences are extra difficult to process. We arrived back at the docks with our vital little bits of paper a few minutes after four o’clock. Customs close at four. The uniformed jobsworth who gave us the wrong directions twice is beside himself with glee. Terry’s body language alters slightly “Shame on you, do you realise that by doing this you are costing the country money?” he begins. The body language among the jobsworths alters slightly. These people have guns. Will I be able to write about getting arrested in my first blog from the road? Somebody is about to explode with something. Our jobsworth thinks about it, makes his decision and wanders off laughing. Clearly there is less paperwork that way.

Our load is not just an hour late, it will have to wait for tomorrow morning. Which is why, if you are still reading, I am settled on the top bunk bed, all warm and fed with truckstop food, playing with my favourite new toy, the usb wifi modem, which means I can email people from anywhere.

Will tomorrow's encounter with customs be any less tortuous? Unlikely.

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