Sunday, August 22, 2010

A trip of two halves

Finding a place for the first time only happens once. So some stuff will get easier as time goes by. When dispatch called to ask if I’d go out on Friday night it was by way of asking a favour, Linamar’s drivers appear to expect to have their weekends off. I could do with the Brownie points though and it didn’t sound too bad a run, drive over to some suburb of Detroit, sleep, deliver in the morning, collect a new load at lunchtime and be home before dark. Ok then. 

Then of course I thought it over. There are no truckstops or rest areas in Detroit. I called the company and asked whether they had any areas I could sleep. “Oh yes” the lady in the office told me, “just ask the guard, he’s very good, he’ll show you where to park.” I am realising that most of the anxiety around finding new places has less to do with getting lost than it does with not knowing where you will sleep.

I found this one after a minor panic trying to read unlit road signs on a small trading estate in the dark and the lady had been as good as her word. The guard at the gate was charming, directed me to a big ‘holding pen’ for deliveries that was easy to get into, easy to park in and easy to get out of. He showed me where the ladies’ loo was. Luxury. It was about 1 in the morning.
“What are you delivering?”
“Empty cartons, they’re due in at 8:00.”
“They get in at 5, they might unload you then.”
“I’d rather sleep until 8.”

I settled in for the night. I’m starting to sleep quite well in the cab. As you can see from the pic it’s a ‘bungalow’ with only one bunk level. I thought this might make for a bit of claustrophobia as the windows tend to be on the upper level of two-story cabs, so mine doesn’t have any. But once I’m locked in and curtained off it’s positively snug. Either that or I am so dog-tired that I’d sleep anywhere.

At 5 in the morning there was a hammering on the door. I peered blearily out of the window.
“What are you delivering?”
“Empty cartons.”
“They won’t be unloaded until 8.”

Apart from that minor annoyance it was a great place to deliver to. The icing on cake turned out to be big wide easy docks with loads of space in between, masses of turning room and yellow lines on the ground that were freshly painted and easy to see. Most warehouse docks have them, they make it easier to line the wheels up, but most are so faded and old they may as well not be there. I was offloaded by 9 and had been given permission to spend the next few hours back in their holding pen before setting off for my 1:30 pickup down the road. This was turning into a good day.

Things took a downward turn at the next customer, a small foundry in a more cluttered part of town. I arrived carefully early, assuming that most people who work on Saturdays want to get home as soon as they can. Oh dear, blind-side reversing off the road, this was going to be fun. The shipping office was empty. I ambled about a bit, looking for someone to wave at. Eventually I found a forklift driver who said he knew nothing about any shipments going out. He told me to back onto any dock and he’d see what he could find out. I was going to have to do it, there was no-one around to laugh and I was early so I took a deep breath, scoped out the available space, pulled round and into a driveway on the opposite side of the road and somehow, bit by bit, managed to blind-side the trailer into an approximation of the right position.

With much getting out to check and plenty of toing and froing, I managed it. I was about a foot from perfectly docked when jobsworth of the day appeared.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m taking my time getting onto your dock sir, I’m very sorry if I’m in anyone’s way.”
“No, I mean why are you here?”
“I’m collecting a delivery for Hastech in Ontario.”
“That dock's are around the back. And you’re early. I’m not ready yet, I haven’t even started to sort it out. Why are you early? You should be here at 1:30”
“I’m sorry to be early sir, I didn’t mean to cause you any problems, I’m just very new and I didn’t want to get lost and be late. I have no wish to rush you sir, I can wait.”
He seemed slightly mollified by this and the body language became a little less antsy. 

He showed me a small, grubby map of the foundry and how to get to where I needed to be. Which was not only ‘around the back’ but down between two buildings, past a load of cars, around in a junkyard behind the foundry and into a tiny dock between two small walls. My time-consuming but beautiful blind-side manoeuvre had been pointless, and a sight easier than the next one was going to be. 

I continued to grovel. I told him that it would take me ages to get onto the dock so that I would most definitely not be early by then and that there was no need to alter his (clearly vital) schedule for the day. I am wondering how long I can keep up the hapless rookie routine, it seems to work wonders with inspiring assistance and cooperation from all and sundry. Jobsworth became positively helpful on the surface, although I do think he went for lunch anyway before getting anything ready to load. To be fair to the continent of North America, he is the first jobsworth I have encountered so far, they seem to be rarer here.

It took about 10 minutes in the end, to wiggle past the cars, turn avoiding the junk, miss the little walls and get approximated onto the dock. Then I looked at the way out. That was going to take some time too. I waited about an hour, calculating how late I could leave and still be home before dark. It was just about possible when I called the customs broker to see how fast they could expedite the border paperwork. “Our computer’s down, we’re going to have to walk it over physically, could you lose about an hour before you get there?”

Fortunately Detroit was being dug up that weekend and I was cleverly able to lose an hour and more driving round in circles trying to follow ever tinier diversion signs in rapidly diminishing visibility due to torrential rain. I was getting tired by then and wanted nothing more than to get home and start my Saturday. I decided to forgo a meal stop and head home as fast as I could as soon as the border was behind me, but the world had other ideas. More torrential rain, an accident closing off the highway and for the third time this week I found myself being diverted off the only road between the border and civilisation. The emergency detour route takes one on a charmingly pretty meander round farms and small Ontario towns. On a nice day, when you are not exhausted and desperate to get home it is probably lovely, but in the rain, after a day when you have done nothing but sweat and worry, and as the light is fading, it is pure torture.

I got back to Guelph about 9. It was still raining. Hastech happens to have a dock built at an annoying angle to the building. I can manage it in daylight.

Still tired.


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