Friday, August 13, 2010

Anything To Declare?

Well, I’m somewhere north of Chicago, knackered and stressed but still in one piece. I decided to take yesterday one step at a time and not get anxious about the next thing until I got to it. This served me well right through sorting out the paperwork, checking over the truck, securing and sealing the load, fuelling up and getting over the border. So far so good. With the slight exception of a greengrocery-related bollocking at customs. When Canadian ossifers ask you ‘anything to declare?’ they would like to know if you are importing any alcohol, tobacco or firearms. The US counterpart asks the same question but he wants to know whether you are packing any fruit or vegetables. I declared my apple and my peach. He demanded that they be produced for inspection.

This took a few moments ferreting about in the cooler among the odds and ends of my packed lunches.
‘These don’t have labels on!’
‘I’m sorry, should they?’
‘All imported fruit must have a decal detailing country of origin.’
‘I didn’t know that sir, I do apologise.’
‘Next time it’ll be confiscated. Goodbye.’
And I was through, duly chastised for my fruit faux-pas, and left wondering whether I should be buying Canadian or US apples from now on.

I took my time and was on target to stop either just before Chicago at 9ish in the evening or just after Chicago at 11ish. I sat at the truckstop I’d selected to think about this in and reckoned that I had another couple of hours driving left in me and that Chicago might best be tacked for the first time at night, when there would be less traffic. My trusty GPS would guide me through, so I had a quick meal and pinpointed another truckstop that looked to be 2-3 hours further on.

A fine plan. That would leave me a mere 3 hours from my destination, which I could knock out late-morning and be in good time for my delivery slot. There was no point in being too early, as the reload wasn’t scheduled until 7 in the evening and I had to get some decent mileage back under my belt after that before my daily hours ran out. It’s all a bit complicated, this route planning, and of course the first time I was doing it solo. We think of truckers as uneducated oafs but blimey there’s a lot to consider. Not just the best way to get somewhere and how long it will take but how you will fit it into a 14 hour workday, making sure you drive for no more than 11 hours, and that a 10 hour rest can be fitted in before you start again, and you arrive on time.

My plan had a fatal flaw. Chicago is not quieter at night. It is a permanent traffic jam and took at least an hour and half longer to get through than I had imagined. This brought me perilously close to 11 hours driving and instant illegality. It was late and dark and I was exhausted, I needed to stop. Searching desperately for somewhere, anywhere, that it looked like trucks might be allowed to enter I finally found a small patch of parking lot that had a couple of trucks in. I swung in a little too fast and realised I had taken the wrong entrance, I would not be able to tuck in neatly beside them but could just about get myself out of everybody’s way if I pulled up into an area that looked like it was for turning round in. I made a rough job of straightening the truck, decided it would have to do and settled down for the night.

I’d like to be able to tell you that my first night on my own on the road was cozy and fun but actually it was a tad tiring. I had no idea where I was or whether I was allowed to park there, so I spent most of the night waiting for someone to hammer on the door yelling ‘you can’t park here’. I slept in my clothes, just in case of early-hours encounters and berated myself hourly for not going to sleep. When dawn broke I sneaked a look out of the window and realised that I was in the car park of a trucker’s breakfast stop and that rigs had been arriving and leaving without much trouble from me. I finally dozed off for a couple of hours.

Later in the morning the place was buzzing. Everybody gave me a cheery wave as I ambled by to see if any coffee could be had. The coffee was nice and the people friendly and nobody pointed out to me the sign that I had missed in the night…’Truckers welcome but please don’t sleep here.’
I suppose I’m not the first unwise soul to have been caught out.

Of course, I was in a horrendous position for getting out again. I was angled away from the road, with ditches and bollards on all sides. I would like to think I provided a spot of free breakfast entertainment as I wiggled and fretted about, to and fro, up and down, trying to get the trailer into a position where I could back it into the car park enough to turn back out onto the road. Who the hell in their right mind wants to do this for a living? But, I made it. I am up the road now at a proper truckstop, all parked up and availing myself of more coffee, pleasant facilities and shopping. Day 1 has been survived. I am in Wisconsin, a couple of hours from the company I need to find. All I have to do now is get there, get into the dock without incident, unstrap one load, strap up another, sort out the customs paperwork, find somewhere to refuel and get home. Possibly bypassing Chicago.

Ah well, one step at a time, I think I will clean the windscreen. I can do that.

No comments:

Post a Comment