Sunday, September 26, 2010

More changes

Well I was mulling over whether the less-than-load, auto parts delivery life was for me when the phone rang. It was ex-employer and much-beloved, adopted extended family member Bert. The same Bert whose limousine company kept us afloat in leaner times when we first moved to Canada. Some pals of his were short of an AZ driver for a run to Montreal, would I like to bobtail the 10th tractor? Of course I would. This appeared to be a foot in the door with a company who used drivers on an ad-hoc basis. They’d have to like me of course, and I’d have to not screw up and break anything on my first run, presumably, but it still represented a way out of the 70 hour week. Much though I like the work, the exhaustion was killing me, not to mention the alarming weight loss.

I decided to take the chance. Linamar appeared quite sorry to lose me. I was doing fine they said, it was only a door after all and everyone does that. I was driving well, getting everything delivered on time. But I knew I wouldn’t cope long term. If the industry standard was to view the legal maximum hours as a practical minimum and to assume that nobody really needed their sleep then I really was in the wrong job. Part-time trucking was starting to look very attractive, whatever this new company turned out to be like.

So, Bert and I dutifully turned up at a new yard on Sunday evening. The plan was to drive to Montreal overnight and deliver 10 tractors to an auction house for Monday morning. The company would be driving us back apparently. The tractors were waiting for us, with neatly organised paperwork inside. There was even a little hand-drawn map of where we had to go. I began to think these people might be a considerate bunch to work for. We had arrived a little ahead of the other 8 drivers, expecting to take longer to get settled and sorted, but we were ready to go in short order and decided to set off early anyway, both assuming that our elderly bladders might require more stops along the way than the whiz kids.

And this is how I found myself driving a heavy duty, 18-speed Peterbilt for someone I’d never met. I’ve written about Petes before. They are reputedly the Rolls Royce of North American trucking, drivers are duty bound to love them, but I've yet to work out why. They appear to be designed for people with very long arms and legs. If you are normal sized, sitting where you can reach the pedals means that the dash comes up to your nose and the windscreen looks like a skylight. I have driven with Pete fans who have to lower their seat to the floor in any other truck, just to recreate this bizarre lack of visibility. All the buttons and knobs and things you have to twiddle are located just out of reach. This makes for a commandingly impressive cab, reminiscent of some flight deck or other, but an annoying drive if you aren't Twizzle.

Although, maybe normal-sized men have longer arms and legs than normal-sized women. I’d not noticed. Thinking back to the day Rachael and I had to suit up to put a suspected Lassa Fever patient in our ambulance, we asked for average-sized infection control suits and spent ages rolling up the arms and legs.

I digress. I was heartily glad to have driven a Pete back at Challenger with Dave the long-haired Angel addict. All I had to do was think back to Howard Stern on the radio and the locations of things that weren’t where they should be came flooding back; thus we were on the road in no more time that it would have taken to safety a familiar truck.

Nothing went wrong. That makes for very little to write about. Road works, impossible signage and rude drivers are all normal for Montreal (I’ve mentioned hating Montreal more than once) but it was all a little easier to handle without a trailer. We arrived at the auction yard at about half-past-five in the morning. The guard spoke only French. Bert sent him to talk to me, on the grounds that I was edumacated, but my French education stopped with a barely scraped pass at O level. I think he was telling me that we couldn’t park there but I chose to refuse to understand. “Les autres,” I stumbled, dredging up a word at a time. “venez ici…aussi.” He looked puzzled. “Dix camions!” I waved my hands around dramatically. He started to look defeated.

As if to punctuate my words, a straggly line of identical tractors started to arrive and line up behind us. “Avec nous!” With much irritated body language, he gave up, opened the barrier and directed us to park in a line behind a bunch of JCB type things. Then, in a flurry of bad-tempered paperwork, ten of us were relieved of our trucks and the conversations began. Apparently we were supposed to have to wait until 8 o’clock to deliver the trucks. One of the somebodies-in-charge called our transport home to tell him we were ready to roll. He had been dispatched the previous day and accommodated in a hotel so that he would have had legal amounts of sleep. Thus disturbed he leapt into action and assured us all he was on his way. We snoozed in the backs of our respective cabs until he arrived.

I was expecting a minibus of some sort, not a spanking-great, white, shiny, luxury, super-stretch limousine. We all piled in, settled down among the plump and fancy cushions, took our shoes off and curled up to re-snooze. It was heaven. Apparently this is normal. The chaps took a vote on where to stop for breakfast and settled on the Flying J just outside Montreal. Hooray. You can get a nice veggie omelette at the J and I was unstressed enough to be getting hungry. I dozed happily until we stopped. The two chaps who were emerging as the bosses of this pleasant little outfit commandeered half the restaurant and organised the wait staff into pushing tables together so that all eleven of us could eat together. I now know that you have to order a ‘mirror’ egg in French Canada if you want it sunny side up. Sorry, that should be ‘miroir’. Because it’s shiny. Not that I like sunny side up eggs but if I ever run another B&B it might come in handy.

Once we’d all places our orders for breakfast combos, steak and eggs, monster omelettes and the like, one of the boss chaps told the server to put it all on one bill. I looked at Bert, nonplussed. “They buy our breakfast?” He grinned and nodded. 

Plenty of coffee and brekky later, the atmosphere in the limo became positively festive. The questioning started, who was I? What had I driven? How had I ended up in their convoy? I hedged a bit but didn’t tell any outright porkies. And the fact that I’d driven their vehicle from a to b appeared to speak for itself. It wasn’t long before the questions turned to teasing and that’s when you know it’s all ok. I go a bit quiet in unknown corners of macho territory, you never quite know where the resentment might lie, but teasing means acceptance. Especially after the bit of conversation that went,
”I’m surprised they let us in so early.”
“That might be my fault. I think he was trying to tell me we couldn’t go in but I pretended not to understand.”
“Do you speak French?”
“Only a bit, I kept on telling him there were 10 of us until he caved in.”
The value of a girlie on the crew started to seep into a few minds and this was turning into the sort of trucking I could cope with.

Then someone dug around under some coats and bags and unearthed a huge cooler. It was placed carefully in the middle of the limo within everyone’s reach. It was full of beer. Gobsmacked for a third time. “That’ll help you sleep on the way back” grinned the guy who had mother-henned us around the truck stop. And we did. This is definitely the sort of trucking I can cope with.

They took my phone number and asked about availability for future runs. I think I’m officially a part-time trucker. The blogs might be less regular but I stand a better chance of surviving. And the book gets to have a chapter called Convoy!

1 comment:

  1. That all sounds fab - hope you get plenty of work, brekky and beer out of them!