Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Little Black Book

No not that sort. I’m a little old for reams of phone numbers of eligible bachelors. Although come to think of it, being young didn’t require a book for them either. It’s a little notebook that made itself useful while I was so generally freaked out and terrified that nothing stuck in my memory at all. Dispatch would say "you went there last week" and I would stand there looking gormless, searching the synapses for any kind of recognition.

Sometimes the book makes sense. It says things like ‘Textron, Muskegon. Lenny the scale guy, fierce rules; under rlwy bridge, Michigan turnaround; scale on rt, must weigh in and out; metal bins 2nd dock, plastic and loading 1st dock’. This was all useful information the second time I went there, bogie-sliding incidents notwithstanding.

Sometimes it is of limited use. 'Muhashi, Battle Creek. Brown bldn to L of ball diamond, use intercom, mad car park.' Once I found the ball diamond the memory kicked in but I’d not noted quite how much it looks like the road has stopped before you get to it. Or how to negotiate the mad car park.

Sometimes my notes are just plain wrong. It’s not always my fault. When I wrote 'Detroit, bridge from I94, exit 213B, DON’T MISS IT, signs for Toledo, not bridge’, I didn’t know that Detroit keeps moving its routes around roadworks all the time. I should have written ‘look for tiny orange signs’ instead.

Occasionally I have just been very stupid. And since I have a little more time on my hands and am trying to edit all this, and the bits that never made it into blogland, into a proper book…I feel duty bound to confess to some of the screw-ups I was too embarrassed to mention at the time.

Remember the car park we’re not supposed to drive into? The one with the coffee wagon and the people trying to go home? It’s here if you have better things to do with your life than memorise my hapless struggles. We’d had to visit two plants in Windsor on the way to the border. We were delivering a little thing called a broach to a company called Colonial Tool and collecting a truckload of empty bins from another called ExCor to go to Coleman, Michigan. There was a lot of debate about where to go first, the delivery was a lot closer to the border than the collection was. So, we could either do the two stops in logical geographic order and hope that the shippers would kindly unload the broach and reload it on the back when they were done, or we could get rid of it first and then double back. I didn’t know what a broach was of course. I had no idea how big or heavy it might be, so I just nodded sagely and refrained from opening my mouth while my trainer weighed the options.

It turned out to be a small wooden pallet, we reckoned we could probably shift it ourselves if required so option 1 became the plan. The first stop in Windsor was a place that insisted you shift the trailer wheels as far to the rear as they will go before loading, ie my favourite pastime of sliding the bogies. It was a nuisance at the time but at least I got a refresher in how to do it while I still had a trainer with me. (Not that that made much difference in the end.) 

Leaving that plant had been a nightmare. It required a tight right turn into a load of coned off roadworks, followed immediately by a dog-leg through more cones and an easy-to-miss ramp onto the highway. Not demolishing any cones had been a triumph of trailer wiggling, although I had held some irritable traffic up in the process. The ExCor forklift people had kindly removed and replaced our little wooden thing on the back of the trailer, so that when we finally emerged from the whole ‘trucks don’t normally come into the car park’ thing at Colonial Tool, it had been removed fairly effortlessly.

I didn’t make my notes until the end of that run. We’d delivered to a place with a car park so tiny that my trainer had taken over the reversing while I sat trying to observe how it was done. My observations had been a little hampered by the little voice in my head going ‘ohnoohnoohno I might have to do this’. She’d moved the trailer wheels as far forward as they would go to create the smallest possible turning circle and barely got the truck into place. 

Then they’d sent us to Pontiac. I’d been noticing that a lot of Detroit’s suburbs had the names of cars and had set to wondering whether the places or the cars came first. I was planning to ask someone when we got there but it was impossible to find and getting lost ate up a lot of time. We were tired and it was dark when we finally located the end of a street that nobody had heard of. My notebook has a diagram of the car park. If the last one had been difficult, this one was a piss-take. A blind-side reverse that you could only set up for by poking the nose of the truck up a little alley. The notes on my diagram say things like ‘this wall not straight’ and ‘concrete not square’. And 'Yellow line deceptive'.

So what with one thing and another, when I later wrote 'Colonial Tool, Windsor. Must shift duals to back, air pressure knob retracts pins, dog-leg through roadworks'. And 'ExCor, Windsor. Park on Seneca St, forklift will come out, turn L past bldn and go round it.' I didn’t realise I’d got them reversed until I had to return to one on my own.

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