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1:38 am EST 32°F (0°C) in Beaverdam, OH
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I am currently on my way home for six days, after handing off a load to another driver in Memphis, IN (15 miles or 25 km north of Louisville, KY) last night. Ordinarily, I’m told, my company tries to avoid “deadheading” (moving with an unloaded trailer) drivers more than about 150 miles (240 km) to get them home, but for some reason, in this case, my deadhead is more than double that. Not that I mind at all; it’s just wasting their fuel — after everything is added up, it costs the average large-fleet company about 50¢ per mile just to run the truck, and without a load, they’re earning zip on those miles.
I’m going to stick with trucking for the subject of tonight’s update. Specifically, I’m going to talk about how so many of my fellow truck drivers out here are amazingly stupid and brain-dead; it never ceases to amaze me how often I see them doing things that (a) waste their (or their company’s) profits, (b) make no logical sense whatsoever, and (c) just generally subtract from the safe and orderly flow of traffic on the roads.
Late last Wednesday night, January 17, I was leaving the Love’s Travel Stops location in Ina, IL, along Interstate 57 just south of its multiplex with Interstate 64. I was closely following another driver on the two-lane connecting road across I-57, practically twiddling my thumbs because he was moving so … fucking … slowly on the bridge. After what seemed an eternity, we finally got to the point where we both turned left to the on-ramp for southbound I-57. This other driver probably wasn’t even feeding half-throttle to his motor as he proceeded down the ramp. As we reached the gore area where the on-ramp merges into the right lane of the freeway, I had had enough of it and, seeing no traffic behind us for a long distance, swung directly out into the left lane of southbound I-57. I blew past him almost like he was standing still.
I thought I had completely left him behind as I accelerated to my final cruising speed of 60 mph (96 km/h). (Why so slow? Illinois has a 55 mph (88 km/h) truck speed limit — but as a general rule, I figure any cop who wants to screw with me for five over needs something better to do. Ten over is pushing it, but five is really picayune.) Perhaps 15 miles (about 25 km) down the road, the very same truck came screaming right back past me, doing what had to be at least 68 mph (110 km/h) if not more.
This driver was guilty of items (a) and (b) from two paragraphs above. The most logical, sensible thing to do when driving a truck is to really hammer on it down the on-ramp, to get as close to highway speed as possible before merging into the freeway, and then cruise at a constant speed that will keep you out of trouble with law enforcement. Large swings in freeway cruising speed do nothing but waste tremendous amounts of fuel; I mean, just one acceleration from 50 mph (80 km/h) to 70 mph (112 km/h) can send half a gallon (2 L) of fuel up the exhaust stack in smoke. Do this ten times, and at current diesel prices, that’s $12 worth of wasted profits. Of course, that doesn’t even begin to take into consideration the next Illinois State Police cruiser sitting in the median, and the trooper in it who will pull you over and write you a nice, fat citation for going 15 over.
This past Friday, January 19, I had just left Antioch, TN with a load, and was headed east on Interstate 24 toward an eventual load swap in Marietta, GA. As I approached the Tennessee Secondary Route 96 interchange near Murfreesboro, where eastbound I-24 suddenly narrows from four lanes to two, there was a traffic backup in the two right lanes (the two that continued beyond the double lane drop). As always happens, every truck in creation lined up in those two lanes, causing the backup in those lanes to be far longer than it really needed to be. I joined the smarter drivers in the left-center lane (third from right), and blew past a fair bit of the jam; I probably saved 10-15 minutes worth of absolutely needless crawling by doing this.
The CB chatter was predictable; the usual “CB Rambo” suspects talked real tough about how “I ain’t gonna let a goddamn one a’dem four-wheelers in — not a goddamn one!” and “somebody need to follow dem big-truck drivers to dey next stop an’ teach ‘em a lesson,” but as always, it was never anything but big talk hiding behind a CB microphone. This is another “Stupid Trucker Trick,” to paraphrase David Letterman, that never ceases to amaze me: this apparent need to enforce a hierarchical view of traffic flow, where everybody must immediately get into the lane(s) that continue(s) beyond a lane drop and leave huge amounts of highway space completely unoccupied, and everybody has to crawl at the same slothy pace they choose to go by getting over unnecessarily early.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has come to realize the folly of the typical “Super Trucker” approach to lane drops, and as such, in situations where two lanes are reduced to one, installs signs that read “USE BOTH LANES TO MERGE POINT.” There is no reason whatsoever not to fill all the space available on the highway, right up to a reasonable distance (a couple hundred feet, or maybe 75 m) before the lane that is closing begins to taper off. This makes the total length of the backup shorter, and really doesn’t reduce the already-low speeds through the jammed area significantly; therefore, everybody gets through the backup faster if this approach is followed. Why supposedly “professional” drivers don’t understand this is beyond me.
Well, actually, it’s not beyond me; the fact is that many truckers, especially the ones who talk so big on the CB, are dumbasses from the rural South — white and black alike. The smarter ones are ex-military; the dumber ones were probably rejected by the armed services for being so mind-numbingly stupid. They really can’t find any other work, for reasons I have discussed previously, so they end up behind the wheel of these 80,000-lb. (36,227 kg) vehicles. What is scary about this is that they bring the idiotic prejudices and attitudes that the South’s unique brand of ignorance and ultra-conservatism forces down their throats with them to the driver’s seat.
One big part of Southern-style ignorance and stupidity is a notion that everybody must know his/her place in a strict vertical hierarchy. This is at the heart of the racism that still plagues far too much of the South: the idea that them thar niggers better know their place — which, to racists, is below white people, of course. It’s the same thing with sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and every other social cancer of the South: women, gays, Mexicans, and Muslims had better know their place below white male “Christians” — or else. Their voting patterns in support of the nuttiest Reich-wing Rethuglicans show this quite clearly.
On the road, this tends to play out in the notion that when you see the tail end of a backup, you must immediately move into the backed-up lane(s). Your “place,” according to these ignoramuses, is to sit through the entire length of the jam, completely ignoring the fact that the lane(s) about to close or end are being left largely unoccupied. Their notion of a hierarchy (those who arrived first better be the first to get through, or else) violates every fundamental tenet of traffic flow — but this doesn’t matter to these “CB Rambo Super Truckers.”
Some of them even break the law, by moving into the lane(s) about to close and crawling at the same speed as another truck in the parallel, longer line. Frequently, they leave huge amounts of space ahead of them in the soon-to-close lane(s) when doing this — this is called impeding traffic, and it is illegal in all 50 states. Truck drivers have no legal right whatsoever to act as “lane vigilantes” approaching highway lane drops or closures, and it is high time that police started handing out impeding-traffic citations to every “Super Trucker” who thinks he has this right. Fines and license points will get the message across quite nicely.
OK, that’s enough for tonight. I may not be making another update until after I’ve re-formatted the hard drive on this laptop and re-installed Windows and all of my programs. Until then, whenever that is, “happy trails to you … ‘till we meet a-gain.”