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10:34 pm EDT        51°F (11°C) in Dearborn, MI

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The rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated, despite my absence from this section of the site for the last 13 days. I have just had so much shit going on that it’s been practically impossible to update this; hell, even now, I’m sort of forcing myself to take time to update this.

As I usually do when I fall this far behind, I’m going to basically take everything in chronological order. The first big news item occurred just a day after my last update here, on Tuesday, April 24: my friend Marc spent almost $37,000 to buy himself a new 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX MR. Not wanting to wait for the Evo X to come out this fall as a 2008 model, because of its radically different looks, he had been looking to do this for a while. However, he couldn’t easily find an Evo IX MR in the black color he wanted; the nearest dealership that had one was Ricart Mitsubishi, in Groveport, OH (just outside Columbus).

Taking two days off of work (Sunday, April 22 and Tuesday, April 24), he made two drives down to Columbus; the Sunday one was to check the car out, and the Tuesday one was to sign all the various documents and take delivery of the car. Lacking another driver, he left his 1996 Ford Probe GT down there; he called me to break the news while he was on his way back to Ann Arbor, still somewhere in Ohio. He asked when I was getting home, and when I said I thought it was going to be that Saturday (April 28), he asked if I would run back down to Groveport with him to retrieve his Probe. Overnight, I left a message for my daytime dispatcher, asking him to try to get me home ASAP so I could do this; I’ll have a lot more to say about his exceedingly snippy response later.

A couple loads later, I finally got back to the Ann Arbor area in the wee hours of Friday morning, April 27, and proceeded to sleep there. In mid-afternoon, Marc came out to the truck stop and picked me up, and from there we began proceeding directly to Columbus. We had a little bit of time to screw around, so at my suggestion, we followed Interstate 270 east (from U.S. Route 33) to State Route 315 south, and then exited SR 315 at Lane Avenue to visit the most evil place in the universe: the Ohio State University. We started with the athletic campus, passing by the new Schottenstein Center, French Field House, St. John Arena, and the God-awful OSU Ice Rink, on our way to 411 Woody Hayes Drive: Ohio Stadium.

We parked in a lot by the northeast corner of the stadium, which, in spite of its postal address, actually sits about a block south of Woody Hayes Drive. Our first stop was the north-end stadium rotunda, with its yellow-and-blue painted roses symbolizing Michigan’s total pwn4g3 of teh luzerz from ohio state!!!1111!!!1!11!!1loooolz. (Seriously, the roses were painted that way because of a wager on Ohio Stadium’s dedication game in 1922, which was won by Michigan. That said, it is amazing when you consider how much of the tradition of OSU is predicated on getting their asses kicked by Michigan; another great example is their alma mater “Carmen Ohio,” composed on the train ride back to Columbus after we administered an 86-0 whipping in 1902.) From there, we proceeded to take a counterclockwise lap of the ‘Shoe, and when we happened across an open gate along the west side of the stadium, I insisted we ignore the “No Trespassing” signs and enter the stadium. (For all we know, neither of us may ever have that chance again.)

I think it was Gate 23 that we entered; in any case, we walked straight through the concourse to the seating area, and just stood there at the end of the tunnel for a few minutes to have a look. (The “chair-back” seats for the rich alumni were just off to our left when we faced the field.) On that day, the playing surface was completely covered in dirt, with mounds a few feet high strewn all about; we saw the stadium at some point along the line in its conversion to a FieldTurf surface. (I recall big drainage problems with the grass field that required a re-sodding at one point last year; even during the Michigan game, a few weeks thereafter, players were still kicking up good-sized clumps of grass.)

After a few minutes, we exited the stadium and continued our lap around; we stopped by the towers at both ends of the horseshoe part of the stadium, trying to figure out where the locker-room doors were. I mentioned some of the OSU traditions I knew, like the bell in the southeast tower, the band’s pregame “skull session” and “ramp entrance,” and the unique locker-room layout that requires both teams to cross the field to the opposite sideline when entering or exiting the field. As we got back within sight distance of Marc’s car, we spotted some guy standing next to it; Marc initially thought it was a parking officer about to ticket him for being in a staff-only lot, but it turned out to be nothing more than some “whoa — it’s an Evo!” guy drooling over it before putting his workout gear in his own minivan and taking off.

We took Lane Avenue a few blocks east to High Street, and headed south. We passed what could be seen of tOSU’s campus from those streets, which if I recall is mostly dorms, on our way through the “Short North” neighborhood to downtown. Specifically, I wanted to drive by the Ohio State Capitol at the corner of High and Broad streets; that is one hell of a weird-looking state capitol building — it’s like they lopped the dome off. wink After a little bit of getting lost, thanks to a confusing ramp setup at Interstate 70 and Third and Fourth streets, we made our way out to I-70, then U.S. 33, and eventually Ricart. Now in two cars, we made it a point to go the long way back home — around the south side on I-270 — in order to stop at a Fazoli’s restaurant, because Fazoli’s seems to have completely pulled out of southeastern lower Michigan, Ann Arbor included.

The rest of the trip back up went without incident, although I did have some fun with Marc’s radar unit in the Probe. The speed contrast between Ohio and Michigan is amazing: whereas those going any faster than 73 mph (117 km/h) in Ohio were definitely outliers, the high end of normal in Michigan was at least 82 mph (132 km/h), with several people going significantly faster even than that. I stayed at his place Friday night; upon waking up on Saturday afternoon, we did one meal at Mongolian BBQ, a poker game at his friend Jay’s apartment (in which I placed sixth out of 11 players), and a late-night meal at Pizza House. The assholes at the latter made both Marc and me sick with under-cooked pizzas, giving me (at least) the same symptoms I had last August. Thankfully, they didn’t last three days this time, and I was basically back to normal by Tuesday.

However, I was suffering pretty badly for most of Sunday, and that made getting back home a struggle. I did manage that, thankfully, and I’ve now been here for a week. After my dispatcher’s aforementioned snippy response to me on April 25 (I promise, I’m getting to that), I asked my fleet manager to give me five days of my paid vacation time added on to the end of this home-time; without that, I would have been back to the road two days ago, on Friday. Among some of the highlights of this past week have been my (mostly online) applications for other jobs, a trip to Saturn of Ann Arbor on Thursday for a new rear wiper arm for my car, and visits to several car dealerships.

I figured, when I asked my dispatcher to simply do whatever he could to get me home on time, that he would know I was aware that everything in trucking depends on freight availability. He apparently assumed otherwise, choosing to mis-read me as petulant and demanding when that’s the last thing I was trying to convey, and sent me a message to the effect of, “I don’t care what your friend’s needs are.” Hmmm … I wasn’t aware that not caring about drivers’ families and friends was company policy, but I suppose I ought not be surprised. That pissed me off, but I figured I would let it go, and I didn’t respond.

Later that night, upon reaching my delivery in Waukegan, IL, I finally figured out how to crack into my Microsoft Money file containing information for the year 2006. Knowing what my gross income was from having done my taxes, I wanted to get some idea of my net income, mostly to know how much Chimpy’s illegal “war” for Iraqi oil is unconstitutionally stealing from me. My tax overburden was bad enough — about $6,000 in taxation on a $32,500 gross, leaving $26,500 net — but what really infuriated me was the results of some calculations I performed on those gross and net income numbers. (Note: My use of “overburden” in the preceding sentence does not mean I am becoming a Rethuglican and advocating for lower taxes; rather, it refers to the Rethuglicans’ un-American shift of the overall tax burden to poor folks like me who can least afford it.)

That $26,500 net annual income came out to roughly a monthly net of $2,200; with the expenses I incur on the road, like always having to eat out, it’s no wonder I’m getting nowhere. What really seriously pissed me off was the result I obtained when I divided the $32,500 gross by my 43.5¢ per-mile rate; I had run barely 75,000 miles (120,000 km) for the entire year of 2006! Even if you use a little mathematical trick to remove the effect of the 2½ unpaid weeks I incurred after my appendectomy a year ago today, I was still running an average of only 6,800 miles (around 11,000 km) per month. Even with my full use of the maximum home time allowed by company policy, there is no excuse for me not to be running 8,500 miles (13,679 km) in a month.

I didn’t have applicable 2006 data right at my fingertips, so I instead decided to look at my logbooks from this past New Year’s onward. I did this examination on April 26, which was the 116th day of 2007; up to that point, the company’s own bullshit and malfeasance had cost me a full 20 — yes, twenty — days! Mind you, this doesn’t count time-loss situations where I was largely at fault, such as the one in early January when I was trying to get through home to get this laptop back; this only counts things like repeatedly sitting for two days for “lack of freight” (read: the weekend dispatchers are too fucking lazy to look for available loads) and their idiotic appointment scheduling that ends up costing me three days.

I took the figures from my 2007 paychecks to get an idea of how many miles I have been running since the start of the year. These numbers were even worse: the average of the 17 paychecks I had received since New Year’s came out to 5,882 miles (9,466 km) per month, or a sickening 1,368 miles (2,202 km) per week! Granted, my fleet manager did offer an explanation that freight has been very slow nationwide since January, but without all of the bullshit from dispatch (particularly on the weekends), I could be doing easily 25%-35% better than I am doing. This is what truly got me pissed off enough to the point where I’m actively searching for other jobs.

I also mentioned a few paragraphs ago that I have been visiting car dealerships, looking at some new cars. Despite what my father keeps insisting, without bothering to listen to me, this has nothing more to do with Marc’s purchase of his Evo than purely coincidental timing; I will explain that here. My current Saturn is still a passable, running car at this point in time, but if I were to commit to keeping it around for another few years, I would be looking at a $1,000 clutch job at some point; the original clutch has 127,000 miles (204,000 km) on it and won’t last forever. Additionally, a solution to its oil-burning problem, which causes it to lose roughly a quart per 1,000 miles (1 L per 1,600 km), would require an equally expensive piston-ring job, valve guide replacement, or rebuilt cylinder head. (How do I know that isn’t going to get significantly worse with time, for that matter?)

My other problems with that car stem from its design. Given my height, that car is small enough to the point where it essentially can only seat three adults — you can forget about putting anybody other than a small child behind me. This has been a problem on more than one occasion recently. Furthermore, its 1.9L DOHC (or as Saturn calls it, “twin-cam”) engine put out a mere 124 horsepower (92.5 kW) even fresh out of the factory; it’s surely lost some of that by now. To top that off, the mileage I get from that car — according to my calculations, roughly 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km) city, 32 mpg (7.4 L/100 km) highway — is piss-poor compared to more modern four-bangers, and just barely beats modern V-6 engines that have twice the power.

I have been doing a little bit of armchair financial planning, almost entirely related to monthly income/expense calculations, in recent weeks. I have figured that if I were to find a job where I’m making a more steady $750 to $900 per week, rather than a highly variable $500 to $550 average like right now, I could afford both an apartment and a new car and still be reasonably comfortable financially. With that in mind, I figured that a change in jobs would be as good an occasion as any to replace my Saturn with something new. The fact that my dispatcher’s April 25 display of snippiness has me seriously looking at doing this now, just two weeks after Marc got a car, is mere coincidence. I mean, if I were really just trying to keep up with him, I would be getting something impractical (for me) like an Evo or a Nissan Z, not the eminently practical vehicles I’m about to list for you.

I have considered several mid-size to large sedans, including the Chevrolet Impala, the Hyundai Sonata, the Honda Accord, and the Ford Fusion and Ford Five Hundred. After checking them all out, I think I’m leaning toward the Hyundai Sonata, specifically its “SE” trim line with the so-called “Premium Package” that adds a sunroof, a six-disc CD changer, a power driver’s seat, and an auto-dimming inside rear-view mirror. The Hyundai dealers I have talked to seem to all be willing to give me their dealer-invoice price instead of MSRP; it looks like I would end up paying somewhere between $21,000 and $22,000 for it, which is significantly less than I would pay for a similarly-configured Impala (roughly $25,000), Accord (similar), Toyota Camry (almost $27,000!), or even Fusion (mid-$24,000s).

So anyway, that’s about where I’m at right now. At this point, I’ve completed several job applications, and it’s just a matter of waiting to hear back on the status of some of those. What I’m hoping to find is local work that has me home as close to every night as possible; I have come across a few promising leads that could see me relocating almost anywhere, from Denver, CO to Martinsburg, WV and more. There are other possibilities that I have found, but not started to seriously examine yet; I’ll try to get going on those in the coming days.

Don’t worry, loyal Larry’s Phat Page readers, you’ll be the first to know about anything I might end up doing. For now, though, I’m off.