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12:28 am EST        36°F (2°C) in Mount Vernon, IL

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I had promised last night to come back and tell the story of what went on earlier this week between me and dispatch, and through a fortuitous twist of fate, I am getting the time to do that tonight. I had been expecting that I would have to be awake at 7:00 am EST this morning for a delivery, but the receiver agreed to take me several hours early.

Let’s start with Tuesday night, after I had arrived in Harrisburg, PA, and was getting unloaded. The night dispatcher, with whom I have had plenty of trouble before, sent me a load-offering message with three different choices. I would have been unable to run either of the first two loads, because both of them would have required me to run well in excess of my 14-hour on-duty limit; I could have at least picked up the third one legally (3:00 pm EST Wednesday in nearby Mechanicsburg), but it would have been damn difficult to make it 580 miles (933 km) to London, KY, through some of the most difficult terrain in the eastern half of the country, in a mere 15 hours (6:15 am EST Thursday). Since I have repeatedly been told, “if you can’t deliver an offered load on time, don’t accept it,” I chose to simply ignore the load offering message.

Perhaps 35 minutes later, this dispatcher decided to go into the asshole-on-a-power-trip mode that he tends to slip into about 15% of the time (to be fair, he can be very easy to get along with the other 85% of the time). “Larry, are you going to accept any of the load offers?” was the message that came across to the QualComm communications unit in my truck. At this point, I replied to explain exactly what I said in the previous paragraph about the unsuitability of all three of those offers. He acted all incredulous that I had already used nine of my available 14 hours on-duty Tuesday, and picked one of the two shorter loads to push. I again repeated the fact that (a) heading to the pick-up location of that load, (b) dropping my empty trailer and hooking up to the loaded trailer in question, (c) filling the truck with fuel, and finally (d) a five-hour trip into Ohio, when added to the nine hours I had already used, would put me illegally over the 14-hour limit. Acting exasperated, he told me that he was voiding the offers, and to check in with my regular daytime dispatcher (who is in from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday-Friday) in the morning.

I thought, “OK, no problem, I’ll just wait to see what they can set me up with in the morning.” What I didn’t know came next: I was being set up for a disciplinary meeting Wednesday morning with my daytime dispatcher and his boss, the operations manager. This nighttime guy went into total asshole mode, telling me, “you will not be offered (a) load(s) until you meet with your daytime dispatcher in the morning, and I am printing out the messages you have just sent me for him to see.” I had done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING wrong, yet he was over-stepping his authority to try to punish me — and I returned fire, letting him have it.

“If I see anybody tomorrow, it will be the safety department to discuss your ‘amazing. really amazing.’ attitude toward my simply refusing to run over my 14-hour limit. I’m sure they would be glad to know that they have a dispatcher who tries to force drivers to do that. I will not stand for you bullying me like this.” That was the first part of my response to him. I finished the message by trying to be conciliatory: I offered to take the load to London, KY, even as damn-near-impossible as it was going to be. Of course, with him on a power trip, this got me nowhere.

Left with no other choice, when I awakened Wednesday morning, I headed into the main dispatch building. My daytime dispatcher asked me to wait a few minutes before he could meet with me; as I stood there in the main operations room, I found out why when I looked at one of the computer screens. The operations manager in question was using Microsoft Excel to print out a form whose “DISCIPLINARY WARNING STATEMENT FOR DRIVERS/SHOP” header I could clearly read, and it had my six-character driver code just below that line. They led me into a conference room for a meeting, the subject of which was the low productivity numbers (miles per month) they had been noticing with me. I have a basically open-and-shut case as to why very little of this is my fault, certainly within the last two months (and I will detail that below), but as you can probably guess, they let me make very little of it, and I could tell they did not give it any consideration at all.

To my daytime dispatcher’s credit, he did say a few things in regards to time-management tactics that I think may come in useful should I decide to stay with this company, but other than that, the meeting didn’t yield much else of any use. They left me with the aforementioned disciplinary form, which I basically had no choice but to sign; it did have a blank section entitled “Employee’s Statement,” though, and I used that to document as much of my case as I could in writing.

I will grant that at this point, I have only taken a very detailed look at my log books dating back to the last oil change and major service I had done to this truck on October 28. However, consider all of the following:

  • Friday, November 4: I deliver late that night in Westfield, MA. The next load I am assigned does not pick up until Sunday evening, November 6.
  • Sunday, November 13: After five days at home, I return to work. Actually, I am back in the truck on the evening of Saturday, November 12, and I head to Ann Arbor to hang out with my friend Marc. Weekend dispatch knows I am ready to go on Sunday the 13th, but I hear nothing from them. It is not until late in the afternoon on Monday the 14th that I am assigned a load, and said load does not pick up for another day, until the early evening of Tuesday the 15th.
  • Friday, November 18: I deliver that afternoon in North Smithfield, RI. I am not even offered a load until around noon on Saturday the 19th. When I go to Chelsea, MA, to pick it up, I am told that the shipping office is closed until Monday morning the 21st. I eventually get a load out of Marlborough, MA, on the afternoon of Sunday the 20th.
  • Sunday, November 27: After losing a day of productivity over the Thanksgiving holiday, I pick up a load just after sunrise on Friday, November 25. This load is headed to North Platte, NE for a delivery on Sunday evening the 27th. As detailed here, a blizzard shuts down Interstate 80 in Nebraska for two days, and I am unable to get another load until Tuesday the 29th.
  • Friday, December 2: After a delivery in the late evening hours of Thursday the 1st near Madison, WI, I am sent to the small town of Richland Center, WI (75 miles away) on Friday afternoon the 2nd to pick up. This horribly unproductive load gives me the entire weekend to go roughly 500 miles (about 800 km) to Harrisonville, MO for a Sunday night delivery.

Even ignoring the lost day for Thanksgiving, that adds up to eight days in the last two months that I have lost to factors completely beyond my control — in many of these cases, well within the control of dispatch! Let’s make the eminently reasonable assumption that I could have averaged 400 miles (644 km) on each of those eight lost days; that would add up to 3,200 miles (5,150 km) of productivity lost to factors completely beyond my control.

Comparing my odometer reading at this very moment to the odometer reading at the time I had the service done on October 28, I have put a total of 14,648 miles (23,574 km) on the truck in two months and two days; that works out to 7,088 miles (11,407 km) per month, which is a piss-poor figure. Now, if we add in the lost 3,200 miles (5,150 km), I would have a total of 17,848 miles (28,724 km), or 8,636 miles (13,898 km) per month — a much better average. If we throw in another 400 miles (644 km) for the lost day on Thanksgiving, I would be up to 8,830 miles (14,211 km) per month.

I almost feel as though I am in the same position in which legendary Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight (who is now at Texas Tech) found himself when Myles Brand became the president of IU: fucked if you do, fucked if you don’t. Obviously Knight had a penchant for sometimes-violent antics in his long career at the helm of the Hoosier hoopsters (try saying that 10 times fast!), but if I remember correctly, Knight was either put on the so-called “zero-tolerance policy” or fired for simply yelling at an IU student who, as I remember it, did not afford him the respect of the title “Coach.”

(I mean, what do you think Indiana’s current governor would do if you called out to him, “Hey, Daniels!” near the State House in Indianapolis? Like it or not, it is disrespectful to directly address somebody in a position of honor without their proper title. Of course, talking about Dumbya here on this site is another matter entirely … although then again, he has dishonored the office of President of the United States, so there ya go.)

I am already beginning to put out feelers to other trucking companies regarding future employment. It sounds paranoid of me, but the smart money is on my current company’s management staff finding one more little thing about me they can blow out of proportion, and using it to give me the ax. It seems to me that it is just a matter of time before they pull another stunt, like making me sit for two days between loads and later coming back and bitching at me about my miles being so low. Two and a half years shouldn’t have to come to this.

Well, I need to be getting to bed. As soon as I add this entry into the RSS feed and upload everything, the lights are out.