You think you're having a bad day . . .
I thought that I was having a bad day. There I was in the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania, Wilkes-Barre. Dispatch sent me to Elizabeth, NJ to drop a trailer. This is more complicated than usual. I had enough hours to get down there, drop the trailer, find out what's next and the get out of Dodge - I mean New Jersey. Elizabeth is right down near the Port of Newark and the Airport. This is not an especially nice neighborhood.
There is a lot that goes on in New Jersey down by the Port. Legitimate business and otherwise. It is a land of freeway overpasses and blind alleys, buses and taxis. There is triumphant steel and glass architecture and grubby old cinderblock buildings. There are handbills on every light pole; loose paper and plastic bags flying in the wind. You can find any kind of food you want, but you have to see it; you can't smell anything. I can't tell if there are no smells or if everything just blends into one big smell. People are everywhere; businesspeople, hustlers, pedestrians, grandmas, babies and the lost.
By the time, I get down by the Port it is dark. I'm on the tail end of rush hour, but everyone is going out and I'm going in. The directions take me onto an unfamiliar ramp, but as I come down off the Turnpike, under an overpass and around a corner, I realize I've been here before from another angle. Around a curve and under another overpass, I come to a light. The street goes through a short block and deadends into one on a weird angle. My directions tell me to turn left and go through the first light. There is a small triangle block with a little diner on it formed by the street I'm turning on and the angled street. Three cars could almost park at the diner, but it is doing a bustling business. It is so different here in the urban sprawl. There must be people all around that have never needed to own a car. A successful looking diner with no parking; an intriguing concept to this Midwesterner.
I notice a guy hanging around the intersection. He has an air about him that kicks up my 'spidey-sense.' I casually lock the door with my elbow. He is busy watching traffic and doesn't notice. Stepping off the curb, he is coming over. He steps up on the running board of my tractor, grabbing the mirror to hang on. "We're not lumping today, you'll have to go straight," he says doing his best to sound official. I am letting him talk through the glass; no chinks in the armor.
"My directions tell me to go left."
"Yeah, but we're full up. You gotta go straight."
Looking at him, he is not obviously a vagrant. He is a hustler who may have had some success. His beard seems trimmed, his clothes are typical of someone with a regular job, but his hair is a little wild; not quite kept.
"When that light turns green, I'm going left," I tell him in a bellow that covers the small doubt I ignore. He gives me this classic look; Emmy-worthy. It is the perfect hustler's last stand. The look says "OK, man, if you want to screw up you life, go ahead. Turn left, I don't care."
"Another man might have been angry, another man might . . ." Sorry, that's Harry Chapin as a Taxi Driver. The light turned green. I stepped on the accelerator. The big diesel always pauses as it pulls 70 feet of truck out of its inertia. The guy frowns and jumps off just as I roll to the left. Through the light to the next right, I find my street.
Around the corner, I'm in another small NE industrial neighborhood. There are trucks all over. One business has car haulers in line; another has piggybacked sea containers. I'm on a surface street surrounded by businesses. People headed home fill the opposite lane. The directions say third building on the right. I call them. The guy on the line says just a minute and looks out on the street. "Pull on out. That second container is right before our drive. Just don't go past my building," he says ominously.
Swinging out into the homebound traffic, I pull around the trucks on the curb. It is a tight turn into the drive, I creep along and in. I jump out to check in with the guard. It is cold! He tells me to go around back and talk to the shipping office. Around back is small! The office tells me to drop my trailer back by the fence. I do. Checking in with dispatch, they send me to Lakewood, NJ; down to the south past Asbury Park. I'm bobtailing; driving with no trailer.
I'm nearly out of hours, so I head down the turnpike and find a place to park. My pickup in Lakewood is for the morning.
Quick recap: I was in Pennsylvania; dispatch sent me into New Jersey to drop a trailer and then bobtail to a pickup.
Morning rolls around, I drive about forty more miles to my pickup. It is way around through residential areas, some downtown type neighborhoods, through a small Hasidic Jew enclave. Lots of men in black; those cool hats; beards and curls around the ears. And bagel shops. There is a bus loading in a hotel parking lot; going into to New York or somewhere. Everyone in black, curls etc. but doing all the quintessential family stuff. They scurry around parking cars, putting babies in car seats, tracking little ones running around next to a main street. Moms, Dads, Grandmas and Aunts; Uncles and Grandpas.
I go past a park that looks like it is close to the ocean; the map reveals otherwise. Often the directions have no mileage on them. So, turn left on Route 88 and then take a right on Eisenhower could be a block or, as in this case, about 20 miles! I turn off Eisenhower into the industrial park. Another mile almost, another left, around a curve, into a drive and around back. There are mountains of tires! A front end loader is piling them and moving them around.
I park and walk up to a couple guys who are milling around. "I'm here for a pickup." They just smile and shrug. I could use some Spanish, but I don't have any. A few yards further on is a guy in a dark coat and a yarmacle. "I'm here for a pickup," I repeat. He smiles and looks over my shoulder. "Where the hell's your trailer," he asks wrecking my morning.
I send a message in to dispatch. "I need a trailer here." They send me to Sayreville to get a trailer. Almost all the way back to Elizabeth where I dropped one last night!! Looking at the map, I head up NJ 9 rather than going all the way back out to the Turnpike and north. There are lots of stoplights and traffic, but I would have a lot of traffic on the Turnpike heading toward New York with all the commuters. It is about 30 miles up to Sayreville. The way wasn't bad.
I get to a distributor who has an extra trailer or two. There is a truck in the lot and another out on the street. I hit the "four ways" and sit behind him. The guy in the lot is having a hard time. The lot is small. We've all been there. He just can't hit the dock they assigned him. Back and forth. Crank the wheel. Back and forth. Jerk to a stop. Inch forward. Inch back. Roar forward. He is getting very frustrated. Finally, he decides to freelance and backs into an easy hole in front of the far dock. Just as he is about to bump up to the dock, the yard dog [the company's driver who moves trailers around the yard] pulls in from down the block. We're in New Jersey remember. The Yard Dog screeches to a halt on a funky angle in the middle of the lot. He steps out of his tractor in an overly casual way, walks over the frustrated driver and starts yelling at him. I can't hear from where I am, but the Yard Dog is gesticulating and waving his arms around. Apparently, he can't use that dock. The driver pulls out, pauses in the driveway and takes off down the street. The second driver assumes, like I do, that the guy is leaving; calling his dispatch to cuss about the small lot. The second driver pulls in to the lot and walks inside to the office. I pull up to the drive. Before I can pull in, the Yard Dog is coming out. The frustrated driver comes back and roars into the lot!
The frustrated driver pulls in to the small lot; now smaller because the other driver is in there. He makes a halfhearted effort to swing around. The Yard Dog is under another trailer and walks over to the man. He must have told him to just leave the trailer out on the street because that is what he does next. That trailer was his empty. Now he has to get another trailer with his load. He rolls back into the lot. The Yard Dog leaves again. I see an opening and sneak in to get my empty. All this action, and I simply need the empty back by the fence. The trailer is an oldie but a goodie; in decent shape. I hook up, check the lights, tug on it to make sure I'm connected. Looking out at the lot, I've got a little shimmy to get around the second truck. The frustrated one is under a trailer but still at the dock. He must be checking lights or cranking up the dolly. I hop back in the cab and start moving. Meanwhile, the Mr. Frustrated has climbed back in his cab. He sees me coming and floors it to get out before me . . . and rips one of the doors right off his trailer. But he doesn't know it yet.
The scene morphs into a bad movie. Depending on your generation, starring either Jerry Lewis, Steve Martin or Adam Sandler. The guy ambles down his side of the trailer, unchains the door, folds it around and locks it. He walks over to the passenger side of the back end of the trailer. He kind of jerks back but doesn't really understand what has happened. He reaches out and gently touches the trailer where the door should be. As his gloved hand falls back to his side, he looks up. I can just hear his internal voice. "Where the #$%^&* is my door?" Then recognition washes over him; the shoulders sag. He looks back to the dock and must see the door. I can't see around the other trailers, but I know it is there.
Suffice it to say, this poor guy is about to stroke out. He valiantly walks back to the truck. The dock workers have told him to put it back in the dock. Here we go again. Back and forth. In and Out. Steer tires cranked one way and then the other. I AM STILL TRAPPED IN THE LOT BY THIS FOOL!! I creep forward a little. He is so frustrated he is not thinking about what he is doing. He is trying to will the trailer back into the hole but it won't go. Back and forth. His tires are up over the curb and into the landscaping. He is very close to a gate out in the drive. I can see a couple times that he has it right, but he gives up to soon and oversteers again. The other driver is on my running board talking to me. We can't offer to help at this moment. He'll just bite our head off. If he asks, we'll get all over it. We are busting up inside, but outwardly trying not to even smile. I tell the second driver, as soon as I see an opening, I'm going to scramble out. Back and forth. All the way right. All the way left. Just then he is in just a little deeper, I tap my street horn and start barreling for the gate. He doesn't realize it but once he successfully gets into the dock. HE HAS FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE DOOR HE CLOSED! He will have to pull out and open the door. I'm not convinced he'll survive the day. I'm gone, it is no longer my problem. The poor other driver is from the same company [not mine] and is stuck there until the Stroked Out One gets out of the way.
Back down NJ9 I crawl through downtown Lakewood and through a length of residential street. I'm around to the customer again. There is a truck between me and the dock. I can't pull in and sit there 45 minutes. But you know what? That is OK. I'm not having the worst day in New Jersey!
It is sleeting a little when I leave. I have plenty of time to get to my delivery in South Carolina over the weekend. Suddenly, I am exhausted. I get right back to the same truckstop I slept at last night. It is only about 40 miles in the right directions, but I am done for the day. There is a buffet here. I splurge and go inside for some real food.