Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Thumb-Wrestling Donuts

We are in Grand Rapids, Michigan and if you think there is no such thing as heaven, well then, you my friend have never had a  Krispy Kreme donut.

Today the Tumbleweeds had a chance to get some and get 'em we did. Hot off the fryer, their signature glazed donut melts as you bite into it and your lips are left with sweet sweet sugar. Mmmmm donuts..... I really don't know how or why any other donut chains are still in business. All donut makers should turn off their fryers and bow down to the double K. There's no contest, all other donuts pale in comparison. In fact, I will thumb wrestle anyone who says different, into submission.

OK, I'm calm now. Just gotta work off the sugar high. Caffeine too, since they have a Kreme Latte, which has their special super secret sweetness in an espresso with milk and it is also very good.

**Confession Time**
I am a hairy wildebeest, apparently. I am constantly picking off loose hairs from my shirt, the floor, the dashboard, my cereal and I don't have long hair. I can't imagine what it's like to be Crystal Gale, she must have to keep a vacuum cleaner attached to head at all times to suck up strays. I may be showing my age if right now you're scratching your head, wondering who in the Heckle and Jeckle Crystal Gale is. Who are Heckel and Jeckel? Well look it up on the Google is all I have to say about it, I can't do all the work here!

Sign of the day: Watch Out for Hidden Driveways

Are these driveways playing hide and seek with each other and they may jump out at any moment and yell "You're IT!" or is it like Batman's cave, hidden behind a bunch of shrubs? Either way it's unsettling. You can't do anything about sneaky driveways playing games and I don't think the County or State should be ratting out Batman. I just might have to thumb-wrestle somebody.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cookies Gone Wild

On the road again...cue up Willie Nelson, the Tumbleweeds are back at it!

Prairie Zooming
It's gray and rainy in the vast prairie lands but the yellows, purples and lush browns are beautiful. Today we got a yummy $5 coffee at the Coffee Cottage in Lexington, NE and saw the Freddy Krueger Hands of Council Bluffs, IA, so today is a good day.

Here is your fact for today. PayPal has a ginormous office in Omaha. You can see it from I-80 and there are no less than 77.3 million cars there. What do they do? Who knows. I could look it up on the Google, but really, I probably wouldn't understand it anyway. All the computer woohoo gadgetry is over my head. Like Amazon. I didn't even think they were a real place, like Sears or Happiness, so how is it that they have invented the Kindle?? You can't walk down their aisles and look around like at Walmart. And really, can you picture the employees at Walmart inventing new technology? They can barely count back change. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I can't either.

We normally do our on the road shopping at Walmart because 1) they are everywhere and 2) we can fit in the parking lot with the truck. Last week we shopped at a Super Target. Himself has been against Target for a while now because one time he needed some sort of manly tool or hardware thingy and they didn't have it. Needless to say Target was on his bad list for a long while. Being manually competent, Himself takes his fix it projects seriously. Anyway, he decided to give them another try, mainly because he didn't need any hardware. We got our groceries and stuff without a hitch, and says he, "OK, Target's not that bad."

Then came the evening and it was cookie time. Himself picks out his cookies with care, meaning he'll eat about any kind of cookie that bears the name. These were Target brand raspberry thumbprint cookies fresh off the shelf. They were horrible, only slightly less gummy than old tires. They were so bad that he threw them away. I almost had a heart attack, the man will eat almost anything in general and when it comes to sweets, well this is just unprecedented. I'm at a loss for words.

Obviously Target is on the bad list again. It's one thing to not have a decent hardware department, but for a man, who once ate ice cream that was made with spoiled milk, to throw away a box of cookies...well that's some bad cookies.

Nebraska Rest Area Dinosaur 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Prostituting Penguins and Tumbleweeds

The Tumbleweeds are home, woohoo!

Home time means a private bathroom, cup after cup of coffee in a mug, and lots of cooking in the kitchen.

Wyoming is home to the Tumbleweeds and we see quite a few actual tumbleweeds. In fact, one time while driving in our small town, we got passed by a tumbleweed. The speed limit is 30 mph and it was clearly breaking the law. Thirty mile an hour winds are just a light breeze here in the Cowboy state. I guess the reason our high winds don't do any damage is because there is nothing to damage! We have very few trees, buildings, people....What we do have is lots of antelope, wind and tumbleweeds.

Here is a bit of trivia that I will relate in a very circuitous manner to trucking.

Did you know that the Antarctic Adelie penguins build their nests with stones? Well, they do and stones are a rare commodity in Antarctica, as you can imagine. Or not, I personally have no idea what Antarctica looks like?? They are so hard to come by, that the female Adelie penguins are willing to pay for them. (I am waggling my eyebrows like Groucho Marx now). So when their boyfriends' backs are turned, they trade intimate favors with other single males in return for bigger and better stones. Apparently, some of the rock givers are so satisfied with the service provided, that females can come back for more stones without offering sex, just a little light courtship. This is the only known example of bird prostitution. I am not making this up, I stole this from The Book of Animal Ignorance and surely they know of what they speak.

Woo Hoo, more stones for me!

As Trucking Tumbleweeds, we get our share of offers of prostitution. Well, Himself does, I get mainly dirty looks. Mostly it's knocks on the door in the middle of the night. One time, as Himself and I were walking across the parking lot of a truck stop to take a shower, a woman stopped us. She told a sad story instead of offering a service and we gave her some money. Later that night we got a knock on the door from a different woman. Himself, ever kind, rolled down the window and she said "Hey Baby, you want to have some fun?"
 I yelled from the back "No, thanks"
 "Ok, give me a dollar fifty!" she's all business now. I said that we had already given once tonight and she asked if it was a white girl. It was. "Ok, good, she's with me," and went about her way.

The Adelie Penguins are at least getting some nest building material out of the deal. I don't know what you could get with $1.50.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jason's Law

(Today's post is a little somber. Regularly scheduled humor will continue on another day.)

I only know about Jason Rivenburg's story because we are in the trucking industry. It's not a story you hear in the regular news. We have been in similar situations with regard to parking. We plan as best we can but sometimes events conspire to put us in a place with few options to park. Hours of service regulations, traffic, stubborn shippers and consignees, over-crowded truck stops and strict city ordinances can all lead to having to park in some questionable places.

On Thursday March 5, 2009 Jason Rivenburg pulled his truck into an abandoned gas station in South Carolina. He had arrived too early to deliver his load of organic milk and was turned away, so he found the closest place to park, twelve miles away, to await his delivery appointment. He never got the chance to deliver the milk.

Jason was shot and killed as he rested in his truck for the $7 in his pocket. Left behind is his wife and three children.

The murderer has been convicted and sentenced to life without parole. In April 2009 House Bill HR2156 was introduced to congress. The Senate followed suit in May with S971. Dubbed Jason's Law it seeks to investigate parking shortages for the trucking industry and allocate money to fix the problem. Here is a summary of the House Bill from www.GovTrack.us

Jason's Law - Directs the Secretary of Transportation to: (1) implement a pilot program to allocate funds to states, metropolitan planning organizations, and local governments that submit an application approved by the Secretary for eligible projects to establish long-term parking facilities for commercial motor vehicles (trucks) on the National Highway System; and (2) give priority to applicants that demonstrate a severe shortage of truck parking capacity and whose proposed projects are likely to have positive effects on highway safety, traffic congestion, or air quality.

Both bills have been assigned to committees, which is government-speak for doing nothing. I'm a skeptic, so I don't know if these bills would do any good if they were passed. My fear is that they are an emotional response to "do something" after such a tragedy. Every law and regulation ends up with unintended consequences and politics usually get in the way of doing anything helpful. I wonder if all the taxes collected, especially from truckers, were spent on the things they were allocated for, we might have safer places to park. Then again, maybe the bills would do some good. At least it puts a spotlight on the problems that millions of truckers face everyday.

My heart goes out to Jason's family. They have made several trips to Washington to tell Jason's story to lawmakers and to help get the bills passed. Good people who are trying to turn a tragedy into something that can help others. That's a story that deserves to be told.

Jason's Law
Landline Now Magazine

Monday, September 13, 2010

Insanity and Underpants

So there we were, it was a dark and stormy night. Meanwhile, back at the ranch. Actually it was light and sunny and we were doing laundry at a truck stop but that’s not the point.

The point is that there are some seriously crazy people in the world. We spent an hour with their leader in the laundry room.

We meet lots of truckers that say crazy things or talk just to hear themselves talk. These guys will just walk into a room and start talking to no one in particular, fishing for conversation.

Well, conversation is the wrong word, what they are looking for really is a set of ears with feet. These guys have been in the truck too long alone and are desperate for human contact.

The fella doing his laundry at the same time we were, he was more than just lonely, he was stone cold crazy.

It all began innocently enough.

He asked if we knew today was the anniversary of Sept. 11.

I said, "Uh, today is the 12th."  He looked blank for a moment.

Then came the story.*

See what happened was, that he, CrazyMan, used to live in Houston. He found out about a bad cop down there who liked to play with people’s bones. Did it all the time. CrazyMan saw him bash in a man’s skull and play with the pieces and when he tried to tell the authorities about it they blew him off. Word got out to the bad cop so he tried to set CrazyMan up on fake rape charges. See, CrazyMan lived in Washington DC during Watergate and his dad started the National Organization of Women as a fraternal order so they could buy government bonds and shelter the money. He went into a Catholic church there and the crucifix was upside down, so he knew it was a satanic cult because it happened back in Houston when he was nine. In fact, when he was nine he delivered newspapers to George Bush Jr and bought pot from him, are you following this so far? He asked us sincerely if we could follow along.  Himself, ever the gentlemen said "a little, there’s so many details." I said, "Dude, seriously, you have got to be kidding."

No. In fact he was not.

He recapped the story for us, so we could better follow along.

See, he bought pot from George Bush when he was nine and then Bush became governor and CrazyMan’s dad founded NOW (National Organization for Women) and satan worshipers were everywhere and he found out that George Bush and Bill Clinton were second step cousins and that right there is fratricide but only he and his family knew it.

Well then, along comes this bad cop who tried to set him up on a rape charge but it turns out the woman was a hermaphrodite and had a penis. So see he couldn’t have raped her.

Well this was in 1998 and he knew that the World Trade Centers were going to be bombed by the fraternal order of the National Organization of Women and all the bad cops that were involved and the CIA and he wrote 5,000 letters to every police department in NYC but no one would listen.

The FBI opened a file on him and told him to leave it alone, quit stirring things up. His step mother worked for the phone company and had inside information on the CIA trying to take over the phones so they could listen in and buy government bonds and blow up the World Trade Center but no one would listen. He did everything he could to prevent it from happening, he said, his conscience was clear.

At some point I said if all that was true, why hasn’t the CIA just killed him to keep him quiet. He looked surprised, like he hadn’t thought about that, then he shook his head sadly and said they usually just try to get  you to kill yourself.

Up until this point I thought he was just a nutty driver trying to get a rise out of people by telling stories. But CrazyMan believed what he was saying. He kept coming back to the hermaphrodite and fake rape charge and equating it with Sept. 11. See it’s all because she had a penis.

I couldn’t wait to be done with the laundry.

He talked the whole time. See, all that because she had a penis. Sept.11 never had to happen.

It was getting creepy.

Have you ever had to fold your underpants in front of a crazy person? It’s quite unsettling.

Trust me.

*I wrote everything down the moment I got back in the truck, but this is only a tiny bit of it. I kid you not.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pretty Hammers and Emergency Funds

I thought it might be interesting to share with you some numbers from the world of trucking.

Our truck has 1,076,648 miles on it. If you're like me and this number means nothing, that's over a million!  In three years we have put 350,000 miles on it and we bought it on Ebay. Ebay! Yes the same place where you can buy Britney Spears used chewing gum and Star Trek action figures is the place we went to when looking to purchase the most important tool in our business. And it is a tool. We have done everything in our power to  increase fuel efficiency, since that is our biggest expense, so the truck is not pretty. (Except for the Jeannie Bottle portion of it!) There are lots of good looking trucks on the road, all shiny with lots of chrome and those long, long hoods that stick out. That's the "classic" look and those long hoods are horrible for fuel efficiency.They are popular because they look cool. Looking cool is not nearly as cool (to the Tumbleweeds) as money in the bank. I call these trucks Pretty Hammers. When is the last time you saw a carpenter get all hepped up about the looks of his hammer?? It's just a tool with which you work. So is the truck.

Back to the numbers.  In 2008, when diesel fuel got as high as $5 a gallon, our fuel cost for the year was over $62,000.00. You can see how crucial it is to maximize fuel efficiency. Some of the Pretty Hammers average 5 MPG or less. We average 7 MPG. In an average week, the Pretty Hammer will have used 143 gallons more than us. So being cool would cost $715.00 a week. Call me a dork!

Our next biggest cost is maintenance. In 3 years we have spent $53,000.00 maintaining the truck. It's always needing something, but we stay on top of it for the most part. The engine blew up last year on the road and that little adventure cost about $13,000.00 in one shot. Luckily we had a plan in place.

Our saving grace has been our emergency fund. We have two, one for truck stuff and one for life stuff. Things happen, trucks break, the roof leaks, the furnace goes kaput. An emergency fund is the biggest stress reliever for me. We are debt free and pay everything in cash. It feels so good to only make payments to ourselves. That's not to say we're rolling in it, we just budget and don't spend money we don't have. We live frugally and don't have a lot of shiny stuff (except for the Jeannie Bottle) but  I would take an emergency fund over a new car or vacation any day.

I just realized I could gush a whole lot more on the benefits of an emergency fund so I'll stop for now before Murphy's Law kicks in and we have to use it.

This has nothing to do with anything

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Mason Dixon Line and Low Flying Aircraft

We woke up in Gettysburg PA this morning surrounded by fog and it was cool enough to snuggle under the blankets. We didn't get to do any sight seeing, although a few years ago, we got tangled up in our directions and drove straight into Gettysburg.  All 18 wheels and 75 feet of us! It was definitely not truck friendly, but then again, we've been to New Jersey so dirty looks don't phase us!

Yesterday we crossed the Mason Dixon line. You always hear of that being the border between the North and South but it predates the Civil War and the United States themselves.  In 1763 Englishmen Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were asked to resolve an 80 year property dispute between land owners in Maryland and Pennsylvania. They lay stone markers indicating the boundary using the stars to calculate the path through the wilderness. It took 5 years to mark out the 233 mile long boundary. When I think about people doing things like this with only their minds, pen and paper, and the stars, I realize how much I don't know about how things work.  Stars and math seem to be at the root of all things and I don't know anything about either. I hope I never get sent back in time, I would not be a good representative of the future and I wouldn't last very long without hot water and a toothbrush.

Crazy signs of the day: "Warning Low Flying Aircraft" What are you supposed to do with this information? Shouldn't the aircraft be watching for the interstate? Presumably the aircraft can move out of the way, cars and trucks on the road certainly can't! Also today at the shipper, a huge distribution center, a sign saying "Live Driver Staging Area". Now, we have met truck drivers that had the IQ of the walking dead, but they were in fact still alive.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Boiled Peanuts and BBQ

The south has it's own food culture in a way completely unique from the rest of the country. Maybe it's because the growing season is longer, making choices more diverse or maybe they just like to eat a lot down here, I don't know. They just do things their own way.

We have been in the south for the most of the week and eating here is a definite plus. It almost compensates for the heat. The humidity makes it feel like you're under a hot, wet blanket. Everything is damp and limp.Being sweaty is the norm. In other places where it's hot there is the promise of shade actually being a couple of degrees cooler. In the south even the shade has teeth.  It's every bit as hot and sweaty but there is the added insult of you having gone out of your way to find it and you still get no relief.  But I digress.

This week we had two southern favorites, boiled peanuts and BBQ. I have only ever seen boiled peanuts in the deep south, I'd say Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida mostly at roadside stands, farmers markets and gas stations. You can even get them in the can at the grocery store and heated up they are pretty good. Boiled peanuts are the thing to eat when you're craving something salty because that is their defining feature. To make boiled peanuts you have to have fresh or 'green' raw peanuts, then you boil them in very salty water until they are tender. It takes a lot of salt because you are boiling them in the shell and only a little bit gets in there. They are a summertime treat since you have to have fresh ones.The shell softens up but the nut really doesn't, it just takes on a different flavor than a roasted or raw one.  You crack them open with your mouth and suck out all the good salty juice then spit the shell out. Make sure you have a big iced Coke to go with them, for optimum effect.

The other southern food we had this week was BBQ and by that I mean smoked pork. Yes you can smoke beef and chicken too but if you want real southern BBQ you gotta start with the pig, preferably ribs and the best place you can go (besides my dad's house) is Dreamland in Alabama. We got a chance to go to the one in Mobile, there is just enough room for one truck across the street, and you can smell the smoke a mile away. They are known for their ribs and they never disappoint. They are big and meaty, you order them by the slab or half slab, no sissy little baby back boneless bundles of goo here! The waitress brings you slices of white bread and some of their home-made BBQ sauce, don't look down your nose at this humble offering, it is the perfect foil for tender, smoked ribs. The sauce is hot, the bread is white and the ribs are meaty. Perfection!  In business since 1958, they used to have a very limited menu specializing in the meat. They even have a bumper sticker that says "Menu? What menu?" but they have expanded and now you can get such fancy things as french fries or a salad.

Today we are in Texas, a state roughly the size of Neptune. It's like being in the south only bigger and with a lot more tacos.  Who knows what culinary adventures await?!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Flying Tumbleweeds at New River Gorge

New River Gorge Canopy Tour (click here to go to their website)

We did it!
 Oh yes and it was fun. The New River Gorge people are awesome and the ziplining was fantastic! We called first to see if they had enough parking for our truck and Michelle, aka MRod, has to be the most helpful and outgoing person we've ever dealt with on the phone. Seriously, we meet a lot of grumpy, unhelpful people who hate their jobs. Seems that's the kind of person companies hire to answer the phones.  MRod went way beyond, she figured out a way for us to park and then got us reservations for the afternoon and even stood out on the road to make sure we got in right! We were even a little behind, thanks to red lights, hilly roads and 36,000 pounds of soup but she kept in touch by texting us and parking was no problem.
Ground Practice

There were only two other people in our group, a 14 year old and his dad. They had done the Canopy Tour that morning, it goes through the trees so it's at a lower elevation. The one we did is called Gravity and it's higher and faster (oh Yeah). It's 200 hundred feet in the air with 5 high speed ziplines ranging from 450-1800 feet across the ridgeline. Josh aka "Skippy" and Kyle were our guides and they made it really fun.  Those guys have a cool job!

Kyle & Josh 

I don't know why but I wasn't scared to do this. I know for a fact that I will never bungee jump and I'm pretty sure I won't jump out of a plane but tethering myself to a 5/8 inch steel cable and zipping over the trees I can do. It was intimidating, for sure. There was the moment when we were instructed not to put our hands in front of the trolley, the thing with rollers in it that connects to the line, so of course all I could think of doing was to put my hand in front of it. Then we get the little run through practice on the ground and I listen all intent and serious like. So I volunteer to go first and forget everything Josh said. I suck at directions! I really worried that I would focus on doing all the wrong things instead of the correct ones and then I said F*&!k it, which is the thing I say in such situations.
First Run

It was hot and sunny and by far the bus ride was the most stomach lurching part. Those West Virginia hills aren't for sissies. It's about a 10 minute drive up to the first tower. There  they do a run though with a zipline on the ground. Then the first two are fairly tame, I think those were about 450 feet or so over an open grassy area. The next one was a big one, 1800 feet long and on top of the world and you could really build up some speed on it. I think I did Mach 7 but I'm not sure. It was a nice long ride, almost a minute and it was so high up that the wind moved you around a bit and I didn't look around until about 10 seconds into it. It was beautiful, oh to have wings! I asked Josh right away what I needed to do to go as fast as possible and he said tucked up, canon ball style is best. Of course Himself must have been doing Mach14 because his line really sang when he was on it. The showoff!!

Check out their website to see all the cool things you can do here and how they are helping to save the old growth eastern Hemlock trees. These trees are at risk because of an infestation of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), a non native pest that can have a dire impact on these beautiful, old trees. A $1 hemlock preservation fee is added to every tour and On the Gorge matches these fees dollar for dollar to manage the HWA in the short term and provide a long term solution to these pests.