Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hotdoggers and Hobo Beavers

Life on the road is a sometimes entertaining, sometimes strange look into the human condition.

We got passed by a Weinermobile the other day in Pennsylvania but we never got a chance to ketchup to it for a better picture.

There are 6 such Weinermobiles driving around the country at any given time and if you calculate that number with some more numbers, the odds are like 11 billion to 3 so now we are putting all our money in Oscar Meyer and Denny's.



Did you know that the drivers of the Weinermobile are called Hotdoggers and you need a four year degree, preferably in public relations, to become one?

In other random news this stuffed Beaver was found tied to a tree in the parking lot of Cabela's™ (World's Foremost Outfitter™) in Sidney, Nebraska:

Hobo Beaver and Jas square off.




Hobo Beaver plays dead.
Nice move Hobo Beaver.


Jas investigated and found that the beaver was not a threat. She was just itching for a good chase but the mysterious beaver only played dead.

Why would somebody do this? I have no idea. The beaver couldn't have been there very long, he looked brand new. Maybe it was a hobo beaver just taking a rest.

                                                 *****

Things got even stranger when we went inside Cabela's™ (World's Foremost Outfitters™). We saw a lady walking around with a fake baby monkey in one of those sling things that you are supposed to put real babies in.

I thought it was real, that's how good looking this baby monkey was, but I didn't have my camera with me and the truck was across the Arctic Tundra that is the Cabela's™ (World's Foremost Outfitter™) parking lot so I don't have proof.

I stalked her for awhile, hiding behind various outfitter products but soon got distracted by all the shiny things and dead animals they have posed throughout the store.

I did type into the Google, lady carrying baby monkey in a sling, and got hugamonkey, a company that makes baby slings for human babies.

Way to be a false advertiser hugamonkey people!



This is not the monkey baby I saw in Cabela's™ (World's Foremost Outfitter™), because this one lives in England and thinks that a teddy bear is her mother.

I'm just glad she doesn't think a stuffed beaver is her mother because I hate flying.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hovercrafts and Hoodoo

My latest column is up at the Douglas Budget and you should go there right now and read it because you need to know about Nebraska's fear of alien abduction.

Also, technology is pretty awesome.

Ft McHenry tunnel entrance.



The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel


The Ft McHenry tunnel is the one we went through but I couldn't find a picture as dramatic as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel one.

Apropos of nothing, today I was (half) listening to NPR's Science Friday and heard the term bone eating snot flower worm and if that is not the best name for a zombie-like life form than my name is mud.

And not only is that a great name, the bone eating snot flower worm has its own Facebook page which kinda proves that technology is awesome.











Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Of Ice Cream and Men

Trucking around this great land of ours gets us near some interesting places.

Usually that's all we manage, a drive-by style of tourism.

Example:

We drove through Hershey, Pennsylvania but didn't get to stop and spend time at Hershey Park.  Which is ok by me because I'm not a big fan of roller coasters. Or crowds. Or chocolate.

I fiddled with the colors here,
to get that end-of-the-world-
menacing-Hershey Kisses-look.

Did you know that Hershey Park began as a picnic grounds for Hershey Company employees in the early 1900's? 


We drove so close to the park, that I
could have spit out the window
and hit the roller coasters.
Not that I would.
Probably.


*action photo*
Isn't it cool how the tree
kind of melds into the wooden coaster?



I was surprised that the truck route went so close by the park. The roads were narrow and windy, the Hershey Kisses street lamps were looming in a hostile manner too close to the truck, and then this:


Oh goody!
Let's do rock, paper, scissors
to see who goes first.


But sometimes we actually get to stop at the interesting place and then good times are had by all.

Or not.

Le Mars, Iowa is the Ice Cream Capital of the World. And we went there.

The company that makes Blue Bunny ice cream, Wells Enterprises, has been located in Le Mars since 1913, and more ice cream is produced by them than any other single company in the world.

We visited the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor and Museum last week.

I was excited, by proxy, because Himself loves ice cream. This cannot be understated. He would eat it everyday, several times a day if not for his Superman like self-control. That and the fact that the freezer in our truck is the size of a walnut.

We also wanted to get a tour of the ice cream factory, but they wouldn't let us. The FDA or OSHA or some other un-American organization forbids such things.

Strike one for the old Blue Bunny.

I think Himself had visions of helping out on the line and getting caught up in some I Love Lucy-like episode where he has to eat all the ice cream that's coming down the conveyor belt to keep up production.

It was more ice cream parlor than museum but still, we had high hopes of eating massive quantities of ice cream in every flavor the Blue Bunny makes.




We walked around quickly and read the obligitory ice cream propaganda and then saddled up to the counter before Himself exploded with anticipation. Plus, the drool was getting everywhere.

I ordered a strawberry scoop in a waffle bowl and Himself picked out something called a Frio Grande, described as vanilla ice cream topped with toasted cinnamon coconut and crunchy bits of angels wings or something.

We watched as the gal behind the counter took out a small bag and plop out a ball of something on a plate. It was the Frito Bandito.

She scooped out my strawberry ice cream and put it in the waffle bowl and served our plates. The dejected look on the face of the stoic Himself made me so sad that I pushed my bowl at him and tried to trade.

But no. He wouldn't hear of it. He ate his stale, pre-packaged lump of pseudo angels wings with the patience of Job.

Strike two, Blue Bunny.

And that's enough for me because I don't like baseball. Or Blue Bunny.

This picture is in the "museum".
I should have known then
that there would be no angels wings.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Road Food a Weird Dog and a Fact

My Douglas on the Road column is up at the Douglas Budget website and it's all about lumpy food, bathroom cooties, and hand harvested yak milk.

You're welcome.

Also, just so you have something to look at while you're here:

*action photo*
This is Jasmine mid-lick.
Someone may or may not
have put whipped cream
on her nose.


The aftereffects of eating whipped cream.
It gets a dog high, apparently.

Just in case you don't read my column (why aren't you reading my column?) here is the fact: rice is not a vegetable.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Good the Bad and the Ikea

Shopping at Ikea will save $$ too.

Every job has its pros and cons and trucking is a 24/7/365 kinda business, but for the most part we Tumbleweeds have pretty normal hours.

The loads that we take usually have ample time built in to drive from the shipper to the receiver without much stress. There's plenty of time for breaks, meals, and sleep without keeping vampire hours.

But every now and then, we get a grocery warehouse load, (may a pox be inflicted upon them and their donkeys) and for some reason those places like to get their Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs in the middle of the night.

Because of the hours of service rules, this means we have to finagle our day so that we are driving in the wee hours.

This is definitely a con. People are meant to be sleeping in the wee hours (and sometimes when the hours aren't wee). It's not natural to be up a 2 am, much less working.

I need a lot of sleep to maintain my cheery disposition.

This week we had a pro and con load all in one.



Because we had plenty of time and we were going through Minneapolis, we were able to stop at Ikea and feel like skinny, urbane Europeans for a while. This was the pro.

On the con side, we had to deliver at 2 am in the middle of nowhere Iowa, then drive 200 miles to get to the edge of nowhere Iowa by 9 am.

All the shiny, cheap, Swedish home furnishings in the world don't make up for me being up in the middle of the night. But it could have been worse, we could have been in New Jersey.

Here are some Ikea facts:

Ikea sells every kind of home furnishing imaginable, and in some countries, even the home.

Ikea was founded in 1943 by Swedish dude Ingvar Kamprad because he couldn't fit a chair into his car.

There are over 300 stores in 35 countries and their catalog is printed in 27 languages.

The stores are laid out like rooms, so that you can see how their products look put together; their furniture is sold "ready to assemble". (Some people are really good at this.)


Their stuff is cheap but it's also sleek and good looking. Much like the Swedish people themselves. (And I know what I'm talking about here because I was on a Swedish military frigate once, and every man and woman on that ship was so creamy and beautiful that it made me want to walk the plank.)

A typical Ikea store is roughly the size of Lichtenstein and by the time you get through all of it you will be so hungry that the $2 Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce will seem like a good idea.

All the products have Swedish names on their packaging and if you try to say them out loud you turn into the Swedish Chef from the Muppets.



***

We spent over 3 hours there. It was Saturday and every person in Minnesota and possibly South Dakota was there. It was a mistake to shop on the busiest day of the week, as crowds give me the heebie-jeebies.

We bought a blanket and a cheese grater.

But really good looking ones, though.


*****

Even though this post is chock-full of Ikea talk and great links, no one is paying me for it. That Swedish Chef is a real snål oäkting.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Winter Driving and Wise Investment Advice

If you have some extra money, you should find a company that makes windshield washer fluid, and then buy a ton of stock in that company just before the winter. 

Trust me.

Truckers go through gobs of the stuff in the winter.

See the un-windshield-washer-wiped part?


Here's what happens:

The snow and ice melts from all the traffic, turning it slushy. The slush combines with road grime and the salt or sand that is used to keep the roads from getting too slick. Then it all comes together on the windshield in an opaque sludge, making it impossible to see.

The road spray gunks up the windshield every few seconds and you have to constantly use the washer to remove it. We can go through several gallons in a day in the northern parts of the country.

While I'm giving away awesome stock tips here's another one. Buy stock in Denny's.

Disclaimer: I don't *really* know how stocks work, if you can get them for just windshield washer fluid or if Denny's trades them. For all I know, you might be better off stocking up on ball-bearings.

As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted by that disclaimer, buy stock in Denny's Restaurants. They. Are. Everywhere. I began noticing them more often a couple of years ago, and then all of a sudden they started multiplying like bunnies.

There are five predominant truck stop chains nationwide and only three of those have sit-down restaurants. Denny's has taken over all of the restaurants in one of those and is working on another.

That's like 8 million Denny's just in truck stops, not counting regular people ones. Stop what you are doing and buy Denny's stock, right now. Or some ball bearings.

I may or may not have made that number up, but I'm sure it's close.

video

I apologize for the poor quality of this video. I only realized recently that our camera even had a video function. For reals. You may want to turn the sound down before you watch it because I stuck the camera out the window and it gets really loud. (Our camera has sound y'all!! Didn't know that either.)

So while you are snuggled up at home or work or in some other kind of building that doesn't move, remember the Tumbleweeds. Delivering baked beans come wind, hail, sleet, snow, or deluge of Denny's.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Debt-free Trucking and How It All Began

Hulk hates debt!

In my attempt to take over the world, one word at a time, I wrote an article for Pilot Travel Center's Challenge Magazine and it was published in the February edition.

I have linked it under the tab Other Published Stuff but you have to click, like, 3 things to get there and who has that kind of time?

So, because I care about your time, I am posting it here in all its wordy glory.

You're welcome.


Freedom on the Road and Freedom from Debt

My husband and I have been trucking for so long that our shirts have a seat belt shadow; a dark, diagonal stripe that doesn’t match the rest of the sun faded cloth.  Of course I could replace those shirts with new ones, but frugality is a hard habit to break and I consider those stripes a badge of honor.
Nine years ago we got the idea that trucking would be an interesting life and a good way to see the country.  We went to truck driving school, hired on with Schneider National and began driving as a team.  This was a disaster.  Neither of us could sleep while the truck was moving, and the truck was always moving; a thousand miles a day leaves no room for stopping.  After criss-crossing the continent several times, going the same route over and over, we realized that team driving wasn’t the life for us.  I also discovered that while I liked the traveling, I hated the driving.
So when a new dedicated route with Schneider opened up in Wyoming, we decided to quit team driving and leave the Sunshine State for the Cowboy State.  For five years, my husband drove 495 miles of Wyoming, five days a week by himself, while I got a “normal” job.  If you’ve ever driven anywhere in Wyoming, you know what a lot of empty miles that is!  It wasn’t the most exciting job for him or me, but we had to recoup our losses and rethink our plan of seeing the country, a dream that never left us. 
We decided the best way to earn a living and see the country together, without both us us driving, would be to own our own truck.  We planned and saved for a year.  We forced ourselves to live on my husband’s paycheck and put mine in the bank to save for the truck.  We lived below our means, had no other debt than our modest house, and saved, saved, saved. Did I mention we saved?
We bought our 1999 Freightliner Century on eBay for less than $20,000, put in another $15,000 to get it road worthy and signed on with Crete Carrier Corporation as own-operators.  We got a small personal loan to cover what we lacked in savings and set out for the open road.  I am the bookkeeper, navigator and chief radio button pusher, and my husband drives and maintains the truck.  It is the best of both worlds for us; we can see the country and earn a living at the same time.  
We began as owner-operators in 2007 and in that time we have had our engine rebuilt, replaced the clutch, rear differential, radiator (twice), the bull gear, and every a/c component know to man. We have seen the price of diesel fuel fluctuate wildly and even hit the $5 mark.  We’ve seen freight boom and bust.  We have sat empty with hours to run and no freight to haul, and we have run so hard and used every hour on line three and four that we didn’t know what day it was, when freight was good.  During all of the inevitable ups and downs though, we have been consistent in one thing: we live below our means.  We pay cash for every repair, whether it be routine maintenance or a side of the road emergency.  
What I have learned in the four years of running the business of our truck, is that while I can’t control the freight, the fuel price, or the never ending need of maintenance, I can control the impulse to buy things I don’t need.  Every dollar that didn’t go into the truck went into savings, even though for the first couple of years it seemed the truck ran on dollar bills instead of diesel.  We lived pretty frugally during that time but we had a goal in mind: saving enough cash for an emergency fund of six months of expenses.  We didn’t go on vacations or spend frivolously at Walmart and we ate a lot of sandwiches instead of eating in restaurants.  We saved with focused intensity and with each dollar closer to our goal, a little weight seemed to lift off our shoulders.  
Here’s the thing about being debt free and having an emergency fund that trumps all the boring facts and dry arguments of personal responsibility; it feels good.  The freedom of being in control of your own life, knowing that if life throws you a curve ball it won’t put you out of the game.  The freedom of wiggle-room, the freedom of being beholden to nothing but your future, the freedom of a good night’s sleep, the freedom to plan.  Money may not be able to buy happiness, but living in constant debt will never buy you freedom.
I am enjoying the trucking life, seeing the country in all its diversity, looking out my “office” window everyday to a new view, and being my own boss.  We have reached our savings goal and everything looks a little brighter and the truck seems to run a little smoother.  I can afford the money for new shirts now, but those stripes were hard earned.  I think I’ll wear them a little longer.










Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How to Avoid Work and Make People Uncomfortable with Your Phone!

(It's kind of like How to Win Friends and Influence People; Bizarro World Edition.)

I should be adding and subtracting numbers since:

A: that is my job as business manager/accountant/radio-button-pusher of this operation, and

B: tax time is just around the corner, and

17: the internet connection is too spotty to look up useless things.

But I'm not. I'm just not feeling it.

I do know that we spent almost $60,000 in diesel fuel last year. That is a lot of dinosaur bones or fairy dust or whatever that stuff is made of.

This was found on a wall in a truck stop
in Virginia. I call it
Last of the Mohicans
 wearing Peter Pan shoes.

Here's an example of what I do to avoid adding and subtracting numbers.

I replied to a text sent to us by mistake and now Mike is probably calling AT&T to get his number changed.

Text conversation with a wrong number:


Wrong Number Dude: Hey.
Me: Hey. 
Wrong Number Dude: Who’s this?
Me: Who’s this? You texted me.
Wrong Number Dude: Mike.
Me: Well Hello Mike. You must not have much to do if you are texting people you don’t know. I like walks on the beach and world peace.
Wrong Number Dude/Mike: I’m bored at work. I didn’t mean to text you, I hit the wrong number. What ur name.
Me: I am Death. I work the southeastern Wyoming region. Work is slow for me today, too. 
***
He never texted back. And I thought the conversation was going really well. *Sigh* It's so hard to connect with people these days.




"Call me Mr Flinstone
I can make your
bed rock."

I would have called to tell him he spelled Flintstone wrong, but he didn't leave a number. Another friendship thwarted.