70-Hours: Too Much Togetherness

South San Francisco, California

Did you know that the 70-hour truck driving rule applies to marriage?

The Department of Transport allows truck drivers to work a maximum of 70 hours in seven days. We like to drive 5,000 – 5,500 miles in a week.

In the past week, we’ve driven Dallas to Boston via Columbus, Boston to Seattle via Columbus, Seattle to San Francisco, 6,017 miles in 137 hours or five days and 17 hours. Whew! We were fried when we arrived at Candlestick Airport in San Francisco at 1300 Eastern yesterday. First the drive was stressful and glorious, over three bridges including the two that make up the Bay Bridge into San Francisco and around the airport to the cargo terminal.

Sun shining, a little pollution in the distance over Marin County, but it makes it all the more beautiful. High above the traffic. The Bay Bridge was recently opened after lengthy repairs. The repairs including an S-Curve at the end of the first bridge heading westbound, more than 40 car accidents in two weeks and last week a big truck, doing 50 mph in the marked 40 mph zone missed the corner on the S-Curve and plunged 200 feet to Treasure Island below, dying instantly.

The speed limit is now 35 mph, I did 30, so much better to take in the sights. The sky was a bright blue, the water in the bay a greeny blue, the Trans America building towered in the distance. Bright dots of white on the water, sailboats frolicking among the frothy whitecaps.

This is what makes the big truck truly special, we can see for miles and miles and miles and it was beautiful. Down off the bridge onto Highway 101 South and the Grand Prix circuit begins, people drive like maniacs, they know where they are going and I don’t. A constant in the trucking world is that directions are CRAPPY, including to a company’s own facilities. Unbelievable!

We brought an Audi from Seattle to the San Francisco car show. When we finally offloaded at the airport and parked our empty trailer in the Company lot, which is tiny, where we can hardly swing a cat, let alone turn a 53 foot trailer, we were snapping at each other. We made a terrible newbie mistake. We took a load to Chicago via LA. We’re trying to make money, but more importantly we want to be in New York before Thanksgiving.

We’ve been slow keeping track of our hours. I do mine every day by hand – see the Ludites win sometimes – Greg likes to do his on the computer, but he does it only every few days. I was thinking we were getting a little tight. After we took the load, 400 miles plus 2104, Greg opened the Hours of Service program he created.

Oops, big OOOOOOPPPS, we don’t have enough hours to legally drive to get us to Chicago, we’d be stopped somewhere around St. Louis, Missouri for 18 hours on the 18th, waiting for hours to come back at midnight and miss the delivery, besides that my head is splitting with a headache, I didn’t drink enough water because I couldn’t spare the minutes to stop and pee.

The Gods spoke. Thank you and Amen. I put on my pajamas, rolled over and went to sleep, leaving Greg with a ton of paperwork. Greg says, “it’s the 70 hour rule” when we use up our driving hours, we’ve also used up our tolerance for each other.

“I’ve noticed before, when we start getting cranky and upset and mad over little things, it’s when we’ve driven a lot and used up the 70,” he says. That must be why most husband and wife teams I’ve talked to say they like to run hard, use up their 70 and stop for their 34 hour restart to get the 70 hours back. Once you’ve stopped moving for 34 hours, slept without the rattle and shake and roll and banging of the truck on pitted asphalt and bad concrete, the world comes back into perspective.

I called dispatch and as the good wife, said “I made a mistake, I redid all the hours, I’m really sorry, but I was wrong and we don’t have enough hours to deliver.” The guy was short with me, but he said, I’d rather you be honest now than try to run the load illegally and have something happen or get into an accident and then we all have a big problem. “We’ll unhook you and wait until you recoup some hours,” he said. BANG, he hung up the phone before I could say thank you.

However, this is a good place to get stopped, a 30 minute walk from the terminal is the South San Francisco “downtown”, apparently an excellent Chinese restaurant in the Travel Lodge, an IHOP, close to a Hertz rental car agency, truck parking at $20 a day and a truck wash. There’s got to be Starbucks around here, and we’re told it’s a short walk to a seawall where we can ride our bikes.

We’ve had quite the ride since we left Portland on November 7, truck repairs complete. The truck is working great, the transmission shifts like we’re driving a race car. Big problem seemed to be the connectors at the battery – corrosion. They connections have been repaired, but we need new batteries at $1,000 for four. We’ll get the new yellow top glass matte batteries,I won’t bore you with the details, but Greg thinks they are cool.

As a friend said, Greg is loving this whole big truck thing because “it’s one gigantic gadget.” Yes, it is.

We’ve been so wrapped up with the truck and the driving and a new Company and the pace that I’ve not had much chance to enjoy my fabulous new office window. The Volvo window is amazing. One piece of glass, no divider. It’s also flatter glass than a Freightliner so I feel like I can see farther.

Sunday morning, the 8th, I think, can’t remember, I was treated to an amazing sunrise in Colorado looking out towards Oklahoma. Once past the Rocky Mountains and Denver, Colorado flattens out into a countryside of pampas grazing land. It is one long coast downhill from the Denver, Colorado to Amarillo, Texas.

I used to think of sunrise as the beginning of the day, but it’s not, for me the first light of dawn is the beginning of the day. In the hour, that the sky slowly wakes up and I can see more and further, it makes such a difference. The ball of fire popping over the horizon is no longer the occasion.

This sunrise took it’s long, sweet time, covering all the shades of pink and orange and gold and blue and grey, just enough clouds to create layers of reflections to watch the changing colors. I had to remind myself I am driving, I could have easily pulled over with a cafe au lait put my feet up on the dash, and watched the show, but alas, no time. No one waits for air freight.

We have entered the time of the Long Dawn, where sunrise is an achingly slow spectacle on it way to daylight. The blues are greyer, the pinks are greyer, the sun stays lower in the sky, the light is colder, piercing through the windshield.

Now I wait for the shortest day of the year followed by the sun’s return trip.

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