Penske, Hertz and Amtrak

New York, NY

We’re waiting for a load out of Newark, NJ to end our 12 days of Time At Home.

My dream is one day to spend a few days of relaxing Time At Home.  Think about it,  9-to-5ers may commute to jobs they tolerate but they do have a couple of hours each day and on weekends to take care of stuff, even if that stuff is simply sitting on the front steps watching the world go by with a tall, cool drink in hand. When they take a few days off to relax, they go somewhere without dragging the dirty laundry and planning enough time to grocery shop or fix something on their house. They leave all that behind. We don’t.

The typical 9-to-5er has three weeks vacation, 98 weekend days (49 weeks times  two) and at least six federal holidays. Grand total 125 days off the boss’s clock each year.

Over-the-road truck drivers, husband and wife teams anyway, seem to take about 12 weeks a year off or 84 days and that includes vacation time. We are governed by Hours of Service rules, which require us to take 34-hours off after working 70 hours to restart our working clocks. We do this as a rolling restart, which means, for instance, when Greg stops driving at 4 AM, he cannot drive until 2 PM the following day. I arrive at our destination at 4 PM and we have 24 hours when the truck doesn’t move. At 4 PM the next day Greg drives out with a new load and when I wake up, I can start driving after 2 AM and we’ve both had a 34-hour restart. Most people including us, check into a hotel for a couple of hot showers and the luxury of tripping off to pee in a private bathroom without thinking about where? when? And the novelty of television. It’s time off but it’s not Time at Home. It’s a layover.

When I finish my 11 hour drive for the day I can’t do the laundry, visit friends, even talking on the phone or emailing seems like too much work, I flop on the bunk behind and sleep. We are captive. Time off is not really time off because it is not our own time.

Generally we are on the road three-to-five weeks. In that time, we will do at least three 34-hour restarts, which we’ll stretch into two days, maybe one will be three or four days and stay in a hotel or take a short sightseeing trip. However, we are only awake together from about 1 PM Eastern Time to 8 PM, which limits what we can do and we have to take care of the obvious, stock up the fridge, do the laundry, keep tabs on bills and look after the tractor.

This Time at Home was particularly grueling, 12 days of homework! We moved. We donated and chucked a ton of stuff, how two people can collect that much stuff in a 475 square foot apartment is beyond me – and we have a fraction of the stuff of most other people – but we moved what was left of our household stuff to Florida, our new home state. Arranged all the stuff, changed our driver’s licenses, wrote the Hazardous Materials endorsement test and were fingerprinted and signed up as voters.

We drove a Penske truck to Florida. Yuck. It made us realize how wonderful our tractor really is, not just that there’s a fridge and bed in the sleeper, but our seats are heavenly. The executive office chair-sized seats with the air ride lumbar support and the air ride cushion that dulls the thuds and slams of hitting the nations very deep potholes.

The Penske truck had a bench seat, a bench seat. Two planks at right angles with minimum padding. Greg had to drive almost the entire way because if I pulled up the seat to reach the fuel pedal then his knees were around his ear lobes.

We did have a little excitement. Pennsylvania has manual Truck Weigh Stations. Most states have Weigh-in-Motion Pre-Pass systems. That’s why the big trucks are in a panic to get over to the right lane. They must drive in  the right lane to cross the scales sunk in the far right lane of the highway asphalt. If the truck’s weight is legal, the pre-pass in our tractor beeps green and we by-pass the scales. If it beeps red we must enter the Department of Transport scales where we can be inspected along with our log books, the bills of lading, our permit books and the truck and trailer.

Pennsylvania has a system of yellow lights, when the lights flash, big trucks must pull into Rest Areas for inspection. In two years of driving up and down I-81 through Pennslyvania to New Jersey, I have NEVER seen the lights flash, NEVER. Last week, they were flashing. We are over 10,000 Gross Vehicle Weight so I pulled in as legally required. As soon as I pulled in, the lights stopped flashing. I could feel the relief of the big trucks behind me jockeying to get back into the regular traffic lane.

The DOT guy was waiting for me. Waved his index finger to pull me into his spot. Open the door he says, I’m shaking a little. How much of this rental Penske truck are we responsible for? We rented this as private citizens to move our junk. But we have Commercial Driver’s Licenses, we are held to a different standard that four-wheelers so if there’s something they don’t like about the condition what is our responsibility?

We did do a pre-trip before we left New York, we checked the lights, the signal lights, the headlights, the brake lights, the brakes, under the hood. We looked it over.

The DOT guy looks at me, really looks at me. My short grey hair, I’m bviously middle-aged.

DOT guy: Is this truck for hire?

Me (I probably shouldn’t have known what that means): NO.

Him: Do you have your own belongings?

Me: Yes, we’re moving.

Him: From where-to-where?

Greg: (Greg jumps in thinking I’m about to give him the long story.) New York to Florida.

Him: This vehicle is not for hire.

Me: No.

He thanked us for our cooperation and waved us off.

My first day out with a training engineer two years ago, we were stopped for a DOT inspection in New York State. My first day driving two years ago with my shiny new CDL I was stopped in Kentucky for a DOT inspection. We rent a Penske truck, I get stopped for a DOT inspection. Sheesh! There are drivers who say they have never been pulled over for an inspection.

The trip was 34 hours including eight in a Hampton Inn in Petersburg, Virginia.

We left our Volvo in Newark, New Jersey at the company terminal. We decided to return on Amtrak from Miami to New York. We got a heck of a deal, $717 for two in a sleeper room, including meals – way too much food. The train was okay. We like trains, but we haven’t done a long distance trip in the U.S.

The view was disappointing. It would have been interesting to see the butt end of America, along the tracks, mostly it is not pretty, industrial, dumped garbage.
People living along the tracks, hidden in the trees, except we’ve seen two years of this view.

There are a few places who have preserved their downtown next to the train tracks, but mostly not a pretty scene. The wrong side of the tracks view would be interesting, but we have seen a lot of that driving the truck.

While I’m glad we did it, it was relaxing, no hassle on boarding or disembarking, our own cabin with our own toilet. The staff was good and helpful. The food was pretty good, especially Greg’s steak, the cheesecake and key lime crumble cake – we had several pieces over the 31 hour trip – and the French toast. I don’t know if I’d do it again.

Tonight we head to Ohio.

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