Hoping on the Cranberry Solution

Port St. Lucie, Florida

Last Wednesday started with much promise.

Fresh from two weeks off the road, we had plans of 10,000 miles in 16 days before flying to Thailand and other Asian parts, as yet undecided. We stashed our groceries in the truck and I crawled into the bunk as the first flakes of last Wednesday night’s Northeast snowstorm fluttered to earth. My co-driver settled in with a movie or three.

Black Beauty, far right, buried in eight hours and 16 inches of snow

But our tour has stopped just as it started. It wasn’t the 16 inches of snow that fell in eight hours on New Jersey, that was a temporary delay. And it wasn’t Black Beauty. The problem is me!

Our load was ready at 0400. “We’ll be an hour or so digging out,” McGyver told the dock supervisor, looking at the snow piled half way up our giant tires. Then we had to dig out the trailer. We were hooked at 0530. The driver who had just arrived, driving north into the storm warned us of a jackknifed tractor trailer on the entrance ramp to US 1/9 North. We didn’t need that ramp.

Blizzard conditions over Newark, New Jersey.

“Go the other way (waving to the right),” he said. “I’m going the other way, the Big House (pointing to the departing rig) is going the other way. Up Doremus to get on I-95.”

This is the Port of Newark AND Newark Liberty International Airport. A busy hub, we thought, it will have priority plowing. The other way was the road to a prison and a sewage treatment plant, a secondary road and 16 inches of snow, not a good combination. I turned left.

Not only was there a trailer jackknifed on the 1/9 ramp, hooked over a median, a bus, two snowplows, a car and a van were mired in a foot of snow. Four big rigs and two cars ahead of us, a car hauler and a tanker had spun out on the mole hill leading to the I-78 ramp, the route to I-95, the New Jersey Turnpike. Stranded, a half a mile from the open road, albeit 35 mph but the open and, plowed Interstate.

We sat for three-and-a-half hours, dark-to-sunrise-to-daylight. Two tow trucks dislodged the tractor and its trailer, one tow truck for the bus. Once the bus was removed the first snowplow burst to life and pulled out the second snowplow, when we left the van and car were still digging out.

US 1/9 North Ramp clogged by stranded vehicles

Finally the ramp was cleared, I let the vehicles in front of me make it all the way to the top before I started my run, pushing my way through a foot of snow, untouched by a plow, up and down the ramp to the I-95 tollbooth and I was free.

Traffic was light. We arrived in Orlando at 0630 Friday and pulled a load to Miami, since we were already dispatched on a load from Miami to Las Vegas, 2,600 paid miles – big, beefy miles, non-stop money, and a fabulous way to start a fresh week — we decided to bobtail to Port St. Lucie, our homebase where our bed and sofa and the last of our worldly possession live, drop some truck stuff and eat a homemade meal, poached eggs on a bed of fresh spinach, sauteed red onion, heirloom baby tomatoes and bits of ham, topped with goat cheese brie on multi-grain bread – all but the eggs pulled out of my little truck fridge.

Just as we’re heading out, it dawns on me, the reason why I have been feeling a little subdued and needing to stop far too often to use the restroom.  Digging into my medical memory – it hit me – I may have the start of a UTI, a urinary tractor infection. Bladder infection is common in women, for many reasons, including for women who need to “hold it” a little too long, such as women whose job involves travel, that covers truck drivers.

Bobtailing to Miami to pick up the Las Vegas load, trying to think the situation away, I realized it’s better to give up the miles, treat the problem close to home base where I can visit an Urgent Care center rather than have a huge problem somewhere between here and there and probably in the middle of nowhere Texas.

To help dispatch, McGyver pulled the load to Orlando and returned to Port St. Lucie with two gallons of cranberry juice. Here I sat Saturday drinking fresh-pressed 100% cranberry juice, $9.99 for a 32-ounce bottle. Water, cranberry juice, water, juice, pee, pee, pee!

Cranberry as a prevention or cure is an old wives remedy much dissed by the medical and scientific communities. Googling I find Scientific Daily has a report on researchers who say cranberry juice prevents infections – funded by the cranberry growers. And another study, which says cranberry juice doesn’t, funded by the pharmaceuticals no doubt.

My experience is that it works if the situation is caught early and you’re a young woman, 20s, 30s, 40s, but 50s, we’ll see. It saved me at 27 when I lived on a sailboat in the Caribbean, there was no available doctor but there was cranberry juice, must have been the crantini’s.

When I had my Department of Transport physical (required every two years for commercial drivers) the markers came up, I had to visit a doctor, who did a another test. He said nothing came up so it must be a very low-level infection. I had no symptoms. He gave me a prescription but I hit the cranberry juice – hard. He cleared me to drive.

The message, I think, not having that fancy medical shingle, is I have to make sure I drink plenty of fluids, regularly, daily.

The problem is that on some loads there are insufficient rest areas and it is compounded by states in financial trouble closing rest areas. This limits toilet facilities and safety stopping places for truck drivers. For instance, once we leave Newark for Orlando, it can be very difficult to find a place to stop the big truck until the Service Plazas in Maryland, which can be three-and-a-half-hours away. Driving around Chicago is another place, the Service Plazas are not only crowded but have insufficient turning space to get the truck out. Many of the service plazas were built when trailers were 48 feet long, now they are 53 feet. When Arizona Governor Jan Brewer closed most of the rest areas to save money that sharply reduced the safe places to stop, all but a few have since re-opened due to public outcry. The problem is most acute in urban areas. The Massachusetts Turnpike heading into Boston has tiny Service Plazas with little space for big trucks and they are crowded. When I start my driving day, I think okay, eleven hours, where can I and where can’t I stop. Friday driving to Miami, the last Service Plaza at Pompano was closed to big truck parking because of construction, but there was no warning at the West Palm Beach plaza. I had a problem by the time I arrived at the terminal, I felt like I was drowning.

Black Beauty deep in 16 inches of snow at Port of Newark.

Regulators are concerned about driver fatigue, floating new proposals to limit driving hours. But no one is interested in one of the biggest reasons for driver fatigue, frustration and distraction – finding restrooms and safe havens for mandatory driving breaks.

Data from Star Trek Next Generation, the android robot, is not driving these trucks, people drive. Fewer rest areas make truck stops more congested. For me to stop in a truck stop for a quick bathroom break is a nightmare. During the day, truck stops are clogged with fueling trucks. I need the empty Rest Areas. In the middle of the night, the fuel island is empty, McGyver stops there. But it’s impossible for him to get into a Rest Area.

It’s Sunday morning, I thought I could cure myself without antibiotics and have the situation checked in two weeks in Thailand. The main reason for our Asian trip is to see a doctor for our regular health checkups, blood tests, a mammogram, etc.

We started visiting Bumrungrad Hospital in 2005 when the cost of monthly, supposedly full-service medical in the US became out of reach, a price equal to our rent before deductibles and co-pays, and lacking in quality and accessibility forcing us to buy mail-order medicine.

I will explain more in the next week.

Meantime, I’ve just checked the location of an Urgent Care center I think I need some magical pharmaceuticals to put us back on the road Monday night. You know, if the wheels ain’t turnin’…..

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