The coconut cake was shameful and necessary. A tranquilizer.
Two hours into the four-and-a-half-hour procedure to register our tractor, Black Beauty, in Florida, a pre-condition of our move to FedEx Custom Critical. I was fading with stress, waiting for one more document to be faxed from Tennessee.
The tractor was parked in the mini-mall outside the Sunshine State Tag Agency in St. Petersburg, Florida, McGyver asleep inside the tractor, having done his part, driving overnight from Orlando. The tag agency would issue the Florida license plates as soon as the paperwork was complete.
Since I was waiting, I decided to walk to the opposite end of the mall to the Publix grocery store to use the restroom — that’s a truck driver’s life, always looking for a usable toilet. It was hot, the day before Good Friday, 80+ degrees, I was stressed. The bureaucratic nightmare to move the truck’s title from Ohio to Florida, then register the tractor in Florida with apportioned license plates, meaning we pay fuel tax in all 48 states and 10 Canadian provinces, had been exhausting. It required not one but two trips to Florida forcing me to spend two weeks sweet-talking dispatch for loads to Orlando. We didn’t have the luxury of time when we arrived. The process had to complete in one day or we would need a third trip. There were a half dozen people in the tag agency’s waiting room on their second, third and fourth visits attempting to complete the paperwork.
Inside Publix, the Bakery sign flashed as if it were neon. A little treat, I thought, walking directly to the packages of individual slices of cake. Priced at $2.29 I turned to the doughnuts thinking cheaper, 79-cents, is better. They failed to inspire me. I turned back to the cake. Coconut cake. My favorite cake. A little slice, not that big. I grabbed it, marched to the cashier, paid for it and I was out the door in less than two minutes. Standing in front of the garbage can I inhaled the cake.
A tall, stately woman in her early 50s walked by, looking me up an down, “feels good doesn’t it,” she said, the icing glistening at her from the corners of my mouth. My face flushed, hot and red. I pushed down the last two fork fulls — in my own defense, I did not eat all the icing — tossed the evidence in the can and hurried back to the tag agency.
“Your fax arrived,” the title agent said as soon as I walked in the door. “You can pay by check or cash and I have your plates.” It was over. One attempt. I counted out $1,695.06 and held out my hands for the shiny red license plate. My prize.
Bureaucracy is maddening at the best of times. But the bureaucracy surrounding big trucks and the transportation industry is incredible. It involves several agencies, federal, state and county, every state seems to be different and the government workers seem to know only their part of how the system works. No one I spoke to, not even the Motor Carrier Commission in Florida had an overview. Worse, every question turned up a dribble of new information, which raised more questions.
“What do most truck drivers do,” I wailed at McGyver after a particularly exasperating phone call.
“It is very difficult to do the right thing,” he said. “I bet a lot of people just stay off the main roads, away from the scales until they have everything they need.”
If we hadn’t met a Florida couple at the truck show in Louisville, Kentucky I don’t know what I would have done. The wife had been through it and gave me a good overview of what I needed. She told me that to register a big truck, a USDOT number is required, which is an online application to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Commission. A woman from permits and licenses at OOIDA, the Owner Operator and Independent Truckers Association, held my hand, through the telephone while I worked my way through the online form.
Florida has a very sophisticated web presence for all government services and agencies, but it has almost no useful information on big trucks, or an obvious way to find the information.
We retitled our truck at the tax collectors office in St. Lucie County. We were told that we could do it there or at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Every phone call I made looking for information got me a different answer. The Tax Collectors office kept telling me that when we changed the title from Ohio, our previous carrier was based there, we would lose our insurance. It took five phone calls to confirm that no we would not lose the insurance.
Lineups at the DMV for walk-ins are usually lengthy, so we picked the tax collectors office even though we weren’t sure they knew what they were doing. We picked right. No lineups. They have a Sheriff’s department officer on hand to verify the VIN number and odometer reading for the truck. They, of course, asked about the insurance and I told them the Motor Carrier Commission said I had valid insurance. I flashed the certificate.
“That’s good enough for me,” the cashier said handing me a receipt for the $88.25 fee. Step one complete.
A week later we dropped a load in Orlando and bobtailed to the tag agency. We discovered that if we tried to register the vehicle, sending the documents to the state by FedEx or mail, we could be shutdown, unable to move the truck for up to a week, that was not an option. It had to happen in person. If we used the tag agency in St. Pete it could happen in one day, but only if all the documents were correct.
Every time we talked to someone we got another morsel of information.
Our membership to OOIDA was more valuable than gold. Staff in several departments, truck insurance, permits and licenses and compliance, spent considerable time with me on the telephone answering and explaining.
We learned that a big truck must have a valid signed lease and be “operated by” a motor carrier with a USDOT number to be driven legally unless the big truck owner has her own authority and her own USDOT number. Our USDOT number is for registration purposes only, not one that gives authority to run.
The license plates are not legal unless the big truck is physically carrying the lease in the tractor cab as well as a primary liability insurance certificate from the motor carrier. We also need a separate liability policy when traveling bobtail-only, which we pay for. We cannot legally be on the streets without an IFTA sticker, which is the program that distributes all the states and provinces their portion of the fuel tax that we pay to drive on the highways. We cannot be legally on the road without a paid Form 2290, which is the Heavy Use Highway Tractor tax, $550 per year.
To operate legally, we must also have the name of the company that we are “operated by” on the door of the tractor and that company’s USDOT number. There are no rules for the size of type, only that the USDOT number must be read from 50 feet when standing still. There are no specs on the eyesight of the person standing 50 feet away.
Is your head spinning? This is supposedly an unregulated industry. With title and registration in hand, we were ready to sign onto our new carrier.
Last Thursday, May 5, it was like being in a spy movie. We pulled into the terminal at 1100, we had picked up the package of permits, licenses, insurance, stickers and decals sent by FedEx Custom Critical, had the shop strip out the Qualcomm, we scrubbed off the old decals on the truck, handed in all the equipment, got a receipt, applied the new decals and tractor number and at 1400 drove away with new identity.
P.S. When I read McGyver’s this post before posting, his only comment was “I didn’t get any cake.”