America’s Pavement Dwellers

Oak Grove, Missouri

In San Juan Capistrano, California the residents eat, wear clothing, drive cars, sit on chairs, sleep in beds, and partake in the great American pastime, and economic pursuit, of consuming.

While a big truck brings everything they hold dear, the good people of this hamlet are anti-driver and anti-safety.

America's Pavement Dwellers

Dawn at the Pilot truckstop lot on I-10 in Phoenix, AZ. Drivers must get moving early to make it to the next stop before parking fills up.

It’s not just little towns that plaster their streets with No Truck Parking signs, it’s States too. The Rest Area on I-475 westbound in Georgia has some 75 big truck parking spots and almost as many NO Overnight Parking signs.

Politicians make it sound like they have done drivers a favor whenever Rest Area parking is provided. But drivers pay for these spots through a variety of taxes and cannot use them. Federal regulations require a 10-hour break after driving 11-hours. Road safety advocates want to extend the 34-hour restart, the mandatory break we must take after we have worked 70-hours in seven days in order to work another 70-hours in seven days. But a growing number of States refuse to let drivers park in Rest Areas for the mandated break.

Drivers are pavement dwellers, the conditions not much better than the pavement dwellers of India, described by Rohinton Mistry in his novel A Fine Balance, families live their entire lives on the roads, sidewalks and medians, cooking, sleeping, scratching a living, taking care of personal needs.

Truthfully, I never thought of it before I was a Big Rig driver, but HUMANS drive these vehicles, maybe robots one day, but now, and for the foreseeable future, people drive the trucks. Mostly men, some women, who support families, pay taxes, care for elderly parents, send kids to college, cheer kids in Little League.

Truck transportation is still the most efficient way to move many raw materials, commodities, equipment and products around the country. When you see a big truck imagine the word JOBS emblazoned on the box. It’s your job we carry. In a first-world society the workers who make the economy turn deserve better treatment.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood who is staking his legacy on big truck safety avoids these questions: where are drivers to stop to comply with safety regulations? In 2013 drivers face an extended restart, which could raise the break from 34-hours to as much as 51 hours. Why do we not deserve safe, sanitary facilities? Access to drinking water and toilets? While help is supposedly on the way, I fear disappointment because the biggest investment the government has made into truck parking recently is to spend millions of dollars on highway signs that tell drivers there is no parking at the upcoming rest area. Something we already know by looking at the clock that after 8PM local time anywhere in the country parking is scarce.

Tucked in the recently adopted Highways Bill is a provision to survey big truck parking in America. This is a provision, which was won by the hard work of Jason Rivenburg’s widow, Hope. He was the driver, who while trying to deliver in South Carolina was turned away by the shipper to wait until the next day.  Having no safe place to park, he settled in an abandoned lot. He was murdered that night with less than $7 in his pocket.

Parking has dwindled in the four years that we have been driving. We discovered new resource, The Ultimate Truck Parking Guide, by over-the-road driver LeRoy Klemmer, which we purchased at the Oak Grove, Missouri Petro for $20. It lists parking available along each Interstate in the US, as well as some State Routes and major Canadian highways. It shows clearly the lack of parking in high population areas. It is impressive in its details such as dirt lot, no parking WalMarts, WiFi and malls that allow trucks to park if the driver is shopping.

Unfortunately San Juan Capistrano, known as the Equestrian Capital of the West Coast, so you know they get big truck deliveries, is one of many cities in America clamping down on the “impromptu truckstop” which appears nightly, between 10PM and 6AM on Camino Capistrano, which runs parallel to I-5, when no one else is using the street. The City Engineer, as reported on Landline Now, the trucking radio show on Sirius’s Road Dog channel, said the no parking rule, on the books for several years, will be enforced. Trucks, he said, can only park for loading and unloading.

There is almost no truck parking in Southern California. The shippers often have such tiny locations that Vaseline is needed to slide a trailer into a dock. We delivered to a Fortune 100, Blue Chip, Large Cap American multi-national in Southern California in our first few months with Schneider. The signs posted everywhere said, basically, I am paraphrasing, Driver, you have 45 minutes to get the hell out, and don’t even think about wasting time to do your legally required paperwork. We couldn’t find truck parking near Oxnard and there is no truckstop with parking, to use a restroom, within at least 50 miles of San Juan Capistrano.

It infuriates me when Rest Areas prohibit or seriously limit big truck parking. There is no mysterious taxpayer providing this service. I pay for the Rest Areas. Today, I paid $550 for my annual 2290 return, my Highway Heavy Use Tax in order to have a truck on the road. But this is just the beginning. In addition to the fuel tax I pay on every gallon of diesel, about $3,000 a year, and kept lower than most by our highly fuel efficient truck and driving habits, we pay mileage tax, Ad Valorem tax — I don’t even know what that’s for — and in Kansas, we pay property tax to drive through the State. Since January 1, on 60,698 miles driven we have paid $831.07 in Mileage, Fuel and Ad Valorem taxes. Drivers are taxed like it’s our stuff that we’re pulling up and down the highway. For the record, MacGyver and I have never, even when we had two cars, owned enough crap to fill a 53 foot trailer.

Then there are the tolls, which have been increased 10 to 100 percent in the last year. Most of the toll roads are dilapidated and it’s difficult to believe all the toll money is being poured back into the system.  The crumpled pavement before the westbound tollbooth on the Kansas Turnpike almost tossed the trailer in the ditch. Oklahoma charges a big truck $33 to run the turnpike and the service plazas are pitiful with parking lots designed by someone who has never seen a big truck, the ultimate insult, one of the Rest Areas closes the restrooms overnight.

People think truck drivers are pigs pointing to tossed pee bottles — which infuriates me too — the work force is mostly men, away from their women, mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, they are lazy, and well, piggy.

It aggravates me when a driver climbs out of the truck at a truckstop or Rest Area, not 100 feet from a toilet and pees on his tires. But drivers who would never do that get stuck in many places where there are no facilities — including at shippers and consignees who refuse to let us use the restrooms, this year I have had two that refused me — there is no choice but to use a pee bottle.

Rest Areas are closing sanitation dump facilities and there is no place to dump bottles. The Texas 1-40 Rest Area at Alanreed says dumping portapotties and pee bottles is prohibited.  A woman driver told me that she knew by memory the location of every dump facility in the Lower 48 and there “aren’t that many,” she said.

I am happy that Congress has recognized that truck drivers need, and deserve more and safe parking facilities and, what the hell, let’s start with a survey of parking — OOIDA, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association wrote to Secretary LaHood last week asking him to make parking a priority — but I am afraid that nothing will happen unless drivers and their families keep up the pressure at every level, with their Senator, their Congressional Representative and Mayor.

And drivers must hold each other accountable, if you see a driver peeing on his tires within walking distance of a toilet tell him it’s not acceptable.

To the good people of San Juan Capistrano, drivers are parking on your street because there is no place to park along I-5. They are bringing your consumer crap and they must shut down, the regulations require it, for a daily rest, and they want to go to sleep in a close proximity of running water and a toilet just like you.

2 thoughts on “America’s Pavement Dwellers

  1. I have a chicken or egg question:Which will happen first-The government will solve the parking/restroom/decent place to eat problem orthey will mandate ALL trucks with a sleeper have a toilet/sink/kitchen/shower ANDallowed to park where they want as long as they weren't blocking traffic.A have been holding my breath a long time now-maybe I should go ahead andtake that breath after all. I wish more people would complain and this would be fixedI wonder how much more/longer before it gets fixed. when I figure that one out I buyinga bunch of lottery tickets:)

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  2. I am not convinced there will be any significant change. It will be another private/public partnership solution, which won't work but will shovel taxpayer money into the hands of some political supporter who has a technology and needs a regulation-for-corporation move from the government. Maybe we'll see robot drivers sooner than we think, that eliminates a lot of problems.The only thing the government has done is spend money on technology to make signs to tell us there is no parking.The issue here is safety, no one can comply with safety regulations if there is no place to stop, but that is conveniently forgotten by the regulators and politicians. The situation that is developing is inhuman, but if we don't complain, and do it loudly, it will never change or improve. We should at least make the people in power uncomfortable.My 85-year-old mother just said to me, when I described her the situation, "the little guy always gets the shaft."At least we should go down kicking and screaming.

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