2013: New Sights New Heights

Tucson, Arizona

It likely comes as no surprise that I am a goal-oriented person. And the end of the year is my finish line.

I believe in aiming high. When I aim high, I come out farther ahead than when I’ve aimed more realistically. I have learned that writing my goals down on paper, specific goals with numbers and details attached and putting them in my wallet, keeps me on target. And most importantly MacGyver has learned that my goals are his goals. (“Get on board or get left behind,” is his translation.)

2013 - New Sights New Heights

Dancing on the Louisiana bayou, not far from Henderson, at Whiskey Creek. Where the oldsters out maneuvered the youngsters, dancing up a storm to the Zydeco Bands.

Since my birthday is at the end of the year, my favorite present is my yearly review. How did we do?

WE Inc. is celebrating. We did a lot of stuff this year. There was fun. There was business. There were issues. And as my husband likes to say, with an astonished inflection in his voice, we’re still married.

We traveled new roads with Black Beauty. She was on the BC Ferries to Vancouver Island to deliver a chiller to the Victoria, British Columbia (BC) Target store. We crawled up the mountain, literally, 13.5 kilometers on a forest service road above Squamish, BC where an eco-power generation station is under construction.

2013 - New Sights New Heights

“You have the right-a-way Captain.” I drove onto the taxiway at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to make our delivery.

The craziest delivery was at O’Hare airport near Chicago where we delivered a jet bridge to gate E2 and I drove across the taxiway between the arriving and departing jets. And in five years on the road, it afforded us our first opportunity to visit Chicago. We found downtown, off-street, secure parking and launched our Brompton bicycles to ride along Lake Michigan on its glorious biking and walking path. We will be back to take the architectural boat tour. It is a beautiful city that comes alive in the summer.

2013 - New Sights New Heights

We finally made it. We had been driving around Chicago in all directions for more than five years but we had never visited Chicago. It was a glorious weekend, we rode our bikes on the bike path around the Lake.

While our trip to Hay River, Northwest Territories, the home of Buffalo Air at the 60th Parallel was exciting for us Canadians who never expected to ever see the place, my favorite stop was Lafayette, Louisiana.

Our last visit to Louisiana was in New Orleans at Christmas 2010 where we made the most of a bad situation when Black Beauty had a major transmission repair under warranty, but it was an incomplete visit. We did no dancing and I heard no music because we were on a strict 3 AM and 3 PM  driving schedule delivering expedited air freight.

MacGyver discovered a real treat this summer, a Sunday afternoon, because I still don’t stay up very late, four o’clock to eight o’clock dance fest at the Whiskey River Saloon along the bayou. We drove the Vespa about 30 miles out of Lafayette to a corrugated metal shack leaning jauntily toward the water. Inside, the wood floor was rubbed smooth by years of pounding cowboy boots. The best part, it was all ages, but mostly oldsters. When I say oldsters, I mean older than me oldsters. Feet were flying, stomping, sliding and kicking.

This year MacGyver turned 50 and he celebrated, often. There was the up close inspection of the Yas Marina Formula One race track in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, the view of the Coca-Cola 600 from a luxury condo above the track, the load that brought us within a one hour Vespa ride of the Austin, Texas Formula One race.

It wasn’t just fun. We advanced our small business by making two big purchases. Early in the year, we added a 51 foot Fontaine step deck trailer to our equipment roster. Instead of paying $170 a week to rent the trailer, we are now paying ourselves $200 a week to pay back our loan from WE Inc. By owning our trailer, we get an extra eight percent of the load. This year I paid ourselves back $8,250 for the trailer purchase and we brought in more than $10,000 in extra revenue. My first priority for 2014 is to finish repaying our savings account.

In November, we added a conestoga-style rolling tarp system to our trailer and loading ramps, costing almost $26,000. The tarp is on a frame. We push the frame and tarp forward to load the trailer, then push it back, cinch it closed and we’re off, saving time and energy. A businesswoman friend calls it a revenue-generating insurance policy. If either one of us gets hurt, it affects our income. We owe our savings $20,000 with interest and it will be repaid at $150 a week for three years.

Most importantly, we again reached our top goal of every year. We deposited our maximum retirement contributions. In my mind, the only money a small businessowner really makes, is the money that is set aside for investing in the future and providing for the business.

2013 - New Sights New Heights

We delivered a building, literally, up the mountain, above Squamish British Columbia in August. We drove 13.5 kilometers up a Forest Service Road. It was very steep, up and down, and the view was incredible.

My financial plan is simple. Each year I decide how much will go into savings and investments. We have learned to never pay interest to others. I cover the fixed business costs, such as insurance, permits, plates and the variable costs, repairs and maintenance and supplies and then we spend the rest. If we need something for the business and we don’t have the cash, we put off all personal spending. So, the downside, the Marlaina-is-no-fun side, is that there is no exotic winter holiday this winter. We’ll be sitting in Florida, I-know-it-could-be-worse, selling crap on eBay.

Thank you for joining us on our travels this past year.

For 2014, we wish you health, happiness, and success in reaching your goals.

Attention Toronto: I Heard It At The Truckstop

Gary, Indiana

“…I’m a truck driver,” I heard the voice from the toilet in the ladies restroom in the TA truck stop say as I walked in the door. “I can’t smoke crack cocaine.”

Before I divulge more of what I eavesdropped — except when someone is talking in their outdoor voice on the toilet in a public restroom it is not eavesdropping — I must confirm that bluetooth headsets have removed the boundaries of good taste for many people. It is common in both ladies and mens restrooms in truckstops for truck drivers to sit on the toilet and talk on the phone.

“I never watch the TV news, it’s too depressing,” she continued. “I musta been home cuz there it was on the TV,” she said incredulously, “he said he smoked crack cocaine.”

Long pause while my friend listens. “They say smoking crack cocaine makes your mind not right, it must, because he said it ON TV!!”

I knew who she was talking about the minute I heard the first mention of crack cocaine.

Toronto, you really hit the big time. Here’s an American truck driver, I can tell by the accent, who spends most of her time on the road and readily admits that she almost never watches television and she knows that the Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, admitted that he has smoked crack cocaine.

That’s notoriety.

The Weather Outside Is Frightful

New York, New York

Isolated by both their transient working lifestyle and technology, there is one event that brings truckers together — the weather.

The Weather Outside Is Frightful

The moisture in the air creates ice fog encasing the trucks and the road in the parking lot in a thin layer of ice.

The Farmer’s Almanac predicted a winter smothered in snow, and it is coming to pass. Two-thirds of the nation, extending south of the Mason Dixon line, has seen snow or has snow on the ground. Two consecutive weekends, the continental US has experienced winter storms — named Dion and Electra by The Weather Channel its recent policy aimed at captivating viewers — stretching between 1,100 and 1,500 miles.

Last weekend, Saturday, December 7, dozens of drivers spent the weekend huddled around the television. The Weather Channel beamed in reports of the octopus-like storm that originated in Mexico and unleashed its wrath, ice, near Pecos, Texas on I-10, pummeled Dallas, brought freezing temperatures to Houston then marched cross Arkansas, dipped down to Tennessee, through Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania and fizzled out past upstate New York after leaving a mountain of snow.

“My husband, he had his cherry bust early when we did two years out of North Dakota,” Mrs. Over-the-Road told me, describing their nightmarish drive from Roanoke, Virginia to Pennsylvania. Maryland was the worst, she said, reporting more trucks than she could count in the ditch.

The highway carnage began in Pecos, TX with a 10-truck pileup and fire and closed the Interstate. Ice was the villain. And no doubt, some driving too fast and following too close.

We parked on Friday after delivering in Allentown. MacGyver wanted a load. Me? Call it women’s intuition. My gut said we should sit this weekend out.

Besides, we had Christmas lights to string and we were enjoying a trucker coincidence. One of the best things about life on the road is unexpectedly running into a friend. It always amazes us how close we come to our driver friends while we crisscross the nation.

In Louisiana, before the storm, our friend Dave from Ohio, literally passed me on I-10. I thought I recognized his truck as it drifted by. Eyeing our conestoga, then our storage box, he realized that the truck was ours and MacGyver’s phone rang. We stopped 15 minutes down the road at a Petro and discovered we were delivering not far from each other. On Friday we found ourselves at the same truck stop. We all took the weekend off.

We watched east and north. In Texas and Oklahoma drivers were stuck on the Interstate for hours. By Sunday, the Virginia DOT was warning of an “historic” ice situation. The weather was moving up I-81.

The Weather Outside Is Frightful

Our driver friend Dave and I, after our second meal in three days at the truck stop, checking the radar app. Behind us a couple of dozen drivers watching The Weather Channel. We met Dave at Landstar’s cargo securement class two years ago.

 

Drivers who chose to sit out the weather were making use of the down time.  The line formed early in the laundry room. I was in first at 7AM. A steady stream followed.

Solo drivers took advantage of face-to-face conversations, picking over the forecast, bellyaching about freight and rates and complaining about a trucker bad habit of following “too damn close on the cruise control.”

One who was loaded in New Hampshire was delivering near Roanoke, Virginia.
“I’m waiting,” he told me. “It’s not good out there.” He knows snow, he said, because based in South Dakota but he didn’t like the ice. Later in the day, a 50 vehicle pile up on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

In the last week feet, not inches, of snow has fallen in upstate New York. Lake effect snow. Heavy snowfalls will continue until the lakes freezes over. They are still waiting. The Mid-Atlantic states saw snow too.

This weekend more snow is crawling across the country, heavy snow accumulation is expected today in Pennsylvania, upstate New York and the New England states. In Boston 12 to 18 inches of snow is forecast.

Since we’re all in this together, 18-wheelers and four-wheelers, and we all want to go home in one piece without an insurance claim number.

  • Clear your back window, so you can see what’s behind you.
  • Wipe off your tail lights so people can see you and know when you brake.
  • Turn your headlights on. Headlights are not just for seeing, they let others see you.
  • Leave plenty of space. Following too close and driving too fast is a leading cause of crashes.

Be safe.

Seven Days Later We Were 70 Degrees Colder

Trois Rivieres, Quebec

2013 is MacGyver’s Championship Year.

He will forever remember it as the year that we “renewed our vows,” he says. When your husband tells his mother, your mother-in-law, that you are the best wife EVER, he believes it.

I know because I am the best wife EVER!

Hiding in the tractor, despite the brilliant sunshine in Port Huron, Michigan, because it was windy and cold, the trucking gods delivered an unparalleled gift to MacGyver.

“I didn’t plan this,” he said sheepishly looking up from the computer. “Really. Yes, it was a goal, but I didn’t plan this.”

In a development, usually the preserve of the uber wealthy, but made possible by our trucking lifestyle, out of the blue, we had the opportunity to do something he wanted to do and get paid for it. The Load Board provided a conestoga, team load, 32 miles away — and we are the proud new parents of a conestoga trailer — to Red Oak, Texas, a mere 232 miles north of Austin.

And what made that load to the People’s Republic Of Austin even more special than its $2.74 ALL miles to the truck covering that deadhead, was that we would arrive in time, in Austin, for the weekend of the second running of the American Grand Prix. Yes, a Formula One race.

Seven Days Later We Were 70 Degrees Colder

MacGyver picked the best general admission seats in the house. See that slope across the track behind me. Those seats are staring into the sun. I survived the heat — and should have appreciated it more — and found one good thing, no waits for the ladies room. Instead the lineup was outside the men’s room.

As our dear friends, you know that MacGyver is an avid Formula One fan. This year, his 50th birthday year, he celebrated with a day at FerrariWorld and a closeup and personal visit to the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, followed by the Canadian Grand Prix in June in Montreal, Quebec with our friends Salena and Truckin Ed. They are now MacGyver’s second favorite people after this wife, because they wangled him an invitation to a private condo to see the running of the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where our load out was the camera that fell during the race.

Seven Days Later We Were 70 Degrees Colder

And seven days later, we were battling a snow squall as it roared from Lake Huron and Georgian Bay across to Woodstock, Ontario. I knew I should have appreciated the heat more when I had it.

Between March and November it is all Formula One. To me, the F1 Hostage Wife, it is torture. The daily, slow drip of information. Day-in-day-out. I can’t get away with nodding distractedly, I am quizzed to ensure I can hold my own in conversation, that I can offer an opinion, that I don’t embarrass him at F1 outings.

In fact, so versed am I in all things Formula One, that sitting 100 feet from Turn One at the Austin track, even though at that moment I could not see the track or the cars making the turn, I knew that Red Bull’s Mark Webber had overtaken Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, roaring into third place.

How did I know? Because I heard it. Because the Red Bull cars make a unique downshifting sound prior to accelerating. Sebastian Vettel, this year’s four time world champion can shift so quickly and effectively that the end result is his car gets more traction on the corner in a manoeuvre that sounds oddly like a big truck’s unmuffled engine retarder. None of the other Formula One cars make this sound. All of the other cars accelerate after the corner, every one of them, the Ferrari, the McLaren, the Mercedes, the Lotus and the Renault. The drivers all shift and accelerate after the corner.

So, since the load fluttered into our lap, there was no doubt that MacGyver would be at the race. It was not worth the energy to moan that we had spent an enormous amount of money on our rolling tarp system that spending another $359 was just too much for me to bear. And remembering that in July, for no good reason, when I was lusting after a pair of kitten-heel, pointy-toe, black patent, Stuart Weitzman pumps, MacGyver said, sure, without whining. So I didn’t whine either.

But horrors. He wanted me to attend with him. Say what?

It is not often that a wife gets to give her a husband something he really wants, and that something is you. He wanted me to go to the race with him. So I did.

But first, knowing he did not want a whining wife sitting next to him, he did a special reconnaissance. He found cheap parking, $40, next to the gate next to Turn One so I walked less than ten New York City blocks. He decided we’d sit in the general admission area on the grass above Turn One. If he had picked the opposite side, we would have been looking into the sun. He took the folding chairs out of the storage box, checked them, cleaned them, and went to Target to pick up some rags in case he needed to level out the chairs to counteract the slope of the hill.

And so we went. I was hot. It was uncomfortable. It was crowded. I am totally uninterested. All the things I hate, including that I spent $139 to be hot and uncomfortable. Except he made it interesting. We found ourselves next to a young couple from Los Angeles, Raj and Sara, late 20-somethings. He was new to an interest in Formula One and she was along for the ride. MacGyver donned his elder statesman cap, armed with his second-by-second iPAD app, he explained the intrigue of formula one, man, machine, skill and dumb bad luck. “You made this race really great,” Raj told MacGyver as we were packing up. And he did.

Seven Days Later We Were 70 Degrees Colder

That’s a Lotus out front, followed by a Ferrari and a McLaren at the Formula One race in Austin, Texas

“To me it was like renewing our wedding vows,” he gushed. “That you watched the race with me.”

Then he picked our next good paying load, into the teeth of winter. I should have enjoyed the heat more.

Small Business Mantra: If You Don’t Ask You Don’t Get

Angry with the avalanche of government regulation, the Hours of Service changes chief among them, truck drivers, who see themselves as capitalists, were talking socialism.

So great was the whining — let’s shut down America and let people miss us — that a group calling itself Truckers For The Constitution hijacked the debate, twisting it into an “impeach Obama” campaign to foment support for a convoy on Washington, DC.

It failed — tremendously.

Small Business Mantra- If You Don't Ask You Don't Get

When naming a company, be careful what you wish for. This guy is making a joke, but small businesses go broke all the time, the majority don’t survive two years. To thrive as an Owner Operator these days, business savvy is required, and that means understanding that time is money.

While I didn’t support that protest, it doesn’t mean there aren’t important issues.

Small business has been under fire for more than 30 years from the behemoth corporations that need to grow at all costs. The avalanche of corporate-spawned regulations, in the name of safety, that is smothering small trucking, is promoted by the large carriers in an unholy alliance with safety groups. Government no longer makes regulation, today’s regulations are drafted by industry lobbyists, whether it’s finance or transportation.

It’s the corporate stamp-out-the-little-guy playbook. And for those who defend the new corporatocracy by quoting the Founding Fathers and The Constitution, the founding fathers knew that if government stopped acting as referee, it no longer does, communities and citizens would eventually lose to capitalism. And lose big.

Trucking is a commodity business. It is extremely difficult to make money in highly competitive commodity markets from tortilla chips to baby car seats to trucking. There is only one money-making equation. Unit times Price equals Revenue. Sell more, charge less. Sell less, charge more.

Shippers want to move their goods as cheaply as possible. The major carriers have volume to drive down price. The challenge for the small trucking fleets and owner operators is to persuade shippers that their services and equipment offers qualities worthy of a price premium.

Now that Ferro & Co, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Director and her staff, have reduced paid Drive time, increased unpaid On Duty time and eliminated flexibility with changes to the 34 hour restart, raising prices must be added to the profit-making mix that includes saving money with efficiencies like fuel efficiency.

Corporations, in a grow or die cycle, absorb some cost increases, temporarily, but continually work to pass costs along to the consumer, their customer.

This year the $12 shower at the TA/Petro is $13. Buy six coffees get one free at the Pilot is now buy nine-get-one-free. The cash discount for diesel decreased. Hot dog prices increased.

Many owner operators trust the mileage rate to cover costs and leave a profit, but with the changes to Hours of Service, we must cover every mile we drive and every hour we are on duty.  Saying “that’s trucking” and absorbing waiting time or canceled loads is not the road to profit. And without profit there is no rational reason to risk $200,000 on a tractor, trailer and gear to be in business.

So how can I be a profitable little guy? By looking at these profit killers.

1. Oops, we don’t need you.  Truck Ordered Not Used.

The shipper has the agent order an extra truck “just in case” because no one ever makes the shipper pay penalties for ordering a truck and not using it. Or, what happened to us outside San Francisco last year, we deadheaded almost 500 miles to pick up a 42,000 pound Hazardous Materials load that was heavier than advertised even though we were explicit about our payload. The shipper’s practice is not to include the pallets in the total weight. Pallets weigh 40 pounds each. There were 16. The load put us 2,000 pounds over gross weight.

What do drivers do? The dockworkers told us some abandon the load, others take it, running the risk of an overweight ticket. We left. It took one month of phone calls and emails to get a Truck Ordered Not Used payment of $250. It did not cover our deadhead and time.

Ordering a truck and not using it is breaking a contract. When a Freight Bill Number is issued, it’s a contract. If the shipper breaks the contract, and does not use my truck, it owes me money. It is called the cost of lost opportunity and it is a fundamental, economic principle.

The cancellation deprived me of revenue and, worse, it deprived me of the opportunity during that time to accept another load and bring in other revenue.

The cost of lost opportunity is often seen in residential real estate, if the buyer cancels the contract to buy, the seller is entitled to keep the deposit. The seller was deprived of her opportunity to sell.

Capitalism only works if commitments are honored.

Solution: Determine the Truck Ordered Not Used policy when accepting the load.  Start at $500.

Small Business Mantra- If You Don't Ask You Don't Get

We loaded in the setting sun after a day-long wait for this expedited team load. We were paid detention at $50 an hour.

2. Hurry up and wait. Detention.

Shippers load by appointment or first-come-first-served. Often they run with fewer forklifts than needed, saving them money, since they don’t pay drivers to wait. Lost time is lost money for an Owner Operator.

The first two hours are typically free, but every hour of waiting time should be compensated. Recently we were told to arrive at 0700 for loading, assuming an appointment. We were fifth in line. There was only one person loading. We had deadheaded, because we planned the route with this piece, abandoning it would cost more than waiting. I wished every minute of that four hours that we could leave.

“We have to let it go to preserve the relationship,” the agents typically say. But the agent’s time hasn’t been wasted, they work on many loads at the same time and the shipper saved money with less staff. Drivers have a specific number of money-making hours per week that must be protected.

Solution: determine the detention policy. $50 an hour is the average.

3. Heavy is more expensive than light. Fuel Surcharge.

A fuel surcharge is attached to each load, based on a national fuel price average by region, which is adjusted weekly.

However, the fuel surcharge does not reflect the freight’s weight. Shippers are lobbying hard to increase the 80,000 pound gross vehicle weight for tractor/trailer units. It costs more to pull 45,000 pounds up Eisenhower Pass on I-70 in Colorado than a 15,000 pound load, considerably more. We know our fuel consumption on every load. Last year it was 51-cents per mile, this year it is 47-cents.

Solution: Ask for more if you need it. Business is a negotiation.

Small Business Mantra- If You Don't Ask You Don't Get

This sticker is a reminder on a company-owned truck. But it’s a good reminder for Owner Operators too. Small business can profit by making or saving money. While it is essential to get paid for our time and to receive a return on our investment, it is also important to save money by operating efficiently. Driving 58 mph and investing in fuel efficiency helps our bottom line.

4. Covering deadhead for short miles. Practical miles.

Loaded miles are typically two-to-10 percent less than the actual miles the truck travels. Shippers want a deal, agents are happy to oblige, drivers are expected to give the discount.

Depending on the loaded miles and the deadhead miles to pick up the load, unpaid miles can eliminate profit because Owner Operators pay to deadhead. Our calculations tell us the ALL miles rate before saying yes.

Solution: Know the total miles the truck will travel and how the rate affects each mile.

One of my favorite quotes from another Owner Operator who drives a hard bargain is: If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

It takes a surprisingly small amount of money to get negotiating power. In our small business life, I have found that as little as $1,000 in the bank to pay unexpected bills prevents a small business owner from taking a job that she knows she shouldn’t.

Saying no is scary. We’re always told someone cheaper is waiting to do the job, but it surprises me how often the other party says “I’ll pay.”

It happened recently on a load from Texas to Quebec. Willing to walk away from the load — while we wanted it, we didn’t need it — MacGyver requested an additional $1,000 to put a team on it for expedited delivery. The shipper paid.

Small business owners everywhere leave too much money on the table.

The Seatbelts and a Stinkbug

Lansdowne, Ontario

In my best Mrs. Dressup tone, putting 25-years of broadcasting experience to use, we made a video for our friend Jennie’s Grade 3-4 class in nearby Maitland.

The Seatbelts and a Stinkbug

One of the students in our friend Jennie’s Grade 3-4 class in Maitland, Ontario named our kill sheet a roadkill counter.

To thrill her kids, the teacher extraordinaire asked us to give them the inside scoop on our tractor, since we were delivering 31,000 pounds of geo-textiles, giant screen-like sheets of plastic to their local landfill.

The first photo Jennie showed them was a closeup of the tractor door, which has a sign that says: Team Operation, Co-Driver in Bunk. Underneath it are silhouettes of five deer, a hawk and a turtle. Our road kills.

“I didn’t tell them anything about the sign, which could have been on anything at all,” she reported later by email.  “They thought at first that it was a sign on a wildlife sanctuary, but they were confused about the bunk bed reference.  Then they figured out that it was a tractor, but thought at first that the animal decals meant that you were a wildlife transport.”

I think pretty smart getting the idea of a heavy-highway tractor from that snippet of information.

We showed them where we sleep and demonstrated the cargo net that protects the sleeping co-driver when we’re moving. We showed them where I cook food, where I make MacGyver’s sandwiches. We explained the cockpit, which had security cuffs on the tractor and trailer brake to prevent them being released since we were loaded. We described how we get loads through the computer and showed them our Canadian and USA WiFis. We talked about the vibration-canceling Bose ride driver seat. We opened the hood to show the oil bypass system that allows us to have 410,000 miles on our engine oil. We opened the storage box behind the tractor, the Vespa garage, and revealed MacGyver’s escape pod.

So what impressed the kids most about our home and business?

Jennie sent excerpts from her students’ journals. We’ve corrected spelling for readability.

“I learned that trucks have garages, and I learned that when you’re sleeping there is a seatbelt.  I also learned that hoods on trucks can go up, and I learned that there is brake cuffs.  And I learned that MacGyver and Marlaina have USA internet and Canada internet.”

“Trucks can have garages and seatbelts on their beds.  A stinkbug rode all the way from Carolina.  They have a motorcycle in the garage.  They make food with a microwave.  When MacGyver washes the truck he stands on the engine.”

“I learned about how they cook their food in the microwave. MacGyver is so so cool.  And the Marlaina is so so cool.  The seatbelts were on the bed and the garage is awesome.” (I love “the Marlaina”. – Jennie)

“MacGyver and Marlaina make their food in a microwave.  They have a seatbelt on their bed so they don’t fall out if they hit a big bump.  They get internet for the states and Canada so when they go over the bridge they just plug the cords in the wall.  MacGyver and Marlaina have stickers on the side of their truck.”

“One thing I know is they had a seatbelt on the bed so they won’t fall on the ground.  And also a stinkbug rode all the way from Carolina.  They have a fridge on the truck.  They have a motorcycle in the garage.  P.S.  They have lots of internet and two phones.”

“MacGyver and Marlaina live in a truck.  There is a seatbelt on the bed.  They make food.  MacGyver is a good fix-it man.  A stinkbug rode all the way from Carolina.”

“They push a red button when it is icy (for the automatic tire chains).  A stinkbug rode all the way from Carolina.”

“They make their food in a microwave.  They have a garage on the truck.  They have automatic chains on the truck.  They have pictures of the animals they hit and a motorbike in the garage.”

“They have 2 kinds of internet: the USA internet and Canada internet.  They take turns driving at night.  Marlaina makes snacks and food, drinks and other things.”

“I never knew that trucks can have a garage or a seatbelt on the bed.  I did not know that you need a USA and Canada GPS.  MacGyver and Marlaina have a roadkill counter.”

MacGyver says I hope we haven’t given them the idea that all trucks come with a Vespa. They will be disappointed.

And the stinkbug, that was a throw-a-way comment, when at the end of the video we noticed one crawling on the passenger window.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving

Danbury, Connecticut

“What are we going to do when we have to live in the same place all the time?” MacGyver asked me this weekend.

It’s the 20th consecutive weekend — starting in Lac Poisson Blanc, Quebec on Victoria Day weekend, the start of Canadian summer and ending here today, the end of Canadian summer and in between such highlights as Victoria, BC, Marfa, Texas, Chicago, Illinois, Nakusp, BC and Hay River, Northwest Territories — that we have been someplace different.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving

One of the many great drives this past summer was on the wild and wicked Trans Canada Highway from Alberta through the Rocky Mountains. This is Mount Robson.

It was an aren’t-we-lucky kind of statement, and it shows that five years into this rolling escapade, we are amazed, amused and grateful to have fallen into this lifestyle

It all started with a Newsweek article about a husband and wife team who had left the corporate world to become truck drivers for Schneider National. The idea hit me like a hammer at a time that I desperately wanted a change. To humor me, we checked it out.

I’m a pampered creature, with regular manicures and pedicures and a penchant for Chanel-style jackets

and Stuart Weitzman shoes—lots of them. I like fancy hotels and room service. I am a fair-weather everything. I sail downwind, I walk when I won’t sweat, and I only do the après ski thing.In July 2007, living in New York City, I hadn’t driven a car in ten years. MacGyver did all the long-distance driving, and I was the one who cringed on the passenger side whenever he passed one of those big rigs.But I have been known to surprise people.

Everything is on the Internet, including pumpkindriver.com, a forum for current and former Sch-
neider drivers. We read message boards, online magazines and trucker trade association sites.
We rented a car and drove out to meet a recruiter. He looked at my perky hairdo and red lipstick as I peppered
him with questions. “You have a lot of energy,” he said. “In three months, you’ll be on that cb radio giving it to the other drivers.” That didn’t happen. We drive so slow, 58 mph loaded, 55 mph empty, that if we turned on the CB we’d only hear drivers cussing at tus.

By October, we’d done our research and liked what we’d found:

  • Team drivers earned more per mile than solo drivers. Teams go farther, faster.
  • At Schneider, 21 days on the road got you four days off, 28 days was rewarded with five.
  • Pay was deposited weekly. This happens for Owner Operators leased onto carriers. If you’ve every run your own business you know this is SWEET. No chasing invoices.
  • Your truck gives you the equivalent of one big office window with constantly changing scenery, but no actual office. And when you get tired, your bed is right behind you.
  • There’s no boss to hassle with every day. Assignments come via a satellite computer and nobody talks to you unless there’s a problem. Now we use an Internet load board and talk to agents and brokers.
  • Customers do not require follow up. Once the freight is delivered, no one will call you to ask “Remember that trailer you delivered in California? I think it was in May. What was the weight?” A big perk since I’m in my grumpy 50s.

Once we knew we liked the lifestyle, which took about three months, when the terror wore off, we knew we’d become Owner Operators as soon as we could. This month marks four years owning our own tractor and now trailer.

So today, I am thankful that I am still open to crazy ideas and that I have an adventurous partner who likes to excel at everything he does.

And the tour rolls on. Next year — Deadhorse, Alaska where the longest day of the year is 63 days long and the shortest day is 45 minutes.

Trailer Brings Guns AND Butter

North Bend, Washington

“Feel this.” It was a command.

MacGyver had lifted his flexed bicep to my chin.

“Maybe it’s not Michele Obama’s arm, but it’s better than my regular 12-year-old-girl arms,” he said triumphantly.

It’s been 14 months since he picked up our first tarp and threw it on the deck of our rented, split-axle, 48-foot stepdeck trailer, nicknamed the Lead Sled to reflect its weight.

Trailer Brings Guns AND Butter

This is the Lead Sled, loaded with an MRI bound for Miami International Airport and ultimately Santiago, Chile. The shippers were awesome. It was a tricky load, but once finished we were invited to join the crew for lunch before MacGyver tarped it. The shipper said he prefers working with Owner Operators because it’s their equipment and they are careful with the freight.

I think, he thought, he’d die.  Me, too.

His only comment that hot July day in Boise, Idaho was “these are supposed to be the lightweight tarps.” Technically, yes. But not with a ten foot drop. He’s been getting a workout, we both have. We can walk a couple of miles around the trailer while loading and securing the freight.

Three months later we upgraded to a rented, Canada-legal, sliding axle, 51-foot stepdeck. And last March we upped our game again.

Trucking is a commodity business where price almost always trumps service. Often, the best way for any small business, but especially a one-truck operation like ours, to make money, is to keep it from The Man. So we have invested, heavily, in saving money.

Our first strategy was fuel efficient and pocket-friendly modifications to the tractor. For instance, we have low rolling resistance Michelin tires on the steers and drives. We have 410,000 miles on our engine oil because we use the OPS oil purification and bypass system.

The next step in this strategy was to buy our own trailer.

We purchased a 2013 Fontaine Infinity, a 51-foot stepdeck, which has a 10 foot top deck and 41 foot bottom deck, a sliding axle to make it Canada-legal and container locks to carry one 40-foot shipping container or two, 20-foot containers. (If you’ve ever wondered why a truck is roaring down the road with a shipping container sitting effortlessly on its deck, sin chains, it’s because of these locks on the underside). We succumbed to trucker bling and vanity and added aluminum wheels, which only save 200 pounds on weight, but are shiny and pretty. Total cost $38,250 including the 12.5% Federal Excise Tax.

There are four reasons why we bought the trailer.

First, our savings have been earning no interest since the Great Financial Crisis of 2008.

Two, there is no fuel, mileage, ad valorem or any other tax on pulling a trailer down the highway. These taxes all apply to the tractor and swipe away at profit.

Trailer Brings Guns AND Butter

Safety at the Port of Tacoma means wearing a florry vest (Australian for fluorescent working vest, see Slanglish.) But every driver, including city-guy MacGyver, must drive and load the tractors onto their trailers. Longshoremen don’t do it. Luckily John Deere thought of everything. Tractors are two-speeds tortoise and hare, really!, When the front tires of the lead tractor bumped the front step of the trailer it climbed onto the step like it was a six inch curb.

Three, drivers are responsible for the condition of the trailers and can be fined if that condition is found lacking in a DOT inspection. We will always know the condition of our trailer.

And four, there is minimal ongoing cost in terms of repairs, but modifications, such as low rolling resistance tires, will increase fuel efficiency keeping more money in our pockets.

Our rented trailers cost $170 per week, $8,840 per year or $35,360 over four years. Buying made sense.

We could have made the purchase through Landstar and financed it with the company. It seemed the interest would be 8.9 percent plus a $100 application fee. Using an online auto loan calculator the payment, which is probably pretty close to what Landstar would use, the payments rang in at $220 a week, $11,400 a year and $45,601 to call it ours. Paying cash in this scenario saved us $7,351.

Many small businessowners feel they can’t afford to pay cash for capital expenses. Or they think that a trailer loan is good debt because it’s deductible. Our trailer is depreciable over five years.

While we now take great delight in keeping cash away from The Man, we were forced into this strategy. When we arrived in the US we discovered our stellar Canadian credit histories irrelevant. The financial industry treated us as if we walked out of the jungle. It took us four years and several steps including a couple of sleight-of-hand manoeuvres that Wall Street would be proud of to get credit cards.

In a rough calculation spanning 15 years of business, paying cash has saved us at least $40,000 in interest assuming we used one year credit card financing for major purchases.

How did we get started on a cash-only business?

Saving is one of those things that is simple but not easy. We pay cash for personal and business purchases. We watched a green and purple TV for a year before buying our first flat screen in 2006. We lived in a 475 square foot New York City apartment for a decade because an extra bedroom would have cost an additional $1,000 a month and we prefer to buy experiences, such as travel, with our money. We never, ever buy anything for ourselves if the business needs something first.

It happened because we started. My first goal was $1,500, which felt like $15,000 because we had no extra money. I was clipping coupons for groceries. I thought about saving every day. I was helped in the early 2000s because interest was paid on savings. And by my ING Direct savings account that allowed me to have many different sub accounts under one umbrella account and let me transfer ANY amount from our checking account to ING online, even paltry amounts like $4.52, which I sometimes still do.

I saved, and continue to save, every week. I do whatever I can to round up to the next $10.

It took less than a year to get $1,500. Then I decided we needed $4,500 in emergency funds, which was three months of survival living, rent, food — I cooked three meals a day — telephone and subway card. This took another year. I divided the $4,500 into three, 90 day CDs so that one was cashable every 30 days. My thinking was, if there’s no income, I can cash a CD and pay the rent, buy groceries still have a phone and remain in business.

We never cashed the CDs for monthly expenses, each term they rolled over with interest. The money came with a bonus. Confidence. Once we had emergencies covered we felt we could invest in the business.

Our first big move was to buy $7,000 in advertising for our business. We paid for it on American Express, for the points, and paid the bill in cash at the end of the month from cash flow. It brought us a return on the investment five times over in the first year.

Business progressed and we opened retirement IRAs and a Health Savings Account (HSA) but we never lost the immigrant attitude of paying in cash and repaying our savings with interest.

We call our Emergency Fund the Fuck You Account because survival in business means avoiding working without profit. It starts with $1,000. Just enough money to avoid going onto your credit card for an unexpected business or personal expense. An owner operator should aim to have $5,000 in emergency money. Enough to pay for a major truck repair and to deadhead across the country.

I found a t-shirt in a Thailand street market last March bearing the slogan — Fuck You Pay Me — after roaring with laughter for ten minutes, I snapped it up for $8. And I think it when I say “I’m interested in your load, but I need additional revenue.”

Often corporations ask small business for a discount just to see if they will get one. Or they have more money in the budget if someone asks for it. Money in the bank gives the little guy the power to say I want more, or no thanks.

Trailer Brings Guns AND Butter

It was this load, industrial washing equipment, picked up in Arizona in 100+F weather, headed to Canada, where MacGyver drew his line in the sand. The tarping procedure was maddening. He’d always been attracted to the covered wagon, a trailer covered with a tarping system built on a frame. We are actively on the hunt to acquire this piece of equipment.

And paying interest to yourself is vital. While we paid Landstar $170 a week to rent their trailer, we are paying ourselves $200 a week for 208 weeks (4 years, maybe less), to put $41,600 back into our savings account, an extra $3,350.

And the saving never ends. MacGyver has decided his guns are big enough. He wants a covered wagon, a rolling tarp system, so after the loads are strapped or chained to the deck, a tarp is pulled across the trailer, instead of him wrapping the load like a present.

We anticipate it will open up more specialized freight opportunities.

And I will no longer fear MacGyver losing a battle to wind, rain or ice, 13-feet six inches above the ground, while manhandling a tarp over the load.

Pounding Team Miles

Tacoma, Washington

“I didn’t think I’d see you again,” said the longshoremen at the Port of Tacoma. He was unplugging the Genset, the refrigerated unit, on the container that we had been attached to for a week.

“What do you mean,” I asked. “We didn’t look experienced enough to make it back in one piece.”

He thought we were long haulers, he said, over-the-road types, and picked up a can, (a container), as a “one-off thing.”

“We are long-haulers,” I told him. “We took this container to Pennsylvania and we brought it back.”

“That’s a long way,” he said.

Roundtrip it’s 5,607 miles in seven days.

Since we haven’t done that in awhile, we’re sleeping.

Eating at the Master’s Table

Visiting with my mother is an all-food-all-the-time experience.

Anna Betnaza is the original tree-hugging, crunchy-granola foodie. At her house we can eat from morning-to-night without fear of gaining a pound.

Eating at the Master's Table

Taking a break from working on her second heathful eating book, Anna’s Remedies. She has always been on top of technological as well as health advances. She started her first book, Eat Anna’s Way, on a manual typewriter, moving up to a word processor. In 1998, she received a MacGyver hand-down, her first computer, a MAC Classic. Since then she has upgraded twice.

My mother has been ahead of her time since the minute she was born in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Poland. She arrived in Canada, at the age of three, on October 29, 1929, the day the stock market crashed. She was raised on a homestead in Northern Alberta.

She left home at 18 becoming a Licensed Nursing Aide, in the late 40s that was one step away from Registered Nurse. A career woman, she invested her money, when only rich old guys knew about making money with money. “I would have been a millionaire if I didn’t get married,” she told me this week.

Married at 30, she raised four children and used her investments to leverage the family into home ownership. My dad’s contribution to the beginning of the relationship, a hi-fi and a bunch of opera records. He was lucky to find her and lucky that she kept him around until he died.

My mother believes in the power of healthful eating. The book Sugar Blues by William Dufty, first published in 1975, sits on the mantle like an honoured household bible.

She grew suspicious of the medical establishment while working in the hospital and at the same time an elderly neighbour began introducing her to the powers of natural food.  In the 60s she was sending me off to school with her signature sandwich. A large round rye crisp, snapped in half, sort of, over her knee, smeared with farm fresh butter, honey and unsalted sunflower seeds, wrapped in wax paper and secured with a rubber band and packed in a very large brown Safeway grocery bag. I was horrified. The sandwich of the day was roast beef, iceberg lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, French’s mustard, salt and pepper on Wonder Bread.

She  became a Master Herbalist in 1984 and in 1992 she published her first book, Eat Anna’s Way, chronicling her food philosophy that we are what we eat. A philosophy and a practice that I have tested and retested and continually find a winner, five years into a lifestyle where we spend most of our time sitting on our butts behind a steering wheel.

Popular recipes today, such as no-dairy-ice-cream made with frozen bananas and fruit and a handful of unsalted sunflower seeds for crunchy texture, whirled together in a food processor, were in my mother’s book more than 20 years ago.

She’s working on her sequel Anna’s Remedies where she’s explaining each of the body’s systems and how food can affect and protect them.

This is the first time our loads have taken us past her front door. She lives between the Monashee and the Selkirk Mountains in southern British Columbia. It’s not easy to get here. The roads are narrow, perched precariously on the edge of a mountain with deep lakes waiting below for any misjudgements. The main highway into her town has a 10 percent grade.

Eating at the Master's Table

Mom and her guard dog Elle on the family sleeping sofa. Eat. Sleep. That’s the routine around here.

We arrived just in time. Her garden is spitting out the last of its yearly bounty. Sweet and crunchy cucumbers, juicy scarlet tomatoes, warm by the sun. Baseball bat-sized zucchini that she slices into one-and-a-half inch steaks and brushes with olive oil and sprinkles a custom-made mixture of sea salt and dulse or sea lettuce and bakes until warmed through but still requiring a knife to cut. Meaty and delicious.

She’s been preparing and storing in her freezer our “old country” favorites waiting for MacGyver and me, mostly MacGyver, I think, because he fixes things. The number one treat is perohy, which is the Ukrainian word for the Polish perogies, and pronounced per-oh-hey, filled with farmer’s pot cheese, never potato and cheddar. She makes the dough with whole grain spelt flour, which gives the dumpling a texture and a little chew and tops it with sour cream. There’s also cabbage rolls and sauerkraut and her new version of beet pickles. She roasts the beets and tosses them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Eating at the Master's Table

Through the mountains to Mom’s house. We delivered our last load in Red Deer, Alberta and drove through Banff and Lake Louise, by the road to the Columbia Icefields, through Kicking Horse Pass to Revelstoke. We took Black Beauty on the British Columbia Inland Ferry system from Shelter Bay to Galena Bay, under a full moon, and into the Kootenay Region.

In three days, three of us, and my mother’s largely a vegetarian, except for occasional fish and chips at the local food truck and nibbles of meat when we’re around, have consumed — because it always seems to be both a sprint and a marathon — ten large cabbage rolls, each!, two containers of perohy requiring a 750 gram (two pint) container of sour cream, a three-pound Saltspring Island lamb roast, three eight-inch long buffalo sausages, one dozen organic, free-run eggs, two loaves of spelt bread, four peaches, eight large cucumbers, ten tomatoes, two zucchinis measuring a foot long and three inches in diameter, two pounds of homemade, fermented-in-salt sauerkraut, one pound of garlic sausage and three large homemade apple-cinnamon pies, all created without sugar, one with raisins and each slice with a large dollop of unsweetened, freshly whipped cream, 950ml (four cups).

My mother is not the classic cook, following a recipe, worrying about presentation. In fact, she never called us to dinner, a habit MacGyver is still getting used to. She feeds people good food. It’s our job to turn up at the right time and eat it.

She is all about the ingredients. If the ingredients are good, meaning fresh and unprocessed, they don’t need much preparation. She makes wicked soups and chowders and salads.

Sashaying around in her size 4-6 designer jeans, her diet is largely brown rice, bean-based stews, steamed vegetables, salad greens and fruits. Up to the end of July she spent $930 on food this year. We’ve spent about $8,500. And we always say that we eat better in the truck because we’re eating Anna’s Way.