Thanks to everyone who provided comments and feedback on the #parkingdesert article. Reading some of your responses reminded me of an incident that took place at the West Memphis Petro back in 1997. July 4 of that year was a very proud day for me. I had just taken delivery of a brand-new 1996 canary yellow Western Star 5964 from a small dealership in Texas. It had been ordered by a gentleman who had fallen into financial straits and had to reneg. Being an aerodyne, it was not an in-demand item for the Texas boys, one of whom described the model as a 4964 with erectile dysfunction.
After being babysat brand-new for a year without a buyer, the dealership offered it to me at a deep discount with Western Star Finance eager to help.
It was the first truck that I’d purchased on my own, not through a trucking company. I felt I had arrived. All the work and sacrifice had finally paid off. I was finally going to be a true owner-operator. With my ten-year-old daughter Anna in tow, we wheeled into the West Memphis Petro the next day for lunch. As we walked toward the Iron Skillet, I couldn’t help but to turn around to gaze, like Lot’s wife upon Gomorrah, at the handmade British Columbian beauty glistening brightly back at me in the Arkansas sun.
Anna was a true hand on the road. Even as a girl of 10, she liked to belly up to the “Truckers Only” counter with me and mix it up with the drivers. At one time we had even contemplated simply allowing her to ride with me for a few semesters, home schooling her on the road. That, however, was not to be. She would go on to get a college degree and works now in the mental health field. Once I asked her if the time she spent with me on the road had given her some unique insights into her chosen field, and she just smiled.
We sat next to an older gentleman and began to make small talk. He was full of anecdotes, quite the truck-stop sage. The conversation was going along nicely, when he observed, “I just saw the ugliest truck I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Did you see that yellow aerodynamic Western Star that was pulling that Truck One trailer? Now what kind of idiot would go out and buy something like that brand-new?”
I said that yes, I think I had seen it, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was mine. His excoriation of my pride and joy had turned me into a pillar of salt. Apparently, not everyone is going to be as proud of your work as you might be. If you don’t believe me, just belly up to the “Truckers Only” section of the West Memphis Petro, or write an opinion piece for Overdrive.
Now bellied up to the comments section, reading your reactions to the assertion that there is a 190-mile stretch on I-75 where there is no reasonable probability of finding late-night parking — which to me, and everyone else I know who runs that stretch late at night on a weekly basis is a foregone conclusion — I found reactions ranging from agreement to total outrage and disbelief, such as from some of the Georgia hands. Here’s Steve from Warner Robins: “This article is b.s. Plenty of parking in the 75 corridor, just not in Atlanta… There’s a truck stop almost every exit south of the city until you reach Florida.”
And Dale from Jesup: “I’ve never had an issue finding parking along that corridor.”
There was agreement from other quarters, such as Kenny’s”Just don’t do business in that area… Last good parking place Adairsville, then Valdosta or Tifton (if you know where to go). Rates out of Florida at the junk level. There’s plenty jobs and opportunities around, just dump that sinkhole.”
Brian from Ohio phoned in and said he would put the last point of reasonable probability of finding parking a little further North, more like Byron, at the 146 exit. On my way up last night, I wheeled into the Byron Pilot at 9:10 p.m. to test Brian from Ohio’s assertion. Who knows, maybe I really am full of it. Sho’ ’nuff, there were a dozen open spots. Then I wheeled into Rumble Road, on the North side of Macon, and there were three open spots. Where’s a crippled, broken, overwhelmed parking infrastructure when you really need one to prove a point?
Having stopped enough for the night by then, I continued northbound as directly as I could to the 326, to what some call the Dalton South Pilot, where you can just about always find a spot. I got there at 1:15 a.m., and this puppy was slammed fuller than I’ve ever seen it. I had to create a space behind a row of trucks. So far, no one has said anything.
The takeaway for me in all this is that the overnight truck parking inventory along any corridor is a vastly changing and fluid ecosystem which can vary greatly for two different drivers, depending on a variety of conditions. One can certainly allow that a Georgia driver may have a superior knowledge of the terrain, or a freight base which enables him to leave earlier. Our freight sometimes shakes loose from the I-4 corridor in Central Florida in mid-afternoon, depending on hours and availability.
Last night, in the place I was certain I would find no parking, there was still ample space, and in the place I was certain to be OK, there was nothing. But for any of us hauling second-morning freight from Florida, to, say, Indiana, or vice versa, the prudent course remains to advance the load to the furthest point where a reasonable probability exists that safe parking may be obtained.
We don’t have the luxury to drive up to the 10:45 mark, only to be proven wrong.
Therein lies the Achilles heel of the lock-down enforcement of the current hours of service regs. It’s not that I want to go back to the 1,000-mile overnights of the pre-Sperl v. Robinson days, when brokers had no skin in the compliance game and would commoditize drivers like so much coal. I just want to work my 11. And for many of us who haul that second-morning freight into and out of Florida, depending on when our loads become available, there is nowhere on the I-75 corridor to land at night beyond around seven hours of driving. The prudent course remains drawing up early, resigning yourself to a truncated shift, leaving three, four, five hours of work on the table. Once you get too close to Atlanta, your chances of finding parking get slimmer and slimmer. So you work your six, then take your 10.
There’s a word for people who lay around more than they work. It’s called the French, and I ain’t no Frenchman.
Real-world situation from last week: an old friend of mine we’ll just call Bill went to live load at a food shipper in the greater Orlando area. There was a delay in loading him, and he spent eight hours waiting, which he showed in the sleeper berth . He finally got his paperwork at 5 p.m. and started heading North, bound for Michigan. From where he was, he had enough time to make Atlanta by 1 a.m. before his first eight hours ran out. If it was you, how far North would have you ventured?
I still don’t think that truck was ugly.