Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year's!

Well, sitting for the night at a Pilot truck stop somewhere along I-90 in New York.  Not New York city, btw, have absolutely zero desire to drive anywhere in that place. Not too far from Boston at the moment.  Oh heck, I just looked, I haven't written a post in a while now.

I haven't had time. You see, on Saturday, coming back from Oklahoma, our manager started sending out text messages to everyone.  We have a situation in Pennsylvania and we need a driver to go up there and help out. I knew I would be "targeted" for any such things cause I'm the newbie, but she actually asked everyone.  Just that a lot of the old time drivers are reluctant to do much of anything beyond what they normally do.  They want to be home all the time - which I fully understand, but there aren't any runs that have you home the same night.

She asked for replies by noon, so I replied.  We talked back and forth and I finally, reluctantly, agreed.  I mean, I knew Pennsylvania was cold, I grew up there, but I didn't remember how cold this entire region can get.  I woke up to -4 this morning.  Anyway, she said she would find out if they could use a person that doesn't have any experience with LNG - Liquid Natural Gas.  I didn't hear back from her.  Until maybe 3 hours later. And there she was, sending out mass texts again.  I didn't reply with anything - but how bad that sounds, the situation.  I was told that people would be without heat in some community somewhere if she couldn't find drivers to go up there.

I simply agreed to do it.  Okay, brace yourself, Ben, this is two weeks of being away from home in frigid winter conditions.  That was Saturday evening that decision was made, Sunday afternoon I was on an airplane to Philadelphia.  Philly has no great draw on me, I had an aunt that lived here long ago, she died, long ago.  I think I had some other relatives that lived there but they left the area.  It's all the same to me anymore. No matter where you go, there is going to be something "wrong" with the place.  Too hot, too humid, too cold, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes - you get the point.  

I asked a lot of questions, I was given very little info.  The info I was given, I found out, was completely wrong.  

I mean, the problems started at the airport. The plane landed we taxiied off the run way and then we - stopped. And we sat and sat until the pilot come on and said: "sorry folks, there is a plane stopped in front of us.  It isn't communicating with anyone and we don't know why it's stopped. It's in the way of getting to the gate we need to go to so we are going to have to wait until it moves".  45 minutes - 45 MINUTES  later, that plane finally moved.  

Anyway, the manager had come down to pick me up, he wasn't ecstatic about the wait but he could have just stayed home until I told him the luggage was beginning to get tossed out onto the conveyor.  

Long story short - for the first day anyway - I didn't get to bed until 1 am.  We - another driver from somewhere else - were given a crash course on nothing, because as it turns out, this dude really didn't give us much of any useful information at all except this is your truck, tomorrow morning you are going to hook up to a trailer and go up to a plant to load and then over to UMASS. Both of us drivers just looked at him and then each other.  We have no clue how to do this stuff.  Considering that type of product it is, would be nice for some kind of training.  

I was getting pretty uneasy about this.  So the next morning, the manager sent down a driver that knows his stuff.  He gave us a crash course.  Connect the two hoses here, open this and that valve, open that valve over there to build up pressure.  I asked a lot of questions since he was willing to answer.  At least I had some kind of knowledge about what I would be doing.

Fast forward, we get to the loading plant and another driver showed up with us.  He was knowledgeable enough.  He showed us how to do the paperwork - something the manager didn't do - and then said the manager was going to have him meet us at the LNG plant.  Ok. I drover over to UMASS - I had no idea I was going to a University, I was informed it was a community and that old people and babies alike would be freezing to death if we didn't get this product there.  

Well I got there late last night and the experienced driver told me about a truck stop near the delivery site.  So I went there and there is this old fashioned diner at the truck stop. Like walking into the 60's.  It was very cool, actually, excepting for the screaming teenagers at a table.  Unsupervised, definitely not even 18 and making a lot of noise.  

This morning, I find out the experienced driver's truck broke down and he won't be making it to help us unload. Great. I have a bit of head knowledge about what I'm supposed to do, I have no hands on training whatsoever.  So I get there, do everything I was supposed to and then the plant tech opened up the valves and let'er rip.  Only to have this almost 300 below zero cryogenic start to pop out of the vent stack.  Shut it down, shut it down, he was saying, so I closed the valves, this stuff pouring onto my jump suit.  I was like, what the heck?  So I get the valves shut closed and then this guy didn't know what to do.  

So, I got on the phone and called the experienced driver, who didn't know what was going on and directed me to another driver that does know what's going on.  He asked a few questions.  Well are all the valves shut?  Yes.  What about the bleeders?  I dunno, I'll go out and check. And sure enough, one of the bleeder valves was just barely opened - trust me I didn't open it, I wasn't doing anything with that stuff that I wasn't told to - and it was venting through the vent system.  

This has really been the day I have been dreading with the Ethylene that I haul, having to unload.  Welp, I got my feet wet now.  I don't care anymore, I'll unload whenever, if I mess it up, tough.  Today's mess up only cost a bit of time, nothing else.  

Alright.  Well I'm stuck here two weeks and that is the extent of it, for I will forcefully ask for a flight back home after that time period is up if it isn't offered.  

Oh, and yes, this place is the University of Massachusetts.  It's huge.  It's like a city within itself, replete with high rises  including 4 dorms that look like high rise apartment buildings.  I guess cause that's what they really are.  They have their own water treatment plant, electric substation and this huge plant that uses the LNG to heat everything.  And there was the problem. It is an unusually cold winter, the LNG is getting used up in massive quantities, the plant that normally feeds it through a pipeline is shut down and it's only us trucks that are the gap between either keeping the place heated - or not.  I doubt there are dying old people or freeing babies there, but it was a nice story to get people up there. 

The problem - the drivers that do this run have been going at it so long, they haven't had time off in over a month.  Some of them had to be on their 34 hour reset.  UMASS was basically saying get wit the program, we NEED this LNG.  So, the company has put out requests to all 10 other of the divisions to send any available drivers.  

I'm getting sleepy. I know it's early but I haven't gotten much sleep in the last two nights and I didnt actually mind the manager calling me saying that they won't be there to load me tonight, find a place to park, get on your 10 hour break, get up at 3 am and get over there as fast as you can.  At the plant today, I overheard the conversation: we have at least enough to last us through tomorrow morning.  WTH.  4 truckloads of this stuff delivered there today and it's only enough to make it until tomorrow afternoon?  How much money do they spend on this stuff every year?  I just don't believe them. 4 trucks delivered today is 40,000 gallons, give or take a couple thousand.  But, who am I.  I'ts definitely cold out here - around zero degrees.  

Oh well.  Anyway, I went into the Pilot a while ago and finally found what I had been looking for: a freaking pillow.  $6.99 for a small "travel pillow" but I'll take it over the nothing I had last night. I brought my sheets with me cause I figured there wouldn't be any, but there was no room to take a large pillow. Or even a small one.  My bags were cram packed with bare minimum I figured I would need to survive in the cold, have enough clean clothes to last at least a week and all the other stuff I would need.  1 large suitcase and a duffel bag cram packed.  

Interesting day. Up early - 4:00, jolted out of deep sleep by the ridiculous phone alarm - annoying as all get out but that's the inten...