On our way back from delivering in Calgary, I was driving thru Medicine Hat, Alberta and saw an unusual structure. Then I saw a sign that said “World’s Largest Teepee”. Of course we can’t just pass by the world’s largest anything so we stopped to investigate.
One of the hardest things to get a handle on when learning the expediting business is learning when to stay in an area and wait for a load and when to “turn and burn” i.e. drop the load and leave for another location. Pick the wrong location and you can wait for days without getting a load and spend a fortune in fuel and food. Get in a good location and you’re rolling and making money in no time.
You also have to learn that not every load offer is a good offer. You might get what sounds like a good offer on the surface, but the delivery location is in a horrible place to get your next load.
And then there’s the “even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while” bit of luck. That’s what fell into place today.
Last week was decent but not great for us money-wise. So when we got a load from Morehead, KY to Covington, GA, we decided to take a chance and head down to Waycross, GA to try to get a load over the weekend. Now this is always a crap shoot. We’ve had times where we haven’t even made it to Waycross and we already had a load. And we’ve had times where we’ve waited for days.
So we waited all weekend and finally got a short load to Jacksonville, FL on Monday. We’ve learned that Jacksonville isn’t a really good place to get a load so we dropped and came right back to Waycross.
Tuesday came along and we landed a very unusual double load. We picked up two small shipments in Savannah, GA and took one to Fort Myers, FL (more on that very strange dropoff in a later post) and the other went all the way down to Miami.
Now we know from past experience that it’s nearly impossible to get a load out of Miami. So we were heading out of town this morning back towards Orlando and we’re shocked when we heard an “Ooogah” about ten minutes after we dropped off our load.
A few back and forth phone calls later and we landed a nearly 1400-mile run to Canton, Michigan near Detroit.
Sometimes it’s skill and sometimes you just find that acorn. The Detroit area has always been good for us, so hopefully this could end up being a very good week if we can land another good run before the Easter Holiday.
That’s a good question. Granted, every once in a while we run into that meal that makes your mouth water just looking at it. But generally, I don’t believe that anything we have for a meal is so superior to anything you might be having. In fact, most of the time, we would probably want to trade places with you. You wouldn’t believe how sick you can get of eating out as much as we are often forced to.
Don’t get me wrong, we carry an electric skillet and use it as often as we can to cook a meal or to warm up something that we brought from home. (Whenever we are home, we prepare a bunch of home-cooked meals and freeze them to take out on the road with us.) But often times, when we are loaded and running, we don’t have time to make a stop to unpack the generator and fire up the skillet to make a meal. We always have bread and cold cuts or PB & J on hand as well as milk and cereal. But you can only eat that so many times each week without wanting to commit hare-kari. As a result, we end up eating at many of the same places. We can pretty much tell you what’s on the menu at Denny’s, Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel. What we try to do as often as time permits is to find the out-of-the-way diner or small local chain restaurants to add some variety. Often times, it’s at these places that we end up sharing our pictures.
Neither Michelle nor I fancy ourselves as epicurean foodies. Just like normal folks, we like good food. And when we find something different, we like to tell people about it.
Which brings us to the second reason we post those pictures. Both Michelle and I have become Google Local Guides. We contribute photos and reviews of locations and restaurants to Google Maps business listings. I guess we get something for doing it, some discount on Google Drive space or some such thing, but mostly we do it for the fun of seeing which photos will get the most views on Google.
I’ve been doing it longer than Michelle has, so naturally my counts are a little higher. I’ve contributed over 100 pictures so far which have been viewed (as of this writing) nearly 600,000 times. It amazes me how some pictures will take off and others don’t.
For example, my peeps back in Luxemburg, Wisconsin can tell you about a restaurant there called Billy’s on Main. During a visit with my dad back in November, I snapped two pictures. One of Michelle’s fried shrimp and baked potato and one of my prime rib and twice-baked potato. Michelle’s shrimp was selected as a featured photo for the listing and has been viewed over 20,000 times so far. The prime rib, not so much.
But what is amazing is that Luxemburg only has a population of around 2,500 people. That can give some idea of just how busy this place is.
So next time you pull up some info on a restaurant or some other attraction around the country. You just might be looking at one of my food shots. Hope they come in handy for you.
My phone gave it’s telltale vibration followed by the familiar “Oooooogah-Oooooogah” submarine klaxon while we were in Wal-Mart this morning.
“Ooogah”, as we’ve come to call it, signifies a call from our dispatchers letting us know they have a load offer for us. I answer the call and hear a greeting from “Dispatch Dave” as we’ve come to call him. I responded with “Hey Dave, it’s our one-year anniversary with the company, get us a load”! That garnered a good-natured laugh from Dave. One year ago, Dave got us our first expedite load (and many more since then) so we’ve always had a special place in our hearts for him. A few phone calls later, our first load of our second year was booked…A couch going from Archdale, NC to Pittsburgh, PA. And away we go.
Before we left for Wal-Mart, I snapped the photo of our Year One mileage. Over 132,000 miles in one year. Holy crap! Our van “Tootsie” has been to 44 of the lower 48 states and Washington DC plus a brief run into Canada. She’s hauled everything from two bushings you could hold in the palm of your hand to a 2000 pound locomotive turbo to a load of mirrors for Mack trucks to 30 cases of wine. She’s not picky. (Btw, the only states we haven’t been to are North and South Dakota, Montana and Washington.)
Reflecting on the past year, both Michelle and I agree it probably been the best year of our lives. We’ve seen more of this country in the past 12 months than most see in a lifetime, and we’ve been lucky enough to be able to do it together.
Granted, it’s not all fun and games. Sleeping on the floor of the van after 28 straight hours of driving because we’re too tired to blow up our air mattress isn’t much fun. Neither is having to deal with public restrooms on a daily basis. Or never really knowing where or when your next shower is going to come from.
But for all of the negatives, the perks are outstanding…With one in particular: the people. We get to meet new people on almost a daily basis. And for all the negativity in the world today, there sure are a lot of nice folk out there. Of course we can’t forget all of the friends and family we’ve been able to reconnect with. It’s awesome to be able to visit folks you thought you might never see again.
So what’s in store for year two? More driving obviously. But hopefully more “smart” driving. There’s a certain amount of luck in being in the right place to catch a load. There’s also some skill involved with putting yourself in the best place. We’ve spent our first year learning the ropes and it seems to have paid off. Our load brokers told us recently that we are now one of the top trucks in the company. Hopefully that will translate to better loads and less time spent waiting. Which, in turn, will translate into more time off and more time to enjoy the places we visit.
I’m sure you may have some questions about what we do and the places we go. So we’re going to try to keep this old blog going and update it more often. Those of you who follow us on Facebook may still want to check in here from time to time as we may post things here occasionally that might not make it to your timeline. We’ve got a few stories you haven’t heard and few pictures you haven’t seen. So come along for the ride and don’t forget to sing along.
Week four dawned with the realization that we were stuck in the Midwest in tornado season. We heard over the weekend that a major storm was due to hit the Midwest on Tuesday. We checked the weather forecast and found they were predicting tornado watches all the way from Kansas City to Dallas…with the most likely areas being a strip from Oklahoma City to Wichita, Kansas.
So we decided bail on Oklahoma City and start heading east. We made it as far as Little Rock, Arkansas on Monday and stopped for the night. The next morning we went to Anytime Fitness to grab a shower and as we were leaving, the bat phone rang. The load was to go from Little Rock to Fort Collins, Colorado. Knowing this was going to put us back into the path of the storm, we purposely bid high on the load hoping we wouldn’t get it. But sure enough, the phone rang again a few minutes later and dispatch informed us that the original person who won the bid had backed out and the load was ours. Oh hell, if we die, at least we were getting paid well.
So we grab the load and head out. Looking at the radar, the storms hadn’t moved into Missouri yet, so we went as far north as we could and found a small break in the storm front in southern Kansas so we headed on in. We kept a close eye on the radar and it appeared that if we could get to Wichita by midnight, we could duck in behind the stormfront heading north and then we would be home free by the time we hit I-70 towards Denver. We did some stop-and-go traveling for a few hours…stopping to let a storm cell ease by us and then scrambling to get past it before the next one moved it. That strategy worked pretty well until we were about 20 miles from Wichita. Then a miscalculation in timing on my part led us straight into a huge storm cell.
The winds hit first practically blowing us off the road a few times, then blinding rain and finally pea-sized hail. The hail was so loud hitting the metal roof, we could barely hear ourselves think and we figured the funnel clouds wouldn’t be far behind. We were looking for something, anything, that would give us some cover. Of course, this being the middle of Kansas, there wasn’t an overpass or gas station to be found. Finally, on our Garmin GPS, (who we affectionately call Mother) we saw the symbol for a bank up ahead off the highway. Banks have covered drive-thru’s right? We pull into what passes for a town, all three blocks of it, and find the bank. Unfortunately, it appeared to have been built in the early 1900’s and had no drive thru. Frantically looking around, the best we could find was a church parking lot. We pulled into the lot and got as close as we could to the church, figuring if God decided our number was up, he’d have to take the church with us.
We stayed in the parking lot and listened to the storm for a bit. Then Michelle figured we had better use the time so she climbed into the back of the van and started making sandwiches (it was already 10:30pm and we hadn’t had dinner yet). We munched on the sandwiches and looked at the radar. The cell we had gotten caught in was moving out and we were clear to Wichita if we left right away, otherwise we would be stuck there for hours when the next cell moved in.
We pulled back onto the highway and wouldn’t you know it, about 2 miles further down, there was a gas station with covered pumps. Figures. We hit Wichita, turned north and made it to I-70 with only a few minor rain showers.
Week three began with our early morning drop-off in Bakersfield. Quite glad to get rid of our “Highly Flammable” load.
Then we were faced with the dilemma every expediter faces on an almost weekly basis. To paraphrase Shakespeare: To move or not to move. In our business, “moving” or “deadheading” means running empty without a load to either head home, or to move to a location where you would be more likely to get a load. While getting the 2000+ mile loads to the west coast might seem like a great deal on the surface, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of expedited freight coming back east. So you are always running the risk that you may have to come back empty to get back into business.
And that’s what we had decided to do to get out of Bakersfield. We were going to move back to the midwest and try to get something from there. And that’s when the US Military Industrial Complex stepped into our lives. We were heading south out of Bakersfield to go back to I-40 thus again avoiding bad weather in Colorado etc, and had gotten all of about 30 miles when the phone rang. Dispatch verified we were a team and that we were both born in the U.S…which I thought was a little strange…then offered us a load from Edwards, CA to Oklahoma City. We bid the load and got a confirmation call a few minutes later to pick up the next day. Little did we know the pickup was actually at Edwards Air Force base. More on that in a moment.
So we decided to get a cheap room at a Red Roof Inn in Mojave, CA which is about 10 miles or so from Edwards. We pull in late evening and notice as we are walking thru the lot that there was a man standing at a barbecue grill in the parking lot, just a cookin away. He yells to us to come and get some bbq. We proceeded to the office to check in and quizzed the host as to who the guy out in the lot was. All he said was “Oh, that’s Manny. He’s the owner here.”
Manny again offered food as we crossed the lot to our room and got our suitcases. We walked into our room and noticed it had been newly remodeled and was actually a really nice room…worth much more than the $55 we had paid for it. We were impressed. So we went back outside and had a chat with Manny. Turns out he had just bought the place about 6 months earlier and had shut it down for 3 months to do a total renovation. Now that he had the renovation done, he was doing his best to provide for his customers. He said he loved to cook so he would set up his grill in the parking lot and grill chicken and ribs for the guests. The man makes some mean bbq and even gave Michelle and I a beer to wash it down with. Manny was doing it right. If you ever find yourself in the area, stop in and see him.
So the next morning, we roll out early and find out that our pick up is actually at Edwards Air Force Base. And of course, the heavily armed guards at the gate have no idea we were coming.
Turns out, you have to be American-born to get loads out of places like military bases, power plants and nuclear power plants. It took us about and hour and several frantic phone calls and id checks to get that mess straightened out, but we eventually made it onto the base, found Pratt and Whitney and picked up our load of “airplane parts”. The crates were sealed so we’ll never know just which “parts” they were. 🙂
We hit the (literally) dusty trail and we were off to Oklahoma City. We drove all day and all night and were able to deliver about 16 hours early on late Wednesday afternoon. Then our luck went into the toilet.
We set up camp at one of OKC’s finer truck stops and found out that there is virtually no freight moving out of there either. We had decided to camp there for a while to see if a load would show up. But it never did. By Friday we were looking for something to do and found the OKC Festival of the Arts and their “Moink Balls”.
Realizing we were probably stuck in the area for the weekend, we opted for a change of scenery for Saturday night and took up residence at Lake Thunderbird state park. We were able to have a nice little cookout, but couldn’t set up the tent as there were ants EVERYWHERE!
We finished off the week with a quick visit to Norman, Oklahoma and stopped to take a peek a the Oklahoma University campus and took a walk around their football stadium. Capped it off with an off-campus Italian eatery named Victoria’s. Great food, reasonable prices, highly recommend.
Week two started off with sort of a strange turn. We left the state park in Indiana and headed back to the Ft. Wayne area to wait for a load. The phone rang and in no time, we had a load to, of all places, Appleton, Wisconsin. We dropped the load (a leaf spring for an ambulance) and headed over to my dad’s farm just east of Green Bay. Got to spend some time with Dad and visited with other family as well. We didn’t get any calls for loads so we were still in town for a family get-together on Wednesday night.
But all good things must come to an end and we rolled At out on Thursday, finally ending up at a truck stop north of Milwaukee. Then things got a little strange. At 1:30 in the morning, we got a call from dispatch asking if we wanted to bid on a load from Waukegon, IL to Bakersfield, California. We said sure and made the bid and went back to sleep. Usually, after making a bid, they will let you know in 10-15 minutes if you won the load. About an hour later, we got another wake up call asking if we were hazmat (hazardous materials) certified. We said no and figured that would be the end of it. But a half hour later, we got a third call saying they had changed the load so it didn’t need a hazmat certification and we could take it if we wanted it. So we were headed to Bakersfield carrying two barrels of “Highly Flammable” material.
We detoured farther south because of some bad weather near Denver and made it into Bakersfield by late afternoon Sunday.
I know I’m a bit behind but it’s a been a busy first week. We had planned on going to “Available” status with our load brokering company on the afternoon of Monday April 4th after Michelle’s doctor appointment in the morning. We did end up going live, but ended up not getting any calls that day.
We got one call on Tuesday for a load out to Utah, but our bid was too high so we didn’t get it. But then the phone started ringing on Wednesday. We placed several bids before finally landing a load from Greensboro to Chicago. Just under 800 “loaded” miles. Not too shabby to start off. Pick up was at 5:30 and delivery was 9 the next morning. But of course, when we went to pick up, the load wasn’t ready yet. So instead of being able to cruise thru downtown Chicago at 5 AM when there’s very little traffic. We hit it at 7:30 AM and had to sit in traffic for well over an hour. Had the customer not given us a bit of a break for starting out 2 hours late, we would have been severely late. We hunkered down in a WalMart parking lot for a few hours to catch up on some sleep then because of the cold weather we grabbed some dinner and headed out to a hotel in Naperville, IL for the night.
Friday morning started off with a few more bids for loads before we finally landed one from St. Charles, IL to Auburn, Indiana. We made the run and got into Auburn exactly at our delivery time. Unfortunately, as is often the case in this business, if you don’t get a run somewhere on Friday that keeps you moving over the weekend, you usually end up spending the weekend where you end up on Friday. So we spent the night in Auburn and then moved on down to Fort Wayne, IN on Saturday afternoon. We went to check out an RV park to see if we could stay there, but it was unfortunately closed. It did provide a bit of humor though as Michelle caught the street name on the Garmin.
Another cold night forced us into a hotel again for the evening which we got at a bargain price on Hotwire. But we ate some of the food from our cooler and kept our costs down for the night.
Sunday started off a bit snowy before turning to rain and it kept warming up so we gave the Indiana State Park system a try and stayed at the Chain-O-Lakes State Park for the night.
We pulled in, plugged in our electricity, and warmed up a delicious dinner in the electric skillet while catching up on a few of our tv shows. The electric heater kept the chill out of the air as we spent our first full night sleeping in the van.
Before we hit the road, we had to get the van ready for expediting. That means we had to get everything we needed to both carry freight and live in the van as much as possible to cut our expenses.
First thing we had to do was add in a new floor. The floor that the van came with was a rubber mat with some carpet-style backing on top of the metal. Yeah, we could have just saved ourselves the trouble and ripped out the flooring, but we decided to leave it there for insulation purposes and put a layer of plywood with e-track on top of it. A friend-of-a-friend took on the job for us and had it finished in a day. While he was at it, he also installed a row of Rubbermaid Fasttrack on either side near the ceiling so we could hang stuff on the walls up off the floor.
Once that was in place, we started moving stuff in and getting it organized. Of course Michelle had to try on the safety equipment in the process.
And it all looked much better in the end.