Sunday, May 27, 2012

Partner Sacrifices (no, I don't mean Mayan style!)

I did get a couple of really good suggestions for my next blog post, but I decided to shelf them in honor of Memorial Day.

To say thank you to all the Veterans is an absolute must do that has become automatic, that's not to say it isn't heartfelt, because for certain it is, I especially think of my dad who served in the Irish army, and Patty's dad who served in the USMC during WWII and I am now and always will be eternally grateful for their service. Today though, I wanted to take a bit of a side trip and look at a somewhat unforgotten brigade, the partners of men and women who have to endure long periods without their significant other at their beck and call. Not just armed forces people but everyday parents and children, husband and wives, siblings, fiance's, friends, or what other else partnership you have.

It's a given that military separation during wartime is like no other and those people deserve special  support and consideration, I'd like to write, though about everyday life separation, and how it impacts ordinary lives.

Patty and I will be married for twenty-two years this year and we have shared an awful lot of separation during that time. Mostly our apart time (once I actually became a legal citizen)  involved me driving big rigs around the country making twenty-one cents for every mile I drove with freight on the trailer, and exactly zero cents when I was running deadhead or re-positioning the rig for it's next load. Given the enormous amount of money I was making (OUCH! That was Patty smacking me in the back of my head)

I did my best to,

A: keep the wheels rolling,
B: Keep the wheels rolling with freight on the trailer and
C: Keep Patty happy by "getting through the house."

Unfortunately that wasn't always the case, in fact come to think of it that was rarely the case! Inevitably what ended up happening was;
  • Her handing me my first days food (She made the best foil wrapped ham and cheese rolls that I would warm up in my heater chest and eat for breakfast somewhere in Arizona,)  
  • Me kissing Patty goodbye,
  • Her yelling, "Be safe and call (Pre i-anything,)"
  • Me yelling, "See you in a coupla days." 
  • Her yelling, "Stay away from the truckstops."
  • Me driving down to the yard and heading our for what was supposed to be a three day run, already knowing that it was going to be more like three weeks. 
The only real benefit for me being a truck driver was that I had a job that; if I ran my ass off would  provide a semi decent paycheck, if I could keep freight on the truck, run illegal hours, and stay away from the house.
I completely and utterly hated it, and here's why. My first experience as a trucker in the States went something along these lines.
I had just secured my C.D.L. (Commercial Drivers License) on the Friday prior to Memorial Day so I called every driver job opening looking for work. I found a long haul carrier close to the house and after a road test they hired me at about 10am.
  • Me: "Wow, I actually got the job, it's gunna be a great weekend."
  • Them: "Go grab your gear and we'll see you back here in 30 minutes."
  • Me: "Huh?"
  • Them: "We've got a load for you."
  • Me: "What about the long weekend?"
  • Them: "Welcome to trucking Aussie."
I drove home with extremely mixed feelings,
"I got the job, I wonder what I'm driving?         How do I tell Patty I wont make the BBQ?"
"I got the job, I wonder where I'm heading?      How do I tell Patty I wont make the BBQ?"
"I got the job, I wonder how long I'll be away? How do I tell Patty I wont make the BBQ?"

I made it home and it went something like this,

"Patty I got the job, can you help me pack, isn't this amazing?" My voice at fever pitch
"That's great hun, but why do you need to pack?" Her voice straining with disappointment
"Oh, I already have a run, isn't that great?" My voice kicking up the excitement
 "You're leaving today?" Her voice cracking
 "Yea Baby aint it great?" My voice full of contrived excitement.

 And so started the cycle of disappointment and compromise between Patty and I.

I got packed and went back to the Yard, where the dispatcher assigned me my truck. He told me to go check gear out for the trailers (set of doubles) and that I'd be picking up road marking paint for the state of Nevada in down town L.A.
"You can run it up there tonight and be back by mid afternoon, easy first run for you." and so began the cycle of lies between my dispatcher and me.
I wasn't looking forward to navigating to a pretty shady area of downtown Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend driving a big rig to pick up a hazardous materials load and the get out of the city before the big getaway traffic surge.  It went something like this.

  • 11:30am Sat in traffic heading to L.A. 
  • 1:30pm sat in the paint supply yard once I got there, 
  • 5:45pm loaded and out their gate, 
  • 6:50 took wrong freeway and ended up in Hollywood Hills in a no truck zone with a load of HAZMAT on a set of double trailers, 
  • 7:25pm found my way accidentally to the 14 Fwy heading toward Nevada (the back way,) 
  • 8:30pm truck broke down pulling a hill just outside L.A. ----- 
  • 12:10am made it back to the yard after using bailing wire duct tape and a drinking straw to fix the truck --- 
  • 2:10am "She's ready to go, make sure you're in Pahrump by 9."
  • 7:10am, Pahrump NV. unchained and ready to unload and head home,
  • 9:45am "Head over to Phoenix and pick up a load of roofing insulation, be in Seattle Monday by 5 the receiver has an emergency and they need the material, oh that, yea sorry plans change every now and then."
  • 10:10am "I know babe isn't it great I'm getting more miles?' "So when will you be home?" "Oh, I'd say by late Tuesday night." "We'll be safe love you."
  • 5:15pm Monday "Yea Sorry bout this but head down to Seneca Saw Mills in Eugene and pick up a load of lumber going to Fort Worth, TX."
You kinda see where this ended up right? earning twenty cents a mile I made nearly $1400.00 my first week which didn't give me much "home time," I got to speak to Patty maybe 3 or 4 times during the week by the end of the second week I'd earned about $3,000.00 total and the phone calls went up to about 5 or 6 times a week, but they lasted about 2 minutes per call and usually ended up with one or the other of us venting our frustrations at not being home, every call though did have consistency, Patty would hang up in tears.

I drove for that company for about a year and made some pretty good money, but one day after driving from Valencia, CA to Spokane, WA to Boise, Id then back to Los Angeles without a phone call home and over the space of four days and literally falling out of the cab of the tanker truck I was driving when I finally did get back to the home yard... I quit driving. They gave me a job in dispatch, and life at home returned to normal. The strain on the relationship during that time was almost unbearable, and I'm quite sure that if we hadn't both stayed true to our commitment and vows when we wed, to "Always work on our marriage," it wouldn't have lasted beyond the first month of me on the road. Weird how we both agreed that I needed to get work, and that since I knew trucking that was an automatic, and we both knew for the most part what we were getting into when I took the job, and we both counted the hours, minutes, seconds to when we'd get to speak on the phone and yet when the opportunity presented itself more often than not we were so disappointed that we weren't together that we almost went out of our way to sabotage the call, because at times like these when you love someone with all your heart and soul it became so much easier to be angry than to be happy.

I know from my situation, Sooooooo far removed from those of military partners a little of what they are going through and they, as much as the Service men and women need to be thanked for the sacrifices they make on a daily basis.

As much as I wanted to sit out with Patty who is sunning on our deck right now I decided that the time was right to Write in Spite of Myself.


  1. awesome stuff. more, more, more!

  2. I know the feelings. I recognize the teary wife. She was me during the first 4 years of our marriage when Jim was in the Navy. Great post, Jon!

    1. Thanks Kathy, and thanks to Big Jim for his service...and your son? or sons, didn't they serve with the USMC?

    2. One son was Navy; the other was USMC.

  3. Loved reading some history of you and Patty! :) It makes me that much more grateful for Ron's job, and especially for those that serve our country.

    1. I'm so happy you took the time to read my blog AND to leave a comment thanks Karissa, now YOU get to writing...