Restaurant Guide

It’s a common saying that “truck drivers know all the good places to eat”.  This is actually pretty much true, at least for places with truck parking.  Drivers, like most people enjoy a good meal.  So, how do they know where to eat?

For drivers on a regular route, it’s pretty simple.  Either trial and error, or word of mouth (or CB). Those of us who pretty much run randomly around the country have to use a different strategy.  Here are some pointers I’ve learned over the years on picking a place to eat when you’re somewhere you’ve never been before.

First, take a look at the outside.  It doesn’t have to be a brand new building, but it should look halfway decent.

Next, check the parking lot.  If it’s around mealtime, especially dinner, look for local cars in the parking lot.  The more there are, the better the food is likely to be.  If the lot is empty except for the restaurant staff, you’re probably better off looking elsewhere.

When you walk in, take a good sniff.  A restaurant that serves good food will smell good.  If it smells bad in any way, shape, or form, turn right around and walk out.  Even if the food was good, who wants to spend an hour in someplace that reeks?

The next thing to check is the cashier.  Ideally, you want to see somebody paying their check.  If the cashier asks “was everything alright” or words to that effect, it’s probably a good bet.  The places with bad food generally know it, and get tired of hearing about it from their (probably very few) customers, so they almost never ask.

Before going to sit down, make a quick visit to the restroom.  If it’s a smelly, filthy disaster area, turn around and leave.  If they aren’t maintaining the bathrooms that their customers are going to see, it makes you wonder what their kitchen hidden away in the back looks like.

Then, take a look at the dining room.  It should be clean and neat, with tables ready for customers.  If there are a lot of tables covered with dirty dishes, that’s a warning sign. You should heed it and go elsewhere.

Even if a restaurant meets all of the above criteria, it’s still no guarantee of good food.  I always ask the waitress how the food is, or how a particular menu item is.  Usually I’ve gotten a reasonably truthful response.  If you’re told that the food is bad, give her a tip for the tip and be on your merry way.  Also be sure to ask what’s the best thing on the menu.  Beware if she tells you that she doesn’t eat there.

I also have a rule, that if it’s not spelled correctly on the menu, I won’t eat it.  For example, a Mexican dish came with “Pico de Gayo” (instead of Pico de Gallo – and in Texas too!). Another ( very expensive)  restaurant offered “Tuna Tar Tar”.  Sounds more like road patch, rather than a tasty Tuna Tartare. My philosophy is, if they can’t even spell it, can they make it properly?

Also, look for the cook.  Eating at a place where the cook is skinny is risky.  In my experience,  good cooks are usually  packing at least a few extra pounds.

Flies and roaches are an immediate trip to the D list.  Yes, even the best of restaurants can end up with a fly on occasion, but the good ones hunt them down immediately.  I don’t like competing with bugs for a meal.

After I leave a restaurant, I record comments on my trusty computer.  I use the A,B,C,D system.  “A” is for “Always stop and eat there, even if you’re not hungry.  “B” is for “if you Be hungry, it Be ok to eat there.  “C” is for “if you Cee this place, Ceep on trucking because the food is Crap.  “D” is for “Don’t even think about stopping there, even to park.  It’s pretty easy to get on my C and D list, and pretty tough to get on my A list.

Where possible, I prefer independent restaurants over the national chains, the idea being that the independent has to be better than the chains in order to compete with them.  While this is frequently the case, it’s not a hard and fast rule.  Some of the most horrendous places I’ve ever seen were independents.  The chains are usually at least mediocre, but not always. Independents also frequently offer regional dishes that the chains don’t.

Bad food is something that I find particularly annoying, because there’s absolutely no excuse for it. I don’t demand gourmet cuisine — just food that’s properly prepared and tastes good. How hard is that?  Evidently, pretty difficult for some restaurants.  I don’t mind paying for good food, but I do expect value for my money.

Truckstop and restaurant managers, please take note:  stops cost a significant amount of money in a truck.  It can take from one to three gallons of fuel just to get a truck back up to highway speed after a stop, so the idea is to make every stop serve multiple purposes. If I’m going to have to eat elsewhere because the food is bad, I’m going to fuel elsewhere too. Even if the pump price is a little higher, it still works out cheaper by eliminating an extra stop.  One bad meal, and you can end up on my C or D list.  It’s the responsibility of management to make the food good, so if your cook is  turning out garbage, then it’s your job to fix it.  Read carefully the items I’ve listed above.  If you fail any of them, then you’ve got trouble.

I hope this guide will help my readers find good food, and maybe even improve a few bad places.

Comments and questions welcome.

Weird stuff on the road

<Whoo eeee oooo weird music> I picked up a load yesterday in Los Angeles, and headed east with it.  While driving across the desert in Arizona, I suddenly began thinking about tsunamis.  I live in the midwest, so tsunamis are not something that usually occupies my thoughts very much — even less so when I’m in the middle of the Arizona  desert.  Imagine my surprise, when I stopped for the night, and read the news of the tsunami that hit American Samoa.  Just plain weird.

Propaganda is an ugly word

This post is an echo of one I made at: http://voices.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/propaganda-is-an-ugly-word.aspx?googleid=271152

We need to get a few things straight here. You can think of this post as a wholesale reply to the IB posts listed at the end of this article. The list of IB posts that I’ve given isn’t complete — there were so many that I finally quit wading through them. All of them either reference the recently published AAJ or CVSA statistics.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines propaganda as “…the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person; ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect”

Let’s read a comment recently posted here on IB:

In response to http://charlottesville.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/four-out-of-five-aint-bad-new-research-fnds-1-out-of-5-trucks-unfit.aspx?googleid=270194 was the following:

Posted by Brandon
September 03, 2009 8:31 AM

This “study” by the American Association for Justice–formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America–makes numerous false claims about the trucking industry and appears to be nothing more than an attempt to scare citizens into suing motor carriers.

Facts show that the truck-involved fatality rate is now at its lowest since the U.S. Department of Transportation began keeping those statistics in 1975.

Many of the “violations” cited by the AAJ are merely de minimus paperwork violations that have no effect on safety. In addition, 28,000 motor carriers make up only 4.8 percent of the number of the 579,759 motor carriers in the United States as reported by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Regarding AAJ’s mention of the July 2009 Government Accountability Office study, except for two references, the report is focused exclusively on bus companies. ATA supports efforts by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to put unsafe trucking companies out of business, and supports giving further resources to FMCSA to help them prevent those companies from reopening under a new name.

The overwhelming majority of fatal truck-involved crashes are caused by passenger vehicles. According to a 2002 study by the American Association of Automobiles, 80 percent of fatal truck-involved crashes are caused by passenger vehicles. A 2006 Virginia Tech analysis of two studies conducted for the Department of Transportation found that 78 percent of crashes were caused by passenger car drivers.”

Much has also been made of the 20% Vehicle Out Of Service (OOS) rate during the 2009 CVSA Roadcheck event.

Let’s talk a little bit about trucks, defects, the CVSA, and their annual Roadcheck event. According to the 2009 CVSA RoadCheck numbers,(http://www.cvsa.org/news/2009_press.aspx) about 20% of the vehicles inspected were placed OOS. Of that number, about 70% were for brakes, lights, or tires. Sounds pretty bad, until you look at it’s actual impact. According to the LTCCS at (http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/DOT/NHTSA/NRD/Articles/ESV/PDF/18/Files/18ESV-000252.pdf), tire and brake failures together accounted for less than 1% of crashes in their sample. Hmmm….that seems to be considerably less than 20%, Let’s take a more detailed look at a couple of the most common defects that inspectors find — air leaks, and brakes out of adjustment, and look at how things really are.

First, let’s deal with brake adjustment. Most air-brake equipped trucks nowadays have automatic slack adjusters on their brakes. These actually do an excellent job keeping brakes properly adjusted. Paradoxicallly, good drivers are actually more likely to have brakes that have drifted out of adjustment. This is because automatic adjusters only function when their preset stroke length is exceeded. Light brake applications (which is what good drivers do) don’t usually reach full stroke, and over time, fail to compensate for wear, causing the brakes to gradually go out of adjustment. This is actually easy to remedy — all it takes is applying the brakes firmly a few times, and that will bring them back into adjustment. Having any of the 10 sets of brakes on a tractor-trailer out of adjustment is DOT OOS.

Air leaks are the other common defect that inspectors find. The DOT OOS criteria are “more than 4 pounds of air loss in a minute for combination vehicles” and “any audible air leak”. The most common are audible air leaks. Are these really hazardous? Mostly not. For example, the air compressor in my truck is capable of maintaining safe operating pressure in my braking system with a completely severed 1/4″ air line. It will also keep up operating pressure for a completely severed 3/8″ air line, as long as the engine rpm stays high enough. That’s actually quite a lot of air. Leaks of this severity are very much the exception rather than the rule — and get fixed quickly. Mostly what you get are minor leaks — a little seepage around a fitting, or a pinhole chafed through a line, both of which are simple (and cheap) to fix. A little twist of a wrench, or cutting the line and inserting a splicer fitting quickly remedies the problem. These air leaks don’t even have to be in the actual braking system at all. There are many accessories on trucks that are air operated, but have nothing to do with the braking system, other than sharing a common air supply, yet are still considered OOS if leaking.

Most of the time, when these minor items are found on an inspection, the result isn’t a citation and being placed out of service. The inspector will simply say “fix it”. A quick twist with a wrench will correct that maladjusted brake, or tighten up that leaky fitting. During Roadcheck, it’s another matter entirely. Then, the idea is to write as many citations as possible, for every flaw that can be found, no matter how minor.

The manner of selecting trucks for inspection also influences OOS rates. Inspectors frequently target older trucks, or from particular companies, or use other strategies in an attempt to raise the probability of finding something wrong. In other words, the 72,782 truck and bus inspections conducted during Roadcheck 2009 are far from being a truly random and representative sample of the trucks on the highway. Therefore, the 20% OOS figure being applied to all trucks on the road, is (at best) a seriously flawed use of statistics.

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fear always springs from ignorance.”
Bertrand Russell continues in the same vein with “Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.”

If fear springs from ignorance, then what springs from misinformation?

As I said (in part) in a response to: http://voices.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/as-americans-take-to-roads-this-labor-day-new-report-details-epidemic-of-deadly-trucks.aspx?googleid=269704,

“...Rather than using such scare tactics, wouldn’t it be more productive to do something to help alleviate these problems? How about supporting Jason’s Law? If you’re not familiar with it, you can go to (https://truckied.wordpress.com/jason/). What about the serious long-term problems with grocery warehouses? (see: http://voices.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/why-groceries-cause-truck-crashes.aspx?googleid=263138).

Truck bashing doesn’t solve problems; what it does, is give us badly written regulations and ineffective programs, which is the situation we’re in now. Things are slowly changing, but until the hysteria stops, and logic, science, and good sense are applied, there will be a lot more preventable deaths and injuries.”

Mark Twain said: “The history of the race, and each individual’s experience, are thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal.”

This seems to be the case with the constant reappearance of this same flawed information over and over.

One of my purposes in writing a blog here on IB is to try to correct this type of misinformation, and to help educate IB’s members and readers about trucks and truck safety. If fear comes from ignorance, then respect comes from education. I’d really like to see more diligence by authors when writing about trucks. If there’s something you’re not sure of, or have a question about, send me an email and ask. That’s what I’m here for. Please help me to educate and inform, and stop with the scare tactics and sensationalism. Leave that to the grocery store tabloids.

Comments welcome.

The following is the list of articles that this is a reply to:

http://virginiabeach.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/trucking-crossroads-interstate-i81-in-virginia-scene-of-spate-of-trucking-accidents.aspx?googleid=271052
http://wilmington.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/mother-hit-by-tractor-trailer-while-changing-tire-on-i40-highlights-need-for-safety-precautions.aspx?googleid=270910
http://bentonville.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/gambling-on-the-road-18-wheelers.aspx?googleid=270524
http://vancouver.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/truck-accidents-on-the-rise.aspx?googleid=270210
http://charlottesville.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/four-out-of-five-aint-bad-new-research-fnds-1-out-of-5-trucks-unfit.aspx?googleid=270194
http://nashville.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/companies-keep-unsafe-trucks-and-drivers-on-the-road.aspx?googleid=270026
http://bloomington.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/report-finds-thousands-of-unsafe-trucks-on-americas-highways.aspx?googleid=269898
http://northdallas.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/are-us-roads-filled-with-unsafe-trucks.aspx?googleid=269794

I got appreciated by Michaels

A few days ago, I got up, and got moving for what I expected to be another routine day.  I headed on up to Fort Worth, Texas, and delivered the load I had, dropping my trailer at the consignee (nice and quick and easy doing that). Dispatch sent me over to Michaels (http://www.michaels.com) warehouse in Fort Worth to pick up an empty trailer.  Purely routine.

I got to their warehouse, and checked in with security.  The young lady working security at the gate was both pleasant and professional.  Did the normal sign in routine etc. Still normal.  Then, suddenly things changed.  Not for the worse, which would be typical, but for the better.  Lots better.

She  invited me to take one of their gift bags (which was full of bagged snacks, and a small American flag), and to help myself to a bottle of nicely chilled water from the ice chest.

That was a surprise.

When I inquired as to the reason for this generosity, she told me that “It was truck driver appreciation week.  Didn’t your dispatcher tell you?”   This was news to me, since I had gone all week without being appreciated at all. As usual.

The bottle of very cold water was particularly welcome, since the temperature there was hovering around 100 degrees.  It doesn’t take long to hook up a trailer, but in that kind of heat, you lose water pretty fast.

While it doesn’t sound like much, this is so far past the normal treatment of truck drivers, that it turned what had started out as a mildly crappy week, into a good one.  In fact, I’m still in a good mood, and still munching on the snacks.

Thanks Michaels.  It’s really nice to be appreciated.

Comments welcome.

Times are tougher than I thought

Running from North Carolina down into Mississippi last week, I stopped at the Pilot truckstop in Jackson, MS for some diesel and a burger.  After I filled up and had my lunch, (it was straight up noon local time) I got on the phone to my travel agent about a load.  While I was talking to her, a local lot lizard came up and started banging on my door.  I told my travel agent to hold on for a second, and I made go away motions at the lot lizard, who finally gave up and moved on.  When I got back on the phone, my travel agent asked me what all that banging was.  I told her, and she started laughing and said “times must be really tough if they’re coming out during the day”.  I agreed, and added “yeah, and it’s pouring rain here too”.  I had to wait for her to stop laughing to get on with getting a load.

She got me a load into Texas, which is where I wanted to go, so I could stop in and fix the brakes on my daughter’s car.  Even with the extra fuel I had to burn going out of the way to get there, it still worked out to less than a third of  the price the local auto repair place wanted to do the job.  It also took me less than two hours, and that includes getting my tools out, putting them away, and cleaning up afterward.

Freight has actually been better lately.  My miles are back up to around 2800+ a week, which is about as hard as I really want to work.  The selection of freight has been improving too, so I may soon be able to go back to rejecting anything that goes east of I-75 again.  The bad news is that diesel prices have been inching up over the last several weeks.   Overall, not too bad.

Kudos to Michael St. John and Jody Cicero

This post is an echo of a post I made at: http://voices.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/kudos-to-michael-st-john-and-jody-cicero.aspx?googleid=267372

Excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor. I just read a story about a truck crash at: http://www.freep.com/article/20090716/NEWS05/907160605/1007/news/Truckers-averted-worse-toll-on-I-75–cops-say

that actually had NICE things to say about the truck drivers involved. It seems a novice car driver took a turn too fast, and crashed into a tanker load of fuel. The actions of tanker driver and driver of another involved semi turned what could have been a major crash with multiple fatalities into one where all the involved drivers walked away. (One was treated and released for bruises).

A while back, I put up a post regarding the DOT’s statistics that show around 80% of the car vs. truck crashes are the fault of the car driver, and this is a prime example. It’s a nice change to see the media report give the truck drivers credit for their quick thinking and professionalism in keeping a bad situation from turning worse.

Good Job Michael and Jody!

Good News

This post is an echo of a post I made to: http://voices.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/good-news.aspx?googleid=267328

While the economy might be in the doldrums, the good news is highway safety is improving. A story at: http://www.jordannews.com/news/national-politics/minnesota-trucking-related-fatalities-drop-nearly-18-107 relates that truck related fatalities dropped nearly 18% in Minnesota for 2008.

Another story at: http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/article/20090712/GPG03/907120644/1247 tells that truck related fatalities dropped 12% in Wisconsin during the same period. It also tells us that safety is a priority for the trucking industry.

Yup. Sure is — at least for most companies. The problem is those few companies who don’t realize their bottom line depends on safety, or (incorrectly) believe that being safe will “cost more money than it’s worth” or have other negative impacts on their business.

Get a clue guys. If you think improving safety won’t improve your bottom line, then you’re conducting business with your head in the sand. Not only that, but you may end up with plenty of time to contemplate this courtesy of either State or Federal authorities. A story here: http://www.wfsb.com/news/19843596/detail.html tells of the six year prison sentence handed to a trucking company owner for a truck with defective brakes. A brake job on a truck is only a few hundred bucks — and I’ll bet his legal fees were considerably higher than that. Hmm….I guess saving the price of the brake job wasn’t such a good deal after all.

Sleep apnea and truck drivers

This is an echo of a post I made at: http://voices.injuryboard.com/tractor-trailer-accidents/sleep-apnea-among-truck-drivers.aspx?googleid=266066

Why is there a higher rate of sleep apnea among truck drivers?

A conversation I had the other day got me thinking about sleep apnea among truck drivers. In the US, around 4% of adults have sleep apnea. Among truck drivers, it appears that the rate might be over 30%. That’s a pretty big disparity — so what would cause it?
The answer seems to lie within the demographics of truck drivers. About half of all truck drivers are over 45 years old – which is one of the highest risk groups for sleep apnea. Within the group of truck drivers, a study by Atlas Ergonomics (http://www.atlasergo.com/whitePapers/CommercialDrivingPartI_April2009.pdf) found that about 46% were classified as obese. The combination of these two factors alone greatly increases the occurrence of sleep apnea. This would partly explain such an over representation. However, it also raises the question of why this demographic is itself over represented within the population of truck drivers.
Let’s look a bit at how drivers have been recruited and hired over the last twenty years – before our current economic downturn.
For many years, there has been the myth of the shortage of qualified truck drivers. “Wait a minute” you might say. “If trucking companies don’t have enough drivers to fill their trucks, then the shortage isn’t a myth”. That happens to be correct, at least as far as it goes. While there might not be enough drivers in trucks, it means there’s only a shortage of people willing to put up with the hours and working conditions for the wages being offered.
One of the toughest things about trucking is being away from home for extended periods of time, especially if you have young children. By the time drivers are in their mid-forties and beyond, their children are either grown and gone, or pretty close to it, which largely eliminates that as a constraint.
For many others, truck driving is pretty much the job of last resort. Try finding a job when you’re past 40 that doesn’t involve the phrase “You want fries with that?” and you’ll see what I mean.
Next, there’s the issue of sleep apnea itself. Sufferers are likely to be among the most overweight and least productive employees — and therefore the least likely to be hired, and the most likely to be laid off or fired — which pushes them toward that job of last resort.
You might then ask “if a truck driver has sleep apnea to begin with, how do they get away with it?”. The answer to that is pretty simple — naps. I don’t know of any other job where employees are actually encouraged to stop work for a snooze break.
There’s been a great deal of talk about relationship between sleep apnea and truck crashes. An article at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070520130053.htm suggests that drivers with sleep apnea are twice as likely to crash, and 3 to 5 times as likely to have a severe crash.
Screening truck drivers for sleep apnea is a good idea (and one which some companies are already doing), and results so far have shown a positive impact on crash rates and severity, but I’m not sure if screening for sleep apnea alone really goes far enough. We need to remember that there are a lot of factors in play when it comes to truck driver fatigue. Even a driver well within the DOT hours of service limits can potentially be dangerously fatigued. Personally, what I’d like to see is some kind of real-time fatigue monitoring system in trucks. Monitoring driver performance in areas such as steering corrections, lane tracking, or other items could possibly warn of driver fatigue in real time.

Comments and questions welcome.

Jason’s page now online

I’ve created a page to make it easier to for my readers to track developments in the story of Jason Rivenburg.  Click on the tab “Jason” at the top of the page to read all of my posts on the subject.  This page will be updated as there are further developments.

Honey, does this truck make me look fat?

I think the State of Florida is just a little obsessed about weight.

I ran a load down there the other day, and after six scales (and two agricultural inspections), it turned out that I wasn’t overweight.  If my backhaul had been ready that day, I would have gotten up to eight (!) weigh stations (and a total of three ag inspections) for the day.

Are they afraid that I was going to stop and have a really big lunch?

C’mon Florida.  It wastes a lot of fuel to stop at a scale.  I can understand once, or maybe even twice (like most other states), but this is a little excessive.

It can take from one to three gallons of fuel to get a truck back up to highway speed, depending on the load and the road.

On a more positive note, with freight being so bad, I didn’t have any trouble at all finding a parking space.  In fact, the truckstop I was at was maybe only half full or so.  Quite different than usual.

Freight has been very erratic.  I had a good week a couple of weeks ago, but I’m thinking I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.  For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been getting some halfway decent loads, but I’ve also had sit and wait between every one for a day or so.  Well, that’s ok.  Gives me time to blog 🙂

I’ve also been writing a blog on InjuryBoard.com.  If you’re interested in truck safety, you can go to: http://voices.injuryboard.com/ and read my posts there.
Comments and questions welcome.