Journal: 008, How I live

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When I’m home, which these days is just two or three days a fortnight, I get to go home to my flat in Rivervale (Perth, WA) looking out as you can see over lower units in the complex to the Swan River and a park and lake beyond (map) which is why I bought it, at the top of a falling market as it turns out. I have a spare bedroom, and a study lined with books so I’m pretty happy, though Milly says I’m an idiot to have bought a flat at my age up two flights of stairs. She lives a couple of suburbs south in a little cottage, 20 minutes by pushbike straight down the Armadale rail line, and Gee and the kids who used to live close by now have a rambling 60s brick house in the suburbs south of Fremantle, coincidentally just a few minutes from my trucking depot.

But of course, I’m mostly away.

Last trip, I didn’t get out of Sydney as easily as I’d expected and as I wrote this post had been waiting around days for ‘top loading’ to go onto the 30 tonnes of stainless steel tubing I’d loaded on the first day. ‘Waiting around’ for out of town truck drivers generally means parking up at a crowded BP truck stop – why BP I don’t know, I guess it has the biggest truck stops and sells the most diesel fuel – snoozing, sitting in the truck, in the tv lounge, or in my case at the counter with power connections (but no free wifi) to write on my laptop, and eating overpriced mass-produced meals. As you can imagine there is very little I can eat – eggs, toast, baked beans for breakfast, roast vegies or battered fish and salad for tea.

I eat better when I’m on the move – coffee, porridge for breakfast, salad, tuna, egg for lunch, nothing for tea or maybe salad sticks and hommus, and fruit all through the day, 2 or 3 sliced cheese on rice biscuits for snacks. I’ve been a vego for nearly 30 years now. Milly was always thoughtful about food and in the ’80s we tried different diets – she cooked, I ate – Scarsdale which gave me headaches, more headaches, I was already losing a day a week from migraines, and then Pritikin, which was hard work (for her) but excellent food. From there it was a short and seemingly inevitable step to vegetarianism, taking up swimming again, and other familiar symptoms of “mid-life crisis”.

During this time I visited Dr Gruber, a real doctor specialising in “natural” solutions. He thought my aura was too blue (or insufficiently blue, ask Milly, she’ll remember) but also found my blood pressure much too high and started me on (conventional) medication which continues to this day and which has the not inconsequential side effect of eliminating both migraines and hangovers.

I didn’t get out of Sydney straight away so went exploring, found the Minchinbury Fruit Market and bought a bag of oranges, 2 containers of fruit juice (guava and pink grapefruit, a treat, I mostly drink filtered water), 2 packets of ‘nuts’ (trail mix and overland mix), a bag of mandrines, 4 pink lady apples, a kilo of grapes, no plums, they’re finally out of season. That’ll get me home (3-4 days) though the grapes might not make it to tea time.

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When I bought this truck my criteria were a 600 HP engine, a wide bed (king single), a high roof so I could stand up, and plenty of storage. I started out looking at American/Australian bonneted trucks but the Volvo I’ve ended up with suits my needs pretty well. The cab is wider, and it’s 2m (inside) from the floor to the roof so I can walk around between the seats. As well as the lockers at each side accessible from outside, there are lots of overhead lockers inside for clothes, spare bedding, books and dry food. Between the seats 2 drawers slide forward from under the bed, one of them a 20L fridge – smaller than I wanted but it is such a convenient fit that I am happy to work round it.

I have had fitted an inverter which supplies 240v power to my kettle, to recharge my laptop and potentially to run a sandwich maker or microwave (I don’t think I need a microwave. Or a TV.) and may fit a lithium battery powered airconditioner to keep the cab cool overnight – this is new. To date sleeper cab airconditioners, ‘icepacks’, have typically been diesel powered and bloody noisy.

The problem with truckstops is people wanting to talk, not strangers so much, though there’s often some gabby guy at the next table, but fellow workers unable to keep themselves entertained. I can do truck talk in small doses, but mostly keep to myself. That said, I’m grateful to Dave, another old-timer, aren’t we all – the average age of long distance truck drivers is well over 50, just one cohort of us starting at the end of the 1960s and when we’re gone, we’ll all be gone and then who will drive the trucks – who went with me to yesterday’s pickup to keep me company, keep me heading along the right roads, to introduce me to the staff at the steel place, and we spent a good part of the remainder of the morning ‘making a mile’ through the outback, both of us, amazingly, having braved the track from Broken Hill through Tibooburra, up and down following wheel tracks over endless sandhills from Cameron Corner (NSW, SA and Qld) to Moomba, the only landmark one ancient signpost to Merty Merty Station (YouTube).

When, if I ever, leave this place – you could write a JG Ballard story about truck drivers trapped in the wastelands of concrete and stationary juggernauts at a truckstop – I will drive till 9 or 10 pm, sleep 7-8 hours then for three full days drive for 14 hours in 3-5 hour blocks until I get home. On interstate I have a mandated 24 hour break every seven days, not as flexible as WA which allows 15 hours driving a day for up to 12 days straight a fortnight. Listening to books as I go, not taking notes (not unless I get a Dictaphone), generally not bothering to search the radio for Radio National, nor for football while Hawthorn is doing so poorly, and reading Comments and Posts during my half hour breaks.

That top loading never did turn up and after three full days I took my b double out past Newcastle (no b-double route directly over the Blue Mountains) to Dubbo, spent half of Saturday night swapping trailers around in the dark and set off home with a b-triple (map).

Recent audiobooks

Anne Rivers Sidons (F, USA), The Girls of August (2014)
Jack Schaeffer (M, USA), Shane (1949)
Caroline Mitchell (F, Eng), Silent Victim (2017)
Liane Moriarty (F, Aust/NSW), The Husband’s Secret (2013)
Monica McInerney (F, Aust/Vic), At Home with the Templetons (2010)

Currently reading

Miles Franklin, All That Swagger

 

 

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28 thoughts on “Journal: 008, How I live

  1. I’ve always wondered about the internal fitout of those big trucks…
    I know what you mean about slim pickings for vegetarians in the outback. I was a strict vegetarian when The Spouse and I did out outback trip from south to north and I nearly starved. At the pubs I was lucky if I could get a thin slice of tomato and a lettuce leaf in some places…Nuts, muesli bars, stale fruit and a glum expression watching other people eat at the only eaterie in town…

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    • Old trucks were primitive – if they had a sleeper cab then you had a bed, otherwise you slept across the seats. But modern trucks, especially European ones can be fitted out almost as well as caravans. I don’t rely on truckstops for meals but can get by on baked beans and eggs and some even have spinach and ricotta sausage rolls or vego spring rolls.

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  2. Based on your comments about food, reading, how long you can travel, etc., I’m again going to recommend Dave Newman’s book Two Small Birds. It’s about a college grad with a degree in English who loves poetry but has to drive a semi to make money. I going it realistic based on what I know of truckers, though he does use stimulants to stay awake, which I’m hoping not everyone does. Good luck being an introvert with all those truck stop Chatty Cathys!

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    • A chatty cathy, a new workmate rang me last night! Your old mate, Tom, I thought he was grumpier than I am. I struggle to talk to my family on the phone. It was his turn to be stuck in Sydney and he thought I should sympathize. I think I said “those bastards!” at the appropriate places — he was complaining about our bosses of course – until I could make an excuse and hang up.

      I’ll add Two Small Birds to the list, though I think Fat Assassins should come first, and thanks for the tip.

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      • Oh, goodness! This sounds so familiar. I loathe phones, always have, yet my mom insists we talk so she can “hear my little voice.” She used to make me record the answering machine message in the 90s because she thought it would help me get over my shyness, not realizing I wasn’t shy. So good you were able to stick in the proper insults at relatively the right time 😂

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  3. I never knew that trucks were so roomy (comparatively speaking!) – I didn’t expect that you’d be able to stand up inside.

    Have wondered how you manage to be so responsive to comments/ blog posts etc – I guess scheduled breaks from driving give you time for that stuff (although I reckon after hours of driving I’d need a nap!).

    Interestingly, I’ve just finished reading a book about forensic science in which one of the cases was the 1998 Violet Town caravan/ truck hit-and-run where a bloke named Killmore was charged six months after the event (the forensics used in the investigation were extraordinary). Anyway, his conscience must have caught up with him in jail because apparently he campaigned for changes to the laws about driving and rest times (he claimed in his defence that he was tired when the accident happened although the investigator said that in his experience a person who fell asleep at the wheel doesn’t hit-and-run – hit-and-runs are usually drug and alcohol related or that the person already has a criminal record and they’re somewhere they shouldn’t be).

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    • I enjoy dealing with comments, and following comments on other blogs. Mine I will sometimes read at one stop and reply to at the next so I can think about what to say. Posts are harder to make time for and sometimes I will have a backlog waiting to be read. But like most people, I need winddown time between stopping work and going to bed and will generally go on the laptop for 30 min or so (which is why I also take a long time to read a book).

      I don’t know about Killmore – what a name for a hit & run – but it only takes a moment’s inattention to run up behind a caravaner looking for a turnoff (ALL truckdrivers believe caravaners should have articulated licences). We’ve always had driving hours legislation over east, though ‘rest’ times were often used for doing deliveries and pickups. The more strict enforcement these days makes life harder/less flexible but it does also give drivers a weapon against unscrupulous bosses (ie. most of them). Spending the last 15 years delivering to mines I thought drug use had largely disappeared, but as far as I can tell, on interstate the only testing occurs after an accident.

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      • Funny, my wind-down time is anything but looking at a screen! (It’s when I usually pull out the hard copy book).

        Totally agree about needing a licence to tow something as big as a caravan – it takes skill and extra care to tow something, particularly something heavy.

        I think the Killmore case resulted in some reforms such as monitors in trucks that registered driving/rest times?? Better for everyone if bosses can’t force drivers to meet deadlines if it means driving too many hours. It’s unfortunate that these things come about because of a tragedy.

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  4. You are truly legendary! I love your crib and the insight into life on the road, and how to avoid gabby guys who probably don’t even recognise fruit and veggies and, God forbid, water.

    Your reading list is interesting, a real genre hop, which is how I like to listen also. I really enjoyed The Templetons. I love crazy families, and close communities, and am writing of one. Write what you know, right?

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    • The Templetons is fun (I’m not finished yet) though I’d rather get to know one character well than be carried through on multiple POVs. Surprisingly Shane was the best of this week’s reading, I might have to adopt Wyoming as a sister-state. Good luck with your writing – I’m finding it difficult not to do a Helen Garner and tell stories about everyone’s private stuff.

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      • Oh now I’ve looked at Shane I see it could be valuable to a writer. I read a review by a romance writer who got her hero characterisation lessons from this book.
        It screams of Steinbeck’s The Red Pony trilogy to me, except their enemies are more within the family than beyond the fences. Definitely going on the list. Thanks again.

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      • Shane is very short (3 1/2 hours). The introduction said that Schaeffer later regretted supporting farmers over ranchers, but what Australian would support squatters over settlers. And even the 10 yo boy POV works well. I haven’t read enough Steinbeck. I’ve cancelled ‘AllYouCanRead’ but I’ll see what they’ve got while I still have access.

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      • Your library service gives you FREE access to all the audio books you’ll ever want. Their Bolinda digital app works on your smart phone for audio and e books for 2 week loans with option for renewal.
        Even new releases.

        Steinbeck May be tricky. I had to be downloaded from an obscure PDF site if I recall. I wanted to read it for our Read-an-author book club. I also read The Pearl. Every one of his books discussed was promising. The Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row being stand-outs. But if you like the rancher feel, go with the Red Pony in its 3 parts. It’s from a young boy’s POV.

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  5. Love this post Bill – a fascinating insight into the life of a driver. Such a mix of freedom and boredom. I’m impressed by how well fitted out your cab is. Just as well, with all that driving.

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    • Yes, truckstops are boring, but I’ve plenty of reading and writing to catch up on. Some drivers live in their trucks and call truckstops home. Not for me, I need a break.

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  6. I didn’t know trucks could be as roomy as a caravan. That’s good to know because sleep is important when you need to drive.

    Bookish people are the most patient ones when they need to wait. After all, it’s just another excuse to indulge in reading time.

    Thanks for these posts, keep writing them, please!

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    • Sleep definitely important! And something I’ve often skimped on, but not these days, not only am I too old, but it’s too easy to prove if I have an accident, and that could mean no insurance and/or jail time.

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  7. Finally catching up, Bill. Shane – that’s the western isn’t it? The film starred Alan Ladd? Anyhow, I’m pretty sure that’s it – and it’s the only western I’ve read, way back in my 20s. I remember liking it.

    Again I enjoyed hearing the details about the truckie life. DO truckies generally wish the rules were national, rather than having to abide by different rules state by state? I just can’t imagine driving that much a day. My eyes get tired after 1.5 hours these days. We take two days to go to Melbourne from Canberra, preferring the slow, sightseeing routes!!

    You don’t listen to music? Just audiobooks? Not that there’s anything wrong with audiobooks, but I was wondering about variety.

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    • I don’t listen to books end to end, I’d get confused! I have a couple of hundred hours of music on a thumb drive and I chase up ABC news progarammes (AM/PM/Phillip Adams etc) probably once a day or so.

      There are national rules for interstate drivers, just WA (and maybe NT) go it alone but only for intrastate driving.

      Shane (yes, an Alan Ladd movie) I really enjoyed. It’s almost pacifist in a Western sort of way, and definitely thoughtful. I look out for classics and have also listened to a couple of Zane Greys as well which I think I’m right in saying were historical fiction even at the time of writing and give an interesting insight into American life around the time of the war(s) with Mexico.

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      • Yes, almost pacifist is I think is I recollect it. I always thought of Z aa new Grey as Western? Hmm, maybe most westerns are historical but we tend not to say it? Whereas Historical Romance us very much a subset of Romance.

        Thanks for clarifying the road rules issue.

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