The $300 Gnat

I used to haul Hazardous Waste from CA clear to PA and GA, and it was a fairly serious gig: half the loads were Class 3 Flammable Liquids & Class 4 Flammable Solids, while the other half consisted of Class 9 (Miscellaneous) lead solder waste loads. The flammable crap went to registered treatment facilities in various states to undergo separation and recycling processes, while the lead solder dross was destined for metal recycling facilities where it was melted down and recast in the form of new ingots, the ingots subsequently referred to according to cast size as "sows" or "piglets." The lead solder waste loads most commonly went to Altoona (Alpha Fry Metals) and Ellwood City (INMETCO) in Western PA, which meant I had at least four days to f#% off en route, before REALLY F#%*G OFF while deadheading back to San Diego... deadheading means dragging an empty wagon, and in those days we dragged empty 53' wagons clear across the continent, a practice unheard of in this "Brave New Third World." While on one of these cross-country runs for which I was notorious (I often brought friends and at least one former professional surfer along for the ride, one at a time, for some serious partying and commercial sightseeing adventures), I encountered that memorable insect known as "The $300 Gnat."

I was alone on this outbound trip, dragging a 53' wagonload of Class 9 lead solder waste to Western PA... I was driving around Phoenix on the Loop 101, making my way from I-10 to I-17 by cruising past Glendale and Peoria on the northwest side. At that time, the speed limit was still 55 m.p.h. on the loop, since parts of the loop itself were still under construction. The best policy for truck drivers was to get in the center lane and simply cruise a few miles per hour above the limit, allowing four-wheelers to swirl around the truck at 70 m.p.h. (A four-wheeler is not necessarily 4WD, but any vehicle with four wheels---a motorcycle is referred to by truckers as a two-wheeler, if that clarifies matters.) Local revenue collectors wouldn't bother pulling over the speeding four-wheelers, but any out-of-state truck was fair game and generally an easy mark, and of course the fine for a commercial vehicle is higher. So there I was, cruising along at approximately 58 m.p.h., minding my own business and keeping an eye on the swirling clusterf#% as it continually enveloped and passed my truck. I was doing everything right when I noticed a tiny gnat flying back and forth across my field of vision... an unwanted hitchhiker who must have entered the cab during my last stop.

Now, insects are a big distraction for me as a driver: whenever one makes its way into my cab, I do EVERYTHING in my power to usher the winged little varmint back out one of the windows. If THAT fails, I'm forced to kill the insect, pull over and usher it out, pull over and kill it, WHATEVER IT TAKES to eliminate the dangerous distraction. This holds especially true when dragging a placarded wagon down the highway, particularly a placarded wagon grossing nearly 40 tons... at the same time, I'm not big on unnecessarily killing creatures who are simply following their instincts, so naturally I did everything I could to show this pesky little gnat the f#%*g door. The offending varmint refused to comply, however, and I found myself drifting ominously toward the lane(s) on either side, with four-wheelers still swirling past at high speed and close proximity. In situations such as these, a truck driver often has to reconsider his original plan, and reflect upon the consequences of a heller fatality wreck caused by simple distraction. There's a time and a place for everything, and gnat conservation wasn't high on the priority list amid the swirling traffic clusterf#% on the Loop 101 . Assessing all factors, I told the gnat:

"Okay, you've had your chance... now you're gonna die."

Centering my truck in its lane, I extended one hand while intently staring ahead in Bruce Lee fashion, awaiting the moment of execution... the miserable gnat flew into my field of vision for the last time, and I administered the "Blow of Death" with absolute precision. I didn't hit the poor bastard that hard, or so I thought, yet a magnificent horizontal crack appeared clear across the left (split) windshield of that big ol' International Eagle. Those windshields are pretty tough, but evidently I had found "the sweet spot" in terms of physics and windshield damage. Oh, well, at least the winged little varmint was no longer bothering me, and the crack was below my line of sight and did not interfere with my actual driving. Unfortunately, if you know anything about truck driving and dealing with the D.O.T. in various states, you know that those stinking revenue collectors will seize ANY EXCUSE to write you up and add some cash to ye olde "Widows & Orphans Fund"---hey, SOME @$$hole has to buy the beer for the monthly picnic, yeah??? Four-wheelers can speed past state troopers with cracked glass and lens covers, inoperable lights and flashers, bald f#%*g tires, smokescreen-producing smog generators, etc., etc., ad infinitum, and NEVER get pulled over, but that's just the way it is. Being thoroughly familiar with this greaseball routine and accepting the separate reality is all part of a truck driver's daily life.

After pulling the grade to Flag (Flagstaff, AZ) and dropping down to Winslow, I called my company and told one owner that a stone kicked up by another vehicle's tire had cracked the left windshield of the Eagle, and we needed to replace the glass, otherwise some revenue-collecting D.O.T. scrub would certainly jump on the opportunity to add some beer money to ye olde "Widows & Orphans Fund." I had already visually inspected the cracked shield from outside the truck prior to making this call to my company: the crack wasn't all that noticeable, but I knew it was only a matter of time before some D.O.T. douchebag pinged on it due to his angle of observation, or perhaps due to the shield being lit up by bright lights at some chickenhouse down the road (chickenhouse = D.O.T. scale/revenue collection center). The company told me to take the truck to a dealership further along my route, which I did, running the gauntlet of one or two chickenhouses without being cited, despite the fact that placarded wagons are always subject to greater scrutiny by the D.O.T. Once my truck was in a dealership bay and the cracked windshield was pried out and replaced, I knew I could continue my carefree paid tourism gig without any worries... the whole key to successful trucking is to avoid stinking D.O.T. revenue collectors like the f#%*g plague.

The bill for windshield replacement at the dealership came to $300, so I guess that pesky little gnat had the last laugh after all... a driver can pay less for windshield replacement at many truck stops nationwide, including paying some independent yet perfectly well-qualified glass repair and replacement specialists who sling their services over the CB, but the company wanted to use a dealership and keep things totally legit, which is the smart thing to do when you're hauling Hazardous Waste of any kind or class across state lines. Environmental service outfits can be audited or investigated at any time: if their paperwork isn't clean then HUGE FINES ensue, fines large enough to shut the company down in extreme cases. That's why all the little details are so important, including service and repair records. Of course, I kept a copy of the gnat-related repair order and receipt, just so I could later show my best friend at the surf shop and relate the comical story upon my return to Coronado. WTF, that cheesedick trucking company owed me big-time ANYWAY for all the favors I threw its way, and I wasn't about to pay for the funeral services of a deceased gnat, particularly to the tune of $300. I suppose the moral of this story is: DON'T F#% WITH THOSE $300 KUNG FU GNATS, OR THEY'LL SCHOOL YA AND GIVE YA NOTHIN' BUT GRIEF!!!


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