Things I learned while attempting to make chocolate from scratch in my truck

Stories from the Road, Trucking

1. I need a bigger mixing bowl. I’m sure there are worse things to be covered in, but still. Lots of cleaning up to do.
2. Making your own chocolate is actually surprisingly easy to do. The recipe is incredibly simple; 1 part coco powder, 1 part oil, sweeten to taste. You don’t even need a double boiler – although I’m sure that makes it easier.

(I used unrefined coconut oil, but I’m guessing you could use butter or any other oil-based solid stuff, maybe even cream cheese? Also I just realized I forgot to add a pinch of salt. Whoops!).

3. Bitter chocolate is BITTER. Very bitter. It took 12 ounces of liquid sweetener just to get it to taste like dark chocolate.

4. Beware liquid sweeteners. My chocolate was looking beautiful with that liquid silk texture glistening in the sunlight as I stirred….and then I added liquid sweetener and it almost immediately turned into gritty mush. Turns out the liquid sweetener I used contained water.

5. Beware of water. Apparently chocolate does not mix well with any amount of water. It took a little internet research to figure out that this is what ruined the texture of my chocolate, but not that much. (Edit: after some more reading I have learned that chocolate will tolerate liquid as long as you maintain the ratio 1 part liquid to 4 parts chocolate. Haven’t tried it myself – seems easier to just avoid liquids altogether.)

6. Even ugly chocolate tastes good. Although my chocolate didn’t end up with that silky smooth texture I was hoping for, it still tastes just fine. I had to strain out all the water that kept separating from the mix but in the end I had some pretty good tasting chocolate. 

7. The flavor changes over time. When I first put it in the fridge to set, it still tasted pretty intensely tangy and bitter but after sitting overnight it has mellowed considerably. Now it tastes much more like the fudge I was hoping for.


Reasons to Love Wyoming

Stories from the Road

Why do I like Cheyenne, WY so much? To be honest, I haven’t taken in much of the actual town; big rigs (like the one I currently drive to pay the bills) are generally a pain to take into most towns and in five years of driving I have never tried it in Cheyenne. I guess the Cheyenne I know is more the outskirts; the wide open spaces with broad roads and plenty of visibility. Practical considerations like this that apply mostly to truckers make it an easy favorite. Several truck stops located right off the interstate with very little car traffic will tend to put most drivers in a good mood – or at least a better mood depending on the driver. There are also several very spacious distribution centers that are relatively easy to pick up and deliver to; this, together with Cheyenne’s location – at least a hundred miles from the nearest major city in any direction – would be enough to make it popular among drivers who live for the open road. Beyond practical considerations however, Cheyenne – and Wyoming as a whole – has a natural beauty that is unsurpassed by any other state.

To put it one way, Wyoming is 90% sky. There is little if anything to crowd the horizon, and what is there is distant and magnificent. The state straddles the rocky mountains, but in a place where the range gives way to rolling foothills and broad plateaus instead of the jutting craggy peaks of Colorado. The result is vistas that go on all the way to the horizon, mostly unbroken, and dressed with purple mountains in the extreme distance. Meanwhile, the real scenery is in the sky as towering cumulous colossi dwarf the mountains and paint their mile long shadows across he table lands.

So yeah, I like Cheyenne, and I like Wyoming. The driving is easy, the miles are long, and the scenery is pretty hard to beat; and at the end of the day, knowing that a hot meal and a shower are just off the interstate is just the icing on the cake.

I Should Have Had The Salad

Stories from the Road
Greetings from Atlanta, Georgia, where outdoor conditions are just about right for boiling eggs. The nights are filled with the agonized shrieks of cricketts and bullfrogs who are likewise boiling, and my belly us filled with cheap fried food which is just about all that is available at the moment. I’ll admit I did consider the limp brown salad but decided to give it a pass.
Is it any wonder then that my stomach is holding a protest rally and recruiting neighboring organs to join in? Whatever happened to just signing a petition? Anyhow we are beyond that phase and I’ve lost a few days of driving to the necessity of having a restroom within range for suprise demonstrations from my agrieved digestive track.
There is a little more to it actually. I would only be out a day or so if I had been able to successfully deliver my cargo here in Atlanta, but I was turned away at the gate due to an unforseen technicality. It seems that this particular customer will not unload a refrigerated trailer unless it has at least 3/4 of a tank of fuel. I had only 1/2. This seems odd to me since unloading the trailer takes only a matter of hours, whereas 1/2 a tank of fuel will last days. Anyhow before I was able to acquire the requisite fuel (which due to another technicality could not be purchased at the nearest fuel station but only at an approved fuel station about 20 minutes away) I was visited by the avenging spirit of Montazuma – undoubtedly on behalf of the newly formed digestive reform movement in my belly.
Anyhow the upshot was that I was delayed at the nearest (un-approved) truck stop just long enough to run out of legal hours of service (yet anothet technicality) and so could not legally drive to the approved fuel stop and get back to the delivery point – which by this time was fine by me as civil unrest had clearly developed in my lower intestine and I was not feeling up to navigating Atlanta freeway traffic – or indeed even the truckstop parking lot. I communicated the situation to my dispatcher who offered her sympathies and prescribed rest and liquids. Feeling wiped out, exhausted, and light headed I retreated to my bunk hugging a gallon bottle of water which I nursed for the next day. As it turns out, the holiday weekend will delay delivery even further so it looks like I will be here a while. I will probably at least get the fuel situation taken care of tomorrow and maybe look for a grocery store so I can get some healthy food before my kidneys go on strike. Wish me luck!
Believe it or not, there is food worse than McDonalds. It’s called Waffle House. For those of you who haven’t experienced Waffle House, burn some bacon, then throw on some frozen hash browns, top with a slice of Kraft singles, and season with cigarette ash and broken dreams. Or you could just take my word for it. Their grits are actually pretty good though. The waffles are “meh.”

Night Rider

Stories from the Road
Hello Virginia. Oh the lush green of Virginia in summer time. Oh the thick night air like a warm blanket – or like a damp pillow someone is trying to smother you with. Anywho I’m here.
There are pros and cons to driving all night in the eastern states. Pro: way less traffic. Con: What day is it again? Pro: better chance at finding parking in the early morning – slim chance in the evening. Con: trying to sleep during the day, getting your circadian rythms trying to play brazillian jazz instead of their usual conventional lullaby. Pro: getting more sleep while still making ontime delivery. More or less. Con: Catching up on sleep is not an optimal use of time for logging milage, but then again neither is falling asleep at the wheel and the consequences thereof.
Its a tough call to make sometimes but ultimately, when I’m exhausted – as I am now – if I can get more sleep in exchange for an all nighter, I’ll take it. I’ll get back on a normal rythm later. Meanwhile I apoligize for being out of touch as I will be sleeping during normal phine conversation hours. Don’t worry though as you are all in my dreams. Seriously. It gets wierd sometimes. Like I’m usually back in highschool and can’t find my pants or something. Anyways.
Until next time – adios!

Running in Circles

Stories from the Road, Trucking
Rewind to two days ago.
On my way from Salem, OR to deliver a load to the northernmost region of Idaho, I get my next load assignment. It is a pre-loaded trailer to be picked up in Oregon 10:00am that very morning and delivered to Sacramento by 7:00am Wednesday. A little difficult to do since I will be delivering my current load at 4:00pm that afternoon in Northern Idaho and unable to get back to Oregon Tuesday morning. “No problem” my dispatcher says, “just do the best you can.”
Ok, so no problem. I deliver my Idaho load, go as far as I can, and then go to bed.
The next day, I get up and head to the shipper. Upon arriving I am told that my load is not ready and that they will be loading my currently empty trailer. I am told to wait in my truck until they call me to assign me a dock to be loaded at.
Ok. Fair enough. So I wait. For several hours. Finally I am assigned a dock and loading commences – and continues for several more hours. By the time they are finished and finally give me the appropriate paperwork, I have been there for about six hours. My dispatcher realizes this and instructs me again to do the best I can and there is some talk of relaying the load to another truck to at least get it there on the same day it was due. So, ok. No problemo. Can do.
As I am getting ready to leave however, I notice that my tail lights are out on one side. Okey dokey. Not a problem, I have a spare in my side-box. Except that its not compatable with this particular trailer.
Ok – not a problem – there’s a truck stop less than a block away that will surely have a compatable tail light. Or not.
Ok, so now the Over-The-Road assistance department (OTR for short) gets called in and apprised of my situation. Is there a repair shop nearby? Um, well no not exactly since Portland is over 100 miles out-of-route, so what we need is a for a mobile mechanic to come out. To fix a tail light.
By the time this is all done and Im ready to roll again its been 8 hours since I got there. This is actually works out well because of an infrequently used exception in the federal hours of service rules but thats a little complex so I’ll skip it. So anyways, I get rolling and manage to get a couple hundred miles south before going to bed, confident that I have indeed done my best.
Oh did you think this story was over? Nope. Got up wednesday morning to find a few urgent sounding messages on my Qualcomm (on-board trucker computer thingy).
This next part is going to require a little explanation. You know potato chips that come in plastic bags? Ok, so you know that, besides potato chips, there’s a bunch of air sealed inside those bags, right? Right. So what happens when you take said bag of chips up in an airplane or even up into the mountains? Less atmospheric pressure, the air inside the bag expands, and POP! Your sealed bag of potato chips is no longer sealed.
Well, it turns out that I was hauling about 10,000 lbs of potato chips and/or other assorted snacks similarly sealed baggies. And since the manufacturers of these goodies know about this relationship between altitude and potato chip bags, they have given instructions to someone at my trucking companies home office regarding which routes any trucks carrying their product should take – i.e. no routes involving mountain passes.
This being done they saw no need to include this info on any of their paperwork or have anyone mention this fact to drivers picking up these loads.
It must be said at this point that the information was actually passed along in a round about sort of way so that it made it into the load notes at the very bottom of the somewhat lengthy dispatch form that gets sent to dispatchers and drivers when the load is assigned. In this case however, two dispatchers and one driver (me) failed to scan all the way to the bottom and read through these notes. The result was that my dispatcher gave me a route (which I dutifully followed) straight south towards the beautiful heights of Northern California which include such breath taking vistas as Mount Shasta and other peaks. Only on Wednesday morning, the morning after I had proceded 200 plus miles down this route did she catch the mistake. Thus the urgent Wednesday morning messages.
The upshot was that I had to turn around and retrace my path 200 plus miles back up the road in order to avoid any potato chip bag popping mountain passes.
Then, once we both started looking more closely at the details of this load, some other things came to light, namely the destination. The dispatch info said this load was destined for Sacramento. The paperwork in my hand said Colton. These are not the same place. Not even close. Well, ok same state, but California is kind of a big state. Anyways this was about the time they said I should just take it to the yard in Salem and drop it for another truck to relay. Then they changed their minds becausr the next load they wanted me to pickup was in Portland and bound for Washington and there wasnt time for me to go all the way to Salem and then back up to Portland, so to speed things along they said just swap loads in Portland.
At this point I should express how grateful I am that I am a driver and not in the planning and logistics department.
Anyhow, the new load wasn’t in Portland when I got there. It was still in Salem. So after informing my dispatcher that thus load too was now beyond my powers to deliver on time, I was instructed to head to Salem and again, do my best. Of coarse once here in Salem there was some confusing discussion about breaks and hours of service – again not something I am going to even try to explain here – which ultimately resulted in me calling it a day and resolving to continue doing my best tomorrow. Meanwhile I feel very satisfied that despite all the twists and turns, I’ve done a good days work. I did make some good mileage, even if it was sort of in the wrong direction, and I communicated pretty well with my dispatcher. I think we make a good team. So all in all I’m having a good time. I’m very happy with my job. It’s nice to work for an employer who, when all is said and done, asks only that I stay safe, stay legal, and as for the rest, do the best that I can; and you know what? I always do.

Dear Los Angeles…

Stories from the Road
Dear Los Angeles,
I know it’s been a while since I visited. I really do enjoy seeing you. I know it seems like we’ve grown apart lately. Don’t worry, I still think you’re beautiful – yes even the your gritty parts. In fact, those are the parts that make me love you most, precisely because so few really seem to appreciate that side of you. It’s that part of you that’s always worried about how much you weigh or if you’re really keeping up with the fashionable crowd, or if your art is still relevant or always trying to compare yourself with New York or something, that gets annoying at times. Seriously. I guess there are some things about you that make me a little uneasy at times.
I think it’s obvious that our relationship isn’t what it once was. I’ve been seeing other cities, Los Angeles. I think you know about the affair I had with Portland. We’re still sort of on again off again I guess. Then there was that short fling with San Francisco. You caught me checking out New York, but I swear I didn’t go there.
How did we get here? I think sometimes I feel a little bit smothered by your constant need for approval and admiration. You are so unique, and so diverse – why can’t you just be yourself and be happy with who you are? I don’t care what kind of cars cruise your streets or what celebrities live in your neighborhoods. I don’t care how involved you are in “the industry” or what pretentious degrees your colleges offer. That’s not what I love about you. It’s your diversity I enjoy – in your streets, your people, your food…these are what I come to you to savor; but you’re too busy for me. You can’t sit still – always rushing here and there trying to please this person or impress that person. You have no time for me, Los Angeles.
I think this is the reason, above all others, that we should just be friends. I really do think highly of you, and I’ll still visit from time to time, but I don’t think we have any long term potential. I just don’t think we’re compatible. Maybe it’s not you, maybe it’s me. I’ve changed, Los Angeles. I need space. I’ll never forget you, Los Angeles, and I hope we can still be friends.
Jeremiah Shackelford

That Sudden Change of Plans

Staying Happy, Stories from the Road, Trucking

Driving along the idyllic US Highway 95, across a several hundred mile stretch of empty wilderness that goes from Idaho, through Oregon, and down into Nevada, I noticed my “check engine” light come on. Not too alarmed, I checked my gauges. Everything normal, engine sounds fine, feels fine, and smells fine. I continue driving but a moment later the check engine light is joined by the “engine protect” light. Somewhat concerned I double check my temperature gauge. Normal. Hmmm. Must be low on fluid. Should have checked that last stop. Maybe I should –
Now the engine light starts flashing. I have time enough to think aloud, “uh – that’s not good.”
Suddenly the engine turns off. The dash console lights up like a Christmas tree, and I lose power steering. Just coasting now. There’s no shoulder to pull off onto, the road drops off steeply into a ditch. I turn the ignition on and off try to restart the engine, and it finally fires up again. I am looking around for any place to get off the road now. I see a spot but the whole thing happens again before I can get there. Luckily I am able to coast and using all my strength to turn the wheel (now unassisted by power steering) I manage to get off the road.
Under the hood, I find that the coolant is indeed low, and I soon discover why. Alerted by flecks of coolant on the fan and elsewhere in the engine, I look for and soon find a steady dribble of coolant leaking from the radiator. Time to call in the bad news.
After alerting my company’s over-the-road breakdown department, I put all the water I can find on the truck into the coolant reservoir and continue driving. I keep hoping to find a fuel station or some place that will have more water, but all I find is an abandoned looking gas station with a closed sign in the window. A few miles later the engine stops again.
So here I sit. Luckily there is at least phone reception here (can’t imagine how or why this is so) and I am able to communicate my plight to the OTR department. Help is on the way in the form of 2 gallons of water from the nearest service station. After that, the goal is to make it 1.5 hours further to Winemucca, NV for repairs. Meanwhile the load I am carrying is getting less and less likely to be delivered on time.

Unexpected set backs like this happen occasionally on the road. One minute you’re driving along knowing exactly what to expect for the next few days and the next minute your plans have been changed for the next week. It takes some flexibility to roll with these punches, especially if the change in plans is precipitated from something you yourself did. In that case it takes not only flexibility, but some kindness, compassion, and even forgiveness.
I don’t know about you, but I often find it is easier to forgive other people’s mistakes than it is to forgive my own. The pain that comes with realizing I could have done something to prevent the present crisis is deep, personal and hard to forgive and usually leads to self loathing, rage, and depression. No amount of internal dialogue or positive self talk ever seems able to untie this snarled knot of guilt and betrayal that reveals itself every time I make a serious mistake. Not long ago, however, I found a way to cut the knot without bothering to untie it. The key is to address the feeling of rage itself, not the imagined reasons behind it. I found that, though rage is not something easily dismissed, it can be postponed – postponed long enough, in fact, for the conditions which caused the rage to change. When I postponed my rage I found that, before I knew it, the initial problem was either dealt with or no longer relevant and my rage evaporated.
The reason for postponing rage was fairly simple – it clouds judgement and can easily make a bad situation worse. This, I found, was not good enough reason to dismiss my rage – I felt fully justified in being angry – but was reason enough to put it off until the situation was dealt with and there was no risk of me making things worse. The result was that as the situation resolved itself, so did my rage.
At some point I hope to learn a kindness toward myself that does not feel anger at painful mistakes, but in some ways I think reacting to pain with anger is natural so I don’t really know if there is a way to erase it completely. At any rate, postponing anger allows me a bit more flexibility in my life when I am confronted with unexpected changes, and perhaps this method may help you as well. Whatever lies in store on your personal road, enjoy the ride and never lose hope; because change is just around the bend.

And I’m Off!!!

Stories from the Road, Trucking

Garland, TX here I come! This is kind of a rush load with a lot of security restrictions on it, but I may try to see if I can stop briefly somewhere close to my Aunt & Uncle’s house in Phoenix, AZ. We’ll have to see. Otherwise, this is just exactly the kind of run I’ve been wanting. Long, straight, flat, and warm!