This was the winter that broke the camel’s back, so-to-speak. At least for me it was. Driving my 80,000 pounds of tractor, trailer, and cargo up and down the mountain passes of the western United States in the dead of winter has never been much more than a slight inconvenience for me. In fact, at times it was a welcome challenge. But as I got older it became more of a pain in the ass than anything else. No longer did I consider it a challenge to get out of a toasty warm cab in the middle of a raging blizzard to hang tire chains that weigh 40 pounds each onto eight tires only to have to get out of that same warm cab ten miles later to take the damn things off because I was over the mountain and on dry pavement again. No, I thought, there’s got to be a better way to make a living. But trucking is all I know! I’ve been doing it my whole life, I told myself. Maybe I just need to figure out a way to make it easier and more enjoyable. Yeah, that’s the ticket!
So I set out to do what long-haul truck drivers all over the world have been unable to accomplish. That is, being out on the road making a living and at the same time being home with their families. How is that possible you inquire? Well, I wasn’t sure it was possible but what the hell, I gave it a try. And ya know what? It wasn’t all that hard to do! After all, I do own a Macintosh computer!
I call it, Pete’s Remote Control Trucking (PRCT). Sorry PC users, it only works on a Mac.
All I needed was two more monitors to go with the one I have, two small 18 inch satellite dishes, three digital movie cameras, some innovative software (which I wrote myself), a joystick and some odds and ends consisting of brackets, small hydraulic levers and some jumper wires. Not very much considering what I was about to accomplish, as you will soon see.
Let me paint a picture of what my desk area at home and the inside of my tractor now look like:
My little Performa 550 sits in the middle of my desk with a 13″ monitor on each side of it. On the top shelf of my desk sits one of the two satellite dishes. The keyboard is off to the right where the mouse normally sits and the joystick is centered in front of the Performa. For a chair I am using my El Dorado, air ride, high backed, swivel captains seat that was originally in my Freightliner conventional tractor. I have the seat bolted to the floor. My wife was none to happy when she saw that! She either didn’t think my experiment would work and I would remove the seat leaving her with four 3/4″ holes in the middle of the floor in the upstairs hallway, or maybe she was afraid it would work and she’d have to put up with me hanging around the house all day while I was trucking!
Inside my Freightliner I have removed the steering wheel and driver’s seat. In place of the seat I have installed and bolted to the floor a heavy-duty camera tripod with three heads, on which I have mounted the three digital movie cameras. The middle camera has a wide-angle lens and is pointed out the front windshield. The other two are pointed at each of my side mirrors. On a bracket attached to the side of the cab at a height of 14 feet (adjustable to 13′ 6″ for east coast trucking), I installed the other satellite dish.
The motor in my truck is already electronically controlled and has its own computer brain so it wasn’t a big deal to do a little hacking and jump a few wires to send control of the engine’s computer to my Performa at home via the satellite.
The hardest part was installing the hydraulic levers to control the steering, brakes, clutch and shifting of the 13 speed transmission. But with a little perseverance and fine tuning I got it all working.
After mating all the hardware and software in the truck to the truck’s satellite dish and mating all the hardware and software at home to the satellite dish on the top shelf of my desk, all I had left to do before testing it was break into Uncle Sam’s GPS system; the Global Positioning Satellite network up there in space. The GPS system was paid for with some of my own taxes so I didn’t feel I was actually breaking into anything, just using something I helped pay for. That’s only fair, right? I mean, it’s not like I wanted to borrow an ICBM with a nuclear warhead or anything, even though I helped pay for those too!
By using the GPS network I would be able to stay in constant contact with my truck no matter where it was in the continental United States.
As it turned out I didn’t have to break into anything. All I had to do was apply for a GPS user’s account. Unfortunately that cost $10,000 a month for unlimited, uninterrupted access. A bit too expensive for me! But a necessary piece of the puzzle if my idea was going to work.
Not wanting to give up at this stage of the game, I took a different tack. I called vice-president Al Gore. You know, that tree-hugging environmentalist that’s only a heartbeat away from running this circus!
I didn’t think Mr. Gore would give me the time of day if I told him the truth about why I needed access to the GPS network, so I told him a little white lie.
“Al,” I said, “My name is Greenleaf Mapletree, and I have just discovered a little known fungus that has infected our oceans and seems to be attacking the male population of Orca whales. But in order for me to accurately chart and trace this fungus back to what I am sure is some big Republican run corporation that is illegally polluting our oceans and infecting the endangered Orca whales, I need to have access to our government’s GPS system. The problem is that I can’t afford the $10,000 a month charge that comes with this access. I am asking for your help, Mr. Vice-President, on behalf of the world’s Orca population.”
“I thought okra was a vegetable – not a whale.” Said the VP.
“Orca, sir, not okra. O-R-C-A.” I spelled it for him.
“Oh, Orca. I see. Which one is that now?”
“Free Willy, sir, they look just like the whale in Free Willy.”
“Oooh! That was a good movie, I saw it three times, you know.”
“Yes sir, I’m sure you did. About that GPS account, sir?” I inquired.
I could tell by the sound of his voice that Al was a little embarrassed about what he said next.
“GPS huh? Well, uhh, Mister Greentree, this GPS thing is probably something I should be aware of. However, President Clinton runs a pretty tight ship around here, or maybe it’s Hillary driving the boat, in either case they seem to forget to invite me to any of their meetings. So, uhh, could you maybe, uhh, fill me in on just what this GPS thing is all about?”
“That’s Mapletree sir, Greenleaf Mapletree. And of course sir, I would be glad to explain what the GPS network is all about.”
So I explained the whole GPS thing to him and when I finished he granted me a waiver on any cost incurred from the use of said GPS system for the next 20 years. Nice guy, that Al!
Before we hung up vice president Gore asked me what effect this fungus was having on the Orca whale’s male population.
Thinking quickly I replied, “Male itch, sir, severe cases of male itch. Good-bye sir.”
Back on track and with free unlimited satellite access, albeit under the name of Greenleaf Mapletree, I was ready to test my “trucking from home” theory.
When I’m home I park the truck in a shopping center about a mile away because there is no room to park it where I live. I waited ’til all the stores in the shopping center closed and the huge parking lot was empty before I opened a connection between my Performa, a satellite 22,000 miles above me, and my truck.
Connection made, I held my breath. Using the software program I wrote for this occasion, I hit command ‘S’ (start). Through the speaker on my Macintosh I heard the growl of my diesel engine roar to life. Oh my God it works, I thought as the hairs on my neck stood up.
Letting the engine warm up I hit command ‘G’ (gauges) and reached for the joystick which mates with the camera connected to the monitor on my right side allowing me to scan the camera across all the gauges on my dash. Nothing! I couldn’t see a thing. What the …….! Oh yeah, command ‘L’. (lights). Blink, on came the lights. Looking good so far! Command ‘G’ again to disengage the camera.
Looking at my center monitor, the parking lot looked all clear. I hit command ‘R’ to release the air brakes, held down the ‘Shift’ key, then hit #1 on the numerical pad for first gear. Slowly releasing the shift key and slightly moving the joystick forward, the truck began to move. “Holy Schmoly, it’s working!” I exclaimed to no one. Working the joystick, all I had to do is hit the up arrow and the slightly altered ‘Fire’ button that would take me up through the gears one at a time whenever I triggered it. When I want to downshift I just push the down arrow and trigger the Fire button. Left and right on the stick steers the front axle in that direction. Forward on the stick gives it more fuel, back gives it less. Backing up? No problem! That’s handled with the command, option and B keys. Piece of cake!
As I was turning the truck to the right in a large circle I heard an awful crunching noise. I jammed my thumb on the ‘start over’ button on the base of the joystick which locked up my brakes. I glanced at the monitor to my right which was pointed at the mirror on that side of the truck. I saw the first casualty of my remote trucking, a bent in half grocery store shopping cart! Mmmm! Better keep a closer eye on them mirrors, I reminded myself. Other than that one mishap the rest of the test was flawless.
The next day I took the truck out on the road in actual traffic. No problems except for the one stop sign I ran over while making a right hand turn again. Mirrors, Mirrors, Mirrors , watch the damn mirrors , I chided myself.
After about a week of practicing that ended with me driving the rig in rush hour traffic on I-5 through downtown Seattle from the comforts of my home, I felt I was ready to go to work.
One call to my dispatcher informed me that a load was available in Tacoma. Ten Mitsubishis going to Alamo Rent-A-Car in Salt Lake City. Perfect! I was also informed that two other drivers were headed to Tacoma for loads going to the same place. Even more perfect because I can’t very well load my truck while it’s in Tacoma and I’m sitting at home 30 miles away. I called Dave Becker on his cell phone and offered him a deal he couldn’t refuse. Dave was one of the other drivers going to the same place as I was. I told him I’d pay him $80 cash money if he loaded my truck for me when he was finished loading his. He agreed and I proceeded to drive my truck the 30 miles to Tacoma from the comfort of my home.
Let me tell you, when the other drivers saw my truck pull into the loading area without me (or anyone else) behind the wheel, they were a bit befuddled to say the least. Watching the drivers on my monitor as they cautiously approached my truck, I grabbed my phone and dialed the cell phone in my truck. As the phone was ringing, David opened my door and picked up the phone.
“Hi buddy,” I said to Dave.
“What the hell is this?” Dave asked.
I told him what I was attempting to do and that his $80 was in an envelope in the side door pocket. Dave agreed to unload my truck if I ever got it all the way to Salt Lake City in one piece, but I had to agree to stay well behind him all the way.
And so it went. Dave loaded my truck, called me at home to tell me we were ready to go and said, “Catch me if you can.”
We arrived in Salt Lake City, my freight got delivered, and I never left home. Cool, huh? There’s no end to what one can do with a Macintosh computer. Just because it’s not in the manual doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I know, ‘cuz I did it!
“Wake up Peter,” I heard my wife saying as I felt her hand on my shoulder shaking me.
What….? Huh……? Did I have a wreck…? Am I home…?
“Of course you’re home, it’s 6 AM. You must have fallen asleep at your stupid computer.”
“Oh, wow…..! I must have been dreaming! Damn! I have to write an article for my column, it’s due today!”
“What’s all that writing you have up on the screen there?”, Carol asked, pointing to the monitor.
Sleepy eyed, I glanced up at the screen and saw a page full of writing that had been an empty white blank page – what seemed like only minutes ago. But if it was 6 AM, that meant that I had been asleep at the keyboard for 6 hours.
Curious, I scrolled the page back to the beginning and was amazed at how much I had written without even knowing it. The page even had a title, “I Did It.
Well, I don’t exactly know what “It” is that “I Did,” but looking at my watch, I know I have to leave for work and don’t have time to read what I wrote. So, faced with a deadline that I cannot possibly meet unless I send something to my editors right now, I am sending whatever the heck this is that I apparently wrote while I was sleeping. If by chance this gets printed in My Mac, we’ll all be reading it for the first time!
What…..? Don’t believe me….? Have I ever lied to you….? Of course not!
Pete Miner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Special thanks to Andrew Langer for the Domination graphics!