Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bodacious Woodwork

By Alan Burkhart

One of my favorite places to eat is "Bodacious BBQ" near Tyler, TX (I-20, exit #562). Aside from the fact that the tender, melt-in-your-mouth BBQ is always just right, the place has a homey, rustic atmosphere with lots of cool antiques and knick knacks on the walls. Friendly service, too.

Outside, there's this old tree, long since pruned down to the trunk and probably transplanted to its current location. Someone named "Giss Rutledge" has turned it into a work of art. No clue who Giss Rutledge might be - couldn't find the name on the Internet and Mr. Genius here keeps forgetting to ask about him inside. I did however, remember this time to take a few photos of his work. They didn't turn out quite as well as I'd have liked due to the light, but you can still see the quality of the work. The animals carved into the wood look almost real enough to hop off the tree and head for the woods.

The raccoon is my personal favorite. There's also a roadrunner on the backside, an eagle up top, an armadillo, a woodpecker and a coyote.

See ya'll on the road.
Alan :-)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Big Al's Big Mistake

By Alan Burkhart

Well folks, I've now officially learned the lesson that most of us have to learn sooner or later: All that stuff the doctor tells us about watching what we eat really does matter.

You'd think that as a Type II diabetic I'd have learned that lesson already. And I do (really, I do!) watch my sugar and calorie intake. I avoid sugared cereals, honey buns and Krispy Kreme donuts. I rarely cook with butter or margarine. I never have bread and potatoes with the same meal. And my blood sugar has stayed well within the limits set by my doctor (91 when I last checked it). I told myself I was doing just fine, thank you very much.

What I wasn't doing was watching my cholesterol. I'd still have the occasional sausage -n- gravy breakfast, bacon cheeseburger, or cheese omelet. I'd drink whole milk when 2% wasn't available. I'd still eat a ton of smoked sausage along with all those healthy green vegetables. And I just knew that those Lipitor pills the good doctor gives me were all I needed to counteract my dietary indiscretions.

Last Sunday night, I paid the price for my stupidity. I was in Fairfield, TX at a little Shell truck stop. I have family in that town - I was born and raised there. But I arrived rather late in the evening and Mom doesn't see well enough at night to drive. I would have to leave rather early to make the last 50 miles of my trip (to Waco) anyway, so I elected to stay in the truck.

About 10:30 that night I was all comfy in the bunk, watching a concert DVD ("Steppenwolf - Live at Louisville") and tapping my feet to the rock-n-roll beat. That's when someone grabbed my heart and lungs and dropped them in a steel vise. Whoever it was also saw fit to hit my chest cavity with a blow-torch and stick my left arm full of knitting needles. No one had to tell me what was happening - I figured that much out for myself.

I remember being incredibly weak at that point; I couldn't pull myself up to a sitting position. And I remember thinking about how I’d planned to visit my son in Waco after delivering Monday morning, and how I might not get to see him or his family again if I couldn’t manage to reach the phone. I finally just rolled off the bed and plucked the phone from its belt pouch on my pants and called 911. I was shocked at how weak I was. My voice was barely audible as I explained to the operator that I was fairly certain I was having a heart attack. She kept me on the line while radioing for an ambulance to visit my location.

Two cops and an EMT helped me down from the truck and onto a gurney. In short order I was rolling toward East Texas Medical Center whilst two EMTs checked my vitals and administered my first dose of nitro. If you're unfamiliar with nitro pills, they're a tiny oblong white pill that you put under your tongue whilst having chest pains. All I can say here is that nitro pills evidently stop a heart attack by transferring the chest pain to the top of your head. That was the damndest headache I've had in a long time. They also had me chewing copious quantities of children's aspirin for the same purpose.

At the hospital, I was fitted with one of those sexy night gowns and subjected to a variety of torture methodologies which included drawing out most of my blood (after first rooting around for a vein), fitting my arm with a blood pressure cuff meant for a #2 pencil and attaching electrodes to my somewhat furry chest which of course would be unceremoniously ripped off later. And more aspirin. And hospital food. And more nitro (and more headaches).

In the end, they decided that I didn't quite have a heart attack, but that I have an artery very nearly totally blocked. As such I am soon to be back home so that I may be subjected to the medical equivalent of a Rotor-Rooter in my veins, followed by a procedure to install a stent to get rid of the blockage. By all accounts, I will feel much better than I'm feeling right now once all this is done.

Look folks: If you're still eating gravy on everything but ice cream, still chomping down those sausage biscuits and chili-fries, you have two choices: You can moderate your cholesterol intake, or you can end up where I am right now. Hopefully I'll be home in a few days and have the procedure done. But at the moment, I can't even walk more than a few yards without being out of breath and feeling like an anvil is perched upon my chest. And just in case of emergencies, I have a tiny bottle of nitro pills in my pocket. Heaven above... the last thing I want is to endure another bone-crushing headache. They hit within five seconds of placing the pill in your mouth and last 15 or 20 agonizing minutes. You literally feel your heartbeat in your eyeballs.

So is that second round of hamburger/cheese/macaroni casserole really worth what it's doing to your innards? I used to think it was. Now I know better. Please do consider what you're pumping into your bloodstream before you revisit the buffet. I’d not want to see any of my friends (and only a few of my enemies) in the situation I was in last Sunday.

See ya'll on the road

I'm feeling fine and back working. Had a stent procedure done once I got back home. Took 10 days off from work and then another week at work on "light duty." I now take a boatload of pills every day to stay alive, but that's ok given the alternative (being dead).

Each day I take the following:
>Metformin (2)
>Januvia (1)
>Lipitor (1)
>Metoprolol (1)
>Isosorb Mono (1)
>Plavix (1)
>Aspirin (1)
>Chantix (2)

All the above, plus a total of 3 vitamin pills each day. Plus a fairly strict diet (I've dropped close to 30 pounds!) and drinking a minimum of 1 liter of water per day.

The up side is that I'm no longer fatigued like before. I can work longer, which is $$$ in my pocket. And even with the good insurance at my job, I'll be needing some hard cash to pay the bills I've run up after all this.

Best -

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Rainbow Cruisers Car Show

By Alan Burkhart

Stopped by the Rainbow Cruisers car show today in Alabama. Lots of cool cars, great food and friendly folks. A guy at the show told me the show takes place the third Saturday of each month from April through October.

If you'd like to check it out sometime, here are the directions: From Birmingham, take I-59 north to exit 181 and turn right. You'll immediately see the Petro:2 Travel Plaza and Austin's Steak House on the right. The show is held in Austin's parking lot. This is near Gadsen, AL.

I won't intrude with a lot of comments here. Enjoy the images of all the cool cars, and do drop by again sometime.


Gotta love those classic Mopars. Ain't nothing like'em!

Slick old Packard 120

Now, one thing here requires some clarification. As you can see, my reflection was caught whilst snapping the picture of the "427" emblem. It must have been a combination of the setting sun, the glossy paint and the curvature of the fender that somehow caused me to look short, fat and pale. I am in reality of course tall dark and handsome. Really. No foolin'.

For a moment I thought I'd seen a pink elephant. That's one big old Caddy!


This beautiful old '58 Chevy was my personal favorite of the show.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Pictures, Etc for May '09

Hello All...

Haven't posted in awhile so I thought I'd catch my millions (OK, dozens) of fans up on what's been happening in the World of Big Al.

On Thursday I rode with another of our drivers to Baytown, TX to pick up a truck that had been in a repair shop. The thing was just sick. No power, no throttle response, no nada. Took about two hours longer than normal to make the trip from Baytown back to our facility in Magee, MS. This is usually a seven and a half hour trip.

When I first arrived in Baytown, we discovered that the truck wouldn't start. Took a couple hours to finally get the thing going, and then discovered that the computer in the engine was shot. Dead batteries, too. The image here shows one of the mechanics basically burrowing his way under the cab to replace the battery cover after we got the thing to start. This dude was way over six feet - no clue how he managed to squeeze under there.

The reason I had time to do all this was because my truck was due for an oil change, and I had a tiny leak on the bottom of the oil pan. When I got back to Magee Friday morning, they'd pulled the oil pan off and found about a pound of metal shavings and a few chunks of metal inside. This was not good news to me since it means several days driving a spare truck whilst mine is repaired. I am of course thankful that this was discovered here at home and not in B.F.E. or some other equally unappealing place.

Today (Friday) I stopped in Laurel, MS on my way to load to grab something to drink. Spotted this old Mercedes sitting in the parking lot and shot a few pics. No clue as to the year model, although I'm assuming it's fairly old. This is due to the fact of it having a 3-speed standard shift on the column. Never seen that before on a Mercedes. The old girl is evidently road worthy, though; it has a New Mexico tag.

And hey! Who sez a trucker can’t thread a needle?! This image is from a customer of ours in Winchester, VA. Nice folks, but I hate their dock. It’s inside the building, and designed so that they can side-load a flatbed trailer, or rear-load a van. As such, the dock is ridiculously narrow. Check the microscopic amount of side clearance once the trailer clears the outer door. Worse, when backing in during daylight hours, the dimmer light inside creates a situation like backing into a black hole. You can see very little down the side of the trailer.

So far I’ve loaded there 5 or 6 times without destroying a trailer door.

Thanks to everyone who wished me well during my recent battery of tests. I'm back on my regular meds and no longer having to poke myself with a needle. My trucking career is, for the moment at least, safe.

Leaving MS Saturday morning for Clinton, IA (near Davenport), and after that points as yet unknown.

See Ya'll on the Road

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Religious Freedom or Murder?

By Alan Burkhart

In the USA, our Constitution guarantees our right to worship as we choose. We do not however, have the right to force harm upon others in the practice of those beliefs.

Eleven year-old Madeline Neumann is dead because her parents refused to get her the medical care she needed, deciding instead to stay home and pray for her. She died a painful death from diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition resulting from low insulin. Symptoms include severe dehydration and painful thirst, nausea, vomiting and unbearable fatigue.

Fifteen month-old Ava Worthington is dead because her parents declined the simple antibiotics that would have saved her life in favor of faith healing. Ava died from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and infection. According to an Oregon deputy state medical examiner, both conditions would have been treatable with antibiotics.

According to an article at the Fox News website:

The Worthingtons belong to Oregon City's Followers of Christ Church. According to church tradition, when members become ill, fellow worshipers pray and anoint them with oil.
Ava's parents, Carl Worthington, 28, and Raylene Worthington, 25, have been indicted by a grand jury on charges of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment. At the time of this writing, Madeline's parents have not yet been charged.

Regarding the Followers of Christ Church, consider this excerpt from an article by Oregonian reporter Mark Larabee:
At least 21 of the 78 children who have died at the church since 1955 likely could have been saved with routine medical care, The Oregonian reported earlier this month following a two-month investigation.

Thirty-eight children buried in the church's cemetery outside Oregon City never reached their first birthdays. An additional 15 are listed as stillborn. Doctors say the lack of prenatal care and trained assistance during the deliveries probably contributed to the deaths. Officials suspect many of those died needlessly, but they can't be sure because government investigations of the deaths were either inconclusive or nonexistent.
While fanatics like the Worthington's and the Neumann's certainly do not represent the majority of believers in America, they do represent a clear and present threat to the lives of innocent children. In my humble opinion, all four parents should be brought up on murder charges. To allow one's child to wither away and die when medical treatment is readily available is no different, and perhaps worse, than putting a gun to the kid's head and pulling the trigger.

We live in a constitutional society, not a theocracy. True enough, many of our Founding Fathers were believers and much of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is rooted in those beliefs. But, the Declaration of Independence clearly states that we all have the “unalienable right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There is no exception made for children whose parents object to medical treatment on religious grounds.

As a society, we must not allow religion – any religion – to be an excuse for the mistreatment of a minor child. It doesn't matter one whit if the parents sincerely believe they're doing the right thing by withholding medical care. It doesn't matter what church, if any, they attend. It doesn't matter whether the parents were raised under the same set of beliefs. Our system of laws is designed to protect the innocent from wrongdoing, and allowing a child to die a painful death when she easily could have been saved is among the most heinous crimes imaginable.

There should be no question of religious freedom concerning such cases as these. As I stated earlier, we have the right to believe anything we wish, but we do not have the right to harm others while practicing our beliefs. If these four murderers are not found guilty of the crimes they have so obviously committed, then our culture is little better than backward Muslim nations in which young girls are stoned to death for giving a teenage boy a passing glance and a smile.

Had Madeline Neumann been allowed to live into adulthood, she might have decided on her own as a responsible adult that she would follow her parents' teachings. At that point, it would have been her decision to make. She won't get that chance, and neither will Ava, thanks to parents who decided for them that their lives were not their own.

Related Reading:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pics from the Port of Mobile

By Alan Burkhart

I've been running locally for the last few months, hauling out of the Port of Pascagoula, MS and the Port of Mobile, AL and delivering to our customer in Laurel, MS. Here's a few shots of the St Cergue, a Swiss flagged freighter that caught my eye today in Mobile. According to an entry at shipspotting.com, she's 222 meters long, and packs 34,300 horsepower. Not the biggest ship to be sure, but when you're standing a few feet away watching the tugs laboring to spin her around in the canal she's rather impressive.

And look at all those 40-ft freight containers she's carrying - and that's just the ones on deck. Plenty more down below. From where I was standing, I couldn't get a good image of the whole ship with my wimpy cellphone camera. The truck docks where I pick up are out on the pier.

For a better image of the St Cergue, visit www.shipspotters.com.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Night of the Intruder

By Alan Burkhart
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

The truck I normally drive is in the shop for a few minor repairs. So - I'm driving a truck that has been unoccupied for a couple of weeks. An inconvenience, but a small price to pay to have Old Blue up and running the way she's supposed to.

Last night was my first night in the "spare truck." I rolled out my bedroll and settled in for the evening about 8:00 pm. A powerful storm front (complete with hail and tornados) had blown through a few hours earlier. It was cold as a witch’s butt in brass bloomers and the wind was howling outside. I was well-insulated from the cold with a good heater. The wind was rocking the truck's air suspension and singing its eerie song in the gaps between my truck and the two parked on either side of me. A few fat raindrops splattered on the "tin roof" above me. In other words, perfect sleeping weather.

About 10:30 I shut down the laptop and had my standard evening snack of Special K and 2%, then gathered up the day’s trash (Subway wrappers, empty milk carton, etc) and dumped it all in my dinky trash can behind the passenger seat. I switched off the interior lights, turned the heat down and buried myself under the blankets. I was snoring in short order.

1:00 AM...
Something startled me awake. Didn't know what it was. I lay absolutely still in the perfect darkness, not so much out of fear but rather from my lifelong cautious nature. Then I heard an unfamiliar sound - and it wasn't from the outside. At this point I realized I was not alone. This truck stop is known for prostitutes (no, that’s NOT why I’m here), and I wondered if some crack whore had made the ill-advised decision to break into my truck.

I tensed, but remained still and quiet. I was parked facing the truck stop, but could not see the lights from the building. This told me that the heavy Naugahyde privacy curtain between the cab and sleeper was still closed. If someone had gotten into the truck, he or she was still in the cab, not in the sleeper with me.

I quietly reached out to the tiny bedside table, picked up my pocketknife and opened it. Not a huge weapon by any means, but razor sharp. The noise came yet again - definitely inside the truck, probably on the passenger side.

Knife in hand, I quickly reached up and turned on the lights. I was perfectly ready to gut and field-dress an intruder if necessary. I threw open the curtain and found the cab unoccupied. Doors locked. Windows closed.

Then the noise came again and I came damnably close to jumping out of my skin. That’s when I realized the noise was coming from the trash can. A tiny little mouse, moving with their unique fluid grace, popped out of the trash and glided out of the can, across my briefcase, over my laundry bag and down into the small closet behind the passenger seat. The whole process took maybe two seconds.

I closed the curtain lest someone see me in my Fruit of the Looms (not a pretty sight, I’m sure) and began a search and destroy mission for the offending rodent. It goes without saying that I’m bigger and stronger than even the largest mouse, and probably smarter than the average mouse, but I was no match for this one in terms of pure craftiness.

Armed with a flashlight and one of my work shoes, I tore open the closet and shined the light around. No mouse. The bed is also the lid of a large storage compartment. I raised it to see if the little guy had escaped the closet to cower behind a dust bunny in this mostly unused space. No mouse (but lots of dust bunnies). Looked behind the seats and under the dashboard. No mouse. At this point I began to wonder if I was on Candid Camera. There I was: Storming around in my underwear with a flashlight and a Justin work shoe on a small game expedition at one o’clock in the morning. Hoping that the little monster wouldn’t decide to snack on my toes, I returned to bed.

I’m rather glad it was just a mouse. Had it been a snake, you’d have seen headlines at Fox News and CNN about a scantily-clad overweight truck driver streaking across a parking lot. Scaring passersby, disturbing the peace, etc. Let’s all be glad that didn’t happen. If I’m ever on the news, I’d rather it was because I won either a Nobel Prize or the Mega-Millions lottery.

7:00 AM...
Alarm clocks are by far the most cruel and arbitrary contraptions ever devised by human ingenuity. They don’t care what sort of night you had. They are indifferent to your fatigue. You will haul yourself out of bed to kill the noise. Resistance is futile.

So there I was this morning, sitting on a dock in Laurel, MS waiting to unload. Slurping coffee and munching on a Hardee’s biscuit. And there was the mouse, peeking at me from beneath the passenger seat. I swear he was laughing at me. I tried to fetch him a kick but he was once again too fast for this aging trucker. Perhaps I should begin keeping one of my cats in the truck for security purposes. Sammi is ten years old, but she’s still a world-class mouser.

Now it’s approaching 8:00 pm. I’m back at the same truck stop with yet another load to deliver in Laurel in the morning. Haven’t seen The Rodent since this morning, but I can’t help but wonder if he’s still here. If so, he’s traveled farther than most mice since I’ve been down to the Gulf Coast and back today. My truck is due out of the shop sometime tomorrow, and you can bet I will thoroughly check my stuff before tossing it back in my regular ride. I’m all for company, but not when it scares the bejabbers out of me at one in the morning.

See ya’ll on the road.
- - Alan

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Now THIS is a Bad Day...

By Alan Burkhart

I shot these pics today in Greenwood, LA. I didn't see the incident, but I was told that the guy misjudged a turn and slipped off the road. The trailer (I'm told) broke apart while being pulled from the ditch. He was loaded with about 42,000 pounds of plywood.

In the last images you can see the beginning of the operation to transfer the load to another trailer. A forklift with an extendable boom is used to extract the load while a hydraulic wrecker unit maintains upward pressure on the trailer floor while the plywood is offloaded.
I don't wanna know how much all this cost...

Ya know, I'd really hate to have to call my boss with this story...