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The orange cone 'skittering' champ reigns supreme

By Cliff Abbott
The Trucker Staff

6/3/2013

Editor's note: This column was first published in the June 1-14 issue of The Trucker newspaper on stands now.

Traffic cones: I hate ’em. Traffic cones never mean anything good. They mean construction. They mean slow. They mean, “You can’t go there.” For being such flimsy little things, they sure cause a lot of trouble.

There was the town in Ohio where the local community college was holding some sort of Saturday morning event. I have long forgotten what it was, but traffic was brutal.

When I got close to the event, I discovered that everyone in the right lane was supposed to turn right, directly into the event parking area. Except, the geniuses who were directing traffic had neglected to put up any warning signs. Not one.

I arrived at the intersection to see a beautiful arc of new orange cones, starting at the dashed line on my left and gracefully curving into the entrance drive on my right. A stern looking rent-a-cop waved me to the right. One look told me all I needed to know; there was no way I was pulling a tractor-trailer into that crowded parking lot. The likelihood of getting out without damage to several autos was miniscule. I couldn’t change lanes, and I wasn’t going to turn right.

I would have happily explained that to the guy directing traffic, until he blew his whistle and, with a nasty scowl, gesticulated wildly for me to go to the right. Blip! Blip! Blip! The cones fell as I drove right over them. I saw the rent-a-cop, still waving in my West Coast mirror as I continued on my way. I don’t remember, but I think I might have waved back.

Another time, the Illinois DOT was making more “speed bumps” on I-55. Actually, they were repairing the road, sawing out cracked areas and filling the resulting hole with new concrete. They never seemed to get the new pour to the same level as the surrounding concrete, resulting in an annoying washboard effect as you travelled the road. At any rate, the construction crew used cones to restrict the traffic to the left lane. As they sawed-dug-replaced the concrete sections, they’d move the cones farther along. Day by day, the whole construction zone would migrate down the highway.

It was barely dawn on a Saturday morning, and I couldn’t see another vehicle on the road as I entered the construction zone. I got a little careless and wandered too far to the right. That’s when I accidentally discovered that if I hit the cone just right, just a kiss with the side of the trailer tire, I could send it skittering all the way off the side of the road like an errant bowling pin.

I experimented a little, hitting a few, missing a few. I figured out that the trick was to steer towards a cone, and then left, away from it; missing it with the steer tire up front but leaving the orange plaything directly in the path of the trailer tires. I learned that the cones were spaced too closely together to get every one, but I if I maneuvered correctly, I could get every other one. I devised a scoring system, giving myself one point for every one I knocked all the way off the road. No points for a miss, of course, and no points were given if I ran the cone over. Only a skitter off the side of the road would count.

By the time I got to the end of the construction zone, I had gotten good. I missed a few, at first, and I crushed a few, but before long I was sure I was a cone-skittering champion. I could remove every other cone, racking up six or eight in a row. I checked frequently for state troopers, since they might not have the same sense of humor as I did about the little critters. But, my skill kept improving, and I got to where I could knock them flying almost at will. I think my best was 22 or something like it. The championship was mine!

I was almost sorry to see the construction zone end, which is a pretty rare sensation for a truck driver. But, end it did, and I moved back into the right lane, still skittering cones as the orange line veered off to the right. That’s when I finally saw the car that had been close on my tail all the way through the zone. Thankfully, it wasn’t the dreaded state trooper I initially feared. It was just four highly-appreciative guys, laughing and waving as they passed by on a sunny Saturday morning.

A few days later, I demonstrated my new-found skill to another driver. Working for the same company, we were running together, him about a quarter-mile behind. Once he noticed what I was doing, he gave it a try. I gave him a little CB Radio advice, but not much. I knew that state troopers have CB radios, too. I could see him get a few, but I felt that my championship was intact.

About 20 minutes down the road from the construction zone, he was pulled over. As he pulled to the shoulder, he told me on the CB that he’d catch up to me later, at our delivery point. I wished him good luck and went on my way. Of course, when we met up I asked him why he was stopped and if he had received a ticket.

He had — “mischievous conduct,” for running over orange cones. “How did he know it was you?” I asked. “I tried to deny it,” he said, “but the officer showed me an orange cone that was trapped under my steering axle, and I didn’t have an excuse. So, I got the ticket.”

I felt bad for him, and I told him so. On the other hand, I was still champion … .

This story and many others can be found in Cliff’s book about his years behind the wheel, “Chronicles of an American Trucker: Which way is the road to happiness?” The book is available in both print and electronic versions at booklocker.com/books/5950.html and through the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.

Pick up a printed copy of The Trucker at TA/Petro truck stops or call 800-666-2770 ext. 5029 for information about an at-home subscription.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at aprilleh@thetrucker.com.

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