Friday, October 5, 2007

Your CARB-O loading diet

I’ve been prolonging this blog entry for some time now.

For the past five months, Land Liner Aaron Ladage and I have been training for the Kansas City Marathon on Oct. 20, because if you can’t tempt fate and put yourself one step closer to meeting Jim Fixx, are you really challenging yourself?

To the surprise of my family, friends, co-workers, and especially myself, I’ve actually made it to the two-week point before the starting gun.

After signing up yesterday, there’s no turning back. We’re looking forward to a solid four-and-a-half hours of hitting the pavement, followed by some stomach sickness and several days of whining about how our knees hurt.

While running the other day, I started thinking. Running a marathon is kind of like covering the California Air Resources Board. The agency seems to have trucking regulations proposed or discussed every few days, and produces documents hundreds of pages long at quite a pace. It can be as exhausting as an uphill endurance run on a windy morning.

On Tuesday, Oct. 9, CARB is hosting another installment of their “Chair’s Air Pollution Seminar” series, with the topic this time revolving around catalytic converters. A presentation is already available at CARB’s Web site, and it details CARB’s history with the catalytic converter along with some hints about what scientists believe about the future of diesel particulate filters.

That meeting, like most CARB meetings, is webcast live but not scheduled to be archived on the agency’s Web site.

On Thursday, Oct. 11, CARB will host another informational meeting on the state’s proposed Goods Movement Emissions Reduction Incentive program. In short, CARB wants to issue billions of dollars to local governments in California to hand out for replacement and retrofitting of older trucks that pollute the most.

CARB seems to want to listen to small-business owner-operators on this deal, so as they gather information on this topic over the next few weeks, hopefully OOIDA members and other drivers will weigh in on the topic.

Because it involves replacement of trucks, there’s always the concern that major truck lines will stand to benefit the most if small business owners’ interests aren’t looked out for.

Massachusetts governor: Hero or heel?

As we worked through the mid-afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 2, an exciting news story popped up on the Web by Boston Herald reporter Casey Ross.

Insider e-mails indicate that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has big plans to do away with the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority’s board, consolidate its operations with the Massachusetts Highway Department, and create an uber-transportation agency for all ground transportation.

We all know by now it’s big news, but what will it mean for the state and its taxpayers? We can only guess at this point.

Will it mean fewer tolls, or more? Will it mean the state can avoid a fuel-tax hike for a few years, or will that get pushed through later on?

What does this plan have in store for truck drivers and small businesses?

And, are there politics involved in this scenario? Who will get fired or downsized? We don’t know yet.

And we certainly don’t know yet if Gov. Patrick’s followers will hoist him on their shoulders as a hero or run him out of office. Will this plan save Massachusetts transportation, or is this the same business on a different day?

We’ll just have to stay tuned.

Garbage is as garbage does

You’ve probably all heard the phrase, “Don’t mess with Texas!” and I’d bet you figured it was some tight-jeaned, high-heel-booted cowpokey country singer who coined the saying. It wasn’t – it was originally part of an anti-litter campaign. It caught on and has become something of a rallying cry for the state – although it’s open to debate whether it helped clean up the roadsides.

My adopted home state of Tennessee had an award-winning, if ultimately not very successful, campaign called Tennessee Trash. One ad showed a slobby-looking guy toodling down the highway in a droptop beater, merrily tossing out bags, cups, and other debris. It hasn’t run for years, but probably wouldn’t put much of a dent in the mounds of trash DUI prisoner workgangs pick up every day.

Yesterday, a colleague came to me to report seeing a driver in a nice big rig toss a big bag of breakfast trash out his window. She couldn’t get close enough to get the truck number, but I had to immediately wonder – was that an OOIDA member littering MY state?

I also wondered how many other people saw that and thought, “just like a trucker.” I hoped that another driver might’ve seen that and admonished the perp on the CB – I’d have been using words once rarely heard on Channel 19 had it been me behind him, and I would by golly have followed long enough to get the truck number and drop the dime.

As my spiritual mentor Forrest Gump might say, “Garbage is as garbage does.”

People, people, people – you are the elite of trucking. The folks with the brains, the gumption, the desire … the pride, to own your own business. To hold yourselves and those who drive with you to a higher standard. I’m not taking you to task over the actions of this louse, but I am asking you to be vigilant – when you see or hear someone living down to the stereotype many people have of truckers, tell them to straighten up.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mama knows

Land Line’s 2007 Trucking Poetry contest was extraordinary.

In a field of more than 500 poems, Elaine Rowley’s work earned an honorable mention from the judges. Elaine, a resident of Fillmore, UT, has been the wife of a trucker for 40 years. She submitted her original poem, “The Magic.”

I first read the poem a month ago. The fun of reading poems is to try to crack the meaning or to figure out the poet’s very personal message. It’s my own interpretation that Elaine’s poem describes that mysterious and peculiar sensation that trucking family members often try to explain. I totally believe that beyond the ordinary five senses, there’s one that seems to spring from some other reality. I’ve often heard truckers talk about it. It’s that Mama-knows-when-it’s-daddy-callin’ thing.

And I have not a doubt in my mind that many trucking spouses have keenly developed this “sixth sense” in order to stay connected.

Anyway, it particularly appealed to me and I want to share it with you.

“The Magic”
By Elaine Rowley

It’s dark outside, has been for hours, but I hear it coming.
Every truck you see, has its own magic, a sound all its own.
Only the special people hear it. Wives, sons and daughters.
They’ve heard it for a long time, for their dad is a trucker.

They hear it just before Xmas, or when a loved one dies,
before a wedding or high school graduation.
Sometimes they hear that magic for no special reason at all.

That’s when everyone has a celebration, because he won’t
be home long. Children run to meet him, even the dog.
Problems are solved, wounds healed, and then he’s gone.
Waiting for the magic to return.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sweetening the deal

Wearing your seat belt? Great idea. Obeying the speed limit? Even better.

But when it comes to staying on the 5-0’s good side, there’s a new secret weapon every self-respecting road warrior needs to keep on hand at all times.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the ultimate in anti-ticket-getting devices. Click here to see for yourself.

Be forewarned – this device not intended for use near a cop who lacks a sense of humor.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The grim reality of trucking in Mexico

The three bodies found recently about 200 miles south of the U.S. border in Mexico were believed to have been killed by a gang that targets truck drivers just trying to earn a living.

The three fell victim to a gang that robs truckers and sometimes kills them. According to The Associated Press, female members of the group posed as prostitutes to get truckers to stop. The other members of the gang would then rob and sometimes kill the truckers.

The investigation turned up 21 tractors and 18 trailers – as well as the three bodies. To see the full AP story, click here.

These stories are not new. They are just getting more attention because of the cross-border trucking program.

What these stories are going to do is highlight a problem that is commonplace in Mexico. Cargo theft has long been a problem.

Five years ago, I met with a CEO of a U.S.-based trucking company who candidly, yet off the record, shared how his company conducted freight operations in Mexico.

The example he relayed to me involved a contract for shipping shoes out of Mexico to the United States. Hijacking of this particular brand of tennis shoe was so commonplace that the company actually started shipping right shoes in one trailer and left shoes in another.

Obviously, both trailers were heading to the same warehouse in the U.S. Once they both arrived, employees paired the shoes up.

That’s insane.

I asked how many drivers volunteered to haul this freight knowing there was a strong likelihood the freight could still be hijacked.

Not many was his answer. They had to pay a premium – at that point – to the drivers.

That’s going to end. Mexican CDL holders are used to that environment and given as little as they are paid, would be enticed to face the hijackers for far less than their U.S. counterparts.

There comes a point when free trade, dominated by fear, has a cost no one should be expected to pay.

Monday, October 1, 2007

One serious game of chicken

Flu season is approaching and, unless you are allergic to eggs, it’s time to get a flu shot. This makes me wonder whatever happened to bird flu, which if it didn’t kill most of humanity, would definitely imperil an important segment of the trucking industry.

I mean, of course, chicken haulers.

We eat a lot of chicken – legs, thighs, breasts (can I say that on this blog?) – even gizzards and livers. At the end of the day, Americans consume more than 26 billion pounds of chicken every year – about 87 pounds per person. Just about every single pound travels by truck. They don’t just fly to the grocery stores.

But if bird flu came to our coops, that could all change. The great states of Alabama and Arkansas, for instance, have a lot of chicken haulers. So they would be one of the first places to feel plucked if you stop eating that pound and a half of chicken every week.

It takes a lot of trucks to move all that chicken, whether it’s still alive or cold, dead and naked. What would happen to the millions of chicken haulers out there – there must be millions, judging from all the chicken lights that are sold?

Tighten your seatbelt – it would be a disaster.

Those hard-workin’ haulers will be out of work. The banks will foreclose on their chrome and light loans. Truck stops will have to close their chrome sections and lay people off. Non-chicken-haulers will strip the chrome and lights off their trucks so they won’t look like chicken haulers and be stopped for bird flu inspections.

Truck builders and trailer makers will close production lines and lay people off. Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy won’t be able to tell chicken-hauling jokes anymore – they won’t be PC, by which I mean Poultry Correct. The sale of diesel will go way down, so the price will go even higher to keep the oil companies’ profits at record levels.

Like feathers in a backdraft, the effect will spread. KFC, Chick-fil-A, and Mrs. Winners will close. So will countless meat and threes. People won’t know what to eat while watching sports or in bars because there won’t be any wings. Lines will form at vegetarian restaurants. San Diego will have to get a new mascot.

Every other person in Arkansas will be unemployed, since Tyson will fold. The Clintons will have to look elsewhere for money. Preachers will go hungry since they won’t be getting fried chicken for Sunday lunch. They will even have to stop cock fighting in Cocke County, TN.

It doesn’t stop there. This takes on global proportions. Our esteemed trade partner, mainland China, will have to close the factories where they make T-shirts that say “Ain’t no feelin’' like chicken-mobilin.’ ”

The Chinese will raise prices on everything else they make for us, further increasing our trade deficit and putting Wal-Mart out of the reach of many Americans who shop there every week.

Since we get all our air fresheners and countless other items vital to trucking from China, those industries will suffer as well. Yes, my fellow Americans, a chickenless America threatens not just chicken haulers but all of the trucking industry. It even threatens to put Pamela Anderson out of her cause of busting KFC’s chops.

But we should remain calm in the face of this potential calamity. Because you are Americans (except a few million who aren’t but do most of our dirty jobs for us anyway so their kids can be), you want to know – how you can help?

Go out right now and buy as much chicken as you can put in your freezer and fridge. Stop off at KFC for a few buckets to go. Love your tenders. Stay the course and keep ordering wings.

And next time you see a chicken hauler on the road, let him know you support the cause. Wave at him with all your fingers – chicken fingers, of course.