Friday, October 19, 2007

There’s no $#%$ in “team”

I was fascinated to read this week that a couple of British researchers have found evidence that cussing at work should be not only allowed, but also encouraged – within moderation, after all, they are Brits – as a way to boost morale and build team spirit.

As my Marine buddies would say, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Are these guys just getting to the party?

I’m sure there are cuss-free workplaces – churches, synagogues, temples, robot welding rooms – but darn few outside of those. My first real newspaper job was at an uptight small-town daily whose publisher regularly and loudly threatened to fire anyone for chewing gum in the newsroom, much less swearing. It was not a happy place.

My next job on a city daily was in a boisterous newsroom where swearing was the norm. It is in my current gig, although maybe not at the level of that shabby old newsroom. Some of my colleagues have tried, unsuccessfully, to police themselves by having a “cuss jar” to which they had to donate 25 cents for every slip of the tongue. It’s bought them a lot of ice cream over the years, and continues to do so.

The downside is that it’s difficult to turn off the potty flow when in more refined company, or around your kids. When the wife of one of my colleagues asked the younger of their daughters where she had heard the bad word she had just uttered, both she and her older sister said “Daddy.” When Daddy came home that night, he was informed by his older daughter that he and Mommy were going to have a talk about his talk.

While much of the world cusses on an equal-opportunity basis – women and men blazing away in the office, in public places and so on – and plenty of CB wags swear a blue streak, many truckers seem to retain a sensitivity about cussing. This is especially true of guys, who might let fly in front of each other, but zip the lips in front of women and kids. It’s a kind of “tip your hat to the lady” gentility that – contrary to this decidedly vague research study – could go even further in building team spirit and morale. It’s based on respect, and without respecting others, you can’t expect it in return.

One of the oldest tricks in the book

I’m really getting sick and tired of this dog and pony show staged by the Department of Transportation supposedly to show us how safe “all” Mexican trucks are.

Cherry-picking a handful of trucks to operate in the cross-border program no more proves the overall fitness of the Mexican trucking industry than watching the All-Star Game in baseball proves the overall talent of all of the players in Major League Baseball.

Every player is at the top of his game. Saying that the all-stars represent the bench-warmers and players in the farm leagues would be laughed out of every sports bar and living room around the country.

For those who don’t follow sports, what the DOT is trying to do would be like testing only the top 2 to 3 percent of students at a school for the state minimum achievement tests. Their scores are off the charts, but that doesn’t mean that every student in the school will score the same.

What I find particularly amusing is the probability that the DOT’s latest attempt to “prove” how “safe” trucks from Mexico are has more than likely blown up in the Bush administration’s face.

Even mainstream media is picking up on the fact that the recently staged inspection of a truck from Mexico was a “mock” inspection. That’s right, folks, it wasn’t real.

It’s critical to keep the pressure on the DOT so highway safety doesn’t fall victim to one of the oldest scams in the books, the old switcheroo. You know, where we’re sold a bill of goods promising all-star performances by these Mexican trucks and find out in the end we’re left with the third-stringers roaming the highways.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

For want of a bungee cord ...

I love those Nationwide Insurance TV ads with the tagline “Life Comes at You Fast,” because the writers are so darned creative in coming up with semi-absurd chains of events, things a previous generation called Rube Goldbergs.

Yet, I know all of you have seen things equally absurd and improbable. And unfortunately, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of that chain of cause and effect a few times.

Last night in Nashville, two big-rig wranglers minding their own business got caught up in a tangled web. A ladder fell off a pickup truck – raise your hands if you’ve ever seen stuff flung from a pickup – causing the four-wheeler behind the pickup to stand on his brakes.

The semi behind the car couldn’t stop in time and hit the car, turned over and careened across the interstate into the path of another semi. Loads were scattered in all directions, closing the super slab for a while.

Amazingly, there were only minor injuries. Click here for a link to the story and video.

To paraphrase the proverb, for want of a bungee cord, an untold number of lives were put in jeopardy, livelihoods interrupted, property damaged, and so on. Kind of an asphalt Butterfly Effect when you think about it.

This was the most recent of several chain smackups around here lately, so I’m backing off even more than usual. Just in case.

By the way, you can send in your “life comes at you” ideas and moments here.

Security, please

When you hear the word security in the title of a government agency – for example, the Transportation Security Administration – you get the impression they must be experts in the area of security. In this case, you would be wrong.

Yesterday, Land Line reported on the theft of two laptops that were stolen from a contractor who was working for TSA. That is a concern in itself, but the fact that those stolen laptops contained the names, birthdays, CDL numbers and, in some cases, Social Security numbers of nearly 4,000 commercial drivers who haul hazardous materials, makes it a huge security breach.

Although the contractor said the data had been erased from the stolen laptops, TSA officials have admitted that someone with computer skills could possibly retrieve the data on the computers’ hard drives.

TSA officials have instructed the contractor to fully encrypt hard drives from now on.

Gee, you would think TSA would have data encryption procedures already in place when dealing with outside contractors who have access to personal information. Shouldn’t that be standard security in today’s digital world?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

By Jove, I think they’ve got it

As you drive today, know that you are appreciated.

The good folks at the Chicago Skyway have been trying to find the best way to thank you, the toll-paying customer, for enduring two years of construction, delays and lane restrictions as they fixed up the road on your dime. And, by Jove, I think they’ve got it.

Make sure to stop on your way through the Windy City and get yourself a free coffee or frozen treat from a “national donut and ice cream retailer” courtesy of the Cintra-Macquarie consortium that has control of the toll road until the year 2104.

That’s right. For all of your stress, delivery delays and costs associated with passing through the construction zones, you are entitled to a free coffee or frozen treat.

Oh, and it’s “while supplies last” and only available on one day, Thursday, Oct. 18, at one manual tollbooth – eastbound or westbound at 8801 S. Anthony Ave.

And it’s only available from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.

One more thing. You will have to travel to the coffee shop to redeem the coupon.

It’s almost too good to be true.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The nameless

It seems like anytime there is a horrific wreck in the news you read about the young couple with small children who died. You read how their family and friends are devastated. Their lives and accomplishments are recounted.

You read all of this, unless, it is a trucker who is killed.

Mainstream media coverage often falls short of telling the story consistently. Reporters forget fathers, sons, mothers and daughters pilot those rigs. They forget that these people have family and friends who will mourn their loss – just as the young family does.

The wreck in the I-5 tunnel is a great example of what I’m talking about. The wreckage burned for days in the tunnel before any truckers received a mention in the news. There were 31 trucks and one car involved in the wreck. Guess who got the media coverage, the driver of the car.

The I-35 bridge collapse was the same way. TV helicopter crews circled for days showing a burning truck on the bridge rubble – the driver dead inside. Yet, who did the reporters interview. Family members and friends of those who died while driving their cars.

I find it disgusting that truckers are doomed to performing a job without thanks and dying a death without so much as acknowledgement.

I want to think the reason behind all of this is something simple, just an oversight. But, my gut tells me that it’s just not true.

When a trucker causes a wreck, he or she is tried and convicted in the mainstream media before ever seeing the light of a courtroom. If the trucker is the victim, it’s almost as if, “well, good thing no one else was killed.”

While it could seem small in comparison to the blatant ignorance of the mainstream, there’s not a time that your brothers and sisters on the road, your families, your friends and those of us cheering you along all the way, don’t find ourselves grieving the loss of another trucker on the road.