Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: Goodbye, farewell, good riddance

Here it is the last day of 2008. I almost feel obligated to reflect on the past year.

Then again, I’d rather not.

There’s not a lot to look back on and smile. The economy went down the proverbial toilet and took a lot of truckers with it. While the brain trusts had to wait until almost year’s end to call it a full-blown recession, we knew it months before.

Scandal on Wall Street. Mortgage meltdown. Bailout blunders. Consumer confidence hits record low. Unemployment the highest it’s been in years – the list goes on and on.

But, enough. I can’t take any more of even trying to hit the “low” high points.

No matter what all happened, here we are at year’s end a little battered, beaten and bloody. But, many owner-operators – the strong-willed, independent, never-say-die sort that are the backbone of this Association – are still standing.

A new year brings hope and new opportunities to “do things right.”

So, here’s wishing you a 2009 filled with opportunity and success – and let’s put 2008 in the rearview and never look back.

Monday, December 22, 2008

2008’s Top 10 Truckin’ Headlines

With the end of the year comes a natural impulse to reflect on the past 52 weeks, on the highs and lows that flickered by like yardsticks, and ask “How did I make it through all that?”

What follows is my totally arbitrary list, in no hard-and-fast order of importance:

The Rise and Fall of Diesel Prices: As Land Line Senior Technical Editor Paul Abelson sometimes says, “I’m doing fine, but I’ll get over it.” After getting more or less used to higher prices over the past couple of years, truckers must have felt that way as the price of diesel soared like an evil angel hopped up on meth and, for now, have crashed back again toward what we thought of as normal.

Reopening of I-35 W Bridge in Minneapolis: Almost a year after a collapse that killed 13 people, a new bridge opened in September. The span is studded with sensors to tell officials how healthy it is. The August 2007 collapse spurred great concern over the U.S. infrastructure, but not much activity toward actually fixing it.

The Economy: As diesel prices soared, freight slid and fleets large and small constricted, consolidated or ceased to exist. The rapid decline in diesel prices, while welcome, comes at a time when the economy appears to still be contracting. Truck and trailer builders, as well as vendors, are hunkering down and cutting hours and workers to try to ride out the slide.

Environment: It’s hard to believe in global warming when it snows in Las Vegas, although the weather wonks say the unusual temperature and humidity conditions in Clark County reflect changes elsewhere. Believers or no, truckers in California are staring at some of the most restrictive environmental regs ever. Anti-idling laws are spreading and truck builders and others are scrambling to find ways to keep drivers comfortable without idling.

Tolling: The battle over toll roads is far from over, and – with governments increasingly strapped for cash and fearful of raising taxes – the idea seems destined to remain an option for those who think calling a tax a fee makes a difference.

Hours of Service: After considerable legal maneuvering and grappling over the past five years, nothing has really changed in the HOS regs. Many in the industry found themselves protesting the “new” regs alongside trucking watchdog Joan Claybrook of the consumer group, Public Citizen. She announced Dec. 15 that she is stepping down as its president after 27 years, but will remain on the board. Politics does make odd bunkfellows indeed.

Truck Size: Like any good celluloid monster, the slavering beast of longer, heavier trucks keeps stomping back to life. A group called Americans for Safe and Efficient Transportation has been pushing for legalizing combos up to 97,000 pounds or more, saying this will save fuel and improve efficiency in the transportation industry. One has to question the notion of increased safety (see “The economy” above, for starters), and, as for efficiency, that translates as “we can pay the driver the same for hauling eight and a half tons more cargo.”

The Election: Of course, “the election,” comprised many elections on many levels, from property assessors to president. It became topic Numero Uno on CBs as Nov. 4 neared, often in bitter, angry and downright nasty language. OOIDA worked hard to get members and readers to register and then to actually vote. All elections are important, because the process hands power over some aspect of your life to another person. Given the challenges we face today, this national election may rank as one of this century’s most important. On a personal note, I am sad that my friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe received nary a vote for president. I told him he should apply to be named Secretary of Transportation, but he said he wasn’t a good typist and wouldn’t make coffee for anyone.

Passages: Trucking is a hard life, and it exacts a toll on drivers and loved ones alike. This year some quit; some passed away. Some got divorced; some got married. New folks entered the industry, full of hope and anxiety over the future. Most of us labor in relative obscurity. Two who did not were Mary Johnston, wife of OOIDA Founder Jim Johnston, and Bette Garber, the undisputed boss queen of trucking photographers. We mourn them, but I think they would both urge us to return our energies to fighting for the rights and dignity of truckers and their families. As we reflect on 2008, how about making that our first New Year’s resolution?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Blog: 'Illinois: Where our governors make our license plates'

I read last night in The New York Times that Gov. Rod Blagojevich plans to ask that he be permitted to use campaign funds to defend himself against federal corruption charges. The governor’s campaign fund – chaired by Blago’s brother Robert – is known as the Friends of Blagojevich.

This developed after the Illinois state attorney general rejected a request by the governor to use state funds to pay for his impeachment defense.

By now, everyone in the world knows that Blagojevich, the two-term governor, was arrested this past week on federal charges of conspiracy and soliciting bribes.

This is not a guy whose name is new to members of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and, well, all truckers. We know him as the governor who has used his veto power multiple times to stop Illinois from getting rid of its split speed limit even though the state legislature favored uniform speeds.

OOIDA fought him tooth and nail over it. And to think – we could have just offered him money.

Well, I have an idea on how he might finance his defense. Maybe he should start cashing in on some custom T-shirts and bumper stickers? Plenty of others are making some bucks off his situation – not to mention his hair – so I am surprised his office hasn’t jumped on it.

It doesn’t take long to find the red-hot Blago items online. Tote bags, T-shirts, jerseys and mugs, button and stickers – all with zingers like “I offered Rod Blagojevich a half million dollars and all I got was this stupid tee-shirt.” Then there’s “Illinois, Land of Corruption” and “Crook County” in classic black. One tee is kinda psychedelic with Blago’s face in the middle grinning; the words proclaim “Nothing But Sunshine Over Me.” More say “Spare the Rod, Spoil the State” and “In Rod We Trust.”

Then, the same grinning face, beady eyes and Beatle hair with “Would you buy a Senate seat from this man?”

Another with Blago in a prison outfit: “No stars just stripes.”

Then my favorite: “Illinois, where our governors make our license plates.”

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Heroes in the flesh

Cartoon heroes are as much a part of childhood as grilled cheese sandwiches and crayons. But real, live heroes in this day and age seem to be hard to come by. Unless you look at life through the eyes of a child.

It wasn’t that long ago I was on yet another road trip with my kids. They are hardy travelers; 400-500 miles hardly fazes them. On stops for gas and such, they mobilize like a military unit on assault. They hit the restroom, grab their snacks and drinks, and are waiting for me to pay before I’m even done pumping the gas.

On this most recent trip, we ran into several members of a National Guard Unit who were heading home on leave. They had stopped off at the same truck stop we were taking a break at.

I noticed three of the young men pause at the door to let my kids in first, and they fell into step behind.

I finished topping off the gas and headed inside to pay when I saw my three kiddos peeking around the aisle eyeballing the three Guardsmen. The mother in me became irritated because I didn’t like the “sneaky” way they were staring.

Just about the time I was ready to jerk a knot in three tail ends, they started walking toward the Guardsmen. My oldest son, Kade, led the pack right up to the threesome and stuck out his hand.

“You guys are so cool,” I heard Kade say with a lopsided grin as he shook the first one’s hand. “I want to be a fighter pilot when I grow up and serve my country like you guys do.”

Jake and Samantha nodded their heads enthusiastically.

They were face to face with their heroes – in the flesh.

I stood there and watched the six of them chat for a minute. They were all smiling. I was, too. But I was also fighting back tears.

I knew that when Kade, Jake and Sam worked up the nerve to approach the Guardsmen, it was a genuine effort to engage their “heroes” – men they truthfully admire and want to be like. What mother wouldn’t be proud?

My kids draw cards and write letters for the care packages made possible by the Truckers for Troops telethon. Their admiration for the men and women serving our country is obvious in every one that they do. And those cards and letter make a big impact.

But, this isn’t something for just my kids to do. Your kids – and you for that matter – can make cards and write letters of support to be included in the care packages. You’ll enjoy seeing the pride your children have in their country and the men and women who serve. And it will brighten the day of troops receiving the care packages.

If you want to participate, just send the cards and letters to:

Attn. Norita Taylor
OOIDA
P.O. Box 1000
Grain Valley, MO 64029

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thanks a billion (five actually)

Land Line subscribers have been reading about California’s proposed on-road in-use rule for more than a year and, believe it or not, the proposed rule’s time is approaching.

The first public vote is scheduled for this Thursday, Dec. 11.

The rule would essentially require trucks to meet 2007 and 2010 emissions standards between 2012 and 2022, though it allows for a series of compliance options. The regulation addresses both diesel particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen.

You can read about what some truckers plan to do during Thursday’s CARB meeting, and read about an OOIDA member profiled in this news story.

It’s estimated to cost trucking companies $4 billion to $5 billion, give or take a few billion, so yeah it’s a big deal.

Should you want to put on your emissions geek hat and join us, a link should be available at www.arb.ca.gov on Thursday to follow.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

EPA to tax farm animal ‘exhaust’

It is most likely a sign of noxious things to come: The Environmental Protection Agency is moving toward taxing cows, hogs and possibly other gas-emitting barnyard critters.

The EPA is proposing to impose levies on farms or ranches with more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle or 200 hogs at the rate of about $175 for each dairy cow, $87.50 per head of beef, and $20 per hog.

It’s a plan farmers say stinks to high heaven, and one has to wonder what it will do to the cost of food. The Supreme Court opened the way to this in 2007 by ruling that all those barnyard burps and farts were legally air pollution and could be taxed – fined, really – accordingly.

The U.S. has an awful lot of cows and pigs, but even more people – and while our contributions to methane and other greenhouse gases may be individually small (spouses’ assertions notwithstanding), I can see a day when the EPA will decide we have to pay twice for last night’s chili dinner.

Seriously, it’s another example of bureaucracy and “science” running amok. As diesel engine emissions are being trimmed down to practically nothing, don’t be surprised if the EPA desk drivers start looking around for something else to hammer us with. Maybe to reduce tire wear so invisible particles of rubber don’t litter the landscape? I could dig a floating truck.

Better yet, all those livestock haulers could hook their cargo up to gas collectors and use it to power their rigs. That would be a practical use for the methane the EPA is putting out …

Eye in the sky

After the recent terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, investigators said the assailants used Google Earth maps to plot and carry out their attack. Here’s a link to an article on the terrorists’ use of technology.

You can read Land Line’s previous reporting on intelligence vehicle systems – and the concerns truckers have about the technology – here.

As you can tell from the article, many truckers are already knee-deep in technology.

Check out a few personal entries from drivers on networking sites like Twitter or facebook.com sites, and it seems very apparent that firing up the Web and checking text messages may be second only to grabbing morning coffee for many over-the-road professionals.

What level of detail and variety of satellite images will be downloaded from any Web-capable electronic device five years from now? Such technology could help truckers avoid traffic snags or provide better weather information.

We won’t know until then, however, if the little black boxes that digitally track every second of a trucker’s day combined with the latest gizmos of the day prove to be as dangerous as they are convenient.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Back pain? Need a ‘walletectomy’?

The average guy’s wallet is thicker than the armor on one of the military’s new bomb-proof fighting vehicles. Cash (though not usually very much, and less these days), photos, credit cards, driver’s license, receipts, business cards, ID cards of various kinds, stamps, tiny keepsakes and mementos – we guys make fun of a woman’s purse, but it’s amazing the amount of stuff pressed like a paper lasagna into our wallets.

All that stuff could be giving you a big pain in the butt, according to many doctors. A recent University of California at Berkeley Wellness newsletter warned men that their billfolds can cause “wallet sciatica” or “creditcarditis.”

The back pockets on your pants are perfectly positioned so that your overstuffed wallet can press right on the sciatic nerve. The pressure can inflame the nerve, causing a pain in the tuchus that radiates down your leg on the side where you carry the wallet. If you unconsciously raise your hip to ease the irritation, that can screw up your spinal alignment.

The simplest solutions are either to put your wallet in another pocket, put it in a secure compartment or have a walletectomy – take some of the stuff out. I usually take my wallet out while I’m driving, and any time when I’m going to be sitting for a while – such as when I write.

The problem can affect not only truck drivers but also desk drivers. The newsletter says there are some kindred disorders – heartburn and abdominal distress from “tight pants syndrome.” Not too many drivers seem to wear tight Wranglers on a daily basis, but the ones I have seen seem to pack hefty wallets as well. If you’re one of those, give your booty a rest. Your back will thank you for it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How do we get un-stupid?

I guess it’s pretty apparent that our economy is a blasted disaster. All day, all night the media expound on what is wrong and why. Panels of pundits weigh in and try to out-yell each other in the process. The arguing makes me nuts. I have to turn the channel.

Funny, while so many can’t come up with answers, my mom – who just turned 90 – explained it all to me last week as we were grinding cranberries for our traditional sauce.

First, let me say briefly that Mom grew up in Springfield, IL. Her folks ran a truck stop out on old Highway 36 called the “Hi-D-Ho.” She worked there. She’s always worked hard and guarded every penny.

I do all the grocery shopping for her, which isn’t easy because she is so tight with her money.

“Hey, Mom, I am here in the bread aisle and that raisin bread you wanted costs $2.50 a loaf, still want it? No? Well, I know how bad you wanted it. … I think you should go ahead and …”

But no way she is ever going to pay $2.50 no matter how much she wants that bread.

“That’s what is wrong with the whole country,” she says. “Nobody can tell themselves ‘no’ anymore. It’s ‘what the heck, just get it.’ If you want a big house and you don’t have the money, what the heck, just get it. If you want a big expensive SUV with fancy wheels and it’s totally impractical, what the heck, just get it. Need a vacation to Bermuda to take your mind off the fact you’re living from paycheck to paycheck? Just charge the trip.”

Mom says what is wrong with the country is not hard to understand. We’ve simply forgotten the fundamentals. She says good sense and an allegiance to buying what we need, not just what we want, simply does not exist in this country. She says the people who have it are few and too old to swing any weight.

She was appalled at the CEO who flew to DC burning through $20,000 instead of paying $250 for a fare. And he went there to plead for bailout bucks. Deals like this set my mom into orbit. Her sense of priorities when it comes to money has not changed since she was a waitress at the truck stop.

She’s not too happy that my generation and others have lost our minds and gone stupid. Mom says we need to get “un-stupid” and quick.

We need her kind of discipline to lift us out of this mess.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thumbs up for transparency

Mike Goldberg couldn’t decide if he was more disgusted at the federal government or at his broker.

Goldberg – an OOIDA member who runs a fleet out of Cincinnati, OH – had recently booked a load to haul about 1,500 pounds of landing gear from Maryland with stops in Arizona, ending up in California. The shipper – the Department of Defense – was paying a broker, who in turn paid Goldberg’s 247 Trucking Company $2,500.

Goldberg was happy with the $2,500, a fair rate he believed for hauling 10 feet worth of freight on a flatbed.

Then he saw the bill of lading.

The shipper – the U.S. Department of Defense – was paying the broker $6,000 – which Goldberg considered a waste of taxpayer money and a boon to brokers.

“I’m just so angry with the government paying somebody like this,” Goldberg told me. “The brokers shouldn’t even have this opportunity. The same is true with trucking companies. We’re ripping ourselves off; this is our money.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association worked closely with bill sponsors in writing and educating other lawmakers on the “Truth in Reliable Understanding of Consumer Costs Act,” or TRUCC Act, which would require a 100 percent pass-through of fuel surcharges paid by the shipper to go to the person paying for fuel and would support total transparency between brokers and small business truckers.

Goldberg already has contacted Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, who has supported several owner-operator issues and who has been quoted repeatedly in Land Line.

Brown, in fact, has taken a strong interest in transparency in trucking, as seen here and here.

In addition, OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer was scheduled to discuss transparency in trucking when he met with President-Elect Barack Obama’s transition team in Chicago on Monday, Nov. 24.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Right Reorge

Would you cede control of your car or big truck if the government virtually guaranteed (I know, an oxymoron) safety, and possibly lower insurance costs?

Your vehicle would stop on a dime, talk to other cars and trucks and wheel around under layers of “crash-avoidance” systems. Maybe you’d decide to put your car on autopilot and let the state’s automatic highway systems guide your vehicle while you peruse news stories and take a cup of mud.

Sounds very Jetsons, doesn’t it? The truth is, we’re much closer to this world than most people know.

This week, journalists from around the world are attending the 15th Annual World Congress on ITS – or intelligent transportation systems. Automatic highways, cars that can change lanes, and other systems are being shown on several blocks of New York City streets blocked off for the demonstrations.

Land Line Magazine has been following intelligent vehicle systems for years, most recently with a feature story we published in March.

Inventors have demonstrated automated trucks with the ability to park in a crowded parking lot, merge onto highways and communicate with other trucks and with government-managed highway systems.

Makes the Jetsons feel very Fred Flintstone.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Extraordinary Bette

The legendary truck photographer Bette Garber died last week. She had been ill for some time, but kept it quiet, close. That was Bette – she never liked a lot of fuss about herself, was always more concerned with how others were doing.

Bette was a friend of mine, during more than 15 years of my hanging out with truckers and writing about their lives. I met her at the 1994 Mid-America Trucking Show – my first but God knows which one for her. I admired her work, with images and with words, and thought often that she lived a wonderful life, rambling around the country taking photos of trucks.

Bette was tough, sentimental, fiercely loyal to and protective of the thousands of truckers who looked into her lens, to her friends and to the industry as a whole. It seemed that she had met everyone. Although she was noted for her shots of glorious show trucks, she interviewed and photographed and buoyed up countless other truckers. I think they felt better about themselves and their work after talking to her. Being “just a truck driver” meant a lot more, because this camera-bedecked lady had infused them with her love and admiration. Often being in the position of shooting photos myself, and not being trained as a photographer, I watched what she did, and learned from it, improving my jackleg photographer skills.

Over the years, she complimented a couple of my photos, which was as good as a Pulitzer Prize in my book.

Her passing shocked many of us who learned of it only after she had gone on to that big shiny truck show in the sky. Plans are in the works to honor her at at least one truck show in 2009. I’d like to see a Bette Garber award created for every show.

The world, and the trucking world, has lost a unique and wonderful individual, and I have lost a friend. (Photo by Suzanne Stempinski)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gasp – sleep study market growth slows!

Land Line Magazine and Land Line Now have focused a good deal on sleep apnea the past several months, and for good reason.

As more Americans have learned and been diagnosed with sleep disorders like apnea, powerful medical regulators within FMCSA are kicking around the merits of requiring CDL-holders with body mass indexes of 30 or greater from having mandatory sleep labs performed.

You can read more about that from Land Line Magazine here, where we exposed ties the FMCSA Medical Review Board keeps with the sleep study industry.

On Nov. 11, the National Sleep Foundation announced in this release that growth in the sleep study market is slowing, due in part to a decision by Medicare/Medicaid to pay for small machines that can be used to collect sleep disorder information.

The Medicare/Medicaid decision looks to be a good decision for truckers, who can’t afford the time or the expense that sleep studies cost, particularly for owner operators.

FMCSA could adopt the Medical Review Board’s recommendation, and OOIDA will be watching it closely, so stay tuned. No matter what happens, do yourself a favor today and take a deep long breath.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Locking loads

Cargo security experts estimate that between $20 billion and $30 billion of commercial goods are stolen annually from big trucks.

Of course we don’t know an exact figure.

Because retailers aren’t interested in pointing to the value of their highest-priced loads, and due to the relative ease by which some thieves take trailers and occasionally $40 million in pharmaceuticals, we may never know how much truck cargo is stolen annually.

(In my best promotional voice) Check your mailbox this week for the November edition of Land Line Magazine, and a story titled “Grand theft cargo,” where the magazine focuses on theft from commercial trucks.

I was able to ride along with TOMCATS, a Miami-Dade Police Department unit dedicated to stopping cargo theft. Their unit was fun to watch work. They deal with some dangerous individuals who mostly are a step away from hijacking trucks, and are only a notch or two below the mafia in terms of organization.

Click here to read about one insurance company’s answer for cargo theft – a trailer designed to run sting operations on potential thieves.

The Chubb Group of Insurance Companies recently put out a news release saying that consumer electronics, food and clothing are the three most stolen cargoes. Their statistical study shows that truck stops and rest areas are the locations most targeted by truckload thieves, although motel and restaurant parking lots also are top targets.

As mentioned in the article, cargo theft isn’t going away. If it escalates the way it has in Europe, it could result in more armed hijackings and violence that truckers have to deal with.

Monday, November 3, 2008

House divided

People feel so passionately about this presidential election;I hope that after it’s over, we can reunite behind one administration. I say this with the most personal of experience. Right now, I am living in one of those homes divided by political allegiances.

I hope that after the election, my husband and I can get back to being married people instead of complete and total foes. How the heck do Mary Matalin and James Carville stay together? Arnold and Maria always seem to get along, too. How do they do that?

Part of it is the situation the nation is in right now. There’s a lot to fret about. This ain’t no popularity contest. This is serious. My husband and I both are most worried about the economy. We need revived. My husband is so devoted to his candidate that he can’t see a rise from the ashes if this person is not elected. I sorta feel the same.

I don’t feel my husband has thoroughly analyzed the issues, and I think he’s listening to propaganda and believing every word. He doesn’t think I have the big picture at all.

He thinks I have “drunk the Kool-Aid.” I think he is making a dangerously uninformed vote.

We have two TVs, and I watch the news for every bit of info I can get. He watches bull riding and NASCAR because he does not need info. He’s made up his mind and does not want to be confused by any late-emerging facts.

The campaign ads are aggravating to both of us. He believes his candidate would not approve misconstrued facts or quotes taken out of context. I think he’s naive. He thinks I am cynical.

The closer it gets to Election Day, the more worried I am about the great divide that has occurred between us. Plus, I am pretty sure that he is going to let the air out of my tires or some such shenanigan so I can’t get to the polls to cast my vote.

I wonder how it will be after the election. Can we get back to being friends? We have some really important stuff to do together. Like landscaping. If we can’t get along, we’ll never get those yard projects done. And picking new furniture? What a mess. And choosing the right path that will keep us solvent and bills paid? That big remodel project? We need to agree or we’ll go to hell.

Will our nation be like that, too? Would Americans that feel so passionately about Sen. McCain be able to handle Sen. Obama as our nation’s leader? Would Obama supporters handle a McCain victory? Will we be a nation of parties not speaking to each other?

That can’t be. We have to go into this election with it in our heads that no matter what, we come out on the other side united. We’ve got some critical remodeling to do.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Warning: doughnuts, alcohol don’t mix

OK, so I must admit, I have this fascination with doughnuts. Besides my love for eating them, my co-workers also send me news stories involving the sugary treats.

So, for nearly a year now, I have been watching with interest the case of the man who led police on a high-speed chase in a stolen Krispy Kreme doughnut truck.

Warren G. Whitelighting – yes, that’s his last name – was sentenced this week to two years in prison, followed by three years of extended supervision for his doughnut truck escapade, which was captured and, of course, posted on YouTube.

Click here to watch the video as thousands of precious doughnuts spill out the back of the truck as Whitelightning attempts to elude police.

It all started after Whitelightning of Crandon, WI, stole eight giant, red-hot pickled sausages and attempted to buy beer at the Open Pantry store before being asked to leave. Instead, he hopped into the truck, circled the parking lot a few times and took off on the open road. At one point he stopped, backed up and hit a police car, before putting the truck in drive again and hitting the gas.

And in case you were wondering, alcohol was involved.

He’s been arrested at least seven times on drunken driving charges. Upon his release from prison, the circuit court judge in Dane County has also ordered that Whitelightning must have an ignition interlock device installed on any vehicle he drives during that three years – which hopefully won’t include another adventure behind the wheel of a doughnut delivery truck.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

CYA and know your PSA

I’m watching my behind these days, because something may be sneaking up on me in a blind spot.

That something could be a problem with my prostate, a walnut-sized gland in my abdomen just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It helps control urination and helps in sexual activity.

You guys know that gnarly test the doc does with his finger when you have your physical, the one he apologizes for doing? He is checking the prostate, to see if it’s normal size, shape and feel.

At this point, probably half of you guys reading this are feeling a certain puckering reaction and are about to click away. Please don’t. What you don’t know could cost you dearly.

Here’s why it’s important: The odds of men having prostate cancer average 1 in 6. It’s the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in men and the most common kind of male cancer, except for skin cancer. The sooner you catch a problem, the more treatment options you have and the better your odds of beating it.

I had my annual physical the other day, and a test indicated there might be a problem. The test, called PSA, measures the amount of “prostate-specific antigen” in my blood. The PSA test can be done with the blood sample you give for checking your cholesterol, sugar levels and so on.

Like in golf and cholesterol, the lower the score the better when it comes to your PSA. According to the U.S. government’s cancer site, PSA “may be found in higher levels in the blood of men who have prostate cancer, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), infection or inflammation of the prostate.”

BPH is a fancy way of saying the prostate swells. The tube that carries urine runs through the prostate – if the gland is infected, inflamed or starts to swell, it makes urination more difficult. It’s pretty common in older guys.

Normal PSA scores run from 0 to 4, although the docs are looking harder at the higher numbers. If the score starts to rise fairly quickly, as it has for me, the sawbones like to determine how fast it’s going up; they call it PSA acceleration. If it looks like something is putting the pedal to the metal in your posterior, then it’s time for further diagnosis.

After learning about the test around 10 years ago, I had one at my next annual physical so we’d have a baseline – like getting the baseline on how your engine normally performs, so if something goes awry, you have something to measure against. I’ve had one every year since, to see how it’s behaving.

Guys should have PSA tests done fairly early in life, especially if a blood relative had or has prostate cancer, and at least by age 50. Again quoting the government site:

“Several risk factors increase a man’s chances of developing prostate cancer. These factors may be taken into consideration when a doctor recommends screening. Age is the most common risk factor, with nearly 65 percent of prostate cancer cases occurring in men age 65 and older.”

Men who have a father or brother with prostate cancer have a greater chance of developing prostate cancer. African American men have the highest rate of prostate cancer, while Asian and Native American men have the lowest rates. In addition, there is some evidence that a diet higher in fat, especially animal fat, may increase the risk of prostate cancer.

With the possible exception of eating more fat than I should and being much closer to 60 than I like, I don’t have any of those risk factors. So I am cautiously optimistic that the problem will turn out to be some latent infection or inflammation, curable with antibiotics.

But I am not willing to bet my ass on that. So, if further tests are needed – ultrasound, even a biopsy – I’ll beat them to the exam room.

Look for updates here in the days to come.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hey, there’s a human in here

Have you noticed how often someone comes up with a “brilliant” idea to solve the problems in the trucking industry and forgets that people, human beings, actually drive those trucks?

We’ve been down this road with hours of service regs and idling restrictions, and now the California Air Resources Board is moving toward mandating fuel-efficient retrofits.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is constantly forcing the think tanks, politicians and such to think beyond the solution they are trying to achieve and look at the unintended consequences. What is the real-life impact of your proposal?

This is routinely met with blank stares. The concept that there is an impact on human life seems to completely escape them.

We have to point out that idling restrictions, coupled with hours of service regs, can land a trucker in a sleeper-berth in below freezing temperatures for eight hours.

You can see the puzzled look on their face followed by yet another stroke of “genius.”

“Why don’t they just buy a generator?”

“Do you have $7,000 to $10,000 just laying around? Truckers don’t either.”

“They could get a loan,” comes the inevitable response.

“Hello? Credit crunch.”

It’s a frustrating situation to battle day in and day out. Yet it’s one that must be fought.

I stumbled on to my own personal stroke of genius recently when I had this debate with a friend who has no comprehension of the trucking industry, but thinks he has all the answers.

I told him that I could cut my grocery bill by 90 percent starting right now. Look at all the money I’ll save, I told him. I’ll be able to buy a new car in no time.

He took the bait and asked how I could cut my grocery bill that much.

“Simple, we just won’t eat.”

The human consequence.

I think it sunk in.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In my humble opinion

If you haven’t registered to vote by now, you just may be too late, even if you know someone from ACORN, the community activist group that’s been in the news because of alleged voter registration fraud. You may still be spouting hot air about the candidates and the issues, but when it comes to making a difference, you’ve blown it for the next four years. Remember: The trucking industry is supposed to reduce emissions, so take that as a friendly suggestion.

Early voting in Tennessee started on Oct. 13 – a Monday, thank goodness – and in my town, the lines have been consistently long. I tried early in the week to vote before going off to work, but the predicted 30-minute wait would have made me later than usual to the job. So I decided to try Saturday, knowing that a lot of other folks would, too.

I arrived at the courthouse around 10:40 that morning, and only as the clock moved toward 11:30 did the line inside begin to shrink. It had run the length of the building and around half of the central rotunda. The election commission was ready, though. They had a full crew at the office and, while long, the line kept moving at a pace the Post Office wishes it could achieve. Why, I wondered, does it take longer to buy stamps than to decide who will warm the most powerful chair in the world for four years?

While in line, people exchanged small talk or chatted on cell phones or read. We all agreed that the line that day was nothing compared with what it would be on Nov. 4 and nodded solemnly in self-congratulation for being smart enough to vote early.

Outside, the campaigners and their supporters crowded up against the invisible 100-foot boundary for campaign materials. They waved and cheered and occasionally swapped thumbs-up with arriving or departing voters, or with folks bound for the recently completed new home for the county historical archives. Like the grand county building itself, the archives and their new home had been the subject of some bitter local politics, but on this day both seemed serene and a mark of progress for our increasingly suburban county.

The sky was blue, the air finally fall-cool after a cold front swept through, and the trees had some reds and oranges, although a long dry spell and unseasonably mild weather seem likely to blunt the usual brilliance. One of our high schools (6-1) had beaten an undefeated (7-0) Nashville team last night, so there was an air of celebration.

A fall/Halloween scene in front of the courthouse reminded us that the second-most decorated holiday in America is nigh. The scene cheerily mocked the dark forces and fear of the unknown that originally inspired the holiday. After seeing and deleting countless e-mails filled with racial, religious and personal epithets about both candidates, I thought maybe we haven’t come all that far from those ancient Celts.

Taken altogether, it was a small-town scene that is being repeated everywhere. Even in big cities, the voting process narrows down to neighborhoods, erasing the vast megalopolis and reminding everyone that all politics is local, and of the importance of taking part.

Having grown up in the South during the civil rights era, I have a keen appreciation of the need to vote at every opportunity, even if all the choices are less than palatable. A vote is an affirmation of faith in a system many still regard as a grand experiment.

One can hold one’s nose and hope for better choices next time; can declare that so and so may hold such and such office, but they’re not “my” (insert office title). But not voting is a surrender to the short-term and to despair and cynicism. Moreover, it’s a slap in the face to those men and women standing in harm’s way so we can gripe about not having any good choices, or having choices that are desperately opposite in intentions.

That, IMHO, is not an option.

Note: For complete information on registration deadlines in various states, click here. Remember, seven states offer election-day registration, and some locales do not require voters to register at all.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Our truck is better than yours

For quite a while now, there’s been a bit of a tit for tat going on between two OEMs in the trucking industry – Daimler Trucks and Navistar International.

The two companies have waged an advertising-public relations war about which company has the most aerodynamic truck in the industry – the Freightliner Cascadia or the International ProStar.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that it’s been a bit entertaining to listen to these two big dog OEMs go at it.

The latest chapter in the Daimler-Navistar battle unfolded in September when an advertising watchdog group that’s part of the Better Business Bureau weighed in on the feud.

Navistar filed a challenge with the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus earlier this year.

Among other things, the challenge took to task print and Internet advertising claims by Daimler that the Cascadia is the “most aerodynamic truck on the planet.” The claim is backed in the advertising with statement that “Auto Research Center, an independent company … has reviewed and validated these results.”

Navistar challenged other claims made by Daimler, including the touting of more than $2,700 in fuel savings, but you get the gist of it.

Well, the National Advertising Division agreed, at least in part with Navistar and recommended that Daimler discontinue or modify “certain advertising claims.”

Daimler agreed.

However, it wasn’t a clear win for Navistar in the battle. The watchdog group said that one of Daimler’s claims about the Cascadia was supported by the evidence.

Also, even though Daimler is going to make some changes to its advertising, company officials said that the watchdog group “did not adequately understand the nature of certain technical information submitted.”

Alas, it appears the squabble probably still hasn’t been settled.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pulp fiction

This is a short post but a point I really wanted to make.

Reading news headlines here Friday, Oct. 10, oil prices have dipped below $80 a barrel, settling lower than we’ve seen oil at since September 2007.

It’s hard not to remember June and July, when Goldman Sachs analysts and others were quoted saying oil would likely hit $200, and that $500 per barrel wasn’t out of the question.

I won’t pretend to be an investment expert. I will point out, however, that many financial institutions (like Goldman Sachs) that have been pushing things like privatized highways and other infrastructure sell-offs, seem to be as neck-deep into this market drop as anyone.

The same investment experts who are trading futures of commodities like oil at 2:30 a.m. on unregulated markets halfway across the world are feeling the effects of our reactionary climate.

Had many U.S. highways and toll roads been privatized when this market did hit, how would our highways, bridges and toll roads have been affected? Would the future expenditure for maintenance be overlooked as financial gurus directed all resources into more profitable ventures?

Fortunately, these major world banking powers haven’t purchased the majority of our infrastructure – yet.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Programmable speed limiters for cars

Let’s face it, if there was technology out there to help encourage teens to be safer drivers, truckers would likely be among those in favor of it.

Ford Motor Co. has introduced new technology called MyKey that includes a speed limiter setting for the engine of certain models. MyKey can be programmed to limit the top road speed of the Focus model to a maximum of 80 mph.

They say it will curb road racing, but to be honest, I can’t recall if I’ve ever seen a Focus doing 80 mph. Oh well, it’s a start.

A practical application for the MyKey is that it can be programmed to sound warnings to the driver when the car reaches 45, 55 and 65 mph.

MyKey encourages seat-belt usage by chiming frequent reminders and by muting the vehicle’s stereo until the seat belt is engaged. That’s practical. It won’t let drivers play the stereo until they’re buckled up.

MyKey also limits the volume of the stereo to 44 percent of its total volume to encourage the driver to pay attention to the road instead of the latest CD from My Chemical Romance.

The programmable technology will come standard on 2010 and newer Ford Focus models and will soon be standard on other Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models, officials announced on Monday, Oct. 6.

About half the people surveyed during testing said they would allow their teens to use the family car more often if the vehicle were equipped with MyKey technology.

Initially, 67 percent of the teens surveyed didn’t like the idea of having this technology limit their driving habits, but that number dropped to 36 percent if using it meant they could borrow the car more often.

It’s a step in the right direction. What they really need is for technology – or at least a driver education course – that teaches teens more about sharing the road with large trucks.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sorting reality from pie-in-the-sky

Last week, HQ was buzzing like a beehive. From Oct. 1-4 the OOIDA Board of Directors convened, and it was nonstop meetings. I’ve always been a fly on the wall at these affairs, covering the whole enchilada for Land Line Magazine.

Last year, I was elected to serve as an alternate to our employee board member, so now I’m at the table. It’s a different perspective. I’ve been here for 21 years and I know how OOIDA works their plan. The part I really relish is watching the leadership of an organization of 160,000 members plan its work.

For instance, I am always fascinated with how the Association’s government affairs strategies are typically developed. The line of attack is a lot more than just blowing smoke, and it takes some sharp minds and experienced leaders with BS meters turned on high to turn talk into walk.

During the week – and way before – OOIDA’s DC crew gathers info and meets with insiders on The Hill to measure interest, viability. They wear out many pairs of shoes.

During the Board meetings, they meet with members of the Government Affairs Committee, and working subgroups are formed. After much discussion, reporting, refining and analysis, strategies are presented to the full board.

On Oct. 4, the working subgroups of the Government Affairs Committee presented concept plans that would be approved or disapproved by the board.

One of those was OOIDA’s “green” initiative, and I am going to use it as an example.

First, let me interject that I am amazed at the bad ideas that get pushed around in this industry in the name of safety and profit. I hear and read about them daily and am even more amazed that uninformed lawmakers and inept policymakers fall for it. OK, back to the green initiative.

In my opinion, OOIDA’s plan is nothing but impressive compared to the green initiatives of other industry stakeholders, such as ATA and the railroad association.

Board Member Howard Hart, Spokane, WA, chaired the green work group and presented its proposal for a “green” initiative for a cleaner, safer, more efficient trucking environment. The challenge is meeting EPA emission mandates for cleaner air. You do that by running better routes that use less fuel and idling less to conserve fuel and getting in and out of loading docks quickly, all saving millions of gallons of fuel.

“The railroad association has its plan for the future, and that’s to move freight from truck to rail. The cost, of course, to ramp up the rails is going to be huge,” said Howard. “ATA wants bigger, heavier trucks, which will put additional wear and tear on our roads and bridges and require substantial investment.”

The OOIDA plan will target operational efficiency, pushing for “greener” docks by streamlining logistics/shipping practices. Right now, it’s in the draft mode, but the Association plans to call it our “Always Green” initiative. There’s a lot more detail to this, of course, and strategies on how to accomplish results. I won’t get into that here, but I will share some more of the behind-closed-doors dialogue from the meeting.

“Our current system capacity is way underutilized,” said Howard. “Truckers work 24/7. But the places where we pick up and deliver have never worked on that schedule, so the industry is totally out of step. To make trucking a cleaner, more efficient, more profitable place, that boondoggle has to get better. It is our position to push for those changes.”

“These are significant strategies because they are achievable right now, not 10 years down the road. America needs fixes that can be realized as soon as possible,” said Board Member John Taylor. “Unlike solutions from other industry stakeholders, ours are realistic and affordable.”

The board voted to approve the initiative. So what’s next?

Now the DC crew will work on packaging the plan. You’ll be reading about it in Land Line and OOIDA will be sharing it with appropriate groups and lawmakers. Hopefully, truckers will be seeing a push for efficiency that will see expanded shipper hours at the docks and an atmosphere that will get trucks in and get them out. In our new economically challenged world, it’s the right plan at the right time.

FYI: The plans also includes fuel efficiency initiatives such as encouraging states to implement the EPA Model Idle Law, make the best use of the EPA grant for purchasing APUs, continue OOIDA’s APU loan program, support the purchase of aerodynamic equipment and more.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

There really is ‘power in one’

Just how important are you? Odds are that a loved one would say you are mighty important. No argument here. There’s also no argument that your importance carries a great deal of significance for politicians and advocates/opponents of ballot initiatives./p>

While the statement on voting might seem to be a pie-in-the-sky notion, there have been countless occasions when it has proven to be true. A little research uncovers some dandies when a lone voter affected the outcome of an election.

In 1820, Thomas Hart Benton became one of the first U.S. senators for Missouri by a one-vote margin.

In 1839, Edward Everett lost his re-election bid for Massachusetts governor to Marcus Morton by one vote out of more than 100,000 ballots cast.

In 1911, Richard H. Koch received the only vote cast in the primaries for the Prohibition nomination to become the common pleas court judge in Schuylkill County, PA.

In August 2008, Angela Tuttle was elected constable of Hancock County, TN, when she submitted her name as a write-in candidate. The lone vote was enough to win because nobody else was vying for the position.

Other instances show how one more vote could have resulted in a different outcome of an election. In 1948, if Thomas Dewey had received one vote more per precinct in Ohio and California, he would have won the presidency from Harry S. Truman.

In 1960, one more vote per precinct in Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and Texas would have won the election for Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy.

On other occasions the tallying of votes was unable to decide a victor. In 1986, Owen Smeby and Art Kunze finished in a tie to become the mayor of Long Lake, MN. Smeby eventually won the race on a coin toss.

In 1994, Randall Luthi and Larry Call tied for a seat in the Wyoming House. Luthi was declared the winner when a ping pong ball bearing his name was pulled from the cowboy hat of Gov. Mike Sullivan.

During these instances and others like them the importance of taking the time to cast a single ballot was vital to the outcome. Of course, an election doesn’t have to be a nail-biter to be worthy of your vote. It is your right. It is your voice.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Let them eat doughnuts

New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Kris Kolluri says that increasing the toll rates on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway in 2009 will cost the average highway user less than half the price of a strawberry doughnut.

Speaking at a public hearing on proposed toll increases for two of the nation’s busiest toll roads, Kolluri compared the increase to a doughnut he recently bought for his daughter.

“If we are willing as a society to pay $1.06 for one strawberry doughnut, I think it makes sense that we could ask ourselves to pay 50 cents more over 15 years to keep our bridges safe,” Kolluri stated at a hearing Sept. 23 at Camden County Community College.

His comments upset many of the 120 people present, local media reported.

If approved, toll rates on the turnpike and parkway would increase 50 percent in 2009, another 50 percent in 2012, and 10 percent in 2023 for heavy trucks as well as passenger vehicles. On the turnpike, truck tolls could increase from the current $26.55 for the entire length to $65.75 by 2023.

Kolluri is trying his best to sugarcoat the issue, but no amount of icing – strawberry or otherwise – can coat the bitter pill that commuters and truckers will have to swallow if these increases are approved.

Incidentally, the state paid Kolluri $140,740 in 2007, the equivalent of 132,773 strawberry doughnuts.

We’d like to send him a baker’s dozen. Razzberry flavor.

Editor’s note: The turnpike authority has called an additional hearing on possible changes to their increase proposal. The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon, Friday, Oct. 10, at authority headquarters, 581 Main St., Woodbridge, NJ 07095.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Don’t follow the hammer

I read in last week’s news that corporate India is in disbelief after a nutted-out mob of laid-off workers lost their minds and bludgeoned their CEO to death.

The boss – head of the Indian operations of Graziano Transmissioni, an Italian-headquartered manufacturer of car parts – died of “severe head wounds.” Other managers were beaten, but survived.

According to news reports, the attack followed a long-running clash between the factory’s management and workers who wanted better pay and permanent contracts. It seems that the 47-year-old honcho had dismissed them from a factory in a suburb of Delhi.

Those wounds were inflicted by dozens of crazed employees who had been canned by the company. Police said they were waiting outside of the factory as a negotiation was going on inside.

The boss had summoned some workers to cuss and discuss. One report said more than 150 workers who were waiting outside apparently heard a yell from inside. That’s all it took to send them rushing in. Chaos took over and someone clobbered the boss with a hammer. Now, the way this happened is likely how all mob killings go – several want to inflict death and the others are trampling along behind them mindlessly, just following the hammer.

In cases of mob mentality or herd mentality, people acting in a group lose their personal accountability in an instant. Why the heck is that?

We’ve watched it happening a lot here in the U.S. lately. For example, look at the freaked out electronic mouse-pushing herd, rushing from one investment to another – and with a click, it takes millions of dollars from one place and puts it someplace else in a second. Look at the lines of panicked gas-buyers rushing to top off their tanks so they can drive to the mall across town.

I am reminded of the quote from “Men in Black” movie with Tommy Jones and Will Smith. Tommy Jones’ character said: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gaslessville

From spotty shortages preceding Hurricane Ike to region-wide outages, Middle Tennessee where I live has become a gasless desert. I visited the Soviet Union in the mid-’80s, and lived through the Arab oil embargo of the ’70s, and the scene here reminds me of those two experiences.

The lines at gas stations are not as long as they were in California’s Bay area when I lived there in the ’70s, but they’re persistent and the waits are tedious. At least two people in my office of 25 spoke of waiting for gas only to see the station run dry when they were almost to the pump.

People are using the radio, telephone, Internet, Twitter and, for all I know, scattering chicken bones to find gasoline. A news report at 6 a.m. about gas at a place on the east edge of Nashville – showing no cars there – led to a packed station and a line there 30 minutes later.

I remember Russians in the old USSR of the ’80s lining up at stores because there was a rumor there’d be shoes, bread or coffee. It didn’t matter if you needed it, or whether or not they had your size – you might be able to swap with someone who had something you did need. So you “queued up” and hoped for the best.

People are filling up jugs and jerry cans – I saw one guy on TV with two plain big plastic bottles like those that hold pretzels – anything they think will hold gasoline.

I admit to topping off my tank, for the same reason most folks have – it takes a car to get to work, get groceries, get kids to school. The price varies wildly, from close to $4.50 to as low as $3.70, but for once none of us is in much of a mood to argue. You spot an oasis, you hope it’s not a mirage, and you go for it.

Supposedly, things will return to normal in a week or so. Normality was expected last week, too, and that didn’t happen. I’ve wondered idly – sorry, bad choice of words – if the kids who love to cruise after school and on weekends around the malls and Nashville’s Second Avenue are staying home. And what about the bass anglers with their monster outboards, or the ski crowd? It is still warm enough to swim and ski here – are they high and dry?

I’d go look, but I’m not sure if I could find a place to top off afterward.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Voting records can be had ... for the inquiring voter

On Nov. 4, voters across the country will cast ballots on many important races and issues.

At the federal level, all of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for election, while 35 – or about one-third – of the 100 U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs. At the state level, 11 governors’ seats are on ballots, while 80 percent of state legislators’ positions across America are on ballots.

While elected officials are hammering the airwaves, stuffing mailboxes and filling voice mails with their election season messages in hopes of swaying voters, those savvy to the practice will instead recall the elected officials’ full bodies of work. Past actions of politicians can help voters determine whether the pressure of getting re-elected might be causing them to seemingly change their way of thinking.

Voters with a photographic memory know all there is to know about elected officials’ voting records. They’ll have little problem figuring out who to cast a ballot in favor of. For everyone else, a little help with where to get voting records is a big help.

Tracking votes of congressional lawmakers is pretty easy. Multiple sources are available to get an inside look at their track records on issues of importance to you. Among the Web sites with good information are The Washington Post, Project Vote Smart and the sites for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

It is important to note that only recorded votes can be tracked for individual members. Many votes are taken in the U.S. House and Senate by voice vote or division vote, where individual members’ positions are not available.

Voting histories for elected officials at statehouses aren’t as easy to come by but, in most instances, can be found by persistent voters. One helpful site is USAvotes.org. However, on this site, voting records can be found for lawmakers only in Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington.

For the remaining states, voters have to be willing to put in the time and effort to visit individual state legislative sites to research previous votes. Fortunately, those sites typically are very good about making information from the current and previous sessions available.

For instance, Illinois voters familiar with SB540 from 2007 to authorize uniform speed limits can trace back to find out which House lawmakers voted against an override of the governor’s veto. To see the voting breakdown on that issue, click here.

Other nuggets of information can be found for other states. A useful tool to help identify bills of significance to the trucking industry in your home state can be found on a Web site made available by OOIDA. Click here to visit that site.

Bienvenido a Miami

Major cargo theft from commercial trucks in the United States is on pace to double this past year’s estimated $1.2 billion haul.

A bad economy and relatively low risk, high reward means criminals are stealing more from commercial trucks than ever before.

I was in Miami this week, interviewing members of the Tactical Operations Multi-Agency Cargo Anti-Theft Squad, also known as TOMCATS. Housed in the Miami-Dade Police Department, TOMCATS has snagged $50 million in stolen cargo this year already, and agency officials say truckers can do their part to make themselves a less likely target.

The two most important things drivers can do, they say, is to never leave a truck while it’s idling and to park only in well-lit, safe areas.

Of course, they understand some of the challenges long-haulers face in finding good parking, particularly related to meeting hours-of-service requirements while often making drops and pickups in dangerous or partially secluded areas.

Look for more about my ride-along in the November edition of Land Line Magazine.

Miami is a major trucking hub, with cargo containers being imported and exported through the Atlantic and scores of warehouses in the Miami-Dade County area.

Looks like this group has got plenty of job security.

Tuesday was my first day in Miami, and I walked the city for a few miles to soak in some first impressions. First off, Miami can’t be summed up in a sentence. It’s heavy on tourism and international flavor (my first five minutes off the plane I bumped into people speaking French, I believe German, and a host of Spanish and Caribbean varieties.

The weather is nice and warm at night, and extremely humid and hot during the day.

The people can be friendly, but the city also shows some grit. A bus driver chided me for having a wadded-up bus exchange receipt. Apparently he thought I was trying to get out of the $1.50 fare.

My polo shirt, khaki shorts and cheap sandals definitely didn’t fit in on the South Beach scene, and I can honestly say Tuesday was the first time I ever felt underdressed at a CVS drugstore.

But, on the whole, it was a good trip.

Maybe not quite this good, though.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tracking Ike online

A number of truckers have contacted Land Line and recommended weather Web sites, official and unofficial. Online weather sites, if you haven’t checked them out, are nothing short of amazing.

OOIDA member Kenneth Becker, Montgomery, TX, likes wunderground.com, the Weather Underground site. Ken was in North Dakota Friday and called me from some oil field. He was getting ready to see how his hometown fares with Ike. Armed with satellite and laptop, he told me he’s got his hometown punched in and can monitor everything.

He can even get a Google image of what his neighborhood looks like, live. I am sure that’s reassuring to Ken since his wife and the kids are home in Montgomery, 55 miles northwest of Houston. Ken says he’s talked to her on the phone a lot and at noon Friday, she watched her neighbors pack up and head north.

Ken – who missed Katrina and Rita because he was trucking – said his wife was getting the place nailed down so it “won’t blow away.”

I went to wunderground.com and tried to see Ken’s house and I am pretty sure I see it, along with an image of Elizabeth out there looking at the sky, hands on hips. OK, so I am kidding, I really can’t see Elizabeth.

Incidentally, Ken is an OOIDA board member and I’ve known him for a long time. I know Elizabeth, too and believe me, Ike really doesn’t want to mess with her.

I’m also keeping in touch with Danny Schnautz, Pasadena, TX, near Houston and Galveston Bay. He was actually at work Friday. His wife, Celessa, was home battening down the hatches. They are not evacuating. Danny’s a longtime member of OOIDA who is operations manager for Clark Freight Lines in Pasadena. In an e-mail Friday a.m., Danny said he and some “volunteers” were in the office doing paperwork, getting trucks paid, taking calls from brokers looking for empty trucks, and watching Ike online.

Danny likes stormpulse.com. He also goes to http://web.tampabay.rr.com/wolfy/. Check out those satellite images. Wow.

Any bloggers out there who have favorite weather spots? Let me know and I’ll share with truckers with homes or freight in the Gulf states.

One last note: At shortly before 1 p.m. – just as I was finishing this blog – I got an e-mail reporting Danny had left the office and was driving home. He reported a lot of wind, dust, overcast conditions.

Via his BlackBerry, he messaged: “It’s here.”

(Incidentally, the picture of Hurricane Ike was taken from space by NASA.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A meeting of non-partisan minds

“Hot fuel” came under the spotlight before two members of the Tennessee General Assembly recently at a town hall to discuss energy use and conservation.

Yours truly jumped at the chance to bring up the topic in a public forum, and, although passing legislation is always a crapshoot, at least one of the representatives said she was considering legislation for 2009 to address the issue.

Hot fuel is an issue raised originally by OOIDA that is steadily gaining traction at the state and federal level. For a couple of months, I have been communicating with state Rep. Debra Maggart about the issue, sending her links to information about the concern, and she kindly alerted me to the meeting called by her and state Rep. Susan Lynn.

Lynn said she had attended an energy conference recently and, earlier this summer, had an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal supporting expanded oil exploration and drilling.

Their panel included representatives of the oil industry, convenience stores and gas stations, natural gas, alternative fuels and new energy technologies. In the open mic portion of the meeting, various speakers urged more support for alternative energies, lower taxes on fuel, and more incentives for home-generated electricity.

When my turn came, I spent my few minutes giving an overview of the hot fuel issue. I was armed with facts from the http://www.turndownhotfuel.com/, OOIDA’s hot fuel Web site.

At one point, Rep. Lynn said she had been informed at that earlier energy conference that morning is the best time of day to gas up. I politely disagreed, and gave her the Web address to further educate her.

After the meeting, I spoke with a representative from the Tennessee Oil Marketers Association (TOMA.org), which represents C-stores, gas stations and petroleum jobbers. Her perspective on the issue was that there wasn’t much difference in quantity – about a teaspoon – between fuel at 60F and hotter fuel. She also said that the issue was currently being examined by scientific panels, and they were waiting for the conclusions, and that in any case consumers would be confused and upset over variations in quantity of fuel purchased based on temperature.

She also argued that it would be enormously expensive to refit all dispensers – some places still have mechanical pumps – with temperature compensation devices. We also agreed to disagree, as you likely will disagree with her when you read the facts vs. myths of hot fuel.

It was an interesting and oddly exciting experience to step from covering an issue to, in effect, lobbying for it. But as citizens, we have the obligation as well as the right to do just that.

You should never pass up an opportunity to meet your lawmakers, regardless of whether their politics agree with yours. Likewise, you should never pass up an opportunity to contact them about issues important to you. And you are well advised to avoid accusing them of partisanship or other shenanigans if you want serious consideration of your specific issue.

I saw a demonstration of this today: One speaker came armed with grievances and spent most of his time railing about the representatives’ partisanship and partisanship in general. He didn't really have a specific issue he wanted addressed – or if so, it got lost in the complaints.

At the end of his comments, the reps thanked him graciously and went on smoothly. He’d had the satisfaction of venting, but had not accomplished anything else. In fact, he was from outside their districts and apparently had driven more than 40 miles one-way to have his say – that’s energy conservation for ya.

Besides leaving your politics at home, other tips to effectively address lawmakers include:

  • Be prepared. Research the issue you want to address. Research both sides. Master the most important facts and counter-arguments.
  • Write out what you plan to say. Having a written presentation with bullet points will help ensure you don't leave out an important, possibly crucial, fact. This also helps you with the next point …
  • Be brief. Whether in an informal session, town-hall meeting or face-to-face conversation, you won't have a lot of time to make your points. The more concise you can be, the more likely you are to present the important elements of your case and capture the lawmaker’s attention. You can always follow up with additional material for the lawmaker or staff.
  • Be polite. Thank the lawmaker for his or her time at the start and end of your comments. If you disagree with the lawmaker on a point, do so politely and move on. You may have different politics, but a worthy issue can bridge the political aisle.
  • Follow up. After the meeting, e-mail or mail the lawmakers a note thanking them again for their time, for listening to what you had to say and considering it. If appropriate, send along supporting material to amplify your point.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Update for you Hammer heads

After a healthy dose of mugging for the crowd and the cameras, Jason McCoy dashed back to the microphone to deliver his band’s trademark chorus line.

“I’m a road hammer,” he and his band mates proclaimed. “A white-knuckled steel gear jammer, Rig jockey highway slammer – I’m just doin’ what I gotta do.”

The Road Hammers, a Canadian band now residing in Nashville, TN, blend elements of modern and classic country, rock and up-tempo blues on their acclaimed album, “Blood Sweat & Steel.”

I haven’t been to very many country music concerts even though the first concert experience of my life was the Statler Brothers when I was 5. Even I know that the genre of what is considered “country” has changed a lot with the times.

I wrote a story about The Road Hammers in the June issue of Land Line, describing how they burst onto the scene after McCoy, already an acclaimed vocalist in Canada, formed the band on a reality show.

I have kept up with the band since my initial interview with McCoy for a few reasons, not limited to the fact that I am Canadian and I am also a musician.

I marked my calendar and made it a point to catch The Road Hammers on tour this past Labor Day weekend as they warmed up the crowd for country legend Lorrie Morgan at the Santa-Cali-Gon Days festival in Independence, MO. In fact, my band played at the same festival two nights earlier.

While Morgan takes the more traditional approach to the genre of country, The Road Hammers put on a rock show with a country twist.

The bluesy guitars were blazing, and the band members in black cowboy hats covered a lot of ground on the stage as they engaged the crowd.

At the meet-and-greet after the show, I talked briefly with the Hammers about truckin’ and music and how the two seem to go together like tread on a tire.

Pictured from left to right, the Road Hammers are: vocalist Jason McCoy, guitarist Clayton Bellamy, drummer Corbett Frasz and bassist Chris Byrne.

Following the greet session, another cool thing happened. The Hammers disappeared for a brief moment but then returned to the side of the stage to watch Morgan perform her set.

It was cool because after putting on a rock show, The Road Hammers returned incognito to watch a performer who has had 25 hits dating back to 1978.

They know where they want to be and they also have a healthy respect for what has come before, and I’ll bet truckers of all ages can relate to that.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Time to engage the BS meter

Spin, distortion, misrepresentation and, in some cases, outright lies will fill the airwaves for the next two months. You can count on it.

With the conventions of both political parties over and the race for the presidency in full swing, the challenge of sorting out truth from fiction falls squarely on the shoulders of voters.

Calling this an emotionally charged election is pretty much an understatement.

The general mood of the American people isn’t a happy one. Pick your issue and you’ll find someone not happy about it: the economy, the war(s), education, healthcare, etc.

We have history being made by both parties: a black on the Democratic ticket and a woman running for the Republicans.

Face it, there’s a lot riding on the November election. And you can bet it’s going to be game on in the meantime.

Everyone has the agenda of painting their candidate in the best possible light. “Rhetoric” will be spouted by politicos – everyone from candidates, to staff, to so-called hired gun analysts – which doesn’t make our jobs as voters any easier. Commercials will evoke emotions. Columnists and special interest groups will attempt to sway you.

So how do you find out what the facts really are?

The best thing is to actually stay up on your elected officials all the time, to know how they’re voting. But, if you’re playing catch-up right now and can’t research thousands of past votes, all is not lost.

A few handy one-stop Web sites can be a great resource for getting to the bottom of things.

Factcheck.org and PolitiFact.com, for example, are nonpartisan. One is a watchdog group; the other is a couple of media outlets that have teamed up.

If you have more, please add them on the comments. The more resources we have, the better informed as voters we can all be.

The bottom line is, it is so important to make sure you’re voting for the candidates that best represent your positions on the critical issues. Taking a few minutes here and there to check out these sites – and hopefully others you all add – will be time well spent.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Mary Peters paints a truck-free picture

It’s difficult to imagine a world without trucks. That is, unless you’re with the DOT.

Solutions offered by U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to some of the nation’s most challenging transportation problems do not bode well for truckers.

Here’s the proof.

Peters recently announced a plan for reform that would consolidate 108 DOT programs into eight programs with priority given to congestion relief, tolling and public-private partnerships.

The DOT provided a glimpse at what the future could hold with stylish “before” and “after” shots posted on the Web.

Click here to check out the current state of highways “without reform.” Notice the typical gridlock.

Now click here to see what the highways are supposed to look like “with reform” under the Peters plan. Notice a wide open highway with only five vehicles on it.

None of these vehicles are trucks.

During a transportation hearing earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, asked Peters if the administration’s call for more congestion tolling was geared to price everyone off the roadways except for the occasional Lexus.

Judging by her suggested reforms, the answer is pretty clear.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Recipe for disaster

For nearly two years now, I have covered the food safety beat here at Land Line, beginning when E. coli was found in bagged spinach, and some of our members were stuck with potentially affected product on their trailers and nowhere to go with it.

Since that outbreak, I have been on a quest to find out what recall procedures the FDA and the USDA have in place to protect truckers who may be in transit with bad food products when problems are discovered.

The scary news is there is minimal, if any, guidance out there from these agencies sworn to protect the nation’s food supply for what truckers hauling potentially contaminated products should do when a recall is issued. And even though food cannot get from farm to fork without trucks, these agencies still have not sought input on food safety issues from truckers’ perspectives.

And the outbreaks continue.

This week alone, I have been following food poisoning outbreaks linked to E.coli, Salmonella and listeria that further convince me that our food safety system is badly broken. While at least 11 food safety bills are floating around Washington, DC, this year, nothing has been approved. No one can uniformly decide what the heck to do to fix our ailing system to prevent more consumers from getting sick from the food that they trust to be safe.

According to a recent survey by the Center for Food Integrity, fewer than 20 percent of those surveyed strongly agreed that our government agencies are doing a good job of protecting our nation’s food supply.

This past week, more than 215,000 pounds of pepperoni “Hot Pockets” were recalled because they may contain plastic shards in them, and another company, Nebraska Beef Ltd. has recalled more than 1.2 million pounds of beef products because of potential E.coli contamination. A month earlier, this same company also voluntarily recalled more than 5.3 million pounds of beef products linked to more than 40 illnesses.

In Oklahoma, one person has died and as many as 30 others have gotten sick because of an E.coli outbreak after many ate at the same restaurant, the Country Cottage in Locust Grove, OK.

Our neighbors to the north are embattled in their own food safety nightmare this week as a listeria outbreak tied to a Maple Leaf Foods plant in North York, Ontario, has killed 12 people.

Just today, Thursday, Aug. 28, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the FDA announced that the outbreak tied to jalapeno and serrano peppers is over. More than 1,400 people in 43 states were sickened. The source of the contamination of the peppers is still unknown, although the FDA has lifted its warning against eating them.

And my co-workers wonder why I am no fun at the lunch table anymore.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Open for business

An estimated 40 percent of American imports come through the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, and it’s apparent that about 40 percent of truck news is coming from those ports as well.

Just the other day in Land Line’s newsroom, we spent 10 minutes going through the requirements truckers will have to meet to comply with the California Air Resources Board’s rules on drayage trucks, the ports rules themselves, and CARB’s proposed rule on greenhouse gas emissions that also mentions ports.

So we’ve cobbled together a hodgepodge of what’s going on this week at the ports.

As the photo in this post shows, more than $2 billion in truck replacement funds are to be handed out from a trailer parked between the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been working for years on a clean truck program aimed at lowering emissions. This week they have rolled out models of trucks that participants in the ports’ “truck replacement program” can choose from.

The photo you see was taken by Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA’s regulatory affairs specialist, who is on the ground in Los Angeles this week.

Any program handing out $2.2 billion is sure to sound alarms, and this one is no different.

More information about the truck replacement program is available here. A Land Line Special Report about the truck program’s inclusion of Mexican trucking companies is available here.

And today, at the ports, one group is schedule to demonstrate against a financing plan being touted as the way for owner operators to obtain new, low emissions trucks.

Fox Business reported on a press release from the Consumer Federation of California about demonstrators who are comparing the truck replacement program to subprime housing loans, which many are blaming for the current economic swoon. The Port of Long Beach, which is planning on continuing to use owner-operators, has worked with Daimler Chrysler to organize truck funding for owner-operators.

Of the 16,000 drayage drivers who work at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach daily, an estimated 25 percent lack residency documentation and many more drive dilapidated trucks.

From the Consumer Federation of California:

“A Daimler official publicly told the Long Beach officials that the company expects ‘over 40 percent’ of port drivers to have ‘high difficulty meeting the payments’ and that the company's strength is ‘managing collections,’ i.e., repossessing trucks.”

That article is available here.

As you can see, the port topic continues to heat up. The ports will be doling out $2.2 billion for these trucks, and their ability to implement a long-term strategy of cutting emissions is likely to be undermined by competing ports up and down the West Coast of North America who aren’t likely to raise container fees as high as Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Other ports in California, however, will still have to deal with the state’s port restrictions requiring 2007 emissions level truck engines by 2014.

Interestingly, the California Air Resources Board is scheduled to consider a regulation in October that would mandate all non-port truckers upgrade their trucks with assorted SmartWay certified equipment.

A voluntary program, the EPA SmartWay program includes use of fairings, side curtains, low-rolling resistance tires and other technologies aimed at fuel efficiency. Many port trucks, however, won’t be required to upgrade their trucks with SmartWay fairings, side curtains and other body pieces, and may very well be exempted from CARB’s proposed SmartWay reg.

Joe Rajkovacz is interested in CARB’s regulation, and has spoken this week with CARB employees while he’s in California. And he believes long haulers from out of state would be at a competitive disadvantage if the CARB SmartWay rule is approved as-is.

“It’s hypocrisy that our folks are being told under the proposed SmartWay regulation to have air fairings while many port trucks won’t,” Rajkovacz said.

Stay tuned.