Thursday, October 29, 2009

Truckers and flu

As noted in Land Line’s daily news, the White House, DOT and Centers for Disease Control are advising drivers how to try to keep the flu out of your rig – and presumably your home, your body and your loved ones.

Here’s my advice: Do it.

Health risks aside – and these may range from mild to serious, depending on how healthy you are to start with and perhaps how old you are – there’s a very practical, and powerful, economic reason for wanting to keep truckers and others in the nation’s transportation industry healthy.

In “The Great Influenza,” published in 2004, historian John M. Barry notes that today’s system of just-in-time delivery means that a significant drop in the transportation system’s capacity could ripple across the entire economy.

Writing about the 1918-19 flu that killed at least 650,000 people in America and sickened or even crippled millions more, he notes that many localities ran out of coffins for the dead.

Barry said the average time in 1968 between manufacture and use for coffins was five months; now, it’s about three and a half weeks. If H1N1 were to mutate into a far more lethal strain – as the 1918 flu did from a milder strain that hit that spring – some communities could run out of coffins.

Think also about the impact on produce and fresh food shipments. Anyone who has seen a stack of produce wilting on a dock because there was no truck to carry it can well imagine what that would look like multiplied many times.

Of course, it’s not just truckers. A serious pandemic could sideline people at every level of commerce for perhaps weeks at a time.

In a white paper for MIT’s Engineering Systems Division updated this past July, Barry extends that example to other critically needed medical supplies:

“Just-in-time, of course, discourages stockpiling supplies, not only for health care – and not just antibiotics but also syringes, gowns, gloves, and so on – but also for businesses. A mild pandemic could well infect the same proportion of the population as a severe one, and some workers would stay home to care for sick family members; this could easily cause peak absenteeism in the 20 percent or higher range for a week or more.

“This could ripple through the economy and create major bottlenecks.”

We don’t know if this flu will be the one that morphs into a serious killer. Plain old flu is bad enough, killing far more people each year in America than AIDS does, according to Barry. But it’s showing some eerie similarities to the 1918 virus. So keep the hand gel handy, try to stay out of crowds, and wash your hands.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On the scene at ‘Convoy for a Cure’

Last weekend, I traveled to Willie’s Place in Carl’s Corner, TX, to cover the first-ever U.S. “Convoy for a Cure” for OOIDA’s Land Line Magazine. And I am proud to say that I convoyed with some of the most courageous truckers you will ever meet.

Many of the women truckers I met at the “Cure” convoy are also breast cancer survivors, who have done battle with this brutal disease and won. Their survival stories would truly touch your heart. I know they did mine. For those of you who took the time to tell me your stories, I am honored to have met each one of you. Fight on!

All who were there had the same goal in mind to “drive out breast cancer one truck at a time” by raising money for research and early detection efforts.

I hitched a ride in the convoy with new OOIDA member Belinda Blacketer and her sweet dog, AJ, who now call Springfield, MO, home. She raised the second highest amount of money for the “Cure” convoy. She told me she was at the convoy to honor her sister-in-law who passed away from breast cancer at the age of 30. Thanks again for the ride!

OOIDA Life Member Cindy Stowe of Will’s Point, TX, organized the Texas convoy, which had 31 trucks and raised $13,000 for breast cancer research.

Although she was thoroughly exhausted after the convoy, I am happy to report that Cindy has already confirmed there will be a convoy next year at Willie’s Place. I think the foot rub Cindy received from one of the servers at dinner convinced her that the “show must go on” again next year.

Several bands and musicians turned out to perform for convoy attendees, including OOIDA members Leland Martin and Howard Salmon. Howard’s wife even flew in from Hawaii to attend the day’s festivities.

Representing Canada were “Cure” convoy founder Rachèle Champagne and Chantal Rheault, who has had her hands full this year wrangling the “Cure” Web sites for the convoys.

Rachèle is one ambitious lady. She is hoping that more female truckers will be inspired to host more “Cure” convoys across the U.S. and in Canada. The goal is for this “Cure” convoy idea to grow and to raise money for breast cancer research.

This year, the four convoys, three in Canada and one in the U.S., raised nearly $100,000 for breast cancer research.

“This has been an amazing experience,” Rachèle said.

And let me tell you something: OOIDA member Michele White of Rockwood, TN, is one tough cookie. She has battled cancer not once, not twice, but five times, and has beaten it back every time. She is an amazing woman. Michele also raised the most money and earned the lead truck position at the convoy.

“My philosophy now is that every day you wake up breathing is a good day,” Michele told me.

You can bet I will do my best to make it back there next year.

You can see more photos from the Texas “Convoy for a Cure” on Land Line Magazine’s Facebook Fan Page.

PHOTO: Land Line’s Clarissa Kell-Holland (left) poses with OOIDA Life Member Cindy Stowe, who organized the first-ever U.S. “Cure” convoy on Oct. 24 at Willie’s Place in Carl’s Corner, TX.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dashing home, but only briefly

Jasmine Jordan, 16-year-old daughter of two OOIDA members, is home resting a stress fracture for the next three to four weeks. Jasmine found out last week she had a small fracture in her foot, and will take an additional three weeks off minimum.

If you follow Jasmine, also known as Jazzy, on her Web site, or follow her on the Facebook or Twitter social networking sites, you probably already knew that.

Jazzy is running coast to coast to raise money for the St. Christopher Fund and to bring awareness to rising healthcare costs. The St. Christopher Fund helps truck drivers obtain medical procedures or equipment they couldn’t otherwise afford.

She was midway through New Mexico when the pain required her to take time off and visit a doctor.

The stress fracture wasn’t good news, but it does allow Jasmine to see her family, rest her exhausted body, and sleep in her own bed for a few weeks, said Lee Jordan, Jasmine’s dad and a truck driver.

“She’s doing good,” he said. “She wants to be running. She’s glad to be home but wishes she were still in New Mexico, running.”

Jasmine has grown a healthy following from many truck drivers who have followed her posts on Facebook, Lee said. Their messages are a welcome pick-me-up after she puts in 16-20 miles of running per day, studies, and shares a small camper with her dad.

“The support we’ve gotten from drivers on Facebook has just been incredible,” Lee said. “It is so, so nice. Everybody’s keeping up with her and wishing her the best. It’s very encouraging to her. Every time she reads more she just wants to get back out there and run.”

One runner has become friends with the Jordan family, and has lent his running experience to Jazzy.

The 44-year-old has completed a transcontinental run himself, actually running 3,200 miles in 109 days, Jordan said.

He made a video slideshow available here.

Before the Jordan family left New Mexico, they were able to meet up with Katie Visco, a 22-year-old woman running from Boston to San Diego.

Meeting Visco (pictured above with Jazzy) was very special, Lee said.

“For the first time in history, not only have two runners met during a cross-country tour, but two female runners have met,” Lee said. “It’s just unheard of.”