Tuesday, May 10, 2011

South of the border, down Mexico way

Photo by Gary Bricken
Let me see if I’m understanding this right. The U.S. and Mexico are working toward fully opening the border for both U.S. and Mexican trucks. The Mexican trucks are going to have to stand up to our rules, meeting the U.S. safety standards. To name a few things, they’ll be using black boxes (well, EOBRs), which U.S. taxpayers will pay for. There will be driver background checks, past drug history, etc. Drivers must handle English adequately.  

It’s been said over and over, and I’ll say it again. In Mexico, it’s not the way they claim it will work. It’s the way it will REALLY work. If they want a driver for the program they are starting, they can take a blank sheet of paper and create him a background, drug-free past, excellent driving record. And how are you going to check it?

That first bunch that comes across will be standing tall, driving late model trucks that are familiar to us. They will have drivers with the proper paperwork, speaking English, doing all the right things, marching to our drums.

By the way: We’ve just learned that your elected representative in the U.S. House is being asked by Congressman “Doc” Hastings of Washington state to sign onto a letter to support a “new” cross-border trucking program with Mexico. I think these lawmakers that are pushing this so hard should go down there and see the real trucking world in Mexico. I don’t mean fly over it in a chopper. Rent a car, leave all black brick gadgets in the motel except cameras, and go where there is heavy truck activity. They would get a sample of the trucks that will be coming across as soon as the newness wears off the program.

What they would see are trucks with name brands they’ve never heard of, and U.S. trucks they bought after we wore them out. You can see these trucks every day, being piggy-backed three or four at a time, one towing two wrecks, flatbed loads of wrecks, engines, drivetrains and so on headed for Mexico. It seems like most of these at some point will funnel into I-35, which of course runs from Minnesota to Laredo. Rest assured, these trucks will be back.

The border towns don’t sound anything like I knew not so long ago. A lot of us drivers went across for a little R&R. I didn’t ever feel threatened. As young as I was when I first drove a truck into Mexico, it was easy to figure some basic ground rules. Don’t get drunk, be friendly, and don’t start nothing. And be ready to pay cash for what you want. One time I “hired” a guard to keep an eye on my truck overnight, like for five bucks. Next morning he was lying in a hammock hooked up under my trailer. Nobody bothered a thing.

Back to U.S. trucks being able to go anywhere in Mexico. With all the violence going on down there I wouldn’t expect many drivers would be too anxious to haul freight down there.

The daily news, however, is reporting that Mexico is amping up security for truckers by posting more police along the truck routes. All this does is make me think about some of the “what ifs.” Everybody knows that so many law enforcement people are on the take. That’s why the drug cartels have them in their pocket; they can pay more than the government. So “what if” a federale stops you for some infraction? Do you think he’s going to give you a ticket, or have you contact the court? Zip your Comdata card? Again, mucho dinero is the answer.

What if he says you need to “go downtown” … trust me, you don’t want to go downtown.

So how much cash would you need to carry on a trip to cover stuff like this? That’s a big concern, carrying cash. Would the boss reimburse you? You ain’t going to have receipts.

This all sounds pretty ugly to me. On the other hand, it could be an opportunity for U.S. truckers with the “soldier of fortune” mind-set.

What if someone offered me a deal with big bucks, bonus, armored truck, a couple U.S. Marine Rifle Squad escorts? I would consider it but not for long.