Friday, July 22, 2011

On the Travel Channel: ‘Truck Stop, Missouri’

Is the rest of the LL staff inside?
Photo by Keith Goble
I’d be rich if I had a hundred bucks for every weekend I have spent at Midway, a busy little truck stop community on I-70 just west of Columbia, MO.

I wasn’t there with an 18-wheeler. I was there for the horse shows, but it’s a place I’ve come to know well. The Midway Expo Center is part of the venue there, and for years it was home to a busy schedule of horse shows.

You never have to leave Midway or get very far from your equine money pit – i.e., show horse – because there’s everything you need. You stay at the hotel, eat at the truck stop, get ice and food and drinks at the truck stop, fuel up at the truck stop. Heck, you can even get a new pair of boots at the truck stop. While you are at a three-day horse show, you can also shop for western duds, maybe attend a gun show, or browse the flea market. I got my lucky Gene Autry pocketknife there.

After a long day at the barns, you can have supper at the truck stop restaurant (I always have breakfast no matter what time of day it is), and then if you want to party a bit, there’s the Back Door Lounge, which is upstairs.

When the Land Line crew is on the road to Louisville, every year we pull off at Midway and have breakfast. Sometimes we eat at the truck stop; sometimes we go a half mile farther to the world famous Perche Creek Cafe.

It’s famous for the Perche Creek Yacht Club, which claims to have more than 900 members in 36 states and 12 foreign countries. There really are no yachts, of course. It’s a small cafe with great home-cooked food and faded autographed poster of NASCAR’s Carl Edwards on the wall, attached to a busy little c-store with a couple of gas pumps.

Near the poster of Cousin Carl, there’s a framed newspaper article on the wall describing the Great Goat Caper, when someone put a live goat on top of the local water tower.

Every morning, members meet at the cafe to further the club’s mission of “having no purpose.”

On the way to the cafe, we always have to stop at the haunted house, no matter what season it is, because they have one of the biggest coffins in the world.

It’s certainly no surprise to us that Leftfield Pictures (same people who did “Pawn Stars”) chose Midway Truck Stop as the scene for their new Travel Channel docu-series.

The new TV show focuses on the day-to-day activities at the Midway Truck Stop and is set to premiere on the Travel Channel in two weeks.

It’s called “Truck Stop, Missouri” and includes features not just on the lives of truckers but also local characters.

You’ve already guessed from my description this is no ordinary truck stop. It’s home to 12 separate businesses. It has a convenience store, a restaurant, a tattoo shop, a fireworks store, a hotel and even a child care center. The star in this series is the manager of the truck stop, Joe Bechtold. In the Travel Channel’s press release, it describes him as an “adventurous man with a dry sense of humor” doing everything he can to “hold Midway together from day to day.”

The 12-episode series starts Aug. 3 at 9 p.m. Central.

I can’t wait.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

It’s not too late to right the ship

In a not-so-distant past, our energy was cheap, fuel and leisure were somewhat affordable for the working family, prices of everyday goods were in check and, if we were fortunate enough, we saved a little.

It was during these years of prosperity that we expanded our suburbs, added to sprawl, bought big vehicles, invented long commutes, and borrowed on credit in pursuit of the American Dream.

With the economy in its current state, we’ve showed the world that we’ve been on an unsustainable path. But is it too late to right the ship? Not as long as we can adapt and learn.

Most of us have learned to scale back. Many people, including small-business owners, have had to tap into savings, eliminate frills and cut costs. Most of us are doing more with less. We’re stretching our vehicles and equipment further, we’ve pinched our pennies and we’ve taken “staycations.”

To be honest, I think society is feeling a little buyer’s remorse. And who could blame us. All we keep hearing right now is how much the government has spent and how much we should cut to square things away.

But is this the right answer for transportation?

Uncertainty and a lack of focus for transportation programs have left federal, state and local governments in so-called shortfalls.

To get the house in order, we should be building, rebuilding, strengthening and maintaining our highway and bridge network in addition to eliminating red tape and waste. All of this could be done responsibly as long as the funds aren’t raided for other purposes.

The highway network is the lifeblood of the economy and it has proven its worth. Without this crucial resource in top condition, the futility is sure to pile up.

This problem is not going to fix itself. We can pay what it’s worth to fix and maintain our system now, or we can let it deteriorate even further and take our chances down the line. Considering that the vast majority of freight moves by truck, the answer seems obvious to me.

It’s not too late to right the ship, and it starts with a long-term surface transportation bill that reinforces the very network our economy is built on.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The old taxi scam is alive and well

Our trucking business is not the only segment of the transportation industry to be laced with companies pretending to be bona fide. When I was in Minnesota last week – specifically St. Paul – I was reminded there’s CDL fraud everywhere.

I had filed my story on OOIDA v. Minnesota State Patrol, which reported on a hearing held Friday in U.S. District Court. I was ready to leave town, and the hotel where I stayed called me a taxi for the airport. I went out to the curb to wait. The doorman was nearby, but otherwise I was alone.

A Yellow cab drove up and eased to the curb. I picked up my bag – but hold on! An old white Lincoln Town Car careened into the space reserved for taxi pickup, swerved around the Yellow Cab and nosed the Town Car straight onto the concrete apron outside the hotel’s double doors. Yipes! Pointing at me and carrying on like he’d lost his mind, yelling “Ima here first!” out the passenger window.  He was clearly not going to let the Yellow driver get the fare – which was me.

He leapt out of the unmarked Town Car and grabbed my luggage and threw it in his trunk. In seconds, he was pointing me toward the car, which had no stickers, no apparent cab equipment inside on the dash. He was shouting at me, “You go with me! Now!”

I stammered “who the hell are you” or something like that, and he said: “The hotel call me, you go to airport, right? Ima you man. GET IN. Quick!”

The Golden Rule of Travel according to my globe-trottin’ mother kicked in. Never get in a cab that’s not clearly marked. I yelled, “Hold on, give me my suitcase back; I AM NOT GOING WITH YOU!”

By this time, the Yellow cabbie was getting out of his cab. He was a guy who looked like Ice Road Trucker Alex’s twin brother. He bellowed at the bogus cabbie: “You’re listening to the scanner, right? Got any insurance? License? You don’t, do ya?”

The jittery faker jumped back into the old Town Car as if he was going to take off, and I thought “Oh no, there goes my luggage!” Then the Yellow cabbie started writing down the license number. The exasperated phony saw this and got back out of the car, sprung the trunk lid and tossed my luggage back on the sidewalk. I heard him snarling in half English and half some other language for the pissed-off Yellow cabbie or the doorman – who was oddly turning his cheek to this whole incident – not to turn him in.

Thirty seconds later, I was safely loaded into the Yellow cab and off to the airport. On the way, the legit cabbie explained that there was a big problem in the taxi business in the Twin Cities. According to him, gangs of Somalians use the unmarked Town Cars as a bogus taxi or limo service. They listen to the scanner and race to the fare to beat the legitimate cab service.

I later called the hotel and reported the incident. The manager was apparently out of the office and another not-so-helpful person came to the phone. He didn’t write down my name or when I was a guest or anything. The assistant dude didn’t ask for details or even sound too interested. He said he’d pass it on.

I was glad the real CDL holder – the professional cabbie – had my back. Yellow Cab gets points. The hotel doesn’t score so well. Apathy like that is partly what allows these phony baloney scammers to survive … and thrive.