Friday, August 12, 2011

Is it racist to oppose the Mexican cross-border program?

If American truckers are opposed to cross-border trucking with Mexico, are they racists? If they are concerned with issues like safety, jobs, national security, fair treatment – is that racism? Concerns for other issues like immigration, customs, reduced tax revenue for roads, lack of clear enforcement – is that racism? Of course it isn’t. That’s asinine, but U.S. truckers are getting smeared with this ugly word way too often to keep ignoring it.

Do you recall back in 1992, when the North American Free Trade Agreement controversy was raging and Texan Ross Perot – then a presidential candidate – made his famous “giant sucking sound” statement? He was describing the effects of NAFTA on American jobs. He was immediately labeled as racist, but was nimble to debunk this. He simply pointed out that the top myth used by NAFTA proponents is that NAFTA critics “are racist.”

Perot criticized the media for falling for the pro-NAFTA crowd’s cheap ploy – playing the race card. To this he countered: "The fact that American workers don’t want their jobs moved to Mexico is not racist.”
Perot said the “quickest way to discredit a critic, discount an argument, or intimidate an opponent in U.S. politics is to label that person a ‘racist.’ It happens time and again because it works.”

I was discussing this the other day with a veteran of the U.S. trucking industry and I asked him if he opposed the cross-border trucking program with Mexico because as a white guy, he didn’t want Mexican truckers in this country. He said, “Are you kidding me? Why would I think that?” He went on to explain that he had huge respect for the people of Mexico. Then he had his own perspective on Mexican truckers.

In fact, he thinks as drivers, they are incredibly skilled.

“Have you seen some of those roads? Some of the pickup and delivery areas?” he said to me.

“You have GOT to be a really handy driver to navigate those roads, find your way, and successfully deliver the load. What those drivers have to deal with is incredible. And that’s not even considering their personal safety and fear of cargo theft and other crimes. I totally respect Mexican drivers. This has nothing to do with race.”

Back to Ross Perot. He made a good point all those years ago that still holds true. He reminded the public that once somebody calls another a racist or cites a racist agenda, it’s grabbed up like crazy by the media. As Perot says, “the victims are then forced to prove they are not bigots.” In the case of American truckers accused of being racist over this Mexican trucking pilot, it ain’t so.

It’s a tactical ruse.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

White knuckles and a bad impression

The public perception of heavy trucks is not going to improve much as long as we have sensational reporting, perpetuation of myths and a few bad apples that are intent on spoiling the whole bunch.

If we surveyed a cross-section of the general, non-trucking public and asked, “Should heavy trucks be forced to slow down and be restricted to the right lane?” we would undoubtedly get a lot of “yes” responses.

It’s a loaded question and one that craves a quick and impulsive response.

People rarely remember the trucks they pass, cut off, force to apply the brakes or follow too closely in a given day, but they always remember the one that passes them. Those white-knuckle memories lead to complaints. Add in a story about a fiery truck crash and you’ve got a formula for a new law or regulation.

I think the public understands in a general way that trucks bring everything we eat, wear and use on a daily basis. But I also think that people are naturally afraid of large, heavy moving objects.

Let’s take a look at some of the rules or laws brought about in the name of safety. They had to start somewhere, whether with public complaints, a safety group or a sympathetic policymaker catering to voters.

On the surface, some regs have the appearance of being about safety and are certainly sold that way, but it doesn’t take long to see beneath the surface.

Proposed changes to hours of service are a good example. Even a leading expert on fatigue recently told us that the talk about HOS as a safety measure is overblown and we’re just spending way too much time and effort to “prove” the connection.

Then, there are speed limiters. Again, they are touted as safety features by special interest groups and big industry trucking. But when all things are considered, limiters are really more about leveling a competitive playing field than about making the roads safer. How can a truck speed-limited to 62 mph be safe when the flow of traffic on major routes is up around 75 mph?

Let’s move on to electronic on-board recorders. They were once championed as safety tools, but supporters have changed their argument a few times after it’s been pointed out that they’re no different than paper logs on the issue of safety when it’s all said and done. They’re just tracking tools, is all, and another way for unscrupulous carriers to hold their workforce hostage.

Let’s talk about lane restrictions for trucks and the split speed limits between cars and trucks. Lawmakers try to sell these ideas to the public on safety promises, but common sense tells us that they only complicate matters.

If people actually took the time to think about it, it makes no sense to force the truck speed down below the flow of traffic and to restrict truckers to the right lanes on urban highways.

Studies show that the safest speeds are uniform speeds because there are fewer traffic interactions.

Think about how tough it is already to merge when vehicles in the right lane are queued up in a long line. We’ve all been there. Now think about bunches of speed-limited trucks clogging up the right lanes as you try to make your highway entrance or exit. Why not let through traffic, including trucks, stay left? At least traffic could enter and exit the roadway.

While we’re at it, how about enforcing current laws on speeding, weaving, inattentive driving, construction zone safety or the biggie – following too closely? That would solve some problems out there.

The vast majority of truckers are the safest drivers on the roads today. But everyone seems to remember the incident that scared the sense out of them.

It’s time to stop overreacting and use some common sense in the way we think about transportation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

An embarrassing moment and a lesson in humility

You have to be careful when you have a really nice ride and you do the truck show circuit. You get a little notoriety, and then people are going to want to shake your hand and pat you on the back, even ask for an occasional autograph. It’s pretty easy to get an ego thing going.

A few years ago when I pulling tankers, I had a load rejected by the customer and took it back to the shipper. It was a company on Cicero Avenue in Chicago. The plan was for the shipper to unload the product, run it through a filtering process, and load it back into my tank the next morning. Then I would deliver it back to the consignee.

There was a horse track right across the street and I thought, “If they will let me in with the truck, I’ll just spend the afternoon playing the horses.” Sure enough, the attendants smiled and waved me toward the rear parking lot. No parking fee. I should have known something was wrong right then, being as this was Chicago.

They really had a big crowd gathering, so I got parked and headed for the entrance. As I walked that way, several people wanted to stop me and shake and howdy. I kind of sloughed them off. I thought they just wanted to talk to me about my big shiny truck. But I was in a hurry as I figured it had to be about post time, and I wanted to get down on the daily double.

Ain’t no lightbulb went off yet. It wasn’t until I got to the entrance and was looking around for ticket booths that I realized there weren’t any. Ticket booths, that is. Guess what? I finally figured out why folks were so friendly. I had crashed a Jehovah’s Witness convention.

Nothing against the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It could have been the Baptists, Methodists or the Spotted Oil Society. It wouldn’t have made any difference. But I could see that I wasn’t at the horse races. They didn’t care one bit about my truck and just wanted to welcome me to their not-so-little clambake. I was rude brushing them off. I suppose I assumed they were going to clamor a bit over me and my shiny truck and when they didn’t, it left me embarrassed and with a lesson in humility under my belt.

In my life, I’ve been able to do a few things that sure make a person a bit conceited. Showing our truck was one and writing for Land Line Magazine is another. I have to keep the ego in check. But I’ve learned how to handle it. When I feel an ego trip coming on, I just think about a story Little Jimmy Dickens tells on the Grand Old Opry.

Little Jim says he and his Country Boys band went to a nursing home there in Nashville and did a concert for the folks living there. I am betting he was older than many in his audience. As Jim and the band were doing their show, Little Jim noticed a little elderly lady in the front row who just sat there. Never clapped or showed any emotion.

After the concert, Jim asked her if she enjoyed the show. She didn’t respond. Then Little Jim asked her if she knew who he was. She said, “No, but if you ask that nurse over there, she will tell you who you are.”

Wouldn’t that knock your ego warranty back in place?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Candidates jump on social media bandwagon

As the use of social media has boomed in recent years, the reaction from candidates has been to follow the trend. That is welcome news for truckers and others who want a stronger voice in the election process.
Truckers are most familiar with social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. There, people online can come together to catch up, chat, swap stories and let the world know what they think about anything and everything. While the sites are largely popular for people who want to stay in touch with friends, family and acquaintances, they also serve to bring people closer to other passions they may have, such as politics.

The role of social media in politics is on the rise. In fact, its use has become an important part of campaign strategies the past few years.

President Obama and other Democrats are lauded for making good use of social media during the 2008 election cycle. The results at the ballot that fall were reason enough for candidates and politicians from both sides of the aisle to make the jump onto the social media bandwagon.

One recent study found that Republicans in particular made good use of social media sites during the 2010 election cycle.

The timing could not have been better for the GOP. A study by the Pew Research Center found that by 2010 about one-quarter of online American adults used social networking sites to engage with the election. Involvement included talking with others about a candidate; posting content related to politics or the campaign; and signing up as a friend of, or to follow, a candidate.

Also addressed by the study is the perception by some that social media is for a generation you have watched grow to adulthood. In reality, that is not the case. Adults over 50 are one of the fastest-growing cohorts when it comes to using social networking sites.

Such popularity among various age groups only solidifies the importance for candidates to communicate online with voters.

Another reason candidates are pooling resources into social media is because people who were surveyed said their main motivation for following political groups on social networking sites is that it helped them feel more personally connected to the candidates or groups they follow. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said it was a reason they followed these groups or candidates.

The personal touch is clear in a Twitter post Tuesday from Ohio Gov. John Kasich about how much he enjoyed a visit to the state fair. “What an awesome fair! Thanks to all who joined in on the fun,” he told his followers.

South Carolina’s Gov. Nikki Haley tweeted recently “Haley Family Fun Night with Michael and the kids: Homemade pizzas and the movie The Rookie!

In addition, two-thirds of respondents who follow politicians or other political groups on social media sites say the information posted by those they follow is interesting and relevant.

For example, on July 25, Gov. Jerry Brown told his FB friends: Calling in tomorrow for jury duty …  if they need me, I'll be there Wednesday morning.” He also posted his thoughts on the debt ceiling.

To accommodate the trend toward social media interaction, many elected officials have added personnel to dialogue with constituents online about what they are doing and what they think about certain issues. Candidates are also embracing the online tool to get their message to voters.

This desire for interaction provides voters, including truckers, with a stronger voice on Election Day.

Monday, August 8, 2011

You don’t have to be Driver of the Month ...

... to get your own reserved parking spot. I had one for a while and it wasn’t for being Driver of the Month.

I drove a company truck for 13 years for a small private carrier here in Lafayette, IN. The company manufactured steel joist and trusses. A truck dealership halfway across town had a contract to service, maintain and garage the trucks for a couple of years as opposed to parking them at the plant. This meant every time we came in off a trip we had to drop our trailers at the plant, bobtail across town to shop, get our personal vehicles and we were done.

It was such an aggravation. And the fact that I didn’t get along with shop manager didn’t help. He accused me off tampering with the fuel pump, and I wouldn’t have known what one was if it fell on my foot.

This dealership was new and the parking lot not yet paved. When the guys in the shop serviced the trucks, they ran them out on the lot and parked them in no particular place. So when we came to get them, we would leave our pickups wherever we found our big truck. It wasn’t the best arrangement. We took our CBs out every night or they would be gone by morning.

One afternoon I came in off a run, and I couldn’t find my pickup. At first I thought it was stolen. Then I went inside, and there it sat in a truck bay. I went to the manager and asked what was going on. He said, “I’m going to teach you drivers how to park around here. There’s a $5 tow charge against your pickup.” Two mechanics had his back.

I called the state police, city police and sheriff’s office. None would send a car out. They said it was private property and a civil matter. I called my boss and the Teamsters. They both said, “You’re off duty, not our problem.”

Out of options, I walked about a mile to Water Hole No. 3. Much later that evening I walked back to the shop. By now the night shift was on. I slipped into the building, got in my pickup, and cranked it with my extra key.

A mechanic came over, and I said to him: “Get that door up.”

He said, “I can’t do that.”

I said, “Then stand back.”

I never had backed through a 14-foot overhead door and wanted to be sure I made it, so I laid a patch in reverse and out I went. The squalling tires, glass packs and crashing through the door woke up the guy sleeping under a truck.

So with some scrap aluminum and a half a row of windows in the bed of my pickup, I headed for the local trucker hangout cafe.

Here come the county mounties right behind me and said, “What the hell do you think you’re  doing, Bob?” 

I told them to check their phone log.

“You wouldn’t come out, said it was a civil matter,” I said. “I got my pickup. Go tell the boss it’s a civil matter.”

I figured I was pretty much in the bag, but they let that slide and told me to go home.

I got a summons the next day. It took some time, but what went down is this: I got a lawyer, agreed to a plea bargain, accepted 30 days suspended for malicious trespass, paid a $50 fine and no restitution.

I didn’t pay for the garage door, and the shop boss didn’t get his five bucks.

They wanted to bar me from the property but couldn’t because of my company’s contract with them. The Teamsters wouldn’t let the company fire me. So what they did was at the very entrance to their property they took a chalk line (like on a baseball field) and marked off a spot for my big truck and my pickup with a reserved sign. I wasn’t allowed anywhere else on the property.

The moral to this story is probably: Don’t mess with my dog or my pickup. But the take-away is that you don’t have to be Driver of the Month to get your own parking space.