One could say I have truck oil for blood. I’ve been immersed in this profession my entire life. I had three summer jobs outside our trucking business. The first was as a stock boy in a convenience store where I spent a little time stocking shelves and the rest hiding in the back room listening to WLS radio. The other two were as a laborer for a truck-trailer repair facility and a fuel jockey at a truckstop. Those were in addition to working at the family firm.
Rather than attend college, I drove a truck for a couple years, primarily hauling steel to various nuclear reactors being built around Illinois. Why just Illinois? Because my mother didn’t want me to be an over-the-road trucker like my father and grandfather before me. Seems they might have picked up some bad habits she preferred were not exposed to me. Dad went along with her request, only so that I was around during the weekend to repair truck tires.
My reason for boring you with this spiel is to establish that, after 60 years around the business, 44 years working in every imaginable position in the industry, I just might know a little bit about transporting objects from point A to point B…despite what some people might tell you. And I can assure you, driving a truck is not rocket science.
But, neither is the job/career you, the reader, chose either. If you are reading this and are a rocket scientist, then you have my apologies and utter amazement that you are reading this. If not, please let me explain.
Truck driving is an honorable profession, and a vital link to this country’s success. Without truckers, America comes to a grinding halt. Consider your local Wal Mart with nothing on its shelves. Or without shelves. Everything in that building, including the materials that made the building, got there on a truck. Some of the most intelligent, generous, hard-working people I ever met, drove a truck in order to support his/her family. I wrote a pretty darn good novel in 2010 about a trucker that graphically details the life. (Still sitting on some of those books in case one is interested.)
Did you know there are 3.5 million truckers in the US, and contrary to popular opinion, are not all sitting in front of you on the expressway? The government allows them to drive eleven hours per day. Conversely, an 85-year-old man can barrel down the Interstate in his Cadillac at 80 miles per hour for as many hours he can manage between nature-call stops. Therefore, regardless of being paid by the hour or the mile, a driver’s pay is capped. You, on the other hand, can volunteer for over-time, or get a second job at night to supplement your income. It’s pretty hard for a driver to do that when he lives in Chicago but has run out of hours for his work day in Pittsburgh!
Speaking of running out of hours in Pittsburgh, while you are at home eating dinner, or engrossed watching T-ball games, dozing in your easy chair in front of the tube, or sleeping in your own comfy bed, there is the little matter of that driver still stuck in Pittsburgh. No trucking company can afford to put all their drivers up at the Marriott for the night, nor would Mr. Marriott want the truck parked on his pristine lot, so most drivers go to a truckstop. Ever been in a truckstop? How much time you want to spend there? If, and that is a big if, the driver can get a parking spot, she can “bed down” for the night. Yep, there is a national problem with truck parking availability too. She can then take a number for the privilege of getting in a public shower, grabbing a fast-food item for dinner, all before heading back out to the truck for the evening. This was after driving 550 miles on pot-hole ridden Interstates, dodging four-wheeler's who are upset a truck has the audacity to be in their way.
I’ve spoken often of this before, but I was reminded again this past Monday morning. As I drove by our warehouse on the way to work, I noticed four non-company trucks in the docks and another truck waiting to get in. I also observed a couple of forklift drivers taking a break. This is not to chastise our forklift operators, as they probably did not know any better, but consider the entire scenario – what’s called a paradigm shift.
The trucks in the dock came from Bowling Green KY, 360 miles away. To be there at our dock at 9:00 AM required to have driven seven hours early Monday morning, thus leaving around 2:00 AM, or have driven here the day before, a Sunday. The goal of most truckers is to get unloaded early in the morning so as to be able to reload in the afternoon…hopefully towards home. Recall that the government is only going to allow the driver to operate four more hours that day, so they won’t get home that night…even if they battle the elements, and you in traffic, to get the reload. Many shippers stop loading early in the afternoon, so it is usually a close call, and one that determines a driver’s outcome of where he/she winds up for the night, as well as income for the week. In other words, time is of the essence.
Conversely, after having a leisurely Sunday off with their families, our forklift drivers started work Monday morning somewhere around 7:00 AM with coffee, yawns and scratches. There is usually not that many trucks at once to unload in the mornings, nor for the rest of the day for that matter. Traffic through the warehouse is usually steady, but rarely backed up. There is a second shift as well to pick up the slack.
Knowing our forklift drivers, who are good men, had they known about what I have described in this post, I have every reason to believe they would have delayed their break until the “rush” was over. But they didn’t know and perhaps that is my fault. Neither, probably did you.
I’m sure you all have thoughts of some trucker who cut you off or didn’t smell so good, but just like the Osmond’s crooned in 1970, “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl!” Truckers too have unreasonable bosses, bills, families at home, and a government riding herd on them even more so that you do. So, next time, please give ‘em some slack.
Now…try to get that song out of your head!