Friday, September 12, 2008

Tracking Ike online

A number of truckers have contacted Land Line and recommended weather Web sites, official and unofficial. Online weather sites, if you haven’t checked them out, are nothing short of amazing.

OOIDA member Kenneth Becker, Montgomery, TX, likes wunderground.com, the Weather Underground site. Ken was in North Dakota Friday and called me from some oil field. He was getting ready to see how his hometown fares with Ike. Armed with satellite and laptop, he told me he’s got his hometown punched in and can monitor everything.

He can even get a Google image of what his neighborhood looks like, live. I am sure that’s reassuring to Ken since his wife and the kids are home in Montgomery, 55 miles northwest of Houston. Ken says he’s talked to her on the phone a lot and at noon Friday, she watched her neighbors pack up and head north.

Ken – who missed Katrina and Rita because he was trucking – said his wife was getting the place nailed down so it “won’t blow away.”

I went to wunderground.com and tried to see Ken’s house and I am pretty sure I see it, along with an image of Elizabeth out there looking at the sky, hands on hips. OK, so I am kidding, I really can’t see Elizabeth.

Incidentally, Ken is an OOIDA board member and I’ve known him for a long time. I know Elizabeth, too and believe me, Ike really doesn’t want to mess with her.

I’m also keeping in touch with Danny Schnautz, Pasadena, TX, near Houston and Galveston Bay. He was actually at work Friday. His wife, Celessa, was home battening down the hatches. They are not evacuating. Danny’s a longtime member of OOIDA who is operations manager for Clark Freight Lines in Pasadena. In an e-mail Friday a.m., Danny said he and some “volunteers” were in the office doing paperwork, getting trucks paid, taking calls from brokers looking for empty trucks, and watching Ike online.

Danny likes stormpulse.com. He also goes to http://web.tampabay.rr.com/wolfy/. Check out those satellite images. Wow.

Any bloggers out there who have favorite weather spots? Let me know and I’ll share with truckers with homes or freight in the Gulf states.

One last note: At shortly before 1 p.m. – just as I was finishing this blog – I got an e-mail reporting Danny had left the office and was driving home. He reported a lot of wind, dust, overcast conditions.

Via his BlackBerry, he messaged: “It’s here.”

(Incidentally, the picture of Hurricane Ike was taken from space by NASA.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A meeting of non-partisan minds

“Hot fuel” came under the spotlight before two members of the Tennessee General Assembly recently at a town hall to discuss energy use and conservation.

Yours truly jumped at the chance to bring up the topic in a public forum, and, although passing legislation is always a crapshoot, at least one of the representatives said she was considering legislation for 2009 to address the issue.

Hot fuel is an issue raised originally by OOIDA that is steadily gaining traction at the state and federal level. For a couple of months, I have been communicating with state Rep. Debra Maggart about the issue, sending her links to information about the concern, and she kindly alerted me to the meeting called by her and state Rep. Susan Lynn.

Lynn said she had attended an energy conference recently and, earlier this summer, had an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal supporting expanded oil exploration and drilling.

Their panel included representatives of the oil industry, convenience stores and gas stations, natural gas, alternative fuels and new energy technologies. In the open mic portion of the meeting, various speakers urged more support for alternative energies, lower taxes on fuel, and more incentives for home-generated electricity.

When my turn came, I spent my few minutes giving an overview of the hot fuel issue. I was armed with facts from the http://www.turndownhotfuel.com/, OOIDA’s hot fuel Web site.

At one point, Rep. Lynn said she had been informed at that earlier energy conference that morning is the best time of day to gas up. I politely disagreed, and gave her the Web address to further educate her.

After the meeting, I spoke with a representative from the Tennessee Oil Marketers Association (TOMA.org), which represents C-stores, gas stations and petroleum jobbers. Her perspective on the issue was that there wasn’t much difference in quantity – about a teaspoon – between fuel at 60F and hotter fuel. She also said that the issue was currently being examined by scientific panels, and they were waiting for the conclusions, and that in any case consumers would be confused and upset over variations in quantity of fuel purchased based on temperature.

She also argued that it would be enormously expensive to refit all dispensers – some places still have mechanical pumps – with temperature compensation devices. We also agreed to disagree, as you likely will disagree with her when you read the facts vs. myths of hot fuel.

It was an interesting and oddly exciting experience to step from covering an issue to, in effect, lobbying for it. But as citizens, we have the obligation as well as the right to do just that.

You should never pass up an opportunity to meet your lawmakers, regardless of whether their politics agree with yours. Likewise, you should never pass up an opportunity to contact them about issues important to you. And you are well advised to avoid accusing them of partisanship or other shenanigans if you want serious consideration of your specific issue.

I saw a demonstration of this today: One speaker came armed with grievances and spent most of his time railing about the representatives’ partisanship and partisanship in general. He didn't really have a specific issue he wanted addressed – or if so, it got lost in the complaints.

At the end of his comments, the reps thanked him graciously and went on smoothly. He’d had the satisfaction of venting, but had not accomplished anything else. In fact, he was from outside their districts and apparently had driven more than 40 miles one-way to have his say – that’s energy conservation for ya.

Besides leaving your politics at home, other tips to effectively address lawmakers include:

  • Be prepared. Research the issue you want to address. Research both sides. Master the most important facts and counter-arguments.
  • Write out what you plan to say. Having a written presentation with bullet points will help ensure you don't leave out an important, possibly crucial, fact. This also helps you with the next point …
  • Be brief. Whether in an informal session, town-hall meeting or face-to-face conversation, you won't have a lot of time to make your points. The more concise you can be, the more likely you are to present the important elements of your case and capture the lawmaker’s attention. You can always follow up with additional material for the lawmaker or staff.
  • Be polite. Thank the lawmaker for his or her time at the start and end of your comments. If you disagree with the lawmaker on a point, do so politely and move on. You may have different politics, but a worthy issue can bridge the political aisle.
  • Follow up. After the meeting, e-mail or mail the lawmakers a note thanking them again for their time, for listening to what you had to say and considering it. If appropriate, send along supporting material to amplify your point.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Update for you Hammer heads

After a healthy dose of mugging for the crowd and the cameras, Jason McCoy dashed back to the microphone to deliver his band’s trademark chorus line.

“I’m a road hammer,” he and his band mates proclaimed. “A white-knuckled steel gear jammer, Rig jockey highway slammer – I’m just doin’ what I gotta do.”

The Road Hammers, a Canadian band now residing in Nashville, TN, blend elements of modern and classic country, rock and up-tempo blues on their acclaimed album, “Blood Sweat & Steel.”

I haven’t been to very many country music concerts even though the first concert experience of my life was the Statler Brothers when I was 5. Even I know that the genre of what is considered “country” has changed a lot with the times.

I wrote a story about The Road Hammers in the June issue of Land Line, describing how they burst onto the scene after McCoy, already an acclaimed vocalist in Canada, formed the band on a reality show.

I have kept up with the band since my initial interview with McCoy for a few reasons, not limited to the fact that I am Canadian and I am also a musician.

I marked my calendar and made it a point to catch The Road Hammers on tour this past Labor Day weekend as they warmed up the crowd for country legend Lorrie Morgan at the Santa-Cali-Gon Days festival in Independence, MO. In fact, my band played at the same festival two nights earlier.

While Morgan takes the more traditional approach to the genre of country, The Road Hammers put on a rock show with a country twist.

The bluesy guitars were blazing, and the band members in black cowboy hats covered a lot of ground on the stage as they engaged the crowd.

At the meet-and-greet after the show, I talked briefly with the Hammers about truckin’ and music and how the two seem to go together like tread on a tire.

Pictured from left to right, the Road Hammers are: vocalist Jason McCoy, guitarist Clayton Bellamy, drummer Corbett Frasz and bassist Chris Byrne.

Following the greet session, another cool thing happened. The Hammers disappeared for a brief moment but then returned to the side of the stage to watch Morgan perform her set.

It was cool because after putting on a rock show, The Road Hammers returned incognito to watch a performer who has had 25 hits dating back to 1978.

They know where they want to be and they also have a healthy respect for what has come before, and I’ll bet truckers of all ages can relate to that.