Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shut up and just drive

As the saying goes, be afraid when you hear “We’re from the government and we are here to help you.” Congress yet again is living down to that motto, and in this case they are playing with your life and the lives of everyone else on the road or even crossing the road.

An article in the July 21 New York Times about cell phone use while driving has revealed that members of Congress pressured the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration into playing down data that indicate hands-free cell phones are just about as dangerous to use while driving as hand-held devices.

Using Freedom of Information Act requests, The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen watchdog groups unearthed the findings and their suppression under the Bush Administration.

It’s long been argued that the simple act of carrying on a conversation isn’t so simple; it diminishes your ability to focus on traffic and on conditions around you. That’s true whether you’re sitting at a lunch counter or behind the wheel. But the focus in many places has been to require hands-free phone equipment – Bluetooths, headsets, speakerphones – the idea being that drivers will put down the phones and put those hands back on the wheel. Uh-huh.

Those of you who always drive with both hands – hold one up. Thank you, sir, there in the back.

This news won’t change human behavior – and drivers, I see you yakking away, and maybe texting as well. But maybe it will ratchet up the pressure on states to toughen up on multitasking gadgets on the road – though enforcing it will be next to impossible.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Joey? I’m just sayin’ the guy’s a pro

If there’s anyone who represents the heart of America’s highways and the soul of trucking, it’s Joey Holiday. Joey and Vicky are to the trucking industry what Ozzie and Sharon are to rock and roll.

“Vicky! Vi—cki! What number is that song on my playlist? You know the one?” He howls for his wife, who is always close by.

“Number 31!” she yells, feigning aggravation. “Do I have to come up there and find it for you?”

Not long ago, Shell Rotella held its SuperRigs competition right down the interstate from our OOIDA headquarters. We had the opportunity to spend some time out there, looking at the chrome and roasting on the pavement. The heat index was like 105.

During the hottest part of the day, there was Joey Holiday, on his traveling stage, one boot blue and one boot red, belting out his songs. When the Land Line crew arrived, he spotted us and sang a special song just for OOIDA (he and Vicky are members). It was called “Slowhio” and of course was about what a pain the butt the split speed limit was. Joey pointed out in his ad libbing that, as of July 1, he would not be able to sing this song any more thanks to OOIDA.

You can see some video of Joey singing “Slowhio” to our Land Line posse here. LL Staff Writer Dave Tanner shot the video in Oak Grove last month. Aside from being a reporter and photographer, Dave’s a musician, too. And a Joey fan.

Back to the point. The crowd around Joey’s stage was sparse. There was nobody stompin’ it up and doing the wave. It was too hot for that. In fact, it was too blasted hot to even stand out there for long. Most spectators were seeking tent cover. Truckers crouched in the shade of their trucks.

Joey paid no attention to this and performed like he was giving it up to a stadium crowd. He never missed a beat, never muffed a lyric. As always, his songs were his personal serenade to truck drivers. It’s really no step for a stepper like Joey. I’ve seen the guy do this in the freezing cold, too. And in some places where your normal musician-for-hire might not be found.

A couple of years ago during the Louisville truck show, our Land Line crew left the Kentucky Expo Center and drove over to by Poppa John’s Stadium. We’d been invited to a pig roast, a luau.

It was about 10:30 p.m., cold, dark and pelting down rain. We followed the directions and turned our rental van down some unlit streets lined with abandoned warehouses, chain link fence and rail cars.

Mark Reddig was certain we had taken a wrong turn. Ahead we saw what we figured had to be a hobo jungle or, as Bill Hudgins speculated, a camp for escaped convicts.

Then Jami Jones spotted some trucks lined up and more flickering lights. We cautiously drove up, doors locked. As we parked and got out, we hoped we were in the right place. A shadowy specter – who later turned out to be OOIDA member Eddie “Texas Son” Conrad – waved us in.

Then we heard music and caught a glimpse of Hawaiian print. There was Joey, set up under a makeshift tent, belting it out.