Thursday, April 8, 2010

In hot pursuit!

Jasmine and Lee Jordan have been welcomed into some towns with police and fire department escorts, bands and cheerleaders and even elaborate presentations that include ceremonial keys to the city.

Mayors, civil servants and many crowds of supporters have latched on to the feel-good story of a teenage girl’s commitment to run coast to coast in honor of a fallen friend and to raise cash for the St. Christopher Truckers Development and Relief Fund, a nonprofit group that arranges for reduced medical care for truckers in need.

I’ve witnessed the reception first person, when cars honk in support and locals ask to get their pictures taken with Jazzy. It’s nice, and it reminds you of all the goodness in the world.

A recent incident in one Tennessee town, however, was more reminiscent of Hazzard County from the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show.

As they make their way eastward in Tennessee, Lee calls every city they run through ahead of time to check routes and inquire about possible police escorts. After leaving messages with the Cookeville, TN, mayor, police chief and public safety director, Jordan said he figured the city’s lack of a response meant they weren’t interested.

As the Jordans began their day Monday in Cookeville, a police motorcycle zipped by, and came back to question Lee, leaving Jazzy to run unescorted.

“That was the first thing that ticked me off,” Lee said.

A little while later, an unmarked police vehicle pulled up. A police captain asked Lee for his license, registration and insurance, and repeatedly asked him why he didn’t have a permit.

“He said, ‘You can’t be holding up traffic like that,’ ” Lee recounted. “I told him about the messages I’d left, and then he really got in my face.”

The officer told Lee he could be arrested and jailed for swearing under the charge of “disorderly conduct to a police officer.” Lee said he then decided to bite his tongue and obtained the free permit.

“He might have thought I was a bit of a smartass,” Lee said, tongue in cheek. “I don’t know.”

OOIDA Member Greg Petit heard about the mishap and was so incensed he called the Cookeville Mayor’s office.

Pulling the Jordans over twice and requiring a permit was excessive, Petit said.

“I called them and gave my opinion on the matter,” said Petit, who lives in Benton, IL. “The cop that did that – he absolutely ought to have his badge taken away. You have kids in this country who are totally out of control; then you have one great kid doing the right thing – and that’s who you hassle?”

Not long after the Jordans obtained their permit and Jazzy began her afternoon run, Lee received his call back from the Cookeville City Hall.

“Is there anything we can do for you?” said the voice on the other line.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I-Zoom Girl may have to work overtime

Remember I-Zoom Girl? She’s the cartoon mascot of the Indiana Toll Road, created in recent years to help the operator market electronic toll transponders to the public.

Well, transponder sales are lagging these days just like everything else, so I-Zoom Girl may be required to put in a little overtime if the roadway operator, ITR Concession Co., is to upgrade to the next era of electronic tolling called open-road tolling.

Open-road tolling allows traffic to remain at highway speed as it passes through a collection point. Tolls would be levied by photo or scan and sent to vehicle owners. They say it saves time and that time is money.

As it stands right now, vehicles with I-Zoom transponders are required to slow down, pass under a scanning antenna, and wait for a mechanical arm to lift before proceeding. The alternative to having a transponder is making a complete stop to pay cash.

Since 2007, one year after ITR Concession Co. leased the 157-mile toll road from the state, the operator has been on a quest to replace basic electronic tolling with the open-road concept.

But ITR needs 80 percent of toll transactions to be electronic first before an open concept becomes feasible. At the present time, approximately 65 percent of toll transactions are electronic, so there’s a ways to go.

ITR Concession Co. is a partnership of Macquarie Infrastructure Group of Australia and Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte of Spain. In 2006, the consortium paid the state of Indiana $3.85 billion in cash for the right to operate the Indiana Toll Road through the year 2081.

Yes, 2081.

By the time the lease is up, I-Zoom Girl may very well have grandchildren, and those grandchildren will still be paying for roadway decisions made in her youth. I wonder what taxes and tolls will be like then.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cancer puts trucking family to the test

A rare form of testicular cancer has sidelined OOIDA Member Joe Rini from the road for now. But he and his wife, Connie, have their gloves on and are already battling this disease.

And from the determination I heard in Connie’s voice on the phone recently, she and Joe of Grand River, OH, are prepared to go all 12 rounds in the ring if necessary.

Back in December 2009, Connie said she drove Joe to the emergency room near their home because he was experiencing severe pain in his abdomen. She said their thinking at the time was that maybe his gall bladder was acting up and that he might need surgery to remove it. Not a major deal, just a slight hitch, some recovery, then back to trucking. Never did the “cancer” word enter their vocabulary.

But the news they received a few days later was much worse. A chest X-ray revealed white spots covering both of Joe’s lungs. Connie describes what she saw on the X-ray as “a blizzard” occurring inside Joe’s chest.

A lung biopsy was done, then an ultrasound to find the primary source of the cancer. That’s when doctors unloaded the grim news that Joe had testicular cancer with lung metastasis.

On Dec. 31, 2009, Joe had a testicle removed and is still undergoing chemo. He was in a coma for nearly a month after the first round of chemo “wreaked havoc” with his kidneys.

Connie admits they’ve been in a whirlwind since Joe’s diagnosis. She said Joe now shares two things in common with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Both were diagnosed with a rare form of testicular cancer – choriocarcinoma – which is found in approximately 1 percent of those diagnosed. They also share the same doctor. In fact, Armstrong’s doctor, Dr. Larry Einhorn, is working with Joe’s oncologist on his chemotherapy regimen from Indiana University Medical Center. She said all of Joe’s doctors have remarked that he’s making amazing improvement.

Connie said she believes this happened to her husband and her family for a reason – to spread the word to other drivers and their families about the importance of prevention and early detection. She said her husband did go to the doctor after noticing a lump in his testicle, but that it was gone by the time he was able to see his doctor. He did not have an ultrasound at that time, which Connie believes could have pinpointed the cancer earlier rather than later.

“My husband is this larger-than-life kind of guy who works hard at what he does and works just as hard taking care of his family, his drivers and his friends,” she said recently. “I know there are many drivers out there like my husband who don’t sit around at truck stops and talk about their health worries, but maybe reading Joe’s story may urge them if they are having symptoms to see their doctors.”

Connie has started an online journal (free registration required at caringbridge.org) to keep family and friends up-to-date on Joe’s recovery. While Connie is wearing a lot of hats these days while handling the day-to-day operations of the family’s trucking business, Joseph Rini and Daughters Trucking, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We have strong faith and a wonderful support system of family and friends,” Connie said. “Our drivers have really stepped up to the plate, and I don’t think you could meet a better group of guys. We realize that we have a fight ahead of us, but we have our gloves on and we are in the ring to win this.”