Friday, February 25, 2011

Not on the guest list? Send ’em a card

Even with a voice in DC through OOIDA’s government affairs office, professional truck drivers are still facing an uphill battle when it comes to an estimated $460 billion transportation bill that will be drafted and divvied up on Capitol Hill.

Congressional committees are drafting such a bill as we speak.

By creed and work ethic, truckers as a group are not out there seeking handouts as other transportation groups might be. At the same time, truckers do not want to get their pockets picked.

Many OOIDA members call or write to us to share their viewpoints or ask questions about laws, funding and regulations, and we always tell them they have a voice by contacting their lawmakers. A united voice gets more accomplished, and it’s more important than ever for professional truck drivers to be members of OOIDA.

When we heard that the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Rep. John Mica, R-FL, was conducting a series of public hearings to gather input and drum up support for a comprehensive transportation bill, I wondered what role truckers would play in the discussion.

It didn’t take long after reading the lists of guest speakers at the hearings before I realized that truckers were not among them. Most of the discussion fell to local transportation leaders, business groups, chambers of commerce, rail and transit folks, and others that stand to gain more than they could possibly pay in to a new transportation plan.

“It looks to me that these things are being done largely underneath the radar,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said Thursday, Feb. 24. “Virtually no one other than a select few are aware that they’re going on.”

Truckers did attend some hearings and hopefully they got a chance to speak.

The reality is that many lawmakers view trucking as a cash cow that helps subsidize other programs. Just look at the disproportionate amount that truckers pay in to the Highway Trust Fund compared to other highway users. Then look at how much actually gets spent on roads and bridges that the Highway Trust Fund is supposed to support.

Truckers deserve to get something out of this bill, and it’s important for trucking as a whole to stand united. On many issues, professional drivers are up against corporate interests and big money, but there are victories to be had. We can’t afford to give up or let up on certain issues.

So what can you do? For starters, memorize the Capitol Switchboard number. It’s 202-224-3121. Be courteous but firm in your positions on the issues, whether it’s truck parking, infrastructure improvements, safety, speed limiters, EOBRs, toll roads, cross-border trucking, you name it. These things could all be part of the next transportation bill being drafted right now.

As far as the hearings go, the series did seem like a big dog and pony show largely based in the home districts of T&I Committee members, but these hearings were not a waste. Hopefully, the hearings opened some eyes to the mountain of work that needs to be accomplished before a transportation bill makes its way into law. Until the president’s signature is on the bottom line, you have a voice.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Daytona 500 – the real reason it’s on my calendar

The second or third Sunday in February are dates permanently circled on my calendar. I always like to watch the 500. More important is that late February means the worst of winter should be over and spring is just around the corner, which in turn gets me to thinking about events and places we got to see while out there trailer trucking.

My last 25 years on the road were as an owner-operator and I was never tied to any kind of electronic tether, never under forced dispatch. So my wife Geri and I did smell the roses as we went along. Hey, you only go around once.

Most of the good times were in the warmer months. The Daytona 500 is a landmark date that meant sunny days were on the way. At NASCAR races there are always several big trucks in the parking lot, and several times ours was one of them. One time we laid over the weekend in Fort Worth and went to the race, picked up a trailer afterward, and took it to North Carolina. We picked up another going to Los Angeles, which took us right through Phoenix where the race was the next Sunday. So we got back-to-back cup races, and the only thing not deductible was the tickets.

Our favorite diversions were trips that took us through Las Vegas or Reno for a few hours or a few days for a little R&R. It’s 400 miles from Wendover to Reno. It wasn’t unusual to take us two days make it across the state.

We checked out those fine art museums like those of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Rex Allen. My favorite was Roy Rogers in Victorville, CA. It was a truck friendly place; we were there several times. Sorry I never happened to be there when Roy showed up, as he often did. If I had got to meet him, I probably would have lost it.

We also did some of the popular zoos like Milwaukee, Los Angeles and San Diego. It seems like the one you hear about the most is the one in San Diego. It was OK, but I wouldn’t recommend planning a vacation around it. But bluegrass music festivals? You bet. One time we were at a festival for three days near the Withlacoochee State Park in Florida. Boondocks ain’t a strong enough word. A guy, while eyeballing our big truck, said, “How in the world did you know about this place and find it?”

Another time, we were delivering a liquid load to Sacramento, and we planned to go this festival we’d heard about if we didn’t have a load to run over the weekend. It was a big four-day festival in Nevada City, CA. When we showed up at the consignee to unload, we were told that the tank farm was down and it would be sometime the next week before we could unload. This was a great customer, no hassles, no deals, layover pay right out of the book.

It didn’t take us long to drop the wagon, grab a cooler, lawn chairs and picnic stuff, and head for the hills.

I couldn’t list all the places the truck took us. During our trucking years, we went to major league baseball games, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls, Disneyland, Kennedy Space Center. We even parked it in Miami for a week while we went on a cruise. We visited Alcatraz, did the Bay tour (under Golden Gate Bridge). Did it twice, maybe 10 years apart. Touring the prison, wow! And Fisherman’s Wharf? Seafood, fresh sourdough, people watching …

When leased to Trailer Transit, we helped move a lot of Broadway shows, most were not of much interest to me. One time we were moving “South Pacific.” While waiting for final performance to end so they could load the trailers, it did get interesting. Most of the cast came out to where we were, just to grab a smoke or some fresh air. They were in costume (and character.)

Where else could a redneck like me bump into Ann-Margret back stage at a theater in Seattle or have his picture made in the wings with Chucky Cheese in Tulsa. At least the grandkids were impressed.