Friday, September 2, 2011

If I were in the editor’s chair …

I’m one of those guys who picks up most of the free pubs in the truck stops, and at home I enjoy an assortment of trucking magazines. I have some advice for the people that write some of the articles, from the trucker point of view.

It seems that sometimes when they do stories or profiles on drivers they just print whatever the driver says without thinking if it could be anywhere in the realm of possibility. I’ve often thought they needed me as the editor.

Here’s a couple of classics that I would have sent back to the writer. I once read about this lady trucker who lived and worked out of Omaha on a reefer gig. She must have been one of those super truckers because she hauled meat from Omaha to New York City. Of course it was a drop and hook in Omaha, which made it easier, but I doubt she dropped and hooked at meat docks in NYC.

From my limited reefer experience and what I’ve heard, it’s get unloaded, get reefer rinsed out and find a return load, right? Here’s the punch line: According to this article, she made three round trips a week and like a lot of these type stories she also had a hobby – raising and showing horses, I think.

Just think about it. A 2,500-mile round trip, three times a week. Gimme a break.

Another one – sorry, gals, if it seems I am picking on you – this long-haul lady trucker stayed out for a month then took three days off to spend QUALITY time with her four kids. If that reporter was trying to make this sound like a swell thing, it didn’t work.

And then you read about the hubby/wife teams that run 300,000 miles a year. It seems they always have a working ranch and race motorcycles in their spare time. How do they do that? If I was the editor, I’d be asking.

Sometimes advertising gets in the game. A popular but now out-of-business trucking magazine ran an ad for a trucking company promoting their lease purchase. This ad depicted a good-looking young driver in front of a red Peterbilt (kinda like me) and these two dudes in three-piece suits. The marketing message was “here are an entry-level lawyer and doctor and one of our happy lease purchase operators and guess what? They are all making about the same money, in the $125,000 range.”

The ad forgot to mention that this was net to the doc and lawyer plus expense accounts, bonuses, cars and other perks. But it was gross for the happy lease purchase guy. And if he managed to scrape off a living and get a little equity in his truck out of it, he was an exceptionally good operator. Bordering on magical. If I had been the editor, this stupid ad would not have been on my pages.

It’s not just the print media that sometimes insults my intelligence. The radio chips in, too. I remember listening to a country music/ talk show hosted by a DJ I’ve listened to for 40 years. One time this guy calls in and announces that he just logged 12 million miles. My old buddy never flinched; he just congratulated him on a lifetime achievement. Outstanding, my friend.

Another trucker made the news for logging 7.5 million in 45 years, mostly pulling reefers. According to my $6 calculator that figures out to 3,200 miles per week average, week in and week out, EVERY week for 45 years. Think about it.

I did 45 years out there and consider that in the early years the interstates were far from finished, and trucks were a far cry from today’s models. By today’s standards, underpowered, rough riding, etc. What about the speed limits? And don’t forget we had 15 years of 55 mph coast-to-coast. There were a lot things that made it harder to rack up the  miles than now. I figure I probably did around 4 million miles in 45 years. Maybe I should brag mine up a little.

Truck drivers are famous for tall stories. I expect them at the roundtable in the truck stops, but I hate to read them or hear them on the radio.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I DID get away with it

I watched a little of that TV show “I almost got away with it,” and it kicked up a memory of long ago.

It was probably about 1964. I’m guessing, but I think back then the overall length law in Virginia was 50 feet. I was hauling hogs with a cabover KW and a 40-foot trailer. One day I was stopped by a state trooper and charged with the heinous crime of being six inches overlength.

The trooper took me to the little town of Woodstock, VA, to their one-man police station where they would call out a “justice of the peace” to set bail or fine me. (I doubt I had cash to cover either.)

It’s not like today’s modern world with ATM cards to zip, fuel cards with cash draws available, and – the worst-case scenario – get somebody out of bed to load some cash on your card. Back then it was Western Union, one step up from Pony Express.

Anyway, it’s the wee hours of the morning, and they called the JP at home to come down and sock it to me. The trooper left to go back on patrol. After some time, maybe two hours, I told the cop on duty “I got a load of hogs out there. It’s pretty warm, and some will start dying if I don’t get them moving.”

So the city cop called the trooper, and shortly he came back to station. He said he went to the JP’s house and he wasn’t there and he couldn’t find him. Reluctantly he wrote me a ticket and let me go. Of course, I didn’t send in the fine, so every so often I would get letter that there was a warrant for my arrest.

One day I was sitting on the front porch when the mailman came by and handed me a letter marked from the Commonwealth of Virginia. I told the mailman to wait a minute while I wrote “Deceased, return to sender” on it and handed it back to him. The letters stopped.

Now fast forward to the early ’90s. The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 had introduced a new program called the CDLIS. That means Commercial Driver License Information System. It was hooking up all the states to one database via computers. By 1992, all states were sharing information.

The initial goal was to prevent drivers from having more than one driver’s license (where’s their sense of humor?), but they took it several steps further. They started digging up old unpaid tickets and arrest warrants from all over. The blitz was on, drivers were being put out of service, and licenses were being suspended all over the country for stuff they had forgotten or were trying to forget about.

I had to wonder about my little episode in Woodstock, VA. … Surely they wouldn’t dig that deep, would they?. Would they figure out they had been conned with my “return to sender” note? If they had, I would probably have gotten life in front of a firing squad.

As it turned out, there was no firing squad for me.

But truckers had a lot of skeletons in their closets, and for quite a few years drivers continued to get busted for unpaid tickets. Fortunately for me – I got away with it.