Amid the chaos created by the lies and manipulations of those who would politicize every incident and event, positive or negative, stands a group taller than most other groups and generally known as double clutchers, asphalt engineers or super-slab cowboys. Every semi you meet on the road or that rumbles by your domicile on the way to fill a void in the pandemic struggle is piloted by a genuine hero/heroine. Gear jammers don’t often wear logos that reflect their disposition however it is a given that each individual navigating a big rig over 12,000 lb. or 5,500 kg. in the current environment should have a great big SHAZAM emblazoned on his/her t-shirt, blouse, pearl-button shirt (or bare chest for the hardy) and ought to be treated with the same open-mouthed admiration of one’s favourite cartoon super-hero. If you qualify, tuck in your cape, walk with your head held high and bathe in the respect you deserve!
Long-distance truckers, log approx. 600 - 700 miles in a driving shift. During that stretch, the driver may well have experienced several different environments producing a variety of airborne pollutants, including the dreaded but largely unknown COVID-19 virus. All this to bring essentials to their neighbourhood service station, supermarket, or convenience store. This is a normal state of affairs for our transportation crusaders in order that high priority commodities may be distributed as safely as possible under the 6 foot (2 meters) social distancing. All’s well and good - or is it?
In the course of a single week, our road knights must pass through many municipal districts and communities and in doing so, there are many hazards that they are unwittingly but inexorably exposed to in the course of their workday. “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” is no longer a description of the work done just by the US Postal Service sidewalk engineers.
A transportation carrier that does not value its employees as its greatest asset is missing the boat. These hard-working folk sometimes go months, even years, without contact with upper management. However, the times we are going through requires daily support. The daily phone call or computer contact with the company dispatcher or op manager is a critical protocol which ought to be viewed as vital to the operation. Sometimes it isn’t easy. It requires compassion and patience, characteristics not often ascribed to these corporate positions.
Empty miles are making a big comeback during the Covid-19 scare as non-essential services are taking a big hit. When I was in the dispatcher’s chair 20 years ago, briefly thank goodness for everyone’s sake, I frequently received phone calls from clients asking for our “Lowest backhaul rate.” I had to explain that backhaul rates are a figure in one’s dream and do not exist in reality. The same wear and tear occurs in both directions, fuel, driver’s wages and other fixed costs are the same both ways and are not reduced just because one is running MT miles. Today there are fewer backloads and longer wait times away from home while your carrier fights for the best rate he/she can squeeze out of every load. Corporate belts are tightening, revenue is suffering, and we all know that quite often, it is the company wagons that get the first available loads. Owner-operators always suffer first. It is not fair and not in the contract or company’s mission policy, but that is the way it is.
The trucking industry is already operating on narrow margins of profit, some smaller companies barely breaking even, but all in all, doing better than some service sectors. In 70 years of personal involvement pounding the asphalt as both a company driver and an owner-operator and warming a safety supervisor’s seat for 10 of them, there have been strikes and other business interruptions. Still, they were all pretty much of short duration so as not to hurt the economy too much. But I have never been an observer of this level of mystery and irresponsibility created by an invisible hazard to which no human has yet to define in terms of public acceptance and confidence. And we are not alone.
Do I possess a viable solution? The answer is an emphatic NO! Sorry, no magic bullet here. Cut expenses, stay home and be patient, get familiar with the contents of that job jar, hang, veg, make up inexpensive recipes. Becoming angry does absolutely nothing to advance the cure of the malady or the consequences for which it has become infamous. Abhor the behaviour and not the persona who are endeavouring to mitigate those consequences for the universal good. Above all keep smiling and perform a random act of kindness every day! You will feel better, and you will confirm to Jane & John Doe that we, the trucking brethren, exist to assist. Be safe … 10-4!