Safety & Compliance

Be Careful Out There

March 03, 2000

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A recent e mail inquiry from a lady with a fond remembrance of traveling the road with a knapsack, an outstretched thumb and little else has rattled my thought process. Her idea is to hit the highway on a whim and a prayer from Oregon to south Texas, catching rides at truckstops and travel plazas from passing truck drivers.
I'm going to go out on a limb and voice my opinion on this lady's idea of mode of travel. Be it too many reruns of old BJ and the Bear episodes or Smokey and the Bandit movies that have rekindled her ideas of the "romance" of the open road, what she is considering is incredibly dangerous. The times have, unfortunately, changed for the worse and the road is more unforgiving and brutal for it.
Nearly 30 years on the road have taught and shown me a great deal, most of it good, but a more cautious and guarded person I have become. There is a great deal of misery and danger on the highways and unfortunately some of it finds its way behind the wheel of a big rig. That charming sultry voice that beckons on the CB radio in many cases is not what it seems.
I remind you all of the truck driver from Northern California who walked into the police station several months ago and confessed to the murders of female hitchhikers, as he pulled a woman's severed breast out of his pocket, wrapped in a baggie. Or consider the driver who was robbed and shotgunned to death in a roadside rest area in Oklahoma while using the phone.
Or perhaps the driver who was robbed and shot at the Petro in West Memphis as he walked between trailers. Pull up some news archives and you will find equally hideous crimes. Now that may seem very slanderous of my fellow drivers and it is a sure bet that I'll catch some major flack for pointing fingers, as there are millions of fine citizens behind the wheel, but consider the negative aspects as though it were your mother or your sister asking your advice.
Please forgive me for sounding so negative, but I see it everyday: Clues to a very sinister lifestyle and as with the rest of our nation, the drug culture that still exists, albeit small, with crystal meth [speed] and crack cocaine very much in evidence. Although drug testing is the norm, there are still those who fall through the cracks, no pun intended.
At a show we were prepping for, the truckstop lot needed cleaning and grabbing a broom, I started to sweep it myself. Hypodermic needles were but one of the bad omens of the "back row." This was not a dump of a stop either. You can hardly blame the location for problems in the parking lot, but still, the omens are there, regardless.
My suggestion to anyone considering a cross-country run in a big rig would be to make a prior acquaintance of a "for real driver" who may be able to help you in your quest, rather than hopping into the first shiny rig you see.
Or you could ask one of the larger fleets [Prime, Covenant, etc.] if they could recommend a driver who would like some company on a trip, strictly as a rider. Perhaps even setting up a pen-pal deal to be able to find a driver with interest, prior to the ride.
Should you decide to make a trip, a daily cell phone call to loved ones at home with a full description of the vehicle, driver, company name, direction and route of travel, etc., should be made without fail.
I'm not afraid of my shadow, but, sadly, the rules of the road and it's camaraderie have
changed deeply. There is a great deal to enjoy about our beautiful country and many, many interesting people to meet and I enjoy every moment of it, but it is truly a different world out here on the road. To the point that I'm sure even Jack Kerouac would have second thoughts about raising his thumb.
Dave Sweetman is an owner-operator leased to auto hauler Horseless Carriage. He regularly drives through the 48 states and authors a monthly column in Newport's RoadStar magazine.

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