Every once in a while, I get talking to a civilian who asks about trucking. Depending on their intellectual wattage, the questions dribble away pretty fast. I do chat with brighter lights, of course, but almost nobody on the four-wheel side of the street seems to have a clue.
Not long ago I found myself in the midst of one such chat with a guy who understood zip about our game, but he was curious. He asked me about truck safety and driver fatigue and such. I’ve been through this a zillion times, enough to know that things can go one of two ways, depending largely on the kind of car the other person drives.
In this case, I happened to know that his wheels were dull — a green Toyota sedan, a very bad sign in the present context. Ownership of any such car implies that the road is no source of excitement. Had it been an old Z28, no sweat. You get the picture.
I assumed he had likely swallowed a lot of crap about trucking in the mainstream press. He was a smart guy, though, so I employed a little flair. I went through all the usual statistical stuff that shows how safe we really are per mile traveled, how more commuters fall asleep at the wheel than truck drivers do. And then I attacked.
I said, “If there’s a problem on the highways, it’s your fault.”
It all comes down to watermelons, I told him.
He cocked his head to the side and narrowed his eyes, looking a little taken aback. Toyota drivers don’t smoke, bless their clean souls, but it was the kind of moment where people like me light up a cigarette and hunker down a little.
“Watermelons,” he said. Not a question.
“Yep,” I retorted. “You want your watermelons fresh, right?”
“Of course,” he said.
“And you want ’em cheap, right?”
“Well, yes,” he replied.
“So it’s to your advantage that the trucker who drags those watermelons from Arkansas or Mississippi should do it fast and cheap, right? And the guy who does it fastest and cheapest will sell his load first and head south for more before the next guy, right?”
“Well, sure,” he said, “but I don’t want anyone breaking his neck on my behalf.”
“Ah, yes,” I countered, “but do you have any idea about what has to happen to bring those melons to your table? Do you really even care? Your only priorities are already established here — fresh and cheap, end of story.”
The conversation went on at some length, and of course I switched watermelons to cars and lumber and all the other things that he might buy as an ordinary consumer. In an era when the customer is king, the solitary truck driver is always the one at the end of the line. The one forced to perform, regardless, because Joe Consumer wants it now and wants it cheap.
I wasn’t whining on your behalf. I was just telling him the way it is. The way it’s been for ages. And all the while I was thinking of those suits in charge who aim to change the regulations that govern your lives without talking to drivers and dispatchers and other folks in the trenches.
Without understanding watermelons.