My mandate with this column has me writing about technology most of the time, but I have a soft spot for drivers and owner-operators, so please bear with me. I think the folks at the sharp end of the trucking stick deserve a little attention, a little understanding.
Now, ‘delicate’ is not a word you’d ever think of using to describe them. Rough, tough, maybe. But delicate?
The word may be a bit extreme, but lots of drivers manage a very fine balance between simple frustration and outright anger. The truth is, slipping over what really is a delicate line is easy, and getting easier every day. Deeper traffic jams, more demanding shippers, endless rules and regs managed by bureaucrats who really don’t seem to understand much or give a darn.
The potential for boiling over is very, very high. And the consequences? Downright nasty sometimes, almost never good.
The recent rash of snowy-road pileups got me thinking about the case of a driver I’ve known for a long time and some trouble he encountered more than a decade ago. My friend is a good guy, a third-generation trucking veteran who’s willing and able to work hard, the kind of fellow who can make repairs on the roadside and who still stops to help another driver in distress. All of that said, he admits to having the occasional problem managing his anger.
So leading up to a tragic event 12 years back that obliterated the delicate psychological balance that he usually managed to maintain, he’d had a rough couple of weeks. Dispatch had been on his case and he’d been on theirs, the classic source of driver frustration. As he put it at the time, he “was already bent out of shape.”
And then one night he came on a bad wreck. A woman and her baby daughter were nailed by a hit-and-run drunk and he was first on the scene. It was chaos, of course, and the little girl was dead. The other details don’t matter, except that a few hours later, he loses it.
In the yard at the end of his run, he had a meltdown. All the anger and frustration of the previous weeks came out in one big explosion. He’d seen countless bad accidents over his many driving years, but this one got him. He went AWOL for the next two weeks.
When he got back he wrote to tell me this sad tale, at which point he figured he’d lost his job for sure. Didn’t think the boss would even speak to him. But the next morning he met the guy and, to his great surprise, found enough sympathy and understanding that all he lost was top spot on the load board. He was pretty grateful.
He got back to emotional equilibrium because of a generous boss, the strong support of his wife, and several long bull sessions with his trucker chums.
I think the trucking community at large has to recognize the unique pressures that drivers face and accommodate them. We don’t have the same community we once had, but step number one is to recognize that drivers are human, that they can only take so much.