Sunday, February 25, 2018

Trying to clean out my 2017 folders. Or- man-0-man I am lazy!

I've been wanting to post this since last Fall. I have agonized over this, trying to figure out the best way to present this story. I've written three versions. One that gives names, dates, times. One that sanitizes the whole story and then this one, a good version that leaves out the details I could possibly get sued over, and tells a broader story of the human side of trucking. So here it is, a Hurricane Irma story a few months late: 

Hurricane Irma was barreling towards Florida. She had changed course many times, but now aiming at a more central track. Residents were scurrying to get ready, but lumber to board up windows was in short supply, and some stores had none. Emergency supplies were steaming towards Irma’s target, trying to get there so the residents could secure their properties. 

One jinxed driver got to his destination, a Home Depot, late. The delay was attributed to a seven-hour tire breakdown in South Carolina. When he arrived, in Zephyrhills Florida, the Home Depot was closed, and not going to reopen until after the Irma exited the area. Upon calling in, the driver was told to take the load to Atlanta Georgia. Worn out, his nerves frazzled, he decided to take a nap. His restless slumber was interrupted by a law officer banging on the truck’s door. Upon hearing the driver’s intentions, the cop would not let him leave the area citing the need for the trucker’s load. By this time, panicked residents started arriving in the wee hours of the morning to see if the store was open. Upon hearing their plights, the driver took it upon himself to give away the entire load of plywood. The driver was fired for his generosity, and another Internet drama unfolded. 

At least that’s how the story was reported. I have sat in both the driver’s seat and in the office chair, and the story, as reported, has so many holes and is as moldy as month old Swiss Cheese. If you are not lactose intolerant, or like to live on the edge with sketchy dairy products, let’s attack this together.
First, it’s unclear where the load of plywood was coming from. I am assuming it was dispatched from somewhere in the Northeast, because he broke down in South Carolina, and that is not in a direct path to Atlanta GA. Next, seven hours for a breakdown for a blown tire seems excessive, giving that the route he was on most likely was US Route 95. I make this assumption because he wasn’t traveling from, say, Montana. Sometimes drivers go out of their way to eat at their favorite diner, sometimes to enjoy a delicious meatloaf, or in extreme cases, the hired help. This was not that far out of the way, especially with a load that was deemed an emergency. 

The driver did not work for Home Depot, he drove for a third-party freight company. A third-party freight company is a company who is hired to deliver the goods from one place to another, usually with dedicated trucks assigned just to that company, in this case Home Depot. Most times the carrier either picks up the freight at a company owned warehouse, or possibly in this case, the plywood’s manufacturer. Technically, the plywood wasn’t even the carrier’s load to give away, it was Home Depot’s lumber. I’ve worked as both a driver and a manager for a third-party carrier, so take it from one who had to sweat out many reconciliation meetings, the owner of the freight wins the war every time. 

Given all the available evidence, I have many questions. What was the length of the driver’s tenure? In other words, new hires sometimes do not know all the nuances of a company’s policies. Was the driver’s dispatcher armed with all of the knowledge of the breakdown? Was every person involved at the freight company aware of the store’s closing time? It seems to me, this was THE key issue with this whole problem. 

I’m going to wax poetic here for a paragraph. I worked in the transportation office of a huge pizza chain, and coined a term: BE ANAL! In our case it meant just don’t rely on voicemails. If there was an issue, no matter how small, it meant talking to someone who is directly responsible. This especially holds true when it came to changing a driver’s schedule. Let’s face it, some truck drivers LOVE to whine, and most companies have their very own whine cellar. My belief was/is always, if you treat the drivers like humans and EXPLAIN the problems, even asking their opinions on possible solutions, operations run much more smoothly. But back to the plywood issue. 

Whoever was manning the phones at the driver’s employer, should have been applying pressure to the tire vendor, keeping both the store and the driver in the loop. When it appeared that the driver might not make the store in time, making the decision AT THAT TIME to route the truck to Atlanta would have been smart. It’s a six-and-a-half-hour drive, and 480 miles from Zephyrhills to Atlanta. Driving from South Carolina to “possibly” deliver a load seems like an insane wild goose chase, and a waste of precious dollars in a fuel budget.

Another story! I once worked as a milk delivery driver. One Saturday, IN JULY, I had a school lunch order delivery. When questioned, my boss told me to go deliver the milk anyway. I had been doing this route for two years, and this order seemed odd, since it was a fresh invoice, but the order was dated sometime in April. I drove out of my way, burned an extra 30 gallons of fuel, only to find a locked school with my face looking in every window for signs of life. It turns out, it was a computer glitch, and an April order never was purged from the system. My point is, I have been on the receiving ends of countless wild goose chases. 

Zephyrhills Florida will be forever grateful to this driver, but I believe the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of someone in freight company’s management team. Communication is the key to any successful business, but in trucking it is very crucial. A truck gets less than 10 miles-per-gallon and tires are on the north side of $500 each, so per mile costs are astronomical. I’m sure Home Depot did not want their employees in peril, so closing the store made sense. The driver giving away the load has its own set of circumstances, as technically it falls under the category of cargo theft. I’m going out on a limb and guessing that there is not one mechanism in place to recoup the money lost on this load. The freight company will swallow the cost, to appease their customer. Firing the driver might have made the phone call to the customer, in this case The Home Depot, more pleasant, but in the end the driver came off as a hero. A GoFundMe page suggests this evidence also. Home Depot’s reputation will be undeservingly tarnished, due to all the negative press, and trucking will remain as confusing as ever.

As this case unfolds, the freight carrier issued a statement and judging by the comments, opinion is split and emotions are passionate on both sides. The driver found employment elsewhere, and everything turned out for the better, except a company still has to pay for the load.

As a footnote, a frustrating rant. I’ve worked at these office jobs usually promoted from a driver position. Due to a knee replacement, I cannot drive anymore, and feel a little left out, as transportation management positions require a bachelor’s degree at a minimum. When asked about education on an online employment application, I get the bum’s rush when I get to that point. The virtual hearty handshake and a polite “no thanks” on the screen returns every time as a ghost of education past. So it’s frustrating to me trying to find a new career at almost 60 years of age.

I started this piece before Maria almost wiped Puerto Rico off the map. My frustrations with the industry and the need for “anal” people in the management offices has now reached a crucial point in the rebuilding of Houston, most of Florida and now Puerto Rico. There is no place for sloppiness both in the truck’s cab and the office. Getting freight to an island is challenging enough, let alone mostly EVERYTHING to rebuild. All three places are going to take years to get back to normal, and who knows what wrath Mother Nature might throw at these areas while the rebuilding process takes place. Hire good people with good skills would be my advice for southern based freight companies.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Winning the lottery, or always tip your service people.

The United States is an odd country. We like going out, for brunch, lunch, or something to crunch. Here it might seem that home really isn’t the only happy place. Going out is very act that gives us the most pleasure and it is based on an army of service folks who depend on gratuities for their survival. This practice is distant to foreigners, as in many countries it is rude to tip. 

I’ve always tipped well. Maybe too well for my own good, feeling empathy towards the underpaid waitstaff. It irks me when I see someone standing at the doughnut counter and pays with a debit/credit card and doesn’t think to tip, or the person who orders a complicated drink. Yes, I never thought I would put those two words together, but it’s these aesthetes of liquids who usually give the wearied person poor tip. 

So, starts the lottery section of my tale. On a sweltering hot summer’s day a few years ago, I found myself at the grocery store. My mode of transportation at that time was an old New York state police cruiser.
The air conditioning wasn’t working, and I needed a cool drink to make the ride home bearable. Two doors down from the grocery store there is a combination gas station/coffee shop. Peering over on this grossly hot summer’s day, the shop didn’t seem too busy, no cars were in the lot, it appeared it might be a quick visit, so I decided to head over.

Keep in mind there was not ONE car in the parking lot, save for one out-of-state car parked in the fire zone (*&^%%$*). Yes, I’m swearing, that practice drives me crazy. Entering the store’s coolness, there were at least thirty people in the store, all at the donut counter, milling about like bees around a freshly blooming flower. I reluctantly took my place in line. 

With a fast deduction on my part, all these people seemingly were together and ALL of them ordered complicated drinks. The staff of three was frantically trying to fill the orders. At least half of the orders declared “wrong” with a snit. The drinks were then dumped, which resulted in the unfortunate waitperson starting over from scratch. When the orders were complete, a gray-haired guy stepped up and paid for the 66 plus dollar tab settled with a credit card. After twenty minutes of complete chaos, everyone exited, and NO TIP WAS LEFT! 

I felt badly for the staff. It was cool in the store, but all three had beads of perspiration dripping off their brow due to the cacophony that just ended. Without incident, my medium $2.30 black iced coffee was ordered, paid out of a 5-dollar bill and signaled to the girl to keep the change. I also thrust a twenty-dollar bill into the tip jar, feeling a little anger towards the wild crew that just left. 

As I made way out into the heat, I noticed that the gray-haired head honcho of the mayhem was getting into the car parked in the fire zone and all the others were boarding a small bus on the side of the building. As Mr. No-Tip entered his ride, a twenty-dollar bill floated to the ground under his feet. As soon as his door shut, the car zoomed out of the parking lot with the gusto of a newly launched cannon ball, with the bus in hot pursuit.

The top of my car made a very scalding hot place to set my drink on, and fiddled with my keys to unlock the car’s door. I noticed no one was around the dropped money, I looked around and scooted across the hot pavement and picked up the loot. Still scurrying, with intermittent twinges of guilt, I headed towards my quickly warming iced drink. Then I had a flash of stupidity, I trotted back into the store. 

I told the musically distracted young man behind the counter my tale, how I acquired my new wealth. He smiled, offered up an air fist bump and an enthusiastic exclamation of “Dude!” He suggested a 20-dollar scratch off ticket and when the transaction was through, I stole off with my newly found riches.

Still furious at the non-tipping jerk, I parked under a shade tree in one of my favorite nesting/day dreaming/napping places. By this time, my mind played karmatic solutions on ways to get even with the whole crew. Shrugging those off, and carefully scratching the ticket, I discovered I had a $100 winner!!! 

Making my way to yet another gas station, I asked the clerk if she could cash the ticket for me. Unfortunately, she said, she had just made a cash drop and could not cash the ticket. Thinking quickly, I asked if she had forty bucks and offered to exchange the ticket for two thirty-dollar tickets and the cash. She could, so I did, and was off. 

Picking another cool shady spot, in my now blazing hot car, and my now hot coffee, I scratched the first ticket. Nothing won. Sparing the reader excessive suspense, the second ticket was a five-hundred-dollar winner. Five HUNDRED dollars. 

To recap: I left a twenty-dollar tip, found twenty, spent twenty, won one hundred, spent sixty to win five hundred. $540 isn’t bad for a hot afternoon’s banana/hemp milk trip. 

The moral of this story is, yes maybe there is karma. Instant Karma, as John Lennon once sang. The other moral is TIP YOUR SERVICE PEOPLE!!! Maybe in a strange twist of fate, on a hot Saturday afternoon in July, the Universe will reward you.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Conspiracy Theories, or Don't Give a Seashell the Time of Day.

Here we are. January 2018. If you wander around even the sanest parts of the Internet, you might bump into a few conspiracy theories. Weird ones abound. Some are even taking shots at our trusted institutions. 

In the mid-1970s, when I was a senior in high school, I worked full time in a gasoline service station. I went to classes in the morning, and was on a work/study program so I could get out of school at noon. My work hours were from 1:30 PM until closing at 9 PM. I liked the hours, after the boss went home and I cleaned the tools, mopped the floors, swept the garage, it gave me more than two hours of quiet time. During the week gas business was slow, so I always brought a library book to read. 

One “regular” customer named Ed would either stop for gas, or just come in and buy cigarettes from the machine in the office. He would come in at least twice, maybe three times a week, depending on his gasoline or smoking needs. One night I saw his car drive in and as he wandered in with his usual friendly greeting, he noticed the book I was reading. Whatever the library book I had checked out, it greatly excited Ed. 

Ed extended his usually brief visit by quite a bit that evening and the next time he stopped, enthusiastically brought with him several mimeographed pages of what I only can describe as conspiracy theories. He left them with my weak promise to read every single paragraph. Being young and impressionable, but smart enough to realize Ed’s ideas were “out there.” I carefully read each page with a teenager’s vigor and quest for knowledge of any type. On Ed’s next visit he asked me if I wanted to join him and also his wife to discuss his ideas further. Politely, I declined because, frankly, they both creeped me out. Valiantly, he inquired if he could leave some more “reading material’ in my car from time to time. I feebly pointed to my orange Volkswagen Beetle and told him it’d be okay. 

Weirdness soon became the norm. Not only did I find reams of propaganda on my car’s seat weekly, but I started getting random gasoline customers shoving carefully crafted pamphlets into my hands. One day, I recall vividly, another regular customer, Dave, was chatting with me as I filled his pickup truck’s gas tank when a person handed me a pamphlet. Dave asked for one too. Before his truck’s tank was full he had read the material and tossed in in the trash, looking at me and rolling his eyes. Dave asked if this was normal, and I told him to check my VW if he wanted to practice rolling his eyes, because I knew there were several pages of conspiracy ideas on my seat. 

From what I recall, years later, these theories varied greatly. Some were warnings of the “deep state,” a kind of compartment deep inside the government whose sole purpose was disrupting political norms. These “deep state” theories live on in some form or another to this day. Some theories exposed Bohemian Grove, with the thinking that about twenty people rule the whole world. The alien-underworld-undead people material was always the most interesting, especially the material packed with information on Transylvania and the Hoia-Baciu forest in Romania. In the spirit of complete transparency, my maternal great-grandfather was born smack dab in the middle of the Hoia-Baciu forest. So, if you believe in conspiracy theories, I might be part alien. All humor aside, conspiracy theories have always been around. They are not inclusive to weird talk of aliens, spaceships hiding behind the moon, lizard people, weird owl people, rogue FBI agents, and the list goes on and on. 

In my youth, I learned quickly of the description of “tin foil hat” when self-proclaimed rational people read Ed’s mimeographed pamphlets and schooled me in the weird “fringe” people. Moving on, the Internet has brought these like-minded people together, making communication instant, whereas back when I was a kid the only means to get their ideas out were print media and “meetings.” Today’s inter-connected world help make these gain more readers and ultimately, more believers.

Some of the people who spread these theories are well educated. Ed, as I later found out, had a PhD in philosophy. Some of the people who shoved papers in my hand seemed as dumb as oatmeal and perhaps were. People with weird ideas come from all facets of society, income, and education levels.  It doesn’t matter, though, what their education level is, the ideas that erupt from them suggest that they might belong to alternate species. Perhaps they haven’t read enough books, or read the wrong ones. 

In my youth, and as an adult, I still am more interested in the PEOPLE who spread these theories, rather than the theories themselves. I think that in 2018 a lot of people who spread these theories are sound-byte/ headline reading only people. In the current news climate, my opinion is a lot of people are either too busy or intellectually lazy to read/digest more information to prove their conspiracies wrong. It’s also easier to dismiss informational logic with the rallying cry of “Fake News” uttered by certain news outlets and even the president of The United States. 

We are living in a odd time in history, where conspiracy theories sometimes gain more news traction than real news. My brain gets tired from sorting out the truth from the weirdness, but my heart pushes on for a better tomorrow.