September | The Utah Trucking Association’s sitting president was seen in daredevil form jumping a Class 8 Freightliner, and retrofit/upgrade grants from the California Air Resources Board were coming too little, too late for most owner-operators. Reports surfaced on the dog-eat-dog climate of enforcement of CARB’s regs when a spokesman revealed just who the Board’s biggest tipsters are — drivers and truck owners.
Driver Toby Bogard’s 1,000,000-lb. weight-loss challenge, a competition among drivers meant to highlight and spur on good health in the industry, got under way to great fanfare. Owner-operator Gary Shade’s “Hotshot Chronicles” book on expediting saw release — it’s a great read, balancing business and lifestyle topics well.
Early in the month, during a meeting among Overdrive editors in Tuscaloosa, Ala., someone or other passed me their phone, which showed the “Truckers to Shut Down America” Facebook page with tens of thousands of “likes” and a bevy of posts that trafficked generally in anti-government rhetoric, conspiracy theories and not-so-theories. I’d already written administrators of the page after noticing its clear virality (the result in part of commentator Glenn Beck’s picking up on the page and mentioning it during one of his Blaze broadcasts) and having heard calls from truckers near and far for a wide industry shutdown for years. No administrator ever wrote me back, but I managed to locate them via a radio show on the online Guerilla Media Network that had hung its hat on the page’s cause.
I then reported on details emerging from the page when it was shut down and sprung up under a different name, “Truckers Ride for the Constitution,” and with an associated website, ridefortheconstitution.org, that no longer exists. (The Facebook page and its 200,000-plus followers after the Ride became a not-very-active promotional organ for the GMN.) Ride for the Constitution organizers were trying to harness whatever support they may have had among actual truckers at that point, which they ultimately continued by injecting a trucking-specific list of grievances into the effort.
From the get-go, though, it was clear that “the Ride,” the common shorthand that developed, did not have trucking issues at its heart.
To this day, one of the truckers involved in the event from early on, driver Earl Conlon, insists it was not about trucking but bedrock constitutional issues. As Conlon commented under this story just last week, “The trucker convoy was about standing up for our Constitution! A statement to government to obey the constitution. If government obeyed the Constitution they would not be getting away with the laws, regulations, etc that they are putting in place.”
My conversations with promoters late in September revealed an attempt, at least, however, to highlight trucking issues even while rhetorical asides on the “Ride for the Constitution” online radio show and in conversation showed something of a pandering attitude toward drivers, a willingness to paint owner-operators as victims and the airing of bizarre statements.
Zeeda Andrews, who came forward in the early days of the Ride’s planning as a principal promoter and host of the aforementioned Ride radio show, said on an edition of the show I checked into one night late in the month that drivers were suffering from sleep apnea as a result of the radiation from the satellite communications devices in their rigs. When I asked her whether she was joking or what a few days later, she only postulated a further link between diesel exhaust fluid and sleep apnea, referencing a study she said she’d send me (and never did) and which I have never of course been able to find or confirm.
The 2013 partial government shutdown over the budget was well on its way at the time, too. Andrews explained the shutdown as a ruse toward official “uploading” of a new “system…. Every time they have a shutdown in government it is to implement a new system – the government is doing the very same thing right now as we speak.”
References were made to concern over the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a prime part of this “new system” — a free-trade agreement with China (“NAFTA on steroids,” some have called it) and other nations outside the nations party to NAFTA. The TPP has long been in negotiation — and remains so today and with not insignificant opposition in Congress. It’s definitely something to be concerned about for a variety of reasons (China’s currency exchange rates, which are set by the government, to name one), but here’s how Andrews explained it: “The new world order is uploading right now and we are all in major trouble.”
She went on to justify her rhetorical style as such: “Our founding fathers used heated language to get people engaged in a conversation, and that’s why I do… It’s to engage people in a conversation and to make them aware and make them show up.”
Meanwhile, one small fleet operator had had about enough of rate undercutting, competition solely on price (not to mention said operator’s Rubber-Duck-truck replica Mack), and a tragedy in Nashville reinforced the importance of well-lit signs, among other things.
October | U.S. DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx wasn’t tweeting during the government shutdown — nor was the Affordable Care Act’s healthcare.gov website working for most Americans, including scads of drivers looking to access health-insurance rates under “Obamacare.” One case analysis based on estimates for coverage costs saw one operator sticking with his wife’s plan. Other operators saw a variety of ways through the new health insurance maze.
Reports from the first day of the Ride on Oct. 11 were that around 30 power units participated. A contingent continued to ride in protest around the Capitol Beltway at various points through the next two days, some bobtail rigs joining the Sunday, Oct. 13, military veterans-solidarity march that removed the barricades from memorials placed during the shutdown — during an attendant rally, Larry Klayman (also in the news in late December for his suit over the NSA phone/internet-records surveillance program) urged President Obama to “put the Koran down,” a sentiment of a piece with the Ride’s primary manifesto, which trafficked in theories that the President was not in fact a natural born U.S. citizen.
Conlon, who caused quite a stir with claims (issued to national media the week of the event) that a convoy into the District of Columbia would demand the arrest of various government officials, said in his comment on OverdriveOnline.com last week that he had “3,000-plus truckers coming until Zeeda Andrews got on television and said no we will not lock down the city, and no we will not demand arrests… Once she said that, all those truckers and supporters backed out.”
For all the problems, in the wake of the Ride, industry-change conversation heated up among operators and advocates.
The problem of inspectors’ stacking violations was foregrounded in a case shared by an advocate along with details on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s attempts to build a technological fix. Along with CSA, polling showed the hours of service issue as an area of fleet/owner-operator common ground.
Readers finally got a sneak listen to some of the new music emerging from driver Tony Justice’s work on a new record.
Diesel fuel was being blamed in part for the phenomenon of honeybee colony collapse, and a Truckers for Kids Poker Run out West provided a good reason to roll.
November | Minor horrors (or joys, depending on your perspective) were emerging, from handbags made from recycled tires to a growing consumer interest in driverless cars and FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro out for a two-day haul with an owner-operator.
It looked like CARB had finally thrown a bone to owner-operators around the nation, then the bone didn’t look so appetizing anymore.
Hell didn’t exactly freeze over, but a crew of drivers went to bat for a beloved dispatcher, and one operator’s final word on leaving trucking contained hopes for a more stable industry for future generations.
Retired driver Duane Brusseau hauled the Capitol Christmas tree cross-country in a beautifully wrapped Mack. and independent owner-operator Todd Modderman took an active role in educating tomorrow’s four-wheeler via his and his rig’s participation in the Charlotte, N.C.-based B.R.A.K.E.S. program of teen driver instruction. According to reader and media reports, some professionals appeared to need instruction on navigating loading areas and fuel stops after a death in Georgia occasioned a lively discussion.
Volvo Trucks released another crazy stunt video, this one involving actor Jean-Claude Van Damme.
December | A Georgia fleet owner and Congressional candidate pretended to be Van Damme in an anti-Obamacare political advertisement, while some operators were finally able to actually price insurance on the federal health insurance exchange after months of foul-ups.
Speaking of splits, Christmas approached with a special “gift” to owner-operators from Santa and some hope on the issue of sleeper-split flexibility — the FMCSA-sponsored study on safety and split sleep released earlier in the year occasioned some further wishful thinking as the nation’s largest trucking-company association got behind the idea of further study, at least, of the potential of returning split flexibility. Readers remained skeptical.
I paid witness to the last blackeyed pea haul out of a particular acreage of Texas farmland, likewise a particularly awesome workhorse of a 1986 359.
Here’s to a prosperous 2014 to you. Happy New Year!