Thursday, November 12, 2015

Going Nuclear

"Incompetent, Stupid, Lazy Motherfuckers."

Those are the words of a truck driver friend of mine talking about the people we interact with in our industry.

The reason such profanities escaped his lips is because when he arrived at the shipper, he discovered he was picking up radioactive material to be delivered to a nuclear power plant on the other end, and the agent hadn't given him all the information he needed. I felt his frustration.

The transportation of hazardous material requires us to follow Federal Hazardous Materials Regulations set by the United States Department of Transportation.  You must display specific placards on your vehicle, have a route plan, and in some cases, arrange for special routing. Some cities don't allow movement of your freight between certain hours. Or on certain roads. All of this requires advance planning.  And to plan in advance, you need information. And he didn't get the information he needed from the agent that gave him the load.

I talked to my friend Marlaina about this and she said, "The trucking industry makes a big deal about safety, but the reality is, the more significant the security of the freight, the more lackadaisical they are about it."

Boy, if that isn't the truth. We've been in the very same position. And so have many other drivers I've talked to.

A few weeks ago, we met a driver who was telling us about a hazmat load he recently had on his truck. After loading, he noticed his paperwork wasn't right so he went back into the office to have it corrected. The girls in the office told him they'd been sending out the same loads all week and had no problem with any of them. If he didn't want the load they could take it off his truck. He made them take it off the truck.

Ultimately, no matter what the freight is that you're hauling - from hazardous materials to million-dollar aircraft engines - the drivers are the ones responsible for making sure it's transported safely and the ones who are penalized if it's not. The shippers, receivers, agents, or even trucking companies really don't give a shit. Once it's literally and figuratively out of their hands, you're on your own.

In the situation of the "incompetent, stupid, lazy motherfuckers", the driver was given no information other than the name of the place he was picking up and the name of the town he was delivering to.

No actual address. No directions. No information about the freight. No definitive weight - he was told it was "legal", which is a favorite word with agents - no dimensions. Nothing.

This is not uncommon. It happens on almost every load. It's so rare that we get what is laughingly called "complete and accurate dispatch". I almost always have to do my own research and get my own information. Phone numbers, addresses, directions

Thank God for Google and the fact that I have a brain.

I've even had agents tell me "Sorry, we can't give out that information." when I ask for a phone number or contact name.  What??  You can't give me the phone number for the place I'm picking up the freight??

See, the thing here is, the customers don't want to be bothered by truck drivers. Many of them don't want to deal with them directly. The want the drivers to come in, get the freight, and leave. Some places really limit any interaction. Ed told me that when he was a company driver, he was often denied access to rest rooms at the facilities he delivered to. They wouldn't even let him in to pee. WTF?

We've been told we can't park on a customer's property the evening before a pickup.

Some places don't let you idle your engine if you're close to the building.

Other drivers have told me they've been told to get back in their trucks, keep their mouths shut, and they'd be called when the load was ready.

Talk about being treated like a second-class citizen.

We had an nuclear power plant experience many years ago. When we got to the gate to pick up, they told us they were going to do a truck search (no big deal, since that's not unusual) and that only one driver was allowed in. Wait, what?? We are both drivers.  It's a team load. What was I supposed to do, stand outside the gate swatting gnats? I told them I didn't plan on getting out of the truck, that Ed would be loading, and that I'd just stay in the sleeper.

No dice.

Ed went in and I was directed to a waiting area with a plastic chair and a vending machine. There was no telling how long the search process would be and then no clue as to how long it would take to load.  In some places it takes hours. I'd be half-way through the candy bars on Row E in the vending machine by that time!

I sat on the stupid plastic chair, watching employees go in and out of the turnstile and metal detectors, scanning their wooden faces for some sign of emotion. They filed out like prisoners. Then I got antsy and started pacing. That's when the guy manning the waiting room told me there was a lobby area in the main building that was a lot nicer. I followed his pointed finger and wound up in a beautiful, air-conditioned lobby with cushy leather couches.

Sometimes it pays to be a girl.

I'm sure they wouldn't have given a thought to a male driver sitting there, who could stare at his steel-toed boots all day long for all they cared.

The lack of communication, the unconcerned attitude of some agents and customers, the mistreatment of drivers, that's what real truckers talk about after they're done bragging about their Harleys, talking about their fuel mileage, and blaming Obama for everything that's wrong with the world. They'll talk your ear off about being screwed out of their time at shippers or about being overtly or covertly told to ignore the rules. And on this kind of thing, they're right.  It's rampant and no one seems to really be doing anything about it.

The problem with the nuke plant, or the hazardous materials, or the high-value loads is that you'd think the agents, shippers, and receivers would be more organized and take into consideration the type of freight it is and what kind of information is needed to load, transport, and unload that freight safely and securely. Because you know, it's a nuke plant. Or hazardous material that can contaminate (or decimate) an entire community. Or a painting, machine, or product worth more than them and their entire families make in a lifetime.

I can't exactly prove what I'm going to say next, but it seems the lack of safety and security comes down to money. No ones wants to pay for the number of people it takes to do these things properly.

So they use our time to do their jobs. We spend our time to track down contacts, or get directions, or find out what the security procedures are. We spend our time waiting when they're not ready to load. Our time calling five different departments to track down the guy who said he'd be there to unload us but isn't. Our time to drive around at two in the morning when we're turned away from the parking lot that someone else said we can "absolutely" park in until morning. And we're expected to do it all with a smile on our faces.

I smile because I love doing this job. I don't smile when I have to do someone else's.

Especially if I'm not collecting their paycheck.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
My Kind Of Weather
2013: Pick A Plate And Go
2012: Just In Case You Were Wonderin'
Life Is For Living
2010: These Sure Would Look Snazzy On The Feet Of A Trucker
2009: There’s No Whey In The Way Of This Delicious Treat
2008: O Canada!
2007: Ladies Night (And Day) Our
2006: The Queen Is Bleak
2005: Literacy In The South

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