My friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe called recently from Hollywood, where he is consulting on a new TV reality show, “The Amazing American Idling Big Rig Race.”
“Yeah, you shoulda’ seen me takin’ my old Cornbinder down Rodeo Drive,” he chuckled from his suite at the posh Beverly Hills Hotel. “I’d tap the Jake now and then just to see some goofball in his Lamborghini jump off the gas and stall out.”
“A trucking reality show?” I asked.
“How does it work?”
Rufus paused to take a bite of the hotel’s “pigs in a crepe” room-service breakfast special. I could hear a Jacuzzi running, and he explained he was relaxing and doing his laundry at the same time.
The cast is made up of 24 people from all sorts of backgrounds – for instance, there is an ex-Marine, a college professor and a retired couple with lots of grandkids around the country. Providing the required “babe” factor is a secretary, an aerobics instructor and an anthropology major. Several athletic-looking guys who have held various jobs fill the beefcake quota, he said.
When the show airs, these total rookies will be split into teams. After training, they’ll hit the road with real loads, in a cutthroat, irregular-route scramble to secure a half-cent-a-mile pay raise, a full 48 hours at home every three weeks and a new company shirt.
These asphalt apprentices have to get through driver school and then pass in-truck training, which will be shown in real-time – a full hour, during half of which the trainer will be sacked out in the sleeper.
There will be breakdowns with shakedowns by the towing companies. Cameras will follow the newbies around back at scales and into the truck stop showers (Rufus hinted that one of them will quit rather than wash up in a particularly gnarly shower room). There will be the usual steely-eyed examination of logbooks (another hint: The college professor will never learn to fill out one book, much less two). Most of them will back into something, or cross up a 53-foot trailer trying to get into a dock made for 48-footers.
The creators are promising that the show will give the public the most insightful look ever into the world of trucking. Cameras inside the cab will show what drivers see: Cars darting in front and slamming on brakes or diving across four lanes to an exit. Motorists eating breakfast, reading, putting on makeup and typing e-mail. One-finger salutes and, um, exhibitionism will no doubt be included.
“Of course, they will fuzz over the faces and license plates,” Rufus added sadly. “But I bet some people are gonna recognize themselves, call their buddies and say, ‘Hey, I’m on TV, flippin’ off a trucker!’ ”
Some reality will be too real, though. For instance, most CB chatter will be electronically blanked out. And sometimes, there will be unreality: One contestant calls in to a trucker radio show and gets right through, while another refuses a load for lack of hours and gets a pat on the back.
As the field narrows, the survivors will get perks for completing tasks such as finding an honest broker and standing up to a surly, overbearing dispatcher. They’ll visit the Mid-America Trucking Show and load up on orange yardsticks, magic polishing cloths, recruitment brochures and “Wide Load” stickers. In a reverse of “The Biggest Loser” reality show, there will be a contest for the most weight gained at the buffet.
How much did the creators know about the real world of trucking? “Oh not much at first,” Rufus answered, “but they went out to truck stops and talked to drivers, waitresses, mechanics, recruiters, ‘princesses’ – everyone. But mostly it came from listening to ‘Convoy’ and watching all the episodes of ‘18 Wheels of Justice,’ ‘B.J. and the Bear’ and ‘Smokey and the Bandit.’ ”
That’s good stuff about trucking, all right, I agreed. But what happens to the ones who don’t make it?
“Oh, most of them will flunk out because they’re cocky and think they know it all already,” he said. “They all get jobs writing regulations.”
Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often.
Bill Hudgins may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.