By Bill Hudgins
“What trucking needs,” declared my friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe as we ate our lunch at a truck stop, “is to be more like the military.”
My fork fell from my hand, landing noiselessly in the lake of white gravy atop my chicken-fried steak. “What? How do you figure that? How would you DO that?” I asked, incredulously.
“Look at it like this: We all know how important trucking and truck drivers are to the economy, the way we live, and even our security,” he explained. “It used to be regulated, and that was a bad thing. Now it’s a lot less regulated, and that ain’t working out so hot either, is it?
“We been complaining about conditions for years, everything from waiting to getting screwed over by lumpers to breathing diesel fumes and pollution. Congress can’t fix it, the unions can’t fix it, and by ourselves we can’t fix it. So we are mad and sad and getting nowhere fast.”
But maybe if trucking was elevated to the status of one of the armed services, things might start to change. He even had a name for it – the United States Motor Carriers Corps, or USMCC – which, for me, is too close to the Marines’ USMC. But Rufus was on a roll, so I didn’t interrupt.
As he sees it, the USMCC would be led by a Trucker General, whose oath of office obliges him or her to look out for the welfare of all sides of trucking, not just the carriers or the drivers.
But below the top brass, organizing such a diverse industry left Rufus scratching his head. He is leaning toward treating the big companies like traditional military units — divisions, regiments, battalions, etc. Owner-operators and independents would form up more like the Reserves or the National Guard grouped under state units.
If you’re an owner-operator or an indy contracting with a bigger carrier, you’d be considered as “attached” to that carrier, just as in the rest of the military.
Rufus says one of the best parts about this idea is that all truckers would get far more training than they do now. Meaningful training, not just holding a wheel or bonking a tire, but also skills to make them more successful.
The training would include business basics: bookkeeping, management and customer service. Because we are talking about a vital industry here, there might even be incentives for improving one’s overall fitness and physical condition.
Of course, truckers wouldn’t have roll call, and it is probably impractical to think about uniforms. However, Rufus – who has lately been cleaning up his image – thinks some kind of basic “uniform” wouldn’t be at all bad for truckers’ image. It could be as basic as work pants and shirt – but none of those Barney Fife caps of a generation or two ago.
That’s all well and good, I said, but so far you’ve just talked about truckers, I pointed out. What about the other side of the equation?
“Glad you asked that,” he said. “You make trucking an official national resource like an Army or Navy, and you can put some real teeth into rules and regulations for dealing with us.
“We could regulate loading and unloading of cargo. I bet there are a hundred thousand reefer drivers who’d like to be inspector general for that! Truck stops would have to meet standards for cleanliness and service, and they’d be more like PXs than high-priced monopolies. And we’d come up with some way to clean up parking lots for good,” he predicted.
Somehow, I don’t think Rufus’ vision would ever fly. The independence of trucking, or at least the illusion of independence, is too powerful a drug to give up for a more regimented and controlled situation, even if it might go a ways toward fixing some of our many problems.
Still, the vision of truckers, committed and re-energized about themselves and their jobs – isn’t that an inspiring vision? And is there really no practical way to realize that? LL
Bill Hudgins can be reached at email@example.com.