By Charlie Morasch
Editor’s note: Cruising New York City for the first time, LL Staff Writer Charlie Morasch couldn’t have had a more fervent tour guide than OOIDA Member Cesar Vargas. Charlie was there on assignment in June, covering Jazzy Jordan’s arrival in Times Square. After meeting Cesar, he left the Big Apple with a second story to share.
Driving through the stop-and-go blocks of New York City, Cesar Vargas hesitates a split second before proceeding on a green light. Other Gotham drivers are annoyed and remind him to go, punctuating the light change with horns honking.
“Ever since I was a kid I always wanted to come here,” Vargas said, smiling.
He’s lived and worked in suburban New York for more than 25 years now, half of his 50 years, and he still remembers the day he decided to become a U.S. citizen.
After starting with little upon his 1985 arrival in New York, he worked his way up as an owner-operator for nearly 10 years, raising a young family. Still, something was missing.
Watching an exhibition soccer game with his kids between a team from his native Colombia and a team of Americans, Vargas said he was surprised to find himself cheering for U.S. star Alexi Lalas and the rest of the U.S. team.
“That day I was so excited with the way they were playing soccer, I was rooting for the United States. I said, ‘Tomorrow I’m going to get my citizenship.’ And the next day I went and started the paperwork.”
Vargas, an OOIDA member who lives in Rahway, NJ, says he’s been around trucking for his entire life. The youngest of nine children, Vargas was raised by a single mother in the metropolitan city of Barranquilla, Colombia, also the hometown of pop singer Shakira.
Trucks parked near his bedroom window in Barranquilla, Vargas said. As a teenager, Vargas began selling truck parts and continued to work for part dealers until he left for America in 1985.
Vargas always wanted to live in New York City, and he established himself as a local and regional driver for 15 years. Over time, he saw a need for East Coast regional and port drivers to organize and communicate.
Bad leases and a lack of affordable health insurance are two major issues that both affect and unite long-haul truckers, regional and local drivers, said Vargas, who joined OOIDA during the 1990s.
“Somebody said the other day – if you have to get your nails dirty because of your truck, you are an owner-operator,” Vargas said.
Vargas helped found the Port Drivers Federation 18, an association of drivers who work at the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, and remains active with the group.
In 2000, Vargas divorced and became a single parent to his son, Daniel, and daughters Monica and Melissa. He found that 14-hour days and sometimes longer weren’t conducive to his family’s needs.
That same year he started Truckero’s News magazine, which provides regulatory, legislative and some truck show news for Spanish-reading truckers in the New York and New Jersey regions.
“People say, ‘Why don’t they learn English?’ Well, it’s one thing to learn English, and another to learn to read and write well in English,” Vargas said. “If you need to read about regulations, or learn what’s going on with CSA 2010, would you rather read it in your own language or another one?
“This is a horribly overregulated industry, and if you explain these things in the drivers’ own language, they will be more informed drivers.”
A recent issue of Truckero’s News highlighted OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Joe Rajkovacz and his congressional testimony this past spring on the problem with predatory lease-purchase agreements.
“I’m extremely, extremely proud of what Joe does for the industry,” Vargas said. “He has a friend in me.”
Vargas reflects on the things he continues to appreciate some 25 years later.
Newspaper vending machines, and rock and roll music from 1970s bands Chicago and Air Supply, rank high on his list.
“To me, something as simple as kids leaving their bicycles parked in front of their house,” Vargas said. “I grew up in a poor area of my country, and we couldn’t do something like that. If you left your bicycle out, they would take it.”
At the end of the evening, Vargas pulls up to a view of New York’s Hudson River and a Big Apple-sized view of city lights. He’s gone more than an hour out of his way to show a first-time visitor the view, while talking about New York and his love of America.
Looking at the skyscrapers, he might be referencing either place when he says with a smile, “There’s no place in the world like it.” LL