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6:53 pm EST        28°F (-2°C) in Wapakoneta, OH

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I'm back to full health after my little bout with the stomach bug earlier in the week. Currently, I am pulling the load that will get me home; this delivers tomorrow in Michigan, and then I will have a full week off before returning to the road the day after Christmas.

Though I really don't know what might have happened, I suspect that I may have averted a potential attempt at gay-bashing today. After my early-morning delivery near Cincinnati, I was dispatched to go pick up this load in Columbus. I didn't care for the choice of fast-food places at the place I was told to fuel, so I proceeded 20 miles north on Interstate 71 to the town of Jeffersonville (just under 40 miles southwest of downtown Columbus). I went in, purchased their pizza-and-a-drink combo deal, and also bought myself a copy of today's USA Today. I had already finished eating, and was going through the newspaper, when I heard somebody start pounding on my door. I moved into the driver's seat and partially lowered my window to see what the person wanted; he began very excitedly asking if I had just been inside the truck stop. I responded that it had been at least a half-hour; even more animatedly, he asked if I had "seen the TV cameras out behind [my] truck," and at least three times urged me to hurry out of the truck to see the "big news item."

I decided to take a look at my right-hand side mirror, in which I saw a group of several other drivers congregating near the right rear corner of my trailer, but no obvious newsworthy activity. Checking back in my left-hand mirror, I noticed the man standing right next to my drive tires, only several feet behind the tractor door; it was at this point I began to get suspicious. I reasoned that a person making a normal invitation to see what was going on would have walked right back to the group of other drivers; why, I asked myself, had he remained next to my trailer? Putting two and two together quickly, I decided that somebody had seen my rainbow-flag stickers in the windows and had assembled the group back there to beat the crap out of me; I proceeded to release my parking brakes, grab second gear, and head directly to Columbus.

Again, I have to emphasize that I don't know beyond a doubt that a beating would have occurred. It is entirely possible that the excited man was telling the truth, and that paranoia kept me from observing something interesting. I can sit here and play devil's advocate all night, but I figured the most optimal risk/reward combination was to do what I did. I didn't get a "reward" of potentially seeing something interesting; so what? I'll live without having seen whatever interesting thing it was. By making that choice, though, I didn't risk what I felt just might have been a bad situation; I kept a locked tractor door between me and a chance of danger. There may very well have been zero danger in hopping out of the truck to have a look, but given what I was able to tell from inside, I chose not to take that chance. Maybe I'm far too paranoid for my own good, but I have to wonder if it paid off this time.

That said, this whole possibly-thwarted sequence of events is just yet more evidence that the trucking industry is not the place I want to be. I entered this industry three years ago due to inability to find anything but minimum-wage work at the time; while I do enjoy certain aspects of this line of work, such as the fact that every day throws something different at me, I have a laundry list of major issues with this industry. For the work that I do, which often takes 10 to 14 hours to accomplish on any particular day, I don't think that $26,000 net is an adequate annual salary. (Granted, it can be argued that if I would run like hell, I could do better, but a number of factors beyond my control have conspired to keep me to 91,000 odometer miles year-to-date. I've lost tons of time to tractor swaps, Freightliner shop ineptitude, my repeated court appearances in a lawsuit and bankruptcy case in the first half of the year, and garden-variety problems like illnesses and lack of available freight.) Even in terms of business decisions — to say nothing of drivers' attitudes — this entire industry seems to be trapped in the "good old days" of the 1970s, before President Carter signed legislation to deregulate trucking. Finally, and perhaps most vexing, the entire economic model of this industry is upside-down; nowhere else do those who demand things (here, shippers demanding trucks to move their freight) set the prices they will pay!

This economic imbalance leads to a host of problems for the industry, not the least of which is razor-thin profit margins even in good times. There are too many trucking fleets and owner-operator outfits in business; some of these are so desperate to obtain any freight that they make an offer to the shipper to take the run at or below the cost of running it (fuel, pro-rated maintenance, insurance, registration, etc.). In the case of fleets, this leads to draconian cost-control measures such as purchasing the cheapest trucks available, performing less-than-optimal maintenance work, prohibiting the use of some or all toll roads, and especially governing trucks to a speed lower than they are capable of running. It also influences the hiring tendencies of the industry; instead of going after even average workers, trucking companies are forced to scrape the bottom of the social barrel for drivers — nobody wants to do this at current pay rates except those who have no other real choice (like me in 2001). As a result, trucking draws a largely poor, uneducated, rural Southern crowd; these people have next to no decent economic opportunity available to them, what with the death of the family farm at the hands of corporate interests. Of course, I've mentioned the problems that uneducated Southerners cause to society on many occasions here; the things they do behind a 22" steering wheel should come as no surprise.

I mean, I can adapt to other facets of life on the road, such as doing laundry in truck stops, always having to eat at either restaurants or fast-food joints, and having a 12.7-liter diesel engine start and stop itself as needed to keep me comfortable. Frankly, I enjoy the fact that nobody is in my hair constantly, and that to the extent I can pick up and deliver loads on time, I can pretty much do whatever I want. What I don't like is the fact that living on the road costs a ton, when I don't exactly have tons of cash coming in. If truck-driver pay increases had kept up with inflation since 1980, I'd be making more like 60 cents per mile instead of 36. However, in the end, it's useless to complain about working in this industry without having a strategy to get the hell out of it, and once I can sock away enough cash for a car, several months' rent, and a few other necessities, I'm out.

I was going to mention another news item I've picked up recently, but due to the length of my preceding rant, I'll have to save that for another update. Perhaps I'll make another one in a few hours when the calendar flips over to Saturday.