A run with Dad

by Brian Fields

I recently went on a trip with my father, who has been driving across North America for more than 45 years. I’ve traveled to many places with him, from the time I was a little boy until I established my own career in advertising.

The last time I went on a trip was back in 2008, so it was about 10 years between trips. Wow, what a difference the industry has seen over 10 years. My image of trucking is encapsulated in an era when truck stops had proper dining rooms, truckers had common courtesy – like flashing lights or hitting up the CB – and drivers focused on the road instead of wearing headsets and staring at multiple screens in the cab.

Let me start with the dining situation across I-94, I-80, and I-84 enroute to Seattle. When I was younger (I’m now 41) and went trucking with my Dad, I looked forward to visiting a truck stop and helping fuel up, check tires and depending on time, I was sometimes allowed to play a quick pinball game before we would sit and have a great meal together.

On my latest trip, I was absolutely appalled by the truck stops, which have completely sold out to large fast food chains. Options are so limited for truck drivers to find healthy items in a restaurant environment, that I foresee a dramatic rise in health-related issues by the time they turn 50.

I understand the truck stop chains eliminating the overhead associated with the dining experience so they can bring more return for shareholders, but we really need to be mindful that drivers can’t eat Carl’s Jr., Arby’s and Burger King every day for lunch and dinner or they will be suffering a variety of premature critical diseases. I realize it’s on the driver as well, but let’s be honest, time is critical in this business and it’s difficult for drivers to go five miles off route for better options.

And what happened to common courtesy in this business? Ten years ago, all drivers were flashing lights. Now, I think we had five to 10 trucks give us the lights on the entire trip to Seattle. Do these guys have auto lights and don’t know how to work them?

As a six-year-old boy on my first trip, this was the highlight of trucking. My Dad would let me turn off the headlights to let the other driver know it’s clear to move over and let me flick the trailer lights to say thank you; this was my official duty on my first trip. It’s a shame to see this practice dying out.

I also noticed that a good percentage of drivers are wearing headsets, at all times, even while getting fuel. Who are these guys talking to 24/7? I come from an office environment where people would wear headsets because they would be constantly prospecting and making sales calls – are these drivers making sales calls on their way to the coast?

Lastly, I noticed almost all trucks on the way to Seattle would move to the left lane when vehicles were stopped on the shoulder. I think the U.S. has done a better job enforcing this rule and giving out fines for not slowing and moving over. I live in Toronto and drive along the QEW/401/403 a lot; it amazes me how it seems like 90% of truck drivers never move over for vehicles on the shoulder, even when they have clearance.

For all the drivers out there, watch out for each other and remember that every driver has someone waiting for him/her at home. For the truck stop chains, profitability can occur in many other areas outside of fast food, be creative and explore other channels and opportunities including healthy options.

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