Trucks at Work

Familiarity breeds efficiency

Distance makes the heart grow fonder and familiarity breeds contempt. According to this, my soul mate should be in Thailand.” -Jason Zebehazy

I‘ve always consider the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” one hell of an oxymoron, especially in trucking. I mean, in the larger context, isn‘t the familiar what we hold dear, despite travels near and far? For example, I‘ve been overseas a handful of times and when you bump into a fellow American, no matter where they live in relation to you stateside, it‘s almost like old home week. You instantly make a connection based on the familiar.

I remember once on a train in Italy the guy selling snacks turned out to be a U.S. college student taking a semester abroad. He pigeonholed the American couple in front me, asking for an update about everything from home - especially his favorite NFL teams - and they were more than happy to talk.

Back in the U.S., highway travel is one of the big areas where familiarity for me plays a hugely beneficial role. For example, I live in the Washington D.C. area, which is near the top of the list for traffic congestion nightmares. But since I grew up here, I know all the back roads and side streets when the highways get jammed. All due respect to the wonders of GPS and Garmin-like devices, you need to KNOW the roads to really navigate them. It‘s not all about lines on a map - some back roads have too many lights, or are under constant construction. That information doesn‘t get handed over by the friendly box on the dashboard.

Driving somewhere else, however ... well, no matter how good the technology or the maps, it‘s always a toss-up. Take Chicago. Back in 2002, I stayed there for a week at a hotel just off I-55 outside the city. That‘s the only road I knew. As a result, no matter when I travelled in or out of Chicago, I was in traffic jams for miles. I took 55 back to my hotel at five completely different times - 10 am, 12 noon, 3 pm, 8 pm, 12 midnight - and sat in miles of stalled traffic each trip.

Every. Single. Time.

Then there was my brilliant escapade in Los Angeles about 10 years ago. Heading to LAX airport after attending a logistics trade shows, I realized at the last minute that I should ship the box of press kits and materials with me back to my office, instead of lugging them on the plane. And look at that - my map from Avis showed if I took this local road, instead of the highway, I‘d most certainly pass a U.S. post office branch or Mail Boxes Etc. store (this is before they got bought out by UPS). And wouldn‘t you know it! It worked - there was a post office right on the main drag.

In Compton. Yes, THAT Compton. I stood out like a sore thumb.

The post office took only cash so I had to use an ATM a few blocks over at a local grocery store. They‘d stacked up three burned out cars behind it. Standing there in line, I felt like a complete idiot in my suit and tie, to say the least. Most people were highly amused. One lady said to me, “You‘ve got to be a tourist. No cop would be so dumb to dress like you and stop here.” The whole episode passed without incident (and my box made it home safe and sound) but it just reminded me that if I‘d been even remotely familiar with L.A., I would never have taken that road thru Compton.

Not one of my better days.

I got fouled up again this past week, coming back from Pennsylvania through Harrisburg. The trick is to clip around the entangled highways - the turnpike, I-83, 283, etc. - to hit Rt. 15 through Gettysburg, Frederick, MD, Dulles, VA on home. That‘s the ‘back way‘ into Northern Virginia when you want to avoid the I-95, I-270, and I-495 highway choke points. But that‘s a route I only use occasionally and I spent 20 minutes driving around trying to figure out which road to take before a local waitress set me back on the proper path.

[I also miss my favorite radio stations when I am away from home - 98.7 WMZQ (country-western) and 98 Rock out of Baltimore MD (heavy metal, baby!) Thank goodness musical taste isn‘t part of my performance review - Gretchen Wilson back-to-back with Metallica and Theory of a Deadman would probably earn me a yellow penalty flag or two!]

A lot of truckers I know feel the same way (about familiarity with the roads - not sharing my musical taste. Most roll their eyes at that combination.) Decades spent on highways, interchanges, rural roads, and urban thoroughfares have given them much more sure-footed knowledge when they plan their routes. Navigation technology is great - don‘t get me wrong here - but it‘s got to be leavened with some experience before I think it can really add the efficiency drivers -- and carriers for that matter -- are looking for.