Trucks at Work

The Five Ps

"Prior planning prevents poor performance." --Mike James

Those words of wisdom were drummed into me over 12 years ago by (in my opinion) one of the best photojournalists to ever work in trucking, Michael James. A native of Waco, TX, and raised in an Army family, Mike never missed a chance to remind me of the power that philosophy contained -- largely power that could prevent all kinds of miscues from occuring out on the road.

I had the good fortune to travel with Mike on assignment all over the U.S. on more than one occasion and the truth of his words got borne out every time. If I hadn't obtained good directions beforehand, we got lost -- and we didn't have cell phones then, so getting back on track required a LOT more luck, like finding an available pay phone that wasn't in a bad part of town. I screwed up more often than not, and that's when Mike would lean over and slowly raise every finger on one hand -- silently reminding me that I didn't do my planning, which is why we were in this particular mess.

Yet the five Ps are also part of the fabric of trucking's lifestyle, I've found -- woven into everything from how carriers map out routes and lanes to the the pre-trip planning drivers must do every day. I've talked to countless drivers myself about all the ways they plan ahead to save themselves grief down the road -- like one smart gent who's kept a detailed log of every parking place he's found over the years, so he knows where he can pull over safely for a night's rest. Or the truckers that know the location of the best truckstops for them, for food, rest, fuel, maintenance, you name it.

It's a philosophy, however, sadly lacking in most parts of government these days -- witness the terrible bridge tragedy in Minnesota. An overused example, I know, but they knew it was a problem ... and if they planned the repair schedule right, it's a tragedy that could have been averted. Same with the diesel fuel supply. Soon, we'll be heading into winter, and a few cold days in the Northeast will cause the price of diesel to shoot up. Why? We as a nation lack refinery capacity and the Northeast relies on home heating oil -- put them together and diesel supplies get squeezed. It's an old story by now -- but it is something we still deal with because we refuse to develop plans, on a national level, to solve the problem.

Planning isn't bulletproof, of course (I love retired Gen. Colin Powell's take on that: "You're always confident in the plan, until the sh** hits the fan") but it helps you map out what to do in case your first option is a total bust. For example, if interviews fell through at the last moment, we always had the names and numbers of other fleets in the area we could visit. Mike always carried more than one camera in case his primary shooter went kaput on him. In fact, you could probably live out of his camera bag for days, as he packed in there food, extra batteries and film, a medical kit, a bottle of water, clips and straps and lord knows what else. That man traveled PREPARED for something to go wrong.

And, of course, something always DOES go wrong -- that's life, as any driver can tell you. That's why planning is such a huge mantra in this business -- one other parts of our society could stand to use as well.