Trucks at Work

Staying strong

"Are they the lucky ones [the dead]? That‘s what you‘re thinking, isn‘t it? We‘re a long way from home. We‘ve jumped way beyond the red line, into un-chartered space. Limited supplies, limited fuel. No allies, and now, no hope? Maybe it would have been better for us to have died quickly ... instead of dying out here slowly, in the emptiness of dark space." --Commander (later Admiral) William Adama.

The above comes from a terrific scene at the end of the first episode of the now-famous "Battlestar Galactica" series on the Sci Fi Channel, now (sadly) entering its fourth and last season. It's a moment where the remnants of the human race are fleeing their homeworlds, laid waste by the Cylons -- a race of robots originally created by mankind to be servants. It's a point where Adama (played by the awesome award-winning actor Edward James Olmos) is trying to rally the survivors, addressing their fears head-on -- without any sugar coating -- so they will pay attention when he lays out his vision for their shared future.

(Right now, Jim McNamara at Volvo Trucks North America is no doubt rolling his eyes at all this, as he dealt with this kind of stuff when we worked together as reporters back in the day. Sorry Jim -- it's yet ANOTHER sci-fi rant!)

What I like so much about this scene -- and all the episodes that follow -- is that you get than intense sense of heroism at the last stand, a firmness of character (and no one portrays it better than the raspy-voiced Olmos) that's unwilling to give up, even in the face of overwhelming odds. And it's not all about space battles and such; much of the show dwells on how the main characters deal with the bitter little things that still go on despite the dark days they plow through -- thieving, lying, jealousy, hatreds, whining, etc. All of that still goes on -- as it does in real life -- and creates a lot of drag on Adama's efforts to save humanity.

And the lead characters -- Adama included -- are all very far from perfect. His first officer (XO) is a crabby drunk, his son Lee has an ego a mile wide and is actually put in jail by his father for a time, and the civilian president frequently clashes head-on with Adama's military judgement. The vice president, Gaius Baltar, is probably the worst of the lot -- a genius scientist who is secretly a Cylon collaborator. (Talk about juicy plot lines!) Yet through it all, Adama is resolute -- despite being outgunned and infiltrated by human clones grown by the Cylons, he keeps pushing forward, keeps focused on saving what's left of mankind.

A lot of that bears closely to what trucking must deal with today -- the struggles with driver pay, hours of service rules, wait time, shortage of drivers, cost of fuel, cost of equipment, etc. -- against the backdrop of our ultimate fear: terrorism by truck. It comes and goes as a lead issue, but it's always there -- a frightening five-ton elephant lurking in the room. Truckers rightly fear a hijacking-turned-suicide attack, but the potential for that scenario is much smaller than what I call the Tim McVeigh option: rent or buy a cheap truck and turn it into a rolling bomb in the privacy of your own home.

McVeigh, as you may remember, was a decorated former U.S. soldier whose twisted racist philosophies convinced him and others to pack a Ryder rental truck full of agricultural chemicals, then detonate it next to the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 -- killing 168 people, including many children in a day care center located within the structure. Executed June 11, 2001 (eerily three months to the day before the Sept. 11 attacks), McVeigh's actions still cast a long shadow: a homegrown terrorist (and a bronze-star winner to boot) committing one of the worst crimes in our nation's history against his fellow citizens.

And he used a truck to do it, don't forget that. I remember talking with Larry Strawhorn, the former vice president of engineering at the American Trucking Association, about the potential to hijack trucks and use them as weapons of mass destruction. I vividly remember Strawhorn's answer: "Oh, heck, terrorists don't need to hijack a truck. That's too much work! They can just pay cash for some cheap second- or third-hand tractor and trailer and turn it into a bomb on an old farm somewhere." That blunt analysis still haunts me.

So despite the everyday issues the trucking industry must deal with, we can't forget about the big one -- terrorism. And while we must remain watchful despite the daily tribulations on our plate, we mustn't give in to hopelessness and despair. Remember, too, a lot of folks had their eyes on the Sept. 11 hijackers for a long time, especially the instructors who taught them to operate big planes, who rightly were VERY suspicious of men paying cash that didn't want to know how to take off or land jumbo jets -- just fly them. We just must make sure the rigors of the day don't overwhelm the silent warnings we may encounter some time in the future.