The trucking spark

Twenty-three years ago, Michael J. Fox had a hit film on his hands with "The Secret of My Success," a comical farce in which a wily young man rapidly fakes his way up the corporate ladder right into the executive suite.

As entertaining as the antics are of Fox’s character Brantley Foster—a recent college grad who arrives in New York City only to learn he has been laid off before he even starts working— we all know full well that only in the reel world of Hollywood would such a story come true.


But in the real world we all toil in, there is no secret to success.

And perhaps nowhere is that more true than in trucking.

Just to stay in the game in this industry—let alone to truly prosper—fleet owners and managers alike rely on nothing more magical than a willingness to work hard, to dedicate themselves to quality and professionalism, to think long, hard and smart, and maybe to have not a little faith in themselves, their colleagues, their employees and, yes, their suppliers.

And I think the sense of community that engenders that faith in others is at the crux of what makes trucking different from other industries.

Furthermore, I say that is also what makes trucking an attractive field in which uncounted fleet owners, managers, dispatchers, drivers, mechanics etc.-- and that is not to mention all the supplier personnel out there--choose to toil in (or should I say, make a home in?) for decades at a time.

As it happens, recently I caught the last episode of a fascinating documentary series— “The Human Spark” on PBS hosted by the actor Alan Alda that tackled the question of what makes humans unique as a species.

The answer, according to that film, has much to do with how all we Homo Sapiens use language to manipulate symbols in our minds and use tools as extensions of our own bodies.

But the part that got me thinking about trucking was a discussion of “social cognition,” which the documentarians defined as “the unparalleled ability of humans to forge social bonds.”

In the episode, Alda wings across the pond to Oxford to talk to one of the founders of the social-cognition field, who argues that “we owe the very existence of our large brains to the need to keep track of the social whirl.”

Sound like trucking yet? But wait. There’s more. The researchers then reveal to Alda that probing the brain for the centers that make social cognition possible—“especially those that allow us to understand (and manipulate) the minds of others— shows that these regions are also related to brain centers that are “most active when we are simply doing nothing – day-dreaming, or ‘mentalizing’ – and this ability to build worlds and plans in our heads, especially involving the imagined thoughts and responses of others, perhaps come closest to being the elusive Human Spark.”

Hmm. Sounds to me like it could just as well be called the Trucking Spark.

Think about it. Is trucking about trucks? Is it about cargo? Is it about safety? Is it about rules? Yes, yes, yes and yes, of course. But if I pressed you to tell me what distinguishes one truck fleet-- or a supplier company-- from another, I bet your answer would indicate it’s really all about the people at each and every concern.

The people who deliver the service you expect. The people who deliver the quality you require. The people who come up with innovative solutions virtually routinely.

Then there’s the whole personal relationship aspect of trucking. Having never served in our Armed Forces, I hesitate to make this comparison, but it does seem to me that being “in trucking”—in whatever capacity—is at least a little like having been “in the service.”

Working as a journalist means I have to try to maintain some detachment from this industry I have been covering now for nearly 30 years. But, boy, (and thankfully) that is hard to do!

Doesn’t matter where I am-- even overseas—or what I am doing or wearing or whether I am on or off duty, whenever someone with a trucking connection finds out I cover trucking, well that is good enough for them to start treating me like an old friend.

And it’s good enough for me, too. So keep on truckin.’ I got your back.