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Thank Trucker

Remembering and honoring trucking’s long, strange year of sacrifice

Sept. 11, 2020
Truckers have held nothing back in this past year, and on this somber day, it's time to think about how to acknowledge their sacrifices during the pandemic and just in general.

Last year on the 3rd of September (a day I’ll always remember), I began writing about trucks for FleetOwner. A recent check confirmed my byline adorned more than 130 stories, and these range on topics from aero kits and their effect on mpg to the horrors of human trafficking.  At the beginning, I didn’t know much of anything about trucks, the difference between brands and classes, or what DPF or DEF stood for.

My previous life as a submariner in the Navy required an intimate knowledge of mechanical systems, and we had a hulking yellow diesel engine in the auxiliary machine room, so I was familiar enough able to figure out most of the mechanical stuff with some Internet research.

But nothing could have prepared for how wild and terrifying, exhilarating and rewarding this trucking beat would be over the past 12 months, which predates the last North American Commercial Vehicle show and goes through all the pandemic madness, a summer of riots and economic uncertainty. From then to now, nothing and no one is really the same. Except for truckers.

These gallant men and women who embrace gallows humor and take on the burden of carrying America’s load kept on going. When the U.S. economy was booming, they were on the road ensuring the supply kept up with demand. When we were all freaking out about toilet paper and confined to our homes, they were there to replenish shelves nearly as fast as the hoarders among us cleared them out.

Deemed essential workers, these truckers left the safety blanket of their home and braved the unknown pandemic-scape, facing infection from an insidious coronavirus perhaps lurking on a fuel pump handle or truck stop restroom. Of course, now researchers believe that is a more rare way to contract COVID-19 and the death has a lot to do with accompanying factors, but that does not diminish the bravery exuded by the drivers who met the unknown head-on across America’s network of highways and rest stops. And they left their families for weeks at a time to do it.

By comparison, one of my biggest worries while starting this position was how to balance the frequent travel for a few days to various original equipment manufacturer (OEM) events and trade shows and meetings while raising a family with two teenage stepchildren and three precocious little girls under five. Because of the COVID-19 lockdowns, I’ve become a basement dwelling recluse (who actually longs for the day I can run around a miles of convention floor real estate trying to make my next interview or press conference) and never really had to leave because all my job truly requires is a computer and Internet connection. If they wanted to keep their livelihoods, these truckers didn’t have a choice. Get in the truck or get the hell out. This while the minimum wage crowd was taking home the equivalent to a $28,000/year salary without lifting a finger.

While this is not meant to disparage people simply taking what the government offers them, because that’s really a case of them finally getting the bear before it gets them for once, it’s important to recognize the psychology behind being sent to your possible doom on the road to perdition while the rest of society is living it up on easy street. As a 20-year-old, I lived that every time my sub went out to sea while the majority of my peer group was fixated on scoring booze and other earthly pleasures. The point is, truckers sucked it up and did the job. They, like grocery store or health care workers, might not complain about it openly, but I can say from experience, it’s something you don’t forget.

And being that this is Sept. 11, a day we are told not to forget, it’s probably a good time to reflect on how as a nation we can reward the sacrifices of those who got us through a 2020, the year where every day so far has had a little bit of 9/11 injected into it: whether it be panic, fear, anger, depression, rage, or all of the above.

Like this year, that sunny, smoke and tear-filled Tuesday 19 years ago also changed us all. We were in port that morning, as the submarine was getting an overhaul after a mission under the Arctic ice. I recall seeing a flaming plane stuck through the North World Trade Center tower on the television while walking past crew’s mess (our compact dining/common area), and then the South Tower was hit and then the Pentagon. No one knew what was going on other than we were under attack, and the previous year the USS Cole was blown up by a fast boat while moored to a pier in Yemen. I stood watch that night on the boat’s bridge up in the sail that night in Norfolk, Va., looking out where the James and Elizabeth Rivers kissed, praying some terrorist would dare test our vigilance. They never did, so America took the fight to them and Iraq for good measure.

In hindsight, it all seems very shortsighted and likely caused more pain in the world than it prevented, but the fact is the military personnel largely served with honor and distinction and were rewarded with enhanced G.I. Bill benefits, which I took advantage of after my enlistment was up in 2002. I took a few wrong turns since then, but ended up where I needed to be, largely due to those benefits.

If there’s a positive to come out of this coronavirus mess, maybe it’s that we as a nation take a closer look at the sacrifices made by truckers and other essential workers this year and figure out some way to boost their educational opportunities or living situations. I don’t know how the financials would work out, but as a taxpayer, I’d much rather support truckers than the military industrial complex, which brings us such disastrous projects as the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. It's something at the very least we should ponder.

I’ve also spent quite a bit of time reporting on emissions and how to combat them with more efficient powertrains or even switching to battery-electric or fuel cell electric trucks. Those look promising and may someday combat climate change, if that’s even an enemy puny humans can take on, but in the near-term, the driver still can account for about 30% of the mpg efficiency, due to how they accelerate, brake and regulate speed.

So it just seems like if we truly still honor sacrifice and vow to support our troops in this great country, maybe we should redefine who all the “troops” are, what their battles are, and how we can support these who sacrifice their freedom and safety to support our way of life.

At the very least, we can all at least let trucks merge into our lanes, try to stay out of their blind spots, and, in general, don’t demean them or side-eye them in public for looking a bit disheveled after hauling diapers from a 1,000 miles away. I don't claim to know everything about trucking just yet, but of this I am quite certain. And unlike freedom, it's free of charge.

About the Author

John Hitch | Editor

John Hitch, based out of Cleveland, Ohio, is the editor of Fleet Maintenance, a B2B magazine that addresses the service needs for all commercial vehicle makes and models (Classes 1-8), ranging from shop management strategies to the latest tools to enhance uptime.

He previously wrote about equipment and fleet operations and management for FleetOwner, and prior to that, manufacturing and advanced technology for IndustryWeek and New Equipment Digest. He is an award-winning journalist and former sonar technician aboard a nuclear-powered submarine.

For tips, questions or comments, email [email protected].

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