The Words of the Carlson Family


Paul Carlson
January 2003
10/22/02, 12/21/02

This month weíll wrap up a series of three articles about vocations. For this article I can speak from experience. This subject may not be profound, but it is important. Just about everything you ate, wore, or bought last year was shipped by truck. Truck drivers are a large segment of society.

Thousands of big rigs ply the roads. If you include trains, the Postal Service, and parcel deliveries, itís even more. Add the truck makers and mechanics, the factories and ports that send forth the goods, and the warehouses that receive them, and itís huge. Even so, most people give these dedicated workers little thought. Truckers are too busy to have insider influence or loud advocates.

Car drivers will curse at a truck (even when they were the careless one), but usually, truckers gain notice only when their work is not getting done. When anything stops the flow of goods itís headline news, if not a serious emergency.

Moving things is not easy. There are forklifts and conveyor belts, yet many of the trucks you see must be loaded manually. Thousands of boxes will be stacked at the destination by a Ďlumperí with callused hands. Whether expensive, heavy, or fragile, someone will get it delivered.


With the Oklahoma City bombing, trucks came under suspicion. Since 9-11, some locations inspect every truck before it enters the property. Drivers have pitched right in, keeping an eye out for suspicious activities. An alert trucker caught the Washington area snipers. With their CB radios, truckers may hear about a crime before the official alert goes out.

Within the industry, the story isnít always so noble. Iíve loaded trucks myself, thus knowing exactly what I had on board. Many companies employ separate teams to palletize the goods, and another to load. Only at the final destination does the driver find out whether heís really got everything.

Iíve heard from old timers how itís possible to restack pallets to look as if theyíre full, when actually several boxes are missing. With Ďtaping,í shipping boxes are partially emptied, stuffed with junk and re-taped, then sent on their way. The customer rarely discovers where the goods ended up. Itís embarrassing (at best) for the trucker.

Most companies tolerate a certain level of this Ďshrinkage,í and itís enough to boost the price of everything you buy. That goes double for computers, which are targets of violent hijackings.

Today, warehouses are Ďcoveredí by video camera. Shipments are sealed, and hand counted. Merchandise boxes often carry bar codes which are tracked by computer. This reduces, but cannot eliminate, the problems mentioned above.

Scientists have developed tiny Ďpassiveí computer chips that will fit into a tag or box label. These radio back the product type and serial number. In theory, an entire truck load can be scanned in seconds. (No doubt organized criminals are figuring out how to beat these devices.)

Your author has delivered to high security locations, and found their precautions fascinating. (Getting paid by the hour, rather than per load, makes a big difference.) Iíve been searched, keyed through double Ďman trapí doors, and escorted by an armed guard.

Once inside, things are as casual as anywhere else. Upon departure, sometimes a guard will follow the load all the way to its destination. Usually everything is entrusted to the trucker himself.

I say Ďhimselfí though there are women truckers. Iíve seen entire families traveling in Ďsleeperí cabs, but still the vast majority are men. One reason is that loading and operating diesel trucks is murder on oneís hands.


Truckers with big loads, especially for residential delivery, need a helper. Labor pools exist to supply them; often ex-cons who cannot find other work. Theyíre paid for sheer muscle power, though a clear understanding of the job helps, too.

Perhaps youíve seen Hispanic men gathered on certain busy corners. These are unofficial day laborers. Truckers will pay them around one hundred dollars cash per day, to carry heavy loads.

Because many are illegal aliens, they can also be exploited. Unscrupulous contractors will hire them for two or three days, then chase them away without payment, threatening to call in La Migra (the Border Patrol.)

America relies upon these migrantís willing and cheerful assistance. Surely there must be a better way to run that show . . .

The trucking industry is in constant flux. There are thousands of companies, large and small. Some do long hauls, others local runs. Logistics companies bring goods to the same places day after day, while courier outfits deliver special loads to every possible location -- usually in a big hurry.

Some trucking companies, and the warehouses they service, are unionized. Itís hard to tell where the company management leaves off and the union stewards take over. These unions are constantly seeking to organize more companies. Iíve seen a car load of union men follow a non-union truck around, and picket its every stop.

Powerful forces are set against the unions; indeed, against all employees. In California, the required Workmanís Compensation payments have skyrocketed, and are going even higher this year. The same is true with Group Health plans.

In response, companies are laying off all their truck drivers, and selling their fleets. Ideally, a trucker can buy a rig (perhaps the very one heís been driving), and operate it under contract. He must then provide his own insurance and such.

American tax law allows generous deductions for independent businessmen, so in theory, a trucker can do even better than before. Of course, his potential liabilities are also greater. In any case, this accounts for the growing number of individualized "Fred Smithís Speedy Trucking" type rigs you see on the road.


Customers would be amused, horrified, or both, to discover just how much mad scrambling goes into getting their products delivered. I suspect the same is true in many occupations, but trucking operates on tight and highly visible schedules.

People have to show up for work on time, trucks have to keep running, and traffic has to stay clear. Cellular phones and GPS systems cannot prevent troubles, but do help solve them faster.

Iíve examined the labels on the items Iím hauling. These can tell quite a story. Computers will go from Malaysia to a company warehouse in Texas, then to a customerís HQ in Los Angeles, then to an upgrader in Livermore, and finally, on to a dot-com in San Francisco.

Apparel can go from Bangladesh to an East Coast port, to a company warehouse in Kentucky, then to a logistics place in California, then out to stores all over.

Truckers are getting paid generously for all this moving, and the items spend time in containers, then in vast rows and stacks.

When youíre on the road, note the same type of items going (for example) from a warehouse in LA to a customer in SF, and from SF to LA, and to and from Fresno (in between), day and night.

This may seem wasteful and inefficient, but itís not. The old Soviet Union tried to centralize everything, and ended up with universal shortages instead. The American system is flexible and redundant, hence it can dodge bottlenecks and cover unexpected gaps.


Before we get wrap this up: Some people don uniforms as an essential part of their career. Others wear business suits. Many farm, fish, and dig. Millions of workers spend the day at a keyboard, phone, or cash register. Some teach, and others heal.

This author lacks the experience to write about those careers. (My wife makes me put on a tie about once a year.) Instead, Iíll simply thank them all for their valuable contributions to society.

One hears about corporate layoffs and unemployment cutoffs. Also about former executives taking low-paying retail jobs. Even so, there is a shortage of truck drivers. Some companies are holding recruitment seminars inside prisons. (Which could work out well for both parties.)

Itís not the worldís hardest job, but neither is it simple. I could tell stories about challenges overcome to get an unusual load delivered to the correct spot.

In one episode of The Simpsons, Homer becomes a trucker, and learns their big secret: big rigs are equipped with a computer that does all the driving while the trucker himself relaxes.

We havenít gotten that far yet, but maybe someday! Meanwhile, be sure to appreciate that trucker you see along the road. Iíve never heard them mentioned in any Unificationist workshop or sermon, but they do a very important job.

There are rolling chapels that allow Christian truckers to gather at roadside stops to worship. Iíve met others who are devout Hindus. Everyone has a place in Heaven.

PS: In regards to my recent article "Good Chemistry," a friend loaned me a video of the movie Shallow Hal. It illustrates my points quite well.

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