Over the Road

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
One of the missions of 99pi is to give you the tools to decode the built world, in cities, in the country, and the highways in between. It’s those highways and the truckers that drive the American economy, that is the subject of the new Radiotopia show called “Over The Road.” The podcast is a window into a world that you pass by at 65 miles an hour without giving much thought, but it is so fascinating you will never see a semi-truck the same way again. Every 99PI beautiful nerd should subscribe. It is right up your alley. Here’s the first episode of “Over the Road” hosted by Long Haul Paul.

Paul Marhoefer:
Four years ago, I was northbound on I-75 in Knoxville, Tennessee. My cargo: a load of imported watermelons. They had sailed on a container ship from Guatemala to South Florida where they were transferred by forklift onto big trucks driven by folks like me. These were those tiny, seedless, designer types they call ‘personal watermelons.’ I always wondered about the marketing cad who came up with that one, personal watermelons. It’s like a watermelon you can have as a friend.

Paul Marhoefer:
I was pulling a refrigerated trailer back then, a ‘reefer’ as we call them. A reefer is a heavily insulated box trailer equipped with a giant diesel-powered temperature control unit. It’s actually got the capacity to maintain more than 40,000 pounds of perishable freight at temperatures as cold as 20 below.

Paul Marhoefer:
It was rush hour in Knoxville or K-Town in trucker code. Traffic came to a screeching halt at the junction of I-75 and I-640. I got stopped in time, but the trucker behind me? Well, not so much. Boom. Shoot! Rear-ended. I took a minute to collect myself and walked to the back of the trailer to check first on the other driver. He said he was okay. Then I opened the vent hatch to check my load. What seconds before had been a perfectly picked personal watermelon was now prolapsing through its ruptured rind, down the crumpled exterior of what had once been the trailer’s stainless steel door and on to my trembling hand. Sorry, friend.

[MUSIC]

Paul Marhoefer:
Unbeknownst to me at the time, this baptism in the puree of a personal watermelon would come to be my own creative big bang. Strangely, as a result of this event, I would come to be a part-time recording artist, a contributor for ‘”Overdrive Magazine” and now even a card-carrying, podcast-producing Radiotopian. I’m Long Haul Paul. You’re listening to “Over the Road.”

Man: “I got that Lucille, Lucille from Mobile. Come on baby. Let’s truck it up. Do it baby.”

Woman: “Now I’m on the top of this mountain and I know I still got to get down the other side somehow and I’m so scared, I’m shaking.”

Man: “But I know quite a few drivers that swear by roasting salmon over their engine.”

Woman: “We were willing to take a potbellied pig. We tried to even pick up a 60-pound tortoise.”

Man: “Times are changing. It ain’t that way anymore. But why shouldn’t it be that way?”

Paul Marhoefer:
Here’s how this is going to work. We’ve been traveling all over the country, down the highways and the hedges, collecting the real stories of real people who live and work over the road. We’ve got eight episodes for you. In each one, we explore how trucking is changing today and along the way, I’ll tell you a few of my own stories. Heck, I might even sing you a few songs.

[MUSIC]

Paul Marhoefer:
Let’s start out at a place called the Kentucky Expo Center in Louisville, home to the Mid-America Trucking Show or MATS for short. Think of a Home Depot about 12 times its normal size, then fill it with trucks, truck drivers, and every possible thing anyone has ever thought of to make a buck off a trucker.

Man: “It’s an automatic snow chain system.”
Man: “So what we’re selling is bed bunk heaters for truckers that have cabs.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Throw in 90,000 people with some concerts and swag and you’ve got the Mid-America Trucking Show.

[MUSIC]

Paul Marhoefer:
You’ve got your air freshener dudes.

Man: “Odor eliminator products for the highway professionals.”

Paul Marhoefer:
I love those guys.

Man: “We say three sprays lasts for days.”
Man: “Tell me about this beef jerky.”

Paul Marhoefer:
You’ve got those old boys who make the beef jerky.

Man: “Most tender beef jerky you’ll ever eat. Feel that.”
Man: “That’s really tender.”

Paul Marhoefer:
I actually love those guys, too.

Woman: “We are an insurance company that specializes in owner-operators.”

Paul Marhoefer:
There are the international vendors hoping to land that big contract.

Woman (Foreign): “A supply of shock absorbers.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Big truck makers are here, like Kenworth and Peterbilt.

Man: “We have our new 579 Ultraloft and it’s blackout exterior…”

Paul Marhoefer:
Also, model truck makers.

Man: “I’m proud to tell people I can’t afford a real one, but I can hook you up with a real nice toy one.”

[MUSIC]

Paul Marhoefer:
But for many long time gear jammers, that signifies something more. It’s a hobo convention of sorts, a chance to see old trucking buddies and to swap stories and that’s why we’re here. If you want to know what’s going on in the trucking world, this is a good place to start, but first, let’s cover some basics. There are 4.2 million Americans who hold a CDL. That’s a commercial driver’s license. A CDL allows us to drive a vehicle weighing over 26,000 pounds. Together, we move 70% of all domestic freight. Think of it, everything you see at the store, everything you buy online moves by truck at some point. Add it all up, we’re talking about a $700 billion industry, moving literally 55 billion pounds of stuff every day. At that rate, American truckers could haul off the Great Pyramid of Giza, stone by stone, about five times a day.

[MUSIC]

Paul Marhoefer:
Of course, there are lots of different types of truckers and trucks out there.

Man: “Refrigerated freight truck, they call the reefer trucks.”

Paul Marhoefer:
You know, like what I drive.

Man: “Flatbeds, we call them skateboards.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Those big flat trailers with loads of lumber and steel.

Man: “Car haulers, they call them parking lots.”
Man: “Bed bugger is a furniture holler.”

Paul Marhoefer:
A tanker truck, we call a tanker yanker. I drive one of those sometimes, too.

Man: “A truck that hauls bull they call them bull haulers.”
Man: “I mean, there’s all kinds of terminology for them.”

Paul Marhoefer:
As you can imagine, we have our own factions, cliques, and hierarchies. Flatbedders don’t usually associate with the reefer guys like me and the bull haulers could never see themselves as freight haulers, or door swingers, as they call them, because all a door swinger does is back up to the dock and swing the doors open and shut, or so they say.

[MUSIC]

Paul Marhoefer:
But here, for three days at least, none of that matters. We’re all just drivers and not a one of us came here to have a bad time.

Voiceover: “Volvo dynamic steering with stability assist is a new innovation from Volvo trucks.”

Paul Marhoefer:
A lot of the talk at MATS this year is about new technology.

Voiceover: “When a truck starts to skid-”

Paul Marhoefer:
It seems every part of the truck has got a computer in it now.

Voiceover: “Suspension seat is turned on.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Even the seat.

Voiceover: “Notice how much of the bouncing is eliminated by the active suspension seat’s computer-controlled motor.”

Paul Marhoefer:
And there’s a feeling the technology is not just changing the truck, but it’s changing us and the way we do business, that the codes and culture of trucking are eroding before our eyes.

Paul Marhoefer:
“Have we met or…?”

Greg Murphy:
“Just really briefly. Like I think last year-”

Paul Marhoefer:
I bump into a Facebook friend on the show floor named Greg Murphy who now works for Uber.

Greg Murphy:
“…through a resume and I figured, oh, this is never going to happen.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Yes, the rideshare company, Uber.

Greg Murphy:
“And here I am.”

Paul Marhoefer:
“Now Greg, you have a unique story because you are a longtime truck driver …”

Greg Murphy:
“Right, exactly.”

Paul Marhoefer:
“… who has become the public relations liaison for Uber.”

Greg Murphy:
“Exactly, kind of the interpreter, I would call it, between the trucking community and Uber Freight.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Greg is affable, middle-aged with a salt and pepper beard and a cool fedora.

Greg Murphy:
“More truck driver than computer person, that’s for sure.”

Paul Marhoefer:
All around him is a veritable phalanx of Uber’s black-shirted millennials, but Greg speaks fluent trucker, and so he pulls out his phone and shows me, another middle-aged guy in yet another fedora…

Greg Murphy:
“So here it is, it opens up.”

Paul Marhoefer:
“…how to use the Uber Freight app.”

Greg Murphy:
“And it knows that I’m in Louisville today, so now it’s thinking about it and so it has these little cards for each load. Right?”

Paul Marhoefer:
So instead of connecting cars with riders, Uber Freight is connecting trucks with loads.

Paul Marhoefer:
“So read that off to us, Greg, if you would.”

Greg Murphy:
“So this one’s from Walton, Kentucky to Los Alamos, California for $3,070.”

Paul Marhoefer:
That’s the price for this load.

Greg Murphy:
“It’s 1,800 miles. It has what type of trailer, the load number, and all that, what it is, the weight.”

Paul Marhoefer:
All I have to do is tap that card and the load is mine. No phone calls, no haggling.

Greg Murphy:
“Technology’s coming and we need to embrace it and be part of the conversation.”

Paul Marhoefer:
I have to wonder though, at 3,000 bucks on a stated distance of 1,800 miles, doesn’t no-haggle simply mean take it or leave it, you have no choice.

Man:
“I’m going to confess to you, there is a primal fear about the power of a company like this.”

Greg Murphy:
“Well, I think change overall is just difficult for people to embrace. It’s unfamiliar. We don’t know what it’s going to look like and that creates anxiety.”

Paul Marhoefer:
That said, truckers are embracing new technology and using it for their own benefit.

Paul Marhoefer:
“You’ve got quite a hat collection.”

Sandra Goche:
“Well, way back when, I gave myself heatstroke by being stupid.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Take Sandra Goche.

Sandra Goche:
“Basically, you tell them how the people treated you, like if you were professional, if there was a bathroom that you could use, because there’s a lot of places that don’t allow truckers to use their bathroom.”

Paul Marhoefer:
She’s telling me about Dock411. It’s a rating app, basically like Yelp for loading docks.

Sandra Goche:
“You kind of help the trucker after you or the person after you.”

Paul Marhoefer:
They’ve surveyed over 10,000 truckers about their experiences. Sandra here is Dock411’s number one reviewer.

Sandra Goche:
“If they have forklifts that use forklifts … What are some of the other attributes, Steven, that you can think of?”

Steven:
“If there’s overnight parking, if you can sleep there in the overnight parking.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Sandra drives as a team with her husband, Steven.

Steven:
“Professionalism. How you were treated professional. If I was to read the review that I put in for this one dock, I would never take freight into this dock. We went in there the first time and we waited three hours to get unloaded, which that’s okay. Second time we went in there, we waited 13 hours. No bathrooms, no facilities, and couldn’t leave the truck.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Reviews like that are added up and turned into a scorecard for every dock they do business with.

Sandra Goche:
“Dock411, it’s one of those things that it’s like, it’s never going to be complete because there’s always going to be new docks, but it’s going to be a big relief to all us truckers.”

Paul Marhoefer:
But there’s still another technology on truckers’ minds at MATS this year.

Woman: “Right now? That E-Log.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Something much more consequential than a new app.

Man: “The electronic log situation’s become a pretty big issue.”

Paul Marhoefer:
It’s called an ELD.

Man: “The new EOD mandate has…”

Paul Marhoefer:
Electronic logging device.

Man: “We still didn’t need an E-Log.”
Man: “Versus the E-Log. I mean, most of the time…”
Man: “We didn’t have E-Logs.”
Woman: “That’s the biggest thing.”

Paul Marhoefer:
This E-Log issue is all playing out right now and it’s pretty much the biggest change that’s come to our culture, at least since I started trucking.

News Report:
“Hundreds of big rigs took over highway 99 in protest today, creating a-”

Paul Marhoefer:
Some truckers have even put on protests about ELDs.

News Report:
“Right here, guys. 95 southbound is shut down.”

Paul Marhoefer:
It’s one of those things that just keeps coming up in our conversations with drivers. So on our first day at MATS, we find ourselves at the vintage maroon Peterbilt…

Mike Landis:
“I guess that’ll work. Is that all right?”

Paul Marhoefer:
… of someone who’s been at the center of so much of the protest.

Mike Landis:
Yeah, so my name’s Mike Landis from Lititz, Pennsylvania, a little Amish country town in Lancaster County. I got into trucking right out of high school pretty much. I got my CDL after I graduated. First time I got behind the wheel at the driving school at the local VoTech, it was all downhill from there.

Paul Marhoefer:
E-Logs are all about how truckers record their driving and working hours.

Mike Landis:
So yeah, we have what they call our hours of service, which is once you come on duty, you’re allowed 14 hours of working time. 11 of that 14 can be driving, but then you have to take 10 hours off before you can go back to work.

Paul Marhoefer:
So every day you get 14 hours on duty and you have to take 10 hours off.

Mike Landis:
Problem with that is, is that once you start your day, your clock for the day doesn’t stop.

Paul Marhoefer:
Now in the past, those hours were recorded in paper logbooks. Every driver kept a set of books in the cab, recorded their time with a pen on a four-line grid, and made that log available to inspectors and state patrol. Basically, you regulated yourself.

Mike Landis:
So to me, that’s important, because I was taught the old way of trucking. You do what you got to do to get the job done, but you sleep when you’re tired and you truck when you’re awake.

Paul Marhoefer:
If you took a quick nap in your shift or ran a little over the time limit, you could juggle that, clerically, I mean.

Mike Landis:
You don’t turn into a zombie just because you’re five minutes past your time and fall asleep and drive off the side of the road.

Paul Marhoefer:
That is, you could juggle it, until the electronic logging device.

Mike Landis:
And basically what that does is it hooks into the computer on the motor of the truck and it records everything you do. How hard you’re on the throttle, how hard you’re on the brake, if you’re moving, if you’re stopped, your speed, the whole nine yards. It counts down every second of your day. So whereas before on a paper logbook, if you’re five minutes past your time pulling into the truck stop, nobody knew the difference. No harm, no foul. But now, I mean, I’ve seen people backed halfway in a parking spot and truck stops already because if they finished backing up their ELD is going to put them in violation to go another 50 feet to back the truck up into a parking spot.

Paul Marhoefer:
Yeah. You hear stories like this all the time. Trucks beached like whales and the most godawful places because their drivers ran out of hours. You’ve probably seen those trucks yourself. That’s because, in December 2017, a new mandate came into effect requiring virtually all trucks on the road to run an electronic log.

Mike Landis:
And to me, it’s a slap in the face. Driving a truck at 18 years old, I’m now 33, closing in on 2 million miles, I have a clean driving record. To me, that all comes down to the way I was taught. That comes down to the responsibility of knowing you’re operating an 80,000-pound machine, and the fact that they’re going to tell me that I need this thing in my truck to keep me safe on the road doesn’t sit well with me at all.

Man:
“Really, I hear you loud and clear. We do these Ohio-Texas-Florida triangles a lot. Denise’s stepmother is dying, she’s in a Louisiana nursing home, and we want to see her. She’s days away from dying, literally days away from dying, and I’m on an ELD. We stopped to see her and essentially we’ve got to say our goodbyes to her in about 45 minutes because our 14-hour clock is ticking. And I just had this moment of complete clarity that something’s got to give.”

Mike Landis:
Yeah. And there’s a lot of people that will say, “Hey, that’s not true. They don’t force you to drive tired. They don’t force you to not take a shower, yada, yada, yada.” Well, I mean, you’re right. The thing doesn’t reach up and grab me and tell me I need to keep trucking, but the sad reality is, is they kind of do.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Now, I should say here that Mike does not run an E-Log.

Mike Landis:
The reason my truck don’t need one is because the cutoff date is 2000 and newer need them and ’99 and older do not.

Paul Marhoefer:
So his ’99 Peterbilt is just too old to connect to a computer. But Mike has done more than just to avoid the new regulation. He’s actually fighting it.

Mike Landis:
So we started the United States Transportation Alliance and the unique thing about us is that all of us are drivers that met through doing protest type stuff for the industry, and nobody out here that is making these rules or regulations, or pushing for rules or regulations have ever sat behind the wheel for any amount of time, and definitely not anytime recently. So when we go to DC and we go every month right now, we park our trucks, we meet with congressmen, and senators, and FMCSA.

Paul Marhoefer:
That’s the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Mike Landis:
Truckload carriers, we’ve met with the Teamsters. It’s been a pretty good thing and we were fortunate enough to help with the hours of service that are supposed to be changed. I’m actually expecting an announcement here at MATS for that.

Paul Marhoefer:
In fact, the keynote speaker for the weekend is none other than Elaine Chao, the United States Secretary of Transportation.

Mike Landis:
So we’re hoping that it has to do something with that. I realize things change with the times, and technology goes, and this, that and the other thing, but trucking is still trucking. And I chose, me personally, I chose to drive a truck because I grew up around trucks and I love trucks. And for me, it sounds kind of corny, but the other week I was invited to a concert by someone that we know, backstage and stuff. Afterwards we were hanging out and watching this guy up on stage, you could tell he was just in his zone. And I said, “The best way I could describe watching you on stage is like me riding across the California or Arizona desert with the truck pressed out, and the moonlit, and the chicken lights on, and just pipe singing and cruising.” And some people are like, “What? I don’t get it. You’re just driving a truck down the road.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but to me, it’s more than just driving a truck down the road, it’s the freedom of it, and that’s kind of being taken away is what the bad part is. If we don’t do anything to help fight this stuff, guys like me are going to be gone.

Paul Marhoefer:
After the break, we’ll hear that big announcement from Elaine Chao, but first, we venture out onto the parking lot at MATS. We’ll hear why this E-Log thing is such a big deal, and I’ll tell you what gave for me and how ELD has led, at least indirectly, to the making of this podcast.

Roman Mars:
You’re listening to “Over the Road” on 99% Invisible.

[BREAK]

Roman Mars: Here again is “Over the Road.”

Todd Dills:
Hey folks, Todd Dills here. I’m the senior editor with “Overdrive Magazine,” which is helping to produce this podcast. For those of you who are new, this trucking world “Overdrive” is basically a trade publication for independent truckers, ones who own the rigs they whole with. For many years, we’ve called ourselves the voice of the American trucker and so part of what we wanted to do with this podcast was to actually build a little bridge between the highway haulers who read “Overdrive” and well, the uninitiated among you. So I’m going to be hosting a special series of mini-episodes where I’ll take questions from those of you outside the business and put them directly to our trucking listeners. We’re calling it the “Channel One Nine Special” after the CB radio channel used for trucker to trucker information sharing.

Todd Dills:
The first “Channel One Nine” episode will show up in your feed next week, but I’m dropping in now to ask a quick favor. If you’ve got questions about trucking, seriously, about anything at all having to do with it, no question is too simple or too strange, give us a call at 765-245-4844 and leave us a message. Again, 765-245-4844. Be sure to state your name and location with your question. And thanks.

Paul Marhoefer:
Okay, so back to the Mid-America Trucking Show. I want to pick things up the next morning outside in the parking lot where drivers are busy polishing their trucks.

Woman:
“I love trucking though. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not a job. It’s a lifestyle.”

Paul Marhoefer:
There are actually two parking lots of trucks at MATS, each with its own vibe. There’s the show lot and the Papa John’s lot. We’ll explain why it’s called that in a minute, but the show lot is home to the Paul K. Young Truck beauty championship and that’s where we start our day.

Debbie Jones:
“My name is Debbie Jones. I’m working on ‘Excessive Behavior Number One.’”

Eric Turner:
“My name is Eric Turner neighbor. Name of my truck is ‘Showtime.’”

Paul Marhoefer:
This is a place where trucks have names.

Man: “That goes is a 1996 Freightliner classic, ‘Exile.’”
Woman: “They’re part of the family.”
Man: “The ‘Goose’ is my big girl. ‘Phyllis’ is my little girl.”

Paul Marhoefer:
They’re strewn with those little Amber bulbs we call chicken lights.

Man: “Every truck driver wants chicken lights.”

Paul Marhoefer:
White carpeting, wood floors.

Man: “It’s actually just a wood in Florida. You get it from a Home Depot.”

Paul Marhoefer:
For the competition itself, trucks are organized into different sections marked off with plastic ropes. There are categories like antique custom, limited mileage bobtail, working-class bobtail, working combo, meaning I put miles on my truck. My favorite? The antique original.

Man: “I cut my teeth on one of these trucks. This is a TranStar international. There’s nothing like the am radio reception on an all-steel made. old school Western Star.”

Paul Marhoefer:
There are teams who work an entire year to prep a truck for this show.

Man: “I’ve seen guys polish on it for a day and a half and they’re still rubbing now.”
Woman: “Gotta love it, breathe it, bleed it.”

Paul Marhoefer:
If you believe as I do, that a truck can be a work of art and this is the Guggenheim.

Man: “There’s a lot of history there. A lot of our life has been spent in it. under it, over at, everything a squirrel can do to a tree, we’ve done it to this truck.”

Paul Marhoefer: “How much would you’d have to have for this truck right now? Do you want green? What sort of installment plan would you consider?”

Man: “No. We couldn’t do that. Thank you, sir.”

Paul Marhoefer:
As we leave the show lot, I know that 200 grand Peterbilt will never be mind. Let’s face it. I’m more of a Papa John’s type. This lot serves a University of Louisville football stadium, formerly known as the Papa John’s stadium. The university dropped that name after the pizza magnate found himself in hot water. But for truckers, the shorthand stuck. In any case, picture of a stadium parking lot with rows upon rows of tractor-trailers. Only thing is, these aren’t show trucks. These are just the trucks people drove here to attend MATS.

Man: “The one with the shoe strings on the steering wheel?”
Man: “Oh no. Not the statute of limitations.”

Paul Marhoefer:
They’re all out here now with our camping chairs, gas grills, and coolers, walking their dogs in the Kentucky spring air. It’s maybe the biggest tailgate and all the trucking. Big enough, but you can actually lose your truck in it. At the show lot, I didn’t see a single person I knew. But down here in steerage, it’s different.

Man: “How’re you’re doing Tammy? I’m digging that new chrome bumper.”
Tammy: “I won’t tell you what happened the last one.”
Man: “Was it a deer?”
Tammy: “No, it was just a fence.”
Man: “Well, I’ll remember that.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Later that night, there’s even an impromptu concert.

Man: “Right. Let’s get back to it now.”

Paul Marhoefer:
And guess who gets invited to sing?

Man: “I got any flatbedders out there? Any flatbedders? Okay, great.

Paul Marhoefer: Yeah, and yet another side gig. I am a singer-songwriter.

Paul Marhoefer:
“Well, we had a friend, he fell deeply in love with a female flatbedder, but when she learned that he pulled a reefer, she rejected him because he didn’t know how, you know the chains and the binders… and it’s called, ‘I’ll Never Run that Back Door Anymore’.

Paul Marhoefer (sings):
“Well, she dollied down and dropped me, Lord.
Happy like a NASCAR Ford.
Took her 10 and put it in the wind
Said she couldn’t live with the guilt of what we’d done in that Peterbilt
And I’ll never run that back door again.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Conscious like this, or a reenactment of a bygone age when drivers would be laid over at some truck stop. Someone would bring out a grill, someone would contribute a case of beer. Someone might commandeer a chicken or two off their load. And some? I just have a guitar. Maybe that’s why this E-Log thing is such a big deal because there just doesn’t seem to be time for those encounters anymore. And maybe that’s why I still come back here. To hear the stories, the stories that seduced me into this life so long ago.

Tim:
“Yeah. I started driving in ’88. Hauled out of Mississippi. Furniture.”

Paul Marhoefer:
That same night, we talked to a guy named Tim.

Tim:
“And they would tell you, right, quick-like. If you cannot turn 5,000 miles a week, we don’t need you. We’ve got to stack applications over here this day. We can replace you tomorrow. And of course, then you take dope. You know, I would take a gram of good grade dope and I would do a line every three or four hundred miles.”

Paul Marhoefer:
And for some, there really was this dark side to the old days. I mean, taking whatever drugs you could take to stay awake. Stories like this of trucking’s wilder days really aren’t that hard to come by around here.

Man: “We would stop, exit 30 in Tennessee, exit 200 at Virginia…”

Paul Marhoefer:
And for some reason, now more than ever, I think we’ve been herded on to the digital preservation of the E-Log. It’s like we have to tell these stories.

Man: “I remember one time, I went all the way to Boston. I’d try to get through traffic, try to get back. Massachusetts state police pulls me over. He pats my pockets. I had on cargo pants that the bottle was down at the bottom of it. He missed it. I could’ve got years in the penitentiary then, so I go down to the rest area in Rhode Island and I celebrate that and I did me two lines of dope just to get on back, but then it wasn’t to get high, it was to do a job for your work. It wasn’t recreational. (inaudible)

Paul Marhoefer: “How’d you get off of that stuff?”

Man: “There’s three ways you get off of crack, meth: jail, the grave or Jesus. I was in Amarillo and I’d been up two or three days and I prayed, ‘God help me,’ and he spoke to me. He said, ‘It’s up to you.’ It’s through the grace of God that I got off of it.”

Paul Marhoefer: “So you’re now you’re off of crack.”

Man: “Yes.”

Paul Marhoefer: “You’ve prayed. God’s intervened. What do you tell your boss that needs 5,000 miles a week out from you?”

Man: “Told him I can’t do it no more. I work for myself. I’m an owner-operator now. Thank God he delivered me from that aspect too. Now I work when I want to. Thank God I’ve been delivered.”

Paul Marhoefer:
I got my first ELD back in 2016. A few months after that the watermelon rack I told you about in Knoxville., the fleet I worked for announced that we would roll out an E-Log pilot program. Guinea pigs were needed. Something about Knoxville jarred me more than it should have. For years, I had pushed myself to the limit as a produce-hauler and had never been bothered by the what-if’s but after Knoxville, it just seemed like my nine lives were up. At that time, the E-Log felt like kind of a way out of all that. So I let Brenda, our safety officer, know I would give it a try. Yup, that’s right, folks. I volunteered.

Paul Marhoefer:
When the day came, they trained me on how to operate the e-log, which recorded the truck’s data straight onto a basic Samsung tablet. The company told me not to go crazy on Netflix and off I went. Since I was now carting around this brand new tablet, I started recording some of my songs and posting them on YouTube.

Paul Marhoefer:
“This song came to me in a dream.”

Paul Marhoefer:
I also began writing about my experience of being an old trucker who had to make the E-Log switch. I mostly did this as a cathartic exercise, but on a whim, I sent some of these ramblings to an editor at “Overdrive Magazine” named Todd Dills. You heard from Todd earlier. Todd wound up giving me a shot on this blog, now on this podcast. So at the risk of being shunned by all my trucker friends, I have to say, in a way I owe all this to E-Logs.

Paul Marhoefer (sings):
“Children, let me tell you about life’s greatest sin.
It’s rolling down the road thinking what you could have been.
With these shoebox of songs just pushing that 10.
So you can, eat, sleep and die.”

Paul Marhoefer:
But enough about me. All weekend, drivers are waiting for that big update that Mike was telling us about the new rules for E-Logs. What we call ‘hours of service.’

Mike Landis:
“Yeah. We’ve had a few people sign up to be members and stuff so far while we’ve been here.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Mike Landis even has a booth set up on the showroom floor of MATS.

Mike Landis:
“Dropped a couple thousand dollars out of my own company to build the booth and we trucked it here and stuff like that.”

Paul Marhoefer:
He’s got a whole crew here dressed in their matching black shirts.

Mike Landis:
“To get the word out there and show people who we are and what we’re doing. And what better place to do it? Where there’s thousands of truck drivers at one spot, you know.”

Paul Marhoefer:
It’s been a year now since the ELD mandate went into effect, and we’re all feeling it in one way or the other. So we sit through long seminars by government administrators, but no news. Then on our last day at MATS, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao gets up to give us the keynote address. If the DOT has something to say, this would be the time, but right away the power goes out. Eventually, the power comes back.

Elaine Chao:
“Welcome to my home town. I hope you really loved your stay and we want you to spend lots and lots of money.”

Paul Marhoefer:
And she gets to what we are all waiting to hear.

Elaine Chao:
“So I’m pleased to announce today that the department is moving forward with the next step: a Notice of Proposed Rule Making … so I can’t go into the details, but let me note that the department understands…”

Paul Marhoefer:
Still nothing. No news.

Elaine Chao:
“… flexibility and is giving it serious consideration.”

Paul Marhoefer:
Just then alarm sounds. Is someone trying to tell us something?

Elaine Chao:
“They don’t want me to tell you this good news!”

Paul Marhoefer:
Instead, the speech turns to the usual platitudes.

Elaine Chao:
“You are the lifeblood of what makes our commerce work.”

Paul Marhoefer:
I’m so tired of that line.

Elaine Chao:
“You enable bread to appear on our grocery shelves-”

Paul Marhoefer:
Blah… blah.. blah.

Elaine Chao:
“- and we want to thank you for it.”

Paul Marhoefer:
And without really saying much of anything at all. Elaine Chao bids us all farewell.

Elaine Chao:
“Thank you so much.” (clapping)

Paul Marhoefer:
The Mid-America Trucking Show closed the next day. The show trucks drove out in formation while the Papa John’s lot gradually disbanded. MATS was done, but we’re just getting started. We’re going to keep following this ELD issue across the series. We’ll hear how Mike Landis brought his fight to the streets of Washington, DC and found unlikely allies in the process.
For some context, we’ll go deep into the history of trucking with one of my favorite writers. Well, hang out at truck stops and meet the families of truckers to understand how this business affects the people around us. And we’ll peer into a future where the trucks may just drive themselves. But first, we’re going to Grand Island, Nebraska to find out why anyone would want to drive a truck in the first place.

Woman:
“I was intrigued and so I called her up and I said, ‘Now come again about this truck driving. Now, what did you say?’”

Paul Marhoefer:
Thanks to everyone who entrusted us with their stories. We’ll catch you again over the road.

[MUSIC]

Paul Marhoefer:
It takes a lot of people to make a podcast. I’m going to tell you about all of them. Our “Over the Road” pit crew includes producer and sound designer Ian Coss and contributing producer Lacey Roberts at Transmitter Media. Our editor for “Overdrive Magazine” is Todd Dills. Our digital producer is Erin Wade. Our project manager is Audrey Mardavich and our executive producer for Radiotopia is Julie Shapiro. I am Long Haul Paul.

  1. Jim Walseth

    ”Over the Road’ is a beautifully crafted. So good. Thank you Roman and Paul, podcasts just keep getting better!

  2. H-town Reuse Man

    Thanks for this podcast. Respect the chicken lights and they will respect you!

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