Thursday, December 2, 2010

Loss, Productivity, and Profit

Boise TA - 7:18 p.m.

This picture is not of the TA or Boise or any combination thereof but is one I just came across in the depths of my computer -- I think that was Casper, Wyoming, or Caspar if, like me, you can't spell very well.

TA being Truck Stops of America, the biggest truck stop chain. It's basically the old Pure, later Union 76 chain. The older ones, big, two story buildings with the showers and driver's lounge upstairs, are of the cavernous concrete bunker style of architecture, American post war largess. TA is owned now by a holding company, that is gradually remodeling or replacing the old behemoths with lower buildings of standard bottom-line industrial design, and instead of restaurants with real food they are bringing in fast food outlets like Burger King.

And the plate no longer a platter, grows emptier, and the outlook for leading interesting and fulfilling lives grows bleaker. You can drive coast to coast in the United States now and not know where you are because every city you pass through has the same limited set of fast food outlets, motels, automotive repair and tire outlets and big box stores. Limited by Capitalism's dynamics and its inexorable trend toward monopoly, to sameness and oneness and lack of choice and variety. With the missing sensory stimulation now provided in whole, artificially, by television.
Remember back when they were selling neoliberalism, globalism, and told us consumer choices would increase? Nope. All that's increased is the income gap between us and the rich. We with our labor and overtime and women entering the work force have created a lot of wealth since Reagan began the class war on the working people, and all of that added wealth, wealth created by our labor, has gone to the rich. Just read the Census Department data. It all has gone to the top two percent, and that is exactly what they mean when they say there have been steady annual increases in "productivity."

Anyway. I have a load for Santa Ana, California. No Canada. I ended up sitting in Popocatepetl for three days, from Monday morning to Thursday morning. I am on my way to Baker City, OR, to pick a load tomorrow morning -- so I have myself a leisurely "deadhead", as they call it in the business, of 360 miles, empty, and Boise is about two thirds of the way there.

During the drive over here, when I no longer was under the pressure of being on standby, I think, it finally dawned on me why I sat three days in Poketown. This kind of thing happens every time I pass a hiring anniversary, that is, every time my pay increases. It has not increased at every anniversary date, but the way the pay scale is set up at this company my pay has increased in three of the four years I have been here. And when my pay goes up, I am left sitting, or am otherwise screwed over. The other most common way they have of screwing you over in flatbed trucking is to give you a series of short loads all of which have to be tarped.

But whatever it is, it appears now that I can count on something bad happening when my pay goes up. My pay goes up in increments of one penny per mile, and that extra penny per mile translates to an extra $1,000 per year in costs for the company, give or take a couple of hundred dollars, and they would not mind at all if they didn't have to incur that extra expense. If, for instance, I got mad and quit.

It's all about increasing productivity. This is big time trucking in the United States, this is Capitalism. And sadly, the culture of the truck driving work force continues to be "the boss man is always right." In other words, it continues to be "bend over and grab your ankles and then smile and thank him afterward."

And every time someone mentions the fact that we, the drivers, need to organize, get a union, invariably someone shoots the idea down, and always in just about the same way. "Then you'd just be givin' your money to the union." I've heard that phrase over and over. on the CB radio, when drivers stand around talking while they wait to be unloaded, in truck stops. The phrase ends the conversation, and that's as far as the discussion ever gets. This is America, and we are the Americans.

I paid to get the TA's wifi internet signal but I can't get it. Sometimes it's blocked when other trucks are parked between mine and the antenna, but sometimes the service is just out, and there are no refunds any more in Capitalism.

But yes, California bound. I'd rather be there than Canada, I must confess, but I have to wonder, now, if the message I got about going to Canada, coming about midway through my Pocatellan exile, was part of somebody's plan to get me upset enough  to quit. If so, it's funny that they didn't know that I don't mind going to Canada.

It could be the same thing with sending me to California. Many drivers don't like going into California, but I'm Brer' Rabbit in the briar patch there.

I did some calculations once. If they can get rid of an older driver, like me, who is making 40 cents per mile, and replace that driver with a new driver making 30 cents per mile, the company saves $10,000 in a year, give or take a couple thousand. Those new, inexperienced drivers are going to wreck a few more trucks, of course, but even if as many as one in ten new drivers wrecks a truck, at a cost of $100,000 per truck, the company will come out even. Of course not one in ten new drivers wrecks a truck, so it's easy to see the cost-benefit analysis logic of getting rid of older drivers, like me. The more older drivers they get rid of, the more of the wealth our labor creates goes into their own pockets.

I stopped for coffee on the way over here, at the Garden of Eden, a big independent truck stop in, coincidentally, Eden, ID. It's a nice truck stop but, in two times eating there I have had two bad eating experiences.

Baker City Truck Corral - 4:13 a.m.

This is another nice independent. I rolled in here around 59 minutes ago and got me an empty weight, as they cal it in the business. That is, I had the truck weighed with no freight on it. After they load me I will have to get it weighed again. If the freight is being bought and sold by weight, now they know the weight of the freight.

I ate in the Truck Corral's restaurant for the first time -- a nice experience. I only had a bowl of oatmeal and a couple of biscuits and read the Iliad and worried about the sentimental cowbow cowboy drawings on the restaurant walls. Judging by what I had the food is good here, and there's even a smoking room.

I don't know why I never ate here before. I do recall eating across the street once at one of those "family" restaurants and distinctly recall being condescended to by the two employees I encountered. This is not an unusual occurrence at restaurants near truck stops. Many of them prefer that the truck drivers just stay away. The signs at the entrances to parking lots -- "no trucks" or "no semis" of "no big trucks" are becoming more and more common, too. I can understand that. They would have to  spend more to have a parking lot that would handle the added weight -- more gravel, thicker blacktop, etc.

The practice of discriminating against the drivers themselves is harder to figure out, but I guess they have done their cost-benefit analysis -- probably using the same calculations used by apartheid era American and South Africa. A little bit of discrimination up front pays big dividends down the road.

 I can't recall the name of the place, across the street, but I think it's one of those family restaurant chains, where the food tastes like it was made at corporate headquarters and then frozen or freeze dried or something like that and then thawed out just before it's plopped on your plate. There's a certain taste to that kind of food and once your taste buds pick up on that taste and register it as an unpleasant taste you can't stand the taste of the food any more.

But another nice thing about the Baker City Truck Corral is that their connection not only works but is free. Usually those don't even work. So I am a bit distracted, checking up on the newsings.

Having access to the internet, I found a food co-op here -- on the other side of town however from where I will be headed to get loaded when businesses start opening for business, but still I hope to make it there.

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