Mommy can dance and daddy still rock and rolls! Give me that good old-time music, the kind that makes you tap your fingers on the steering wheel and nod your head to the beat. We have all seen the dude in the movie, where he has his window rolled down and his arm sticking out. He’s wearing a black leather jacket and has greased-back hair – probably has a smoke going, too. Oh yea, he’s cool, playing tunes from the age of rock n roll. It’s not enough to just play them, you have to play them LOUD! If not, it’s just more elevator music. Try to remember, “If the music is too loud, you’re too old!” Okay, I can see the confused looks on your faces. The old man has really gone astray this month – or has he? Time will tell.
Winter is for the most part behind us in much of the United States, and spring has finally arrived. Soon, there will be plenty of folks on the roads, and most of them will be thinking more about playing on the lake or getting to the next ball game than paying attention to their driving. Drivers, we have just finished a horrible winter driving season across the west, especially on I-80 in Wyoming. For our readers who do not travel that stretch of highway, it was closed over 50 times this season due to weather-related accidents. The media will beat us up for a long time over the carnage caused by many of those terrible wrecks.
I ran the north and the northwest for most of this winter and could not believe the lack of attention drivers were demonstrating. I won’t tell anyone I’m anything more than an average driver, and we all have room for improvement, but I will write about ways to improve your performance behind the wheel at a later date. In the meantime, turn off the cruise control when you are in inclement weather and slow down. I don’t want to see you or anyone else get seriously hurt or possibly killed due to chasing the ELD! However, spring is in the air, and what better time to roll down the window, turn up the tunes and cruise.
Trucks from years gone by didn’t have much for radios, and even less for speakers, and no one had ever heard of a pre-amp, either. I still remember taking the AM radio out of the first International COE I drove. Yes, it only had the AM side – there was no FM available (I may have lost some of you younger readers entirely on that one). That didn’t matter much in those days, as I was running from Detroit to New York City, and there wasn’t much to listen to after midnight anyway. If I was lucky, I could get Charlie Douglas and his “Road Gang” show out of Cincinnati until I went over the hill, and then they faded, too. Thank goodness for the Kraco car stereo. Wow, now I’m really dating myself – back to around 1980, when I got my hands on one of those with an 8-track player.
For those of you who have never heard of or seen an 8-track, they were the predecessors to the cassette tape. Oh my, now I’ve done it – you don’t know what a cassette tape is, either! In a minute, I’m really gonna put a kink in your coax. We didn’t download our tunes back then, either. We had to go through a far more complicated process of waiting for our song to play on the radio and then hitting the record button, if you had recording ability. If you were really big time, you would capture entire radio programs on your reel-to-reel then go back and sort out the songs you wanted. They sold tapes and recordings in the record shops and truck stops, but who wanted to listen to a whole tape of just one artist?
I still have a bunch of my old music reels from radio programs of the late 1970s in the attic. They probably should stay there, too, since I no longer have the recorder to play them on. I think it may have gone to someone’s rummage sale around 30 years ago. Aunt Barb may not have the same taste in music as me, and you know what they say, “When the cats away, the mice will play.” Well, that player is gone gone gone, never to be heard from again.
As usual, I appear to have gotten off the beaten path here. I was talking about music that we all like to drive to. Depending on your age, the type of device you use can vary. I’m still a radio guy. The younger set like to listen to their iPod or smart phone. I have a hard-enough time just talking on my cell phone, lord knows what might happen if I tried to download music on it. I would likely signal aliens to land in my back yard or cause some military attack on my neighborhood. It never turns out well when I use technology. I’m kinda like the dunce in science class – never let him mix chemicals or use the Bunsen burner or the class may go up in smoke.
The method of getting your tunes isn’t all that important, but we all need to keep our safety and the safety of the motoring public in mind. I will be the first to tell you when “that” song comes on (insert whatever song that is for you here) most of us tune out our driving and concentrate on the song. Sure, after a while, your abilities to drive become a reflex, but that should not become a habit. I follow too many trucks across this country that weave, bob, swerve and, in general, drive all over the lanes in front of me. It is quite common to look over and see them fooling with the phone or putting in their ear buds.
Some of us oldsters may even be trying to change the CD. I still haven’t gotten the hang of that while bouncing up and down on these first-class roads we have here. Thank goodness for XM Radio – I can pick a type (or era) of music and just sit back and let someone else change the records. Oh my, did I say records? Just for the record, a record is one of those flat roundy things that go on your grandpa’s phonograph. I didn’t start this out to be a history class, but with music making up so much of our day, I couldn’t help but highlight some of the safety hazards that it causes.
Most of my days are consumed with listening to talk radio. Just in case you are wondering, it is just as addictive as most music. I too fall into the habit of listening too closely to the program and not paying enough attention to my driving. I’ve always considered myself a skilled driver, at least I thought I was. In the fall, I sometimes haul grain from the farm to the river in a set of double bottom hoppers. That sounds simple enough. What’s so special about that? Well, for starters, I don’t do it all the time, so getting used to the extra length and weight takes some practice. And, not to mention the extra effort needed when turning corners and backing, as well, but that’s a story in itself. I only bring this up because with all my years of pulling trailers, I too need to practice and pay closer attention to what I’m doing.
When I first started pulling two trailers, I didn’t turn the radio on or talk on the phone – ever! Talking on the phone is by far my worst obsession. I use that word for a reason, because like many of you, I do it every day without thinking. The phone rings and I answer it. This could be why most states now have laws about operating hands-free. I’m talking about the phone – not the truck – however, all too often, I see drivers passing me and they are doing anything but holding the steering wheel. Can you say distracted driving?
Have you ever counted the amount of time that you spend on the phone each day? Most days I would estimate I spend three or four hours a day on the phone dealing with everything from dispatch, to brokers, to family. In that timeframe, I will encounter all types of situations that require my full attention behind the wheel. Do you think it’s fair to the folks sharing the road with me if I get sidetracked and wander into their lane or drive erratic? You would think I should know better than that, right? I do. At least I thought I did, but then here comes that favorite tune. You know it, go ahead and sing along with me: “It was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June, in a Kenworth pullin’ logs. Cabover Pete with a reefer on, and a Jimmy haulin’ hogs…” See, there you go, your head is bobbin’ and you got lost in the beat.
There is a need for professional drivers on the highways today – more so than ever before. As professionals, it is our responsibility to not only be safe ourselves, but to promote safety among our peers, too. Take the time to express your concerns with other drivers who you observe bending the rules. I have written about our use and misuse of the radio and our cell phones, but those aren’t the only places we truckers sin. I mentioned before, I’m no supertrucker, just your average driver. But I don’t want to be held responsible for the poor driving habits of others.
Back in the day, if you did stupid stuff while driving, others called you out. Drivers, you know your own faults, and only you can correct them. Things like driving barefooted with your feet on the dash, using the cruise control during the worst weather conditions (snow, ice, fog, heavy rain), and driving too fast for conditions. If any of you have not seen the numerous videos showing all the damage caused by these multiple vehicle pileups, then go to the internet and search them out. What’s hard to realize is that most of them could have been avoided with a CB radio. What I wouldn’t give for the old days, when drivers talked to drivers. I know the cell phone lets us talk cross-country, but sometimes we just need to talk to someone who can tell us what is happening in the next mile.
I went a little long in my rant this month, but I truly feel this subject needs to be addressed. Not just because it’s irritating to me, but because it can cost you your career, or even your life. Starting now, when you do that pre-trip, make sure not only your equipment is in top shape, but you the driver are, as well. Please leave your bad driving habits at the door. In every line of work, when you speak to the most successful among them, they all recommend the exact same thing – practice your trade every day and the lessons will stay fresh.
I bet every one of my readers checks their sound system in the truck before they start the day. Why? Because we all get lost in our music. Whether it’s from our childhood or teenage years, it still gets our attention. When I’m rolling through the night with the window spooled down, letting the wind blow through what’s left of my hair, I can’t help myself when the moon is full, the road is empty, there are millions of stars shining brightly, and that long ribbon of concrete is stretched out in front of me. I’m just like everyone else – I reach for the volume, crank it up, and plug in some Charlie Daniels Band to get the party started. Then, I might go to “Born to be Wild” or “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple, and by then, I am lost in it.
Whatever your distractions are, please try to remember to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. It’s okay to tap your feet, but no dancing between the seats, and if you nod your head, try not to bang it on the ceiling or the steering wheel. When you see me in passing, if the window is down and the tunes are cranking, just wave, because I won’t be able to hear you. Until next time, speed safety, folks. 10-4!