06 September 2007

Mexican Truckers and The Big Hurt

Mexican Truckers and The Big Hurt
by Schmutzie
09/06/2007, 1:17 PM

I first met Rick the Truck Driver in the early 90s. We were both limo drivers here in Chicago. Rick had been driving for years and was a total pro. Rick loved the limo business. He loved "going long" as it is called in the trade. Rick was basically assigned to Oprah's account. He liked the idea of taking someone from Harpo Studios to Fairmount, Indiana.(Home of the James Dean Museum) An all day affair with a deadhead return. No matter, because he'd get paid for both trips.

So it came as no surprise years later when Rick the Limo Guy became Rick the Truck Driver.

I was a short-term guy, merely biding my time until my dad and I could mend our fences, and I could go back to working for our family business. To make a boring story short, it was simply a matter of my dad realizing that I was the smartest person on the planet, while also admitting that he was a total moron. (As it turns out, I'm not the smartest person on the planet, and my dad, may he rest in peace, wasn't a moron at all. In fact he possessed one of the most brilliant minds I've ever encountered.)

But for a brief period of time, I drove a limo. I did not like "going long." And thus, thanks to my friendship with the owner of the limo company for whom both Rick and I worked, I was assigned to the Big Hurt account. This meant for two and a half years, I was driving around the Chicago area while servicing the needs of a guy named Frank Thomas. Frank, a sweetheart of a guy from Columbus, Ga. was a member of the Chicago White Sox.

Frank will someday be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, something we didn't know 13 years ago. (Truth be told, I spent too little time with Frank, and entirely too much time with his (now ex-) wife Elise and her Louis Vuitton luggage.)

Anyway, after 3 years I gave up the Big Hurt account to come back to the job I was born to do, and Rick decided he wanted to drive a Peterbilt.

Rick has been doing this for almost a decade now. He calls me almost daily from all over the country to tell me:about his new truck, how beautiful the Pacific Northwest is, about the 3 hour wait to re-enter the US after dropping off some shit in Toronto, about some jagoff in an SUV who just cut him off and then slammed on the brakes, not realizing that it takes a driver carrying 80,000 lbs on a flatbed a bit longer to stop than it does a Ford Explorer. He takes the trucker job just as seriously as he took the limo job.

I called Ricky this morning to ask him what he thought of the Mexican truck drivers now being allowed to operate within the lower 48, thanks to NAFTA.

For those of you unaware, up until now a Mexican truck driver could cross into the US with a load of Guacamole, and could deliver that load anywhere within about a 100 mile "buffer zone." The load of Guacamole would then be transferred to a truck that operates exclusively within the US, controlled by a driver who is governed by the rules and regs we all see in force every day on our nation's highways.

The Mexican truckers, as of this morning, no longer have to transfer their loads to a US driver.

As of this morning, a Mexican trucker crosses the border the way they have since NAFTA was passed, but now continues on and delivers the load to its final destination, whether it be in New York, Chicago, Bangor, Vegas, or LA.

Rick explained to me that outside of Laredo,Tx there is a weigh station, a "chicken coop", where Mexican trucks are weighed and inspected.This is operated by the Texas Dept.of Public Safety.

In short, the DPS people make sure the truck is 80,000 lbs or under, and give the truck a brief visual inspection to make sure no brake rotors are about to fall off, and that the 40 tons of Guacamole is tied down properly.Not that big of a deal when the truck had no more than 100 miles to go before turning around. Now, the truck might have 1200 miles or more to go before arriving at its destination.

Now, and here's where Rick sees a potential problem, the trucks that pass from Mexico into the US are not subject to the same stringent inspections as those trucks that operate exclusively within the US.

Rules and regs in Mexico are a bit more lax when it comes to trucks and drivers.

Rick also explained that while Canadian trucks also operate within the lower 48, having crossed the border and passing inspection and weight regulations in the same fashion as these new Mexican trucks, the Canadian rules and regs governing trucks and drivers are very similar to US rules and regs.

The teamsters are worried, but for reasons other than Rick's. The teamsters (Jim Hoffa) are afraid that Mexican drivers are going to take jobs from American drivers. (if the American drivers are teamsters that is. If the American driver's not a teamster, Hoffa couldn't give a shit. Same as his dad.)

Rick, on the other hand, has serious concerns about the safety of the average American driving across good old Rte 66 because of the disparity in Mexican safety regs vis-a-vis the trucks as well as the qualifications of Mexican drivers. (My concerns are not only those of our safety, but also those of national security and immigration. You can fit lots of radioactive waste in a semi, as well as lots of illegal aliens)

In essence, Rick thinks that the average Canadian trucker you may encounter on the road is well trained, well regulated, and is accustomed to the ins and outs of the American highways. He/she is, by law, well rested, has an up-to-snuff log book, and works for a company that is run in a very similar fashion to that of the average American trucking firm.

Mexican truckers.....not so much.

Rick thinks that for the time being, we'll see the best Mexican trucks and the best Mexican drivers because everyone is paying attention. But after awhile...

Keep your eyes open people. And let's hope those Texas DPS people are on their toes. (as well as those in AZ, CA, and NM)

I'm sure these Mexican drivers are as courteous and safety conscious as the truckers we've all come to know and ...ahem..love. But some of these new trucks we see on our roads may be carrying a big hurt, thanks to NAFTA.

Hope we don't find out the hard way.

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