With no doubt in my mind at all, this is the slowest trucking summer I've ever experienced in all my ten years on the road. Even though fuel prices, including diesel ("truck food"), have eased a bit, the stuff's still hangin' up there in the stratosphere somewhere. The politicians in our wonderful, helpful Congress, who can do something about it, aren't. Instead, they take off on a summer vacation and ignore us regular folks who are suffering through this mess. I hope everyone takes notice of that arrogance and remembers it, come November 4th. I sure will.
Fuel prices have slowed the economy in a decisive manner, added to the usual election year slump that almost always occurs. My occupation, trucking, is tied to the economy hand and foot, like Siamese twins, so truckers are feeling the pinch, bigtime. Owner/operators, who comprise roughly half my industry, have been hit the hardest, but don't think it hasn't affected company drivers as well. Companies are cranking down truck speed limiters as fast as you can whistle "Dixie" these days. My company, once one of the slowest outfits on the highway, hasn't done so (yet), but now we have quite a bit of company at 65 mph and lower speeds.
Get too many speeding tickets and you'll be finding out where the "door" is located very quickly. Because of that and the cost of fuel, more and more drivers are sticking to the speed limit, forming long "elephant parades" in states that have split speed limits, in lower-speed urban areas, and even in the inactive construction zones that we used to all ignore and fly through like there was no '45' sign there at all. I, too, have slowed somewhat, sticking to 60 a lot now, unless the limit is higher and I have to run hard with a load. Pumping $500 of fuel in your truck and not even quite getting your tanks full will raise anyone's eyebrows.
High fuel costs are highly inflationary, in that they directly affect the price of everything else that you buy. "If you bought it, a truck delivered it." I know that's an ancient slogan, but it's still very true. Trucking companies and O/Os have to put a surcharge on the freight bill, to offset the added costs of hauling the products, middlemen raise their prices in response, followed by the retailers, and that's where the higher price hits your wallet or purse. Normally, it's a more-or-less "trickle down" effect, but when prices are as unstable as they've been this year, it becomes a body slam.
Until a month or so ago, fuel prices were as volatile as the product that goes into your car's tank. But people ran the numbers, finally, and discovered that three, divided into two, just will not go. They stopped much of their excess driving and began to rethink that 2,000 mile vacation trip. Many parked their RVs. The demand dropped, and so did the price, somewhat. Yep, the open market still works in America. Want to bring prices down? Then either lower the demand, or increase the supply. Works every time. But increasing the supply is impossible, as it's being held artifically low by a members of the Organization of Price-Extorting Criminals, better known as OPEC, a bunch of filthy rich oil producers who don't like us very much. They won't produce any more and Congress won't get off their asses and open up the land to oil drillling and exploration where we know there is a huge supply. Right here at home. So, we have a stalemate, at least until after the November election is decided.
Sales are slumping, due to high prices and strain on the public's pocketbooks, so production is down and so is ordering. That means loads for trucks are also down. I've spent almost as much time sitting, waiting to be dispatched this summer as I typically do in the winter months, when the bottom traditionally drops out for a few months. I'm paid by the mile, which means, simply, that if my truck's wheels aren't rolling, I'm not making one penny. Oh, I can draw layover sometimes, but only if I'm stuck somewhere without a load for 24 straight hours. And that's not nearly what I'd make if I were rolling. So, my paychecks are smaller on average this summer; not helpful when you're in debt. I can't complain too loudly, though, because I'm certainly not the only trucker facing this dismal state of affairs. We all are, to some extent or the other. It sucks, but you have to put on your game face and keep on keepin' on. That's all anyone can do. Roll with the punches and ride it out. Weather the storm. [Let's see -- can I come up with another cliche?? Nope. That's it.]
When I look toward the future, am I afraid?? Not at all. I don't do fear anymore. Screw that. Life's too short, to live in a state of fear and dread all the time. I decided that after 9/11, but the seeds of it were in me, lying dormant, before that terrible day. That was just the catalyst that brought it out in me. Que sera, sera -- whatever will be, will be. But I think things will get better in the future. That's my optimism, and history is on my side, because they always have, sooner or later.
History may not exactly repeat itself, but it sure does echo. We Americans have been down many times before, but we've always come back from it, in time. We went through much more severe economic times in the 1930's, during the Great Depression, but we survived and went on to prosper again. When the Japanese bombed half our navy into non-existence, at Pearl Harbor, we were caught with our panties down, completely unprepared for war. But we got up, brushed off the dust, and went to work. We won that war and prosperity returned when it ended. The doldrums and "stagflation" of the 70's gave way to the economic boom of the 80's. We Americans are tough and resilient. Nothing can keep us down for long. We fought our way back before and we'll do it again.
I am an American. Damned proud to be one. And that's what I'll always believe.