A couple of weeks ago, my team and I left the office and met at the TA Petro travel center off Interstate 40 in North Little Rock. The station had set up tents in the parking lot, and volunteers were setting up tables and assembling lunches from the grill. A stage had been constructed from a trailer for country musician Lindsay Lawler to perform her trucking tribute “Highway Angel.”
We do this every year. We celebrate National Truck Driver Appreciation Week. We find a way to say “thank you” to the 3.4 million professional truck drivers who spend their lives on the roads, so we can have food in our fridge, clothes in the closet and toys strewn about the house. From essentials like toilet paper to the luxury of the million inches of plasma screen, no home goes untouched by the miles of a professional driver. In Arkansas, 87 percent of communities depend exclusively on trucks to move goods.
Even though our truck driver appreciation event takes a lot of volunteers and donations and months of planning, the gesture is a small one. After all, how do you really thank the people who have delivered everything other than our children?
Pride in the Drive
Applications for the Arkansas Road Team were submitted this fall, and interviews were conducted. I met so many truck drivers who don’t just do their jobs well, but who are so proud of the profession and what truck driving provides for their families and their communities, and let’s just be honest, the whole American way of life. These drivers have a lot to be proud of.
The job isn’t easy. It takes many men and women away from their own bed too many nights a week. It requires constant focus while the wheels are rolling and constant control of machines that grow more and more technical every year and with each new regulation. A driver’s office is the asphalt and yellow lines he or she shares with the driving public. Yet so many feel free to criticize their work without ever climbing up into the cab where one can see that blind spots exist, braking distances are much longer and the task is so much more complicated that shifting the gears and steering the wheel.
The shelves still get restocked when there is rain, sleet, snow, tornados or hurricanes. When American Red Cross and relief organizations come to town, truck drivers aren’t far behind with the supplies necessary to survive and rebuild after the worst disasters.
Their jobs are risky because 10 tons of freight gliding down the pavement at 65 miles an hour is a reality. The truck drivers I know aren’t taking that risk lightly. They are happy to do it. Many are missing kids’ baseball games and piano recitals to earn a living for their families. They are waiting an hour for the freight to be loaded and another hour on congested roads because this is a job worth doing — a job we should all be thankful for.
Pride in the Drivers
If the community needs lumber to build schools, medicine to heal the sick and seeds to grow crops, the community needs someone to deliver it.
I hate to wax on about not knowing what you have until it’s gone, but the reality is that the people who drive the trucks are not expendable. There are not an endless supply of skilled, professional men and women to deliver everything we need.
The industry is short 35,000 to 40,000 drivers just this year, and the American Trucking Associations predict the shortage will grow to 240,000 before 2020.
Gratitude is about more than showing the love for a moment in time. It should be as evident as the pumpkin spice in our lattes that truck drivers — the men and women who literally drive our country and economy forward — should feel the love of a grateful nation 365 days a year.