Saturday, July 29, 2017

Buyer's Remorse

I’ve made some bad purchases in my life. Mostly back in the 70’s. When gas prices were going crazy I bought a Ford Pinto. Hello, Buyer’s Remorse. When it was a thing I got a man-perm. I used to have thick curly hair, so I figured an Afro would look cool and be easy to maintain. Again Buyer’s remorse. We bought an old house and fixed it up. Fixing it up included lime green shag carpet (with some brown and gold mixed in). A decision that should have brought on buyer’s remorse, but I actually thought it looked good at the time. I had similar feelings about the gold plated necklace I wore until I saw an old photograph the other day. Buyer’s remorse AND embarrassment.

Over the years, I’ve bought several items that left me with buyer’s remorse. There’s the expensive, wired up cabinet and universal remote that controls everything when it actually works, which is rarely. So I end up opening doors and drawers, turning things on and off manually. The genius that sold it and set it up says the problem has to do with the way my house is constructed. Something about energy forces intersecting and bad feng shui. Buyer’s remorse.

We went with a tankless water heater when we built our house. What a rip-off. Buyer’s remorse.

I’ve got a garage full of golf clubs, mostly drivers and putters that don’t work right. Buyer’s remorse.

I paid $5 for a Siamese cat one time. Buyer’s remorse

I ended up trading that Pinto for an AMC Pacer. Buyer’s remorse…big time.

And...I voted for Donald Trump….

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?

Who's gonna give their heart and soul
To get to me and you
Lord I wonder, who's gonna fill their shoes
Yes I wonder, who's gonna fill their shoes?
-from the George Jones’ song Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?

There is a lot of talk these days about the ELD mandate (Electronic Logging Devices) and how it will effectively reduce truck capacity. Calculations are being made as to the impact this will have on reducing truckload capacity. The range seems to be from 3 to 7% depending on assumptions about the number of owner-operators and small fleets that will exit the industry and the impact on utilization for those who remain but are just now getting on the ELD program.

I’m inclined to think that the industry has already adjusted, for the most part, to ELD’s. Has it had an impact? Yes. Will forcing all fleets into compliance have an impact? Yes. Will it be the primary catalyst for industry consolidation, higher rates and better pay for drivers? Not so much.

No question the ELD mandate will be the last straw for some small fleets and owner-operators who’ve been hanging on by threads and fingernails and creative paper logs. But these guys have been steadily going under for years. The ELD issue may create a larger wave for a brief period of time. But unless there are some other significant barriers to entry, a new generation of trucking entrepreneurs and disrupters will enter the game.

The real issue for trucking is drivers. And if there is an entry barrier for someone looking to start up or expand a trucking company this is certainly a big one. All other issues pale in comparison. It’s a job very few young people want to do. More money, better roads, more home time, better equipment, more enlightened management, better treatment from customers, redesigning operations to provide for more relaying of loads…there is a long list of factors that could make the job more appealing. But within the realm of reasonableness, I don’t see anything moving the needle on drivers. Truck driving is one of those challenging blue-collar jobs that doesn’t appeal to most folks. Add in regulations, training, licensing and drug testing and there just aren’t enough bodies left in line for the job.

I only see a couple of pools to draw from. One would be immigrants. Bring in more people from other countries who can drive or wish to be trained. Right now the mood in this country is not very favorable toward this approach. But when it gets down to it, people want their groceries, clothing and toys and it takes a truck to make it happen. If that means a Swahili tribesman is driving it, we will adjust.

The other pool comes from the young people who are open to the job but can’t get into it at 18 or 19 years of age. By the time they are old enough, many of them have already found other work. We need to seriously consider putting 18 year olds behind the wheel. There has to be rigorous testing in terms of both skills and attitude. But I’ve met 18 year olds who are more prepared than 30 year olds when it comes to handling the stresses of driving a truck. Age matters, but at some point, it is just a number.

The industry will adjust. There is not just one answer or even two or three. There will be multiple changes that will make the job more attractive and increase the pool of available drivers. But these changes will cost money. Perhaps autonomous trucks will replace some of the miles and do it cheaper. Longer combination vehicles in certain areas could effectively provide capacity. The other wild card is energy. If we can figure out how to move stuff with cheaper energy or a whole lot less of the more expensive energy, that could offset the other cost increases. And, of course, there is the diversion of freight from highway to rail.

But, at least for the next 20 years, I think we’re going to see significant increases in freight costs. The industry will remain extremely competitive and, as always, the cream will rise to the top. Consolidation will occur. I expect market share for the top 10 carriers will triple or quadruple over that time. There will still be a place for smaller, niche carriers. But being big AND being good will be a significant advantage going forward.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Redneck Waste Management

“Americans make more trash than anyone else on the planet, throwing away about 7.1 pounds per person per day, 365 days a year. Across a lifetime that rate means, on average, we are each on track to generate 102 tons of trash. Each of our bodies may occupy only one cemetery plot when we’re done with this world, but a single person’s 102-ton trash legacy will require the equivalent of 1,100 graves. Much of that refuse will outlast any grave marker, pharaoh’s pyramid or modern skyscraper: One of the few relics of our civilization guaranteed to be recognizable twenty thousand years from now is the potato chip bag.”
― Edward Humes, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash

Remember the old commercial that ran back in the 70’s with the Native American shedding tears over the pollution and litter that was ruining his land (or what used to be his land). Iron Eyes Cody was his name and he captured the hearts of America as did the slogan:

“People start pollution. People can stop it.”

So some people, a lot of people, started hanging little trash bags on the dash board of their cars. Instead of wadding up those food wrappers and paper cups then chunking them out the window as you sped down the highway, you put them in the trash bag. Handling your trash in a responsible manner was cool. Throwing your trash out the window was not cool. Iron Eyes Cody’s tears were a great motivator. (Ironically, he wasn’t even a real Native American. Espera Oscar de Corti, aka Iron Eyes Cody, was born in Louisiana to an Italian father and Sicilian mother.)

But somewhere along the way, our paper cups got too big and wrappers turned into Styrofoam cartons and automobile dashboards became high-tech, cockpit control panels and the only place to throw trash was in the back seat or out the window. A lot of people do not like trash in the backseat, so it goes out the window. Especially when they think no one is watching.

I live out on a country road where no one is watching most of the time. So people throw their trash out on my country road. And it’s not just paper cups, Styrofoam containers, beer and soda cans. I get furniture, clothes, construction materials, cats, dogs, car parts and carved pumpkins. I’ve yet to find human bodies or body parts, but I’m sure that day is coming. Body parts and/or money, it will happen.

I’ve lived in a lot of places and I can assure you that Texas (and Oklahoma) are among the worst when it comes to roadside trash. It must be something that followed our ancestors from the South. The South is just about as bad, but I think it’s reached a higher level on the Southern Plains where the wind must create the illusion that somehow the trash all just blows to a neutral site where it is gathered and disposed of properly.

There’s less trash in the Midwest and the farther north you go the less trash you see. Some of it may be tied to the Germanic and Scandinavian influence in those regions. Even in Texas, the old German communities are relatively neat and clean. West of where I live there are towns such as Muenster where you just don’t see roadside trash and the farms and ranches are all well-tended and proper. But the old Southern Scots-Irish-Anglos that settled most of Texas brought their trashy ways with them. Junk cars, porch furniture (and appliances), stray dogs and a steady stream of trash flying out the windows of their pick-up trucks. My people. You might be a redneck if…..

So I’ll continue to pick-up trash. The little stuff goes in the regular trash. The stray animals get picked up by the county shelter. The big stuff: mattresses, couches, chest of drawers, etc will go up in smoke. My neighbor across the road has a “burn pile” hidden at the back of his property. (You might be a redneck have a burn pile.) So I drive through his pasture over a little hill and down to “the pile” where I will dump the latest collection of abandoned chattel. When there is little or no wind and things aren’t too dry (rarities in Texas) we’ll have a big burn sending no small amount of pollutants into the atmosphere. It's probably not what the environmentalists had in mind back in the day when old Iron Eyes Cody was shedding tears. But it works. Which is the redneck rationale for a lot things.