What is Christmas to You?

As I drove down the highway on my last trip before Christmas, I started to think about what all we would be doing during the holidays. As one thought ran into another, I started to think about how my Christmases have changed over the years. I started to wonder, “What does Christmas mean to you?” The traditional Christian reason for Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. “The reason for the season” as some would say. Others would tell you it is more about the “spirit” of Christmas. Giving and goodwill and such. Yet others would say it is just a commercial holiday that is intended to create an emotional obligation to purchase things. My intention is not to debate these things but to recall how my Christmases have changed over the years and how each has given me another prospective. I hope by telling my story that it will awaken some of your fond memories that may not have come to light in awhile.

As a youngster, I remember laying in bed silently listening for Santa and his reindeer to hit the roof. This sort of quiet concentration seemed to always lead to a sound sleep in short order. The next thing I knew, it was time to jump out of bed and run into the living room to find the presents that Santa had left for me. With big eyes I would see presents that had not been there the night before. This was followed by a bee line to my parents room to see if they were awake yet. That few minutes between them waking up and getting to the living room was like an eternity. The rest of the day was spent playing with the new toys and admiring the gifts I had received. The house always seemed to be filled with smells of food cooking and the sound of children playing and having fun. All the mystery and wonder of that special time was my world for those short years. However, from one Christmas to the next seemed like ages. The days would drag by until finally the day would arrive. I just wanted it to hurry up and get here.

As I got a little older, someone introduced me to the philosophy that it was better to give than to receive. That was something my young mind had to ponder. I wasn’t sure that was really true. Along with that came the responsibility of deciding what was a good gift for others. Who I should give to and what expense I should try to manage was the question of the day. A task that is still difficult to this day. The relationship between spending and how much someone meant to me was a hard measure to balance. All this added confusion didn’t take away from the fact that Christmas was a special time of year. The good feelings of spreading joy and well wishes to everyone you met. Learning the Christmas songs and watching the traditional Christmas shows on television just seemed to make your heart a little fuller and somehow balanced the bad in the world.

Moving out into the world on my own and many miles from home, I started to search for the same feelings for Christmas that I felt when I was surrounded by friends and family. I found that was a little harder to replicate when you had no family and few friends. I really started to feel the meaning of loneliness. That is when I began to learn that the Christmas season was one of depression and rejection for a lot of people. I would buy myself some things that I had wanted throughout the year to try to ease the loneliness and regain the spirit of Christmas. This never really took the loneliness away. The only thing that made me feel better was being around people and being a part of something.

When I got married and started having children of my own, I began to feel the responsibility of making Christmas a special time for my own family. Most of the credit for that I have to give to my wife, Lesli. We began to recreate the magic of the season for our children. The family would go out and pick out the perfect tree and drag it home. This followed by boxes of decorations that adorned our perfect tree. Gifts started to appear slowly under the tree until Christmas morning arrived. On Christmas Eve night, we started the tradition of opening just one gift. After the kids went to bed we did the Santa thing as well as the empty milk glass, cookie crumbs and nibbled carrots for the reindeer too. The meaning of Christmas had changed for us. It wasn’t so much about what was under the tree for us but what was under the tree for our kids. The big eyes. The laughter and little squeals of joy they would get when they opened something special.

Christmas day had family gathering at our house after they had their own family gift openings at their own houses. Our house was filled with that laughter and smell of food cooking just like many years ago in my childhood. All our families gathered to exchanged gifts, hugs, smiles and well wishes for the future. Shared were the tales of the year.

Now as the calendar closes in on Christmas, we are looking forward to our children coming back to our home to share that special time of the year once again. There will be a gathering of close friends and family to share that special meaning of Christmas to each of us individually as well as collectively. We will all take away something a little different from the experience yet share in the same. My hope for you this year is that you fully experience the goodness of the season. Reconnect with some of your own special memories that maybe you can share with others. Take in every facet of these times because they will soon change. My wish is for you to experience health, happiness and love the rest of your days. Merry Christmas to you and yours.


After working hard and steady for several months, I couldn’t make my schedule work out to minimize my time off around Thanksgiving. So I decided to take the whole week off and pick up after the holiday. After all, it was a much needed respite. It was nice spending time with family and friends. During my holiday, I did a considerable amount of driving the four-wheeler. During that time, I made some observations that are the foundation of this post.

Being in the four-wheeler (car) with my family, and having experience as a truck driver caused me to make some observations, “from the other side of the picture”. Many in our industry lament about how we should get more respect for what we do. I totally agree, BUT… That is where the story begins.

While driving in our car, I began being critical of those truck drivers that I shared the road with. I noticed that many didn’t use a signal to change lanes. They seemed to be quite aggressive with their speed and cut in front of the cars at times. Sometimes, even somewhat tailgating the cars they followed. Having the understanding of driving a big truck, I know why they did most of what they did. Yet, it was imprinted in my mind what the car driver’s experience of driving around a big truck was like. If I was a regular car driver, I could see why many people are not really fond of trucks.

After the holiday I had to go back to work. My critical observance of truck drivers continued. After being out of the truck for a week, I felt good about going back to work. As I left the house and started on the road for another week, my frustration with truck drivers continued. I started to notice things that caused me to ponder the whole respect and courtesy issue.

I think here is where I acknowledge that the actions of a few don’t define the lot. An example of this is where one bad cop doesn’t define all law enforcement. One lazy kid doesn’t define all youth. I have run into some real pricks that were cops but most are pretty reasonable. I’ve encountered some kids that have had it pretty easy and don’t seem to know the value of a dollar, but most kids really only want to know what is expected of them so they can meet the grade. Truck drivers aren’t really that different. Most of us are really safe and considerate. We are just trying to make a living for our families. The problem seems to start with what is expected.

Today, drivers are taught by schools and hired by self-insured carriers where they are taught only what that company wants them to know. Courtesy doesn’t seem to be one of those things. This lack of courtesy isn’t limited to the big company drivers. It seems to be fairly common across the board. The only common factor that I see is that most of these drivers are not self-employed. What that says, I’m not sure. I can speculate but that isn’t fair to those that I would be wrong about. What I can say is that we need to take a long hard look at ourselves before we start asking others to give us respect.

There are many things to point to that could be improved. One such thing is to briefly turn your lights off and back on, instead of flashing your bright lights, to signal the passing truck to pull back over. Another is when you catch up to another truck on cruise control, pull out to pass and they speed up. Yet another is the infamous “elephant races” that take place when under- powered trucks try to pull a hill and refuse to move over to clear one lane for passage. I can’t count the times that I have witnessed a truck pulling out in front of a car that causes the car to hit his breaks when a little patience by the truck driver would have allowed that car, or a few cars, to pass without really changing the truck driver’s driving time. Each of these moves causes an adverse opinion of the truck driver.

It matters not only how you present yourself on the road but also how you present yourself when you stop. I have experienced trucks parking in the fuel island with no regard for other drivers. I understand this when it is slow and there are plenty of open pumps. I don’t understand the blatant disregard for the needs of other drivers that you are familiar with. Drivers also do other disgusting things like leaving the bathroom without washing their hands. Having a conversation on the phone while using the stalls. Leaving trash and paper in the areas they use for someone else to clean up. Even wearing T-shirts that don’t cover their guts and presenting themselves as slobs.

The real topper to my week was watching a C R England (blue) truck pull up along the front of the parked trucks at the Loves truck stop in Lost Hills, CA. Right there, he jumped out with a screwdriver to steal a steer axle hub cap from a parked truck and put it on his own truck! When I asked the guy why he stole the cap he responded that he would never do that.

On my return trip home I pondered all that I had experienced and observed over the past week and pondered why these things had become so prevalent. What I came up with was as follows.

In the last 20 or so years, driver training has taken place in truck driving schools and at self-insured carriers. Seldom does an old seasoned driver ever train a new driver. Newbies are only taught what they need to know to operate the machine. They are not taught the knowledge of experienced drivers. They are not taught courtesy or respect. That seems to be an after thought.

Part of pointing out a problem is to offer a solution to said problem. My solution is to promote standardized minimum training requirements for new drivers. Take a look at TruckersForSafety.com. That is a site that has some real guidance for driver training. The second part of my solution is to repeal the self insurance provision for large carriers (Click here to learn more about self-insurance). That would require all drivers be insured equally. No longer would large companies simply look for a warm body to fill the seat. They would be looking for someone to stay around. Someone that is safe and well trained.

It is up to us. Before we can ask for respect from other people, we have to make sure we are worthy of that respect for ourselves. The challenges of our industry must not only be met, but led by our most experienced drivers. We all have a part in the future of trucking. Your question is what are you going to do?

Cost of Living

Today I have a topic that few others ever touch…  “The cost of living.”

The topic is often painted with a broad brush. I would like for us, as an industry to open up this discussion now as we are in the midst of HOS changes, a growing economy, and continued rule making. Now is the time to set the stage for the industry future.

I think going forward from here requires us to define what is reasonable to expect for our labors. This is not about what the market willing to pay, but what it should pay. You’ve heard the old line that truckers can’t agree on anything.

Well I’ve made the argument many times that there are three things we all can agree on,  #1; We need more pay,  #2;  We need full healthcare and,  #3; We need a reasonable retirement.

To get to these things we need to decide what reasonable pay, health care, and retirement are. Then we as an industry need to demand these as a standard for our services.

As regulations change we need to demand reasonable compensation for the effects of the regulations. Cost-of-living is usually defined in dollars. Because cost vary from one part of the country to the next you have to think in terms of man-hours exchanged for goods and services. I.e. what will one hour of labor buy you?  My father-in-law, in 1976, was a company driver that did OTR. In ’76, if you worked long haul, you were definitely middle-class. You were able to provide for your family very well.

My question today is, “what is reasonable to ask for as drivers?” How much does it cost, and how does that breakdown in cents per mile?  (Use national averages. Based on 10,000 miles per month.)

Things to consider in your cost-of-living are;  house payment, food, miscellaneous household expenses (such as clothes, utilities, etc.), transportation expenses (like car and insurance), health insurance, life, dental and optical insurance, and co-pays. Also, the amounts not covered by insurance. We should also include retirement, savings, and money for recreational events for the family.

Healthcare expenses and retirement are two of the most important factors in our business today. Healthcare cost varies greatly from having no insurance to full coverage. There are many policies and plans out with a variety of deductibles and coverages.  Take time to find the one that is most suited to your budget and situation. For company drivers, you may have an option of purchasing your healthcare through your employer. If you can, often time that is the least expensive route to go, but not always. Just remember your total health care costs include not only the cost of your insurance but the cost that insurance doesn’t cover. Total health care cost can usually be estimated at around $1500 a month. Included in your healthcare costs should also be a good dental and optical plan. With the elevated cost of dentistry, many dentists are finding it hard to stay in business because it is a luxury fewer and fewer of us can afford.

Retirement is another major expense that very few of us drivers can afford without help. The amount of money in a personal retirement account that you need for your retirement is dependent upon your living situation. How much money you wind up with in your personal account depends on how aggressive you are at contributing to your retirement and how many years before you start your retirement. It is reasonable, with today’s dollars, to expect and need a retirement account worth a minimum of $500,000 at maturity. At a 5% interest rate this would bring you about $25,000 per year. Combine that with the Social Security and Medicare and possibly AARP benefits, you might have a reasonable standard of living in your retirement years. When calculating your need, allow for an average of 3%  inflation per year. If you deposit $1000 per month in an IRA for 30 years that would give you $360,000 plus interest earned. For a driver running 10,000 miles per month that would come out to $.10 a mile for your retirement.

STATISTICS to consider:

  • The median income in America is just under $50,000.
  • Economics is determined by the exchange rate of man-hours to goods and services. Money is simply the medium used to make this exchange
  • 60 to 65% of health care spending comes from programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Tri-care, The Children’s Health Insurance program and, the Veterans health administration.
  • US Census Bureau reported that a record 50.7 million residents (which includes 9.9 million noncitizens) or 16.7% of the population, were uninsured in 2009
  • a 2000 study in five states found that medical debt contributed to 46.2% of all personal bankruptcies, and in 2007. 62.1% of all filers for bankruptcies claimed high medical expenses.
  • The price of a home in 1963 was $18,000, 1980 was $64,600, 1990 was $122,900, 2000 was $169,000, and in 2010 it was $221,800. With a high of $247,900 in 2007.
  • In February of 2000, I received a letter stating that fuel prices up to $1.199 no fuel surcharge. For every five cents of increase in fuel price after that there would be an additional 1% fuel surcharge.

As a rule of thumb, driver pay and fuel costs should be about the same. Not including insurance benefits.


Start by making a list of your entire home expenses, not only the ones you have, but the ones you should have. Then, take your average miles per month and divide the amount of your cost by the amount of your miles. This will give you a picture of how many cents per mile you need to make to pay your bills. Having that knowledge is the first step.

  • Use that information when you seek employment or ask for a raise. If an employer says that it is too much money, then you show him your list and ask him what you don’t need. Making your employer aware of your needs may be the first step of getting closer to providing those needs.
  • Promote the full disclosure of rates as they are paid from the shipper to the receiver. Use that information to show how much is being kept from you or at least what percentage of that you’re being paid..
  • Use your CSA score to increase your pay. With the new regulations coming, your driver score is more important than ever. A good driver score will be worth a lot of money to a company. Use it to your advantage.
  • Your personal hygiene is probably as large of a factor in your message being received well as the presentation of your need itself. There is no substitute for smelling clean and wearing clean clothes. After all you are presenting yourself as a professional.
  • Education is the key to making good decisions. Always be aware of what your options are. This may be information about how much the competitors pay if you are a company driver or lease owner operator. It may mean keeping up with current events in the industry such as changing hours of service rules and other rules imposed by the FMCSA. Aside from road dog radio, there are many publications about the trucking industry to gather information from. One of the most dependable is the publication by OOIDA called Land Line. Another is a free publication called Overdrive Magazine. You can even receive the digital copy of each. Find a publication that can be sent to your home every month or viewed online to keep you abreast of changes you may not be aware of.
  • I recommend that all drivers, including company drivers, join one of the several driver advocacy groups. My personal favorite is OOIDA. Then make your opinions heard by the leadership of these groups. They have the power to lobby as a group that you don’t have as an individual. If you support these organizations, consider contributing to their lobbying fund or PAC.
  • I also recommend that you all, if you don’t already, call your federal and state senators and representatives often to express how you feel about issues. It’s not hard and you don’t have to be a really good public speaker. Just call the White House switchboard at 202 – 224 – 3121 and give them your zip code. They will then put you through to your representative or your senators. Leave a message with their aid and your opinion will be registered. Also, take a look at FightingForTruckers.com. Sometimes it seems like they never listen but your vote and combined voices are the only things more powerful than lobbyist money.
  • Have conversations with your fellow drivers and point out how much more money we need than we are being paid. Not in a whining way, but in an educated way. Ask your fellow drivers to get involved to help make a difference. Remember, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”.
  • Holding down Inflation in the United States can no longer ride on the backs of truck drivers. We are not responsible for inflation created in the market simply by trying to provide for our needs and our family’s needs. Controlling inflation is an argument that’s used by many to keep us poor so others can profit at our expense.

Arm yourselves with knowledge. Have conversations with other drivers, not to find your differences but to find the things you have in common. We have the opportunity to make our future better if we will step up and be heard. We can ill afford to let a few others speak for us without our input.