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A Trucker Exchange Program (Part One)

I’ll begin with an up front disclaimer that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a trucker. I’m a Quaker, if that matters. I’ve also spent a lot of time in motor vehicles traveling in exotic lands, including in the high Himalayas (Bhutan).

I’ve found Youtube to be a goldmine of first person accounts from truckers themselves, talking about the long hours, time away from their families, how poorly they’re treated sometimes, and how difficult it is to make much of an income. I’ve found older more experienced truckers offering advice to those just entering the profession. Don’t expect you’ll really have much time for tourism. You’ll visit many great cities, but won’t have time to appreciate them.

Zooming out for a minute, lets take in the whole planet, like on those posters, against the black backdrop of space. Buckminster Fuller coined the phrase Spaceship Earth for our world. However spaceships actually go somewhere whereas Earth is parked in orbit, and is going wherever the sun is going, in some giant loop around the galactic core.

How about a Global University, might we see it like that? The campus power plant is indeed our star, a fusion furnace. What goes on in the biosphere we might call “work / study”. From birth to death, we work (expend energy) and we learn (gain from experience).

Back to trucking: it’s a work / study job, with lots to learn, lots to do. What will keep our Global U up to date and informed about its own diverse states of affairs, is tourism.

However “tourism” in its more restricted meaning has come in two major forms: as a vacation activity and in the form of “tours of duty”, in which case the “tourists” might well be armed.

Truckers might be armed too in some cases, but their line of work is conventionally civilian.

If you’re a novelist or screenwriter, you might help out by contributing to that genre of science fiction in which truckers already tour the globe, exchanging routes with one another, gaining experience and new friends. The role of the trucker includes learning to navigate new routes, towns and villages, transportation infrastructure, local customs.

A driver with lots of experience driving from China to Iran, might get some time doing Houston to Denver. The exchange works in every direction. North American drivers gain experience overseas.

Immediately, my more savvy readers may protest that such work / study programming is already a reality, so casting my trucker exchange idea as “a proposal”, merely exposes my lack of familiarity with the status quo.

For example, many North American drivers found themselves in Iraq, possibly in escorted convoys, with bonus pay for risking dangerous conditions.

Without getting into the nitty gritty of pay levels, I’m willing to concede that some pilot case studies, with various degrees of risk, have made it to Youtube already. I saw one about experienced truckers invited to follow a marathon route along the old Silk Road — really a network of roads. That such pilot studies exist only adds to the realism associated with this proposal.

Typically, when we think of “work / study” we imagine working towards some academic credential. I’m in favor of introducing that element here. Truckers deserve advanced degrees in exchange for their dedication and commitment.

Rest assured, this is not the first time I’ve espoused these ideas. Quakers have a history of founding schools, such as Haverford and Swarthmore, Earlham and Guilford. They also have a history of working to spread diplomatic relations, including through non-governmental channels, the American Friends Service Committee a case in point. That a Quaker such as myself would come along with a global Trucker Exchange Program is really not that surprising, you might agree.

What works in trucking could work in other professions as well. Would universities anchor these programs? They already do in some ways, with students taking up work / study programs in whatever host country. The local labor force might resent competition from outsiders, so a typical work / study assignment is likely to be on campus, less likely in town. These are patterns to play with, and in some cases gradually alter.

I probably arrived at this proposal by a somewhat circuitous route. When I was fresh out of Princeton University, and a high school teacher, I started dreaming of a preferred lifestyle. Recreational vehicle based tourism looked like a lot of fun, but seemed mostly for wealthy retired people. We did not yet have armies of elderly living out of their RVs and migrating among the Amazon warehouses. That would have seemed like science fiction in the early 1980s, when the general public had no access to internet services.

I invented the term “BizMo” for “business mobile” and projected myself forward in time as a “bizmo fleet training supervisor” whatever that was. I’d help ready teams, convoys, of these exhibitor trade show ready vehicles, wherein people could sleep, eat, and do office work.

Some years later, I met Dave Ulmer, retired from Tektronix, and sharing somewhat the same vision. He had the funds to buy himself such a rig. However, he was retired and his “business” was more recreational, such as suspending cameras from long cables and lowering them down abandoned mine shafts.

I remember when Dave parked his bizmo behind the Linus Pauling House on Hawthorne Boulevard, and showed us scenes from the recently flooded city of New Orleans on high resolution displays.

A truck is certainly a business mobile of sorts and its main business is to haul cargo. The cab may have some office equipment, such as a tablet at least, and maybe a printer photocopier. I haven’t visited enough truck cabs to really know. Independent contractors especially are self contained businesses on wheels.

What some label idealism, I’m sometimes more likely to call pragmatism. We want our Global U to thrive and prosper, not descend into madness, a Global Psychiatric Ward. My theory, based on ample personal experience, is that tourism helps promote intercultural awareness and responsibility, so why not offer opportunities for tourism that involve navigating a truck?

Critics imbued with contemporary Silicon Valley memes might reproach me for coming up with such ideas too late to make a difference, as the whole trucking profession is slated to fall by the wayside soon, by becoming driverless. On the contrary, I think my ideas are more relevant than ever.

(to be continued)

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