The Preppy Trucker - "You thought it wasn't possible"
The goal of The Preppy Trucker is to challenge some of those assumptions by shedding light on the lives of a people group that is entirely misunderstood, forgotten about, and left in the social dust: truckers.
“Freedom is alienated in the state of passion; it is abruptly engaged in partial enterprises; it loses sight of its task, which is to produce an absolute end.” –J.P. Sartre
Last week, I published a provocatively prophetic post outlining four reasons why protests like “March for Our Lives” typically fail. Nearly a thousand people tuned in to my “preppy” blog to hear what I had to say, and the response was awesome—many folks sharing and re-sharing my post on their social media feeds and whatnot. There were some dissenters, of course, and some others who maybe didn’t quite understand my argument. But overall, I’m very thankful for those of you who interacted with my writing.
But now I’ve got more for you.
Not surprising, the gun question has America’s attention right now (or at least it did last weekend), and many people have felt a strong need to weigh-in on the conversation. Many of you made comments to my post in particular, ranging from robust legal opinions to social justice histories. Spirited interaction confirms that we collectively feel the need to change the current cultural situation on guns; how to do it, though, is an entirely different matter.
After my post, I tried something new. Facebook offers what’s called a “boost,” or a paid-for marketing effort that targets people (by your selection) who display relevant subject matter interests. It worked well, and I’ll definitely use it again. But what fascinated me was the demographic data I received at the end of my five-day, $30 campaign.
Out of more than 4,000 people who saw my ad, around 600 clicked-through—just under a 15% conversion rate (which is excellent). Obviously, a lot of people resonated with the topic. But what blew my mind was the gender breakdown. 592 of my “boosted” readers were men, and only 8 were women.
Now, there appears to be no evident reason, as far as I can tell, why my writing (on its own merit) would have compelled women to stray and men to stay. It was gender-neutral content, but what this shows me is that the colorful canvas of our present gun debate may not be as colorful as we think. It occurred to me that women may not be interested in the issue of gun control unless it’s very closely tied to them. Having not performed a strict network or close-tie analysis, this theory is largely based on the rough estimate of my own experience. It’s not statistically reliable. But, consider this.
Men are generally assumed to be more interested in the gun question than women, given the traditional, conservative ties between their politics and practice (e.g. men go hunting, women don’t). But does that mean women aren’t interested in the discourse on gun control at all?
Of course not, because we saw last week a young, teenage girl, Emma Gonzalez, become the face of “March for Our Lives,” which made national headlines. Did it make the news because she was a woman? Maybe, but it may just as much have been by chance, or luck of the draw. A passionate young female with a deeply caring voice spoke first, being in the right place at the right time, henceforth in a rather fortuitous manner becoming the movement’s poster child. She even scored a Wiki page for her effort.
Perhaps, though, something else is going on beneath the surface. Gonzalez was a leader at her high school, the same Parkland school of the shooting that got us talking further about the gun debate in the first place. Emma was there. She saw the dead. She felt the scare. She was close to the action, and maybe she felt compelled to transfer that experience on to others. I think as much is completely obvious.
Yet, predominantly men have been interested in the afterward. To understand why this is so, you need look no further than books like Angry White Men. The men of America, although certainly not all, feel that with increased gun control they are losing something: freedom. But to raise their voices against a vast cultural outcry, or at least increase their awareness of others who are trying to do the same (a.k.a. me, with my blog), is a natural response. To me, it signals that one possible reason we fail to gain consensus on the gun question is due to an underlying gender-based culture war.
But I’m no expert on the sociology of gender, so I’ll leave that issue for someone else. No doubt, though, culture wars (plural, implying other kinds of ideological warring) may indeed form a 5th reason why this kind of pronounced effort to shape public policy tends to fail. But as much as I’d like to say that such a cultural combat would cause social movements to fail, what I saw last weekend did nothing more than lend support to my previously given reasons for the general ineffectiveness of protests (and also by extension social movements, too).
While you, my readers, evidently appeared excited to read and respond to my thoughts on the protest, national media coverage of the event and of the march’s political message dwindled even faster than I could have originally anticipated. Since the student-led protest calling for increased gun control policies and new political leadership, we’ve heard virtually nothing from all major media outlets via the internet. The lines went dead.
Naturally, many things could have contributed to such an immediate drop-off. Perhaps the fact that students had to go back to school played a major role, representing inherent institutional bondage and a strong barrier-to-sustain. Maybe the news of Stormy Daniels titillated our collective fancy and caused us to lose attention. Or possibly most of us decided to pay closer attention to falling stock markets, global trade issues, and budget-spending politics.
What really happened, I think, largely reinforces my original argument: protests don’t do much besides marginally shape public sentiment due to lack of purpose, lack of authority to enact change, lack of intellectual rigor, and resistance to political calibration (re-design). Of those four reasons I initially provided, it seems justifiable that at least two of them largely affected the outcome of “March for Our Lives.”
The first of these concerns the issue of authority. Indeed, the topic of gun control is complex. Just as much as one person could see the gun as a symbolic implement of human freedom, another could see it as a destructive self and culture apparatus steeped in corrupted institutional ideology. For some, the “gun” is simply a part of their lives, and for others it’s something that shouldn’t be a part of their or anyone else’s lives.
And there’s plenty of opinions in between, which is actually the main reason why I’m writing this follow-up post.
The gun question, not dissimilar from other American dilemmas we face, has so many different shades of opinion that it’s an almost entirely un-interpretable and un-actionable public issue. We have, although unseen by most Americans, created a cultural symbolic image based on the vast plurality of our opinions that boasts of many colors, a hard and crusted fabric, and frayed edges—no frame. It’s raw. It’s incomplete. It’s fragmented. Indeed, it’s as much modern as contemporary, and it’s dangling on a vast wall filled with other hapless paintings like it. And everyone’s standing in line waiting to see it, but they can’t get in.
What I’m talking about is the incredible distance most people have between themselves and the resolve of the gun control dilemma. In my last post, I mentioned that there’s a big difference between “influence” and “authority.” Sad to say, the vast majority of people in America have little influence on cultural decisions, often the cause of apathy, ignorance, or veritable stupidity. Only a few, those 1%ers or global elite we like to routinely chastise, really have the kind of authority that can shape or resolve cultural dilemmas.
I think most of us understand this part, but the picture gets obfuscated as we develop our responses to this rather unfortunate situation. And so, there are principally two ways our culture usually reacts to issues that can only be settled by an elite few:
Method #1: We Try to Vote-in a New Regime
One of the march’s speakers was a high school student whose passion-filled rhetoric aimed, almost as a coach-like figure, to encourage and mobilize Americans to vote-in a completely new bastion of representatives in the next election. She knew the current ones couldn’t get the job done. So, her entire speech was dedicated to this motive, the get-out-and-vote mantra, and literally nothing else.
In truth, her speech was not oriented at all to the present. A march on Washington typically attempts to persuade current, seated lawmakers to change their views and policies. But this girl’s speech aimed only at future lawmakers, embedding the stark presumption that current lawmakers were either unwilling or unable to enact stricter gun policies. She had already given up on our current Congress (of course, also our sitting President), which isn’t surprising in all honesty. Her argument: we can’t trust our current elected officials to act in our interests, so let’s get some new ones.
Method #2: We Try to Pressure the Current Regime to Capitulate to Our Demands
Another of the student speakers, a district debate champion and coach, articulated some good points and displayed a better base knowledge than most of the students. He conveyed that our system is not able to address issues of social responsibility because of the subject matter that our education system considers basic and fundamental—since it excludes courses that instruct on public morality, psychology, and how to basically get along in the world. His response, “[Those classes] are found in our arts and our sports.” True, but still not good enough.
Why? Because the end of his message was simply: “Something needs to change.” Vague. And that is often what many social movements bring with them, nonspecific attempts to pressure existing governing officials to capitulate to, although inherently justified, whimsical demands. Indeed, contemporary social movements even seem to some people as pure theatrics, an experiential high or feel-good party. Regardless, “something” just isn’t good enough when coupled with zealous screams for political action.
Which leads me to my last point. Inasmuch as intellectual rigor most certainly does play a role in preparing a social movement for success, social movements of today will inevitably fail unless we get to the real root of the problem: design failure.
Not only does the 2nd amendment lead us to a false conclusion, but the majority of our constitutional makeup belies the near unanimous opinion that change needs to happen in America. Everyone feels it, but we’ve been programmed after hundreds of years to work toward change from within the existing system’s control mechanisms. Only when we accept the need for political calibration, along with the inevitably endemic pain it will involve, will we begin to generate the power to re-create a world in which guns no longer take our precious young lives and freedoms become tacitly corrupted by government and fellow man.
Thus, Sartre was right. The passion of today tends to reduce the democracy of tomorrow.
Would you guess that there are as many mechanics in the U.S. as over-the-road truck drivers? Over 1.5 million folks get down and dirty on a daily basis to keep our humble modes of transportation on-the-go, and they earn about as much as truckers on the average. They’re also about as equally forgotten about.
Just the other day, about an hour after going to sleep, my co-driver and also my father, woke me up and said, “Umm…sorry to wake you. We’ve got a serious problem.” Now, I own our business, and I’ve invested a lot of money into our operation. So when I hear the words “serious” and “problem” together, it’s regrettably easy to get worried. But before I let my mind run rampant, I let my father explain what happened. Our fully electronic, automatic transmission got somehow stuck in gear, and the error message came through clear as mud: “Check Transmission CPU.” Trust me, it made as little sense to me then as it probably does to you now, but I knew one thing for certain: I’m no mechanic.
When you own your equipment, you inevitably face the need to do some fixing yourself to keep profits up. So ever since buying this truck, I’ve been on a mechanic’s crash course learning as much as possible about all the intricacies of engine components, electrical, drivetrain, and etc. There’s a lot to learn! And there’s also a lot that can go wrong. But it’s worth it to learn as much as possible because working on your own truck can save thousands of dollars a year.
As the story goes, I eventually discovered that the wires connecting the shifter box to the rest of the truck had disconnected during the trip, which explained why the gear jam occurred after my father hit a rather large bump in the road. Instead of assuming I couldn’t fix the issue, I kept looking for a solution. Eventually, I found the loose wires, reconnected them, and solved the problem. But if I hadn’t taken the time to think rationally about the scenario, I could have lost thousands of dollars in forfeited load revenue and tow/repair costs. In addition, I could have put both the customer and my contracting company in a precarious situation. The last thing I needed was a major mechanical problem, but luckily, in all of five minutes, I re-connected the wires and saved myself half a month’s worth of work and a trip to the shop.
And that gets to my point today. We avoid mechanic shops as a cultural rule-of-thumb. Ever thought much about that? As a cultural practice, we dodge mechanics like bullets, hoping that when the “CHECK ENGINE” light comes on in our vehicles we can somehow handle it ourselves to keep from wasting money on expensive shop time. But imagine for a moment what it must feel like to work a job that literally everyone tries to avoid. Mechanics are a great example of an occupational group that keeps our cultural life-blood flowing, since without them our cars and trucks wouldn’t stay on the road. We’d have a hard time getting to our offices on time, joining those fun and always slightly flirtatious after-work happy hours, and attending our kids’ weekend sports games.
Even more, when our cars or trucks do break down, we give the mechanics (and their shops) a hard time for inconveniencing us with the amount of time it takes to fix our vehicles. We whittle shops down on price as much as possible, often throwing fits of rage at what we perceive are far too overpriced bills. I’m guilty, too. But listen, it’s hard work and things don’t always fix up the way we plan. Mechanics have hard jobs, and they don’t earn enough for what they do. They make about as much as truckers, a measly $37k a year. Hardly enough to make ends meet in our modern world. Yet they keep on working their highly denigrated jobs to keep the rest of our lives moving (yes, “they” was meant to be vague).
By now, you can surely see the parallel I’m making between mechanics and truckers. At least it seems clear to me, the jobs that do the most to keep our lives in motion are the most undervalued. Hard hand-work like that of mechanics and truckers doesn’t pay as well or build as much culture capital as knowledge-heavy jobs like management consulting or lawyering. And underneath it all lies a silly assumption that hard-laborers can’t do the complex work of knowledge-workers because they’re not smart enough. How sad.
I can tell you, having performed both types of work, most mechanics and truckers employ the same highly-valued critical thinking skills that everyone else (supposedly) does. Take my little electrical problem as an example of the critical intellectual steps it takes to solve a mechanical issue: 1) I listened carefully to my father’s story about how the truck broke down; 2) I analyzed various components of the story to determine possible causes; 3) I identified the electrical components potentially involved; and, 4) I tracked the convoluted interwoven electrical wires until the issue was clearly diagnosed and fixed. Listen. Analyze. Identify. Diagnose. Fix. After just a little thought, it became obvious to me that good mechanics are master logicians of cause-and-effect relationships. While the rest of us are lucky to simply understand that concept at all, mechanics jump through the hoops of critical thought as a matter of everyday practice. And there’s something deeply horrifying about this.
Our culture claims to value critical thinking skills, but we know deep down that most people don’t actually operate at that intellectual level. The vast majority of our highly compensated knowledge workers are, in fact, barely above average in this respect. And this really is true based on some of my own corporate experiences. Rather unsurprisingly, the people who make the most money simply build strong relationships that skyrocket them to the top. Wouldn’t it be an interesting and probably more fair world if that wasn’t the case? But getting back to our sad reality, the folks who actually deploy the skills our culture supposedly values the most are the people it values the least, like mechanics and truckers.
I know that’s a big claim. And it’s not to say that our knowledge-workers are stupid. Of course, that’s not true. This is a complex issue I’m bring up, the matter of what kinds of jobs we should value the most, but there’s something significant to this line of thought that’s structurally, politically, economically, socially, and culturally problematic. In future posts, I’ll spend more time getting to the root of the problem. After all, cracking the code and explaining why our corporate world is quite literally the bane of our modern American experience is a very tricky business and filled with ambiguities and risks. But don’t worry, I’ll get there.
For now, be excited! The Preppy Trucker is about to get a new look and feel for 2018. I’ve upped my game and recruited some design help. We’ll be issuing a new site around New Years, and along with it I’ll be increasing my posting cadence to twice a week. Every week moving forward, I’ll issue one post that is quite broad and attune to general interests. I’ll even at some point ask you, my readers, to suggest topics you’d like to hear more about. And the other weekly post will be more strictly related to my trucking thesis. So stay in the cab with me, we’re just getting into gear!
Since I know you’ve all been curious, I thought it’d be fun to give you a quick break from the heavy stuff. What does TPT actually wear on an average day? Well, the trucking life calls for a diversified closet portfolio since your geographic locale and weather conditions change daily, and without adequate space to house a wardrobe it can be difficult to have the right things to wear when they’re needed most. Thus, it’s important to think practically when it comes to choosing trucker wear.
For most truckers, attire is simple. Either you wear a company uniform or you wear your favorite grubby ol’ t-shirt and jeans. Most companies that force their drivers to wear uniforms usually provide a range of items for varying weather conditions, but that range is often a small one and not of good quality. Still, that’s better than nothing, since drivers’ wages aren’t typically high enough to buy the proper raiment. For owner operators, though, who actually make a decent wage and have a bit more sartorial freedom, clothing choice can be more pragmatic, suitable, and condition-appropriate. They typically earn more, which means they can and should feel a bit more willing to splurge on the right clothes for the job.
Since I’m in the latter category, and an estimable preppy trucker no doubt, let’s take a brief look at what I’m wearing today as an example. It’s 3˚ Celsius near the Canadian border, an odd temperature to clothe for when in and out of a truck all day. Not quite freezing with virtually no wind to speak of yet still cold enough to feel the chill, it’s crucial to wear layers today that are easily removable, breathe well, and are generally light. Nothing heavy.
So, first layer. I’ll start with a simple black, slim-fit Calvin Klein undershirt for both comfort and fit. Then I’ll throw on a black pair of lightweight Eddie Bauer jeans for a sophisticated yet also hard-wearing touch of class. The all-black look unquestionably stylish and also befitting a superficially masculine culture, it complements my average height and athletic build while maintaining a relatively low public profile. In keeping with my monochromatic theme, I pop on a 100% cashmere J. Crew crewneck sweater, also in Stygian black, for a soft, warm, and breathable main layer. Add to that a black leather belt by Trafalgar and a fully water-repellant pair of Ecco GORE-TEX approved boots, I’ve now completed my first layer. Yes, of course I’m matching my boots to my belt.
But I’m not quite ready yet to tackle the elements. Barbour is one of my favorite brands. Making weather-proofed outerwear since the late 19th century, they offer some of the best wax jackets and quilted vests you can find. And today, it’s to the black side of my Barbour collection I go. First, over that super soft cashmere sweater, I layer on a black quilted vest with a velvet baseball collar and all the right pockets to accommodate my wallet, phone, and other accessories if I decide to remove the final layer, which is a car coat-length wax jacket with double vents, a tartan plaid lining, and a corduroy collar. This combination allows me to easily full zip, part button, or remove entirely any of three layers and adjust to varying weather conditions throughout the day. Plus, I’m literally waterproof from nearly head-to-toe. Not bad.
It’s also important to note that I have on-the-ready a packable Tumi umbrella in case of light rain, a pair of gloves to keep my hands warm if temperatures uncomfortably dip, and an Eddie Bauer beanie. You never know when conditions will change, so it’s best to be prepared. No dandy has ever been so practical! So as you can see, it’s definitely possible to be fashionable while out on the road (without spending a fortune), and one can be comfortable and weather-ready, too.
This concludes my surprise fashion exposé, but it may again randomly appear in the future when you least expect it, so keep your eyes peeled.