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American Ingenuity is Not Dead - a Bindery and Shipping Rant

Posted by Andre Palko on Fri, Feb 15, 2013

Most of us involved in bindery and post-press work get the ‘privilege’ of working with trucking companies. It’s often a task delegated to the new guy.

I quickly learned why the new guy gets this dirty job in my first months in bindery and shipping with a NYC printing company. We had a critical truckload shipment scheduled for mid-afternoon pickup. I had the driver on the phone claiming he was on the Cross Island Parkway, didn’t have a local map and needed directions.  The young, naïve me replies helpfully, “No problem!”

trucking and printingHindsight-me knows this is bad news for two reasons. First, no commercial vehicles of any size are allowed on any parkways in the NYC area. Ever. The overpasses are about a foot lower than the top of most commercial vehicles. Second, what kind of driver doesn’t carry maps? He drives for a living. (This was the pre-GPS age.) Experience taught me that such a driver will call 5 or 6 more times to ask directions and will be hours late, if he makes it at all.

On to Phone call #2 an hour later. “I got a $#@! ticket for ridin’ on a parkway. I hate New York. I told ‘em not to send me and I have half a mind to go home. Cops harassed me for hittin’ that bridge, too. What do they expect…I ain’t slept in three days!”

The young me panicked. If this guy went home my boss would blame it on me for not forcing him to show up. And so I coaxed in to coming those last few short miles.

Hindsight-me sees a driver high on something who is going to keep me until midnight and who probably won’t make it to his destination. Call dispatch and insist on a new driver.

I’ll never forget how this fellow looked when he showed up several hours late, blood red eyes shooting daggers at me and spouting profanity about yanks, cops and New York, “You tell me, how the hell am I supposed to back my truck up to yer damn loadin’ dock?” We were located in an industrial building, on a city street, in the middle of New York. Not much room to maneuver, but what did he expect?

But I patiently took him back down to the loading dock and coached him for 45 minutes into the loading dock. Pure torture, but we’re not done yet. He opens the doors to the trailer and inside you can see the streetlight streaming in through the 15 foot gash in his roof. The parkway bridge had peeled back his roof like a giant can opener.

At this point I’m thirteen hours in to my day and despite my eagerness to please, I was done with this guy. Let’s get the twenty pallets on this truck and get this menace to humanity far, far away. I don’t care. The trucking company has insurance. He assures me they will switch trailers. We bid him glad farewell.

While most of my experience with truckers has not been so extreme, it’s nearly always been just as frustrating. They show up hours early…or hours late, or not at all. Sometimes they actually come on time. A dispatcher’s favorite tactic is to keep promising they’ll show up until you have no choice but to go home and let them pick up the next day.

Mind you, I’ve met many hard-working, exceptional drivers. But they were at the mercy of dispatchers who didn’t care much about customer service. Every time we schedule a pickup I can count on being dissatisfied, lied to and frustrated. Even after more than 30 years of trying different vendors, the attitudes all seem to be the same. The trucking industry needs an overhaul.

Yet I did get a glimmer of hope this week. Our trade show shipment to Graphics of the Americas was scheduled about 4 weeks in advance of the pickup date. Since we have no loading dock we requested a lift gate and pallet jack with a pickup time of 12-4 p.m. Instead of dealing direct with the truckers I also began using a trade show freight specialist to avoid the aggravation. Let them make and receive the phone calls. Hah!

The specialist reassures me there will be NO problems. Piece of cake. It sounded good on paper, anyway. On pickup day we get a call at 5 p.m. from the driver (already we’re involved directly, already he’s a no-show) who says he can be there soon if someone can wait. A glance at a map shows he is 2-3 hours away in rush hour traffic. The dispatcher calls and is annoyed with us for saying “No” even though it is their botched job but he will try to get a truck to us tomorrow. My specialist assures me “no problem.”

The next morning I just happened to be at our warehouse as a truck pulls up 3 hours early, minus a lift gate. The apologetic driver calls the Evil Dispatcher who makes the driver check her paper work, as if to prove that we are lying about our lift gate request. Of course it’s there in big, bold, black and white letters. Evil Dispatcher is aggressive and annoyed with us.

Two hours later a lift gate truck shows up…with no pallet jack. Evil Dispatcher wants to talk to someone in authority, thinking he can force us to locate a forklift or pallet jack nearby. It’s probably a tactic that works for him most of the time, but we’re not in an industrial park and we have no neighbors who can help us. I tell him so and he tells me he can’t help us. I reply, “So be it. I’ll call my specialist and have him find someone who is not incompetent. Goodbye.”

I make my phone call and explain the situation. Mr. Specialist assures me he will still get the shipment there, no problem. A short time later I get a phone call from my staff at the warehouse, “The shipment has been picked up!”

The driver took it upon himself to solve the problem instead of passing the buck. He drove to the local Home Depot and asked to borrow a pallet jack. They agreed and held his driver’s license hostage. He came back, loaded our shipment, returned the jack and went on to his next pickup.

This is the kind of old-fashioned American ingenuity I love. Maybe I’m spoiled because I see it all the time in print shops and binderies everywhere. It comes with our territory. As I mentioned in last weeks blog article, we have to be good problem solvers or we’ll be out of a job.

I can only hope this driver works his way to the top of his company. His operation would be number one in no time at all. I suspect the reality is that he too will tire of the frustration of dealing with layers of bureaucratic incompetency and will move on to something else.

So if you stop to visit us at Booth 1234 and we have nothing but a couple of chairs in our space, you can guess what happened. Have a trucking story to share? Feel free to join the rant below!



Tags: Bindery Business Tips, printing business