Thursday, August 30, 2007

Keep It Simple, Keep It Close

By Alan Burkhart

We've all seen how the Internet and other forms of networking can make the world a smaller place. With e-mail, we can share images and other files with friends and family all across the globe in a matter of seconds. Internet-based video conferencing makes it possible for folks thousands of miles apart to see and hear each other in real time, and to do it affordably. The wonders of technology have enriched the lives of millions of people. Leave it to me to be on the short end of the stick not once, but twice in a twenty-four hour period.

Yesterday I was at the Pilot Travel Center in Ft. Worth, TX. My master plan was to have a nice easy evening and reload the following morning. Like many of the modern "travel centers" around the country, Pilot provides WiFi Internet access for its customers. Before buying 24 hours worth of time from Pilot's service provider, I logged into the service to check the signal and connectivity. Strong signal, excellent speed. I spent $6.95 via my Visa and logged on to the WWW.

Thirty minutes later I still had a strong signal, but nothing would load. I called the customer service line and inquired as to what the problem might be. The customer service professional informed me that there was a thunderstorm in Atlanta, GA.

While I wouldn't wish bad weather on anyone, I told the guy that I failed to see how a thunder-banger 800 miles away in Atlanta could keep me from accessing the Internet in Fort Worth. He replied that the main satellite for the entire network was in Atlanta, and that if it went down, everything went down. He did at least give me a day's credit so I can log on again sometime... after I check the weather in North Georgia.

Today I had a 12 Noon appointment in Dallas at a Dr. Pepper warehouse to pick up a load headed to Aspers, PA. I arrived about 10:30 and the shipping clerk immediately gave me a dock and said they'd load me early. Feeling a torrent of those positive waves rolling over me, I hit dock #84 and waited patiently for first "bump" when the forklift enters the trailer. And waited... and waited... and waited...

At 1:30 PM, an hour and a half past my appointment, I inquired as to what was causing the delay. The shipping clerk, who wasn't nearly as cheery this time, told me they were having "paperwork problems."

Long story made short, I finally got loaded about 4:30 PM - just in time to catch the Dallas evening rush hour traffic. It seems that when the shipping clerk tried to print the bill of lading, the computer informed him that a "credit hold" had been placed on the receiver in Pennsylvania. This wouldn't be so unusual, except for the fact that the load was bound for the southern PA distribution center of Cadbury Schweppes - the company that owns Dr. Pepper. How does one tell his boss that his credit sucks?

According to the freight broker who graced me with the load, Dallas called the regional office in Plano, TX to see about finding the "glitch" that caused the problem. Plano couldn't fix it, so they called the US headquarters for Cadbury Schweppes which according to the freight broker is somewhere in New Jersey. They were clueless as well, which shouldn't surprise anyone. If they had a clue, they wouldn't live in New Jersey.

Finally, someone in Dallas, Plano or New Jersey called Cadbury Schweppes' main office. Yep, we had to go all the way to the United Kingdom to solve a paperwork glitch in Dallas, TX. What the hell, at least I got loaded.

I wonder if anyone else has considered the possibility that globalizing everything from soft drinks to chewing gum (Cadbury Schweppes owns Dentyne, too) is a bad idea? Or maybe that depending upon something too far away to be influenced locally could lead to local problems? Is it a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket when that basket is so damnably far away?

My latest invention: The Toast-o-meterAnother truck stop chain I frequent has begun (mis)managing its restaurants across the country from their home office in Salt Lake City, UT. The result? The restaurants are constantly running out of various menu items. Just try operating a restaurant at breakfast time when there's no bread for making toast. I've encountered this twice in the last few weeks because I love their omelets. The servers spent as much time apologizing as taking orders. Truckers tend to be cranky when we don’t get our breakfast (I am of course an exception - I’m always cheerful and patient). One restaurant manager actually went to Wal-Mart and bought bread out of his own pocket to properly serve his customers.

And how many times have you called customer support for help with an American product and ended up talking to someone in Outer Mongolia? Wouldn't it be nice to speak with someone you can actually understand, instead of someone whose name requires a tanker load of phlegm to pronounce? US companies should employ US citizens in US cities to speak with other US citizens. Period.

Yes, you can call me an arrogant American. I'll just stand here and wave my flag.

Bottom line: In the rush to cut costs, companies are frustrating customers. Local managers should be able to actually manage their facilities, and that includes managing the local inventory. This nation's economy was founded upon successful small businesses. Locally owned. Locally operated. Faceless corporations, obsessed with micromanaging every aspect of every local facility, are forgetting the most basic and essential tool for success: Good service to the customer.

See ya on the road. - Alan :-)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


By Alan Burkhart

OK folks... here's your pictorial tutorial on how NOT to drive:
(Click an image to see a larger version)

This little mishap occurred in Birmingham, AL at the northern junction of I-59 and I-459 (the Birmingham bypass). What puzzles me here is that there's no way the guy overturned due to swinging around the ramp too fast. If he had, he'd have flipped to the left instead of the right. I never found out what caused the crash. Whatever caused it, the result was a trailer load of new fire hydrants spilled on the end of the ramp.

This incident occurred on I-20 near Longview, TX. How? Damifno. It blocked the westbound side of I-20 for about an hour.

This happened today (Aug. 21 '07) on I-10 in Louisiana. Judging from the skid marks, this driver must've dodged one potential accident and ended up in another. It's jack-knifed as tight as any I've seen.

This little car met its demise on I-81 in Tennessee. Probably an electrical fire. Years ago I drove a tow truck, and I can vouch for the fact that nothing stinks like a burnt car. Don't know if the fire department got it extinguished before the gas tank blew.

Lastly, I shot this in an Alabama paper mill. The truck on the ramp hauls wood chips which are used to make the paper. The back of the "chip trailer" is opened before the trucker drives onto the ramp. The driver exits the vehicle, the truck and trailer are secured to the ramp, and then a massively powerful hydraulic lift raises the ramp to dump the contents of the trailer.