Going Home

Going Home

Copyright 2002, Traffic World Magazine

It's late at night and I am southbound on an Amtrak regional train, bouncing, shaking and swaying as the tracks give my kidneys a deep-tissue massage.

I sit in an overheated coach car as passengers disembark at Philadelphia. The platform empties of all but three passengers waiting on another track. After a long wait the high-speed Acela rolls in, lets passengers off and takes a few on, then waits another decent interval before it moves out again toward my destination, Washington, D.C. I should have run across the platform and jumped on the Acela.

Did you ever wonder why Amtrak's Acela trains are faster than the older trains? If this trip is representative, the Acela makes better time because they make the older trains sit in the Philadelphia station for 15 minutes, waiting for the Acela to catch up and pass on a parallel track.

The ride home ends an enjoyable evening with the Raritan Traffic Club in Edison, N.J. I got the invitation from Mary Newman, logistics manager of AVEBE America Inc. of Princeton, N.J., an importer of food starch. It is an evening of dinner, cocktails, conversation and joking with friends in the freight business.

I meet club President Carol Ann Merlo of Reilly Industries, Mindy Egan of C.H. Robinson Co., Charles McGinley of the Port of Baltimore, Bill Belasco of the Tucker Co., Kevin Murphy of the Port of Tacoma, Patrick Halpin of Penn Intermodal Leasing, Manuel Avino of G&A Warehouses, Catherine Durda of the Amsterdam Port Authority, Jeffrey Totten of Totten Transportation Services, Ron Davie of Lykes Lines and Dominic Jengo of National Freight Audit. I meet Sally M. Brain, Mary Newman's coworker, whose e-mail address is, really, brains@avebe.com. Try it.

We talk about how security concerns have changed the business. Cargo delays, security surcharges and soaring insurance rates are making a difficult job harder. It's changed personal lives too.

I mention a newspaper report about how Congressman John Dingell had to drop his pants to an airport security screener to prove that his knee brace, ankle pins and artificial hip were not a threat to safety. The airline said the screener was just following the new terror-inspired Federal Aviation Administration security procedures.

So I understand that. But why does John Dingell get a profusely apologetic phone call from Norman Mineta? If I had to drop my pants at Reagan National Airport, would I hear from the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation? I think not. I might hear from his communications director, Chet Lunner, but he'd be laughing. When Chet was the NASA reporter for Gannett News Service, he and I ran for the same seat on the National Press Club Board of Governors.

I won the election, mainly because I worked for a 50-person bureau in the same building that housed the press club and Chet worked across the river in Virginia. Now Chet is a top deputy to a member of President Bush's cabinet and I write about dropping my pants in Reagan National Airport.

Mary Newman and I talk about "Mary's Rules," published last fall in our sister magazine, JoC Week. It's her collected wisdom from 35 years in the business. My favorites? No. 2 says, "Don't put all your containers on one ship. It will be summoned to pick up downed aircraft."

And No. 5: "When errors take place at the onset of a shipment, it will continue to follow through with more and more errors. If and when it finally arrives, it will truly be a shipment from hell. Everyone in this business knows how true this is. If things start out bad, they'll only get worse."

I heard good news from William Cronin, manager of shipper sales for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. After months in temporary offices in Elizabeth, N.J., he and his coworkers are working in Manhattan again for the first time since the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. Welcome home.