Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.



Snow attack on the back yard.

It’s snowing here in lower Michigan. Nothing surprising about that, it is after all early February. They say we’ll get five or more inches and that it will snow all day.

Maybe all weekend.

With the weather forecast in mind I stopped at the grocery store on my way home last night. I and about a hundred of my best friends shopped mindlessly, wandering up and down the aisles not sure what I wanted, not sure what I had at home, just sure that I needed something.

Goldfinch scans his food options.

Pushing my shopping cart across the parking lot into the wind driven snow I noticed a woman in a car driving out of the lot. Something about the way she held her head, or her haircut, something about her made me think, for a moment, that it was Janet Yellen. Her last day as Chair of the Federal Reserve was just last week.

Sometimes things are just upside down.

Obviously, now that she had time, she needed to stock up before the snow arrived just like me. It didn’t occur to me that it was highly unlikely she’d be in my town in rural Michigan on a snowy Thursday night.

This much snow makes me want to drink too.

No, the reason I discounted the whole idea was that certainly Janet Yellen doesn’t shop for her own groceries.

Snow can be very isolating.

Or does she?

It’s warmer in a crowd.



All I want for Christmas – ELDs

Dad and his camper parked among commercial trucks ten years before he was killed.

My dad was killed by a tired commercial truck driver early on the morning of December 23, 2004. Dad was driving to the Atlanta airport to catch a flight north for Christmas. The driver of the semi, who didn’t see all the lanes of traffic stopped up ahead of him, had been driving all night in an attempt to get a shipment of electronics to an Atlanta retailer in time for Christmas sales.

Back in those days commercial drivers recorded the hours they drove in paper logs; safety advocates sometimes called these logs comic books because of the amount of made up information that got recorded. Truck drivers are paid by the mile, not by the hour, so it benefited them financially to drive further and faster, maybe even further and faster than was legal.

So after dad was killed, and I began to learn more about what happened, I began to work toward mandated electronic logging devices, ELDs. Last Monday, December 18, 2017, thirteen years after dad died, my wish came true. Trucks are now required to have electronic logging devices, and though some truckers are still opposed to what they consider is a infringement on their right to privacy, or their right to make a living, and though I’m sure there will be some unintended consequences, I’m happy.

As far as I’m concerned this was a very big, very important, Christmas present to the families of people killed and injured by tired truckers across the country. And, if they’re honest, perhaps it’s a gift to the drivers too, because it will be harder for an employer to push a driver past legal limits now that everything is monitored by ELDs.

ELDs might have happened without the Truck Safety Coalition and our volunteers pushing legislators for years. The American Trucking Association (ATA) which represents big truck companies wanted them too, so for once we were on the same side of an argument. But I have to think it was stories of regular people like us that helped tip the balance and get this technology mandated. So to all of you out there that have supported our work, for this gift of safety that begins this holiday season, I say thank you.

I think I’ll consider the ELD mandate as a personal Christmas present sent straight from dad.


Tidal wave

Tonight on my drive home from visiting Aunt Vi I heard Keith Urban’s song Female. The lyrics caught my attention and I turned up the volume.

When you hear somebody say somebody hits like a girl
How does that hit you?
Is that such a bad thing?
When you hear a song that they play saying you run the world
Do you believe it?
Will you live to see it?

When somebody laughs and implies that she asked for it
Just cause she was wearing a skirt
Now is that how it works?
When somebody talks about how it was Adam first
Does that make you second best?
Or did he save the best for last?

Click the link above for the complete lyrics, and short interviews by the song writers Shane McAnally, Ross Cooperman, and Nicolle Gaylon. Urban has a statement there too. The piece was written in response to the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault claims.

The claims against people continue daily. It seems at times like a tidal wave of voices clamoring to be heard and it can be overwhelming, almost desensitizing.

Some want it to stop.

I understand that. We seem to be trapped in a bad loop, the stories of abuse overlapping each other. And worse, sometimes it’s people we’ve held in high regard being accused of outrageous behavior.

It’s hard to watch.

But here’s the thing. Each of these voices deserves to be heard. And the volume, as huge as it seems to be, is only on a small percentage of the total outrageousness that has happened for years.

For years and years.

Some of us see these stories and think that the things that happened to us aren’t that bad, not life changing nor life threatening. It was just the way things were ‘back then.’ And we don’t join in the tidal wave because we feel that what happened to us wasn’t that significant.

But by staying silent we help keep the whole truth from being told. These incidents will continue to be under reported. The problem won’t seem as big as it really is. Maybe some people will think that it has resolved itself.

Clearly it has not.

I think back to my early days at work when four of us, newly out of college, were hired on the same day for the same position. We were all management trainees, assigned periods of time in different departments. When review time came around I found out that another trainee was given a bigger raises than me. I asked why. Turns out it was because he was a young man with a family. I was a single woman. I protested but got nowhere.

Later in my early career I was working in an appraisal department, I was supposed to be trained in the work of an appraiser. Everyone in that department was male. I spent the first several weeks sitting in the office answering the phone while the men went out and did appraisal work. I complained. A vice president came down to talk to the head appraiser. I could hear voices raised in the office behind me. “What am I supposed to do with her?” When the weather got bad they sent me out with a tape measure and a clipboard to measure houses while they counted the rooms and took pictures inside.

In another department the manager in charge told me he liked my blouse while staring at my chest. I mostly tried to avoid him, and when he abruptly left the company years later I was glad and not surprised. There was no talk about why he no longer worked for us but I could guess.

Decades later I was patted on the butt by a passing manager and when I complained to management was told I probably imagined it because he was a ‘nice guy.’ Yes he was a nice guy. But I didn’t imagine it.

None of these incidents were as bad as the events claimed by Harvy Weinstein’s accusers. Or Charlie Rose’s or Bill Cosby’s. But they were events that happened to me, and probably to other women that I knew.

The culture was such that you didn’t talk about these things. Because you weren’t believed, because you needed your job. Because the men were always in places of power. And because you weren’t.

So I hope the news doesn’t move on to the next big story. I hope more women feel powerful enough to talk about what happened to them. I hope more people realize that it’s been everywhere. And more importantly, that it still is everywhere.

More people, people with power, men or women, need to make it clear that behavior that many of us have experienced will not be tolerated. I hope that people who have in the past or are still suffering from various forms of abuse will feel supported and encouraged to say something.

I hope that eyes are being opened.

Meanwhile, many thanks to songwriters McAnally, Cooperman, Gaylon and artist Urbin for writing what many of us have been feeling.

I hope this truly is the beginning of change, that the world will be significantly different when the tidal wave recedes. But darn, change is hard.



Washington in review

It was unexpected and unplanned, but our trip to Washington DC was important. I meant to write on Tuesday evening, after we watched the morning confirmation hearing on the nominated Administrator to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). But after the hearing we spent the afternoon in meetings with ours and other Senators offices and by the time we limped back to the hotel I was too tired to write.

And I meant to write about our experiences on Wednesday evening, and on Thursday night after our appointments on the Hill but each evening turned into a night of note writing from the day’s work and preparation for the day ahead. No time to write about the experience for you.

And now here it is Sunday night and the passion I felt during the week is ebbing and though I’m not as tired as I was, I somehow feel reluctant to try to capture it all, to put it down, because I don’t think I can make you understand just what it all means.

But I’ll try.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is a part of the Department of Transportation (DOT). It issues and enforces regulations that rule the way trucks move across the country. They set the hours that can be driven, monitor safety issues like sleep and the mechanics of the vehicles, and handle many other things. They are very important to our work at the Truck Safety Coalition.

After almost a year of this Administration an Administrator for the FMCSA has finally been nominated. We at the TSC wanted to hear what he had to say, so we attended the confirmation hearing. Mr. Martinez said a lot of the right things. He comes from New Jersey, heading their Department of Motor Vehicles. He doesn’t know anything about trucks, but he seems to be committed to safety. So I’m willing to give him a chance to show us with actions.

After the hearing my husband and I, along with a staff member of TSC, met with the transportation staff at each of my Senators’ offices. We talked about things that have been left hanging at the DOT since the beginning of the year, other things in the works that have been repealed by the current Administration.

The rest of the week was spent in a similar fashion, going from meeting to meeting in either Senate or House offices, looking for support of our safety causes. We talked about the successful side underride crash tests. We are looking for support of legislation to make underride guards mandated. And we found people that are interested in the developments. It’s progress.

At each meeting I pull out the picture of my dad, Bill, and the picture of what his car looked like after his crash. I look into dad’s eyes and silently promise him that we won’t give up. We won’t give up even though I’ve been making these trips to Washington D.C. for thirteen years. Sometimes multiple times a year. In one of our last meetings of this week I told the staffer that my dad comes with me on every trip to D.C. The staffer looked confused but dad and I smiled at each other.

My husband and I ate dinner one evening in the lower level of Union Station, near the Capital. Tired, and standing just outside the diner sliding out of my dress shoes and into my running shoes, feet aching, I noticed some signs just above the counter where people were enjoying their dinner.

“Excellent food.” ” Bill eats here.”

Yes, why yes he did. Because he’s always with me when I’m in D.C. And everywhere else too. We made some progress during this past week. We talked to lots of people, even some that are usually on the other side of our arguments. There’s interest in saving lives on both sides of the aisle.

Stay tuned. I’ll keep you apprised of developments. There may come a time when I’ll need you to call your Representative and/or Senator and ask for their support on proposed legislation. Meanwhile we’ll keep fighting the fight, talking about safety and trucks and our roads to everyone that will listen.

Dad was always all about safety. He still is. I guess I am too.



Late to the table

“Doesn’t anyone cook anymore?” I asked my husband as we stood in a long restaurant line after 7 p.m. on a Monday evening. We were, actually, there because I didn’t want to cook. Apparently not a unique position.

“But you usually cook,” he replied and I felt better somehow.

Now I wonder if cooking could have more than just health benefits. If you stretch your imagination a bit, think outside the box, maybe cooking could help fix what ails our country.

From the garden.

Don’t discount me immediately. That’s one of the problems we all have right now; we make instant decision about what’s right and what’s wrong before we hear a person out.

I have lots of time to think as I’m chopping and dicing, stirring and folding, preparing food for dinner. Today I’m making the marinara sauce for tomorrow’s eggplant parmesan.

And I’m thinking as I’m chopping onion and garlic that the problems facing our country, and the world, are so huge, so unsolvable, so much bigger than me. That I really have nothing to say that could change anything.

And yet.

I’ reading the articles and listening to interviews that point out people who stay silent are in fact condoning the hate and violence we all witnessed via twenty-four hour news this past weekend. Incidents that we’ve seen on other days too, prior to this weekend, and what we will likely witness in the days ahead.

I know I’m late to the table, but I don’t condone those hateful, racist, violent actions. I’m quiet because I don’t know what I, an individual, someone who hates politics on a good day, can do? What difference can my voice make?

It’s clear to me that the talking heads on television and on the radio aren’t going to fix the problem. The panels of people they bring in to ‘discuss’ the issues are entrenched in their own opinions, are spewing out the party line, give nonsensical answers to hard questions. Nothing is going to get resolved by watching their arguments.

And no one watching is going to change the minds they have already made up.

As I continue to chop and stir I contemplate the hateful events of the weekend, the political responses. The lack of response from me. And I realize that the only thing to change a person’s mind is talking, really talking, to another person.

And what better place to talk than over the slow preparation of a healthy meal?

One person listening to another person without forming judgement. And then having a chance to quietly, with logic and care express an opposing opinion. And continuing that discussion over the meal thoughtfully put together.

Getting to know someone who is different than yourself takes time and work and sometimes the overcoming of fear. But that’s the only way to make change in the world; getting to know people who are different than we are.

Chopping and thinking.

Oh I know the hate filled members of many white supremacist groups aren’t likely to have a calm discussion with anyone. They’re looking to escalate the hate. But there are plenty of people sitting on a fence about many of these issues, people that maybe voted in a different way than you or I might have. People who might feel strongly but may also feel a little doubt creeping in.

There are people from different religions with different ideas, people from different cultures, or just different upbringings who have ideas that deserve to be shared. Everyone has a story, and each story adds to the strength and value of all of us if we only listen.

There is actually much a quiet person like me can do.

So as I put the eggplant dish together I think I’ll push myself outside my comfort zone. I’ll try to stand up for that person getting bullied, voice another opinion when I think it needs to be heard, invite someone I don’t know to engage in thoughtful debate. I’ll stop reacting to Facebook politics, for either side, because that’s too easy, too anonymous and only reinforces opinions deeply held on polar opposite sides of any issue.

Lots of different flavors all stirred together in one pot.

And while I’m trying to understand the other side of some argument, maybe I can put together a simple meal and sit down and talk about it . Without rancor, without despair, without judgement.

Maybe a discussion held over a healthy meal won’t change anyone’s mind. But maybe it will. And at worst I’ll get a good meal, one I don’t have to stand in line for on a hot summer Monday night.

Maybe what our world needs is a food revolution of a different kind.

Summer hope.



Safety and Sideguards

James Mooney never saw the semi truck backing across the country road in front of him that dark September night in 1983. He hit the side of the trailer and slid under it and out the other side, dying instantly. His daughter, Jennifer Tierney, has worked tirelessly on safety issues in the trucking industry ever since.

Thirty-four years and counting.

Over the years Jennifer has worked on many issues, hours of service, minimum insurance, electronic logging devices, and more. None of these were directly related to her father’s death, but they were the issues that had a chance of getting implemented. So she worked, along with many other volunteers, for the benefit of us all.

And now she has the chance to see progress on the issue most dear to her heart – side guards for semi trucks.

For years she and other Truck Safety Coalition volunteers have been asking for them, for years we’ve been met with blank stares and promises to ‘look into it’ by agencies and Congressional staff alike. But each time we brought it up we introduced the idea and over the years there began to be some interest.

Meanwhile every year more people have died or been injured in similar crashes.

It’s a hard way to effect change, working through the halls of Washington. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to make your point, and unfortunately that happened earlier this month. Four men, in two cars, slid under a jackknifed semi on a dark road this past July 5th. All four died at the scene.

The crash caught the attention of New York Senator Chuck Schumer. We were in his office just days before talking about these very issues. He has now come out and voiced what we’ve been saying for years, that trucks need side, rear, and possibly front guards. That regardless of whose fault the crash is, side guards can save lives, might have save these four men’s lives.

Our hearts go out to the families of these most recent victims. We want them to know we won’t forget their family members, that we will continue the fight to improve safety. We do it in their honor, and in honor of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who have died or been injured in underride crashes.

Thank you Senator Schumer for supporting our position. Now please help us move our bill requiring guards forward through Congress. We know it’s an uphill fight but we aren’t going to stop pushing.

All those lost and injured family members demand it of us.



Wordless Wednesday



Why I go to Washington

I’m packing my bag, getting ready to go to Washington DC for the Sorrow to Strength conference. I’ll be with other families who have lost loved ones to preventable truck crashes and some people who have survived such crashes themselves. It’s five days that we look forward to and dread all at the same time.

It hurts.

Still, if you ask any individual attending, they will tell you straight away that the reason they work to make our roads safer is because they don’t want another family going through the pain and grief they’ve been through. They don’t want another family suffering because of something that is so preventable.

Tonight I’m listening to the 10:00 p.m. news as I zip the suitcase shut. The television is on just for background noise, I’m not paying much attention, more interested in making sure I don’t forget to take something important.

And then I hear the words ‘semi’ and ‘fatal’ and ‘construction zone.’

And I reel around and stand still as the story unfolds. You can read about it here.

There is construction on a stretch of freeway that I travel regularly. Today cars were slowed to merge into the construction zone. A semi lost control and rear ended the cars ahead. Two men are dead. A woman was airlifted in critical condition to a hospital. Doubtless there are other injuries, certainly other people who were terrified.

It’s early yet, and we don’t know the entire story. But regardless of the details the truth is that tonight there are new families facing a long journey through loss and injury. Their worlds have just imploded. A semi running into the back of cars slowing for construction is the definition of a preventable crash. I hope that we can connect with these families when they are ready. Meanwhile, I’ll travel to DC and try to be heard.

Because this is why I go to Washington.



Storms brewing ahead

Today I took the dog for a walk at a local park. The clouds were heavy, dark, and hanging low over the fields and ponds. I felt melancholy and I wondered why.

And then I remembered.

The time is coming for me to attend another Sorrow to Strength Conference in Washington DC. The Truck Safety Coalition hosts the conference every two years; I’ve been to six of them since dad was killed by a sleepy semi driver in 2004.

The conference is a time for families to join others, all of whom have been damaged by preventable truck crashes, to share their stories, gain support, and learn about truck safety issues. Some families are struggling with permanent injuries, others are grieving the loss of loved ones. And some are trying to deal with both injury and loss.

It’s almost too much to fathom, all those people in one room.

But it’s a good thing too, because you won’t meet a better group of people to support a family in the throes of grief. These are people that know how it feels to get that call or to sit next to a hospital bed knowing that life will never be the same, but hoping for at least a semblance of normalcy sometime in the future.

It’s a difficult conference to attend, but it’s called Sorrow to Strength for a reason. We begin filled with sorrow, and leave, after several days, stronger for having been together. We’ll be talking to Congressional members, agency employees, and the media about truck safety issues. The current political environment in DC is not particularly conducive to regulation these days. But we aren’t giving up finding compromises that make our roads safer for everyone.

Everyone has trepidation as they head to DC for this conference. Attending dredges up all the old memories and emotions. Even after almost thirteen years I still get anxious thinking about the crash, anticipating the questions, planning for the meetings.

But then I think about dad. And so many others that I’ve come to know over the years. There will be new families attending this year, there always are. They are stark reminders that every year, every month, every day that goes by without solutions more people are being injured and killed. This is no time to let politics get in our way.

Wish us luck.



“Democracy isn’t a spectator sport.”

I’ve had a good winter off, playing on the beach, watching light move across water, sleeping in, napping mid-afternoon. But it’s time to get back to work.

Work!??? You’re right; I’m retired. So what work am I talking about?

There are many of you new here at Change is Hard. You probably haven’t heard me talk about trucks and safety and my family’s story. You probably think my life is all about photography and travel and a special little dog. And sometimes it is.

“You can turn grief into action.”

But sometimes it’s about grief and loss and preventable crashes. And honoring the memory of my dad who was killed in December of 2004 by a tired semi driver who fell asleep at the wheel while going 65 miles per hour on a freeway in the early morning hours. A driver who failed to see the lights of emergency vehicles up ahead, the people working to clear a minor crash that had occurred earlier. A driver that didn’t notice the traffic stopped in front of him. Didn’t see my dad in his little red car until it was too late.

My dad was a guy who lived by safe rules. He had retired ten years earlier from a career managing chemical plants, inherently dangerous places. He made us all wear our life jackets in the boat when we were kids. He drove with us around and around the neighborhood when he taught us how to drive a stick shift car, until he was satisfied we could operate it safely. He helped my sister build her house in Tennessee, complete with extra roof brackets to hold the roof down in a tornado. Just in case. He carried an emergency contact list in his wallet, listing the four kids and spouses with work and home phone numbers. That’s how they knew where to find us after the crash.

“Hope in the face of difficulty.”

So after we got through the initial days filled with disbelief and unbearable grief, when we were moving into sad confusion buffeted by unrelenting grief, we began to ask questions. How did the driver not see all that traffic ahead? Not see all the emergency lights? The road was straight. The sight lines clear. We searched the internet looking for anything about truck crashes.

And we found the Truck Safety Coalition.

It’s an organization made up of the families of people who have been killed or injured in preventable truck crashes. It provides support to families and it works to change the way things are done in the trucking industry. Sometimes that means working to change regulations and laws. Sometimes that means working to change perceptions among people that drive trucks. Sometimes it’s about educating people that drive cars. Sometimes it means meeting with legislators and staff, or truck company executives, or members of other safety groups. Always it means honoring the memories of those we’ve lost, honoring the lives that have been changed forever of those who were injured.

It means trying to save lives

Every other year the families meet in Washington DC for a few days. We tell our stories, we sadly welcome the new families — those whose losses are recent, we talk about issues, resolutions, how to make a difference. And we go to the Hill and talk to everyone we can. Legislators, Regulators, the Press. Everyone. Sometimes they call us the ‘crazy truck people.’ That’s OK with us. Whatever gives attention to our issues.

“Even when you’re 100% right getting things done requires compromise.”

The conference is coming up next month. I can feel the tension escalating among my Truck Safety “family” already. Facebook is abuzz with truck issues. People are becoming stressed. Or depressed. Or hopeful. Or everything all rolled into one. Attending the conference brings it all back again for us. Yet it’s hard to stay away. “It’s like attending the funeral all over again.” says one mother who has been fighting for truck safety for more than twenty-five years.

The title of this post, and the quotes interspersed throughout, are from former President Obama’s July 2016 speech. I wrote a few things he said down on a random piece of paper way back then and that paper has found it’s way back to me this week. As I gear up for a difficult few days in Washington I thought they were appropriate. Hopeful. Democrat, Republican or Independent, the world would be a better place if we could learn to compromise. I’m hoping we find a bit of that during our conference this year.

It’s probably the most I can expect.