Over the Road — a new podcast that lifts the lid on the trucking industry

“Trucking gets in your blood. You hate it while you’re doing it, but you miss it when you’re not,” says Gerard, one of the truckers featured in Over the Road[1], a new eight-part collaboration from PRX’s Radiotopia and Overdrive magazine that looks at the workers who drive day and night hauling goods around the US. The series is hosted by Paul Marhoefer, aka “Long Haul Paul”, who has been driving trucks for 40 years, and who explains how truckers move 70 per cent of all US domestic freight in a £700bn industry.

Marhoefer’s voice has a mannered, “late-night radio host” vibe which takes some getting used to (when he’s away from the studio and meeting his cohorts, it takes on a more regular timbre), though he is a keen storyteller and he travels far and wide to collect the stories of those who live and work on the road. The series opens at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Kentucky — “a hobo convention of sorts” — which has more than 1,000 exhibitors. It’s where visiting drivers stock up on snowchains, heaters, odour eliminators and, the truckers’ snack of choice, beef jerky.

The industry, we learn, comes with its own factions and hierarchies connected to what individuals drive. There are refrigerated freight trucks (known as “reefers”); flatbed trucks carrying lumber and steel (“flatbedders”); and tanker trucks (“tanker yankers”). Flatbedders “don’t tend to associate with the reefer guys like me,” explains Marhoefer, cheerily.

Culture Call podcast

To mark International Women’s Day, in our latest episode[2] Laura Bates, Emma Dabiri and Emilie Pine discuss feminism today — from Harvey Weinstein to changing beauty standards to teens and social media

Over the Road is testament to podcasting’s indulgence of niche subjects and pursuits. Birdwatchers, trainspotters, Harry Potter nerds and even pen obsessives are well catered for within the medium, though such series work best when their creators tease out themes that chime with a wider audience. Thus, Marhoefer and his producers dig beyond the Smokey and the Bandit-style stereotype of cowboys with big rigs as they unearth the human stories behind the drivers.

The opening two episodes grapple with the effects of social and technological change on the industry. Female truckers used to be thin on the ground but that is now changing, with women increasingly embarking on second careers as truckers and making up the shortfall in new recruits. Less cheering are the electronic logging devices introduced by government that monitor working hours and, many claim, are curtailing the freedom of truckers to work the way they want.

If Marhoefer’s poetic aspirations sometimes get the better of him — recalling some exploding cargo after he was rear-ended, he observes, “What was once a perfectly picked watermelon was now prolapsing through its ruptured rind, down the crumpled exterior of what had once been the trailer’s stainless steel door and on to my trembling hand” — his love and dedication to the subject shines through. Over the Road isn’t without its flaws but it nonetheless shines a light on an industry that we never knew we cared about.

References

  1. ^ Over the Road (www.overtheroad.fm)
  2. ^ our latest episode (www.ft.com)

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