Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Three cities in one week has to be a record

We’ve been away – yes again. In the space of one week we were busy in Baltimore, MD, Washington DC, and St. Louis, MO. Not long enough at any of them, but all together too long to be away so soon after getting home from our Canadian adventure.

Katie says no more trips until she gets to do something fun.

Winging our way to Baltimore on Southwest very early Monday morning.

I didn’t take my laptop or my camera, and most of the time that was fine. We were too busy to do much in the evenings anyway, except collapse and try to rest up for the next day. But there were probably five or ten or a thousand times during the week that I wished I had my big camera with me.

Oh well, the photos in this blog were all taken with my phone which does an OK job, and in some situations even a better job, than the big camera would have.

Baltimore street in evening light.

So let me catch you up on our travels!

We flew last Monday into Baltimore where we stayed with a friend who, along with a journalist, has written a book about the horrendous experience of losing his wife in a truck crash. His two sons, also with her in the car, were injured, one of them permanently.

A little corner of the library caught my eye.

The book release was last Tuesday and we attended the author event at a huge, beautiful public library in downtown Baltimore. It was fun and we enjoyed supporting our truck safety family member Ed as he spreads the word about unsafe trucks and the extraordinary costs regular families pay so that goods can get to all of us faster and cheaper. And why that has to change.

The next morning we took a train from Baltimore to Washington DC, were we spent the next three days in meetings, educating our lawmakers about four bills we’re supporting.

The DC public transportation system is amazing. Locals there don’t appreciate it as much as those of us who only visit.

It’s a different sort of feeling being proactive rather than reactive. For once we’re asking for support on safety related bills instead of protesting unsafe trucking provisions attached to pending legislation.

One evening we spent the golden hours up near the Capital…

The sun sets on another day of work trying to make our roads safer for everyone.

…and noticed the sun shining off of the Supreme Court building. They were letting people climb the court’s steps, not something that’s always allowed. So of course we ventured up too.

Sitting on the steps of justice.

And just as we were moving on, heading to the train station for our trip back to our hotel, the sun made the building glow.

Like a painting.

Evening back at the hotel was nice too. Our view of the Rosslyn area was stunning, though I was usually too tired to appreciate it.

The phone camera does night shots really well.

Another evening we went to see a baseball game.

Going to the game.

It’s the end of the season, and the local Washington Nationals have already clinched their playoff spot. But the crowd was still excited to be there.

Getting the fans excited.

And as the sun set and the sky went dark the game began. It was perfect out at the ball park, balmy weather, a bit of a breeze…

Play ball!

…and the Nationals won!

It was a good game, lots of scoring, lots of organ music and lots of people watching.

After the game we dawdled on our way back to the hotel, waiting for the crowds on the Metro to thin out. We sat by a fountain at the DOT and watched the water change colors and height.

Blue and pink and green and red lights made this a fun fountain to watch.

Lots of people stood among the trailing water. I just took pictures. No sense heading back to the hotel with wet shoes. Or worse.

Soon our time in DC ended. Saturday morning we headed back to the airport to fly to St. Louis.

Southwest flies out of an older, sort of retro part of National airport. This is the center post and I thought it was cool.

Why St. Louise you ask? Well, this has gotten long enough so I guess you’ll have to wait and see. Plus we pick up you know who tomorrow morning so I need to get my sleep tonight. She’s going to be in a fine fit and I’ll be occupied for some time trying to placate the princess.

You never know how that will go. Well. I guess you do know how that will go, and if you don’t I’m sure she’ll tell you.

Stay tuned.

Oh, she’s going to make us pay for having fun without her. Guaranteed.


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Truck safety earworms

The term earworm generally refers to a bit of music that’s trapped in your head, playing over and over inside your brain long after you heard the actual song. And that’s just what happened inside my brain today as I worked to weed my impossibly overgrown gardens.

With Congresswoman Norton

I keep hearing a mother’s voice as she described her young daughter’s journal, filled with life lessons, found two days after her twelve year old was killed in a school bus that was struck by a semi driven by a distracted driver. I hear another mother’s anguish as she described the crash that killed her seven year old sitting in the back seat of her stopped car when a semi slammed into the back of them. And the voices of the young adult children whose parents were killed when the semi hit them head on, going the wrong way down a mountain road. I hear the tremor in a survivor’s voice as she describes being pushed off a bridge by a semi. I hear the anguish in a husband’s voice as he talks about his wife and stepchildren gone in an instant.

Day 1 on the Hill, visiting my Representative.

I spent five days in Washington D.C. with these and many other families at the Truck Safety Coalition’s biannual conference we call Sorrow to Strength. It’s something of an emergence into grief, but it’s also a place to witness the rebuilding strength that comes from being together with others who have had similar experiences.

Before the press conference.

We spent Saturday getting to know each other, to offer comfort and hugs and empathetic tears. We laughed together too, over the silly things we miss about our loved ones lost to truck crashes, about the things we used to do but can’t any longer if we are injured survivors.

Representative Garcia, from Illinois, introduced the new bill to increase minimum insurance.

Sunday we buckled down and learned about the issues, many of which were contributing factors in our own crashes. This year we have four bills in Congress that we support, all focused on making the roads safer for everyone, truck drivers included.

Then, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we went to work, walking Capitol Hill and visiting offices of Senators and Representatives to educate, as well as transportation agencies to discuss the lack of rule making progress.

Things in Washington move with great deliberation.

It was hot, with temperatures in the 90s and a heat index well above that.

It was especially hot during a press conference we held on the Capitol grounds at noon on Tuesday. We were lucky to have three Congressmen introducing two new truck safety bills, and we were glad to support them by standing behind the podium holding pictures of our lost loved ones.

Kate talks about the multiple surgeries, costing millions, that her son needed after his crash.

But man, it was hot.

Regardless, our families were troopers and made it to all their assigned meetings, sometimes wringing wet, sometimes red faced, but there. People who never spoke in public before spoke to strangers in Congressional offices and spoke up at DOT meetings even while facing a row of men in suits.

And they did it all because of love.

Day 2, with one of my Senators who has cosponsored one of our bills.

Their love for those lost is bigger than any fear of the unknown. Bigger then the fear of being uncomfortable or sweaty or lost in the long marble halls of a Senate office building. Their love carried them through the telling of their stories over and over, reliving it each time, each time adding one more scar on top of the thousands of scars already lacerating their hearts.

A crash survivor being interviewed after the press conference.

And at the end of our time together there were more tears and hugs as we said goodbye to our Truck Safety Family, knowing that we’re never truly alone, even on our worst days, because these people have our hearts and our backs. Most of us will stay in touch through email and social media. And though we wish we didn’t have to, we’re ready to do it all again when D.C. calls.

Some of my Truck Safety family, ready to generate some change.

Love conquers all and our loved ones deserve to be remembered, not just for the way they died, or were injured, but for the way they lived. And that’s why I don’t mind the earworms dancing in my brain today.

We made time for ice cream.

It’s just another way of remembering them all.

Change is hard.


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Truck Safety – the details

It’s a very busy place, Washington DC.


It all started when my dad was killed by a tired semi-truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel and didn’t see the traffic stopped ahead of him early in the morning of December 23, 2004.

Since them members of my family have been traveling to Washington DC regularly to tell our story and lobby for safety on our nation’s roads. This past week my husband and I were there again, talking to the staff of House Representatives and Senators, as well as people at the DOT, about the bigger, heavier, longer trucks that are once again being proposed by some in the trucking industry.

Riding the metro to the Hill on a beautiful day.

Back in 2015 double 33 foot trailers were proposed by the trucking industry, they say because of a driver shortage. What they didn’t say is that adding 5 feet on each of two trailers, hauled in tandem, made the entire truck 83 feet, 8 inches long. That’s similar to an 8 story building. Try passing that on a busy freeway.

We worked long hours and got back to the hotel after dark most nights.

They also don’t tell you that it will take longer to stop, that the back trailer doesn’t track correctly going around corners and that they’re harder to drive, requiring a special endorsement on a driver’s commercial license.

In one of the lady’s rooms, mid century modern makeup chairs.

There’s already a shortage of drivers, finding experienced drivers to haul double 33 foot trailers isn’t going to be easy.

Mountain sculpture in the Hart Senate Building lobby.

Aside from the safety issues, many companies ship their goods ‘intermodal’ meaning they move over land on rails as well as highways, and across the ocean on ships. The 33 foot trailers won’t fit on rail cars as they are configured now, and container ships may have to change the way the trailers are stacked as well. Some people fear that smaller transport companies will be forced out of business as shippers and brokers move to the more competitive larger trailers to ship their goods, regardless of the level of safety attributed to these trailers.

Waiting for a shuttle I thought the metro lines above were interesting.

There’s an appropriations bill in the House of Representatives right now. It’s the kind of bill that ‘must pass’ because it funds most of the Federally mandated programs across the country. Some members of Congress have added amendments to the bill that we consider anti truck safety. Allowing for a study of the double 33 foot trailers is one of these amendments.

It wasn’t all work. We ate dinner down on the wharf near an old torpedo factory that has been turned into an artist loft.

You might think that we shouldn’t be afraid of studying something, and normally I’d agree. But there isn’t much data out there on double 33s, they are running on some roads of certain states, but not many. We’re concerned that the trucking industry will fund studies of their own, and of course those will be favorable.

Right now the amendment is still in the appropriations bill. An amendment offered by another Representative to strip it from the bill failed by a few votes. So we have work to do.

We walked up and down a lot of stairs.

And this is just one issue. There are so many more that I want to tell you about. We worked all week on the Hill, talking about speed limiters, hours of service, underride crashes and the bill sitting in Congress right now, Stop Underride, that needs to move out of committee.

One afternoon we even got to take some time off and visit the national zoo!

We walked between appointments, from the House side to the Senate side of the Hill and back again, in the hot, humid air of summer in DC. It was hard. But getting the call about Dad was harder and I reminded myself how important this all is.

And yes we got lucky and saw the famous pandas.

I know truck safety is not everyone’s thing. And I know some of you will have differing opinions on how to solve the problem of truck crashes on our highways. I have so much more to tell you, and to show you, about our trip to DC last week. But this is already too long, too boring, and just a little stressful.

We had one peaceful evening on the Mall.

So I put a few photos in for relief — just in case you’d rather just look at cool stuff. I’m OK with that too.

Studying before an appointment.

I’ll tell you more about our work in another post. Stay tuned.

The flight home was thankfully incident free.


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Retirement interruption

I interrupt this retirement to go back to work in DC, trying to be a catalysis for change, trying to get people with power to stop and listen, to open their minds to the possibility of doing something a different way.

To open their minds to the fact that they have the power to save lives.

It’s no easy task.

It’s only Wednesday and I’m already exhausted.

Stay tuned.


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Safety first

Safety is no accident!

Those of us working for truck safety appreciated all your support and kind words as we worked together to increase the safety on our roads. It’s been a tough few days for us as we gathered with determination to make a difference, many still raw from recent loss.

But it was amazing too.

I saw people with grief fresh on Saturday, sobbing through the initial telling of their stories, grow to tell those same stories calmly and firmly at the press conference on Tuesday. Friendships were forged that will last forever. People know they are not alone and progress is being made

Working the halls of Congress.

One of the most exciting things I saw during the conference was a short video clip of a side underride guard being tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In the first clip a mid-sized car was sent into the side of a semi trailer at 35 miles per hour, the standard speed the IIHS uses in test crashes. Without a side guard the car slides right under the trailer, the car’s safety features useless because the front of the vehicle doesn’t collide with anything. Air bags don’t deploy, the test dummy heads strike the side of the trailer. Death is probable.

In the second clip a side guard has been attached to a semi trailer, and the car sent speeding toward the trailer. The front of the vehicle crashes into the side guard, crumpling as it is designed to do. The passenger compartment is protected, in fact after the crash the driver door still opens and the occupants would have been minimally injured.

The passenger would survive!

Success!

Side and rear underride is a major safety issue, and one that The Truck Safety Coalition is focusing on this year. For many of our families it’s proof that finally someone is listening. So many of their loved ones died by sliding under a truck and finally we are making progress to stop that from happening in the future. The guard we saw is affordable, relatively light, and easy to install. And future iterations will be even lighter and more affordable. We believe that soon you’ll see them on the trucks driving near you on our nation’s roads.

I’m proud to be a part of this year’s Sorrow to Strength conference, proud to walk the halls of Congress, meet Members, talk to staff, support safety. Regardless of the political climate there is good work that will be done, good people to work with, good ideas that will be supported.

It wasn’t easy. My feet are tired and so is my head but my heart remains strong and my vision is clear. The roads are safer because of people like us, groups with no agenda other than safety. It takes work. But we’ll work on it forever.

Because safety is no accident.

Spreading the news.


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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.


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WordPress Photo Challenge: Frame

Hart Senate Office Building windows  framed by an art installation in the lobby.

Hart Senate Office Building

So many ways to capture the concept of ‘frame.’ Though I planned on going out and finding something new, this photo kept hanging out on the fringes of my mind. So I let it win. It’s from a trip to Washington DC three years ago. Sitting in the lobby of the Hart Senate Building is a large metal sculpture. A hole in that sculpture framed the office windows and struck me at the time as interesting.

I like it still.

You can see other interpretations by clicking on the link above. Or you can check out a couple that I liked here and here.

And this.


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Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge: People or animals

While I was walking back from the cherry blossoms in DC last Sunday I passed this woman. Head down, carrying her shopping bags she was moving fast, not looking at anyone.

Resident among the tourists.

Resident among the tourists.

She seemed lonely and isolated even in the midst of the large and noisy tourist crowd. I wished I could talk to her, but she wasn’t sending out friendly vibes. I’m guessing she wasn’t happy with all the tourists inserting themselves into her Sunday routine.

She was an interesting person, and perfect for Cee’s challenge this week.


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Morning in DC

Sunrise on the Hill.

Sunrise on the Hill.


Part two of the cherry blossom saga. Easter weekend was my first visit to DC during cherry blossom time. Sunday I explored, along with thousands of others, the beautiful tidal basin ringed with cherry trees showing off their blossoms. Monday was spent at meetings, but Tuesday morning I had a couple of hours before my flight. So I got up before dawn and rode the metro back to the Hill.

It was an entirely different experience.

For one, the sun came up and lit the western edge of the basin with a rosy glow that complimented the pink and white cherry blossoms. And for another, there were far fewer people out there. Most of them were joggers like me, or photographers also like me, though many of them had fancy equipment. I was carrying my trusty point and shoot, the better to get runs in between stops for photos.

Jefferson glowing way over there.

Jefferson glowing way over there.

The first bit of sun tinged the top of the Jefferson Monument pink, and though it was beautiful I was still two very busy streets away. Still, I got a bit of it as I zoomed in as far as my little camera would go.

As I got closer to the tidal basin the sun was beginning to focus on the cherry trees themselves. Pretty breathtaking.

Morning light and cherry blossoms.

Morning light and cherry blossoms.

I could have spent hours just meandering beneath the beautiful trees…

The trees were art.

The trees were art.

…but I had limited time. So I headed over to the Martin Luther King monument, just around the corner. I took a few shots of him framed in cherry blossoms, but I liked this version best.

Contemplation in morning light.

Contemplation in morning light.

No blossoms, but a strong look for a strong man.

Then I checked my watch and realized I had time to visit President Lincoln if I ran. So I did. It was a great run, along the reflecting pool up to the Lincoln Monument. Could I make it up those steps at a run?

You can do it!

You can do it!

Why yes I could. And there was hardly anyone there, so I got a moment alone with the President. He was warmed by the morning sun, glad to see a new day. Me too.

Good morning Mr. President.

Good morning Mr. President.

And because I was so close, I jogged over to the Vietnam wall. There were lots of veterans there. I learned later that it was Vietnam Veterans Day, and I had just missed the ceremony.

Reflection.

Reflection.

I didn’t jog past the wall, instead taking my time to walk it, reading a few names from each panel. So many names. So many families. Heartbreaking.

But time was slipping away. So I headed back, moving more quickly, probably my longest run. And it felt uphill at that, though I don’t suppose it was.

A long way back.

A long way back.

A good place to stop and catch my breath was the WWII memorial. I walked through a part of it, paid my respects and kept going.

Peacefully empty.

Peacefully empty.

WW II, Washington Monument and Flag in morning light.

WW II, Washington Monument and Flag in morning light.

Heading back over the Washington Monument hill I saw lines of people already forming for the attraction. The sun was fully up. It was time to give the city back to the tourists and be on my way.

I didn’t want to leave.

I had experienced some pretty special moments during my early morning run. Not something I’ll be able to do again soon. Spending a couple days in the Nation’s Capitol turned out to be a gift.

With one last look over my shoulder I jogged toward the metro station and my flight home.

Until next time.

Until next time.

Bye Washington DC. I had a great time. See you soon.

I have no idea why Ronald was out so early.

I have no idea why Ronald was out so early.