Bernie Ockuly, of Cleveland, fairly well bristled last January when he read an MIT professor's suggestion (by way of News Cut) that people who have been unemployed for 99 weeks probably aren't trying hard enough to get a job. He knows better.
Workers ages 45 and over make up a disproportionate share of the long-term unemployed -- those who have been out of work for six months or longer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ockuly, who is now driving as a long-haul trucker and stopped during a run through the Twin Cities on Thursday, is the "mancession" up close. He had a long career as a salesman and manager in the truck leasing business, survived 10 mergers, takeovers and countless management changes.
"Except for one," he said. The one that left him unemployed at age 56.
He started with the giant Fruehauf Corporation and his career ended 33 years later -- November 2006 -- with XTRA Lease. "I got an award for $2.5 million in sales in March, the company changed hands in July, and they gave me a cardboard box to pack up and get out in November," he said.
It was a devastating moment, but not as devastating as a year earlier, when a doctor told him he had prostate cancer. When the company's "hatchet man," told him he was being let go, he told him, "I've gotten worse news from smarter people than you."
He beat cancer, then unemployment. A friend's offer to help out as a salesman ended after six months in a collapsing economy. Then, though the managers of a distillation plant told him he was overqualified, he told them "I'll do a good job for you and show up every day." They hired him. But the plant, owned by Veolia, closed last May. Bernie Ockuly was unemployed again. It wasn't for lack of trying.
He was willing to work for much less than what he was used to making, but found no offers. "I was turned down left and right for $10- to $12-an-hour gigs," he said. With no jobs to be had, he helped a friend in Illinois bring in last fall's harvest, blogged about the experience, and showed the side of him that apparently can turn any task into fun.
That's when the idea of driving a truck for a living was born. The 65% subsidy for continuing his COBRA medical coverage (from the economic stimulus bill) was soon going to end, and he couldn't afford a $1,500 a month payment for health care. So he found a work retraining grant and learned how to drive a truck commercially.
There was a job to be had, but it involved leaving home and hitting the road.
A few months ago, he was hired by an Oregon trucking company and has been seeing the United States since. Being away from home has its drawbacks, although his children are mostly grown now. He says of his wife in Cleveland, "we've never gotten along better."
He went into the business eyes wide open, researching the lifestyle and business aspects of it on the Internet. "There's about a 100-percent turnover in it," he said, as he took his cheeseburger out of the bun and chewed on fresh vegetables at a cafe in White Bear Lake. Since starting his new career, he's lost weight by not eating like his new career generally dictates.
He writes about his experiences on Facebook and still shows wide-eyed wonder at the road that lies, literally, ahead. "Crossing the Continental Divide has a whole new meaning when one is struggling to pull 80,000 pounds up a mountain pass, even with 450 horses under the hood," he said. He rates the Columbia River Gorge and a lonely, two-lane highway in Nevada as favorites so far. His stop this week in Fargo gave him the opportunity learn some history.
This week he dropped off Coors Beer in Washington state and picked up french fries that will be delivered today in Plover, Wisconsin.
With time on his hands before his scheduled arrival in Wisconsin, he spent last evening with local friends boating at sunset on Bald Eagle Lake.
"Life is good," he says. From high up on his perch in the cab of his truck, one almost can't see the mancession.
Note: Anyone looking for a job that wants to make decent, but not great money. Go get a Commercial Drivers License. I can't begin to explain the current driver shortage and how it's only getting worse in this comment section.
And it's not all long haul, there is regular local delivery work too.
I've often wondered if I would like the long-haul trucking gig as a second career. I have a very good innate sense of direction and am mechanically inclined. But I figured the "see the country" aspect was probably oversold; that you would see it mostly from interstate highways and industrial parks and there would be constant pressure to get as many loads delivered as fast as possible, without time for sight-seeing. If you're driving some company's truck with a tracking device in it, they are going to wonder why you hung out in one place when you could have been moving.
I guess if Bernie had time for boating, the situation is better than I thought. I'll have to check out his facebook page.
//they are going to wonder why you hung out in one place when you could have been moving.
I think you make the federal rules work for you. You can only drive so many hours in one day and one week. I suppose the trick is to make the "down" time occur at the right spot.
At age 49, this is why I'm back in school, finishing my undergraduate degree and eying a masters: because age discrimination is alive and well. Basically if you look old and haven't achieved a management position, you're either considered insufficiently ambitious, or it's recognized that older workers won't put up with the abuse that is regularly heaped on ambitious up-and-comers for half the salary. So it's off into management I go, in order to preserve the illusion that I look the way I should for the job I hold.
This story strongly reminds me of one of my parents' experiences with the recession. Years of solid work experience, a string of lay-offs in the last decade, even a recent fight with cancer. Thanks for highlighting this issue that is relevant to so many older Americans. Unlike Bernie, my mom is still looking for employment . . .
Oh wait, this story is about the "mancession?" Never mind then.
Nearly 63 and unemployed since November and so far only one interview. The position was eliminated before a second interview could be arranged. Thanks, Bob, for confirming what I have sensed (and experienced) since being laid off.
In regard to Jack's comments. How do we take care of those in need right now?
Once upon a time it was a part of who we were that we took care of the elders, the young and the sick and who ever else had fallen into the hands of hard times instead of preying on them.
It seems as though in this day the less fortunate become traction (how do you like that new term used in way that really speaks the truth) for the ones at the top of the chain.
The new ideology is that the less fortunate become food-or more power-for the rich. the rich will arrogantly tell you "well that's business"
It is time to put a stop to this 10 year cycle of ME ME ME and end the gap.
i realize that this has been going on longer but the end results have become more obvious in the last 10 years.
//How do we take care of those in need right now?
I didn't write that comment in my previous post. so I am guessing that the NewsCut people modify what is being posted?
To answer that question
I would suggest taxing the rich
I would suggest dipping into that Military spending pot that benifits no one and costs lives
I would suggest other waste like cutting the fireworks program or have betty big bucks pay for them.
Other than to take out personal attacks or obscenities (which usually results in the entire post being deleted), I don't touch comments. Whatever appears is what was written by whomever pushes the "submit" button.
Bernie, you're my hero!
Nice to see your struggle and eventual success showcased, although we miss seeing Colonel Smokely on the weekends.
Compliments to the author for focusing on an important issue that is often overlooked. This "recession" is an issue for so many, both skilled workers who have long been in the work force and kids fresh out of school who can't find a job.
I'm happy I don't have to solve this problem and glad you solved it for yourself, Bernie.
And I echo Darrell from FB. Nice t-shirt. :-)
Way to go, Colonel Smokely! Glad you're enjoying your new lifestyle; sounds very cool and exciting. Hope to see you soon and eventually at Oshkosh!
great job Bernie...some of the students that come thru we can just tell are ready to take the ball and run with it.
run Bernie run
Nothing like alittle 'Truckeroonie' in the Trucker Hall of Fame. Like a one hit wonder all ahowcased soon become but a momentary pleasure, tossed aside like tumbleweed in a storm.