NASHVILLE, TN—The interstate trucking industry, already beset with rising fuel prices and a shortage of qualified workers, was dealt another blow last month, with the release of the agonizingly sorrowful country ballad "She's Gone Back To What She Calls Home," by Cole Hardin.
"At any given time, day or night, an estimated 45 percent of the nation's over-the-road truckers are idling on the shoulder, in waysides, or in truck-stop parking lots, listening to Mr. Hardin's ballad of infidelity, loss, and heartbreak," said Russell Knutson, a spokesman for trucking giant Schneider National. "There's been an alarming number of loads that don't make it to their destinations. And the ones that do make it are usually behind schedule, because they're being loaded, transported, and unloaded by crews brought low by the thought of a good-loving woman a man loves best packing everything up but her wedding dress and going back to the town she never should've left."
"'Scuse me a moment," Knutson said. "Sorry, but I must've gotten something in my eye just then."
Performance figures for the entire North American continent have suffered since the May 14 radio release of the "She's Gone Back" single, from the album Fenced In Heart. Last week, the Department of Transportation reported business volume down 60 percent, manifest damage up 9 percent, and worker productivity down across the board, as drivers complain of heartache, loneliness, and the she-ain't-never-comin'-back-again blues.
"This isn't an easy job, no sir," said Arrow Trucking Company driver Wayne Crudup, 33, of Lexington, KY. "Long hours, tougher regulations every year, and lots less money than you'd like. Now, on top of that, I can't stop thinking of how that lady left that little home and that poor guy all alone, all because his eye went wanderin' where it never shoulda been. The song starts going round and round in your head, and it gets a touch hard to see the road sometimes."
National Surface Transportation Board statistics have shown a clear link between the playing of "She's Gone Back" on public airwaves and lulls in the trucking industry. The effects are especially noticeable in the South and Midwest.
"Unfortunately, country-radio stations nationwide have 'She's Gone Back' in heavy rotation," NTSB spokesman Howard Stivoric said. "The steel guitar's wail invokes that cold, hard, lonely road she's taking back to where her heart'll stop breaking, and, well, that makes anyone who hears it want to turn right around and get on back to where they came from. For a country that transports 85 percent of its perishable goods by truck, a heartbreaking ballad like this one is bad news."
Due to the song's popularity, the average trucker is spending as many as three hours per day sitting motionless in the breakdown lane. Travelers on the nation's highways are growing accustomed to seeing dozens of semis pull over to the side of the road whenever the song is played.
"We're especially worried about routes through trucking's Golden Triangle: Atlanta, Memphis, and Nashville," National Highway Traffic Safety administrator Dr. Jeff Runge said. "The high volume of country stations in that area, many of which confess to playing the song almost hourly, has created a depression hot-spot. Almost nothing's getting into or out of that area."
Fearing for the financial and emotional safety of their workers, industry leaders have asked President Bush and the FCC to remove the song from the airwaves, as President Carter did during the "He Stopped Loving Her Today" crisis of 1980.
Hardin, the singer responsible for the problem, was unavailable for comment, as he is currently in his hometown of Green Hills, SC, caring for his dying mother and writing "She Taught Me How To Love," a tribute to her 46 years of service as a devoted wife and parent.