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For America’s blue-collar workers, it’s a war out there. With U.S. corporations abandoning the country in search of a low-cost labor force in foreign countries, the prospects for making a decent living in the manufacturing sector have become decidedly bleak.
This depressing new paradigm has not been lost on reality television producers, who have, over the past few years, given us a growing number of shows that indirectly illustrate the perils of globalization. From Dirty Jobs, to Storage Wars, to Deadliest Catch, there’s no shortage of airtime being given to those going to great lengths to get by in the post-industrial age.
Shipping Wars, A&E’s latest addition to the sub-genre, follows six professional haulers as they compete to win the rights to truck large items around the country, and, with luck, turn a profit in the process. Indeed, the business model turns out to be fairly straightforward.
“… All you need is a laptop and a trailer,” the narrator says in the show’s lead in, “and you’re a shipping company.”
At the website for uShip, “the largest online auction house for independent truckers,” our protagonists scope out the day’s work offerings. Marc Springer and Roy Garber, two grizzled and grey haired veterans of the industry each bid against the likes of novice drivers Jennifer Brennan and Jarrett Joyce on a job to move a 3,800-pound metal sculpture of a horse from the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum in New York to their satellite location in St. Augustine, Florida in just 36 hours.
“The real problem with the rookies is they underbid everything,” says Garber, whose long straight hair and cowboy boots make him look like a cross between Johnny Winters and Lucious Malfoy.
Sitting alone in their trucks, our cyber-connected contestants battle it out on UShip, driving the price down to a ridiculously razor thin potential profit margin.
“All you can really do is come in low and hope it works out,” Joyce, a former landscaper and self-described “good ol’ boy,” says while bidding on the day’s second cargo, the enormous man-eating Venus Flytrap costume used in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
As the bids sink down beneath $1,400 for a cross-country trip to deliver the prop from Bristol, Pennsylvania to a theater in San Diego, Ca. it’s unclear whether that amount of money will cover gas and other expenses.
“That’s a total rookie move right there,” Springer says from the cab of his rig. “What’s it take to drive across the country, seven days? Plus fuel, plus tires, plus insurance. I’m makin’ good money, or I’m not doing it.”
There’s little doubt that the competition is a boon to the likes of Ripley’s or anyone hoping to ship large cargo across the country, but as you watch the haulers sweat the details of hustling side hauling jobs to make each excursion economically viable, you can’t help feeling the urge to yell “workers of the world unite!”
As for the nuts and bolts of the show itself, though the fast paced editing scheme manages to keep the point and click bidding from feeling as droll as Internet auctions are in real life, the relentlessly quick hits of dialog and action make the proceedings feel like a teaser rather than the actual program. Executive producers Johnathan Nowzaradan (Heavy), Tom Mireles (Quints by Surprise), Jeff Keels (Smokejumpers), and Graham Davidson (Survival of the Half Ton Teen) would do well to slow down the pace a bit, as we don’t really get to know any of our featured haulers in the premiere.
For now the show is just a somewhat terse introduction to the cutthroat world of interstate highway shipping, but with luck future episodes will reveal whether Springer or Garber will prove as charismatic as Capt. Phil Harris was on DeadliestCatch.
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