Trucker Talk

Thanks for an incisive evaluation of the pollution problem facing the harbor area [“Ports of Exhaust,” March 3–9].

So much of the trucking industry in this neighborhood sprung up — like mushrooms after a rainstorm — as a result of the harbors’ choosing to pay off the hugely expensive Alameda Corridor rail project by slapping a surcharge of $10 per each 20 feet of container loaded on a flatcar. Rail lines (BNSF and Union Pacific) add this surcharge onto their freight bills for containers leaving the harbors.

Incidentally, the railroads are contractually obligated to use the Corridor for container trains (instead of alternate routes through Torrance or Paramount or Compton), or pay the Corridor Authority what amounts to a fine.

The result? Shippers see this extra surcharge on their freight bills and nix the low-pollution rail alternative and hire a self-employed trucker instead. The Corridor has created a ceiling price for “goods haulage” that invites cost-cutters into the business. Ergo, patched-together diesel tractors.

Every step in the transportation business model demands huge investment of capital — except this one. A flood of capital will be required to solve the harbors’ pollution problem; perhaps surcharging every container box unloaded here could generate it. If it cost the same no matter which method moved a container to its destination, shippers could select ?transportation modes that met higher standards than just the bottom line.

If the harbors can bankroll railroad development, they can certainly support a fleet of better diesel tractors.

Joseph A. Strapac


En Garde

As he has often done lately, Steven Leigh Morris has again provoked the theater community to defend its principles [“Classical Gas,” February 24–March 2], and in this case, one of its most eminent and beloved forebears as well, Anton Chekhov. So Mr. Morris has raised a few eyebrows around town and some blood pressure as well. But in the relentlessly reviving world of the theater, forebears are rarely permitted the luxury of other historical figures. If they are to keep their place in the current repertoire, they must continually be dusted off and thrown back into the harsh light of the present.

I don’t know that I agree with Mr. Morris in the Chekhov vs. Shakespeare showdown. Does theater even need to be a kind of a competition? (Maybe it does. The theater achieved its height of relevance in fifth-century-B.C. Athens, perhaps because it was a contest.) And other critics before Mr. Morris have pitted playwrights against each other in the significance debate (e.g., Aristophanes’ The Frogs; Shaw’s remark “A Doll’s House will be as flat as ditchwater when A Midsummer Night’s Dream will still be as fresh as paint”; Artaud’s “No More Masterpieces”). But I think the century mark almost demands a reconsideration, because enough time has passed for the work to be seen apart from its historical context. And the groundbreaking “realistic” plays of the late 19th century, so steeped in their time, perhaps inspire a special and new debate.

And that is why I enjoy reading Mr. Morris’ column so frequently these days. So many theater reviews read so small — picayune reports on the airtight production of the specialized play. But when Mr. Morris steps outside the proscenium to observe that “our culture is so far beyond even the remotest attempt at gentility . . . Our conversations are screaming matches,” I think he is issuing a healthy challenge to contemporary theater artists to show the body of our time in our work in the same way that Chekhov revealed his. Maybe Shakespeare is an easier collaborator in that regard. Maybe we must think more boldly when we look to present Chekhov’s plays. Maybe our theater must be more closely related to our culture. I know the Taper production and Mr. Morris’ comments have made me think about this more deeply. And I can hardly wait for the work that his provocative debate will inspire.

Bart DeLorenzo


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