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Cargo Transportation Services employee finds calling in produce

Elliott Buchanan's bags were all packed and loaded in his car.

He was on his way to start his career as a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News, but a funny thing happened on the way to the City of Angels.

He made a telephone call to a friend that would change his entire life.

Mr. Buchanan moved from Gainesville, FL, with his girlfriend to Los Angeles in 2002, but after six months, he was unsure if he really wanted to stay there permanently. Born and raised in Gainesville, he came back during the winter of 2003 to visit his family, all of whom live in Florida, and decided that while he did not want to be so far away from them, he was going to take the reporting position after all.

A week before he was to leave, Mr. Buchanan spoke with one of his friends, who lived in Miami and offered to help him ship his car to California under one condition: that Mr. Buchanan could not go to Los Angeles without seeing him first. He went to visit the friend and has not left since.

"I loved the lifestyle; in Miami you are literally in paradise," Mr. Buchanan said. I thought, 'how wonderful would it be to live here in this beautiful place with beautiful people enjoying life, and that is what I want.

After he decided to stay in Miami, Mr. Buchanan began to search for a job other than in journalism  one where he could use the skills he developed from the dry cleaning delivery service he owned for seven years. Though I had a degree in journalism and communications from the University of Florida, I decided to go the sales route, he said. I tried to think of what I could do to get my foot in the door with any company, something that would make myself marketable based on the sales and customer service experience I had from my business.

It was not long before he had several interviews lined up, including one that was arranged by another friend, who worked for C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. I saw what the [produce] industry and the company did for him, he said. I saw his life change before my eyes. He was married, was travelling and just enjoyed what he did. I asked him if [C.H. Robinson] was hiring and he said, Yes, in produce transportation sales. 

When all was said and done, Mr. Buchanan was offered a position at C.H. Robinsons Miami facility, which he accepted. I knew I had the right tools to be successful and after it was explained what [the position] entailed, I thought, Man, I can do this,  he said. It was an easy decision for me.

Miami was not as glamorous as he initially experienced, and he spent his first year there sleeping on the floor of his friends apartment. Through it all, Mr. Buchanan never lost his hunger to work in the produce transportation industry. I knew that all I had to do was work hard and I would be successful, he said.

Mr. Buchanan said that one of the main things that kept him motivated during that time was the significance of his job. I was walking through the supermarket and was seeing names and they were all products that I was moving into the supermarkets distribution facility and I thought to myself, Hey, this is a pretty important job,  he said. I know in my heart that it is important to me and the community and I started to get a fire and pride. You never question things when produce is there but when it is not there, you ask, Where is it? I know if I wanted an apple and it wasnt there, I would.

After two years of working with C.H. Robinson, Mr. Buchanan, 30, joined Cargo Transportation Services Inc., a Tamarac, FL-based transportation company specializing in both dry and refrigerated TL and LTL shipments throughout the continental United States. He is helping to run and develop the firms produce department. I am bringing the things I learned at Robinson and using them to develop our business, he said. Weve had our produce department for one-and-a-half years, and I want to expand on it.

Mr. Buchanan said that he also enjoys his work because he likes both the spontaneity of the industry and the diverse group of people who are involved in it. No day or load is ever the same, he said. Though there is never a dull moment, I enjoy the interaction I have with various types of people and their different backgrounds. One minute I can be speaking to the CEO of a major corporation and the next I am talking to a truck driver.

Due to the inherent problems with produce transportation, Mr. Buchanan said that he has had all the stuff that can go on happen to him. While he has successfully dealt with several incidents over his relatively short career in produce transportation, the one he remembers best occurred while he was working at C.H. Robinson.

I was moving apples from Washington state into Florida and you always have some kind of delay, but I got a call from the trucker who said he was in Tennessee and was holding my apples hostage until he got paid, he said. It was not until one of C.H. Robinsons lawyers got involved that the driver reconsidered. I called our legal team and in 10 minutes the truck was moving again.

Mr. Buchanan said that at times he feels his age has been a disadvantage, especially when he has a problem that he needs help with. I get the feeling from some people that they have been there, done that and they have earned their stripes, he said. I guess they had to solve similar problems on their own and because Im low man on the totem pole, I need to pay my dues like they did.

On the flip side, Mr. Buchanan said that the support he has received has been great. There are people who offer to help me, give me advice and ask me if I need something, though they are sometimes few and far between, he said. The good ones balance things out.

Though he said that he is never truly off duty, Mr. Buchanan has several interests he likes to pursue on the weekends and that he tries to make time  at least on Sunday  to do them. If God could take [Sunday] off when he built the world, I can too, he quipped.

Mr. Buchanan said that since he was a child, he has always wanted to live near the water, and he takes advantage of the water-related activities that the South Florida coast offers. Two of his friends own boats, and they will often go to nearby Elliot Key for water sports such as jet-skiing and water-skiing  and it does not hurt that he and the island share the same name. He enjoys deep-sea fishing and earlier this year he reeled in his largest catch so far off the coast of the Bahamas: a 28-pound mahi-mahi. He has been a certified scuba diver for the past eight years and likes to dive with his girlfriend, Kasia Asklar. He also enjoys playing land-based sports including basketball and soccer, and has played the latter since he was four years old. I enjoy life and try to experience the full realm and gamut, he said.

Mr. Buchanan is very optimistic about his careers potential. Right now there are so many different areas, and with the pace I am on, if I work hard, I can go anywhere, he said. I am like a sponge, absorbing it all and seeing where it takes me. You never know, someday I could even own my own company.

Judging from his life so far, it appears that he can do just about anything to which he sets his mind.