When I reach Roy Garber over the phone for our interview, he’s on the road. But then where else would he be?
If you watch Shipping Wars — A&E’s new reality series premiering tonight at 9 — you’ll quickly learn that Garber feels most at home on the road, earning his living transporting loads that other shippers won’t touch, and those his competitors weren’t able to win from him in a fierce bidding war. In tonight’s episode, it’s a nearly 4,000-pound, 22-foot steel horse that he must pick up from downtown Manhattan and haul down to Florida within 36 hours. Time is of the essence, and Garber has no patience for people who don’t meet his high standards of workmanship, including the guys hired by his clients to help him.
“I’m a perfectionist,” Garber says. “It has to be done right, or I’m not going to do it. I’m not the cheapest kid on the block, but I’m the best. That’s all I can tell you. … If you’re going to saddle the horse, you might as well ride it all the way through. And a lot of these people just saddle the horse and aren’t ready for the ride.”
Garber — who despite his bluster manages to come off more as supremely confident than insufferably arrogant — is speaking about his many competitors also profiled in the series. Viewers will also get to know independent shippers like Marc Springer, a fellow shipping veteran who entered the business after being laid off from his job; Scott and Suzanne Bawcom, a husband-and-wife team whose amiable appearance belies their aggressive business savvy; and newcomers Jarrett Joyce and Jennifer Brennan, whose rookie mistakes are sources of amusement and annoyance to their elder foes.
The rivalries depicted on the show are genuine, at least to Garber, who has no qualms saying he hopes to run many of his adversaries out of business. One technique he uses, which is illustrated quite memorably in the first episode, is purposely bidding low on a load, then pulling out after a newbie has submitted a bid that will assure he or she makes no money on the job.
But you get the sense that everything about Garber is pretty genuine, from his sharp business sense that doesn’t allow him to suffer fools gladly, to his softer side that comes out when he talks about his cat Muffy, who “goes everywhere I go.” He is a natural in front of the camera, saying he addresses it as though it is another person and not a piece of equipment. But if Garber is indeed going to be the breakout star of Shipping Wars, he’ll have to just take your word for it.
“I refuse to watch any of it,” he says of the series. “I feel as though if I watch it I’m going to see something I don’t like about myself, maybe my voice or the way I look or the way I carry myself, whatever. There’s going to be something I don’t like, and I’m going to start critiquing myself and decide, ‘OK, that’s not right. I’ve got to change that.’ And that’s not the true me. They want the true me, so here I am. It will never change me.”
It’s hard not to think that once viewers get a peek at Roy Garber, they won’t want him to change a thing.
Photo: © Ian Spanier Photography 2011