OUR REGION
by Barbara Peduzzi

 

During these tumultuous times, truckers are moving America. Photo by Barbara Peduzzi

 

"Trucks! They’re big, noisy, get in the way on the highway and are scary when they pass in a rainstorm. Still, no one can dispute the slogan: “Without Trucks America Stops,” and that has been especially true during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Social distancing is new to nearly everyone, while trucking by nature is a socially distancing job. Drivers are alone in their cabs for hours on end as they travel between pickups and deliveries. They welcome talking with each other over meals, in parking lots or TV rooms, waiting for showers or to be loaded or unloaded. There is a camaraderie, a we’re-all-in-this-together ethos that brings out stories, gripes and jokes. These days, that is gone.

Social Distancing Life On The Road
I reached out to a driver/friend, Laurie Emery, to hear what has changed for these kings and queens of the road and how they’re dealing with it all. Her 25 years behind the wheel include solo, team and owner-operator driving. She’s now with Mid-Atlantic Transportation Logistics, a New Jersey company specializing in hazardous materials, but also hauling “anything from bottled water to chicken to car parts—whatever needs to be moved.” The loads mainly travel from the East Coast to Texas, but can take her all over the country.


“The great thing most drivers will agree on is during the ‘stay home’ quarantine the traffic is almost non-existent, making rush hour traffic jams a memory,” Emery said.
Another plus, she said: scale houses and inspection stations for the most part are not open. Police presence depends on the state, but they are “still very observant with keeping an eye on speeders. I’m seeing hardly any accidents, which is always a good thing.” 


Interstate driving routes are open, yet “choosing where to stop has become a challenge.” Truck stops traditionally have 24-hour restaurants serving any meal at any time of the day, but now those still open have limited take-out menus and hours. “Basically it is only fast food and everything is to go,” she said, adding, “After 12 or more hours in the truck it is a nice respite to go inside and get that break from the cab.”


These days, when stopped they must stay in their trucks. As Emery explains, “For those who have never been in a truck, your bathrooms are larger than our living space, so it is real easy right now to get a little stir crazy.” If you think it’s hard to only move between the several rooms in your house, consider their options of taking two steps back to the sleeper bunk, or shifting three feet from the driver’s to the passenger’s seat.


With many not respecting self-distancing, some fuel stops are limiting how many people can come inside at a time, Emery said.
“Worst I saw was a young mother, pregnant with twins, and her three-year-old boy bouncing around, just hanging out to talk with her friend who was working taking food orders. Drivers were trying to distance but she didn’t seem to get it. A driver politely told her that she should be home away from the area where people from all over the country are coming inside, and her response was that she wasn’t worried as they were young and healthy.”


Emery finds that attitude scary in this environment. “That is probably the thing that bothers me most, that some don’t realize it’s not just about them. It’s about all of us.”  

Getting fuel and ever-important showers have not been a problem, although there were (thankfully) unfounded rumors that showers would be shut down. One thing she finds irritating is having to use disposable cups for coffee and fountain drinks instead of refilling her own. “I understand the reasoning but it is just so wasteful.”

Some things aren’t that much different, Emery said. Truckers are limited to the number of hours they can drive at one time, and also how many driving hours they can build up over a number of days. The hours must be recorded, “So logbooks still rule. By the time your 34-hour reset comes around you’re tired and ready for it.” The reset means that they cannot drive for 34 hours, and while she used to spend time finding places to walk with her two dogs, “I’m not getting as much hiking in now.” 


As the quarantine keeps people out of stores, which in turn is affecting loads; freight is getting harder to come by. “That’s going to hurt us, I’m afraid. We’re paid by the mile so any time freight slows down we lose miles. It will really hurt the owner-operators who have one or two trucks.”

One big change is that drivers are not allowed on docks when trucks are loaded or unloaded. “We are told to wait in the truck,” and paper work is brought to them for signatures, which means they have to trust the shipper to load what is on the lading bills—and, that it is loaded correctly in the trailer.


Next time you pass a truck or find yourself in a rest area or travel stop, consider waving or thanking the driver. They may be hauling something you need.