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☆ Thank A Trucker, Not A Sports Or Entertainment Celebrity
One industry that’s rolling on throughout the closures and social-distancing measures is trucking. For years, the unsung road warriors have delivered essential goods, but scarcity has recast them as heroes in providing the necessities and comforts that Americans rely on.
“America’s truckers are on the front lines of our nation’s response to the #COVID19 pandemic,” the American Trucking Association wrote on Twitter on March 18.
The association went on to thank President Donald Trump for “highlighting their heroic and vital efforts, delivering food, water, fuel, medicine, medical supplies and other essentials.” As states close their rest stops and restaurants shut down, some truckers are finding it more challenging to make quick pit stops.
Randy Griffith hauls a daily load of propane in his Freightliner from Walton, Indiana, to cities in Ohio, mostly. On March 19, he had dropped off a load of Blue Rhino propane tanks for grilling in Columbus, Ohio. “I’ll go back to Walton tonight, pick up a loaded trailer, and go to Hamilton for tomorrow,” he said.
He had stopped at the TA Truck Service stop in London, Ohio, to use the restroom and “get something besides my own cooking,” he said, holding a bag of Popeyes Chicken. “Because I can cook in my truck. I got an electric skillet. I got a Crock-Pot. I got a fridge. So, I basically only have to get out of this thing to go to the bathroom and get fuel.”
Griffith lives in Elkhart, Indiana, and usually goes home on the weekends. “But I don’t think I’ll be going home this weekend. I’ll self-quarantine in my own truck,” he said. He has a wife at home, as well as four children and a grandbaby close by.
“The only reason I don’t want to right now is because I’ve been basically out in the public. I don’t need to take it home to them, if I do catch something,” he said. “I’m more worried about if I have something and bringing it home to them.”
Griffith has been driving for 15 years altogether, with a break for college in between. Usually, traffic is the bane of a truck driver’s life, but right now, the roads are emptier than ever.
“The fun part is actually, you see a whole bunch of different stuff,” Griffith said of his job. “Even though I’m basically doing the same thing every week, every day, it’s still not the same thing, you know? Sure, I see the same fixed sites, but you always see different stuff every day.
“I mean, you’d be surprised at what you see when you look down into cars. I’m not kidding. And I can tell you, 9 out of 10 cars, somebody’s on the phone, every time. Every time.”
On March 18, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration widened its suspension of driving hours regulations for drivers hauling essential goods, in response to the CCP virus.
Propane falls under the new regulations, Griffith said, but his company, Landstar, is keeping its drivers on a normal schedule. “It only takes one day to do my route. It ain’t like I gotta be out extended,” he said.
“The only thing, well—other than traffic really disappearing—if I was delivering to warehouses, I’d be afraid if I show up, am I gonna get unloaded? Is there gonna be an employee there to unload the truck?” He said he’s heard stories of that happening.
‘We Can Only Do One Load at a Time’
James Huff, an owner-operator for 19 years, started his March 19 route in Indianapolis, heading to Kraft Foods in Delaware with large sacks of flour. It’ll take him about 10 hours from the truck stop in London, Ohio, and he’s already been on the road for about four hours.
After dropping the flour, he’s got an 80-mile ride to Pocomoke City in southern Maryland to pick up wood shavings that are going to tractor suppliers. He’ll drop that off at three sites in Pennsylvania, then he’ll load hay that’s bound for Lowe’s stores. And on it goes.
“Water and beverages, and everything that any manufacturer uses—whatever you can fit on one of these—is what we haul,” Huff said. Asked if he has been busier over the last few weeks, Huff said, “For us, it’s business as usual. … We can only do one load at a time.” He lives in southeastern Pennsylvania and makes sure he’s home on weekends.
“Saturday and Sunday are sacred,” he said. “I leave Monday morning and I get home Friday afternoon. I stay in the rolling office for four nights.” His Western Star truck has everything he needs, “except running water,” he said, and the restaurant closures haven’t affected him.
Huff says he’s not too concerned about the CCP virus. His eldest child is 18 and his wife is home from her child care job for two weeks. “It’s bringing the country together, I think,” he said of the pandemic.
And what does he think about for 10 hours as he’s driving? “Everything. We used to talk on CBs but now, with cell phones, we usually have our circle of drivers that we talk to all the time. Almost all the time, we’re on the phone or listening to talk radio,” he said. “We stay informed.”
Huff said he’s been thinking about how to help his local small-business community if he doesn’t need the handout he may receive from the government. He likes the idea of buying gift cards to keep them going.
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