Photo: Ingrid Brown
Ingrid Brown

Dirty bathrooms, nowhere to eat, more public respect: Driving in a pandemic

March 31, 2020
Truck drivers working through the COVID-19 pandemic have fewer services open to them while they labor to keep the U.S. supply chains working. Several truckers took some time this week to share their stories of driving through a major pandemic.

Truck driving is tough enough during normal times, but the COVID-19 pandemic is adding another layer of challenges for those on the road. Fleet Owner spoke to several drivers about their particular situations, what they're seeing and how they're coping. The following are excerpts from these conversations.

Kevin Steichen: I haul livestock, pigs, cows and sheep. We do slaughterhouses, some farms and ranches. Normally, we go into the office, we wait for our paperwork, and after they weigh the livestock, they write our weights, we get our paperwork, and we leave. Now, they're not allowing that. You're allowed on the docks and that's it…

I'm sitting at a truck stop right now that typically has pretty good food. You really can't go inside and enjoy yourself. You just sit in the truck… I've got a refrigerator in my truck. I've got a microwave, and I've actually been running with another one of our guys. Both of us have been doing the same thing for the last week. He and I will sit in my truck, and I'll warm the food up, and we'll both eat. It does get tough because now rations are getting slim. We won't be home until probably late tomorrow night, at the earliest. You can find food but finding a hot meal is difficult. Quite honestly, can a guy survive on cold meals? Yeah ... but, boy, a hot meal's pretty nice once in a while… 

I was in Nevada the other day, on my way to California, and I stopped at a truck stop. Typically, it's a really clean truck stop. I walked in there, and I got my fuel receipt. I went to use the bathroom, and one of my buddies came walking out of the bathroom. He looked at me, and he said some choice words. I'm like, 'Well, I got to go to the bathroom, so I'm going to go in there.' I walked in, and it was the most disgusting thing I've ever seen in my life. Paper towels everywhere. Garbage overflowing. The stalls ... Just out of curiosity, I kicked a couple stall doors open. Just disgusting. Maybe they don't have enough people to clean them. I don't know.

Mike Landis: I haul a food-grade tank, liquid chocolates, liquid sugars, corn syrups, liquid yeasts, food-grade oils, all that kind of stuff. We don't do normal milk. We do haul some almond milk… The only thing I really notice is that now everywhere we're going before you load or unload, they ask you questions: 'Have you been China? Have you been here, have you been there? Do you feel sick? Have you had a fever in the last few days?' … 

I've been trucking for almost 16 years, and I've been conscious of what I touch at truck stops anyway. I do find myself being a little more cautious about opening doors, coming out of the bathroom, things like that. I do a lot of advocacy for trucking and usually the first thing you do when you talk to someone or after you've talk to someone for a while, you shake their hand. Now, agree to disagree that we're not shaking hands right now… 

In my advocacy, I try to get the public to understand why we're trying to fight against some regulations. Unfortunately, people just don't like to listen. We've always said it's going to take some type of bad situation that is going to enlighten people. I think this is it because it seems like everybody that hated truck drivers before now all of a sudden seem to have a newfound passion for them. It'll be interesting to see how that carries over after this is all done.

Ingrid Brown: I'm running food products, produce, dairy, eggs. I'm running all the way from Hunts Point in the Bronx, the big produce market. I'm running New Jersey to the port with bananas. I've run just all over… I use my own ballpoint pen. I make sure I do the six-foot rule, because a lot of people aren't. I don't think it's that they're trying to be rude or they're trying to be noncompliant. I think it's just habit that they walk up and they literally stand two feet from you. I've noticed that if I step away and give them a smile or say 'hello,' it softens that (what might be thought of as rudeness). Then, it's like a light bulb comes on of 'Oh, okay. Yeah, I was too close.' … 

I'm not getting out of the truck other than to open my doors. Paperwork-wise, I do have a box or two boxes of polishes that I used to get my paperwork back after I had handed it out the window. They take it in, they bring it back out. I'm paying lumper fees over the phone. I don't even go in for that. All my paperwork comes back with Lysol sprayed on it… 

During my whole 40 years of trucking, I have never had better service and better times than during the last two-and-a-half weeks. For instance, when you can go into an Aldi, check-in at say three o'clock, they sign you out at 3:43, and you're pulling out of the gate at 3:50. This morning, I did another distribution center, and I had eggs. It was crazy. They were standing there holding the door open when I backed in. They literally dropped the plate when I popped the brakes and chocked my tire. And they were on my trailer, off my trailer, called me with the total on my lumper fee. Within probably 10 minutes maximum, they walked out and handed me the bills, and I was gone… 

Shippers and receivers have been so easy to get a hold of. I keep thinking 'Oh, it's all in my head. I'm just imagining that it was that bad and now it's this good.' You used to try to get a hold of a shipping or a receiving clerk, manager or an assistant or whoever runs the department, and it was impossible. You could hardly get past the security or through the switchboard… I had one lady yesterday who was helping me with sorting out some times. She said: 'Just give me your phone number and I'll text it to you. When you get stopped, it'll be there for you with all the instructions. If you need it when you get here, you can look at it again.' I mean, I was like, 'wow.' She sends it to me from her personal phone, and I'm like, 'that's service.' It's come to light that really; we can work together.

Linda Caffee (runs team with husband Bob): The pandemic has not really changed our driving behavior. We are enjoying less traffic which means better fuel mileage. We are having to adjust our arrival times as we are used to adding time for traffic jams. We're seeing a lot fewer accidents on the interstates as well. The parking at truck stops seems a lot less congested… 

With the shippers, we are dealing with it as business as usual. If they have to handle our driver's licenses, they are often wearing gloves. The ones that handle our paperwork and borrow our pen to sign think nothing of it. Some totally forget and shake our hands and say 'thank you' for getting their load. For the last nine days, we have run hard and wonder what next week will be like… 

We have been very lucky in the past 20 years and have stayed very healthy. Right now, we have added Vitamin C to our daily vitamins and we are washing our hands more often. We are lucky as we have a larger sleeper and do almost all of our cooking and eating in the truck. As hard as we are running, we really do not notice the sit-down restaurants closed. We will continue to run as long as freight is good. Overall, it seems as if not much is going on out here. It is odd to see the malls with no cars but the drive-thru restaurants seem to be busy though.  

Jason Miller: I am OTR. I am a single base carrier,  Chapter 2 Freight LLC, leased on to Mercer Transportation out of Louisville, Ky. … 

Shippers and receivers weren't really welcoming before but now it's even more of a shutout. We have no bathroom for us. We have no access to the facilities, and access to the building at all. There's really no way to even access vending machines. They're still keeping you in long lines, holding you back. Sometimes you're there 8 to 10 hours. It's very difficult to get food brought to you, to the warehouse, because a lot of their people don't want to deliver to semi-trucks… 

I picked up at a receiver the other day, and they didn't even want me getting out of the truck. They wanted me to call a number and tell them what the pickup number was. They had a security guard open up your trailer, slide your tandems. You slid in the door, and then an hour later, they would call you back and say, 'Here it is. Here's everything.' The way you got your paperwork was in the back of the trailer. That was it… 

To keep myself safe, I have hand sanitizer. I'm wiping down all surfaces every day, two to three times a day… I'm going to try to do regional soon, stay closer to home. I had one of our agents reach out to me and say they want to do the dedicated Trane route, (Trane air conditioning) while this epidemic is going on, or pandemic, whatever you want to call it… 

The one thing I want to add is everyone just needs to calm down. Practice social distancing, sanitize. Do these things. All drivers are not sick. Respect the driver as a human being. Try to give a little more respect to the driver, and bring the driver back into the fold of things. (Jason is the father of Logan Miller whose video about using his allowance to feed truckers at a truck stop has over 870,00 views. The video was taken by driver Joseph Graham, see next entry)

Joseph Graham: The pandemic has made the job a lot more difficult because we've been restricted access to restrooms. That's been a huge challenge for us. Customers do not want you in their facility at all, to the point that they are a Lysoling paperwork. That's been a little bit of a change and I get where they're coming from with their limiting access to restrooms. But in the same sense, they've confined us to using Porta-Johns, which I don't feel is the most sanitary thing in the world… 

My company PVS Chemicals Inc. is making hand sanitizer and it's part of our personal protection equipment. They're providing us all with sterilized gloves. We've instituted a no-touch policy. We've got no confirmed cases and everybody's still working like we always have, but it's just adding a new layer of complexity that's made driving a little challenging. The hardest thing was when, last week, restaurants just shut their doors and nobody wanted a truck driver walking up to the window… 

Last week was a horrible week for me. In a week, the only place that I could find a good hot meal at was a Subway. And that was one meal. I was frustrated. A little mad. I blame it on the FMCSA, because I took a 30-minute break an hour and 15 minutes from my house. I stopped in a rest area, and I was just heating up one of my last meals that I had in the truck, and I looked over my shoulder and there was a young boy standing at my door. It threw me off. His name was Logan Miller, and he was handing out paper bag lunches to truck drivers. It struck me to my core. It was kind of like 'look, things aren't as bad off as I'm making it out to be; this is tight for everybody. Just calm down…. 

I grabbed my phone and did a live video. Logan has brought the plight of drivers finding food during this corona situation into the public eye, and he's really been a lightning rod to get restaurants to help if a driver walks up or they can call a number. He started the Orange Ribbon Campaign to let drivers know that 'Hey, this is a place you can stop and get something to eat.' You can stay on our lot. He's done a lot of good for a 13-year-old boy… 

There seems to be a lot more appreciation right now. You're seeing signs along the road that say, 'Thank you truckers,' and 'We're open here. Stop and get a hot meal. If you need a place to sleep, we've got a place for you to sleep. Times have been dire, but in the same sense, it's been good. We've had to make sacrifices like everybody else of course, but I see the country pulling together as a whole, which is a nice thing to see for a change.

Joey Slaughter: [My driving behavior] hasn’t changed very much. I try to avoid truck stop food as much as possible anyway, so I made sure I had enough food to last me a couple of weeks in the truck. Sometimes I park away from other people, but I foresee crime going up as people panic so I have been parking with the masses. Truckers are champions at social distancing… The situation seems normal with the smaller companies, however, the larger companies have taken more action to reduce interaction. I entered a military base Friday and had to answer a questionnaire regarding COVID-19… 

I’m keeping up with current events on satellite radio. I already take vitamin D supplements and will continue that. I am also trying to get adequate sleep which I don’t always make a point of doing. I have a bottle of hand sanitizer in my truck that I am using very sparingly because replacements can’t be found anywhere. Whenever I get out of my truck, I try not to touch anything and when I walk past big groups of people I hold my breath.

About the Author

Larry Kahaner

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