Here we are – two months into this virus thing and still hammering on the throttle. Who knew the strength of America’s driving force! Besides us, of course. This has been business as usual for most of you and to the new drivers among our ranks, get used to it, because trucking ain’t for sissies! Someone once said, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” I don’t know about you, but from what I have witnessed on the road, there are some awesome people rolling their rigs safely down our highways.
In the beginning we were asked to restock the shelves of the supermarkets, and we did. Then they wanted us to fill the warehouses, so onward America’s drivers pushed until they, too, were full. Drivers continued to step up, driving with a level of professionalism not seen for a long time. You have been meeting the needs of people who, only a short time ago, couldn’t and wouldn’t get out of your way. As I said last month, take a bow – you earned it. But I’m not gonna pump you full of sunshine this month.
We do have something serious to discuss now that the weather is nice and states are lifting restrictions on we the people. It’s springtime, and that means young people (high school and college kids) are out and about. Many of them are stretching the limits of responsibility. Like many of them, I remember what it was like to be young and invincible. Of course, that was in the 1970s and, well, let’s just say what happened in the 70s stays in the 70s. Partying doesn’t always mean drinking alcoholic beverages. Sometimes it’s just as dangerous goofing off with your friends, riding around town and jamming to some tunes.
We have all seen it: you’re in traffic, it’s late in the day, you hear a loud radio, and low and behold they pull up beside you. You look down only to see three or four people dancing in the car, and then suddenly the doors pop open and they do what we used to call a Chinese fire drill. Everybody jumps out and runs around the car trying to get back in before the light changes. You hold your breath and keep your foot on the brakes for fear of someone falling or stumbling under the wheels. Doing that in a small town in Nebraska, on a two-lane road, can be fun, but when I’m waiting in four lanes of traffic all going the same direction, not so much. That’s how accidents happen.
With so much of the population on lockdown for the past few months, folks are gonna step out and act as soon as they are given the chance. Hey, I’ve been in self-quarantine too, here at 379 Peterbilt Lane in Anytown USA. I too may be suffering from “cabin fever” along with the rest of you. This unibilt sleeper gets small after a few weeks, even if my driveway is 3,000 miles long. I promise not to do any fire drills in traffic, but if you see an old bearded man in a tie-died shirt dancing between the seats, pay him no mind – it’s just me reminiscing about the 70s and rocking out to the radio.
From everything I read, there has been a considerable amount of alcohol purchased during lockdown, and some states are reporting unusual amounts of “day drinking” due to lack of work and stress from not having a normal routine. Drinking and driving don’t mix – ever! However, people who do drink often leave their common sense at the door and head to the parking lot with keys in hand. Add that to the amount of states who have made pot smoking legal, and now, “Houston, we have a problem.”
A day doesn’t go by that I’m not reminded of the stress quarantine has placed on Americans who are sheltering in place. The radio reporters echo this refrain every day. Really, let me get this right. They are eating three meals a day, sleeping in a dry bed, and getting a paycheck for not going to work? That’s stressful? Oh, let me see… drivers are running seven days a week, to businesses where only a partial work crew is there to accept the materials ordered, and we can’t find a decent meal or even restrooms when needed.
How many of us have had that load from hell? I know I have. I tell dispatch, “Sure, I can get there before they close if I hurry and don’t get caught in traffic.” Then, you get there and find the reason the load you’re on didn’t get called in sooner was because someone forgot to order it. The non-essential person was working from home and, for whatever the reason, this load fell through the cracks. Now that it’s loaded, the race is on, because the receiver called and they are going to be out of product sooner than expected, but you can still get there, right driver? Sure! All I have to do is beat that snowstorm in Wyoming and outrun the ice in Nebraska and, if I’m lucky, we can make the appointment on time.
Wait. Has anyone even checked to see if there will be someone there when I arrive? Every day you call the number on the bills and no one answers, but the broker reassures you they will be there. “Don’t worry,” they say. When you do arrive, there are no cars in the parking lot and security tells you the government shut the plant down for two weeks. Wait. What? Come back then, really? So now what? I can’t sit for two weeks with this load on my trailer. Never mind the added cost for reefer fuel, what about my lost wages? Yes, drivers, that happened to me, and no, I didn’t set for two weeks with their load, but I did get creative to find a home for their product. Was that a stressful time? Of course!
All of you know what I’m talking about because you’re living the same nightmare. I only bring this up because some of you need to take some ME TIME and go home (or wherever you normally go) to destress. All of you are “essential” workers because you can handle difficult situations. Don’t try to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders alone. Not only are the loads getting harder to find, but the rates are struggling to keep up, as well. This all adds up to stress. Remember, you don’t always have to take one for the team. Only you can tell when you’ve had enough. Please don’t push yourself until something bad happens. When this is over, we will sit around the truck stop table and tell our stories – and your story is one I want to hear.
It’s fine to do the social distancing thing and even wearing a face mask isn’t a problem. When I say to stay safe, I’m more worried about your mental health than if you are using hand sanitizer or keeping an arms-length from your neighbor. I speak from experience when I say, go home. I did for a couple days in April, just to recharge my batteries, and it was awesome. Most often that is accomplished by applying Aunt Barb’s home cooking, along with some back porch sitting, at my house down on the end of our road. I may watch the sun set every night of the week on the road, but the pleasure I derive from seeing it with loved ones can’t be measured. We have all heard the statement “no money no honey” – well, drivers, I can tell you with certainty that all the money in the world can’t buy you happiness when you’re alone – or dead!
I can’t speak for the rest of you, but I do most of my driving during the daylight hours. My days start in the early a.m. and run through the prime time for transportation to and from school or commuting to the office. I have addressed this subject many times, but distracted driving on the part of the motoring public can end your driving career. I believe in the near future we are going to see lots of people multi-tasking behind the wheel. They will be in their own little world, and not watching out for you. It’s true – those who know me will tell you I drive like an old man. I’m the first one to stop and the last to leave the traffic light. A lot of drivers think it’s because I don’t have any power under the hood. Truth be told, I always hold back, just to see how many drivers will miss a gear trying to race me (yea, that’s embarrassing for them).
As a rule, school buses don’t show up on the highways during the summer months. That’s June through the first of September, but this year might be a bit different. Some places are considering the option of summer school to make up for the lost time during quarantine. That means we could be seeing big yellow school buses in places and at times when they would normally be parked. I can’t tell you how to drive, but I would hope you are practicing some good time-tested applications. I’m not sure where a few of the new driving methods I’ve seen came from, however I wish they would go back and stay out of where I drive.
I’m aware of the 14-hour rule, but believe me, the time you save crowding cars in front of you will be lost when someone changes lanes and you don’t get the memo. That and passing on the right have to be the most irritating maneuvers I witness. For the drivers who attended truck driving schools that promoted the practice of traveling in the center lane to stay out of the flow of vehicles entering the highway, I would like to tell you that right lane is for slower traffic, and the cars and trucks getting on the road have to yield, so please use the appropriate lane before you cause an accident.
Drivers, we have done a real good job of getting around when left to do our jobs unencumbered by 4-wheelers, but that time is fast coming to an end. Get ready for the old days of people saying, “Move over you big dirty noisy and slow truck – I have enough toilet paper and now I’m essential, so get out of my way buddy boy, I’m late for work.” This is not the time to lose your cool driver. There’s no need to stress out – you got this. Remember, when the chips were down and the world went into panic mode, America’s driving force didn’t. Tomorrow will be no different – it’s still the same old thing, just a different day.
Please be aware of the other folks sharing the road with you because they are likely to be thinking of something besides their driving, and no one wants to see someone – or something – get hurt. I’m looking forward to the warm days of summer when I can roll down my window and smile at the world. Who knows, I may even get a chance to ride my two-wheeler (see photo). “Dear Lord, let the sunshine on my shoulders and the wind blow gently at my back, because good times are coming.” Speed safely out there, drivers. And here’s a big 10-4 to you all. Stay safe.