If you could rate the best National Truck Driver Appreciation Week ever held, it still wouldn’t hold a candle to the surprising amount of praise heaped on drivers during the coronavirus crisis. Truckers have been classified “essential” workers. They’ve been lumped with health care professionals and others deemed heroes for taking personal risks to the benefit of others.
Quite a different tune than we’re used to hearing.
There’s a dawning realization that a professional driver is not just some nobody, virtually invisible up in the shadowy cab of yet another annoying big rig. That driver needs to eat, but can’t always find an open restaurant. Or when he does, he no longer can enjoy what might have been the day’s highlight: sitting down to a good meal in a truck stop diner, in the company of other drivers.
That long-haul driver embraces a new risk – that if he comes down with COVID-19 while far from home, he might end up self-isolating in a lonely truck stop. No doctor to consult in person. No family member to help while he suffers for days, wondering if he’ll make it. (Read one trucker’s account of doing exactly this.)
Perhaps most important in this spotlight on drivers is a greater awareness of trucking’s mantra: If you bought it, a truck brought it. Though grocery shortages haven’t been severe, there’ve been enough empty shelves over enough weeks for consumers to rethink their attitudes about truckers. There’s a lot more at stake than toilet paper.
While support within the logistics chain has been great, readers have noted too many instances – often at the docks – where it’s not. As in the ironic sign our blogger Paul Marhoefer observed at a Midwestern warehouse: NO TRUCK DRIVERS IN THE WELCOME CENTER.
It’s a shame, but no big surprise. Before coronavirus, certain shippers and receivers were known to prohibit access to restrooms or vending machines. Those access restrictions have spread or intensified in some instances, as our reader poll shows.
And yet negative responses can be more subtle, more hurtful. It’s one thing to practice good social distancing or common sense in passing a pen back and forth. It’s another when someone’s body language or tone of voice makes a driver feel like he’s just climbed out of a porta-potty tank. Marhoefer recounted a woman at a receiving office, afraid to touch the paper he was presenting: “Her face contorts into a cocktail of umbrage and fear, as if beholding the finger of a cadaver.”
Hey, we’re in this together. Any one of us could be giving – or receiving – a contagious disease, so mutual respect, and even a little black humor, goes a long way. As for the public’s newfound respect for truckers, let’s hope it lasts a lot longer than the crisis.