MEADOWVIEW, Va. — Millions of Americans have been encouraged to work from home since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has taken more than 200,000 lives worldwide.
But working from home isn’t an option for Curtis Rasnake. The Meadowview truck driver works for TMC Transportation, the largest flatbed company in America.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are nearly 2 million truck drivers in the country, a segment of the population who must come in contact with goods and people on a daily basis.
Just last week, he traveled to Logan, West Virginia, to deliver a load of sheet rock. He picked up a load of soft maple in Princeton, West Virginia, that goes to Wisconsin. From there, he hauled 45,000 pounds of coiled rod to Greensboro, North Carolina, followed by a job in Middlesburg, North Carolina, where he hauled a 45,000-pound load of treated lumber to Grand Ledge, Michigan.
“Our sector of trucking is about to take a tremendous hit,” said Rasnake during a phone interview while he was taking a break in Brownsburg, Indiana.
“If people are not working, they’re not going to have the money to remodel their homes, shingle their roofs or buy new auto parts.”
Every day Rasnake makes the decision to keep on truckin’, enduring long hours and stressful circumstances just to make sure essentials get where they are going.
“And to support my family. That’s why I do what I do,” he said.
“I think truck drivers sometimes get a bad rap. But since the coronavirus, we have superstar status. We’re like the cavalry bringing in things people need,” he said with a laugh.
“They’re cheering us now because we’re bringing in the toilet paper, but ordinarily, they’re shaking their fists at us on the road because a big truck in front of them is going 40 mph on a really steep grade on a mountain.
“People are thanking us now, but when this is all over, will they remember what we do?” asked Rasnake.
Everyday stress tends to accelerate on the road, especially when the fears of catching the coronavirus begin to mount, he said.
Delivering primarily building materials to companies east of the Mississippi, Rasnake must interact with people and places every day at work.
“When I stop at a truck stop, I worry about every door handle and fuel pump handle I touch and every restroom I use.
“I often step inside a store to grab a cold Diet Coke. I have to wonder if someone with the coronavirus opened that same door.”
Rasnake is finding that the rest of the world wants to keep a safe distance, too.
His company requires a signature when the goods have been delivered.
“Some people at these companies are refusing to touch the paperwork that I must get signed when I make a delivery. When that happens, my company has instructed me to write ‘COVID-19’ on the paperwork and include information on why someone wouldn’t sign it.”
Being on the road during this uncertain time is taking a toll on the mental health of truck drivers, he said.
“It’s mentally affecting a lot of truck drivers now.
“I was checking in a transport in Wisconsin, when another trucker flew off the handle in front of me.
“I mean, everyone’s on edge,” Rasnake said.
“The coronavirus — it’s constantly in the back of your mind. I’ve had to turn off the radio in the truck because the news really gets you down.”
Rasnake, whose schedule permits him to come home most weekends, worries he may unknowingly take the virus to his family.
“The stress of this job on a good day combined with driving into the coronavirus hot spots really wears on you.
“It’s like a powder keg ready to explode because of all the attitudes.”
Rasnake, like other truckers, is seeing disruptions of food service and the availability of some items.
He keeps a stash of food in a refrigerator in his truck for the times when access to food is harder.
“Even the hot dogs are not out anymore. You know,” he said, “the hot dogs that cook on the rollers out front in the stores in places like Pilot Flying J. I love those hot dogs.
“I stopped at a restaurant in Indiana, and there were only two people working inside in the entire place. I had to wait an insane amount of time to get my food because most of their customers are now going through the drive-thru.
“I don’t know one fast food place in America that I can drive up to with my truck. I can’t very well pull my truck up to a drive-thru,” he said. “I have to go inside.”
There’s always a danger to eating out, too, he said. Rasnake said he pays attention to whether restaurant workers wear protective gloves.
“Some workers wear masks and gloves, but not all of them.”
During his routes, the long-distance driver is met with closed rest stops and filled-to-capacity truck stops.
“Many rest areas have been shut down for weeks. The parking areas are still available, but the amenities are off-limits. There are no restrooms or vending machines available.
“A lot of the mom and pop stores do not allow their restrooms to be used,” said Rasnake, who has been turned away more than once while on the road.
The truck driver has to endure long waits when he drops off a load. “I’ve seen truck drivers in a line with 100 trucks ahead of them. Businesses are placing so many orders for products. You end up sitting there all day. And it’s all from panic-buying from customers,” Rasnake said.
“The shortages are not because the truckers are not getting the products delivered. It’s because of panic-buying.”
There’s plenty of food, supplies and, yes, toilet paper, in the country, he said. “The reasons the shelves in grocery stores are empty is because people are stocking up instead of just buying what they need right now.”
He’s stopped at numerous places on his routes to buy hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. “I would feel better if I had them,” said the truck driver.
But, “I can’t find them for sale anywhere.”
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