The best and worst of trucking times

June 2020

Dave Sweetman

|

To borrow a quote from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Over the past several months, I have seen much of both the best and worst of human behavior as we all deal with the continuing saga of COVID-19. How we deal with the new reality of our world today is constantly changing.

Government-mandated self-quarantines, closed stores, shops, malls and restaurants have shattered our economy. Obviously, the trucking industry has suffered greatly as there are fewer stores open to request delivery of products. Many of the local economies have suffered, as major events like the Mid-America Trucking Show and Great American Trucking Show have been canceled. Even the world-famous auto exhibition, The Pebble Beach Concourse d’Elegance, was canceled. Many millions in revenue were lost that cannot be regained on so many levels.

In my little corner of the trucking world, it has been and continues to be a learning curve.

I have seen screaming matches and fist fights over toilet paper and bottled water on several occasions. I have seen shortages caused by hoarding that should not have been allowed to happen by store managers. Some have gotten the hint and restricted purchases to two units on the items that are typically being hoarded. Many supermarkets have special hours for senior citizens only to help them get what they need without being bullied. Bravo on that one.

Early in the confusion, many states closed rest areas and service plazas, leaving truck drivers out in the cold. But through a burst of common sense and calls from OOIDA, truck drivers, friends and family, many, but not all, have reopened and made allowances for us. Parking, in many places is still tough to find, especially around major metro areas, but that has been a way of life for years and has still not gotten better.

On a happier note, I have seen a major improvement in how truck drivers are viewed (and treated) by the public. In more than a few states, I have seen homemade signs hanging from bridges and staked out in front yards thanking truckers. A small gratuity for what we endure, but it is still nice to get a positive nod. The realist in me says it probably will not last long, and when things get back to normal we will again be in the way. I have also seen on many truck-related Facebook feeds that many restaurants have created curbside delivery for big rig drivers.

Hometown folks who have distributed care packages of food and snacks to drivers in rest areas show that there are so many good people in this world. It is genuinely appreciated.

The new reality in dealing with shippers and customers varies between using face masks and gloves or, as has happened to me several times, being asked to not get out of the truck. The customer wants no human contact. I had several tell me so as they pulled my fifth wheel release, disconnected my hoses and light cord, and escorted me from the property. I realize that does not work for everyone, but I’ll take it when I get it. I have heard many times of shippers who do not allow drivers entry nor let them use the bathroom. I have my own ways of dealing with that, but I guarantee I would not return.

And face masks. I get it. Protects me, protects you, we are saving the world. Or not, depending on who you listen to. But, as many states have rules about face masks being worn or you’re not allowed entry, they are a necessary evil in order to buy fuel or even get a takeout cup of coffee.

It still doesn’t mean I have to like it. And the number of people lulled into a false sense of security because they are wearing rubber gloves amazes me. Touching and handling cellphones, door handles, fuel card keypads then touching their face and face mask shoots the personal hygiene aspect out the window. And don’t get me started on the slobs who toss masks and rubber gloves on the ground 10 feet from a trash can. These are the same creeps who toss out – well, you know.

For now, all we can do is try to hang in there. For many, the rates have hit the skids, and there is little worth hauling that pays, so there are a lot of parked trucks until things pick up. If it’s that cheap, let it sit. I think we have seen the worst of times, and it is now about time for a turnaround and let’s hope, as Mr. Dickens said, that we are due for the best of times. LL

Read last issue’s installment of Dashboard Confidential by Dave Sweetman.