Hero or Pariah?

April 17, 2020

John Bendel

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Just because you’re treated like a pariah doesn’t mean you are one.

And just because you don’t feel like a hero doesn’t mean you are not one.

It’s hard to feel good about yourself when shippers take your temperature before they let you on the property and harder yet when they won’t let you use the bathroom. How about when someone with a mask, face shield and gloves takes papers from your hand as if from a cat box?

You have as much reason to be wary of them as they of you, but they have the psychological upper hand. You can’t take the temperature of the guy at the yard gate, can you? You can’t demand they decontaminate signed freight bills while you watch and return them to you in new, sterilized envelopes.

Nothing personal, of course. It’s all about CONVID-19.

It can kill you, though odds are it won’t. It’s not quite Russian roulette. Still those long odds are not long enough. One in 100? One in 50? Good odds in a lottery but not when the bet is your life. So, people, institutions and, yeah, trucking customers will be cautious. Sometimes very cautious. Sometimes insultingly cautious. It can make you feel like a radioactive skunk.

But you’re no such thing – quite the opposite. The job you do is indispensable, crucial, and, yes, essential. You hear that word a lot lately. But what if you don’t haul food, medicine, or fuel? What if you haul toys, or junk mail, or new, high-end Teslas? Do we desperately need that stuff? Of course not. But it’s not freight classification that makes you essential.

We have two issues here: one is the virus the other is the economy. The first is a physical threat to individuals; the other is the life blood of society, of our country. We have to keep it flowing.
Whatever you carry, somebody sold it, somebody bought it, and somebody is paying to move it.

It is commerce itself that matters, not what’s on your truck. Taken together, the goods, the money, and the transportation make up the system that sustains us. You’re part of that system, one of the most important parts. You’re no pariah. You truly are essential.

Does that make you a hero?

A lot people on the ground and in the media think so. Some drivers have been applauded – literally – for showing up with a load, something you do every day. Some are highlighted in news stories for braving the virus to deliver the things we need to live. Stories like that can give you a lift. But, are you really a hero? Do you wake up in the morning and think it’s a dangerous load to Des Moines but Best Buy is counting on me? Do you see yourself behind the wheel like John Wayne on a horse, off to save the pretty widow lady from Indians, an outlaw gang, or evil creditors?

Probably not. You’re more likely to be thinking of a Mastercard bill, the rent or a looming truck payment. As things have gotten worse, you may be thinking you’re lucky to be working at all. If the folks at Walmart can show up every day, so can you. But it’s not about saving the world. You’re not running the devil’s gauntlet for our national honor. You didn’t sign up for heroism, and it’s probably hard to think of yourself as hero. You’re just trying to feed the family.

But you can be a hero without setting out to be one. The danger is there. You still take chances others don’t. It doesn’t really matter why. Not all the heroes of America’s past wars were volunteers. Many wanted no part of the fight. But they were drafted, they went, and – like you – they did their job.

Heroes all.

Here’s another column by John Bendel.

Pilot Flying J
John Bendel

John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon, and longtime truck writer, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer for New York Times. There’s more, but in short, his insight and matchless style of writing makes “Gizmos and Gears” a runaway reader favorite.