From the Driver's Seat: What's it like to be a Truck Driver During a Pandemic
While millions of people adhere to stay-at-home orders, millions of truck drivers across the nation continue to be out on the roads, delivering the necessary goods to keep shelves stocked and manufacturers supplied with raw materials. Lytx spoke with two of those drivers to get an idea of what it’s been like for them to be on the road during this extraordinary time. Meet Frank Salinas, Jr., a driver for The Kroger Co., and Chris Lytwyn, who hauls goods for TransWood. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation with Frank and Chris.
Frank Salinas, Jr.
Company: The Kroger Co.
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.
I’ve driven for Kroger for 26 years, and the volume that we went through in March was unlike anything I’d ever seen. No holiday I’d ever been through looked like this. The shelves were all empty. As we were putting products on them, people were taking them off. Demand was just through the roof.
Normally, when we arrive at the stores, there would be one person waiting for us at the dock. Now, it’s all hands on deck. As soon as we hit the dock, store employees would be waiting for us so they could break down the products and take it out to the floor right away. The first week of the lockdown, it was water and toilet paper. The second week, it was canned goods. By the third week, it was everything in the store. I’d walk into the produce department and everything would be gone. It was like watching stages of a panic play out.
Most things have settled down, with the exception of paper products. That’s still tough. I had one lady follow me with her car and ask me where I was going and if I had toilet paper in my truck. She wanted to know if I could set some aside for her. That same day, other drivers told me they had the same thing happen to them, with people following them and asking if they had toilet paper. There is a shortage cause that’s what everyone one wants. We are receiving and delivering it regularly, just not at the quantity that people are trying buy.
The problem with paper products is that they take up a lot of space. If you filled your trailers with paper, there wouldn’t be any room left for all the other products that still need to be stocked in a store. The supply is there; it’s just a matter of logistics in getting it out to the stores, along with everything else that people need.
One upside to the lockdown is that it eliminated traffic. That freed us to be more efficient in getting products to the store. I’m able to make more runs to more places in one shift than I’ve ever been able to before. There are so many drivers who are eager to do their part. They want to help, because the need is there. You can see it in people’s faces. It’s heartbreaking.
Company: TransWood Logistics Inc.
Location: Omaha, Nebraska
TransWood is a tanker company, and I work in the chemical division. I carry a respirator, gloves and masks in my truck. That’s because we pull a few things that if you breathe it in, you’d be out cold. Some of our customers require us to wear PPEs (personal protective equipment) before going into their facilities. A few require that we wear everything short of a hazmat suit before going in. So, it’s a good coincidence that I was already pretty familiar with these safety protocols before the pandemic hit.
The last three weeks have been pretty slow. Last week, I only drove 399 miles. Typically, I drive anywhere from 1,600 to 2,200 miles a week. But it’s not hurting us as much as it is hurting other drivers. That’s because we’re in-house carriers. There’s a negotiated minimum weekly pay, regardless of the volume. With the driver shortage, there are more carriers going in this direction in order to recruit and retain the quality of driver that they want.
On the bright side, traffic is cut in half, if not more. I can go through Chicago at the speed limit with no issue. It’s usually a nightmare to get in and out of there 90 percent of the time.
On the road, the truck stops have been as busy as they’ve been. Some things have changed, though. In North Dakota, you can’t walk up to a soda fountain to fill up your drink. You have to give them your order, and they fill it for you. In Wisconsin, there’s no self-service of any kind for drinks. It’s just bottles and cans. In Sioux Falls, a lot of restaurants are still open. There are still plenty of options. Personally, I like to bring my own food.
I know the risks I take when I go out. When this started, my girlfriend just wanted me to stay home until this was over. But we are taking the steps we need to stay safe. I have Lysol spray and Clorox wipes that I use to wipe down the truck pre- and post-trip. Our customers are also taking this very seriously as well. We’re able to load and unload without having to come into contact with another person. We’ve all had to change how we do things, and so far it’s working out well.
At Lytx, we understand and appreciate the risks that Chris, Frank, and so many others working on the front lines are braving every day to keep shelves stocked with groceries, deliver critical supplies and provide essential services. Thank you for keeping the world moving ahead!